The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 37

All over the world, no one can be a hero.

Very soon it was the Duan Yang Festival. Zhang Wuji led the Ming Cult warriors to Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin Temple’s front hall, rear hall, left and right side rooms, everywhere was overflowing with heroes and warriors from all kinds of martial art schools. Among these Wulin characters, some had enmity toward Xie Xun, so they anxiously came to kill him to avenge their grievance. Some others were there for the Tulong Saber, so they were dreaming of snatching the precious saber away and becoming the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’ [wulin zhi zun]. Yet some others were having a grudge against each other, so they came to seize the opportunity to avenge their grievances. But the majority came just because they loved the festivities bustling with noise and excitement.

The Shaolin Temple prepared more than a hundred monks as ushers; they directed the guests to their respective places. Wudang Pai had sent Yu Lianzhou and Yin Liting as their representatives. Zhang Wuji quickly stepped forward to welcome them and inquired about Zhang Sanfeng’s well-being.

Yu Lianzhou quietly said, “Did you hear anything about Qingshu and Chen Youliang?”

Zhang Wuji briefly told him what happened since they parted, and was relieved to learn Song and Chen, two men, had not stirred up any trouble on Mount Wudang, and that at this moment, Song Yuanqiao and Zhang Songxi did not come because they were guarding their Shifu and their monastery against the traitors’ evil plot. Yu Lianzhou also mentioned that ever since Song Yuanqiao heard with his own ears how his own only son was plotting against him, he was heart-broken and did not have any appetite for food and drink. Right now, he was half as thin as he was. They did not dare to tell their Shifu anything, for fear that Shifu would be grieved.

Zhang Wuji said, “I do hope Song Shige [martial (older) brother] realizes his wrong path very soon and repents, so that he can be reunited with Song Da Shibo [first martial (older) uncle].”

“That is so,” Yu Lianzhou said, “But this renegade has killed Mo Qidi [seventh (younger) brother], we cannot let him off lightly.” His voice was full of bitter hatred.

Within the next two hours, more and more Wulin characters arrived. The Twin Evil of Hejian and the Qinghai Pai swordsmen who fought the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan the other day had also arrived. Huashan Pai, Kongtong Pai and Kunlun Pai also sent out their masters to attend the meeting. Only nobody from Emei Pai went up the mountain.

Zhang Wuji was hoping he would see Zhou Zhiruo; he wanted to explain to her why he did what he did the other day. However, as he imagined her face and her gaze, he became anxious from a mixture of fear and shame.

The Ming Cult warriors were assigned the west side room. They did not mingle with the other heroes, because they simply had too many enemies. They were afraid that as personal enemies meet, a big fight would ensue even before the Great Assembly was officially opened.

As the seventh hour [between 11am – 1 pm] arrived, the usher monks invited the guests to gather on a large open space to the right of the Temple. It was actually a several hundred ‘mu’ [1 mu is approximately one fifteenth of a hectare] vegetable garden on which the monks grew their food. But this time the field was leveled, and several dozens wooden shelters were erected on it.

The warriors sat on their assigned seats as directed by the monks. Any school, sect, clan or society with a large group of warriors occupied one shelter; while those with fewer numbers of delegates shared the shelter with other warriors. Peng Yingyu reported the name and origin of each and every warrior on the field for Zhang Wuji’s benefit.

When all the warriors had gathered, it was obvious that this meeting would be a grand occasion. Many characters who normally did not roam the Jianghu too often, who had lived in the privacy of the remote mountains and forests, also made their appearance one after another. Peng Yingyu estimated that not including the Ming Cult, there were about 4,600 people on the field that day. Seeing these numerous assembly participants, most of them were not friendly toward the Ming Cult, Zhang Wuji, Yang Xiao, and the others were anxious.

After the audience had been seated, the Shaolin monks began to appear. Beginning with the Yuan generation, followed by Hui, Fa, Xiang, and Zhuang, they bowed toward the audience. Finally Kong Zhi Shen Seng appeared, followed by nine senior monks from the Damo Hall. Kong Zhi walked toward the middle of the field, clasped his palms in respect, uttered some praises to Buddha, and then said, “The arrival of the world’s heroes in acceptance to our invitation today has brought great honor to Shaolin Pai. However, Fangzhang Shixiong is suddenly ill that he does not have the good fortune of seeing the virtuous guests. He therefore, asked Lao Na to convey his deepest regret.”

Zhang Wuji felt little bit strange, “When Kong Wen Dashi attended Grandfather’s funeral the other day, he did not look sick at all; he looked spirited and bright. With the kind of internal energy he has, how can he fall sick so suddenly? Could he be injured?” He looked around but saw neither Yuan Zhen nor Chen Youliang; he thought, “That night I exposed Yuan Zhen’s treachery to Du E, three eminent monks; I wonder if Shaolin has taken care of him or not. I wonder if Kong Wen Dashi’s sudden illness has anything to do with it.”

At the end of the Southern Song Dynasty, after Guo Jing and Huang Rong, husband and wife, had scored several major victories, they invited the world’s heroes and warriors to Xiangyang to discuss plans and strategies to withstand the Mongolian invasion. And now, almost a hundred years later, another great assembly of world’s heroes and warriors, the biggest grand occasion in the Jianghu, was being held; but all of a sudden the host was ill. It is no wonder the crowd of warriors could not help but feel disappointed.

They heard Kong Zhi continue, “Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun has wreaked havoc in the Wulin; he has committed a very serious crime. Luckily, our humble Temple has captured him. Shaolin Pai does not dare to make the decision on our own. Therefore, we respectfully invite all honorable Wulin warriors to discuss how we are going to handle this matter.”

His face was long ever since he made his appearance; by now, he sounded lethargic. As soon as he finished speaking, he clasped his palms again and withdrew.

A man stood up on the southeast corner, his stature was big and tall, the black beard on his face was interspersed with white, and it was fluttering in the breeze, he swept his gaze on the warriors with a bright and fiery pair of eyes; in short, he looked imposing. Peng Yingyu quietly informed Zhang Wuji that this person was Shandong’s old pugilist master, Xia Zhou. They heard his thunderous voice say, “This Xie Xun has done too much evil. Your precious Sect unexpectedly able to capture him, the benefit you bring to the Wulin world is not small. Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, two Shen Seng [divine monks] are too modest. This kind of evil person deserves to be executed immediately with a blade. End of story. Why do you have to ask others? Today, the heroes from all over the world are gathered here, and we call this assembly ‘tu shi da hui’ [lion-slaying great assembly]. Let us put this Xie Xun to death, and then everybody eat his flesh and drink his blood, as a revenge for our innocent friends and relatives who died under his hands. Won’t we all be happy?”

His own older brother was killed by Xie Xun, so for the last dozens of years he always wanted revenge. As his words, several hundred people around the field echoed his sentiment; they all wanted to kill Xie Xun as soon as possible.

Amidst the commotion, suddenly a sad sounding voice was heard. “Xie Xun is the Ming Cult’s ‘hu jiao fa wang’ [see my note in Chapter 30 earlier]. If Shaolin Pai were not afraid to offend the Ming Cult, they would already have put Xie Xun to the sword early on; why would they invite everybody here to share the blame? I think, Xia Dage [big brother Xia], you are a bit muddle-headed. Let your brother here tell you something: you’d better watch out for your own life.”

His voice might be sad and high-pitched, sounded like a man, but also like a woman, but as it reached everybody’s ears, the words were very clear. Everybody turned their heads toward the voice, but they could not see who it was. Apparently, that speaker was short, and when he talked, he did not stand up. Sitting among the crowd, nobody could see him.

Xia Zhou loudly said, “Is that ‘zui bu si’ [drunken but not dead] Brother Situ? I have an enmity with that Xie Xun for killing my brother. A real man is not afraid of his own actions. I can ask the Shaolin eminent monks to take him out; I will kill him personally. If the devil heads of the Devil Cult want revenge, they can come to look for the man surnamed Xia of Shandong.”

The man with the sad voice laughed and said, “Xia Dage, everybody in Jianghu knows that the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’, the precious Tulong Saber, has fallen into Xie Xun’s hand. Since Shaolin Pai has acquired Xie Xun, how can they not be interested in the treasured Saber? Killing Xie Xun is secondary; lifting up the Saber to show their prestige is the priority. I’ll say: Kong Zhi Dashi, you don’t need to put an act; just take that precious Tulong Saber and hold it high in your hands, let us broaden our horizons. For thousand of years, you, Shaolin Pai, have been the head and brain of the Wulin world. With the Saber you won’t achieve much, without the Saber you won’t lose much; you will always be the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’.”

In a low voice Peng Yingyu said to Zhang Wuji, “The speaker is ‘Zui Bu Si’, Situ Qianzhong. This person is carefree; I heard he doesn’t have any master, does not take any disciple, does not belong to any school or society, and very seldom engage in battle. Nobody knows the detail of his martial art skill. His tone is always cold and condescending, but oftentimes right on target.”

They heard about seven, eight people in the audience say, “His words make sense. Would Shaolin Pai please take the Tulong Saber out for everybody to see?”

“The Tulong Saber is not in our humble Temple,” Kong Zhi slowly said, “In all my life, Lao Na has never seen it. I am not even sure if such saber indeed exists in the world.”

As soon as the crowd of heroes heard this, they broke into murmurs; the field was suddenly bustling with noise. The attendees were originally thinking that other than about Tulong Saber, this assembly did not have anything else of great importance. Who would have thought that Kong Zhi would flatly deny the possession of the Saber? Everybody felt strange.

The nine old monks standing behind Kong Zhi were all wearing red kasayas. After the commotion in the audience subsided, one of the nine monks took two steps forward and with a loud voice said, “The Tulong Saber was originally in Xie Xuns hands; however, when our humble Sect captured him, the Saber was no longer in his possession. Our temple’s Fangzhang realizes that this is an important matter of the Wulin world; therefore, he immediately launched an investigation. Xie Xun is stubborn and arrogant; he is unwilling to tell us the truth. Today’s great assembly of heroes, first of all, is to discuss how we are going to handle Xie Xun. Secondly, we want to inquire if any of the heroes has heard anything about the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts. Whoever has any information is invited to speak up.”

The crowd of heroes looked at each other; nobody opened his mouth. Again, the ‘Zui Bu Si’ Situ Qianzhong, with his sad and high-pitched voice said, “For the last hundred of years, there is a saying in the martial art world, ‘the most revered in the Wulin world, precious Saber slaughtering the dragon (Tu Long), ruling under the Heaven, nobody dares to disobey. Yitian (relying on Heaven) does not appear, who can match its sharpness?’ Other than the Tulong Saber, there is the Yitian Sword. I heard this Yitian Sword was originally in the hands of Emei Pai, but after the battle of the western region’s Brightness Peak, nobody knew its whereabouts. Just because today’s meeting is called the Heroes’ Assembly, could it be that the Emei Pai’s heroines refuse to come?” As the people heard his last sentence they broke into boisterous laughter.

[Translator’s note: ‘ying xiong’ – hero, where the ‘xiong’ character can also mean ‘male’ (mostly used to refer to male animal), so literally, ‘ying xiong’ means ‘brave male’. Situ Qianzhong used the characters ‘ying ci’ – ‘brave female (animal)’. By calling the Emei Pai heroines as ‘ying ci’, he was not being complimentary (He would have used ‘nu-xia’ if he wanted to be courteous).]

Amidst the loud laughter, a monk in charge of guest reception made an announcement in loud voice, “The Beggar Clan’s Shi Bangzhu, has arrived accompanied by various Zhanglao and various disciples.”

As he heard the word ‘Shi Bangzhu’ three characters, Zhang Wuji was greatly surprised. “The Beggar Clan’s Shi Huolong had died long ago under Yuan Zhen’s hands,” he thought, “How come there is another Shi Bangzhu?”

“Please!” Kong Zhi responded. The Beggar Clan was the biggest clan in Jianghu, so it was only proper for him to welcome them personally.

They saw a large group of people walk towards the open field in quick pace. There were approximately 150 men, all in rags and tattered clothes. The Beggar Clan’s prestige has been in decline in the last several years, but just like a centipede that moves even after it dies, it had not become placid; the Beggar Clan still has an enormous power in the Jianghu. The crowd of heroes did not dare to despise them; most of them stood up to show their respect.

The ones in the front were two elderly beggars. Zhang Wuji recognized them as Chuan Gong Zhanglao and Zhi Fa Zhanglao. Behind these two old beggars was an ugly girl of twelve, thirteen years; her nose curved upward, her mouth was wide, revealing two big front teeth. She was none other than Shi Huolong’s daughter, Shi Hongshi. In her hand was the Beggar Clan’s symbol of authority, the Dog Beating Stick. Behind Shi Hongshi walked Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhang Bo Longtou, followed by eight-pouch elders, seven-pouch disciples, and six-pouch disciples. It looked like the lowest ranking disciples within the Beggar Clan contingent this time were the six-pouch disciples.

As Kong Zhi saw the one holding the Dog Beating Stick was a little girl, he hesitated; he was not sure which one was the Clan Leader and thus was not sure to whom he should speak, but he was obliged to respond. Therefore, clasping his palms, he said without addressing anybody in particular, “The monks of Shaolin respectfully welcome the warriors of the Beggar Clan.”

Together, the Beggar Clan warriors cupped their fists to return the propriety. Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Our humble Clan’s former Shi Bangzhu was unfortunate and has return to Heaven. The elders have voted to elect Shi Bangzhu’s daughter, Miss Shi Hongshi to be Bangzhu. This lady is therefore our Clan’s new Bangzhu.” He pointed toward Shi Hongshi.

Kong Zhi and the crowd of warriors were taken aback. They remembered the saying in the Jianghu, ‘Ming Jiao, Gai Bang, Shaolin Pai’. Within the ‘jiao’ [cults, religions], Ming Cult was the leader; within the world’s ‘bang hui’ [clans and societies], the Beggar Clan held the place of honor; within the ‘men pai’ [martial art schools and sects], Shaolin Pai was the number one. The Ming Cult had elected a twenty-year-old young man, Zhang Wuji as their Jiaozhu; already people were clucking their tongues in amazement. And now the Beggar Clan pushed this little girl to be their Bangzhu? If it did not come from a Zhanglao’s [elder] mouth, nobody would believe it. In the past, Huang Rong was also a young girl when she took over the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu position. Although it was a good precedent, at that time Huang Rong was several years older compared to this little girl.

Kong Zhi did not lack any courtesy in his surprise. He clasped his palms and said, “Shaolin disciple Kong Zhi pays his respect to Shi Bangzhu.”

Shi Hongshi bowed down to return the propriety; she seemed to mumble something, but nothing came out of her mouth. Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Our humble Clan’s Bangzhu is young. All businesses of the Clan are temporarily being handled by Xiongdi [brother, referring to self] and Zhi Fa Zhanglao, two people. Kong Zhi Shen Seng is more senior by far so you do not need to be overly courteous.”

After the two of them exchanged some modest pleasantries, the usher monk directed the Beggar Clan warriors to take their seats in one of the wooden shelters.

The Beggar Clan contingent was big, so it took half a day for all of them to be seated. Zhang Wuji noticed that the group of beggars was wearing mourning clothes; their faces carried grief and an indignation expression. The pouches on some of the disciples had things inside that were seemingly wriggling and moving. It was obvious that they came with some purpose in mind. Zhang Wuji smirked inwardly; he whispered to Yang Xiao, “We have some helpers.”

He saw Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa, two elders were escorting Shi Hongshi walk toward the Ming Cult’s shelter. Chuan Gong Zhanglao cupped his fists in salute and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, our humble Clan shares a large part of responsibility in Jin Mao Shi Wang falling into the enemy. Even if we have to lose our lives today, we must redeem our offense. Furthermore, we want to avenge our Shi Bangzhu’s death. The Beggar Clan, from top to bottom, is under Zhang Jiaozhu’s command.”

“I do not dare,” Zhang Wuji hastily returned the propriety.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao was speaking with his strong internal power that his words were loud and clear; obviously, he deliberately wanted everybody in that open field to hear. As he finished speaking, the numerous Beggar Clan disciples stood up together and said in loud voices, “Respectfully waiting for the Ming Cult Zhang Jiaozhu’s command; we will not refuse to go through the water or tread on the fire.”

The warriors were baffled, “Since when the Beggar Clan formed a life and death alliance with the Ming Cult?”

Other than very few people who seldom roamed the Jianghu, everybody knew that for the past many years, the Beggar Clan and the Ming Cult were always at each other’s throat. A few years ago, the Beggar Clan participated in the siege of the Brightness Peak. The casualties from both sides were very heavy in that one bloody battle alone. On their last attack against the Brightness Peak, almost all Beggar Clan warriors were annihilated. And now, Chuan Gong Zhanglao had openly declared that the entire Beggar Clan force was under Zhang Wuji’s command, and that they wanted to avenge their former Shi Bangzhu, everyone scratched their heads in confusion.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao turned around and said in a loud voice, “Our Beggar Clan and Shaolin Pai never had neither enmity nor grudge. Our humble Clan has always regarded Shaolin Pai as the Wulin’s number one major sect. In case of any small misunderstanding, we have always exercised self-restraint as much as we possibly can, and have never dared to offend Shaolin Pai openly. As our humble Clan’s Shi Qian Bangzhu’s [former Shi Bangzhu] subordinates, we have always admired the Four Divine Monks of Shaolin as persons of virtue and prestige; as the model warriors of the martial art study we should imitate. Shi Qian Bangzhu had long ago lived in seclusion to recuperate from his injury in peace and quiet; for dozens of years he had not made any contacts with other Jianghu characters. But somehow, he had fallen under a Shaolin senior monk’s evil hands …”

“Ah!” as he spoke to this point, the people around the field called out in shock. Even Kong Zhi was taken by surprise.

In the meantime, Chuan Gong Zhanglao continued, “We come here today to ask, in the presence of the heroes of the world, Kong Wen Fangzhang to give us directions in treading this confusing path. What did our Shi Qian Bangzhu do to offend Shaolin that that Shaolin senior monk, even after he killed Shi Qian Bangzhu, had to be so merciless toward his widow, a lone helpless woman that in the end Mrs. Shi was not able to defend her own life?”

“Amituofo,” Kong Zhi clasped his palms, “Only at this moment Lao Na learned of Shi Bangzhu’s misfortune and that he passed away. Zhanglao keeps proclaiming that it was our humble Sect’s disciple who has done it; I am afraid there is a big misunderstanding in this case. Would Zhanglao please tell us the details?”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “For thousands of years Shaolin Pai has been the ‘tai shan bei dou’ [Mount Tai (Taishan) Big Dipper Constellation, ‘as weighty as Mt. Tai, as brilliant as the Big Dipper’, meaning the ultimate] of the Wulin world; how can we dare to make a false accusation? Your precious Temple has an eminent monk and a secular disciple; we request that they come out and confront us.”

“Zhanglao please tell us what to do, we will comply,” Kong Zhi replied, “I wonder which two people Zhanglao wants to come out?”

“They are …” Chuan Gong Zhanglao only uttered the ‘are’ word, and suddenly he was tongue-tied with his mouth open, unable to continue.

Kong Zhi was shocked. He hastily stepped forward and grabbed his right wrist, feeling for pulse, which, unexpectedly, had stopped. Kong Zhi was even more shocked. “Zhanglao! Zhanglao!” he called. Looking at Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s face, Kong Zhi saw a small black dot the size of the head of an incense stick between his eyebrows; apparently his fatal point was hit by some poisonous secret projectile.

With a loud voice Kong Zhi shouted, “Fellow Heroes and Warriors, please understand. This Beggar Clan elder was hit by a poisonous secret projectile and unfortunately lost his life. Our Shaolin Pai has never used this kind of evil secret projectile.”

The Beggar Clan people immediately broke into clamor; several dozen people rushed toward Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s body. Zhang Bo Longtou took a piece of magnet from his pocket and put it in between Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s eyebrows. He pulled a steel needle, as fine as an ox hair, only about an inch long. The Beggar Clan elders realized that Kong Zhi was not lying; an upright and prestigious sect like Shaolin Pai certainly would not use this kind of evil secret projectile. However, someone had sneakily and unexpectedly launched a secret projectile, under broad daylight, under the gaze of thousands of eyes without anybody seeing it, and this was certainly strange beyond anybody’s imagination.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao and the others thought that Chuan Gong Zhanglao was standing with his face to the south, so the secret projectile must come from the south. At this time, the sun was shining dazzlingly, Chuan Gong Zhanglao was indignant and excited so he must have been unguarded against this kind of fine secret projectile. With angry glare the elders looked at the people behind Kong Zhi. They saw that the eyes of the nine old monks wearing red kasaya were half-closed with their eyebrows drooping down. Behind these nine monks stood a row of monks wearing yellow robes, followed by monks in gray robes. However, although they had no doubt that the murderer was one of these Shaolin monks, they could not tell which one was the villain.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao let out a loud and long laugh, while tears rolling down like rain from his eyes. “Kong Zhi Dashi,” he said, “Are you still thinking that we have brought false accusation towards Shaolin Pai? How will you explain what has just happened?”

Zhang Bang Longtou was the most hot-tempered among the beggars; brandishing the iron staff in his hand, he roared, “We will fight to the death with Shaolin Pai today!”

‘Clang, clang, clang!’ a chaotic noise was heard as the Beggar Clan people took out their weapons and charged toward the middle of the field.

With a grieved countenance Kong Zhi turned around toward the group of Shaolin monks. “Ever since our ancestor Damo arrived from the west, for thousands of years our Temple has established a strong foundation in diligent cultivation of the teachings of Buddha and the most refined in maintaining monastic discipline. Although we train martial arts for self-defense and have been interacting with the brave warriors of the Jianghu, we have never dared to perform dishonorable deeds. Fangzhang Shixiong [martial brother Abbot] and I have long ago given up the worldly matters. How can we still feel any attachment to this red dust …” His gaze swept the faces of the monks. “This poisonous needle,” he continued, “Who shot it out? A real man who dares to do it, must also have the courage to accept responsibility. Stand up and face me.”

None of the several hundred monks opened his mouth; some of them muttered, “Amituofo, sin, sin!”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, he recalled his parents’ story how his mother Yin Susu had posed as his father, Zhang Cuishan, and used poisonous needles to kill Shaolin monks, and thus had caused his father to bear the grudge despite his innocence. But the silver needles of Tian Ying Jiao [Heavenly Eagle Cult] differed greatly from this steel needle, both in shape and in toxicity. The poison of the one taken from Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s dead body looked like that of the western region’s venomous insect ‘xin yi tiao’ [one heart beat]. It was called the ‘xin yi tiao’ because as the poison from the insect contacted the warm blood, the heart would beat only once, and then it would stop beating altogether.

Zhang Wuji knew that Shi Huolong was killed by Yuan Zhen; he also knew that hidden among the Shaolin monks were Yuan Zhen’s henchmen. Consequently, the reason Chuan Gong Zhanglao was shot with the needle must be to close his mouth from mentioning Yuan Zhen’s name. Only at that time everybody was looking at Chuan Gong Zhanglao, so nobody paid any attention on who shot the needle.

Zhang Bang Longtou shouted, “Tens of thousands Beggar Clan disciples all know who Shi Bangzhu’s killer is. You want to kill others to close their mouths? Humph, humph! Only if you kill all Beggar Clan disciples under the Heaven! The murderer is a Buddhist monk, his name is Yuan Zhen …”

Zhang Bo Longtou suddenly leaped in front of his comrade; his iron bowl moved. ‘Ding!’ he caught a steel needle with the bowl. It was still unclear from which direction the steel needle was shot, but Zhang Bo Longtou had put all his concentration guarding from the side. As soon as he saw a bluish streak of light flickered under the sun, he lifted his iron bowl to catch it. If he was half a step late, Zhang Bang Longtou would certainly meet his violent death.

Kong Zhi’s shadow circled around to the back of the nine Damo Hall monks. ‘Bang!’ He kicked the fourth old monk down, followed by a grab on that monk’s collar. “Kong Ru,” he said while lifting that monk up, “It turns out that it is you! You are also ganging up with Yuan Zhen?” His right hand pulled down the front lapel of Kong Ru’s Buddhist robe. ‘Rip!’ the robe tore, revealing a small steel tube, with a small hole on the head of the tube, on his waist.

Suddenly it became clear to everybody: there must be a powerful spring inside this steel tube. That monk only needed to reach into his pocket, press the trigger and the poisonous needle would shoot out of the hole. He did not need to raise his hand or wave his arm to do this; therefore, even if one was facing him only a few feet apart, one would not necessarily be able to see him shooting the secret projectile.

In his grief and anger, Zhang Bang Longtou raised his iron staff and swept it down, crushing Kong Ru’s brain out. Kong Ru was a peer of the Four Divine Monks; his martial art skill was on par with them, but he was seized by Kong Zhi and the acupoint on his back was sealed, so he could not move. As Zhang Bang Longtou’s iron staff swept down, he was unable to evade. The crowd of warriors cried out in alarm together.

Kong Zhi was taken by surprise; he glowered at Zhang Bang Longtou, thinking, “You are too hot-headed; you did not even investigate clearly.”

Amidst this confusion, suddenly from outside the field four Buddhist nuns wearing black robes walked in quick steps, each one had a whisk in her hand. In loud and clear voices they announced, “Emei Pai Zhangmen [sect leader] Zhou Zhiruo, leading the Emei disciples, pays her respect to Shaolin Temple’s Kong Wen Fangzhang.”

Kong Zhi laid down Kong Ru’s body and replied, “Please come in.” He welcomed the guests in a calm and composed manner. The remaining eight old monks of the Damo Hall followed behind him. It was as if they completely ignored the recent tragedy and it did not weigh on their mind at all.

After the four nuns paid their respects, they withdrew, turned around and left as swiftly as they came. The extraordinary thing about them was that these four women came and went as if they were one person; their footwork was light and graceful, as if they were floating leisurely, like passing clouds or flowing river, surging waves devoid of discreet steps.

As Zhang Wuji heard Zhou Zhiruo was coming, his face immediately turned red, and he stole a glance toward Zhao Min. At that exact same time, Zhao Min was also looking at him. Two people’s gaze met. Zhao Min winked, it was as if she was smiling, but actually she was not. The corner of her mouth slanted down, as if in contempt; although it was not clear whether she was mocking Zhang Wuji, who was at a loss, or she was looking at Emei Pai’ bluff with disdain.

Unlike the Beggar Clan warriors who walked into the field on their own, the Emei Pai heroines waited for Kong Zhi and the Shaolin monks to go out and welcome them, and only then did they enter the field in neat formation. There were about eighty, ninety female disciples wearing black robes; most of them were bald Buddhist nuns of all ages, elderly, middle-aged and young, even teenaged nuns. Behind these female disciples, more than a ‘zhang’ away, walked a very beautiful young woman wearing dark green ordinary [Translator’s note: by ‘ordinary’ here, I mean secular, not a Buddhist nun clothes] clothes in slow steps. She was the Emei Pai Sect Leader, Zhou Zhiruo. As Zhang Wuji saw her slim figure, with a rather thin and pallid face, he felt sorry for her, but also ashamed of himself.

Several ‘zhang’s behind Zhou Zhiruo, there were about twenty male disciples; they also wore black robes. Most of them had refined scholar-like features, unlike the masculine and imposing features common to those of Wulin characters. Each man’s hands carried a wooden case of varying sizes, long and short. These hundred or so Emei disciples did not carry any weapon either on their bodies or their hands, obviously, the weapons were inside those boxes.

The crowd of warriors secretly praised, “The Emei Pai truly knows propriety; by not carrying weapons openly, they are showing deep respect toward the Shaolin Pai.”

Zhang Wuji waited until they were seated before he walk toward Emei Pai’s shelter and greet Zhou Zhiruo by cupping his fists. In bashful and ashamed voice he said, “Zhou Jiejie [elder sister Zhou], Zhang Wuji comes to apologize humbly.”

More than ten Emei Pai female disciples stood up suddenly; their eyebrows were raised, their faces looked angry.

“I do not dare,” Zhou Zhiruo returned the propriety. “Zhang Jiaozhu, why must you overly courteous? I am sure you are well since we part?” She looked completely calm, without any sign of either delight or anger.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was thumping erratically. “Zhiruo,” he said, “Because I was eager to save Yifu, I was being rude to you. I feel endless regret in my heart.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “I heard Xie Laoye [old master Xie] has fallen into Shaolin Temple’s hands. Zhang Jiaozhu is an unrivalled hero, I am sure you have already rescued him.”

Zhang Wuji blushed and said, “Shaolin Pai’s eminent monks possess profound martial art skill. The Ming Cult has lost a battle. My (maternal) Grandfather was unfortunate and has passed away.”

“Yin Laoye Zi [old master] was a hero of this age,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “What a pity, what a pity!”

She did not show any emotion whether happy or angry. Zhang Wuji could not read her true feelings; he only felt that his words seem like bumping on her flexible nail, always bounce back without generating any interest on her part. However, thinking that compared to how bad he had hurt her by leaving her for Zhao Min in front of multitude of guests, the cold reception he received today was a thousand times, ten thousand times better. Thereupon he said, “Later, when we try to save Yifu, I wish you would lend your hands for old times’ sake.”

His heart stirred as soon as he said those words. “In the past half a year, her skill has advanced greatly,” he mused, “At the wedding hall the other day, Fan You Shi was forced to retreat by her in just one stance even with the kind of skill he has. Min Mei has learned the special skills of various sects’ leaders, yet she was almost killed instantly by her; not to mention Du Baidang and Yi Sanniang, husband and wife just a few days ago. Perhaps … perhaps as she took over the Emei Zhangmen [sect leader] position, she trained some secret martial art from some secret manual reserved exclusively for Sect Leader. Her comprehension is better than Miejue Shitai to the extent of although green was born of blue, it surpasses the blue [Translator’s note: a Chinese saying, means ‘student (or children) become superior to the master (or parents)]. If she is willing to collaborate with me, we might be able to break the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’.”

Thinking to this point, he was excited and said, “Zhiruo, I want to ask you a favor.”

Zhou Zhiruo’s countenance suddenly stiffened. “Zhang Jiaozhu,” she said, “Please exercise self-control. At this point, how can you address me like in the former days?” Beckoning to someone behind her she said, “Qingshu, come over here. Tell Zhang Jiaozhu about us.”

Zhang Wuji saw a man with face full of spiky beard step forward, cupping his fists and say, “Zhang Jiaozhu, how are you?”

Zhang Wuji recognized the voice as belonging to Song Qingshu; he took a closer look and recognized him as Song Qingshu; only he disguised himself as an older and uglier man to hide his original features. Thus Zhang Wuji also cupped his fists and said, “Turns out it is Song Shige [martial (older) brother]; I am well, thank you.”

Song Qingshu showed a faint smile and said, “Actually, I should thank Zhang Jiaozhu. That day when you were about to marry my wife you had a second thought and regret …”

“What?!?” Zhang Wuji was shocked; his voice trembled.

“I have Zhang Jiaozhu to thank for my happy and blissful marriage,” Song Qingshu said.

It was as if five thunderbolts had struck Zhang Wuji at once. He stood with a blank expression on his face; his eyes glazed over like he was looking at a vast expanse of whiteness, his ears were buzzing with indistinct noise that he could not hear what people were saying around him. After a long time, he felt someone was tugging his arm.

“Jiaozhu, let us go back!” that person said.

Zhang Wuji calmed himself down and took a sidelong glance. He saw his arm was pulled by Han Lin’er. Han Lin’er’s face was full of anxiety, grief and anger.

“Miss Zhou,” Han Lin’er said to Zhou Zhiruo, “My Jiaozhu is a righteous hero; just because of a small misunderstanding you married this … this … humph, humph!” Actually, he wanted to scold Song Qingshu, but out of respect to Zhou Zhiruo, he swallowed back the word that was on the tip of his tongue.

Although Zhang Wuji had deep feelings toward Zhao Min, he had always thought that he was engaged with Zhou Zhiruo. That day, because he wanted to rescue Yifu, he had no choice but follow Zhao Min. He thought as a sweet and gentle girl, Zhou Zhiruo would understand and would not blame him as long as he honestly told her the reason. Who would have thought that in her rage she married Song Qingshu? The pain in his heart right now far exceeded the pain on his chest when Zhou Zhiruo stabbed him at the Brightness Peak.

Turning his head, he saw Zhou Zhiruo stretch out her delicate hand, as white as jade, to beckon Song Qingshu. With a very smug expression Song Qingshu walked back to her side, and sat next to her. With a faint smile on the corners of his mouth he said to Zhang Wuji, “When we get married, we did not throw any invitations and thus announced it publicly. Someday, we will invite Sire to enjoy our ‘wine of happiness’ [orig. xi3jiu3 – wine drunk at a wedding feast].”

Zhang Wuji wanted to say ‘thank you’ [orig. duo1xie4le5], but his throat was dry; unexpectedly he could not utter these three characters. Han Lin’er pulled his arm and said, “Jiaozhu, don’t pay any attention to this kind of person.”

Song Qingshu laughed and said, “Han Dage [big brother Han], when the time comes, you also have to enjoy this ‘wine of happiness’.”

Han Lin’er spat and hatefully said, “I’d rather drink three jars of horse urine than your bad-luck, dead-people’s wine.” Zhang Wuji sighed; he pulled Han Lin’er’s arm and took him away sadly.

In the meantime, the Beggar Clan’s Zhang Bang Longtou was engaged in a fiery argument with a Shaolin monk. The exchange among Zhang Wuji, Zhou Zhiruo, Song Qingshu and Han Lin’er took place at the Emei Pai shelter, on the northwest corner of the field, so it did not attract anybody’s attention; the crowd of warriors was busy listening to the dispute between the Beggar Clan and Shaolin Pai.

Zhang Wuji returned to the Ming Cult’s shelter and sat down with a troubled mind. He vaguely heard that old Shaolin monk in red kasaya say, “I told you Yuan Zhen Shixiong [martial brother] and Chen Youliang are not in our Temple, but your precious Clan did not believe me. Your precious Clan’s Chuan Gong Zhanglao was unfortunate to meet his death, but our Sect’s Kong Ru Shishu [martial uncle] had paid it with his own life. What else do you want?”

Zhang Bang Longtou said, “You said Yuan Zhen and Chen Youliang are not here? I don’t believe you! You must let us search Shaolin Temple.”

That Shaolin monk sneered and said, “Sire, you want to search Shaolin Temple? Don’t you think you are a bit too arrogant? The puny Beggar Clan might not necessarily have the ability to do so.”

“You are looking down on the Beggar Clan?” Zhang Bang Longtou said angrily. “Fine, I’ll ask you for advice first.”

The Shaolin monk replied, “For thousands of years, there have been countless heroes and warriors paying a visit to Shaolin. But because of our founder’s mercy, Shaolin has never burned anybody.”

The argument of these two was getting hotter by the minute; it looked like they were about to fight soon. Kong Zhi was standing quietly on the side; he did not even try to intervene. Suddenly Situ Qianzhong’s weird voice was heard again, “The world’s heroes are gathered together at Shaolin today. Some of us had to cover a distance of thousands of ‘li’s. Are we here to watch the Beggar Clan seeking a revenge?”

“That’s right,” Xia Zhou said, “The enmity between the Beggar Clan and Shaolin Pai can be temporarily set aside. It will not be too late for the two of you to settle your account later. We’d better talk about how we are going to handle that villain Xie Xun first.”

“Don’t be foul-mouthed,” Zhang Bang Longtou was indignant. “Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia is one of the Ming Cult’s Protector Kings; what villain are you talking about?”

Xia Zhou thundered, “You are scared of the Ming Cult, I am not scared of them! A villain with a wolf heart and dog lung like Xie Xun and you still honor him as a hero?”

Yang Xiao walked toward the center of the field, cupped his fists around and said, “I am [orig. zai4xia4] the Ming Cult’s Guangming Zuo Shi [left emissary of the brightness]. I have something I’d like to say in front of the world’s heroes. My humble Cult’s Xie Shi Wang has killed innocent people in the past, but actually, he can’t be blamed …”

“Humph,” Xia Zhou snorted, “Those people he killed are already dead. Do you think you can resurrect them with several sentences of your superficial words?”

Yang Xiao was unfazed; he said, “We are roaming the Jianghu; we lick the blood on our blades on a daily basis. Which one among us has never taken anybody’s life to be able to stay alive until today? One with stronger martial art skill might kill more people. One with inept skill might lose one’s life. If for every life we take we must pay with our own lives, hey, hey, I wonder how many of us, among these several thousands of heroes and warriors in this field, would remain. Xia Lao Yingxiong [old hero Xia], you have never killed people in your whole life?”

The Mongolian occupation of China was a time of chaos; there was trouble and confusion everywhere. As the Wulin characters roamed the Jianghu, they would either kill or be killed. It was quite difficult to cultivate one’s own moral worth. Other than a small number of monks and nuns from Shaolin Pai and Emei Pai, perhaps it was rare to find anybody whose hands were free from bloodstain.

This Shandong’s warrior Xia Zhou was a hot-tempered man; he had injured countless people. Yang Xiao’s words had rendered him speechless.

After being dumbfounded for a while, he said, “Bad people we can kill, good people we should not kill. This Xie Xun and the devil heads of the Ming Cult are entirely alike; always do dishonorable deeds. I wish I could cut you in thousands pieces, eat your flesh and sleep on your skin. Humph, humph, the one surnamed Yang, I think you are not a good ‘thing’.”

He understood that there were many highly skilled people within the Ming Cult, but today he wanted to kill Xie Xun to avenge his brother’s death, so a bloody battle against the Ming Cult was unavoidable. Therefore, he spoke boldly without showing any restraint.

A piercing voice came from the Ming Cult shelter, “Xia Zhou, do you think I am a good ‘thing’?”

Xia Zhou turned to look at the speaker; he saw a thin-cheeked and sharp-mouthed, pale-faced man; so pale that his face looked gray. Xia Zhou did not know what kind of person this speaker was; he shouted, “I don’t know who you are, but since you are one of the Devil Cult’s devil heads, I am sure you are not a good ‘thing’.”

“Xia Xiong [brother Xia},” Situ Qianzhong said, “Don’t you know this gentleman? He is one of the Four Protector Kings of the Ming Cult, the Qing Yi Fu Wang.”

“Pei, pei!” Xia Zhou spat, “The Blood Sucking Devil!”

Suddenly, while the crowd of warriors was still talking among themselves, Wei Yixiao had arrived in front of Xia Zhou. They were actually more than ten ‘zhang’s apart, but somehow Wei Yixiao managed to cover that distance in split seconds.

Wei Yixiao raised his hand and ‘slap, slap, slap, slap!’ he gave Xia Zhou four slaps on his face, followed by an elbow strike toward the acupoint on Xia Zhou’s lower abdomen. Actually, Xia Zhou’s martial art skill was not so bad. Based on their actual skill levels, Wei Yixiao would need at least fifty stances before he could beat Xia Zhou. However, Wei Yixiao’s ‘qing gong’ skill was too strange for Xia Zhou. He moved like a ghost, like a demon; so because of this element of surprise, by the time Xia Zhou realized the attack and was about to parry, the strike had already arrived.

While the crowd of warriors was crying out in shock, a white shadow flew from the Ming Cult’s shelter. It was inferior to Wei Yixiao’s lightning speed, yet the shadow was faster than a galloping horse. As the shadow reached Xia Zhou, a large cloth sack opened, went down on his head, and scooped him inside the sack. It was not until the shadow slung the sack on his shoulder did the crowd of warriors finally saw that the shadow was a giggling Buddhist monk, the Bu Dai Heshang [cloth sack monk] Shuo Bude.

Shuo Bude laughed and said, “A good thing, you are a good thing! The monk will take you home and cook you slowly for my dinner!” Carrying Xia Zhou along, light as a feather he swiftly returned to the wooden shelter.

This attack on Xia Zhou happened very quickly and ended just as quick. Although he was surrounded by a dozen friends and fellow martial brothers, the two men from the enemy side were too fast that nobody was able to render their assistance. Only after Wei Yixiao and Shuo Bude were back to their seats that these dozen or so people unsheathed their weapons and charged toward the Ming Cult’s shelter with loud shouting and cursing.

Shuo Bude pulled open the sack’s mouth and said with a laugh, “Just return to your seats nicely and sit down quietly. After the meeting is over, I will let him go. If you are not obedient, the old monk will urinate into this cloth sack, or put some dung inside, or the best I can do is farting into the sack. Do you believe me or not?” As he said that, he put his hand onto his belt, as if he was ready to take his pants off.

These dozen or so people were so angry that their faces turned green and yellow, but remembering that these Ming Cult people would not stop at anything, they believed that he would do what he said he would do. They also realized that their skills were insufficient to help Xia Zhou. If this bald thief really urinated on his head, Xia Lao Yingxiong would certainly kill himself. They looked at each other, and then they returned to their seats with a dejected look on their faces.

Watching this affair, the crowd of heroes was startled and amused at the same time. When they went up the mountain, they were in high spirits, thinking that they were going to witness the execution of Xie Xun. But as they saw the skills of these two Ming Cult warriors, they realized that this assembly could turn dangerous. Even if they were successful in killing Xie Xun, the field would unavoidably be soaked with blood, and corpses would be scattered everywhere. They could not restrain trepidation from creeping into their hearts.

They saw Situ Qianzhong, with a wine cup in his left hand and a wine gourd in his right, walk toward the center of the field while shaking his head. “There is indeed a lively event worthy to be watched today,” he said, “Some want to kill Xie Xun, some want to save him. But after going back and forth, whether Xie Xun is really at the Shaolin Temple or not, is still left to our own speculation. I’ll say: Kong Zhi Dashi, why don’t you invite Jin Mao Shi Wang to come out so that everybody can see him first. And then, those of want to kill and those who want to save, can show their true ability by competing against each other. Don’t you think it will be interesting?”

At his words, most of the warriors around the field applauded and cheered loudly. Yang Xiao thought, “Xie Shi Wang [lion king Xie] has too many enemies. Even with Ming Cult and the Beggar Clan’s combined forces, we simply cannot fight the heroes from all over the world. It will be better to divert their attention to the Tulong Saber and stir up these warriors to fight each other.” Thereupon with a loud and clear voice he said, “All the warriors under the Heaven are gathered here at the Shaolin Temple today, first, to settle the unfinished business of gratitude and grudges with Xie Shi Wang; second … hey hey! I am afraid everybody wants to get their hands on this treasured Tulong Saber. If we follow Mr. Situ’s suggestion, everybody will fight everybody else and then after when all is said and done, I wonder who will get the precious Saber?”

As the crowd heard him, they thought he was speaking reasonably. Besides, among these several thousand people, perhaps only a little over a hundred people who truly had intense and deep-hatred toward Xie Xun. Without realizing it, their hearts were beating faster as soon as they thought about the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’ [wulin zhi zun], four characters.

A black-bearded old man stood up and said, “I wonder what kind of person is in possession of the Tulong Saber, would Yang Zuo Shi inform us?”

“This matter is also unclear to me,” Yang Xiao replied, “I am afraid we must consult Kong Zhi Chanshi [honorific title for a Buddhist monk].”

Kong Zhi shook his head without saying anything. The crowd of heroes was secretly dissatisfied, they all thought, “Shaolin Pai is the host and initiator of this assembly, but Kong Wen Fangzhang is suddenly ill and cannot come out; this Kong Zhi Chanshi is so lethargic that it looks like he is half dead. I wonder what kind of trick they are playing.”

A middle-aged man in dark-green coarse long robe stood up and said, “Although Kong Zhi Chanshi does not know, Xie Shi Wang certainly does. Let us invite him to come out and inquire of him. Afterwards, each one of us can play around with our true skills. Whose martial art skill is number one under the Heaven will be clear to us; naturally, he is worthy to bear the ‘wulin zhi zun’ title. No matter in whose hands the Saber is, he should hand it over to the ‘wulin zhi zun’. If you ask me, I’ll say we must agree to this first to avoid any dispute in the future. If he refuses to hand it over, all the heroes under the Heaven will rally together to attack him. Gentlemen, what do you think?”

Zhang Wuji recognized the speaker as one of the three Qinghai Pai sword masters who joined the attack to the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan the other night.

Situ Qianzhong said, “Won’t that be a martial art competition? [orig. da2 lei4 tai2 – beating drum on the platform; as martial art competition on those days was usually held on a raised platform, with people beating drums on the side] I think it is completely inappropriate.”

“Any why not?” that man in the dark-green robe coldly asked, “Are you saying that we should not compete in a martial art, but compete on liquor capacity? If that’s the case, then which thousand bells [Situ Qianzhong means Situ (surname) ‘thousand bells’] is not drunk, whoever gets drunk but does not die [Situ Qianzhong’s title was ‘zui bu si’ (drunk but did not die)], will be crowned the ‘wulin zhi zun’.”

The crowd broke up in laughter. Some in the crowd said with a strange voice, “Why do we have to compete then? This ‘wulin zhi zun’ title would certainly belong to the ‘zui bu si’, Mr. Situ!”

Situ Qianzhong tipped his wine gourd to pour a cup of wine, and then tilting his head backwards he drank it in one gulp. “I don’t dare, I don’t dare!” he said earnestly, “To win the title ‘jiu lin zhi zun’ [the most revered in the wine world], I, ‘zui bu si’ might have a thirty percent chance; but ‘wulin zhi zun’, ha ha .. I don’t dare to accept the challenge; I don’t dare …” To the man in the dark-green robe he said, “Since Sire has raised this issue, your martial art knowledge must have transcended the mortal world attainment. Under my faulty vision, I actually do not know Sire’s illustrious name.”

That man coldly said, “I am Ye Changqing of Qinghai Pai; both my drinking capacity and my clowning skills are inferior to Sire’s.” He implied that ‘in martial art skill, I am much stronger than Sire.’

Situ Qianzhong tilted his head sideways and thought for half a day. “Qinghai Pai?” he said, “Never heard. Ye Changqing? Hm, hm … never heard either.”

Everybody thought, “This Old Situ has such a nerve. Insulting Ye Changqing one man is all right, but he dares to insult the entire Qingjai Pai; wonder if he has a formidable backer behind him? Or did he have an unresolved enmity against Qinghai Pai? Just based on these few words, I am afraid Qinghai Pai would not let him go easily.” Only those who knew Situ Qianzhong well realized that he was always alone, without anybody to back him up. He also did not have any enmity against the Qinghai Pai. He simply was a brassy man, who loved to argue and did not exercise control over his own tongue. Although he had suffered countless troubles in his life, his behavior did not change.

Murderous intent started to grow in Ye Changqing’s heart, but his face remained calm when he said, “Qinghai Pai and the Ol’ Ye are indeed obscure names, no wonder Sire did not know. But since Sire said martial art competition was inappropriate, while in drinking wine [orig. ‘pouring yellow soup’] competition Sire’s skill is unequalled under the Heaven, then how would we resolve this problem? Please advice.”

“ ‘Unequalled under the Heaven’ is truly much easier said than done,” Situ Qianzhong said, “Truly much easier said than done. Back then, when I was at Jinan Prefecture [capital of Shandong, northeastern China] …”

“Zui Bu Si,” he was about to prattle along when someone in the crowd shouted, “Don’t get drunk in here! We don’t have time to listen to your nonsense.” Another man shouted, “What about Xie Xun? What about the Tulong Saber?” Yet another man shouted, “Kong Zhi Chanshi, you are the host of this hero’s assembly, are you inviting us here to listen to this empty talk? What kind of assembly is this?” In short, the people wanted Situ Qianzhong to shut up, and for Kong Zhi to take charge of the situation. These people were shouting from among the crowd, some far, some near, they were from all directions.

Situ Qianzhong said, “Shi Laoda [old (big) man Shi] from Jiangling [a place in Hubei] prefecture’s Hei Feng Zhai [black wind fort], you don’t have to worry. Although your Hei Sha Zhang [black sand palm] is fierce, you will not necessarily able to defeat the ‘Unequalled under the Heaven’. Poyang Lake’s ‘shui di jin ao’ [mythological golden turtle from the bottom of Poyang Lake] Hou Xiongdi [brother Hou], that Xie Shi Wang [lion king Xie] possesses an excellent water skill; you won’t be able to take advantage of him with your underwater skill. Much less they still have one ‘Zi Shan Long Wang’ [purple-robed dragon king] who has not made her appearance yet. Hey, hey, how can turtle and fish compete against the dragon king? Mount Qingyang’s [a place in Anhui] Wu San Lang [third lad surnamed Wu], if you are dreaming of snatching the Tulong Saber with your sword, you must be blind …”

This man might talk like a madman, but he had a skill that surpassed others; his network of acquaintances was broad, his hearing was keen. From a bustling and random noise of the people shouting, he was able to call the surname and special skill of each speaker, one by one, without any mistake. The crowd of warriors realized this special skill of his; they could not help but break out in cheers.

An old monk behind Kong Zhi stood up and said, “Shaolin Pai is ashamed to be the host; as luck would have it, our Fangzhang [Abbot] has suddenly fallen ill. Nobody is in charge of this grand assembly, and in the end we become the laughingstock of everybody present. Xie Xun and the Tulong Saber are two separate matters, but they are two in one and one in two, which can be handled together. According to Lao Na, what this Ye Shizhu [benefactor] of Qinghai Pai said is very reasonable. There are countless brave people with outstanding ability among the attending heroes. We only need everybody to demonstrate each one’s skill. Whoever stays standing at the end will have the right to handle Xie Xun; the Tulong Saber will also be his. Let the heroes consider; isn’t it a good idea?”

Zhang Wuji asked Peng Yingyu, “Who is this monk?”

Peng Yingyu shook his head. “Subordinate does not know,” he said, “This monk did not participate in the besieging of the Brightness Peak. He also was not one of those held captive by Junzhu Niangniang at the Wanan Temple. But since he repeatedly speaks in front of Kong Zhi Dashi, his position in the Temple must not be low.”

Zhao Min said in a low voice, “Nine out of ten, this man belongs to Yuan Zhen gang. I am guessing that Kong Wen Fangzhang has fallen into Yuan Zhen’s hands. Kong Zhi Dashi thereupon is forced to comply with these rebels’ wish. That’s why he looks so gloomy and dispirited.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart sank; “Peng Dashi, what do you think?” he asked.

“Junzhu’s guess makes sense,” Peng Yingyu replied, “Only Shaolin Temple is full of martial art masters. Yuan Zhen’s his nerves must be too big to have the courage to openly defy his superior and create trouble.”

“Yuan Zhen has made preparations long time ago,” Zhang Wuji said, “First, he wants to destroy our Cult; second, he wants to gain control over the Beggar Clan. Both deceitful attempts failed when success was just in sight. This time, I believe he wants to be the Shaolin Pai’s Zhang Men Fangzhang [sect leader, abbot].”

“To be Zhang Men Fangzhang might not be enough,” Zhao Min said.

“Shaolin Pai is the number one Sect in the Wulin world,” Zhang Wuji said, “Being the Zhang Men Fangzhang is the pinnacle of achievement; nothing can be higher than that.”

“How about ‘wulin zhi zun’?” Zhao Min asked, “Isn’t ‘the most revered in the Wulin world’ higher than Shaolin Pai’s Zhang Men Fangzhang?”

“He wants to be the ‘wulin zhi zun’?” Zhang Wuji asked absentmindedly.

“Wuji Gege,” Zhao Min said, “Just because Zhou Jiejie [elder sister] married another man, you become muddle-headed, and cannot think about anything else clearly.”

As the secret of his heart was exposed, Zhang Wuji blushed. “Zhang Wuji,” he silently scolded himself, “You must not be engrossed in one thing and care about man-woman relationship only, and thus setting the important matter of rescuing Yifu aside.” Calming himself down, he thought about how Yuan Zhen was really farsighted; today’s great assembly was part of his grand schemes, so there must be something greater than what meets the eye. “Min Mei,” he said, “What do you think Yuan Zhen’s real intention is?”

Zhao Min said, “This man Yuan Zhen is very cunning; extremely intelligent …”

Zhou Dian, who had been listening on the side this conversation in low voice, finally could not restrain himself from cut in, “Junzhu Niangniang, you are also very cunning and extremely intelligent. I’ll say you are not the least bit inferior to Yuan Zhen.”

Zhao Min laughed, “You flatter me too much,” she said.

Zhou Dian said, “Not too much …”

“Dian Xiong,” Peng Yingyu cut him off, “Do not interrupt Junzhu Niangniang.”

Zhou Dian was indignant. “You interrupted me first …” he said.

Peng Yingyu smiled without saying anything. He was well aware that bickering with Zhou Dian for two to four hours [orig. one or two ‘sichen’, 1 sichen = 2-hour] was not unusual; therefore, he would rather not respond.

“Why don’t you say anything?” Zhou Dian asked.

“You told me not to interrupt you; I won’t interrupt you,” Peng Yingyu replied.

“But you have already interrupted me,” Zhou Dian said.

“Then please continue whatever you were going to say,” Peng Yingyu said.

“I’ve forgotten already, I don’t remember what I was going to say,” Zhou Dian said.

Zhao Min laughed and continued, “I thought that if Yuan Zhen’s sole objective was to be Shaolin Temple Abbot, he did not need to gather all the heroes under the Heaven here. Xia Daxia has already fallen into his hands, why would he want the heroes to fight over him? Wuji Gege, speaking about martial art skill, I am afraid nobody in the world is superior to you. It’s impossible that Yuan Zhen did not know this fact. I don’t think he is being nice by arranging all heroes under the Heaven to gather here so that you can defeat them all and become the ‘wulin zhi zun’. It is like he is offering Xie Daxia and the Tulong Saber to you for free.”

Zhang Wuji, Peng Yingyu and Zhou Dian nodded and asked, “What do you think is his real plot?”

At this time Yang Xiao walked over toward Zhang Wuji and joined the discussion, “I have been thinking, this traitor Yuan Zhen’s evil scheme must not be a simple one …”

Zhou Dian could not bear not to comment, “Yuan Zhen is our Cult’s archenemy. Junzhu Niangniang, you were once also our Cult’s archenemy. This traitor Yuan Zhen is very cunning and extremely intelligent, Junzhu Niangniang, you are also very cunning and extremely intelligent. I say the two of you are on par with each other.”

“You are talking rubbish!” Yang Xiao scolded him.

With a faint smile Zhao Min continued, “What Mr. Zhou said makes sense. If I were Yuan Zhen, how would I carry out my conspiracy? Mmm … first, I would persuade Kong Wen Fangzhang to send out mass invitation to all heroes under the Heaven, requesting them to come to Shaolin Temple. Kong Wen Fangzhang is a devout Buddhist; a person of mercy and peace. Naturally, he did not want to be meddlesome in other people’s business; but all I need to do is mention the names of Kong Jian and Kong Xing, two Shen Seng. Kong Wen Fangzhang loves his martial brothers very much, so, he gave his permission. Furthermore, if Shaolin Temple wanted to kill Xie Daxia, the enmity with the Ming Cult would be as deep as the ocean. Based on one Sect’s power alone, Shaolin might not necessarily be able to resist Ming Cult’s full-force attack; but if Shaolin shifted the blame to the heroes from all over the world, certainly the Ming Cult could not massacre several thousand attending warriors, could it?”

Everybody nodded their heads in agreement. Zhao Min continued, “Once the great assembly is in progress, I would not show my own face; I’ll let others use Xie Daxia and the Tulong Saber as a bait to provoke the heroes and warriors to kill each other. Inevitably, The Ming Cult would have to fight countless enemies. After the battle is over, it doesn’t matter who win or lose, the Ming Cult force would be decreased by half and its power would diminish considerably.”

“Exactly,” Zhang Wuji said, “I have had the same concern, but Yifu’s kindness to me was as heavy as the mountain. He also has dozens of years of friendship with our brethrens. How can we sit down without trying to save him? Ay, we have been on this mountain only for several days, Grandfather had already died. That traitor Yuan Zhen must be clapping and cheering in his hiding place.”

Zhao Min continued, “At the end of the battle, most likely Zhang Jiaozhu will be crowned the number one martial artist; so the Shaolin monks would say, ‘Zhang Jiaozhu’s skill surpasses all the heroes. You are worthy of the honor and the accolades. Our Temple sincerely hands over Xie Daxia to Zhang Jiaozhu. Would Zhang Jiaozhu please go to the hill peak behind the Temple to welcome him?’ Thereupon everybody would climb the peak together; Zhang Jiaozhu must break the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’. If anybody stepped forward to assist him, Yuan Zhen’s crony would say, ‘The one defeating all the warriors was Zhang Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult; it has nothing to do with anybody else. It would be better for Sire to stand on the side and watch.’ In his effort to win the title of number one martial artist in the world, even if Zhang Jiaozhu did not suffer any injury, his internal energy would be consumed I don’t know how much; by that time, how can he be the three monks’ match? In the end, not only Xie Daxia could not be rescued, he would die among the three green pines instead. Only the cold moon and the bitter wind would accompany the body of the great hero of this generation, Zhang Wuji. Tell me, isn’t my scheme wonderful?”

Listening to this point, the group of warriors’ countenances changed; they believed Zhao Min’s words were not meant to frighten anybody. Zhang Wuji’s courage and uprightness was outstanding; he would not care how much suffering and calamity he had to endure, he would definitely try to rescue Xie Xun. Even if he had to lose his life, he would never regret his decision. Yuan Zhen had accurately seen these traits on Zhang Wuji; he knew that Zhang Wuji would jump into a mountain of blades or pot of oil.

Zhao Min sighed and said, “This way, the Ming Cult’s demise is guaranteed. Yuan Zhen would carry out his evil plot further. He would poison Kong Wen, and put the blame on Kong Zhi Dashi. This scheme would be very easy to do, he would only need to fabricate false evidence, and the Shaolin monks would believe him. Consequently, his cronies would unanimously recommend him as the logical candidate to take over Fangzhang position. He, Senior, would issue a decree for the warriors to besiege the Ming Cult. Relying on numbers to achieve victory, he would annihilate the Ming Cult. At that time, the title number one martial artist in the world, I am afraid other people would be unable to take it away from him. If Tulong Saber did not appear, so be it. But if in the Jianghu the trail of this precious Saber reappeared, everybody would know that the rightful owner of this Saber would be the Shaolin Temple Abbot, Yuan Zhen Shen Seng. If the owner of the Saber was unwilling to hand this Saber away, I am afraid he would be in a precarious position!”

Although Zhao Min was speaking in a low voice, several people in the wooden shelter were intently listening to her. As she finished speaking, Zhou Dian slapped his own thigh and called out, “Exactly, exactly! What an excellent evil plan!” Unconsciously, his voice grew loud that most of the people around the field heard him. Everybody turned their eyes toward the Ming Cult’s shelter.

“What kind of excellent evil plan?” Situ Qianzhong asked, “Can you tell it to this old man?”

“Definitely not!” Zhou Dian said, “The Old Man [referring to himself] wants to sow dissension so that the heroes from all over the world would kill each other, to the point that you die, I live. If I tell you, won’t the evil plan lose its effectiveness?”

“Wonderful, wonderful!” Situ Qianzhong laughed, “But how are you going to sow dissension? Would you elaborate?”

Zhou Dian loudly said, “I am thinking of an ingenious evil plan; I would tell a lie by saying that the Old Man has the Tulong Saber in his possession. Whoever possesses the strongest martial art, the Old Man would hand over the Tulong Saber to him …”

“What a plan! What a conspiracy!” Situ Qianzhong called out, “And then what?”

Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji exchanged a glance, they both thought, “This drunkard is neither our relative nor our friend, but he is a great help to us.”

Zhou Dian loudly said, “Just think, this precious Saber is known as the ‘wulin zhi zun’; who won’t fight with his all might to get hold of it? Thereupon, the lunatic would be killed by the drunkard, the drunkard would be killed by the monk, the monk would be killed by the priest, the priest would be killed by the young lady … the killing would continue, the field would be littered with dead bodies, blood would flow like a river. Woohoo! What a pity! What an awful sight!”

As soon as the crowd of heroes heard him, they shivered in fear; thinking that although this man acted like a lunatic, his words actually made a perfect sense. Kongtong Pai’s Er Lao [second elder] Zong Weixia stood up and said, “This gentleman, Mr. Zhou, actually has a point. We are honest and upright people, we do not speak in riddles; it is unavoidable that every school and every sect has an interest in the Tulong Saber. However, I think it is not worthwhile to lose our reputation just for the sake of the Saber, or even go as far as the destruction of the entire sect. I wish everybody will not bicker over it, to honor our martial art code of brotherhood, to the point that our friendship will not be harmed regardless of victory or defeat. What do you think?”

At the Brightness Peak, Zhang Wuji had shown him kindness by healing his internal injury due to the ‘Qi Shang Quan’ [seven-injury fist] training. Afterwards, Zhang Wuji also saved him from the Wan An Temple Pagoda. This time Kongtong Pai came to Shaolin Temple with the intention of providing assistance to the Ming Cult.

Situ Qianzhong said with a laugh, “I see you are a big fellow, but you are afraid of death. If nobody spills any blood and nobody loses his life, the martial art contest will not be worth seeing.”

Kongtong Pai’s Si Lao [fourth elder], Chang Jingzhi angrily said, “To hurt a drunkard like you, I don’t need to spill your blood.”

“The drunkard is only joking,” Situ Qianzhong said, “Why should Mr. Chang the Fourth be this angry? Everybody knows Kongtong Pai’s Qi Shang Quan can kill anybody without spilling any blood. Didn’t Kong Jian Shen Seng of Shaolin Temple die under the Qi Shang Quan? How can my old bones, the drunkard surnamed Situ, be compared to Kong Jian Shen Seng?”

The crowd of heroes thought, “This drunkard is offending both the Kongtong Pai and Shaolin Pai. It’s a wonder that he can survive this long roaming in the Jianghu the way he is.”

Zong Weixia ignored his remarks and said in a loud voice, “In my opinion, each school, sect, clan or society is to nominate two of their masters. These masters will compete in martial art skill, and whoever has the highest martial art skill will have the right to handle Xie Daxia and the Tulong Saber.”

The crowd of heroes applauded loudly; they all said that this is the best proposal ever.

Zhang Wuji carefully looked at the monks behind Kong Zhi; most of them frowned, as if they were displeased with this turn of events. He knew Zhao Min’s speculation on Yuan Zhen’s evil plot was correct; he indeed wanted to provoke the crowd of heroes to kill each other.

A white faced middle-aged man with little moustache stood up; his hand waved a folding fan with golden spine, his face was rather good-looking. He said, “I believe Zong Er Xia’s [second hero Zong] proposal is very good. When we compete in martial art, although we will stop at touching the opponent, we must remember that weapons, fists and legs do not have eyes. If anybody slips, that can be considered a fate. Martial brothers and friends shall not come out to seek revenge. Otherwise, the fight will continue without conclusion.”

“That’s right,” the crowd of heroes replied, “Let it be so.”

With a shrill voice Situ Qianzhong said, “This brother, the good-looking gentleman with laughter in his speech, could you be Ouyang Xiongtai [‘xiongtai’ is yet another way of saying ‘brother’] of Hengyang prefecture in Xiang Nan [southern Hunan]?”

That man shook his folding fan twice and laughed. “I do not dare. Such a humble name,” he said, “You flattered me in one sentence and insulted with me the next.”

Situ Qianzhong said, “It seems like Ouyang Xiong and I are loners [orig. ‘gu1hun2ye3gui’ – lonely soul, wild ghost]; we do not belong to any clan, society, school or sect. I like wine, you like women. How about the two of us found the ‘jiu se pai’ [wine and sex sect, or drunkard and lecher sect]? Then our Jiuse Pai’s two masters will stand hand in hand to face the world’s masters together.”

The crowd of heroes broke out in laughter again, thinking that this Situ Qianzhong repeatedly blurting jokes, creating happy atmosphere, inciting not a few laughter around the meeting place; and thus reducing the hostility inside the hearts of many people.

Peng Yingyu informed Zhang Wuji that this white-faced man was Ouyang Muzhi, altogether, he had twelve concubines. Although his martial art was strong, very seldom did he roam around the Jianghu. He spent his days snuggling with his women, enjoying the soft and tender happiness.

Ouyang Muzhi laughed and said, “If we join hands to found a sect, I am afraid my family heritage will not be enough to buy you the wine. Ladies and Gentlemen, speaking of martial art competition, we may want to elect several venerable seniors to act as referees and arbitrators. Otherwise, you say ‘I win’, and I say ‘I win’, and thus the dispute continues.”

Situ Qianzhong laughed, “Won’t we know it if we win or we lose? Who would be as shameless as you are?”

Zong Weixia said, “Electing several arbitrators is good. Shaolin Pai is the host, naturally Kong Zhi Dashi will be one.”

Situ Qianzhong pointed his finger to Shou Bude’s sack and said, “I nominate Shandong Daxia [great hero of Shandong], Xia Zhou, Xia Lao Yingxiong.”

Shuo Bude lifted up his sack and tossed it toward Situ Qianzhong. “One arbitrator coming up!” he said with a laugh.

Situ Qianzhong put down his wine gourd and wine cup. Carrying the cloth sack, he tried to loosen up the cord tied around the sack mouth. Unexpectedly, the knot and the thread were the result of Shou Bude’s special skill; the thread was braided from golden silk and fish bladder strands. Situ Qianzhong struggled with all his might, but was unable to untie the knot. Shuo Bude laughed out loud and leaped forward. His left hand picked the sack and slung it behind his back. His right hand reached up, his ten fingers twisted and turned; then he heaved the sack to the front again. After heaving the sack back and forth, the knot on the sack mouth was loosened. Turning the sack over and shaking it, Xia Zhou rolled out the sack. Situ Qianzhong hastily reached out to unseal Xia Zhou’s acupoint.

After being kept inside the dark cloth sack for half a day and now suddenly he was let out, Xia Zhou found the bright sunlight dazzled his eyes. And then he realized that thousands pairs of eyes were looking at him. He could not bear the shame and wanted to die. Turning around, he pulled the dagger on his waist and stabbed it into the pit of his own stomach.

Situ Qianzhong quickly reached out to grab him with both hands and laughed while saying, “Victory and defeat is common within the martial art practitioners. Xia Dage, why is your heart so dull?”

From among the crowd, a short and plump man shouted loudly, “I am afraid the hero inside the cloth sack is not qualified to be an arbitrator. I nominate Sun Laoyezi [old master Sun] of Mount Changbai.” A middle-aged woman also said, “Zhe Dong Shuang Yi’s [pair of righteous from eastern Zhejiang] prestige shakes the Jiangnan; these two brothers are upright and selfless. They are perfect candidates for the arbitrators.” From here and there the crowd of heroes shouted names and very quick there were more than a dozen arbitrators; all were prestigious and respectable heroes of the Jianghu.

Suddenly from within the Emei Pai crowd an old nun coldly said, “What’s the use of electing arbitrators? There is no need of them from the start.” Her voice was not loud at all, but it went straight into everybody’d eardrums. Apparently her internal energy cultivation was quite deep.

Situ Qianzhong laughed. “I beg Shitai’s pardon; why don’t we need arbitrators?” he asked.

The old nun replied, “Two people fight, the victor lives, the loser dies. Let Yanwu Ye [the ruler of the netherworld] be the arbitrator.”

Listening to these cold and cruel words, everybody felt chill creeping up their backs.

Situ Qianzhong said, “We are friends in the martial art world, we also do not have any grudges or enmity against each other; why should we fight a live and death battle against each other? Those who left their homes should practice mercy. By saying those words, isn’t Shitai afraid of Buddha’s rebuke?”

The old nun coldly replied, “You can talk nonsense in front of other people, but you should watch your manners in front of Emei Pai disciples.”

Situ Qianzhong raised his wine gourd and poured a cup. ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk! What a fierce Emei Pai!” he said, “There is a saying that a good man would not fight a woman, good drunkard would not fight a nun!” Raising his hand, the cup was just about to touch his lips when suddenly two ‘whiz! whiz!’ noise split the air, as two tiny objects, as small as a prayer bead, were shot. One flew toward the wine cup, the other flew toward the wine gourd. These two projectiles were immediately followed by another one, aimed at Situ Qianzhong’s chest.

‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ three loud explosions were heard successively, as the three prayer beads exploded. The gourd and the wine cup were smashed at once, while a large hole appeared on Situ Qianzhong’s chest. He was thrown several ‘zhang’s backward from the explosion, while his clothes were burning.

Xia Zhou immediately rushed forward, but Situ Qianzhong had already died, with a frozen smile on his face. Apparently, because the prayer beads were coming and exploding so fast, he did not even realize that death was at the door. It was just like a sudden thunder in a clear blue sky. There were plenty of experienced warriors with vast knowledge among the crowd, yet nobody had ever seen this kind of fast and deadly secret projectile.

“The nun is serious!” Zhou Dian called out, “What kind of secret projectile was that?”

In low voice Yang Xiao said, “I heard there is a big country in the western region where someone is perfecting technique to manufacture gunpowder into some kind of secret projectiles. It is called ‘pi li lei huo dan’ [Translator’s note: ‘pi li’ – thunderbolt, ‘lei’ is also thunder, ‘huo’ – fire, ‘dan’ bullet. Shall we call it ‘thunderbolt bullet’ for short? Actually, it was closer to modern day grenade, but the original says it was a ‘bullet’]. The gunpowder is concealed inside, and it is shot out using a powerful spring mechanism. It seems to me this old nun is using that fellow’s invention.”

Carrying Situ Qianzhong’s black burning body, Xia Zhou said in loud voice, “Although this Situ Xiongdi often said harsh and sometimes mean words, it was because he loved to fool around, his character was actually kind. He had never harmed anybody nor committed any dishonorable acts in his life. Today, the heroes from all over the world are gathered here, which one of you can say that he had done any evil conduct?”

The crowd of heroes was completely silent. Xia Zhou pointed his finger toward the old nun and angrily said, “Emei Pai has always been known as upright and chivalrous school; who would have thought that they are capable of using such an evil and ruthless secret projectile? Even the strong in the Wulin world will not overstep the ‘appropriateness’ of character. [orig. ‘li’ – reason, logic, truth] May I know Shitai’s title?”

The old nun replied, “I am called Jing Jia. The ‘hero inside the sack’, what do you want by talking and gesticulating like that?”

Xia Zhou mournfully said, “The one surnamed Xia’s skill is inadequate, thus falling miserably under the Ming Cult’s devil head’s insult. That was the surnamed Xia’s own weakness; yet I did not damage my lifelong reputation of the way of chivalry. Jing Jia Shitai, you are this vicious; aren’t you doing a great disservice to your precious sect’s founder, Guo Xiang, Gu Nuxia [heroine Guo]?”

Hearing him bring up the venerated name of their founder, the Emei disciples sprang up on their feet. Jing Jia’s eyebrows rose up. “Can a bastard like you casually mention our founder’s revered name?” she roared.

“You have disgraced your founder’s revered name by doing many unrighteous acts,” Xia Zhou retorted, “Not to mention Guo Nuxia, even Miejue Shitai, when she was alive, she was cruel and merciless but her sword had never taken innocent people’s lives. You have killed an innocent man like this and your Zhangmen [sect leader] surprisingly did not care. Hey, hey, after today, can Emei Pai take its stand in the Jianghu?”

“If you carry on talking half a sentence more of those nonsense talk, this drunkard will be your example,” Jiang Jia said.

Xia Zhou’s anger welled up in his chest, he courageously took two big strides forward and said, “If the Emei Pai Zhangmen will not clean up her own school, Emei Pai will be held in contempt by the world’s heroes from now on.”

The crowd of warriors, as well as the Emei Pai disciples, turned their gaze toward Zhou Zhiruo. They saw her nodding slowly to Jing Jia. ‘Bang! Bang!’ two loud explosions followed as Jing Jia shot out two ‘thunderbolt bullets’. Two large holes appeared on Xia Zhou’s chest and lower abdomen; his clothes were burning. But in his unyielding spirit, although his breathing had ceased, he was still standing, with his arms still around Situ Qianzhong’s body.

The crowd of heroes looked at each other in utter shock. After a moment, several hundred people raised a clamor, condemning Emei Pai’s ruthlessness. Wei Yixiao and Shuo Bude exchanged a glance, nodded at each other, and then rushed toward Xia Zhou’s remains. They knelt down in front of the corpse.

“Xia Lao Yingxiong,” Shuo Bude said, “The two of us did not know your chivalry and uprightness, and thus have offended you much. We are very ashamed of our conducts.”

They both raised their palms and then ‘slap, slap, slap, slap’ they slapped their own faces that their cheeks turned red and swollen immediately. They extinguished the fire still burning on the two corpses, and then carried the bodies into Ming Cult’s wooden shelter.

Zhang Wuji was deeply grieved seeing Zhou Zhiruo suddenly become so cruel and heartless.

Amidst the clamor of the crowd, Zhou Zhiruo was seen whispering into Song Qingshu’s ear. Song Qingshu nodded, and then in deliberate steps he walked toward the center of the field. In a loud and clear voice he said, “The heroes and warriors assembled here today, not to drink wine and discuss poetry, to play the zither, beat the drum or pluck the harp; nor do we come here to compose a poem by each one contributing a line. This is the place where we clash our weapons, our fists and feet. That being the case, most likely there will be casualties. This Xia Lao Yingxiong had just said that in all his life, Mr. Situ had never done anything evil, and blamed our Sect’s Jing Jia Shitai for indiscriminately killed an innocent. The honorable heroes raised up a clamor, seemingly discontent of our Sect. Xiongdi [brother, referring to self] wants to ask something: do we have to verify moral character and virtuosity of each other first before we contend in martial art today? A sage or a saint must never, ever be harmed; while the poor, ominous, extremely evil people can be killed at will?” The crowd was taken aback and was at a loss momentarily; they thought that what he said was not totally without any reason.

Song Qingshu continued, “If we say that only a virtuous person can own the Tulong Saber, why should we hold a ‘martial art competition’? Why don’t we all go visit the Confucius temple inside the great city of Qufu in Shandong, and respectfully present the Saber to Confucius’ descendant over there? If we are still speaking about this ‘wu’ [martial art] character, then what we concern about most is life or death, victory or defeat. I am afraid we won’t be able to deal with other people’s ‘innocence’ or ‘guilt’.”

“That’s right,” several people responded from among the crowd, “Saber and spear do not have eyes. We have agreed that we must not seek revenge.”

The more they listened to Song Qingshu, the more Yu Lianzhou and Yin Liting felt that this person’s accent was somewhat familiar. However, with the short beard, this man looked different; besides, he kept saying ‘our sect this’ and ‘our sect that’. Consequently, he must be an Emei Pai male disciple. Therefore, they could not help but feeling doubtful.

Yu Lianzhou stood up and said, “May I know Sire’s honorable surname and great given name?”

Seeing his Er Shishu [second martial (younger) uncle], Song Qingshu was rather afraid of Yu Lianzhou’s longstanding prestige; he stammered for a while before answering, “I am a nameless younger generation, not worth Yu Er Xia’s [second hero Yu] inquiry.”

In stern voice Yu Lianzhou said, “Sire did not stop talking about ‘martial art competition’. I presume your martial art study must have reached excellence. My Shifu had received great kindness from your precious sect’s Guo Nuxia in his childhood; thereupon he instructed Wudang disciples not to fight with Emei Pai. I [orig. zai4xia4] must understand clearly, whether Sire is truly Emei disciple or not. What is your name? Real men should be straightforward and upright; why would you conceal your own identity?”

Brushing away the dust from her clothes, Zhou Zhiruo said, “Yu Er Xia, I don’t have to conceal anything from you. This man is my husband; surname Song, given name Qingshu. He was related to Wudang, but this time he has entered the Emei’s school. If Yu Er Xia has anything to say, you can tell it to me.”

She spoke those words with a clear, but cold voice, as cold as a torrential river and frozen ice. Her manner and movements were as exquisite as a jade, her countenance was clear and beautiful; indeed she looked like an immortal rising from among the dust. There were thousands of heroes around the field, yet nobody made any noise, they all held their breath, trying to listen with full attention.

Song Qingshu reached up to rub his face, peeling the short beard from his chin and taking his hat off; immediately he emerged as a young man as handsome as a jade crown.

As the crowd of heroes saw him, they could not restrain from praising in their hearts, “What a beautiful pair of immortals!”

Remembering Song Qingshu’s offense in killing his Qidi [seventh (younger) brother] Mo Shenggu, anger rose up in Yu Lianzhou’s breast. However, his character had always been calm; in the last few years, the older he got, the deeper was his self-control. Although he was furious, he managed to keep a calm face; only his eyes flickered like lightning, sweeping Song Qingshu’s face.

Song Qingshu hung his head down in shame. Zhou Zhiruo said, “My husband has left Wudang and joined Emei. Hereby I am making it official today in the presence of these world’s heroes. Yu Er Xia, Zhang Zhenren does not allow Wudang disciples to fight our Sect’s disciples for the sake of friendship of the former days. It shows the Senior’s ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty, code of brotherhood]; but it might also show how smart the Senior is in preserving Wudang’s prestige.”

Yin Liting could not hold his patience much longer; leaping forward, he pointed his finger toward Zhou Zhiruo and said, “Miss Zhou, when you faced calamity in your childhood, it was my Shifu who held out his hands to save you, and brought you to the Emei Pai. My Shifu has never wished for you to repay his kindness, yet in what you’ve just said today, you obviously accuse our Wudang Pai of earning false reputation, of being far inferior to the heroines of Emei Pai. This … you … aren’t you doing my Shifu wrong?”

Zhou Zhiruo laughed indifferently and said, “Wudang’s heroes have shaken the Jianghu; obviously you have real ability. Song Daxia is my father-in-law. How can I dare to accuse my in-law of earning false reputation? However, Wudang and Emei two schools have their own history, each developed its own martial art; so it is difficult to say who is superior and who is inferior. In the past, our Sect’s Guo Shizu [ancestor, founder] has shown kindness toward Zhang Zhenren, later on, Zhang Zhenren has shown kindness to me. We are even. Nobody owes anybody kindness. Yu Er Xia, Yin Liu Xia, let us hereby discard the custom that says Wudang disciples must not fight Emei disciples.”

All around the field, the crowd of warriors under their wooden shelters talked among themselves in low voices, “This young Zhangmen is very arrogant; listening to her words, it sounded as if Emei Pai has a high confidence in exceeding the Wudang Pai. Yu Er Xia has reached the pinnacle in term of internal and external power. Extremely few people in the world today can be his match. Could it be that Emei Pai relies on the fierce and evil secret projectiles to dominate the Jianghu?”

Yin Liting was very emotional thinking about Qidi Mo Shenggu’s tragic death; tears flowing down on his face and he cried out, “Qingshu … Qingshu! You … why did you kill your … your Qishu [seventh (younger) martial uncle] …” As he said the word ‘Qishu’, suddenly he broke into a loud weeping.

The crowd of heroes was surprised; they looked at each other, thinking, “Wudang’s Yin Liu Xia has such a reputation, how can he cry in public?”

Yu Lianzhou stepped forward and pulled Yin Liting’s right arm. With a loud and clear voice he said, “The world’s heroes, please hear this: Wudang is very unfortunate to have a renegade disciple like this Song Qingshu. Our Qidi, Mo Shenggu, was killed by this disciple …”

Suddenly two ‘whiz! whiz!’ noise split the air. Again, two ‘thunderbolt bullets’ flew toward Yu Lianzhou’s chest.

“Aiyo!” Zhang Wuji called out in alarm and was about to rush forward to save his uncle; but the thunderbolt bullets were simply too fast; while listening to the conversation, he had never expected Emei Pai would to launch this kind of sneak attack, even if he could move faster, he would still be too late.

This attack was actually also beyond Yu Lianzhou’s expectations; his first reaction was to evade, but the bullets would certainly hit the numerous Beggar Clan disciples standing behind him. He surmised that these bullets were meant to deal with him, to close his mouth so that he would not expose publicly Song Qingshu’s crime in offending his superior and rebelling against his own father. If he evaded, unavoidably, some innocents would be killed. In the split seconds this thought was flashing through his mind, the two thunderbolt bullets, one after another, had already arrived in front of his chest.

Yu Lianzhou turned his palms around in the ‘yun shou’ [cloudy hand] stance of the Taiji Fist. With the utmost ‘softness’, as if his palms were pressing empty air, he dissipated the incoming power with which the ‘thunderbolt bullets’ were shot, by lightly catching the bullets in the middle of his palms. He was seen standing with his arms outstretched in front of his chest, palms facing the sky, with the two thunderbolt bullets spinning with unfathomable speed in the middle of his palms. The crowd of heroes stood up at once, several thousand pairs of eyes stared at his hands. It was as if their hearts had stopped beating, extremely anxious to see whether these spinning bullets would explode at any moment.

This Taijiquan’s special skill of incorporating softness was the softest martial art skill in the world; it was called ‘a feather cannot add (to the weight), a fly cannot drop (the weight)’. The main principle was ‘sticking’ and ‘sucking’ [create a vacuum], using ‘bent’ to overcome ‘straight’, the ‘feeble geriatric to defend the crowd’, as well as ‘hero aiming for the invincibility’. [Translator’s note: I do not know Taiji, so the translation might be inaccurate.]

For the past several years, Yu Lianzhou had diligently and painstakingly trained hard in Zhang Sanfeng’s special skill. Seeing Situ Qianzhong and Xia Zhou lose their lives just now, he understood that these bullets would explode as soon as they contacted any hard object; the bullets were very difficult to be dealt with, and in this desperate situation, he had no choice but risking this skill, backed by his entire life’s cultivation of power. Sure enough, the soft was able to overcome the hard; the softness of his palms controlled the two thunderbolt bullets that they were spinning just like a drill trying to bore through a thick object, but did not explode.

Suddenly two other ‘whiz! whiz!’ noises were heard, Emei Pai shot two more thunderbolt bullets toward Yu Lianzhou. Yin Liting was standing next to his Shixiong; immediately both of his palms rose up to meet the thunderbolt bullets in the air. As soon as his palms made contact with the thunderbolt bullets, he executed the ‘lan qiao we shi’ [‘seizing a bird’s tail’ style] from Taijiquan, by gently catching the thunderbolt bullets, while with the ‘jin ji du li shi’ [‘golden rooster standing’ style], his left foot strongly grounded, his right foot in the air, his entire body spin fast, just like a top.

Yin Liting was very skilled in swordsmanship, but his mastery of Taijiquan was not as deep as his Shixiong’s. He saw that Yu Lianzhou was straining in catching the two thunderbolt bullets; he was completely aware that if there was the slightest bit of ‘hardness’ in the palms, the evil and ruthless secret projectiles would explode immediately. Therefore, he dissipated the shooting force by spinning his body and took the thunderbolt bullets spinning along in his palms.

In terms of martial art skill, Yin Liting’s way of dissipating the incoming force by catching them midair was slightly inferior compared to Yu Lianzhou using his palm power to neutralize the bullets; however, they way he spun his body rapidly was a lot more attractive. After he spun for more than thirty revolutions, all around the field the crowd broke into thunderous applause, while the thunderbolt bullets also failed to explode.

To everybody’s surprise, a series of ‘whiz! whiz!’ noises were heard again as eight thunderbolt bullets came their way. Yu Lianzhou and Yin Liting shouted together and threw the thunderbolt bullets in their hands. Wudang disciples did not use secret projectiles, but they were trained in striking projectiles with projectiles. After catching the enemy’s secret projectile, they were able to return the projectile, one projectile striking two, two projectiles striking three. As these two shot the four thunderbolt bullets in their hands, the bullets struck the incoming eight enemy’s thunderbolt bullets. ‘Bang! Bang!’ In the field, the explosion was deafening, black smoke filled the air, and burning sulfur smells attacked everybody’s nostrils.

As soon as they shot the thunderbolt bullets, Yu and Yin two people immediately leaped more than ten ‘zhang’s back, to guard against the successive attacks of Emei Pai. If they were shot again and again, they knew that eventually they would not be able to stand.

There wasn’t anyone among the crowd of heroes who was not stunned to see that the thunderbolt bullets were this deadly. They thought that in the present age, other than these two Wudang Pai masters, perhaps not too many people would be able to escape these thunderbolt bullets. Those with superior ‘qing gong’ might be able to evade, but if the bullets were scattered with ‘man tian hua yu’ [blossoming rain filling the sky] technique, several thunderbolt bullets would collide with each other midair, as soon as these bullets exploded, they would not escape alive even if they were able to move faster.

A big and tall man in the Huashan Pai wooden shelter stood up; with a loud voice he said, “Will Emei Pai rely on numbers to achieve victory in this martial art competition?” This man was one of the Huashan Er Lao [two elders], who joined hands with He Taichong, husband and wife, to fight Zhang Wuji at the Brightness Peak.

Jing Jia of Emei Pai replied, “The study martial art has thousands of change and ten thousand of variations. Those who are strong, win. Those who are weak, lose. We are not pedantic intellectuals who always insist that everything should adhere to meticulous principles. Besides, in this world, there are not too many meticulous principles worth talking about.”

The crowd of heroes was astonished that although Emei Pai was dominated by women, they were actually persistently unreasonable; surprisingly more so than the men were. When the old master of Huashan was arguing with the women, he did not dare to walk close to the Emei Pai shelter; he stayed at his own shelter and argued from a distant, for fear that in their unparalleled aggressive spirit, the opposite party would shoot their thunderbolt bullets away.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Zhiruo must have married Song Shige against her heart. Wasn’t she so kind and loving toward me when we were stranded on that desolate island over the sea? The two of us have pledged our undying love and taken an oath not to fail the other. The words are still ringing in our ears, how can we destroy our own oath? It’s all because I have done her wrong. On the day we were about to bow to the Heaven and the Earth, in the presence of guests filling the wedding hall, I fled with Min Mei. Zhiruo is a Zhangmen of a Sect; she is worth a thousand gold, and I have disgraced her that bad. Is it any wonder that she is that angry and full of resentments toward me? Today the Emei Pai is going against the tide, and it is all because of me.”

The more he thought, the more restless he was. Leaving his own wooden shelter, he walked toward the Emei Pai’s shelter. “Zhiruo, in everything, I have done you wrong,” he said to Zhou Zhiruo, “Song Shige has killed Mo Qishu; ultimately we must resolve this matter. I say, let Song Shige return to Wudang with Yu Erbo and Yin Liushu; let Song Dabo decide on how he has to pay for his crime.”

“Zhang Jiaozu,” Zhou Zhiruo coldly laughed, “At first I thought you were a real man, only a little bit muddle-headed; to my surprise, turns out that you are a lowly man. A real man will bear the consequences of what he has done. You have killed Mo Qi Xia; why do you put the blame on my husband’s head?”

Zhang Wuji was shocked. “You … you said I killed Mo Qishu?” he stammered, “I … how can there be such thing?”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “The murder of Mo Qi Xia was arranged under the scheming of the imperial household’s Ruyang Junzhu. Why don’t you tell her to come out and confront her directly in front of the world’s heroes?”

Zhang Wuji thought, “Min Mei has offended the Six Major Sects. I am afraid she has more enemies than Yifu. How can I have her make an appearance here? Zhiruo deliberately brought this point up to put Min Mei and me in danger. Ay, a thousand errors, ten thousand blunders, I should have not left her on our wedding day.”

Biting his own lower lip, he turned around and walked away. Suddenly someone from the Emei Pai crowd shouted, “I am surprised that Zhang Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult is such a despicable coward. Seeing the fierceness of our thunderbolt bullet, he ran away with his tail between his legs.”

Zhang Wuji halted his steps, but did not turn his head. “I don’t need to see who was talking,” he mused, “Whatever insult the Emei Pai people hurl at me, I deserve the punishment.”

The jeering and mocking behind him was getting louder, yet Zhang Wuji ignored them all and walked straight to the Ming Cult’s wooden shelter.

Yang Xiao let out a cold laugh and said, “The thunderbolt bullet is such an insignificant thing; it’s not even worth mentioning. Since it was useless against Wudang’s Second Hero, it is also useless against Wudang’s direct descendant Zhang Jiaozhu. You, Emei Pai people, are boasting on your special apparatus. Let’s see what you can do against our Ming Cult’s special apparatus.”

As soon as he waved his left hand, a boy dressed in white came forward carrying a small wooden tray on his hands. There were more than a dozen small flags of five different colors inserted on the tray. Yang Xiao grabbed a white flag and tossed it to the center of the field. The flag fell down with its pole sticking out of the ground. The crowd of heroes could see that the flagpole was not even two feet long. The Ming Cult’s flaming fire insignia was embroidered on the flag. The crowd wondered what kind of a trick Yang Xiao was playing.

At this moment, someone behind Yang Xiao launched a rocket, which flew fast to the sky, and dispersed white smoke in the air.

Footsteps were heard as a team of Ming Cult disciples, with white cloths wrapped around their heads, rushed to the field. There were altogether five hundred men; they all bent their bows and ‘Swish! Swish!’ Five hundred arrows made a neat circle around the white flag. Then the team arranged themselves in a circle formation. They were the Rui Jin [acute metal] Flag under the command of Wu Jingcao.

The crowd broke into cheers and applause. Each one of the Rui Jin Flag grabbed a javelin from his back. They rushed a dozen of steps forward, and hurled the javelins. Five hundred javelins made a neat fence inside the circle of arrows. Then they rushed another dozen of steps forward, and drew the short hatchets from their waists. The crowd of heroes saw flickering rays of light as five hundred short hatchets whizzed through the air and landed neatly in a circle on the ground. The short hatchets, the javelins and the arrows formed three concentric rings, with no weapon touching another. Even if one’s martial art skills were as high as the sky, under these 1,500 long and short weapons’ converging attack, one would definitely become minced meat.

The Rui Jin Flag suffered an extremely heavy loss when fought a fierce battle against the Emei Pai in the western region. Even their flag leader, Zhuang Zheng, died under Miejue Shitai’s Yitian Sword. Later, learning from this painful experience, they developed this battle formation to destroy even the enemy’s strongest defense. During the last several years, the Ming Cult’s prestige rapidly rose up; the Five-Element Flags also grew at a tremendous rate. The Rui Jin Flag now had more than twenty thousand men under its banner. This team of five hundred men with javelins, hatchets and arrows was handpicked from among the twenty-thousand members. Their martial art skills were not weak to begin with and after undergoing a rigorous training under the direction of the masters within the Ming Cult, they became a squadron of fighting force, which could be used to support the Ming Cult army in the battlefield or could be deployed as an elite squad in special assignments.

As they watched this demonstration, the crowd of heroes’ faces changed; they thought, ‘Wherever Ming Cult’s Yang Zuoshi tosses the white flag, these one thousand five hundred weapons will also follow. Although Emei Pai’s thunderbolt bullets are fierce, their destroying capability is limited; when they shoot ten bullets, even if each one of them hit the target, they could at most harm only ten people. How can they match the Ming Cult’s Rui Jin Flag?” They also thought, “If the Ming Cult suddenly turned hostile and wanted to destroy us, then what? Although the attendees of this great assembly today are all martial art masters, we are actually no more than a mob; certainly we are no match for the refined formation of Rui Jin Flag who are well-trained for a long time and can move together as one unit.”

Although their hearts were full of disconcerting thoughts, the crowd of heroes could not help but cheer at the amazing display of the Rui Jin Flag’s special skill.

Yang Xiao lifted the white flag in his hand and waved it several times behind his back. The five hundred Rui Jin Flag men pulled out their feathered arrows, javelins and hatchets, walked toward the Ming Cult’s wooden shelter, bowed in respect to Zhang Wuji, and then turned around and left the field.

Yang Xiao took a dark green flag and tossed it next to the white flag. Again, heavy footsteps were heard as five hundred Ju Mu [gigantic wood] Flag people, with dark green cloth wrapped around their heads, walked quickly into the field. Every ten men carried a large wooden log. The gigantic logs weighed around a thousand ‘jin’ [catty, 1 catty is approximately 0.5kg] each. Each log was fitted with iron hooks. Each man pulled one iron hook. They marched in even steps.

Suddenly they all shouted in one voice and the fifty gigantic logs flew out from their hands. Some flew high, some flew low; some to the left, some to the right; but as each one flew out, it would at least strike another log. All fifty logs and amazingly not a single log was missed. A continuous series of ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!’ sounds were heard as the fifty logs, divided into twenty-five pairs, struck each other. With fifty logs, each weighed over a thousand catties, struck each other, the momentum was really astonishing. If there were people standing next to the dark green flag, no matter how high they jumped, or evaded to the left and escaped top the right, they would unavoidably struck by these gigantic logs.

The Ju Mu Flag developed this flying-log formation from military tactics on breaking the defense of a besiege city. The troops would usually utilize wooden logs to ram down the city gate. With logs of this size, even a strong city gate would be struck open. If flesh and blood were subjected to the impact of these big logs, wouldn’t they be smashed into pulp?

As these gigantic logs fell back down, the five hundred men caught the iron hooks, and then they turned around and rushed for about a dozen ‘zhang’ out, waiting for the next order in the shape of another dark green flag, before they tossed the gigantic logs up for the second time.

Yang Xiao waved the dark green flag, ordering the Ju Mu Flag to withdraw. And then his right hand picked a red flag and tossed it to the center of the field.

As the Ming Cult men with dark green headbands withdrew, five hundred men from Lie Huo [raging inferno] Flag, with red cloth wrapped around their heads, marched into the field. Each man had a spray gun in his hand. As they pumped the gun, they spurted thick and blackish oil to the center of the field. The Lie Huo Flag leader waved his hand to toss a blazing sulfur ball. The oil met the fire and the field was ablaze with wave after wave of raging fire.

The neighboring area of the Ming Cult headquarters on the Brightness Peak was very rich with petroleum. Day and night crude oil spouted out from among the rocks, which would burn as soon as it met with fire. Each one of the Lie Huo Flag men carried an iron tank on his back. Each tank was full of petroleum. With them spraying more oil to the burning fire, nobody would be able to withstand it.

After the Lie Huo Flag withdrew from the field, Yang Xiao tossed a black flag into the field. Five hundred Hong Shui [flooding water] Flag men, with black cloth wrapped around their heads, rushed into the field. These Hong Shui Flag men carried household items. Altogether, there were twenty water hoses, some spray guns and buckets. Ten men at the front pushed ten wooden carts.

The Flag Leader, Tang Yang, shouted his command. The carts opened to release twenty hungry wolves. The wolves made threatening gestures and growled in the field then they charged to the crowd, trying to bite people. The heroes were shocked; they wondered what did these hungry wolves have to do with the words ‘flooding water’?

They heard Tang Yang shout his order again “Spray the water!” A hundred men pumped their spray guns and a hundred streams of water were shot at these hungry wolves. The crowd of heroes smelled a peal of acid stench. They saw that as soon as the wolves were hit by the water, they tumbled down at once, yelping madly and howling miserably. In an instant, their skin split open and their flesh rot, they turned into coal-black piles. It turned out that the water sprayed by the Hong Shui Flag was a deadly poison to dissolve flesh in liquid form. It was concocted from sulfur, potassium nitrate and other chemicals.

Watching this extremely disturbing demonstration, the crowd of heroes could not help but be absolutely horrified; each of them thought, “If this poisonous water was not sprayed to the wolves but were aimed on me, what would happen?”

The Hong Shui Flag carried twenty water hoses with the spray guns. They assumed a standby position, and then squirted the water towards the wolves. Obviously, they carried more poisonous water than what was needed to kill the wolves. If a little more pressure was added, not only the spray would be stronger, it could also reach farther.

Yang Xiao waved the black flag to withdraw the troops. The Hong Shui Flag pulled their water hoses away from the field. As they turned the spray guns around, the heroes who stood in the direction the spray gun was turned at, couldn’t restrain their faces from cringing.

Meanwhile, Yang Xiao had tossed a small yellow flag. A group of men wearing yellow headbands marched into the field. Each man carried an iron shovel in his hand and pushed a wheelbarrow full of dirt. Compared to the other four flags, Jin, Mu, Shui, Huo [metal, wood, water and fire], their numbers were a lot smaller; they had only a hundred people in their team.

These hundred men formed a circle around the field. Then they simultaneously started to dig vigorously. Suddenly there was a loud booming noise. The dust rose. The center of the field collapsed, revealing a large hole, about three, four ‘zhang’s in diameter. Next, the ground all around the hole was moving, followed by the appearance of men, each wearing a metal helmet on his head and holding an iron shovel in his hand. Four hundred men bored through the surface of the ground. The heroes were greatly shocked and cried out in unison.

Turned out these four hundred men had dug a tunnel from some distant away to the center of the field, where they excavated a large hole underground and supported the ground overhead with planks of wood. They waited, hidden underground, until the Hou Tu [thick earth] Flag Leader, Yan Yuan, gave his command and the four hundred men simultaneously pulled the planks so that the entire layer of ground fell down. Then the Ming Cult people underground emerged to the surface. This way, the wolves’ carcasses, oil, scorched earth, everything fell down into the hole below.

The hundred men brandished their iron shovels and struck the air above the holes three times. If there were any people who fell into the hole and wanted to escape by jumping up, they were bound to be struck down by these hundred shovels.

One by one the wheel barrows poured their loads of dirt, black sands and pebbles into the hole. In a short period of time, the big holes, along with hundreds small holes around it, were filled and the ground was level again. The five hundred iron shovels rose and fell continuously, making an attractive scene.

The Flag Leader shouted his command and the five hundred men saluted toward Zhang Wuji. The center of the field was now filled with dirt and sand, as flat and smooth as a mirror, a lot more firm and solid than it was previously.

The crowd of heroes understood. “If I stood at the center of the field and spoke condescendingly against the Ming Cult, I would have been buried under the ground by now.”

In a way, this little demonstration had showcased the invincible might of the Ming Cult’s Five-Element Flags. There weren’t any one among the spectators, from heroes all around the world who was not amazed by it. They were aware that for the last several years, the Ming Cult had staged a rebellion in Huai Si, Henan, Hubei, and other area. They had besieged towns and seized territories; successively defeated Yuan army. This moment they displayed the military skill and tactics they had mastered for the benefit of the gathering of Wulin heroes and warriors. They were large in numbers, organized and followed strict discipline, plus they were highly trained. No Jianghu sect or school under the Heavens would be able to withstand.

After withdrawing the troops, Yang Xiao returned the small flags to the wooden tray, which was then carried back by the young boy. With cold eyes he looked at Zhou Zhiruo. He did not say anything, but his meaning was very clear: ‘With only a little more than a hundred male and female Emei disciples, can you match our strong Ming Cult of several thousand?’

Around the field, each of the heroes was immersed in their own thoughts. For a moment, the field was quiet. After a while, the old monk behind Kong Zhi stood up and said, “The Ming Cult demonstration of troop movements and military tactics we have witnessed just now looked impressive. However, when all is said and done, whether it can be really used, whether it can really subdue the enemy, we are not military generals; we have not studied the Sun Wu’s art of war. I am afraid none of us can really tell …”

Everybody knew he was speaking contrary to his convictions; it was just that the Ming Cult’s prestige was truly awe-inspiring, so he played down the fierceness of the Five-Element Flags.

Zhou Dian called out, “You want to know whether it can be really used? That is very easy. All Shaolin Pai needs to do is send some monks to try and then the result will be apparent.”

The old monk pretended not to hear, he continued his speech, “Today is the great assembly of the heroes from all over the world. Every school and every sect’s aspirations are to observe and emulate, to compare and deliberate the study of martial art skills. Still, as highlighted by several Shizhu [benefactor] earlier, everybody will compete in martial arts and the one with the highest skill will win. What we are interested in doing is a one on one competition; relying on numbers to achieve victory, is actually an unheard custom in the Wulin world.”

Ouyang Muzhi said, “Relying on numbers to achieve victory is an unheard custom in the Wulin world, but what about ‘pi li lei huo dan’? This poisonous and malicious trick, is it allowed?”

The old monk was silent for a moment before saying, “If a contestant wants to use secret projectiles, of course it is allowed. If some friends put some poison on their secret projectiles, we have no way of forbidding them. But if somebody launches a sneak attack, he is breaking a major rule of this assembly; then everybody else has the right to attack him together. Gentlemen, what do you think?”

Most of the heroes in attendance gave their consent by applauding loudly. Tang Wenliang of Kongtong Pai said, “I have one thing I’d like to say: whoever has won two fights in a row must be allowed to take a rest, so that he can restore his internal energy and take a breather. Otherwise, if one is forced to fight a series of capable people, one cannot fight them all in one breath regardless of how high one’a skill is. Furthermore, from each school, each sect, each clan and each society, if there are two people already defeated, they must not send anybody to the stage anymore. Otherwise, there are thousands of heroes in here; if for every hero defeated another one takes his place, I am afraid even three months will not be sufficient to accommodate everybody. Although Shaolin Temple has abundant provisions [orig. ‘liang2cao3’ – food and grass], they will go broke if they have to feed us all; and I doubt if they would recover within a hundred years.”

The audience broke out in laughter; they agreed that these two propositions made a lot of sense.

The Ming Cult warriors knew that Tang Wenliang was indebted to Zhang Wuji because he set his broken bone at the Brightness Peak; and then again when he saved him from the Wan An Temple. He was hoping Zhang Wuji would triumph over the opponents. By proposing these two rules to the crowd of heroes, he was helping Zhang Wuji to conserve his energy.

Peng Yingyu said with a smile, “Tang Lao San [Ol’ Tang the third] is doing us a favor. It seems like we can count on Kongtong Pai to be on our side today. All right, other than Jiaozhu, who will compete for us?”

All of the Ming Cult masters were eager to try, but they all realized that the battle today was of a very great importance; it was necessary for them to spare no effort. They would have to try to defeat as many opponents as possible, and thus leave as little powerful opponents as possible to their Jiaozhu, so that he could conserve his energy to face the unexpected. If they only managed to defeat a few people, and then got defeated, not only they would leave a heavy burden for Jiaozhu to bear alone, the damage to their own prestige would not be small, but also the burden to the Cult would be great; Xie Xun and their Cult Leader were too important. Furthermore, if they volunteered rashly, they would inevitably gave the impression that after the Cult Leader, their martial art skills were better than everybody else’s, and thus they risked damaging the ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty and self sacrifice/code of brotherhood] among the brethren. For these reasons, they were all silent; nobody dared to make any noise.

“Jiaozhu,” Zhou Dian said, “It’s not that Zhou Dian is scared of death. It’s just that my martial art has not reached perfection. If I volunteer, I would only expose my own disgrace.”

Zhang Wuji looked at his subordinates one by one. He thought, “Yang Zuo Shi, Fan You Shi, Wei Fu Wang, Bu Dai Shifu, Tie Guan Daozhang [Taoist priest]; everybody possesses an unsurpassed quality. Any one of them may go. Among them, Fan You Shi’s martial art knowledge is the broadest. No matter what school the opponent came from, he has a greater chance to score a victory. I’d better ask Fan You Shi to go into action with me.” Thereupon he said, “Actually, any one of the brethren going is the same to me. But Yang Zuo Shi had helped me fighting the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan. Wei Fu Wang and Bu Dai Dashi have just captured Xia Zhou, so they have used up some strength. This time, I am thinking of asking Fan You Shi to come with me.”

Fan Yao was delighted. “I accept the order!” he bowed and said, “Many thanks Jiaozhu, for your high regards!”

The Ming Cult warriors all knew that Fan Yao’s martial art skill was superb; nobody raised any objections.

“Fan Dashi,” Zhao Min suddenly said, “I am going to ask you something. Would you be willing to indulge me?”

“Whatever instruction Junzhu has, I will comply,” Fan Yao replied.

Zhao Min said, “Kong Zhi Dashi of Shaolin Pai has not resolved his enmity against you. If you fight him first, victory or defeat between the two of you will be hard to predict. Even if you gain victory, your strength would be depleted.”

Fan Yao nodded. He understood that Kong Zhi Shen Seng had been famous for dozens of years. Kong Zhi’s face looked long as if he was in constant anxiety; he looked like someone who would not reach old age, but actually, his internal and external skills had reached perfection.

Zhao Min said, “There is no harm in making an appointment with him; state it explicitly that you want to fight him one on one at the Wan An Temple in Dadu. One fight to decide victory and defeat.”

“Marvelous plan, marvelous plan!” Yang Xiao and Fan Yao exclaimed. They knew that if Kong Zhi agreed to fight Fan Yao at a later date, then they could not fight today. With her idea, Zhao Min eliminated one powerful enemy to the Ming Cult.

In the mean time, the heroes and warriors of every sect and every school were whispering among themselves in their respective wooden shelters to choose their champions. From several wooden shelters came loud noises of people bickering; apparently, they have some disagreement in the selection process.

Fan Yao went to the host’s shelter. He saluted Kong Zhi and said, “Kong Zhi Dashi, I wonder if you have guts? Do you dare to meet me at the Wan An Temple?”

Hearing the word ‘Wan An Temple’, which was the only disgrace he had ever experienced in his entire life, the lines on Kong Zhi’s forehead went even deeper. His thin eyes were gleaming as he asked, “What is it?”

Fan Yao said, “We tied our enmity at Wan An Temple, we must resolve it at Wan An Temple. You, Kong Zhi Dashi, are a man of virtue and prestige. Unfortunately, I also have some insignificant reputation. In today’s battle, if you defeated me, Jianghu people would say that a strong dragon cannot repress a snake in its lair; you, a Dashi [great master], take advantage of your home turf. If by luck I gained half a style advantage, ignorant people would add fuel to the fire by saying Ku Toutuo came to Shaolin Temple to overpower Shaolin’s number one master. If Dashi is not afraid, I will be asking for Dashi’s unsurpassed artistries at the Wan An Temple, in the evening of the full moon, on the Mid-autumn festival of this year [orig. ‘ba yue zhong qiu’ – 15th day of the eighth month of lunar calendar].”

Actually, Kong Zhi was rather afraid of Fan Yao’s martial art. Besides, there was a big change in the Temple right now; he was not in a good mood to fight Fan Yao. Therefore, although he knew Fan Yao was provoking him, he agreed immediately. “Very well, the Mid-autumn festival of this year, we will meet at the Wan An Temple. I will not leave until we meet.”

Fan Yao cupped his fists to salute, and then turned around and left. He had just walked for seven, eight paces when he heard Kong Zhi unhurriedly say, “Fan Shizhu [benefactor], you wholeheartedly want to save Jin Mao Shi Wang today. That’s why you do not dare to fight with me. Am I right?”

Fan Yao was startled; he halted his steps while thinking, “This monk sees through our intention after all.” Turning his head, he laughed and said, “I don’t have the confidence I would defeat you.”

Kong Zhi smiled and replied, “Lao Na also do not have the confidence to defeat Shizhu.”

The two of them nodded. In that moment, in their hearts grew a fondness toward each other; hero admired another hero, a real man cared for another real man.