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Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre - Chapter 13

Chapter 13 - No Regrets for Second Chances

Zhang Wuji was shocked that the intruder was a woman. "Who ... who are you?" he asked as sternly as he could.

The woman did not answer him, for she had been wounded too badly by the palm technique of the E-Mei School to speak.

"Who are you?" Ji Xiaofu demanded. "Why have you harmed me time and again?"

The woman remained silent, so Ji Xiaofu pulled out her sword and placed its tip against her chest.

After a while, Zhang Wuji said, "I am going to check on Mr Hu." He was concerned that Hu Qingniu had fallen victim to the intruder too. After all, she was probably an accomplice of the Old Woman of the Golden Flower. Running over to the physician's room, he pushed the door open and shouted, "Sir, sir! Are you all right?" When no one answered him, panic set in. He quickly reached for the flint-and-steel on the table, lit a candle and saw that Hu Qingniu's blankets had been turned down. But he was not in bed or anywhere else in the room.

Zhang Wuji heaved a sigh of relief, for he had half expected to see the physician's corpse on the floor. He must have been taken away by the enemy, the boy thought. Just as he was about to dash off in pursuit, he heard heavy breathing coming from under the bed. Bending over with the candle in hand, he found Hu Qingniu bound and gagged under the bed. Overjoyed, Zhang Wuji pulled the hapless man out immediately. He had not been able to call for help because his mouth had been stuffed with a huge walnut. As soon as the walnut was removed from his mouth, Hu Qingniu asked, "Where is the woman?"

"She has been overpowered by Auntie Ji," answered Zhang Wuji as he began untying the physician. "She will not escape. Sir, you are not hurt, are you?"

"Do not worry about me," snapped Hu Qingniu. "Bring me the woman quickly, or it will be too late."

"Why?" asked the boy in surprise.

"Bring her to me quickly," said the physician again. "Wait, you had better take three 'Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco' (Niu Huang Xue Jie Dan

/ Niu2 Huang2 Xue3 Jie2 Dan1) with you and get her to swallow them first. The pills are in the third drawer. Hurry!" Hu Qingniu seemed so anxious that he would have rushed out himself if he was not all tied up.

Zhang Wuji knew that these 'Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco' were very effective detoxicants. Made by Hu Qingniu himself from a variety of medicinal fauna and flora, a single pill was sufficient to counter some of the deadliest poisons known to man. Therefore, the woman had probably ingested an unimaginably strong dose of poison to necessitate the use of three such pills.

Yet, he did not dare to dwell further on the issue, for Hu Qingniu was already beside himself with anxiety. Grabbing the Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, he ran to Ji Xiaofu's shed, turned to the woman whom they had captured and said, "Swallow them quickly!"

"Get lost!" snapped the woman at once. "Who needs sympathy from a little thief like you!" Apparently, she had identified the pills as detoxicants from their smell.

"Mr Hu wants you to take them!" said Zhang Wuji.

"Go away, go away!" said the woman again, her voice becoming weaker as her injuries took their toll.

Zhang Wuji could only guess that the woman had been struck by one of Hu Qingniu's poisoned darts while tying him up earlier. Thus, the physician probably wanted to keep her alive, so that he could interrogate her on the enemy's plans. Consequently, the boy forced the three pills into the woman's mouth and down her throat. Then, he turned to Ji Xiaofu and said, "Let us hand her over to Mr Hu, and hear what he has to say."

Ji Xiaofu immobilised the woman by striking her acupoints, before leading her to Hu Qingniu's room with Zhang Wuji's help.

As soon as the three of them appeared, the physician asked, "Has she taken the pills?"

"Yes," answered Zhang Wuji.

"Very good, very good!" said Hu Qingniu in relief, as the boy cut away the ropes around his hands and feet.

Free at last, Hu Qingniu scrambled over to the woman and began examining her. After turning her eyelids to check on her blood, he took her pulse. "How

... how did you end up with these external injuries?" he gasped in shock. "Who hit you?" He sounded both anxious and sympathetic at the same time.

The woman pouted and replied, "Ask your good disciple!"

Hu Qingniu turned to Zhang Wuji and growled, "Did you hit her?"

"She was about to ...," the boy began to answer, only to feel two tight and resounding slaps landing on his face. Golden stars danced before the boy's eyes as he struggled against the dizzying effect of these powerful and unexpected slaps.

Meanwhile, Ji Xiaofu raised her sword protectively and shouted, "What are you doing?" Hu Qingniu ignored the sharp and gleaming blade. Instead, he turned to the wounded intruder and asked, "How does your chest feel? Does your stomach hurt?" He was so warm and attentive that he seemed completely different from the cold and calculating 'One who Ignores the Dying'. Yet, the woman did not seem to care about his concern. Undaunted, the physician released her acupoints and massaged her limbs. Then, he administered several doses of medicine, taking great care as he fed them into her mouth. Finally, he picked her up, laid her in his bed and covered her with his blankets. Such warmth and gentleness was so unfit for the enemy, that Zhang Wuji began rubbing his swollen cheeks in an absent-minded manner as he tried to make sense of the baffling scene.

The expression on Hu Qingniu's face softened further, until affection and compassion could be clearly seen all over it. "You have other injuries in addition to the poisoning," he said to the woman in a gentle voice. "If I heal you of all these ailments, can we call off the duel for the rest of our days?"

The woman smiled and answered, "These light injuries are nothing to worry about. But do you know what poison I took? If you can really heal me of it, I will submit to you. But I am afraid that the abilities of the Sage of Healing are not necessarily as great as the prowess of the Sage of Poisons." She concluded by eyeing the physician with a coquettish smile.

Although Zhang Wuji did not understand much about the intimate relationships that could occur between a man and a woman, he could tell from the scene that the physician and the woman had a great deal of affection for each other.

"I have already declared ten years ago that the Sage of Healing is less able than the Sage of Poisons, but you have refused to believe me," Hu Qingniu went on. "Sigh, there are many ways to fight this out, but how can you use your own body to prove your point? Now, I really hope with all my heart that the Sage of Healing is better than the Sage of Poisons, or I will not carry on living any longer." The woman smiled again and said, "If I poison other people, you will pretend to be a mediocre physician and let me gain the upperhand. Hee hee, now that I have poisoned myself, you have no alternative but to do your very best."

Hu Qingniu sighed and stroked the woman's hair. "I am very worried about you," he said. "Please do not talk anymore, for you need to close your eyes and get some rest. But if you decide to harm yourself further by exercising your internal strength in secret, you are not being fair to me at all."

"Victory and defeat must naturally be decided in a manner that is open and aboveboard," the woman responded with a smile. "I will not act in such a despicable way." She closed her eyes as she was told, but the smile remained on her lips.

As Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji reeled in disbelief over what they had seen and heard so far, Hu Qingniu turned to the boy, bowed deeply and said, "Little Brother, I offended you greatly in a moment of haste and emotion. Please forgive me."

Zhang Wuji shot an accusatory glance at the physician and snapped, "I really do not understand a single bit of what is going on! What exactly you are doing?"

To his surprise, Hu Qingniu raised his hand and slapped himself twice across his cheeks. "Little Brother," the man said, "I owe my life to you. But I was so worried about my wife's health that I ended up offending you just now."

"She ... she is your wife?" asked Zhang Wuji in surprise.

"Yes, she is," answered Hu Qingniu with a nod. "If you are still angry, please give me another two slaps, or I will have to kowtow before you in apology. Having my life rescued is no big deal, for it is more important that my wife is saved. Now, she owes her life you as well."

The physician had always been such a strict and dignified man that Zhang Wuji regarded him with a mixture of respect and fear. Therefore, his willingness to slap himself clearly indicated the sincerity of his apology. Furthermore, the woman was really his wife. As the anger in his heart dissipated, Zhang Wuji said, "I do not dare to accept your kowtows of apology, and I am not particularly bothered by the slaps that you gave me. But I really do not understand why things have turned out this way."

Inviting Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji to sit down, Hu Qingniu replied, "I guess the truth cannot be kept hidden any longer. My wife's surname is Wang, and her maiden name is Nangu. We were originally apprentices in the same school. Besides learning martial arts from our master, I chose to focus on the study of medicine, while she decided to pursue the study of poisons. She felt that the ultimate reason for learning martial arts was to kill others. Since the art of poisoning served the same purpose, the two skills complemented each other. Being well-versed in the art of poisoning could only multiply the effectiveness of one's pugilistic skills. On the other hand, the practice medicine cures illnesses and saves lives, opposing the goal of martial arts. I admired my wife's views, for her knowledge was ten times better than mine. However, I was so bent on doing good that nothing could change my mind. As a result of my folly and the reluctance to take her advice, I neglected her loving and painstaking efforts to help me see her point.

"Our differing pursuits did not affect the good relationship we had between us, so our master eventually arranged for us to be married. As time went by, we built reputations for ourselves in the realm of the rivers and lakes. I became known as the 'Sage of Healing', while my wife was referred to as the 'Sage of Poisons'. Her skill in the art of poisoning was beyond comparison, for she was the indigo that had come out of the blue, surpassing our master by leaps and bounds. Her nickname alone testified to the extent of her abilities. Thus, I can only blame myself for acting without sufficient thought and consideration in curing her victims on several occasions. I was even singing my own praises without realising that I was being undevoted and unfaithful to my beloved wife. Such disregard was so terrible that even the phrase 'wolf's heart and dog's lungs' was insufficient to describe it. Think about it: The victims of the Sage of Poisons were saved by the Sage of Healing. Besides going against my beloved wife's intentions, did this also not indicate that the Sage of Healing was greater than the Sage of Poisons?"

Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji shook their heads quietly in their hearts, for his train of thought sounded very incorrect.

Hu Qingniu went on: "She has always been gentle, submissive, loving and devoted to me. There is no one else like her in the entire world. Yet, I carried out my selfish acts time and again, belittling my wife and putting her down by healing her victims. Finally, I realised that I had hurt her too much, so I swore an oath never to provide treatment for anyone whom she had poisoned. As time went by, my reputation as the 'One who Ignores the Dying' was established.

"She forgave me after seeing that I could change my ways. A few years later, I ran into a case of poisoning so strange that it could only be the work of my wife. So I stepped back and refused to be involved with it. Unfortunately, the victim's condition was so unique that I lost my self-control after a few days and proceeded to cure him of his ailment.

"Somehow, my wife did not kick up a fuss about it. Instead, she said, 'All right! The Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley Hu Qingniu has indeed turned out to be a marvellous physician. But I, the Sage of Poisons Wang Nangu, absolutely refuse to submit to you. Let us both pit our skills against each other, and see whether the Sage of Healing is more brilliant, or the Sage of Poisons is more formidable.' I tried my best to apologise, but how could her anger be appeased so easily? Then, I found out that she had poisoned the man not because he was her enemy, but because she had discovered a new method of poisoning that might render the victim incurable. She had executed it on the man just to test the validity of her findings, but I had ended up spoiling her experiment with a few misguided medical techniques and a stroke of sheer good luck. I did not even show the slightest regard for my beloved wife, so how could I still be considered a man?

"For many years after that incident, she concentrated on finding new techniques of poisoning, often sending me her victims for treatment. We went on pitting our skills against each other in this manner, until I began to fail in my work. There were two reasons for this: First, there were indeed some shortcomings in my abilities, and second, I was really unwilling to anger her further. Unfortunately, my wife became more angry than before. She accused me of belittling her, allowing her to gain the upperhand without giving my best in the competition between us. Subsequently, she left Butterfly Valley in a huff and refused to return.

"Although I did not act rashly again, I found too much enjoyment in healing ailments that I could not pass up any opportunity to deal with strange illnesses or weird poisons. I knew that my wife's victims would show up time and again among my patients, but she had become so good that I could not identify her work with certainty on a number of occasions. As a result, I ended up curing her victims again. Sigh, I should be named Hu Chunniu (Stupid Cow) instead of Hu Qingniu (Black Cow). I am very fortunate that a woman like Nangu would lower herself in marriage to me, but I did not know how to love her and care for her. Instead, I made her so upset that she walked out on me in favour of a life of wandering between the skies and the cliffs, suffering the hardships of being beaten by wind and frost. Furthermore, the hearts of the people in the realm of the rivers and lakes are deceitful. How then could I rest at ease, when a fragile woman like her is living alone amidst so many wicked people?"

As remorse appeared all over Hu Qingniu's face, Ji Xiaofu cast a glance at Wang Nangu and thought: This Mrs Hu is known as the 'Sage of Poisons', for who else is better than she when it comes to the art of poisoning? Poeple would probably be thanking the Heavens and the Earth as soon as she sat still, so who would dare to touch her in return? It is really funny that Mr Hu fears his wife as if she is a tigress.

"Thus, I swore another oath," said the physician. "Henceforth, I will not provide treatment for anyone unless he or she is a member of our Ming Cult. I did this to prevent myself from unwittingly destroying Nangu's handiwork, for both my wife and I belong to the Cult. Therefore, she would never harm any of our brothers and sisters."

Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji exchanged a glance: So this is the reason behind his refusal to provide treatment for anyone who is not a member of the Ming Cult.

Hu Qingniu resumed his tale: "Seven years ago, an elderly couple came to Butterfly Valley to seek treatment after falling victim to a terrible poison. Owners of Lingshe Island in the Eastern Sea, they were known by their nicknames as the Old Woman of the Golden Flower and the Old Man of the Silver Leaf. They took every care to adhere to the courtesies of making a visit, but the Old Woman ended up revealing her pugilistic prowess by accident. I was very shocked by the display. I did not dare to make an outright refusal to provide treatment, but how could I return to my old ways after recognising that those ways were wrong? Therefore, I took their pulses and said, 'Sir, you and your wife may be elderly, but your pulses move as if they belong to people in the prime of their lives. This is the first time that I have seen such an amazing condition, so credit should be given to your rich internal strength.' The Old Woman said, 'You are very brilliant.' Then, I said, 'Sir, your poison-wrought ailment is different from your wife's. Your condition is incurable, but you will live for several more years to come. As for your wife, her poisoning is not serious, so she can treat herself with her internal strength.'

"Prodding further, I found that they had been poisoned by an old foreign monk(1) from the Western Regions, who was employed by the Mongolians. I was relieved that my wife was not involved, yet I was bound by my oath to provide treatment only for members of the Ming Cult. I could not make an exception for this couple. The Old Woman offered me a great reward, and asked me to save her husband's life. But I chose to ignore their request for the sake of my relationship with my wife. To my surprise, the elderly couple did not use any force against me, preferring to walk away in sadness. Before leaving, the Old Woman said, 'Ha ha, Ming Cult, Ming Cult ... so it is still all because of the Ming Cult!' I knew that my stand had made me many enemies, and would continue to do so for the rest of my life, but I could not allow outsiders to spoil my deep and loving relationship with my wife. Do you not think so?"

Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji kept silent, unwilling to lend their support to his reason for ignoring the dying.

"Recently, my wife heard that the Old Man of the Silver Leaf had passed away," said Hu Qingniu. "As a result, the Old Woman of the Golden Flower is now on her way here to make trouble for me. My wife rushed back to stand with me against the enemy, but she found an outsider in our home. Thus, she used some medicine to knock Wuji out for one night."

Suddenly, the boy understood: I had slept all the way past noon because Mrs Hu had drugged me, and I actually thought that I was falling ill. The Sage of Poisons is formidable indeed, to work in such an undiscernable manner.

Hu Qingniu went on: "I was very happy that my wife had returned. She wanted me to pretend that I had been struck by smallpox, to avoid seeing anyone. Then, both of us stayed in the room, looking for ways and means to overcome the Old Woman of the Golden Flower. After all, she was so highly skilled that we would never be able to escape from her clutches. A few days later, Xue Gongyuan, Jian Jie, Ji-guniang and the other twelve patients arrived.

"Descriptions of your ailments told me immediately that the Old Woman of the Golden Flower wanted to test me, and see if I was really going to stick to my oath and treat no one, except for members of the Ming Cult. I enjoyed the challenge of medicine as much as life itself, so I could hardly control myself at the sight of one strange ailment. So you can just imagine how much these fifteen cases tugged at my heart. But I knew what the Old Woman was up to. As soon as I had any one of these patients cured, she would increase the torture that she had planned for me by a hundred times. Therefore, I had no choice but to stay quiet and ignore the itch in my hands, until Wuji asked me how these ailments could be healed. But I took great pains to declare that Wuji is a disciple of the Wudang Clan and that he had no relationship whatsoever with Hu Qingniu.

"Unfortunately, Nangu became upset when Wuji found success in my instructions. So, she started adding poison to the patients' food, drink and medicinal brews. This meant that she had resumed pitting her skills against mine. At the same time, she was also protecting me from the wrath of the Old Woman of the Golden Flower, for Wuji's success would probably be blamed on me. These fifteen patients were all highly skilled pugilists, so how could they not know what Nangu was doing? It turned out that she had knocked them out with drugs first, before proceeding with the main task of poisoning them. Such prowess will probably be lost when Nangu is gone."

Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji exchanged another glance, for they finally understood why the boy had to shake the sleeping woman so hard before waking her up several nights ago.

"Ji-guniang has been recovering well in the past few days," Hu Qingniu added, "so Nangu's poison has not been producing the desired effect. After some investigations, my wife realised that Wuji had uncovered her secret, so she decided to harm him as well. Sigh, it is easy to transform the physical face of our land, but it is difficult to change a man's natural disposition. At the end of the day, I am still not entirely devoted to my beloved wife. I was unwilling to be involved in the first place, but after Wuji advised me to take a trip and avoid the impending doom, my heart softened. As a result, I gave him a prescription with the Chinese angelica (dang gui / dang1 gui1), the dried rhizome of rehmannia (sheng di / sheng1 di4), the root of the narrow- leaved polygala (yuan zhi / yuan3 zhi4), the root of the Saposhnikovia divaricata (fang feng / fang2 feng1) and Angelica biserrata (du huo / du2 huo2). I could not speak plainly then because my wife was with me.

"But Nangu was very intelligent. She knew the properties of each herb well, so she could tell that the prescription was too strange to be true. After some thought, she broke the code. Then, she tied me up, swallowed some poison and said, 'Shige, we have been married for more than twenty years. The oceans can dry up and the stones can break down, but the love between us will never change. Yet, you have always despised my skills, for you have always been able to cure my victims, regardless of the poison I use. Now, I have taken a deadly poison myself. If you can heal me, I will submit to you for the rest of my life.' I was so shocked that I admitted defeat at once, and begged her not to harm herself. But she gagged me with a huge walnut. You know what took place after that." Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji looked at each other, feeling exasperated and tickled at the same time. After all, this couple was so eccentric in their ways that it would probably be very difficult to find another pair like them. It was not really a big deal that Hu Qingniu loved his wife so much that he gradually became fearful of her, but it was unimaginable that Wang Nangu would be so eager to put her husband down that she ended up poisoning herself to prove her point.

"Think about it," said Hu Qingniu. "What other alternatives do I have? If I succeed in healing her, I would just be declaring that my skills are better than hers. She will be very upset. But if I fail, she will die! Sigh! I wish the Old Woman of the Golden Flower would appear soon and kill me with a stroke of her walking stick. Then, Nangu would no longer have to fret over me. Furthermore, her skills have advanced so much in recent years that I cannot figure out what poison she has ingested. So I do not even know where and how to start treating her."

"Sir, can you really not tell what poison Shimu has taken?" asked Zhang Wuji.

"Your Shimu's skills have reached the point of perfection in recent years," answered the physician. "So I am likely to fail in my attempts to heal her. She has probably ingested a deadly poison made from three pests and three weeds, but I do not have a single clue as to how these six ingredients are combined." As he spoke, he used the index finger of his right hand to write a prescription on the surface of the table. Then, he waved a hand and said, "Please go out. If Nangu dies, I will not carry on living alone."

"Please take care of yourself and do encourage Shimu with kind words," said Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji in unison.

"What should I say to encourage her?" Hu Qingniu retorted in frustration. "It is all my fault!" He burst into loud sobs after that, prompting Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji to leave the room at once. With the two outsiders gone, Hu Qingniu struck several acupoints on his wife's back and waist. Then, he said, "Shimei, your husband is useless, for he is really unable to heal the poison wrought by the three pests and the three weeds. The only alternative left is to follow you in death, so that we can still be husband-and-wife in the afterlife." He put a hand into Wang Nangu's pocket and pulled a few small packets out. Opening one of these packets, he found that it contained a multi-coloured mixture of powders that were obtained from the grinding of three pests and three weeds.

Although Wang Nangu could not move, she could still speak. So, she said, "Shige, please ... do not take the poison ... " But Hu Qingniu turned a deaf ear to her pleas and poured the powder into his mouth. Mixing it with his saliva, he proceeded to swallow the poison.

"How can you take such a large dose at once?" cried Wang Nangu in shock. "That was enough to kill three people!"

Hu Qingniu smiled wanly and sat down on a chair beside the bed where his wife lay. Just then, he felt as if a million knives were slicing through his stomach. This was the work of the Gelsemium elegans (duan chang cao / duan4 chang2 cao3), the first of the six ingredients to take effect. The remaining two weeds and three pests would soon follow.

"Shige, there is a way to cure the poison," cried Wang Nangu.

"No ... I ... I do not believe ... I ... I am dying ...," Hu Qingniu replied as his body shook and his teeth chattered. "Take a combination of the Pill of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, and the Powder of 'Yulong-Suhe' quickly," said Wang Nangu again. "Then, use acupuncture to dissipate the poison."

"What ... purpose ... will ... it serve?" gasped Hu Qingniu in retort.

"I took only a little of the poison," answered Wang Nangu, "but you took too much. If you do not do anything now, it will be too late!"

"I have ... loved you ... with all my heart," said Hu Qingniu. "But you insisted ... on fighting with me. There is no more joy in living ... but ... when I die, everything will ... be ... over ... a-yo ... a-yo..." By then, the venom of the Pallas pit viper and the spider -- two of the three pests in the poisonous six-ingredient concoction -- had begun to attack the physician's heart and lungs. Hu Qingniu weakened until he lost consciousness altogether.

"Shige, Shige, it is all my fault!" Wang Nangu wailed loudly. "You must not die ... I will never pit my skills against yours again." Although they had fought each other for decades, the love between them had remained strong. Wang Nangu was not afraid of death, but she panicked when her husband decided to kill himself with the very same poison that she had taken. With her acupoints blocked, she could not do anything to rescue him.

Fortunately, Zhang Wuji heard her cries and rushed into the room. "Shimu, what must I do to save Shifu?" he asked, finally acknowledging himself as a student of Hu Qingniu.

Wang Nangu brightened up at once. "Give him a combination of the Pill of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, and the Powder of 'Yulong-Suhe' quickly," she answered. "Then, prick his Yong Quan and Jiu Wei acupoints with gold needles ... "

At that moment, a series of coughs sounded outside the door, appearing to be clearer than usual in the stillness of the night. Ji Xiaofu rushed into the room with a face as pale as a sheet of paper. "The Old Woman of the Golden Flower ... the Old Woman of the ...," she stammered in fright, but before she could finish her announcement, the door-curtain parted silently.

A crone with a hunched back appeared, with a young girl about twelve or thirteen years old by her side. The fearsome Old Woman of the Golden Flower had finally arrived.

Focusing her attention on Hu Qingniu, the Old Woman was taken aback to see him holding his stomach in pain. His face had darkened and his breathing was weak. In fact, he looked as if he was about to drop dead. "What is wrong with him?" she asked. Before anyone could answer her, Hu Qingniu's legs stiffened. He was finally dead.

"Why did you punish yourself in this manner?" wailed Wang Nangu. "Why did you poison yourself to death?"

The Old Woman of the Golden Flower had travelled all the way to the Central Region from the Isle of the Gifted Snake for two purposes: to seek redress from the enemy who had caused the death of her husband, and to terrorise Hu Qingniu. Yet, she had not expected the physician to ingest a deadly poison just before she showed up. As an expert on poisons herself, she could tell from the colour on the faces of Hu Qingniu and Wang Nangu that both of them had been so seriously poisoned that there was no longer a cure for either one of them. Since the physician had probably committed suicide in fear of the Old Woman herself, she quickly decided that the objective of her visit had been accomplished. "He has sinned, he has sinned!" she mumbled with a sigh as she walked out of the room with the young girl in tow.

Moments after leaving the hut, her coughs were heard coming from a distance of more than ten zhang (33.33 metres) away. The speed at which she moved was really beyond imagination. Feeling safe once more, Zhang Wuji placed a hand on Hu Qingniu's chest. His heart was still beating, but its pace had become very faint. The boy quickly fed the man a Pill of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, and a dose of the Powder of 'Yulong-Suhe'. Then, he pushed a gold needle each into his Yong Quan and Jiu Wei acupoints, before giving Wang Nangu the same course of treatment.

More than an hour later, Hu Qingniu regained consciousness. Wang Nangu was so happy that she burst into tears. "Little Brother, thank you so much for saving our lives," she said to Zhang Wuji between sobs. Then, she wrote up a prescription that would expel the remaining poison from their bodies.

Unfortunately, her skills at detoxification were not particularly brilliant, so her prescription could not remove the poison in its entirety. When Zhang Wuji took the prescription away for decoction, he quietly substituted some of its contents with what Hu Qingniu had written earlier on the surface of the table. However, Wang Nangu was never told about it.

"With the Old Woman of the Golden Flower thinking that Mr Hu has poisoned himself to death, one big problem has been solved," Zhang Wuji declared. But the thought of the crone and the ghost-like manner in which she appeared and disappeared was still frightening enough to send shivers down his spine.

"People say that this Old Woman of the Golden Flower is very cautious in her ways," Wang Nangu remarked. "Although she has gone, she will return again to check on us. My husband and I must leave this place immediately. Little Brother, please erect two graves for us, with our names clearly inscribed on the gravestones."

Zhang Wuji agreed.

After Hu Qingniu and his wife had drunk their detoxifying decoctions, they packed the things hurriedly. Then, they sent the two pages back to their respective homes with ten liang (500 grams) of silver each. Finally, the couple hopped on to a mule-drawn carriage and vanished under the cover of night.

Zhang Wuji sent them all the way up to the entrance of Butterfly Valley. Having spent the past two years in each other's company, neither the boy nor the physician could bear to part with the other.

Hu Qingniu pulled out a handwritten book and said, "Wuji, all the things that I have learnt about medicine and its practices are recorded in this book. I have kept it hidden from you in the past, but now, I would like you to have it. I feel very bad for failing to expel the toxins of the Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness (Xuan Ming Shen Zhang / Xuan2 Ming2 Shen2 Zhang3) from your body, so I hope that you will eventually find a way to do so by studying this book." Zhang Wuji accepted the gift with thanks.

Then, Wang Nangu said, "You saved our lives and enabled us to be reconciled with each other. Thus, I should pass all my knowledge and skills to you as well. But I have focused only on the methods of harming others with poison, so there is little purpose in your learning them. I hope that you will achieve complete recovery as soon as possible. As for your reward, I will have to make up for it in the days to come."

Zhang Wuji waited until the mule-drawn carriage had disappeared from sight before returning to the row of huts. Early the next morning, he built two graves beside the huts by piling earth and stones. Then, he left the valley to engage the services of a stonemason. The stonemason erected two gravestones: one inscribed with 'The grave of the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley Hu Qingniu' and the other with 'The grave of Mrs Hu, nee Wang'.

Jian Jie and the others sighed when they saw the graves, for the story of Hu Qingniu being seriously ill had proven to be true.

With Wang Nangu gone, there was no one left to poison the patients in secret. Consequently, their injuries began to heal under Zhang Wuji's care. Less than ten days later, they took their leave with thanks. Ji Xiaofu and her daughter did not have anywhere to go to, so they decided to accompany Zhang Wuji for a few more days.

Notes:

In the 2nd edition, the culprit was a "mute medicant monk".

In these few days, Zhang Wuji spent all his effort reading the medical book that Hu Qingniu had written, and discovered that the contents were deep and profound, a worthy work of the “Deity of Healing”. He only read it for about eight or nine days and his medical skills improved greatly, but as to the eradication of the “Yin” poison in his body, there wasn’t the slightest clue. He flipped through and read many pages, finally gave up hope, and thought, “If Hu Qingniu knew a method to cure me, how would he not do so? If he did not, how would the medical book have a method?” After thinking of this, he could not help feeling completely disheartened. He closed the book, walked outside the house, saw the two false graves, and thought,” Before a year passes, I will really be buried under the ground. What will my tombstone say?” While he was lost in thought, suddenly he heard a few coughs from behind, Zhang Wuji was surprised and turned his head, only to see the Golden Flower Granny holding the beautiful looking little girl, standing unsteadily a few ‘zhang’ away. (1 ‘zhang’=10 feet) The Golden Flower Granny asked, “Little one, who are you to Hu Qingniu? Why are you sighing here?” Zhang Wuji replied, “My body is afflicted with ‘Yin’ poison from the Xuanming Divine Palm......” The Golden Flower Granny walked to him, held his wrist, and felt his pulse, exclaiming, “Xuanming Divine Palm? Such a skill really exists in this world? Who was the one who hit you?” Zhang Wuji replied, “That man assumed the guise of a Mongolian military officer, but I do not know who he actually is. I came to seek treatment from Mr. Hu, he said I was not one of the Ming Cult, he would not heal me. Now that he has died from ingesting poison, my illness cannot be cured, so I felt sad thinking about this.”

The Golden Flower Granny saw that he was handsome and refined, very likeable, yet was afflicted with this untreatable illness, then said, “A pity, a

pity!” Three lines suddenly surged forth from Zhang Wuji’s heart, “⽣死修短,岂能强求?予恶乎知悦⽣之⾮惑邪?予恶乎知恶死之⾮弱丧⽽不 知归者邪?予恶乎知夫死 者不悔其始 之蕲⽣乎?”*

*Explanation to follow

These three lines come from ‘Zhuangzi’. Zhang Sanfeng practiced Taoism. Although his seven disciples were not priests, but they studied this Taoist- venerated book ‘Zhuangzi Nanhua Jing’ very thoroughly. When Zhang Wuji reached five years of age on Fire and Ice Island, Zhang Cuishan taught him to read and write. Though the lack of books limited them to writing on the ground, he was taught to memorise the ‘Zhuangzi’. These four lines mean, “The span of life, how can it forced? How would I know, if wanting to live was a mistake? How would I know, if man’s fear of death, was not like wandering outside during youth not knowing to return to his hometown? How would I know, if dead people would not regret previously seeking to live?” Zhuangzi’s original meaning expounded that, life might not be bliss, death might not be suffering, life and death are actually no different, a living person is only “having a big dream”, and after dying is “greatly awakened”, and maybe after dying would feel that the previous time in life was stupid, why not die earlier? Just like after having a sad and terrifying nightmare, once awakened, would realise this annoying nightmare had simply went on for too long. Zhang Wuji was young and originally did not know these truths about life, but in these four years he had been between hovering between life and death, unavoidably experiencing the hidden meaning in Zhuangzi’s words. Originally he did not believe Zhuangzi’s words, but since his days were numbered, he hoped that after death there would be a wondrous change, making his days of struggling to live laughable. At this time, he heard the Golden Flower Granny’s repeated “a pity”, and laughed lightly, saying those three lines from the ‘Zhuangzi’ without thinking. The Golden Flower Granny asked, “What does that mean?” Zhang Wuji explained it once and the Golden Flower Granny was immediately stupefied.

*'Zhuangzi' is a book on Taoist philosophy written by an author of the same name. Whenever quotes are used i.e. 'Zhuangzi' it refers to the book, and without quotes it refers to Zhuangzi the person/author. For more information, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhuangzi

She thought of her deceased husband from these few lines. The two of them were husband and wife for ten years and were incomparably loving, once separated by ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ (i.e. life and death), no longer having a chance to meet, if one was to live on it was like wandering destitution in a foreign land. On the contrary death would be a return to native land, so when the enemy had poisoned her husband, Hu Qingniu’s refusal to treat him was not necessarily a bad thing. “Native land? Native land? But after returning to the native land, would it really be better than the foreign land?”

However the little girl standing beside the Golden Flower Granny did not understand these few lines of Zhang Wuji’s at all, not knowing why once the granny heard them, had become still as if she was crazy. Her pair of beautiful eyes looked at the granny, then looked at Zhang Wuji, shifting from the two’s faces back and forth. Finally, the Golden Flower Granny took a breath, and said, “Matters of the nether realm, cannot be ascertained. Although death might not be frightening, but no mortal will not die, at the end of this life, it is difficult to escape that day. To be able to live one more day, is one day more!”

Zhang Wuji, having seen Ji Xiaofu and the fifteen others cruelly wounded by the Golden Flower Granny and also the dread of the Hu Qingniu couple towards her, did not even have the courage to run away. He thought that this Golden Flower Granny was an extremely brutal person, but on meeting her it seemed otherwise. That day he caught a glance of her under the light and did not get a clear look. At this moment he saw that she was clearly a kind and gentle old granny. Although her face was hard and stiff, full of wrinkles and totally devoid of feeling, but her eyes were sparkling clear, with the liveliness of a young woman, and displayed warmth and kindness.

The Golden Flower Granny asked again, “Child, what is the respected name of your father?” Zhang Wuji answered, “My father’s surname is Zhang, first name Cui second name Shan, a Wudang disciple.” But he did not mention his father’s suicide.

The Golden Flower Granny was shocked, and said, “You are the son of Wudang’s Fifth Hero Zhang, does that mean that evil person who used ‘Xuanming’ Divine Palm to hurt you was for the whereabouts of the Golden- Mane Lion King and the Dragon-Slaying Sabre?” Zhang Wuji replied, “Correct, he inflicted all kinds of torture on me, but I would rather die than say it.” The Golden Flower Granny said, “You really know it?” Zhang Wuji answered, “En, the Golden-Mane Lion King is my godfather, I absolutely would not reveal it.” The Golden Flower Granny’s left hand shot forth and captured his hands with her palm. Only to hear his joints making a “ge, ge” sound, Zhang Wuji’s hands were so painful that he also fainted, he felt a bone-penetrating chill of cold ‘qi’ transmitted from his hands to his chest, this cold ‘qi’ was different from ‘Xuanming’ Divine Palm, but it had the same unbearable feeling. The Golden Flower Granny said gently, “Obedient child, good child, tell of Xie Xun’s whereabouts, granny will cure your cold poison, and pass on a set of invincible martial arts to you.” Zhang Wuji was in tears from the pain, fearlessly replying, “My parents would rather give up their lives, than reveal the location of a friend. Golden Flower Granny, you look upon me as one who would betray his parents?” The Golden Flower Granny smiled and replied, “Very good, very good! Your father? Is he here?” The transmission stopped and the iron-like fingers that gripped his hands loosened. Zhang Wuji said loudly, “Why don’t you pour mercury into my ears? Why not force me to swallow metal needles, swallow leeches? Four years ago when I was only a child, I was already unafraid of all kinds of torture from those evil people, now that I am grown up, could it be that I have degenerated?” The Golden Flower Granny laughed loudly “haha”, and said, “You think you are an adult, not a child anymore, haha, haha......” She laughed a few times and released Zhang Wuji’s hands, only to see that the wrists of his hands to his fingertips, had turned a purplish-black colour.

That little girl shot him a meaningful glance, and said, “Quickly thank Granny for her mercy in sparing your life.” Zhang Wuji gave a “heng”, saying, “If she killed me, maybe I would be a little happier, what is there to thank?” That little girl wrinkled her brows, replying angrily, “You are disobedient, I am going to ignore you!” Saying this she turned away, but surreptitiously peeped at him to see what he was doing. The Golden Flower Granny laughed loudly, “Ah Li, you were alone on the island, without a young companion, it must have been lonely!” Let us capture this little child and tell him to serve you, how about that? The only thing is he has the temper of a donkey, being too stubborn and not very obedient.” That little girl’s long eyebrows raised, she clapped and laughed, “Wonderful, let us capture him then! If he is disobedient, won’t Granny think of a way to control him?” Zhang Wuji was hearing the two of them going back and forth, and became very anxious. If the Golden Flower Granny was to kill him on the spot, that would be fine, but if he were to be captured and brought to some island, to suffer the two’s torture and be half-alive or half- dead, it would be more unbearable than anything else.

The Golden Flower Granny nodded, “Follow me, first we have to find someone, accomplish a task, then go back to Lingshe (Spirit Snake) Island.” Zhang Wuji said, “You are not a good person, I will not accompany you.” The Golden Flower Granny smiled, “Our Lingshe Island has everything, things to eat and play, you have not even seen them before. Obedient child, come follow Granny.” Zhang Wuji suddenly turned around and ran away quickly, who knows as soon as he took a step, the Golden Flower Granny was in front of him again, and said gently, “Child, you will not be able to escape, come follow us obediently.” Zhang Wuji gritted his teeth and sent a fierce palm towards her, the Golden Flower Granny turned sideways and blew a breath towards his palm. Zhang Wuji’s palm had already been made black and swollen by her, now that this breath came it was like using a sharp knife to cut into a wound, being so painful that he leapt up.

All of a sudden a girl’s voice could be heard, “Brother Wuji, what are you playing? I’m coming as well.” It was precisely Yang Buhui that had come, followed by Ji Xiaofu who emerged from behind the trees and walked over. The mother and daughter duo had just strolled back from the field, unexpectedly seeing the Golden Flower Granny, Ji Xiaofu’s face paled. Finally gathering her courage, she said tremblingly, “Granny, you cannot trouble children?” The Golden Flower Granny stared fixedly at Ji Xiaofu, and laughed coldly, “You are not dead yet? This old granny’s affairs, need you to chatter about as well? Come over here to let me take a look, why have you not died to this day?”

Ji Xiaofu came from a martial family, was a high disciple of a famous school, and was originally very courageous, but now she took her daughter into consideration and did not dare to get into danger. Clutching her daughter’s hand she retreated a step instead, and said quietly, “Wuji, come over.”

Zhang Wuji felt like going over. That little girl Ah Li turned her palm over and caught the ‘San Yang Luo’ on his shoulder, and said, “Hold it there! You are called Wuji, surnamed Zhang, you are Zhang Wuji, is that it?” Once this ‘San Yang Luo’ was clasped, half of Zhang Wuji’s body immediately became numb and weak rendering him immobile. He was shocked and angry, and shouted, “Release me quickly!” Suddenly a crisp and clear female voice was heard, “Xiaofu, how can you be so useless? Go over if you want to!” Ji Xiaofu was shocked but happy, turned around and said, “Master!”, but there was no trace of anyone behind her. She looked carefully, only then did she see a grey-robed nun slowly walking over from a distance away, precisely the headmaster of Emei, her master Miejue Shitai*. Following behind her were two disciples, one was her elder martial-sister Ding Minjun, one was her younger martial-sister Bei Jinyi. The Golden Flower Granny saw that she was so far away that even her face could not be seen clearly, yet her voice was transmitted to everyone’s ears as though she was very close, which was sufficient proof of her profound internal energy. Miejue Shitai was very well-known, everyone in the martial world had heard of her, only that she rarely left the mountain and not many people had met her personally. As she came nearer, it could be seen that she was about forty- four to forty-five years of age and her features could be considered beautiful, but her two eyebrows arched downwards, her appearance was strange, and resembled the ‘Lu Si’ ghost from stage a little. Ji Xiaofu went to kneel down and kowtowed to her, and greeted quietly, “Master, you are well.” Miejue Shitai replied, “You have not angered me to death, I can still be considered well.” Ji Xiaofu continued kneeling and did not dare to get up. But hearing the cold laughs from Ding Minjun standing behind her master, as if she had said numerous bad things about herself to their master, she could not help breaking out in cold sweat. Miejue Shitai said icily,” This granny told you to go over and let her take a look as to why you have not died to this day. You go over and let her take a look.”

*Shitai is a term of address used for senior nuns or priestesses. E.g. In Smiling Proud Wanderer the three senior Hengshan leaders are Shitai (senior Buddhist nuns), in Return of the Condor Heroes Priestess Shenying is also a Shitai (senior Taoist priestess).

Ji Xiaofu answered, “Yes.” Standing up, she strode up to the Golden Flower Granny, and said in a clear voice, “Golden Flower Granny, my master is here. Your fierce and overbearing manner should be ended.” The Golden Flower Granny coughed, stared fixedly at Miejue Shitai, nodded, and said, “En, you are the Emei headmaster, I hit your disciple, what will you do?” Miejue Shitai replied icily, “Well hit! If you like to hit her, hit her again, even if you kill her it is none of my business.” Ji Xiaofu felt as if a knife had pierced her heart, and called out, “Master!” Two streams of warm tears flowed. She knew her master was always extremely protective of her disciples. When her disciples had crossed anyone, even if it went against her principles she would argue vehemently to protect them. Now that she said these words she clearly did not regard her as a disciple any longer. The Golden Flower Granny said, “I do not have any enmity with Emei, having hit her once, it is enough. Ah Li, let us leave!” Saying that she slowly turned away.

Ding Minjun did not know the Golden Flower Granny’s background, only that she looked senile and sickly but dared to be so insolent towards her master. She became angry, stepped up quickly and obstructed her, exclaiming, “You did not apologise to my master and are thinking of leaving?” Saying that her right hand drew her sword, half-unsheathed, to intimidate the granny.

The Golden Flower Granny suddenly extended two fingers and gently pinched on her sword sheath, then released it quickly, laughing, “Scrap metal, can also be used to scare people?” Ding Minjun became even angrier and wanted to unsheathe her sword. Unexpectedly her single pull was not able to pull out the sword. Ah Li laughed, “Scrap metal, it has become rusty!”

Ding Minjun tried again with all her might, but was still unable to pull it out. Only then did she know that the Golden Flower Granny’s seemingly causal pinch on her sword sheath before, had secretly utilised her internal energy to make an indent into the sword sheath, making it grip the blade of the sword firmly. Ding Minjun could not unsheathe it even if she wanted to but she was unwilling to leave it at that. Her face reddened and her expression was wretched.

Miejue Shitai walked up slowly, held the sword hilt with three fingers and shook gently. The sword sheath immediately cracked into two, freeing the sword blade. She said, “This sword is not any sharp or precious blade, but neither is it scrap metal. Golden Flower Granny, why do you not enjoy life on Lingshe Island, but come to the central plains to make trouble?”

The Golden Flower Granny saw the way that she used her three fingers to shake the sword and break the sheath. She felt a pang of fear, and said to herself, “This bothersome nun is renowned, she truly possesses some real skill.” All smiles, she said, “My husband passed away, I was alone on the island and felt bored. So I left and wandered around, to see if I could find any suitable monk or priest to be my companion.” She emphasised “monk or priest” to ridicule the other as being a nun, yet was also wandering about. Miejue Shitai’s pair of drooped eyebrows hung even lower, she raised the sword and said in a bleak voice, “Show your weapon!” Since coming under her tutelage, Ding Minjun, Ji Xiaofu and the others had never seen their master fight with anyone. Ji Xiaofu was especially concerned as she knew that the Golden Flower Granny’s martial arts were extraordinary and inscrutable. Zhang Wuji’s shoulder was still being held by Ah Li and his upper body was becoming increasingly numb, he shouted, “Let go of me quickly! Why are you grabbing on to me?” Ah Li saw Ji Xiaofu at the side with the intention to step in. If she did not let him go, Ji Xiaofu would definitely come to intervene and by then she would have to release him anyway. Hence she exerted her strength and flung him away, releasing his shoulder, and said coldly, “Let us see whether you can escape?” The Golden Flower Granny gave a slight smile, and said, “Years ago Emei Sect’s Guo Xiang Heroine Guo’s sword skill was renowned throughout the land. It must have been extremely high, but I wonder how much of it has been passed down to the descendants?” Miejue Shitai replied strongly, “Even if only a fraction remains it is enough to annihilate the evil and unorthodox.” The Golden Flower Granny stared fixedly on the tip of her opponent’s sword unblinkingly. All of a sudden, she raised her walking staff and thrust it fiercely towards the sword. Miejue Shitai’s sword quivered and stabbed towards her shoulder. Amidst her coughing, the Golden Flower Granny swept her staff across. Miejue Shitai followed her sword, moving behind her opponent in a flash. Before her steps ended her sword move had arrived. However the Golden Flower Granny did not turn around but instead twirled her walking staff and sent a backhand smash towards the sword blade. The two of them had exchanged three to four moves and were already praising each other’s ability silently. An abrupt ‘dang’ sound was heard as the sword Miejue Shitai was wielding broke into two. When the sword and staff met the sword was broken by the impact of the walking staff. The onlookers were all shocked except for Ah Li. The Golden Flower Granny’s walking staff was dark, yellowish and dirty. It appeared very ordinary and seemed to be neither gold nor iron. Yet it could shatter a sharp sword, so it must be the force of her profound and abundant internal energy. However, when the Golden Flower Granny clashed weapons with Miejue Shitai she knew that the sword broke because of the sharpness of her weapon and not because her own internal energy had improved. Her walking staff was actually a special product of the seabed near Lingshe Island. It was called ‘Gold Coral’ and was made from a blend of various kinds of quality gold combined with coral, formed by undergoing thousands of years deep in the sea. It could shear metal like cutting tofu and strike rocks like hitting cotton. Any kind of sharp weapon would break immediately upon contact. Nevertheless the Golden Flower Granny did not press her attack. She only propped her staff against the ground and pat her chest, coughing. The three Emei disciples Ji Xiaofu, Ding Minjun and Bei Jinyi feared that their master was injured. In unison they rushed to Miejue Shitai’s side to guard her.

(Translated by dgfds01)

Ah Li turned her palm and grabbed Zhang Wuji’s wrist. Laughing, she said: “I said you won’t be able to escape. Isn’t that true?” This was totally unexpected. Before Zhang Wuji could break free, his meridians were obstructed and lost the strength in his body. This was the second time she had beaten him. Feeling both embarrassed and indignant, both angry and anxious, he kicked out at her waist with his right foot. Ah Li’s fingers held firm and Zhang Wuji’s foot had traveled no more than half a chi (about a foot) when it lost the strength to continue. He yelled angrily: “Are you going to let me go?” Ah Li laughed: “If I don’t let you go, what can you do?” Zhang Wuji suddenly bent down and bit hard into her arm. Ah Li felt the pain and screamed: “Ai yo!” She loosened her right hand’s grip while her left hand clawed at Zhang Wuji’s face. Zhang Wuji jumped back quickly but he was too slow. AH Li’s fingers had scratched the right side of his face causing it to bleed. Ah Li’s bitten right arm was bleeding even more. The pain was so great that she wanted to cry.

While the two children were fighting, Golden Flower Granny (Jinhua Popo) did not even glance at them. Miejue Shitai threw aside her broken sword and said: “This is my disciple’s weapon, not suitable for fighting against top experts.” So saying, she untied her knapsack and took out an antique long sword about four feet in length. Granny Golden Flower saw that a green- tinged aura was emitting from the scabbard. The sword had not yet been drawn but she could see it was something out of the ordinary. She then saw the words ‘Yi Tian’ (roughly translated as ‘supporting heaven’ but I’ll stick with simply ‘Heaven’ to be consistent with the title) inlaid in gold on the scabbard. Shocked, she blurted out: “The Heaven Sword!” Miejue Shitai nodded her head and said: “Correct, this is the Heaven Sword. Granny Golden Flower’s mind flashed to the well-know phases resounding over the Wulin: “Martial world’s most venerable, Prized saber dragon slaying, Controlling all under Heaven, None dares to not follow. Power of heaven not appear, who can possibly compete?” She muttered repeatedly to herself: “So the Heaven Sword has fallen into Emei’s hands.”

Miejue Shitai shouted: “En garde!” Without removing the scabbard, she grasped the hilt and pointed the sword at Granny Golden Flower’s chest. Granny Golden Flower flipped her staff round to meet her. Miejue Shitai’s wrist moved slightly and the sword met the staff. With a light ‘chi’ sound, Granny Golden Flower’s precious ‘Gold Coral’ staff was cut into two as easily as a piece of paper.

Granny Golden Flower was shaken. She thought: “The Heaven Sword has not even been drawn out of its scabbard, and yet it is already so formidable. It truly lives up to its reputation.” She gazed at the sword and asked: “Miejue Shitai, please let me see what the sword looks like.”

Miejue Shitai shook her head and said coldly: “Once this sword leaves its scabbard, it will not return without first tasting blood.”

The two women stared at each other, neither speaking for a long while.

By this time, Granny Golden Flower knew that this nun’s kungfu was not below hers. Miejue had not yet displayed her top skills but as the head of Emei, she would definitely be quite formidable. Added to that, she had in her hand the “Number 1 Sword under Heaven”. Granny Golden Flower did not feel able to take her on. She coughed softly twice, then turned around, grabbed Ah Li’s hand and walked away. Ah Li turned her head and shouted: “Zhang Wuji, Zhang Wuji!” Her voice grew softer and softer as the distance increased, until finally it could be hear no more.

Ding Minjun, Ji Xiaofu, and Bei Jinyi were overjoyed that their shifu had won and her powerful opponent had run away. Ding Minjun said: “Shifu, that old woman is no Mt Tai, is she? Yet she even dared to fight with you, she truly got what she deserved.” Miejue Shitai said: “When you roam the jianghu in the future, if you ever hear her cough, make sure you run far away.” Earlier when she struck out with her sword, it was backed with the power of her thirty years worth of cultivation of “Emei’s 9 Yang Divine Skill”. Even though she succeeded in breaking her opponent’s staff, when her internal energy came into contact with Granny Golden Flower’s body, it was as if it had fallen into a vast ocean and left no trace of itself behind. The force only managed to cause Granny’s clothing to flap while her footing remained firm. Now that she thought about it, her heart shivered with fear. She thought that the Granny’s inner power was strong and powerful while her body was strong and healthy, definitely not like that of an old lady in her twilight years. It was difficult to understand how this could be so. Miejue Shitai raised her head to stare at the sky, then after a while she called: “Xiaofu, come here!” Without even glancing at her, she walked into the house. Ji Xiaofu and the other two followed her inside. Yang Buhui called out: “Mama!” and tried to go inside too.

Ji Xiaofu knew that her shifu had left Emei with the purpose of ‘cleaning out the home’ (i.e. dealing with a renegade disciple). Though she had previously been the object of love and attention, her shifu was very strict, so she really did not know how she would be dealt with. She told her daughter: “You should stay outside and play, don’t come inside.”

Zhang Wuji thought: “The Ding woman is really bad. She will definitely bad-mouth Anuty Ji in front of their shifu. I saw clearly what happened that night, she’s venomous and cruel. If she talks rubbish now and confuses the truth, I will come out and help Aunty Ji.” He quietly went to the back of the house, crouched under a window, held his breath and listened. But inside the house was totally silent, nobody was talking. After a while, Miejue Shitai said: “Xiaofu, it is your story so you can tell me what happened.” Ji Xiaofu choked out: “Shifu, I… I…” Miejue Shitai said: “Minjun, come and question her.” Ding Minjun said: “Yes. Martial sister Ji, of our sect’s forbidden practices, what is the third?” Ji Xiaofun replied: “Taking part in lewd and lecherous activities.” Ding Minjun said: “Correct. What then, is the sixth? Ji Xiaofu replied: “Turning your heart to outsiders, rebelling against sect and master.” Again, Ding Minjun asked: “And how do we deal with people who break these rules?” Ji Xiaofu did not reply. Instead, she turned to Miejue Shitai, saying: “Shifu, there is something that I have difficulty saying. It is not as simple as what Martial Sister Ding is saying.” Miejue Shitai said: “Alright, there are no outsiders here. Tell me everything.”

Ji Xiaofu knew that this was a very important moment, she didn’t dare conceal anything. She said: “Shifu, that year after we found out about the Heavenly Eagle Cult gathering at Wangpan Shan, you ordered me and 15 other martial sisters to leave the mountain and split up to look for the Golden-hair Lion King Xie Xun. I went west towards Sichuan. On the way, I met a middle-aged man dressed in white. He was around 40 years old. Everywhere I went, he followed. When I stayed at an inn, he stayed there as well. When I moved on, he moved on as well. At first I just ignored him. After that, I told him off because it was unseemly. That man talked like a madman, so I lost my patience, took out my sword and stabbed at him. He had no weapon but his kungfu was amazing. Within 3 moves, he had snatched the sword from my hand. I was frightened and tried to run away. He didn’t chase me. Early morning the second day, I woke up in my inn room only to see my sword next to my pillow. I was greatly frightened. When I left the inn, that man started following me again. There was no point in me fighting him again, so I tried begging him. I said that we are neither related nor are we enemies, we don’t know each other, plus men and women should remain apart, there is no point in you following me around. I also said, although my kungfu is not your match, you shouldn’t provoke our Emei Sect.” Meijue Shitai ‘hmmphed’ as if she agreed. Ji Xiaofu continued: “That man laughed and laughed, then said: ‘Once a person’s kungfu is split into different sects, it deteriorates a lot. If you are willing to follow me, you’ll acquire a new set of eyes and ears. I’ll teach you the greatest kungfu on earth.”

Miejue Shitai has eccentric in nature. Her whole life had been devoted to martial arts to the exclusion of other matters (Note: I think there’s a mistake in the online text I’m using, so this bit is a guess). On hearing what that man said, she said: “You should have followed him to have a look and see what sort of weird skills he has.” Ji Xiaofu blushed bright red and replied: “Shifu, he is a strange man, how could I follow him?” Miejue Shitai then came to her senses: “Ah, you’re right! So you told him to get lost?” Ji Xiaofu said: “I tried time and time again to avoid him, but I just couldn’t lose him. Ai, I was unfortunate to run into this, the consequence of my sins in my previous life…” As she said this, her voice grew softer and softer.

Miejue Shitai saked: “What happened after that?”

Ji Xiaofu answered softly: “I couldn’t resist and lost my chastity to him. He had complete control over me, I couldn’t even end my life. This went on for a few months. Then one day, an enemy suddenly came looking for him and I took this opportunity to escape. Not long later, I discovered that I was pregnant. I didn’t dare tell you, Shifu, so I hid away and gave birth to my child in secret.”

Miejue Shitai asked: “Are you telling me the truth?” Ji Xiaofu said: “I would never dare to lie to you, Shifu.” Miejue Shitai gave a low hum and said: “My poor child. Ai, this matter really wasn’t your fault!” When Ding Minjun heard her Shifu’s sympathy, she could not help but glare fiercely at Ji Xiaofu. Miejue Shitai sighed and asked: “Then what are your plans now?” Ji Xiaofu tearfully answered: “The arrangements my family made for me to marry Wudang’s Sixth Master have fallen apart. I beg Shifu to permit me to cut my hair and become a nun.” Miejue Shitai shook her head: “That won’t be good. Humph, what is the name of the evil man who harmed you?” Ji Xiaofu lowered her head and answered: “His… his surname is Yang, and his given name is Xiao.” Miejue Shitai suddenly leapt up. She waved her sleeve and with a ‘krack’ sound, the table collapsed into two pieces. Zhang Wuji who was eavesdropping outside was greatly frigetened. Even the expressions of Ji Xiaofu, Ding Minjun and Bei Jinyi changed. Miejue Shitai yelled: “You said that he is Yang Xiao? The biggest demon of the Demon Cult, the man called the ‘Left Emissary of Guang Ming’ Yang Xiao?”

Ji Xiaofu replied: “He… he… is from the Ming Cult and seemed to hold some position within it.” Miejue Shitai, with a furious expression on her face, said: “What Ming Cult? The Demon Cult is ferocious and inhuman, there are no evil deeds that they do not do. (Note: ‘Ming’ means ‘bright’ which implies good, as opposed to evil.) Where… where is he hiding now? Is he at Guang Ming Peak in the Kunlun Mountains? I’m going to look for him.” Ji Xiaofu said: “He said he is the Ming Cult’s…” Miejue Shitai shouted: “Demon Cult!” Ji Xiaofu said: “Yes. He said he is the Demon Cult’s leader. Ordinarily, he would be at Guang Ming Peak but the last few years, there has been internal discord and fighting within the Cult. So he no longer lives on Guang Ming Peak to prevent people from thinking he wants to be the Cult Leader. He is now secretly living in Zuo Feng Summit of the Kunlun Mountains. This was something he only told me, no one else in the Jianghu knows about it. Since Shifu asked me, I dare not refuse to answer. Shifu, this man… is this man our sects’s enemy?” Miejue Shitai answered: “Our enmity is as deep as the ocean! Your Eldest Martial Uncle Guhong Zi was angered to death by the great demon Yang Xiao.”

Ji Xiaofu was very frightened, yet she couldn’t help but feeling proud. Her Eldest Mrtial Uncle Guhong Zi was a top expert in the world but even he was angered to death by “him”. She wanted to ask about the details but did not dare open her mouth.

Miejue Shitai lifted her face to the sky, with great hatred she muttered to herself: “Yang Xiao… for many years I had no idea of your whereabouts, now that you’ve fallen into my hands…” She suddenly spun around and said: “Right, you lost your chastity to him, defended Monk Peng, offended your Martial Sister Ding, concealed the truth from me, and secretly gave birth to a child… I’ll forget about all this. I want you to do something for me, when you’ve rendered this great service come back to Emei. I will give you the robes, alms bowl and Yi Tian sword, and then make you my successor as the our Sect Leader.” These words shocked everyone. Ding Minjun’s jealousy and hatred burst forward. She was furious with their Shifu for not understanding right and wrong, and acting unreasonably.

Ji Xiaofu said: “Whatever Shifu orders, I will do my utmost to complete. But I have too many faults and my martial arts are not good, so I dare not even dream of accepting your legacy. Miejue Shitai said: “Come with me.” She pulled Ji Xiaofu’s wrist and flew out of the house to the hill on the left side of the valley. She only stopped when they reached a deserted spot. Zhang Wuji observed them from far away. He then saw Miejue Shitai stand at a tall vantage point and gaze round in all four directions, before pulling Ji Xiaofu to her side and speaking softly into her ear. Only then did he realise that what she was saying was a big secret. Not only was she afraid of eavesdroppers, but she also did not even want her two disciples, Ding and Bei, to hear what she said.

After hiding next to the house, Zhang Wuji did not dare reveal himself. From afar, he watched Miejue Shitai say something and Ji Xiaofu lower her head in thought before finally shaking her head firmly. He then saw Miejue Shitai lift up her right palm and struck down, only to stop halfway like she was giving Ji a last chance to change her mind. Zhang Wuji’s heart was beating rapidly. He thought that if this palm fell on her head, she would definitely die. He gazed intently at Ji Xiaofu without blinking an eye. He saw her drop to her knees and shake her head. Miejue Shitai’s palm fell squarely on her forehead, Ji Xiaofu’s body swayed and dropped to the ground. She writhed a little and then stopped moving.

Zhang Wuji was both frightened and grieved, he flattened himself in the grass behind the house, not daring to move a muscle. At this moment, Yang Buhui giggled a couple of times and threw herself onto his back. Laughing, she said: “I’ve caught you, I’ve caught you!” She had been running around in the fields and had seen Zhang Wuji hide among the grass. She thought he was planning hide-and-seek with her and rushed forward to catch him. Zhang Wuji grabbed her, covered her mouth with one hand and whispered into her ear: “Keep quiet, don’t let the evil people find us.” Seeing that his face was pale and his expression frightened, Yang Buhui was shocked. Miejue Shitai came down from the slope hurriedly and told Ding Minjun: “Go and kill her bastard child. Don’t allow future disaster to take root.” Ding Minjun had seen how her shifu had dealt violently with Ji Xiaofu. Though she was inwardly happy, she was also greatly surprised. Hearing her shifu’s orders, she quickly borrowed Bei Jinyi’s sword and went off to look for Yang Buhui.

Zhang Wuji hugged Yang Buhui and shrank further back into the long grass. He didn’t even dare take a deep breath. Ding Minjun looked everyone but couldn’t find a trace of the little girl. As she decided to do a thorough search, Meijue Shitai scolded: “Useless thing! You can’t even find a little girl!” Bei Jinyi had always gotten along well with Ji Xiaofu. After seeing her die under their shifu’s palm and now trying to kill her only child, she could not hold back any longer. She said: “I’ll go see whether the child has run out of the valley.” She knew her shifu was impatient by nature. Once they have gone out to search for the child unsuccessfully, she would not bother coming back to look. Though a little girl left alone in the world might not survive, Bei Jinyi could not bear the idea of seeing her stabbed by Ding Minjun’s sword. Miejue Shitai said: “Why didn’t you say so earlier?” Glaring at Bei, she led the chase out of the valley, with Ding Minjun and Bei Jinyi following.

Yang Buhui still did not know that disaster had befallen her mother. Her eyes were open wide and round, darting around with a questioning look. Zhang Wuji placed his ear to the ground and listened. When he heard the three going further and further away, he jumped up, pulled Yang Buhui’s hand and rushed up the slope. Yang Buhui laughed: “Brother Wuji, have the evil people gone? We’re going up the mountain to play right?” Zhang Wuji did not answer. He only pulled her quickly to where Ji Xiaofu was. When Yang Buhui got closer and finally saw her mother lying on the ground, she was very frightened. She surged forward crying: “Mama, Mama!” and threw herself down next to her mother. Zhang Wuji tested her breath and found it to be extremely weak. He saw that her skull had been smashed by Meijue Shitai’s palm. Even if Hu Qingniu arrived, it would be difficult to save her life. Ji Xiaofu opened her eyes slightly to see Zhang Wuji and her daughter. Her lips slightly moved as if she wanted to speak, but not a single sound came out. Two large tears flowed from her eyes. Zhang Wuji took out some golden needles and pushed them into her “Shen Ting”, “Yin Tang” and “Cheng Qi” acupoints, reducing the pain in her head. Ji Xiaofu regained some strength and said softly: “I beg… beg you… to take her to her father……I could not… could not harm her father……” Her left hand moved to her chest as if to retrieve some object but suddenly her head drooped and breathing stopped.

Yang Buhui hugged her mother’s body, crying loudly she kept calling: “Mama, Mama, does it hurt a lot? Does it hurt a lot?” Ji Xiaofu gradually became cold, but she did not stop asking. She did not understand why her mother did not move at all, or why she did not answer her. Zhang Wuji already felt great sorrow. Then when he thought about his parents tragic deaths, he too felt like howling. He could not stop tear from pouring from his eyes. The two of them cried for a while, then Zhang Wuji thought: “Before Aunty Ji died, she begged me to take Sister Buhui to her father. Erm, her father’s name is Yang Xiao, he is the Ming Cult’s Guang Ming Left Emissary, and he lives on Zuo Wang Summit in the Kunlun Mountains. I must take her there.” He did not know that the Kunlun Mountains were tens of thousands of li to the west. How could two children make it all the way there? He had seen Ji Xiaofu reach towards her chest to retrieve something before her breath was cut short. Now he felt around her neck and found a silk cord hanging around her neck. From the cord hung a black pendant inlaid with a golden flame. Not knowing what it was, he just hung it around Yang Buhui’s neck. Then he got an iron shovel out of the house and dug a grave to bury Ji Xiaofu’s body. By this time, Yang Buhui had exhausted herself crying and had fallen into a deep sleep. When she woke up, Zhang Wuji told her that a mother had flown up to heaven and she will only come back down after a very long time.

After that, Zhang Wuji slapped a meal together for himself and Yang Buhui to eat. Exhausted, they both fell asleep on a couch. The next morning, he packed two small travel packs and the money that Hu Qingniu had given him, then took Yang Buhui to pay their respects in front of her mother’s grave. That done, the two children left Butterfly Valley.

End of Chapter 13.