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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 13

Chapter 13 – The Crippled Person of Five Lake

When Huang Rong returned to the inn for the night, she thought in her heart how she had done a good deed and was extremely delighted. Following that, she fell into a sweet sleep, and told Guo Jing all about it when she awoke the next morning. Guo Jing had actually spent a lot of effort on this matter. The last time, he got into a messy situation and had to fight for his life with Wanyan Kang and he was also nearly forced to marry Mu Nianci. When he heard that Mu Nianci and Yang Kang were in love, he secretly felt relieved and happy, especially since Qiu Chuji and the Six Freaks of Jiangnan would not be able to force him to marry Mu Nianci anymore. He ate and chatted with Huang Rong and after some time, Mu Nianci still had not come back.

Huang Rong smiled and said, “We don’t have to wait for her, let’s just go.” Following that, she went back into her room and put on a male disguise. Both of them went to the market and bought a donkey and rode to the Jiang residence. When they saw the lantern, which read ‘The Jin Ambassador’ at the door smashed, they thought that Wanyan Kang must have left and Mu Nianci must have followed him.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong decided to tour the countryside and rowed a boat to the south along the Grand Canal [Dà Yùnhé]. That day they visited the famous Yixing city, which specialized in pottery making and was renowned as the pottery capital [tao du]. The rows of ceramic creations [zisha pottery] made with purple sand and clay lay amongst the green hills and blue waters which created a beautiful sight. They traveled towards the east and not long after, came upon a huge lake [Lake Tai]. Since the lake was situated between three cities and it took about five hundred li [1li=500m / 1/3mile] to reach the east or south side, the lake was named Five Lake. Guo Jing had never seen such a huge body of water before and pulled Huang Rong to the lakeside. They saw the sky far away from them, a huge, never-ending space in front, with the lake in the middle and couldn’t help but yell happily.

Huang Rong said, “Let’s go and play on the lake.” They found a fishing village near the lake, borrowed a small boat and left the donkey with the owner before rowing out into the waters. After rowing some distance away from the shore, the space between all four corners of the lake seemed so empty and huge that it seemed like heaven to them.

Huang Rong’s robes and hair floated gently in the wind and she smiled, “Long ago, Advisor Fan escorted Xi Shi across the Five Lake…what a clever man. His court position is nothing compared to the peaceful life here.”

Guo Jing didn’t know anything about Advisor Fan’s story and asked, “Rong’er, how about you tell me the story.”

Huang Rong began to tell of how Fan Li helped the King of Yue avenge the Yue kingdom and how he successfully retreated with Xi Shi to a peaceful life on Lake Tai. She continued on about how Wu Zixu and Wen Zhong were killed by the King of Wu and the King of Yue respectively.

[Historical background: Xi Shi is one of the legendary Four Beauties of China. The others are Wang Zhaojun, Diao Chan and Yang Guifei (Note that Guifei is a title for the emperor's consort).

** This occurred during the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 BC), before China was united as one empire. At that time, many small states existed. It is against this backdrop that this story took place.]

As the story goes, the King of Yue had once been a prisoner of the King of Wu. He was obsessed about revenge for his humiliation. Fan Li, a minister of the Yue kingdom, came up with a scheme whereby Xi Shi was sent as a gift to the King of Wu. The King of Wu was so enamored by her beauty that he neglected his state, spending all his time with her. Wu Zixu was his best general, but was killed by him.. Eventually, the weakened Wu state was defeated by Yue.

Wen Zhong was a minister of Yue. It was he who ruled Yue while its king was a prisoner. After the defeat of Wu, he was killed by the King of Yue. As for Xi Shi, some legends hold that she disappeared with Fan Li (like what Huang Rong said). Others say she was killed by the King of Yue because he was afraid of succumbing to her beauty like the King of Wu.]

Guo Jing was in a daze after listening to the story and after a while, he recovered and said, “Fan Li was clever, but Wu Zixu and Wen Zhong are admirable too, for dying for their country.”

Huang Rong gave a little laugh, “Absolutely. As the saying goes, if a country is virtuous and one does not change, he is the strongest. If a country is corrupted, and one still does not change, he remains the strongest.”

Guo Jing asked, “What does this mean?”

Huang Rong replied, “If a country is virtuous, even though one rises to be a powerful official, one would still be as alert and cautious as before. When the country becomes weak one day and you are still willing to die for your country, then you are the real hero.”

Guo Jing nodded his head and said, “Rong’er, how clever of you to think of this!”

Huang Rong laughed, “Ai ya! If I could think of this, I would be a sage. These are Confucius sayings which my father taught me when I was young.”

Guo Jing sighed, “There are so many matters I can never understand. If I had read more books and learned more sayings, I would have understood more.”

Huang Rong said, “That may not always be the case. My father always tells me that a lot of sayings by sages and scholars are nothing but rubbish. I often see my father reading and saying out loud ‘No, No what nonsense, this is atrocious!’ Sometimes, he would also say ‘What sage! It’s a pack of rubbish!” Guo Jing laughed out loud hearing how Huang Rong described her father.

Huang Rong continued, “I somehow regret spending so much time studying and practicing art and calligraphy. If I hadn’t pestered my father to teach me such stuff as well as all sorts of other things such as the interesting ways of calculations, I would have devoted more time to practicing my martial skills and we wouldn’t have to be afraid of people like Mei Chaofeng and the old Liang creature! But don’t worry Jing ge ge, you’ve learned Qigong’s ‘Eighteen, but short three, Dragon-Subduing Palms’ and thus you don’t have to fear that old Liang creature anymore.”

Guo Jing shook his head and said, “I don’t think that’s possible.”

Huang Rong laughed and said, “It’s a pity Qigong left. If he hadn’t, I would have confiscated and hidden his dog beating stick and forced him to teach you the remaining three stances before returning it to him.”

Guo Jing hurriedly said, “No, no. I’m more than satisfied to be able to learn the fifteen stances. How can we make trouble for Senior Qigong?”

Both started chatting and stopped rowing, allowing the wind to move the boat freely. Without realizing it, they were already miles away from the shore. They saw a fisherman fishing lazily from a boat not far away and there was a servant at the bow of the boat.

Huang Rong pointed and said, “As the mist clears, one can see the shape of a straight bamboo rod. It’s just like a painting of water inked scenery.”

Guo Jing asked, “What’s water inked scenery?”

Huang Rong answered, “That’s paintings which use only black ink and no other colors.”

Guo Jing saw the green hills, blue waters, white clouds and orange sun but could not find anything black in color. He shook his head, not understanding Huang Rong’s words. Huang Rong chatted more with Guo Jing. Later she turned around and saw that the fisherman was still sitting straight in the boat and his rod had not moved an inch. Huang Rong laughed, “This person does have a lot of patience.”

A gust of wind blew over them and little waves of water sloshed gently against the boat. Huang Rong swung her arms about and started singing a song entitled ‘The Water Dragon’s Hum’ which tells about life on the lake. She finished singing the first part of the song before resting a little. Guo Jing noticed tears in her eyes and was just about to ask her the meaning of the song when suddenly, they heard a melancholy voice singing the exact same song Huang Rong was singing earlier, except that it was the second part. When they looked around, it seemed as though the fisherman was the one singing the song. His voice sounded somewhat forceful yet gentle. Guo Jing did not understand what both of them were singing about but thought that it sounded very nice. However, when Huang Rong heard the song, she looked stunned.

Guo Jing asked, “What’s the matter?”

Huang Rong answered, “My father often sings this song, I didn’t expect a common fisherman to know it too. Let’s check it out.” Both of them rowed the boat over only to see the fisherman holding his fishing rod and rowing his boat forward. When both boats neared each other, the fisherman asked, “To think I was fortunate enough to meet such special guests, can I invite you in for a drink?”

Huang Rong thought his speech sounded composed and refined. She was secretly curious, and answered, “We do not wish to bother the senior.”

The fisherman laughed, “It’s not easy to meet such special guests, but since we meet by chance on the lake, we should treasure it. Please come over.”

The two boats moved even closer. Huang Rong and Guo Jing rowed the boat along side the other boat and climbed in to greet the fisherman. The fisherman greeted them while staying seated and said, “Please be seated. I am crippled so can’t stand up, I apologize for any inconvenience.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong said, “It’s alright.”

Both of them sat down and observed the fisherman. He looked about forty years of age, had a rather thin face and looked as if he were ill. He was very tall and even though seated, he was still half a head taller than Guo Jing. The servant at the back of the boat began warming up some wine.

Huang Rong said, “My older brother’s surname is Guo, whereas junior is surnamed Huang. I was excited for a moment and started singing in the middle of the lake. I haven’t offended the senior have I?”

The fisherman laughed, “I am fortunate to be able to listen to such a clear voice. My surname is Lu. Little brother, is it your first time touring this lake?”

Guo Jing answered, “Yes.”

The fisherman ordered the servant to bring out some dishes and wine for the guests. Although the four dishes were nothing compared to Huang Rong’s cooking, they tasted good too and the wine cups and dish plates looked quite unique, and no doubt belonged to some precious collection.

The three of them started drinking. The fisherman said, “Just now I heard little brother singing the song ‘The Water Dragon’s Hum’ which has such perfect lyrics. It is such a surprise that little brother, though so young in age, is still able to comprehend the deep meanings of the words.”

When Huang Rong heard his admiring words, she gave a little smile and said, “Ever since the Song moved south, song writers often write sad songs for the country.”

The fisherman nodded in agreement. Huang Rong continued, “The song ‘The Six Cities’ by Zhang Yuhu has the same meaning.”

The fisherman started singing the lyrics, “When people pass by, one would cry tears of loyalty and anger…” He drank up three cups of wine and engaged in conversation with Huang Rong. Actually Huang Rong is just a young girl and had not experienced any real sorrows caused by ‘one’s country’. She did not really identify with the deep meaning of the lyrics. It was just that she’d listened to her father explain the meanings before and thus used her father’s explanation which was a very refined and sophisticated one. This awed the fisherman, who could not help but praise Huang Rong. Guo Jing listened from one corner and did not understand a single word, but he was delighted hearing the fisherman praise Huang Rong. After chatting awhile, he saw that the landscape had paled and the mist surrounding the lake had thickened.

The fisherman said, “My residence is close by the lake, if you don’t mind, I would like to invite both of you there for more discussions.”

Huang Rong asked, “How about it, Jing ge ge?”

Guo Jing hadn’t had a chance to answer before the fisherman said, “My house is built against the backdrop of beautiful hills. Since both of you are touring the countryside, why not stop by for a visit?”

Guo Jing felt that he seemed honest and earnest and thus answered, “Rong’er, we’ll have to impose on Mr. Lu.” The fisherman was delighted and implored the servant to row the boat back home. When they reached the lakeshore, Guo Jing said, “We will have to return the boat first and collect the donkey and my horse.”

The fisherman smiled and said, “I’m acquainted with everyone in the area. You can let him handle the matter.” With that, he gestured to the servant.

Guo Jing said, “My horse is bad tempered; I’d better handle it.”

The fisherman said, “If you insist; I’ll wait for your arrival at my residence then.” With that, the boat rowed off and disappeared into the distance.

The servant followed Guo Jing and Huang Rong to get the things done. He got a larger boat from one of the villagers, which had enough space to hold the donkey and horse. Six hardy boatmen rowed the boat for some distance before the front of an island came into view. They stopped the boat at the jetty, which was made of green stone. When they arrived on shore, they saw a cluster of small houses, which formed a huge manor. They crossed a large stone bridge and arrived in front of the manor. Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other, since they didn’t expect a fisherman to live in such a luxurious place. Before they could reach the main entrance, they saw a man who looked about twenty years of age coming up to them. About six servants followed behind him. The youth said, “My father sent me to receive his guests.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong made grateful gestures. They noticed that he wore a long robe and had similar facial features to the fisherman, except that he looked stronger and well built. Guo Jing said, “May we know brother Lu’s name?”

The youth said, “This humble one is named Guanying; please just call me by my name.” Huang Rong answered politely, “No, how can we?”

The three began chatting while proceeding towards the main hall. Guo Jing and Huang Rong noticed that the interior of the hall was designed and decorated beautifully. As Huang Rong walked, she concentrated on the layout of the place and its pathways. She looked a little puzzled.

As the three of them crossed the front yard and entered the guest hall, they heard the fisherman call out from behind a screen, “Please come in.”

Lu Guanying said, “My father is unable to walk and thus has to receive you in his east study.”

The three of them went past the screen and saw that the door of the study was open; the fisherman was sitting on a couch, inside. However, he was no longer dressed as a fisherman but as an elderly scholar. He held a white goose feather fan in his hand and was fanning himself cheerfully. Guo Jing and Huang Rong entered and sat, but Lu Guanying didn’t dare sit and stood to one side. Huang Rong saw that the study was filled with shelves of literary classics and poetry collections. The tables were decorated with precious ornaments, such as jade antiques and a black ink painting hung on the wall. The painting depicted a middle-aged scholar who was posing with a sword stance in the backyard in the moonlight. But the scholar had a lonely expression on his face. On the upper left corner of the painting was a poem.

‘The night is silent without any chirping from the birds. It is already late in the night when I fall into deep sleep. I awake only to carry on alone, there is no one but the bright moon there. A hundred pieces gain recognition and success. The aging hills and withering branches block my path.

There are so many things buried within me but no one is willing to listen, to whom can I confide in my problems?’

Huang Rong recognized this poem as one written by Yue Fei entitled ‘Little Strong Hill’. It had been taught to her by her father. She saw the signature at the bottom which read ‘The Crippled Person of Five Lake is seriously ill’ and realized that the ‘Crippled Person of Five Lake’ must be the pen name for the owner of this manor. The strokes of the words were written in a harsh and forceful manner and seemed like they were tearing through the paper.

Master Lu saw that Huang Rong was concentrating on the painting and asked, “Brother, how do you find my painting? Would you care to give me some pointers?” [Reminder: Huang Rong is dressed as a boy.]

Huang Rong answered, “I will express my thoughts then, but I hope Master Lu does not get offended.” Master Lu said, “Please go on.”

Huang Rong said, “The poem in the painting is Yue Fei’s ‘Little Strong Hill’, which he wrote in his Wu Mu collections. The words depict a distressed and depressed mood. However there are specific meanings to them. General Yue was a courageous soul and fought hard for his country and people. The phrase, ‘A hundred pieces for recognition and success’ in the poem is probably to show his humble being. At that time, many court officials were corrupt and were on the side of the Jin. Yue Fei was a strong official but it was a pity no one was willing to listen to him. This was probably why he wrote the phrase, ‘There are so many things buried within me but no one is willing to listen, to whom can I confide my problems?’ The phrase depicts a despondent Yue Fei, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he wanted to oppose the court. However when master wrote this poem, you were in an agitated and aggressive mood and thus asserted much force in your brush strokes; it seems as if you wanted to fight it out with your sworn enemy and thus, your intentions and mood do not tie in at all with Yue Fei’s at the time when he worked on his Wu Mu collections. Forgive me for my ignorance but from what I know, if one strives to over achieve or over express in literary and art works, the true and pure intentions will be lost and the work will be unable to achieve its brilliance.” When Master Lu heard what Huang Rong said, he gave a long sigh. He wore a miserable expression and was silent. Huang Rong saw his unusual response and thought, “I’m afraid I have been too direct in my words and offended him. But it’s exactly what father taught me when he explained this poem.”

She said, “This humble one has been too ignorant and spouted nonsense. Please forgive me Master Lu.”

Master Lu recovered a little and then wore a delighted expression on his face. He asked happily, “Brother Huang, please don’t say that. You are the first person who can actually read my feelings, what a great confidant you are. As for the over use of expression, it is one of my worst habits. I thank brother for your pointers.” He turned to his son and said, “Hurry and ask the servants to prepare the banquet.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong hurriedly conveyed their thanks and said, “Please don’t bother.” But Lu Guanying had already disappeared from the room.

Master Lu said, “Brother is wise and knowledgeable, you must have mastered a high level of literary classics and your father must be a brilliant teacher. I wonder what his honorable name is?”

Huang Rong answered, “This humble one knows nothing much and thus does not deserve all this praise. My father lives in isolation and does not have any students; thus his name is not well known.”

Master Lu sighed, “What a pity it is, not being able to meet such talent.”

After the banquet, they returned to the study for a chat. Master Lu said, “The scenery outside is some of the best, why don’t the two of you reside in one of the houses in the manor and enjoy the view? Furthermore, it’s getting late and it is time for you to rest.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong stood up and bid their farewell. Huang Rong was about to leave the room when she suddenly looked up and saw that eight pieces of iron strips were fixed above the study’s lintel. The iron strips were arranged to form the ‘Eight trigrams’, but it was not as neat as the usual arrangement. The iron strips were arranged in a rather sloppy and messy way. Huang Rong’s heart skipped a beat but she remained silent and expressionless and followed Guo Jing to a guest room. The guest room was decorated in an elegant way; the two beds faced each other and the pillows and sheets were clean.

A servant served them some fragrant tea and said, “If sirs need anything, just ring the bell beside the bed and I will come. Please be reminded never to leave the room.” With that, he left the room and gently closed the door behind him.

Huang Rong asked in a low voice, “What do you find peculiar about this place? Why do they ask us not to leave the room?” Guo Jing said, “The manor is huge and the pathways lead out in all directions. Maybe they’re afraid that we will get lost?” Huang Rong gave a little laugh, “The manor has an unusual design. What kind of person do you think Master Lu is?”

Guo Jing said, “Maybe a retired official?”

Huang Rong shook her head, “This person is no doubt highly skilled in martial arts. Did you see the iron ‘Eight Trigrams’ just now?” Guo Jing asked, “Iron ‘Eight Trigrams’? What’s that?”

Huang Rong answered, “That’s used to practice the ‘Thrusting Air Palms’. Father taught me this set of palm techniques but I was bored and stopped learning it after a month. I would never have expected to see it here.”

Guo Jing said, “Master Lu means us no harm. Since he did not mention anything about it, let’s just pretend that we are unaware of it.”

Huang Rong nodded and smiled. She gently thrust out her palm towards the candle and a ‘chi’ sound was heard just before the candle went out.

Guo Jing praised in a low voice, “Great palm technique!” He asked, “Is that the ‘Thrusting Air Palm’?”

Huang Rong smiled, “I only learned it to this level. It can be used for fun but it is totally useless when used in a real duel.”

There was a sudden distant humming in the middle of the night, which startled Guo Jing and Huang Rong, who had been sleeping before that. They strained to hear more and heard the sound again, which sounded like someone was blowing a tune on a seashell. After a while, the humming started again. There was definitely more than one person creating the noise as both hums were created at the same time. It seemed like there were two people standing apart and blowing the shells to communicate. Huang Rong whispered, “Let’s go and see what’s up.”

Guo Jing answered, “Let’s not go and find trouble.”

Huang Rong argued, “Who says we’re finding trouble? I only suggested that we check out what’s happening.”

They pushed open the window quietly and looked out. They saw many people running about with lanterns in their hands, but there was no clue as to why they were rushing about. Huang Rong looked up and saw three or four blurred figures crouching on a nearby rooftop. The light from the lanterns shone briefly onto the figures and Huang Rong saw the moving light reflecting from the weapons which those people carried. After a while, the crowd of servants ran out of the manor. Huang Rong was curious and pulled Guo Jing towards the side of the window. She made sure no one was about and gently leaped out such that the people on the roof weren’t aware of her movements.

Huang Rong signaled to Guo Jing to walk backwards. The pathways in the manor turned and twisted such that the directions were very complicated. The most unusual thing was that the railings and pillars at every turn looked exactly the same. After a few whirls, one would not be able to distinguish between the different directions. Huang Rong, however, was not the least bothered about this obstacle and walked around without any hint of worry or suspicion. Several times, it looked as if it was no pathway but she always managed to identify a fake rock and spin past it; or she would just twirl round the flowers and they would be back on the main path. At times, it looked as if there was a dead end in front of them, but somehow or other, there would always be a way past a screen of a huge trees. At times, there would be a path through the opening of a grotto but Huang Rong would never walk through. Instead, she would miraculously be able to identify a hidden and unnoticeable entrance in the walls and push through. The more Guo Jing proceeded the more curious he became. He whispered, “Rong’er, the pathways of this manor are really bizarre, how is it that you are always able to identify the right way?”

Huang Rong signaled for him to be quiet and after seven or eight more turns, they arrived by the wall of the backyard. Huang Rong examined the wall and used her fingers to count before walking and counting her footsteps. Guo Jing heard her mumble, “Form a trigram first, thirdly prepare, fifthly supplement, repeat the seventh…”and he did not understand a single word.

Huang Rong counted as she walked, and after a particular count, she stopped in her tracks and said, “We can only leave from here; the rest of the place is filled with traps.”

She leapt onto the top of the wall and Guo Jing followed suit. Huang Rong continued, “This manor is built according to sixty-four bearings (positions) which are concealed. My father is a master in this particular type of pattern, which requires one to design eight different types of routes. Master Lu can obstruct others, but he can’t trap me.” Her tone was filled with pride.

The two climbed up a small mound situated behind the manor and looked out towards the east. They saw a person walking towards the lake with a lantern raised high. Huang Rong tugged at Guo Jing’s sleeve and both of them flew forward using their lightness skill. Arriving closer, they hid behind a huge rock and noticed a row of fishing boats near the shore of the lake. A crowd of people slowly boarded the boats and after they did so, each put out their lanterns. Guo Jing and Huang Rong waited till the last batch of people boarded and it was pitch dark before leaping out and landing on the tail of a large boat. After they heard the fishing boats begin to move, they leaped on top of the sail of the boat and looked down. It was then they saw someone sitting inside the cabin of the boat and the person was none other than the junior of the manor, Lu Guanying.

As the row of boats started moving, the tune from the seashell could be heard again. A person on the boat walked to the front and also started blowing into a shell. After the boat moved some distance, one could see many little boats drifting on the lake. The myriad of little boats looked like tiny ants in the distance as though one had painted hundreds of black dots on a large sheet of paper. The person on the boat blew his shell three times and the large boat dropped its small boat into the middle of the lake. About ten little boats started moving in from all directions. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were mystified and they were not sure whether or not a battle was going to take place. They lowered their heads and peeped at Lu Guanying, who looked calm and normal; he did not show any hint of anxiousness as one would show in times of war.

Not long after, the boats sailed nearer. Every boat had either two or three people who boarded the boat. Every person, after boarding the huge boat, would bow to Lu Guanying and were respectful in their behavior. It seemed that seats had been arranged for the visitors from the little boats according to their status. Some people had arrived earlier but sat at the back, whereas some who arrived later got to sit in the front. A tea server ushered the visitors to their seats. The visitors had stern and rough expressions and their actions were swift and fierce. Although they dressed like fishermen, it seemed as if all of them were well versed in martial arts and were definitely not the usual type of fisherman.

Lu Guanying raised his arm and said, “Brother Zhang, what have you found out?” A skinny man sitting in the middle stood up and said, “To answer Junior Master, the Jin Ambassador has decided to sail across the lake tonight. Commander Duan should arrive in about one shichens. [one shichen = 2 hours] He is using the pretext of greeting the ambassador to engage in some plunder along the way. That is why he is late. ”

Lu Guanying asked, “How much has he ransacked?”

The man answered, “There have been harvests from every village and his soldiers are still robbing the villagers now. When I saw him board the boat, his soldiers were struggling with more than twenty heavy chests of treasure.”

Lu Guanying asked, “How many soldiers and horses does he have with him?”

The man answered, “About two thousand. Those who cross the lake do not have horses with them. Since there are not enough boats, there are about a thousand of them who stayed back on shore.”

Lu Guanying turned towards the audience and asked, “Bothers, what do you think?” Everyone answered, “We will follow Junior Master’s orders.”

Lu Guanying placed both hands into his sleeves and said, “These corrupt officials go around confiscating money through immoral means. We, the people of the lake, would not be delivering justice if we do not get that money back. We will do our best to take as much as we can. Half of it will go to the poor villagers by the lake and the other half will be split between us.” The audience all roared in agreement. It was then that Guo Jing and Huang Rong realize that these people were the pirates of the lake and Lu Guanying was probably their leader.

Lu Guanying said, “Without further delay, let’s get going. Brother Zhang, take five small boats and continue to keep watch.”

The skinny man took the order and immediately sailed away. Lu Guanying went on to assign everyone their tasks, such as who would lead, who would be the back ups, who would lead the ‘water ghosts’ to swim and create damage to the enemy’s boat, who would grab the treasure, who would capture the official and so on. He carefully assigned the various tasks in a very organized way.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were puzzled. They had just dined and chatted with Lu Guanying earlier in the day and found him to be a polite, proper and decent chap, not forgetting that he was from a wealthy and cultivated family. Who would have guessed that he was a pirate leader? Just as Lu Guanying finished assigning the various tasks and everyone was setting out, someone from the middle of the group stood up and said coldly, “We people have no assets and it is alright to rob some wealthy businessmen. But if we attack such an official, won’t we have trouble living on the lake in the future? We should not offend the Jin Ambassador.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong thought the voice sounded familiar. When they squinted to have a better look, they realized that is was Sha Tongtian’s disciple, one of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, ‘Spirit Capturing Whip’ Ma Qingxiong; they had no idea how he ended up in this group. Lu Guanying’s expression changed; he had yet to answer when a few pirates in the crowd starting hooting.

Lu Guanying said, “Brother Ma is a first timer and doesn’t know the rules here. Since everyone is determined to carry out the task, we’ll give our all and make sure the soldiers have no chance to retaliate, only then can we die without regrets.”

Ma Qingxiong answered, “Alright, you people go ahead; I would rather not get involved and get myself into trouble.” With that, he turned and started to walk off the boat. Two men blocked him and called out, “Brother Ma, you swore that you will go through thick and thin with us!”

Ma Qingxiong pushed out with both palms and retorted, “Move away!” The two men were hit and fell to the side. As Ma Qingxiong was about to leave the boat he suddenly felt a gust of wind fly towards his back, when the wind passed him he used his left hand to take a dagger from his boot, twist his arm and thrust the dagger behind him. Lu Guanying stretched out his left arm and positioned it on the entrance door; at the same time, he leaped and thrust his palm forward. Ma Qingxiong used his right arm to block the attack while using his left arm to thrust the dagger forward. The two men exchanged attacks in the narrow passage-way of the boat. Guo Jing once fought with Ma Qingxiong back in Mongolia. When he first saw Lu Guanying’s moves, he thought that it would not be easy for him to win. But after more moves, Lu Guanying gained the upper hand and was clearly going to win. Guo Jing was suspicious and thought, “Why is Ma suddenly not strong anymore? Ah, yes, that day when he fought with me he had the support of his martial brothers; but now, he’s alone surrounded by many enemies, of course he’ll be afraid.” But Guo Jing did not know that the real reason lay in Hong Qigong’s training of the past two months. Guo Jing had mastered fifteen stances of the world renowned ‘Eighteen Dragon- Subduing Palms’, accompanied by pointers and advice provided by Hong Qigong himself. Because of this, although he did not understand the full essence of the skill, his martial arts had improved tremendously and were at a very much higher level than the skills he learned from the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’. At this point in time, Guo Jing was still unaware that his skills had already exceeded his six teachers, and thus, he still thought that he was inferior to Ma Qingxiong. He saw the two men exchange further stances when Lu Guanying shot out his left fist and a ‘pa’ sound was heard; the blow hit Ma Qingxiong on the chest and he stumbled and fell back. Two pirates behind him pierced him with their daggers and Ma Qingxiong lay dead. The two pirates then lifted the corpse and threw it into the lake.

Lu Guanying continued, “Brothers, let’s embrace our mission bravely.” The crowd began to cheer loudly and each group separated, went back to their respective boats and began to head east. Lu Guanying’s huge boat sailed at the rear of the others. After awhile, they spotted around ten huge and brightly lit boats from afar, heading west towards them.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong thought to themselves, “Those big boats must belong to the officials.”

The two quietly climbed up the mast of the boat and sat on top at a cross arm hiding themselves behind the sail. They heard the seashell tunes from the little boats as the opposing sides got closer. There were sounds of yelling, scolding, clashing weapons and the sounds of splashing as bodies dropped into the water. After awhile, the officials’ boats were on fire which lit up the dark sky and cast a fiery red glow over the lake. Guo Jing and Huang Rong knew that the pirates had succeeded in their mission and saw a few little boats sailing forward furiously with shouts of, “The soldiers have been defeated and the commander has been captured.”

Lu Guanying was delighted as he walked to the bow of the boat and shouted, “Inform the various chiefs on each boat to put in a little more effort so that we can capture the Jin Ambassador!” The pirate who delivered the news obeyed and flew off to pass on the message.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong nudged each other at the same time and had the same thought, “That Jin Ambassador must be Wanyan Kang; I wonder how he will deal with this.”

They heard the seashell tune coming from various boats again and saw that the group of boats had turned back in their direction and the pirates were tugging at their sails. The west wind suddenly blew furiously, causing the boats to sail like arrows shooting towards the east. Lu Guanying’s boat had been at the rear of the fleet, but now his boat had become the lead. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were now sitting on the cabin’s roof with the wind blowing on their backs. They were sailing fast across the misty lake and the myriads of stars in the sky came into view and they had the urge to sing out loud. Suddenly, the little boats sailed past one by one and ended up in front of the boat Guo Jing and Huang Rong were on.

The boats sailed for about an hour and the sky turned brighter before two boats sailed quickly towards the boat. One of the men in the boat raised a green flag and waved it, shouting, “We have spotted the Jin boat! The commander’s boat has already taken the lead to capture it.”

Lu Guanying, standing in the bow of his boat, called out, “Good!”

After a short while, another small boat sailed back and reported, “That bastard Jin Ambassador has deadly claws; our commander is injured but leader Peng and Dong are currently trying to subdue him.”

In a while, two pirates carried the injured and unconscious commander onto Lu Guanying’s boat. As Lu Guanying was inspecting the wounds, two small boats rowed up and the pirates helped their two injured leaders up onto the boat. The pirates also reported that Piao Miao Peak’s Leader Guo suffered a deadly blow from the Jin Ambassador and fell into the lake. Lu Guanying was furious and shouted, “I am going to personally kill that vicious Jin dog.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were strongly against Wanyan Kang’s actions but could not bear to let him fend off the group of pirates alone. This would make Mu Nianci hate them forever. Huang Rong whispered into Guo Jing’s ear, “Are we going to help him?”

Guo Jing replied with a slight sigh, “Save him but make him repent.” Huang Rong nodded. At the same time, Lu Guanying leaped onto a small boat and yelled, “Let’s go!”

Huang Rong said to Guo Jing, “Let’s go and stop the small boat.” Both of them leaped onto the side of the small boat and heard some shouting from the group of pirates in front. They looked out and saw the Jin Ambassador’s boats slowly sinking one by one. They thought that it must have been the doings of the ‘Water Ghosts’ who were in charge of wrecking the bottom of the boats from below.

As the pirates waved the green flag, two small boats hurriedly rowed over and reported, “The Jin dog fell into the water and has been captured by us!”

Lu Guanying was delighted and leaped back onto his boat. After awhile, the seashell tune was blown again and the various little boats assembled, one by one bringing along with them the Jin Ambassador and his guards onto the boat. Guo Jing and Huang Rong saw that Wanyan Kang had his hands and feet bound with ropes and his eyes were tightly shut. They thought that he must have swallowed too much water but his chest had not congested and he was still breathing. By this time, the sky was already light as sunlight shone brightly from the east revealing a line of boats floating gracefully on the lake.

Lu Guanying commanded, “The various leaders may return to the manor and hold a banquet to celebrate. Please lead your teams and await your rewards.”

The pirates cheered loudly and the boats parted ways and slowly disappeared into the cloud of mist. The lake became peaceful and quiet once more. Guo Jing and Huang Rong waited for the boat to sail back to the Lu Manor and after Lu Guanying and his group of pirates left, they flew back to the shore. The pirates were overjoyed with their rewards and did not notice that there had been people secretly hiding on their boat. Huang Rong sought out the directions and led Guo Jing into the manor via the backyard and back into their room.

By this time, the servant who took care of them had checked a few times to see if they had awakened, but since the room door was still locked, he thought that the two young men must have had a long day yesterday and thus slept longer. After they got back into their room, Guo Jing opened the door and two servants who waited outside came forward to greet him before bringing some breakfast. One said, “Master Lu is waiting in his study. Please go and join him after your breakfast.” The two ate some dishes and buns before following the servant to the study.

Master Lu smiled and said, “The winds from the lake are strong and when they blow against the shore, the noise might be disturbing. Did you two sleep well?”

Guo Jing wasn’t used to lying so when he heard the question, he froze for a moment. Huang Rong answered, “We only heard sounds of seashells blowing during the night, I think it must have been the monks and Taoist priests chanting and practicing their rituals.”

Master Lu laughed and did not ask more. Instead, he said, “I have collected some artistic works and would like you two brothers to have a look.”

Huang Rong answered, “Of course. Anything that Master Lu collects must be priceless.”

Master Lu ordered the keeper of the study to bring out some artistic pieces and Huang Rong observed each of the pieces curiously. Suddenly, noises came from outside. They could hear footsteps and it sounded like a group of people chasing someone. A voice said, “Once you’ve stepped into the manor grounds, it will be impossible for you to escape!”

Master Lu acted as if nothing had happened and as if he hadn’t heard anything. He asked, “The art of calligraphy in our dynasty is dominated by the four families, Su, Huang, Mi and Cai. I wonder which family brother Huang likes best?”

Huang Rong was about to answer when the door of the study suddenly burst open and a person, who was wet from head to toe, rushed in. It was Wanyan Kang. Huang Rong tugged on Guo Jing’s sleeve and whispered, “Look at the pieces of art, don’t look at him.” The two turned around and lowered their heads to the calligraphy works.

Wanyan Kang didn’t know how to swim; when his boat sank earlier, though he was well versed in martial arts, he could not save himself. He passed out and when he regained consciousness he had been captured and brought to the manor for questioning by Lu Guanying. Wanyan Kang noticed that the pirate guarding him did not carry his usual dagger and came up with a plan. He summoned his internal strength and used his fingers to grab onto the ropes which bound him and used the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ to free himself. The guards were stunned and rushed forward to re-capture him but were attacked by his claws and fell to the ground. Wanyan Kang ran off but couldn’t have guessed that the manor was structured with bizarre mazes. If a stranger did not know the secret to the formations and did not have a guide from the manor, he or she would get trapped on the manor grounds. Wanyan Kang, anxious when he could not find his way out, barged into Master Lu’s study. Although Lu Guanying knew that he had freed himself from the ropes, he also knew that Wanyan Kang would not be able to find his way out of the manor grounds and was not worried. He chased after Wanyan Kang and saw him dash into Master Lu’s study. Afraid that his father would get hurt, he dashed forward and stood in front of his father. The section leaders of Lake Tai blocked the doorway.

Wanyan Kang was furious at being trapped; he pointed a finger at Lu Guanying and yelled, “Despicable pirates! You people used dirty tricks to sink my boat. Have you no sense of shame; aren’t you afraid you’ll be mocked by the other Jianghu swordsmen?”

Lu Guanying laughed heartily and said, “You are a Jin Prince, what business do you have with us Han swordsmen? What have the people of Jianghu got to do with you?”

Wanyan Kang answered, “When I was in Yanjing, I heard of many stories regarding the heroes of Jiangnan and thought that the men of Jiangnan were all upright and courageous. Hah! Who would have thought that you people…hai, you people do not live up to your reputations at all!”

Lu Guanying was furious and shouted, “So?”

Wanyan Kang answered, “You people are no more than despicable cowards who use vast strength to defeat one person!” Lu Guanying laughed coldly, “So if anyone takes you on alone and wins, then you will die without regrets?”

Wanyan Kang was using words to infuriate Lu Guanying and trick him into saying exactly this. He immediately replied, “If the manor has just one person who can exceed me in terms of fighting, I would willingly give in and will die without regrets. But I wonder who would I spar with?” As he said this, he arrogantly looked around the crowd with hands behind him laughing coldly.

These words angered Lake Tai’s Mo Li Peak’s chief, the section leader, ‘Golden Rock’ who shouted, “Bastard, I am going to beat you!” With that, he rushed into the study, stretched out both fists and using the stance ‘Sounds of the Striking Bells’ aimed towards Wanyan Kang’s Taiyang accupoint. Wanyan Kang gently shifted his body and flipped his left palm to grab hold of the back of his opponent’s robe before swinging him out of the door.

Lu Guanying, having seen Wanyan Kang’s vicious strokes, was secretly alarmed. He knew that none of the section heads were his match and yelled, “Excellent skills, let me exchange a few stances with you. Let’s go out into the yard.” Lu Guanying knew that his opponent was strong and was afraid that if they fought in the study, one of them would accidentally harm his father and his guests, since none of them knew how to fight.

Wanyan Kang answered, “It’s the same wherever we fight, why not just stay here? Please display your stance section leader!” Actually, his words were hinting at another meaning. What Wanyan Kang was actually thinking in his heart was, “I only have to use a few stances to defeat you, why bother changing the place of the fight?”

Lu Guanying, seething, said, “Alright, since you are the guest, please start first.”

Wanyan Kang relaxed his right palm and used his left palm to attack Lu Guanying’s chest. His first stance already used the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’, and was intended to injure his opponent immediately.

Lu Guanying mentally scolded, “Arrogant fellow, let me show you what I am capable of.” He sucked in his chest subtly but did not retreat. Instead, he used his right fist to attack his opponent’s moving elbow, while two of his left fingers pointed towards Wanyan Kang’s face, with the intention of piercing his eyes. Wanyan Kang saw that his stances were swift and was a little nervous. He secretly thought to himself, “Who would have thought there would be such a skilled fighter in this out of the way place?” With that, he hurriedly retreated half a step, flipped his wrist and aimed at Lu’s arms. Lu Guanying twisted to his left and put both hands together in the form of a pouch with the thumb and index finger of one hand facing those of his other hand. The move was none other than ‘Holding the Moon Against One’s Chest’. Wanyan Kang knew that his opponent was strong and did not dare underestimate him any longer. He became serious and displayed the Quanzhen fist techniques which Qiu Chuji had taught him. Lu Guanying was the favorite pupil of Honorable Kumo of the Yun Qi monastery. He learned the fist techniques of the Xian Xia School, which was affiliated with the Shaolin monastery in the hills of Henan. Therefore, the skills Lu Guanying learned were orthodox; he was cautious of his opponent and used different skills to counter whatever his opponent used. He knew that Wanyan Kang’s claw techniques were superior and thus made sure that he didn’t let Wanyan Kang’s fingers touch his body. When he saw the chance to attack Wanyan Kang, he used his legs. His teacher had taught him, “Use your fists thirty percent and your legs seventy percent. Your hands are just like fans; concentrate on using your kicks.”

Lu Guanying learned skills that did not belong to his family and his kicking techniques were excellent. The longer the two fought, the faster their stances became and they looked like two dancing shadows sparring with each other in the study. Guo Jing and Huang Rong did not want Wanyan Kang to recognize them and retreated to the side of a bookshelf and secretly observed the fight. Wanyan Kang was getting agitated the longer he fought and secretly thought to himself, “If this goes on, even if I can defeat him this round, there will still be others wanting to spar with me. By that time, how will I have any energy left for fighting?”

His skills were actually much superior to Lu Guanying’s; but because he had nearly drowned and swallowed so much water he’d lost quite a bit of energy and his body was exhausted. Furthermore, it was the first time he’d been trapped in this sort of situation and was somewhat nervous and therefore allowed Lu Guanying to gain the upper hand for more than ten stances. He forced himself to concentrate and put more force into his attacks. A cracking sound was heard as Lu Guanying’s shoulder was injured by Wanyan Kang’s fist. Lu Guanying stumbled and retreated backwards. He saw that his opponent was using this chance to attack further and leaped up, kicking his right leg forward towards Wanyan Kang’s chest. The stance, called ‘Bosom Kick’ is a very swift and powerful one which Lu Guanying had practiced since young. He had tied himself to a rope so as to develop his speed since the stance emphasizes the swiftness of the kick such that the opponent is caught by surprise and cannot defend himself in time.

Wanyan Kang felt a pain in his chest and he twirled his right hand jabbing his fingers into Lu Guanying’s calf. He used his left palm and thrust towards Lu Guanying’s calf while yelling, “Down!”

Lu Guanying was actually standing on one foot but after that strong push by Wanyan Kang, he lost his balance and fell backwards towards his father. Master Lu stretched out his left arm and caught Lu Guanying before gently placing him on the floor. When he saw the blood that flowed from his son’s leg he was shocked and furious. Master Lu shouted, “How are you connected to the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’?”

Everyone was surprised when Master Lu intervened. Wanyan Kang and the various section leaders were unaware that Master Lu knew martial arts; even his son, Lu Guanying did not know it. Everyone thought that because Master Lu was crippled, it was natural that he would not know martial arts and could not fight. Even since he was young, Lu Guanying never asked about or probed into his father’s affairs. Who would have expected that that move which Master Lu displayed to save his son would be steady and strong? Huang Rong had seen the iron ‘Eight Trigrams’ on the study’s lintel last night and had pointed it out to Guo Jing. They were the only ones who did not seem that surprised.

When Wanyan Kang heard Master Lu ask about the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’, he froze for a moment before answering. “What are the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’?” Although Mei Chaofeng had taught him martial arts, she never told him about her past and Wanyan Kang did not even know her name. It was therefore understandable that he did not know anything about the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’.

Master Lu was furious and shouted, “Who are you bluffing? Who taught you the deadly ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claws’?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “I have no time to listen to more of your nonsense, good bye!” With that, he turned and headed towards the door.

The various section leaders were furious and took up their weapons, ready to guard the doorway. Wanyan Kang turned towards Lu Guanying and laughed coldly, “Didn’t you give your word just now?”

Lu Guanying was pale and waved his arm saying, “Heroes of the lake keep to their promises; brothers, let him go. Brother Zhang, please lead him out.”

The section leaders were all unwilling to do so but since the Junior Master had given orders, they could not oppose him. Leader Zhang said, “Follow me then. I bet a rascal like you would not be able to find the way out yourself.”

Wanyan Kang said, “Where are my men?” Lu Guanying replied, “We let them all go.”

Wanyan Kang pointed to him and said, “Good, you are a man of your word. As for the rest of you leaders…until we meet again.” He said rudely and arrogantly.

Just as he was about to leave the room, Master Lu suddenly called out, “Hold it! This Elder here is untalented but would like to have a taste of your ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claws’.”

Wanyan Kang stopped in his tracks and laughed, “Alright!”

Lu Guanying hurriedly said, “Father, you should not deal with this rascal at your age.”

Master Lu replied, “Don’t worry, his ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ is not up to standard yet.” He stared at Wanyan Kang and said weakly, “I am crippled and am unable to move, come here.”

Wanyan Kang laughed but did not move. Lu Guanying’s leg wounds were hurting but he did not want his father to fight with Wanyan Kang and leaped out of the door shouting, “I will represent my father to exchange a few blows with you.” Wanyan Kang laughed and said, “Good! Let’s practice again.”

Master Lu shouted, “Ying’er move away!” With that, he leaped up, his left arm gripped the couch he was sitting on and he used his left arm’s strength to support the weight of his body. His right palm lashed out towards Wanyan Kang’s head. At the sound of the crowd’s anxious gasps, Wanyan Kang raised his hands to counter the blow but felt his left wrist trapped. He’d seen the swift shadow of his opponent’s palm which was heading towards his shoulder, but Wanyan Kang did not expect his opponent’s seizing stance to be so fast and unique. He hurriedly used his right hand to strike back while struggling to free his left hand from his opponent’s grasp. Master Lu shifted his weight onto Wanyan Kang’s wrist and was able to float in midair. His left palm unleashed several killer strikes while Wanyan Kang used all his strength to escape his grip; but to no avail. He tried to unleash a flying kick towards Master Lu but missed. The crowd was delighted as they watched the ongoing fight. Master Lu raised his palm, ready to unleash a strike onto Wanyan Kang when the latter stuck out his fingers and aimed towards Master Lu’s palm. Master Lu suddenly lowered his palm and struck Wanyan Kang’s shoulder accupoint. Wanyan Kang felt his upper body going numb and following that, his right wrist was also seized by Master Lu. Two sounds were heard before Wanyan Kang’s wrists were released. Master Lu’s stance was very quick as he used his right hand to push against Wanyan Kang’s waist while his left hand pushed against Wanyan Kang’s shoulder, thus borrowing Wanyan Kang’s strength to leap back steadily onto his couch. Wanyan Kang felt both legs giving way and he collapsed. The section leaders were stunned and it was only after a moment’s silence that they started to cheer.

Lu Guanying hurriedly ran towards the couch and asked, “Father, are you alright?”

Master Lu smiled and shook his head but his expression turned suspicious and he said, “When the teacher of this Jin dog comes for him, I will have to have a serious talk with him.”

Two section leaders took some rope and tied Wanyan Kang up. Leader Zhang said, “Amongst the belongings of Commander Duan, we found iron locks and chains, let’s use them for this rascal and see whether he can break them!” The crowd cheered in agreement and someone ran out to retrieve the chains and locks before returning to bind Wanyan Kang with them. The pain in his wrists was torturing him and Wanyan Kang sweated profusely; but he bore with it and refused to make a sound.

Master Lu said, “Bring him here.” Two men grabbed Wanyan Kang by the shoulders and brought him in front of the couch. Master Lu tapped the accupoints of Wanyan Kang’s lower spine and left chest. Wanyan Kang suddenly felt the pain subsiding and though he was still fuming inside, he was secretly surprised. Before he could say anything, he was taken away while the other section leaders slowly left the room.

Master Lu then turned towards Huang Rong and Guo Jing and smiled, “I was concentrating so hard on fighting with that young man that I forgot my manners, I hope you won’t laugh.”

Huang Rong saw that his palm and accupoint techniques were those of her family and was even more puzzled. She smiled and asked, “Who was that? Did he steal from the manor and thus made Master angry?”

Master Lu laughed heartily and said, “Yes, he did steal a lot from us. Come, let us not get distracted by that evil rascal; let’s continue to appreciate the pieces of art.”

Lu Guanying left the room to the three of them. Master Lu chatted about the scenic backdrops, human expression and more with Huang Rong while Guo Jing just listened without understanding a single thing as usual. After lunch, Master Lu ordered two servants to accompany them on a tour of the countryside and they enjoyed themselves until nightfall before returning to the manor. Before sleeping, Guo Jing asked, “Rong’er. How are we going to save him?”

Huang Rong answered, “Let’s stay here for a few more days because I still can’t guess Master Lu’s true identity.” Guo Jing answered, “His skills are very similar to yours.”

Huang Rong sighed deeply, “That’s the unusual part, and, hmmm, does he know Mei Chaofeng?”

The two could not guess and were afraid that someone might eavesdrop and so did not discuss it further. In the middle of the night, they suddenly heard a slight sound on the rooftop followed by a sound on the ground. They immediately got out of their beds, quietly pushed open the window and peered out. They saw a black shadow amongst the roses. That person looked around before heading towards the east. The person did not seem to be a resident of the manor since he or she was alert and on guard. Huang Rong had actually thought that this manor only housed heroic pirates of the lake, but after seeing Master Lu’s display of skills earlier, she felt curious and decided to find out more. She waved to Guo Jing and they leaped out of the window, secretly trailing that intruder. After following that person for a while, the moonlight showed that it was a lady with average skills. Huang Rong quickened her pace and moved nearer to her. She turned her head slightly, revealing that it was Mu Nianci.

Huang Rong laughed inwardly and thought, “Good, his rescuer has come; let’s see what tricks you use.”

Mu Nianci circled the garden and lost sense of direction after a while. Huang Rong understood the layout of this garden since her father, Huang Yaoshi, was a master of these formations and would discuss it with her once in a while. She thought the formations in this garden unusual but it was nothing compared to those on Peach Blossom Island, which were weird and confusing, just like its owner.

Huang Rong thought to herself, “If you carry on walking like that, you won’t be able to find him in a hundred years.” With that, she picked up some soil from the ground and when she saw Mu Nianci hesitating in her tracks, she threw a lump of soil to the left side of the track and said in a low voice, “Go that way.” before hiding behind some flowers.

Mu Nianci was alarmed; she turned around but saw no one. She grabbed her dagger and walked to the left. Huang Rong and Guo Jing’s lightness skills were much better than hers and they hid themselves, not allowing her to spot them.

Mu Nianci was worried and she thought to herself, “I wonder whether this person is helping or hindering me. But since I can’t find my way, I might just as well follow the directions given.” With that, she followed the directions given and walked towards the left. Every time she came to a junction, she heard the sound of a lump of soil thrown to show her the way. Another lump hit the window of a small hut. Mu Nianci saw a blurred vision as two black figures quickly flew by and disappeared. Mu Nianci thought for a while and then ran towards the small hut. She saw two guards lying on the ground. Though their eyes were wide open and looking at her, they were motionless and did not make a move for their weapons. Mu Nianci guessed that they must have had their accupoints sealed by someone. Mu Nianci knew that someone was secretly helping her. She pushed open the door quietly and listened; there seemed to be someone breathing inside. She called out in a low voice, “Brother Kang, is that you?”

Wanyan Kang was surprised when he saw the guards at the door collapse; but when he heard Mu Nianci’s voice, he was even more surprised and delighted. He called out softly, “It’s me!”

Mu Nianci was overjoyed and walked towards the voice in the darkness and said, “Thank heaven I found you, that’s good, let’s go.” Wanyan Kang replied, “Did you bring any weapons?”

Mu Nianci asked, “Why?”

Wanyan Kang gently shook himself and the sounds of chains could be heard. Mu Nianci stretched out her hand and touched the chains. She was filled with regret and said furiously, “I shouldn’t have given that dagger to Sister Huang!”

Huang Rong and Guo Jing were listening outside and the former silently laughed and thought to herself, “I’ll let you worry for awhile before I return the dagger.”

Mu Nianci was anxious and said, “I’ll go and steal the keys.”

Wanyan Kang replied, “Don’t go. The people in this manor are highly skilled and there’s no point risking yourself and getting caught.” Mu Nianci replied, “Then, I’ll carry you out.”

Wanyan Kang laughed, “You should give me a kiss.”

Mu Nianci moved away and said, “I’m so worried and you can still joke.” Wanyan Kang laughed cheekily, “Who’s joking? I’m serious.”

Mu Nianci ignored him and tried to think of a plan. Wanyan Kang asked, “How did you know I’m here?” Mu Nianci answered, “I followed you.”

Wanyan Kang was touched and said, “You lean on me, I’ll tell you something.” Mu Nianci sat on the ground and leaned into his arms.

Wanyan Kang said, “I am the Jin Ambassador so I don’t think they will dare do anything to me. But if I stay here any longer, it will affect father’s plans. What shall we do? Sister, help me with something.”

Mu Nianci asked, “What is it?”

Wanyan Kang answered, “Take off the golden seal hanging from my neck.” Mu Nianci stretched out her hand and took off the golden seal.

Wanyan Kang continued, “This is the seal of the Jin Ambassador. Take it to Lin’an and seek assistance from Prime Minister Shi Miyuan of the Song Dynasty.”

Mu Nianci asked, “Prime Minister Shi? Would he see a commoner like me?”

Wanyan Kang laughed, “When he sees this golden seal, he’ll welcome you. Tell him that I’ve been captured by the pirates of Lake Tai and cannot see him personally. But you must remember one thing, if the Mongolian ambassador is there, make sure that you avoid letting him and the prime minister meet at all costs. This is a secret mission ordered by the Jin Emperor, you must fulfill it.”

Mu Nianci asked, “Why?”

Wanyan Kang answered, “These are army matters; you won’t understand. You will be doing me a great favor by telling Prime Minister Shi what I just I asked you to. If the Mongolian ambassador reaches Lin’an first and meets with the Song Officials, it will put us Jin in a very unfavorable position.”

Mu Nianci replied indignantly, “What ‘us Jin’? I am a citizen of the Song Dynasty. If you don’t explain clearly to me, I’m not going to help you with this mission.”

Wanyan Kang smiled faintly, “Aren’t you going to be the concubine of a Jin in the future?”

Mu Nianci stood up angrily and said, “My adoptive father was your real father; you are in fact a Han. So you still want to be a Jin Prince? I know…know you…”

Wanyan Kang answered, “What?”

Mu Nianci answered, “I always thought that you were a strong, smart and upright man. I thought you were pretending to be the Jin Prince for a while so as to help Great Song. But you…you really want to acknowledge the enemy as your father?” Wanyan Kang heard her tone change to a furious one; she was choking with anger and could not speak for a moment. Mu Nianci continued, “Great Song has lost half of our empire to the Jin and so many Han have been tortured and slaughtered by them. Doesn’t that bother you at all? You…you…” She stopped here and could not go on. Following that, she threw the golden seal on the floor and was about to leave when Wanyan Kang called out, “Sister, I’m wrong, come back.”

Mu Nianci stopped and turned, “What?”

Wanyan Kang said, “When I am freed from the burdens as Jin Ambassador, I won’t go back to the Jin, alright? I will live a carefree and simple life with you, which is much better than having to suffer in silence like now.”

Mu Nianci sighed and was silent. Ever since she sparred with Wanyan Kang and fell for him deeply, she had viewed him as an upright and just hero. She thought that there must be some reason that Wanyan Kang did not want to acknowledge his real father. When he became the Jin Ambassador, she thought of an excuse for him…that he was secretly spying for the Song and would help crush the enemy for the Song. Who would have guessed that it was all wishful thinking on her part; Wanyan Kang was nothing more than a greedy and shameful traitor. She was heartbroken and felt dejected.

Wanyan Kang asked in a low voice, “Sister…what’s wrong?” Mu Nianci did not reply.

Wanyan Kang asked, “My mother told me that your adoptive father is my real father. I did not have a chance to clarify it before they both died. I have been really confused all along. My birthright and origins cannot be so simply or haphazardly defined right?”

Mu Nianci was secretly comforted and thought to herself, “So he is not clear about his birthright. He cannot really be blamed then.” Out loud she said, “Don’t mention anything about taking the golden seal to Prime Minister Shi anymore. I will find Sister Huang and ask her for the dagger to save you.”

Huang Rong had actually thought of returning the dagger to Mu Nianci but when she heard what Wanyan Kang said about aiding the Jin, she was fuming and thought, “Father hates the Jin, let him stay here for a couple more days then.”

Wanyan Kang continued, “The pathways in this manor are bizarre, how did you find your way through?”

Mu Nianci replied, “Luckily there were two masters secretly directing me, though I don’t know who they are and they do not want to reveal themselves.”

Wanyan Kang sighed deeply, “Sister, I’m afraid that you’ll be discovered the next time you come here. If you want to save me, then help me find a certain person.”

Mu Nianci replied angrily, “I’m not going to find any Prime Minister for you.” Wanyan Kang replied, “Not the Prime Minister, but help me look for my teacher.” Mu Nianci replied, “Ah!”

Wanyan Kang continued, “Take my belt with you and use a knife to carve ‘Wanyan Kang is in danger at Guiyun Manor [Cloud Manor] located on the west bank of Lake Tai’ on the gold buckle. After that, go to Suzhou and travel thirty li north to a deserted hill. Find nine human skulls there and stack them together into a pyramid, with five skulls at the base, followed by three in the middle and one on top. Lastly, place the belt under the top skull.”

Mu Nianci was puzzled and asked, “Why?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “My teacher is blind, but when she finds the belt and feels the carvings, she will come and save me. Therefore, you must carve the words deeply.”

Mu Nianci asked, “Isn’t your teacher ‘Eternal Spring’, Taoist Qiu? How can he be blind?”

Wanyan Kang answered, “No, it’s not Taoist Qiu, it’s my other teacher. After you place the belt, you must leave immediately. My teacher has a weird temperament; if she finds you near the skulls, she might harm you. She is highly skilled and can save me. You just have to wait for me in front of the Xuan Miao Monastery in Suzhou. ”

Mu Nianci said, “You have to swear that you will not acknowledge the enemy as your father and betray your people.”

Wanyan Kang refused and replied, “After I find out the truth about everything, I will then act according to my morals. What use is it to force me to swear now? If you are not willing to save me, then so be it.”

Mu Nianci replied, “Alright! I’ll help you seek help.” With that, she removed Wanyan Kang’s belt. Wanyan Kang asked, “Sister, are you leaving? Come over and let me kiss you.”

Mu Nianci replied, “No!” With that, she stood up and headed for the door.

Wanyan Kang said, “I’m afraid that they might kill me before my teacher arrives and then I’ll never get to see you again.”

Mu Nianci’s heart softened; she gave a long sigh and walked back into his arms, allowing him to kiss her on the cheek a few times. Then suddenly she beat on his chains and said, “If you do not walk the right path in the future, I cannot do anything but blame myself for my ill fate and will die in front of you.”

Wanyan Kang wanted to cuddle and sweet-talk her a while, half hoping that she would change her mind and agree to take the golden seal to Prime Minister Shi. Then he felt her body shaking and her breathing was harsh, signaling that she was upset. He had not expected her to say anything like that and was shocked for a moment. Mu Nianci stood up and walked out of the door.

When she came out, Huang Rong again guided her and Mu Nianci ran till she saw a wall leading to the outside of the manor. Before she left, she called out softly, “Since senior does not want to show him or herself, this junior will just have to look to the sky and express my gratitude.” With that, she kneeled on the ground and kowtowed three times. She heard a gentle giggle and a clear voice spoke out, “Ah, I cannot accept this!”

When she raised her head, she only saw stars in the sky and the empty surroundings. Mu Nianci was puzzled and thought that the voice sounded like Huang Rong’s, but how could she be here and how would she know the way around this confusing place? She pondered this matter as she walked along but was not able to come up with an explanation. After walking about ten li [5km / 3+miles] from the manor, she decided to rest under a large tree and wait for the boat that would take her to Suzhou the next day.

Suzhou is a busy city in the Southeast and although it isn’t comparable to the capital of Hangzhou, it is still a prosperous and booming place. The Song officials in the South also ruled the territory of Jiangnan and had almost forgotten about the suffering of the people under the Jin in the North. Since the cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou were rich and prosperous it gave rise to a saying ‘Heaven above, Su Hang below’ indicating the importance and grandeur of these two cities. Actually, the River Huai was the source of wealth and also a symbol of beauty for these two cities in the south.

Mu Nianci admired the colorful scenery in the city before settling down at an inn. Then she carefully started to carve the words Wanyan Kang had told her onto his belt. She thought about how recently the belt had left its owner and prayed for Wanyan Kang’s safety, hoping that the belt would return to its owner once more. She secretly wished that Wanyan Kang would come to his senses and marry her and that she would personally help him put the belt on. After day daydreaming awhile, she placed the belt beneath her robe and couldn’t help thinking, “This belt is like his arm, wrapping around my waist.” She immediately blushed and didn’t dare think more. After eating a quick bowl of noodles, she saw the sun moving to the west and she hurriedly traveled towards the north, following Wanyan Kang’s instructions to find his teacher.

The road on the hill was deserted and Mu Nianci felt uneasy when she heard weird sounds made by the birds and the sun had begun to set as well. She left the main path and went to the valley on the other side of the hill to search for the skulls which Wanyan Kang had asked her to search for. As it slowly turned to night she was still unable to find them. She mulled over the matter and decided to continue the search the next day. With that, she went to see if there was any place nearby in which she could seek shelter for the night. She ran up a mound, looked out into the distance and spotted a manor to the west. She was relieved and immediately rushed there.

As she approached the place, she realized that the manor was actually a rundown temple and there was a signboard above the door, which read ‘Temple Earth’. She pushed open the door gently and the door gave a creak before falling down, blowing up a pile of dust. It was then that Mu Nianci realized that it was an abandoned temple and no one lived there. She walked into the hall and saw cobwebs on the statutes of mother [tu di po] and father [tu di gong] earth. She pressed on a table and gave it a blow but found that the table was still sturdy and did not break. She found some hay to clean the table with and went on to place the broken door back into position. She ate some dried food before lying on the table and slept with her travel-bag as her pillow. She could not help but feel heartbroken and ashamed when she thought about Wanyan Kang’s personality and tears rolled down her cheeks. But when she thought about his gentleness and honeyed words, she felt a hint of warmth in her heart. She thought about many things and tossed what seemed a million times before she was finally able to fall asleep.

In the middle of the night, Mu Nianci heard a funny noise. Alarmed, she sat upright as the noise grew louder. She hurried to the door and peered out. It was then that she got the shock of her life as the moonlight shone onto the ground, revealing thousands of snakes gliding along. The stench came in through the door. After what seemed a long while, the number of snakes began to lessen and she then heard footsteps as three men in white appeared with long poles in their hands, controlling the snakes. Mu Nianci was afraid that she would be discovered and hid behind the hall door, not daring to look any longer. She heard a few footsteps and peered out again. The snakes were gone and the surroundings were quiet and deserted. She thought she must be dreaming and she couldn’t believe what she had just seen.

She opened the main door quietly and peered out. She walked a little in the direction that the snakes had gone but could not find those men in white. She was somewhat relieved and was about to return to the temple when she saw the moonlight shining on a strange pile of white objects in the distance. She went for a closer look and let out a low gasp; it was a pile of skulls neatly arranged in the form of a pyramid, with five on the bottom, three in the middle and one on top. She’d searched for them during the day but found nothing. Now suddenly, they had appeared in front of her in the middle of the night. She found the skull formation scary but her heart beat fast since she was happy to have found them. She approached the skulls slowly and took out Wanyan Kang’s belt. With hands shaking, she reached out to lift the skull stacked on top. She touched the skull and felt five holes in it which fitted her five fingers; it was as if the skull had formed mouths, which swallowed her fingers. Mu Nianci was astonished and screamed before turning about to run. She had run awhile when she stopped again and realized that she was just scaring herself. She giggled nervously and went back to put the belt on top of the three skulls before placing the skull in her hands back onto the top of the formation.

She thought to herself, “His teacher is really weird; I wonder whether she looks frightening as well.” After placing the skull back into place, she secretly wished, “I hope that teacher will get the belt and immediately go and save him. I hope that you will teach him properly so that he ends his bad habits and changes his ways.”

She was thinking about the chained up handsome sweet-talker Wanyan Kang when she felt someone gently patting her shoulder. She was shocked and did not dare turn around. Due to her nervousness, she accidentally fell onto the pile of skulls. Mu Nianci clutched her chest and turned around. As she turned someone gently patted her shoulder again. She turned around about six more times but still could not spot the person behind her; she didn’t know whether it was ghost or a demon. Mu Nianci broke out in cold sweat and did not dare move. Quivering, she asked, “Who are you?”

The person placed his head near her neck and sniffed before laughing, “What a nice scent! Guess who I am.”

Mu Nianci hurriedly turned around and saw a scholarly dressed man with a fan in his hand and a charming expression: It was one of the culprits who had forced her godfather to commit suicide back in Yanjing, Ouyang Ke. She was both surprised and angry; but since she knew that she was not his match, she turned to run. Ouyang Ke was, however, already in front of her laughing with arms out stretched ready to hug her if she took a few more steps. Mu Nianci retreated hurriedly then ran to her right. She had only run a few steps when Ouyang Ke was in front of her again. She ran in all directions but still could not escape him.

Ouyang Ke saw the pale colour of her beautiful face and was delighted. He knew that he could capture her in one move but he wanted to play the cat and mouse game with her, trapping her and letting her run again. Mu Nianci knew that she was in danger and pulled out a green dagger, aiming for his eyes.

Ouyang Ke laughed and said, “Aiya, don’t be rough.” He twisted his body, grabbed her arms with his left hand while holding her waist with his right arm. Mu Nianci struggled but felt numbness in her throat and her dagger had already been snatched away by Ouyang Ke. She managed to free herself after awhile only to be captured in his arms again. The way he held her was similar to the way he’d seized Huang Rong at Wanyan Kang’s residence causing her own hands to seal her accupoints and immobilizing herself.

Ouyang Ke laughed lightly and said, “Accept me as your teacher and I’ll immediately release you and teach you this stance; but I’m afraid that by that time, you won’t want me to let go of you.”

Mu Nianci was trapped by his arm and Ouyang Ke used his right hand to gently brush against her cheeks. She knew that he was up to no good and was so frightened that she passed out. After awhile, Mu Nianci woke up but she felt numb and weak all over. Someone was hugging her tightly and in the confusion, she thought it was Wanyan Kang and was delighted. Then she opened her eyes and realized that the person hugging her was Ouyang Ke. She was embarrassed and nervous and struggled to stand up only to realize that she could not move. She opened her mouth to call out but realized that Ouyang Ke had stuffed a handkerchief in her mouth. He was sitting on the ground but he wore an anxious expression. On both sides of Ouyang Ke were eight women in white each with a weapon in their hands and all of them staring suspiciously but silently at the pile of skulls.

Mu Nianci was curious and tried to think what they were up to. When she turned her head, she was frightened out of her wits as she saw thousands of green snakes behind Ouyang Ke. The snakes were motionless but were hissing as their tongues flicked out. The moonlight shone on what looked like a sea of red tongues; it was a frightening sight. Amongst the snakes stood three men in white with long poles in their hands; they were the same men Mu Nianci had seen earlier. She didn’t dare look anymore and turned away. It was then that she saw the shiny gold belt amongst the nine skulls and thought anxiously, “Ah, they must be waiting for his teacher. From their expressions, they must be prepared to deal with his teacher. If his teacher comes alone, how could so many people be defeated? And there are so many poisonous snakes around as well.”

She was extremely anxious and hoped that Wanyan Kang’s teacher wouldn’t come. But she also hoped that his teacher would know what to expect and come prepared, defeat these evil people and save her. After waiting for more than half an hour, the moon rose ever higher and she saw Ouyang Ke constantly looking up at the moon. She thought to herself, “Will his teacher only appear when the moon reaches the middle of the sky?”

She saw the moon rise above the top of a tree. The surroundings were empty, the worms were making sounds in the earth and there were the calls of birds in the distance. Ouyang Ke glanced at the moon once more before placing Mu Nianci into the arms of a woman beside him. He took out his fan with his right hand and stared at the edge of the hill. Mu Nianci knew that the person they were waiting for was coming soon. The silence was soon broken by a strong and piercing flute tune, which grew nearer after awhile. A figure flashed by as a woman with long hair suddenly appeared from the cliff. As she passed by she slowed down; it seemed like she had noticed that there were people nearby. It was ‘Iron Corpse’, Mei Chaofeng.

After Mei Chaofeng had gotten a few verses of the secret formulae for the cultivation of her internal energy from Guo Jing, she studied them carefully and it was not more than a month before her legs recovered and she could move normally. Furthermore, her internal energy had improved tremendously. Ever since she found out that the Six Freaks of Jiangnan had returned from Mongolia, she had started to plot revenge while following the ‘Little Prince’ as he set out on his mission. She practiced her skills every night. Mei Chaofeng found riding boats with many people inconvenient and thus decided to travel by herself at night. She had arranged to meet Wanyan Kang in Suzhou. She did not know that Wanyan Kang was in the hands of the Heroes of Lake Tai, nor was she aware that Ouyang Ke, who wanted to take revenge on her for killing his men and humiliating him earlier, wanted to lay hands on her ‘Nine Yin Manual’ He had earlier searched for and found out her whereabouts, gathered together thousands of snakes and was now secretly waiting for her at the spot she practiced her skills every night. She had just passed by when she heard the breathing of several people and immediately stopped in her tracks to listen. She heard many weird noises behind the group of people.

Ouyang Ke saw her alarmed expression and cursed inwardly, “What a brilliant blind Bitch!” Fanning himself gently, he stood up and summoned his internal energy. He was about to strike out at Mei Chaofeng when he saw another person coming from the cliff. He hurriedly took back his strike and studied that person. He saw that the man was slim and tall; he was wearing a green robe and part of his hair was bound with a squared cloth. He looked like any cultured person but Ouyang Ke was unable to see his face clearly.

The amazing thing, however, was that Ouyang Ke was unable to hear any footsteps or breathing coming from that man. Even a highly skilled person like Mei Chaofeng would inevitably make some light noises when she walked; but this person was walking casually, as if his body were floating, forming a somewhat ghostly image. It seemed as if nothing would cause him to make any noises while moving. That person glanced at Ouyang Ke before standing behind Mei Chaofeng. Ouyang Ke studied his face in detail and gasped. That person had a very strange face and aside from a pair of eyes glancing around, the rest of his face was like a dead person’s. Although the skin was stiff, it was not ugly but neither was it appealing. The man looked extremely cold and emotionless and it gave one chills. Ouyang Ke regained his senses and saw that Mei Chaofeng was approaching him. He knew that her strikes were going to be vicious and deadly and knew he had to gain the upper hand first. He made a signal with his left hand and the three men controlling the snakes started blowing their flutes, causing the snakes to glide forward. The eight women in white sat still since they had applied some substance which caused the snakes to ignore them and slither past.

Mei Chaofeng heard the sounds of snakes approaching and knew there were countless numbers of them. She was alarmed and jumped back some distance. The snake men used their poles to urge the thousands of snakes to disperse in all directions. Mu Nianci saw that Mei Chaofeng’s expression had paled with fear and could not help but worry for her. She thought, “Is this strange woman his teacher?” She saw Mei Chaofeng suddenly turn around and uncoil a long silver whip from her waist to protect herself. She was however surrounded by the poisonous snakes and several snakes, which were excited by the flute tune began to attack her, only to be slashed by her whip.

Ouyang Ke yelled, “Demoness Mei, I don’t want your life. You just have to hand me the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ and I’ll let you go.”

When he was at Prince Zhao’s residence, he heard that the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ was in Mei Chaofeng’s hands and, being greedy as he was, he was very much tempted to get it at any cost. It would definitely make his uncle, who had tried every means to get the manual, very happy. Mei Chaofeng ignored Ouyang Ke and used her whip to strike out even more furiously.

Ouyang Ke called out, “Since you’re so stubborn, I’ll see how long you can dance. I’ll wait until tomorrow and we’ll see whether or not you will hand the manual over to me.”

Mei Chaofeng was very anxious and tried thinking of a plan to escape. She listened carefully and realized that there were snakes everywhere. She didn’t dare move much and she was afraid that the poisonous snakes would bite her if she stepped on them.

Ouyang Ke sat down and after awhile, called out arrogantly, “Sister Mei, you stole the manual and have been familiarizing yourself with the contents for the past twenty years. What use is it to die trying to keep it? Why not lend it to me for a look and let’s be friends, isn’t it better that way?”

Mei Chaofeng replied, “Take the snakes away first.” Ouyang Ke laughed, “Hand me the manual first.”

The contents of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ were tattooed on her late husband’s skin and Mei Chaofeng valued it more than her life. She was, of course, unwilling to hand it over. She decided that if she was bitten by the snakes, she would immediately tear the manual to pieces.

Mu Nianci wanted to shout and tell her to jump onto a tree so that the snakes would not be able to bite her but she could not do so since a cloth bound her mouth. Mei Chaofeng was not aware of the few tall trees near her. She realized that if she continued fighting, her internal energy would deplete and thus pulled out something from her pocket and shouted, “Alright, I give in, take it.”

Ouyang Ke called out, “Throw it over here.”

Mei Chaofeng called out, “Catch”, and flung something with her right hand.

Mu Nianci heard a few faint cries and saw two women in white collapse. Ouyang Ke had fallen onto the ground and managed to avoid her deadly concealed weapons. He broke out in cold sweat and was both shocked and angry. He retreated a few steps and yelled, “Alright Bitch, I’ll let you suffer horribly!”

Mei Chaofeng had shot out three ‘Shapeless Needles’ which traveled as fast as lightning. She was secretly impressed with Ouyang Ke’s ability to escape her attack and was all the more anxious. Ouyang Ke studied her arms and plotted to set the snakes on her once she relaxed a little. By this time, Mei Chaofeng had already killed hundreds of snakes but there were thousands more surrounding her. How would she be able to kill all of them? Ouyang Ke saw that her whip skills were excellent and knew that she had hidden weapons and thus did not dare to go near her.

After half an hour, the moon moved towards the west and Mei Chaofeng was beginning to feel more and more anxious and her breathing became harder. Her whipping dance was not as smooth as earlier and she therefore struck out at shorter distances so as to preserve her energy. Ouyang Ke was delighted and commanded the snakes to move nearer and nearer to her. But he was also afraid that if she was still unwilling to surrender and destroyed the book, it would ruin his plans. This point in time was crucial to him. Mei Chaofeng heard the snakes moving closer and closer to her and could not help but touch the manual in her pocket. She looked very pale and cursed silently, “I haven’t obtained my revenge yet and who would have thought that I would die at the hands of this bloody rascal.”

Suddenly, there came a noise which sounded like the tune from a qin [zither], but it also sounded like the sounds made by jade. Following that, there was the sound of a clear and smooth flute tune. Everyone was taken by surprise. Ouyang Ke looked up and saw the odd man in green sitting on top of a tall tree, playing his flute. Ouyang Ke was puzzled. He knew that he had very sharp eyesight and yet, even under such bright moonlight, he did not notice that that man had gone up the tree. The wind was blowing and the trees were swaying but that man was still able to sit steady and motionless on top. Ouyang Ke had been taught by his uncle since he was young and he knew that even if he trained for another twenty years, he would be unable to achieve the standards of this man. Is that man a ghost then?

By this time, the tune from the flute was flowing continuously and Ouyang Ke lost control of his emotions and was smiling unnaturally. He felt his blood pounding and rushing inside him and had to dance crazily in order to feel better. He had just stretched out his arm to dance and was shocked. He summoned all his concentration and noticed that all of the snakes were rushing to the bottom of a tree and writhing about following the flute’s tune. The three men and six women in white moved under the tree as well dancing around crazily. They tore their clothing and scratched their faces furiously leaving bloody steaks on them while laughing stupidly at nothing. It seemed like they had all gone mad and unaware of any pain.

Ouyang Ke was extremely shocked and knew that he had encountered a strong opponent tonight. He took out six poisoned projectiles and flung them towards the man’s head, chest and limbs. The projectiles were about to strike the man when he gently waved the end of his flute and blocked the projectiles. When he used his flute to block the projectiles, his lips continued to blow and did not leave the flute hole for a single moment. The tune coming out from the flute was not interrupted for a single second. Ouyang Ke could not stand it any longer and opened his fan, again wanting to dance.

Luckily Ouyang Ke had a rather good grasp of his internal energy and knew that if he started dancing, unless his opponent stopped blowing the flute, he would not stop dancing until he died of exhaustion. Ouyang Ke was a clear-minded and sharp man and forced himself to take back his arm with the fan in it. He suddenly thought of a plan, “I’ll tear some cloth off my robe and stuff the cloth in my ears so as to block the sound.” But the flute sound was marvelous and, although Ouyang Ke had torn off some cloth, the flute tune made him lose control of his actions; he struggled but could not put the cloth into his ears. He was alarmed and frightened and broke out in a cold sweat. He saw Mei Chaofeng sitting on the ground with her head lowered, circulating her internal energy. He guessed that she was summoning her internal energy to combat the flute’s sound.

At this moment, three of Ouyang Ke’s least skilled apprentices had fallen onto the ground, ripping and tearing their clothing while twisting and turning uncontrollably. Mu Nianci had her accupoints sealed and could not move. Even though her emotions and concentration was deeply disturbed and provoked by the flute’s tune, she did not kick or dance madly because she could not move and just lay silently on the ground.

Ouyang Ke’s cheeks had turned bright red, his head was burning and his throat was dry and uncomfortable. He knew that if he did not stop this now and escape, he would die. He summoned up all his determination and bit on his tongue. The pain diverted his attention from the flute tune and the sound had less impact on him for a moment. He grabbed this opportunity to escape and ran for his life. It was not until he was several li away from the place and he could not hear the flute sound anymore that he felt relieved. Ouyang Ke was thoroughly exhausted and felt extremely weak, as if he had fallen very ill. He thought to himself, “Who is that strange man? Who is that strange man?”

o0o

Meanwhile, Huang Rong and Guo Jing returned to their rooms to sleep after they sent Mu Nianci off. They were pleased with their relaxing trip on the lake so far. Guo Jing knew that once Mu Nianci was off, Mei Chaofeng would soon appear. She was vicious and deadly in her attacks. He worried that there will be no one to match her and many people would get hurt. Guo Jing decided to consult Huang Rong and asked her, “I think we better tell Master Lu about Mei Chaofeng and plead with him to let Wanyan Kang go and save the people in the manor from any injury.”

Huang Rong waved her hand and replied, “That’s not a good idea. Wanyan Kang is an evil brat; let him suffer a few more days. If he is let off so easily, then he will not learn his lesson.” Actually Huang Rong couldn’t care less about whether Wanyan Kang repented or not. She thought that since he was the disciple of ‘two bad eggs’ Qiu Chuji and Mei Chaofeng, then he might as well stay a baddie. She thought it fun making life difficult for Wanyan Kang. But Huang Rong was also afraid that if Wanyan Kang did not repent Mu Nianci would not marry him and if Mu Nianci does not have a husband, the busybodies would once again try to force Guo Jing to marry her. This would be disastrous. Therefore, she decided that it would be better for Wanyan Kang to repent.

Guo Jing asked, “What shall we do if Mei Chaofeng arrives?”

Huang Rong smiled, “Then we’ll try out what Qigong taught us on her!”

Guo Jing knew that it was pointless to argue with Huang Rong and so returned her smile. But he thought that since Master Lu had taken such good care of them, he would risk his life to protect everyone in the manor no matter what.

Two days later they told Master Lu that they would not leave just yet. Master Lu was even nicer to them since he had hoped that they would stay longer. On the third morning, Master Lu was chatting with Huang Rong and Guo Jing in his study when Lu Guanying rushed in with a pale face. Behind him was one of the housekeepers who carried a wooden tray. There was something on the tray wrapped up with a green cloth.

Lu Guanying said, “Father, someone sent this just now.” With that, he removed the green cloth to reveal a white skull with five finger holes in it; it was indeed Mei Chaofeng’s work.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were not surprised, since they knew that Mei Chaofeng would appear sooner or later. Master Lu was however shocked and he paled. Quivering, he asked, “Who…who brought this here?” He straightened his body as he asked.

Lu Guanying knew that skull appeared strange but he was a daring and skilled fighter and furthermore, he was the leader of the pirates of the lake. Therefore he did not really take this matter too seriously. But when he saw how upset his father was, he was surprised and even more frightened. He answered hurriedly, “Someone put this in a box and sent it here. The housekeeper thought it was a normal gift and tipped the person without asking its origins. When he brought it to the accounts room and opened the box, he found the skull and when he went to ask the person who sent the gift that person was already gone. “Father, what do you think is going on here?”

Master Lu did not answer but inserted his fingers into the holes in the skull, which fitted his fingers perfectly. Lu Guanying asked in shock, “The holes in the skull are made by fingers? Are fingers that powerful?”

Master Lu nodded and sighed deeply before saying, “Ask the servants to pack up and send your mother to the north manor in the city to stay for the time being. Order the section leaders to gather and stay with their sections for three days. No matter what happens to Cloud Manor, tell them not to interfere.”

Lu Guanying was astonished and asked, “Why, father?”

Master Lu smiled weakly and turned towards Guo Jing and Huang Rong saying, “It is a blessing to be able to make friends with both of you. I had hoped that you could stay longer but I made two enemies when I was younger and they are coming to seek revenge. It’s not that I want to chase you away but Cloud Manor is…is in danger. If I am fortunate enough to survive, we will meet again; but … but there is only a slight chance of that.” He laughed bitterly and shook his head before turning to the study keeper and said, “Bring forty gold taels to me.” The keeper left to do so. Lu Guanying did not dare ask any more questions and left the study to carry out his father’s instructions.

After a while, the keeper came back with the money and Master Lu offered it to Guo Jing saying, “The lady is beautiful and talented and is a perfect match for you. This small amount of money is for your upcoming marriage ceremony; please accept this humble gift.”

Huang Rong blushed and thought, “This person is very sharp, he knew all along that I was a girl. But how did he know that I am not married to Jing ge ge?”

Guo Jing did not know the art of politeness and just thanked Master Lu before accepting the gift. Master Lu then retrieved a glass bottle from the study table and poured out more than ten red pills before wrapping them up in some paper. He continued, “I am not talented but my teacher taught me some medical formulas and I used them to make these pills which can prolong lives when taken. Take them as a form of my respect.”

When Master Lu poured out the pills there was a sweet scent in the air. When Huang Rong smelled it, she knew immediately that those were the ‘Nine Flower Jade Dew Pills’. She had helped her father make those pills before and had to collect the dewdrops from nine different types of flowers. To make the pills, one had to know how to brew the substance on the correct days and season of the year. It was a very painstaking process and the pills consisted of many different types of scarce and precious herbs.

Huang Rong knew that Master Lu was being too generous giving them so many and spoke out, “It is not easy to create the ‘Nine Flower Jade Dew Pills’. We would be more than grateful to accept two pills each.”

Master Lu was slightly surprised and asked, “How did Miss know the name of the pills?”

Huang Rong answered, “I know because I was weak when I was young and an honorable master gave me three pills which had positive effects when I took them.”

Master Lu showed a smile and said, “You don’t have to resist my offer. It would be a waste to keep them anyway.” Huang Rong knew that he was prepared to die and so did not argue and kept the pills.

Master Lu continued in a serious tone, “I have already prepared a boat so please cross the lake quickly. Even if you notice something strange, do not bother to stop. Remember this!”

Guo Jing wanted to stay and help but he caught Huang Rong’s eye signal and had no choice but to agree with Master Lu. Huang Rong said, “Forgive little sister for her ignorance, but I have something to ask.”

Master Lu answered, “Please speak, Miss.”

Huang Rong replied, “Since Master Lu knows that there are formidable enemies coming to seek revenge, why not hide from them? As the saying goes, a hero avoids obvious dangers.”

Master Lu let out a huge sigh and answered, “Those two people have made me suffer so much! They are the ones who caused me to be crippled. For the past twenty years I have not sought revenge because I am unable to walk. Since they are coming now, no matter what, I will risk my life to fight them. Anyway, they offended my teacher. Even if I am unable to seek revenge for myself, I will definitely have to seek revenge for my teacher at all costs. I don’t hope to defeat them. I am more than happy as long as I can die together with them and thus, repay my teacher’s kindness.”

Huang Rong thought, “How come he keeps saying there are two people? Ah, I know, he still thinks that ‘Copper Corpse’, Chen Xuanfeng, is alive. I wonder what animosity he bears towards them? It is unfortunate for him but I won’t probe further, although I am still curious about something.”

Huang Rong asked out loud, “Master Lu, it’s not surprising that you were able to see through my male disguise but how did you know that we are not married since we stayed in the same room?” Master Lu was dumbfounded by her question and thought to himself, “It’s obvious that she is still a virgin but how do I explain it to her? This little Miss is intelligent and talented in all areas but how come she’s so blind when it comes to matters like these?” He was thinking of a way to answer her when Lu Guanying entered the study and said in a low voice, “I have given the command but leaders Zhang, Gu, Wang and Tan refuse to leave. They say that they will remain in Cloud Manor even if it means risking their lives.”

Master Lu sighed and said, “It is not often that you find such loyal and courageous people! Hurry and send these two guests off.”

Huang Rong and Guo Jing bid Master Lu farewell before following Lu Guanying out. The housekeeper had already prepared Guo Jing’s little red horse and their donkey on the boat. Guo Jing whispered to Huang Rong, “Are we going to get on the boat?”

Huang Rong whispered back, “We’ll leave and come back.”

Lu Guanying wasn’t bothered by their whispering since he was in a state of confusion and wanted to hurriedly send off the guests so as to be able to help out with the preparations against his father’s enemies. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were about to board the boat when Huang Rong spied someone on the bank, walking fast towards them. The person looked strange since he was supporting a huge jar on his head as he walked towards them without a pause. When he came nearer, Guo Jing, Huang Rong and Lu Guanying saw that the man’s hair was white; he wore a short yellow robe and carried a huge feather fan in his right hand, fanning himself gently as he quickened his pace. The jar looked as if it was made from iron and seemed like it weighed a hundred jin [110lbs / 50kg].

The man walked past Lu Guanying, glanced nonchalantly at them and continued walking. He had not taken but a few steps more when his body hunched a little and some water spilled out from the jar. The three then realized that the jar was filled with water, which would now weigh about a hundred jin more. The old man must be highly skilled to be able to balance such a heavy weight on his head.

Lu Guanying thought nervously, “Is this man father’s enemy?” He ignored the danger and went up to the man, while Guo Jing and Huang Rong stole a glance at each other before following him. Guo Jing heard his six teachers mention their fight with Qiu Chuji at the ‘Pavilion of the Drunken Immortal’ before and knew that Qiu Chuji was skilled enough to lift up a huge jar. But the size of the jar Qiu Chuji lifted as described by his teachers did not seem as big as this jar the man was lifting now. Guo Jing suspected that this old man’s skills were above those of ‘Eternal Spring’ Master Qiu Chuji. The old man walked on before reaching the bank of a small river with graves all over the place.

Lu Guanying thought to himself, “There is no bridge here so let’s see whether he crosses the river to the north or goes towards the west.”

Lu Guanying was stunned by what he saw next: The old man walked without a pause over the river; his body was steady and only his lower legs were submerged in the water. When he reached the opposite side of the river he placed the huge jar on the grasses next to a hill before returning to the river and walking on the water back to the other side again.

Huang Rong and Guo Jing had heard their seniors talk about all sorts of skills from various sects and schools but they never heard of the skills which the old man just displayed: Carrying a huge jar on his head and walking on water. They’d thought that such skills only existed in myths and legends; who would have thought that such skills do actually exist on earth? If they had not seen for themselves, they would never have believed such stuff and were secretly in awe of this old master.

The old man’s hair was white and he laughed heartily before turning to Lu Guanying, “You must be the leader of the pirates, Junior Master Lu right?”

Lu Guanying bowed and answered, “I dare not accept such praise, I wonder what is elder’s name?” The old man pointed towards Guo Jing and Huang Rong and said, “You two boys come here as well.”

Lu Guanying turned around and got a surprise when he saw Guo Jing and Huang Rong behind him. It was then that he realized that the two had been following him. Their lightness skills were so good that they made no noise and he was not even aware of them following him. Guo Jing and Huang Rong bowed and said, “Greetings to elder.”

The old man laughed, “No need for such greetings.” He turned towards Lu Guanying and said, “Here is not a place to talk, let’s find somewhere to sit.”

Lu Guanying was suspicious and thought, “Is he father’s enemy?” He decided to be direct and asked, “Does elder know my father?” The old man replied, “Master Lu? I have never met him before.”

Lu Guanying thought that the man didn’t seem like he was lying and asked some more, “My father received a strange gift earlier in the day, does elder know of this matter?”

The old man asked, “What strange gift?”

Lu Guanying replied, “It’s a dead person’s skull on the top of which is five finger holes.” The old man said, “That’s funny; could it be someone playing with your father?”

Lu Guanying thought silently, “This man’s skills are exceptional. Even if he wants to fight father, he would do so openly and does not need to lie about it. It seems like he really doesn’t know anything. Why not invite him to the manor to help us instead? If he agrees to help us, it will be alright no matter how great father’s enemy is.” The more he thought about it, the more delighted he was and answered, “If elder does not mind, why not come to my residence for some tea?”

The old man hummed slightly and replied, “That will be good.” Lu Guanying was overjoyed and waved for the old man to go first. The old man pointed towards Guo Jing and said, “These two young men are guests of the manor right?”

Lu Guanying answered, “They are father’s friends.” The old man did not probe further and walked in front with Guo Jing and Huang Rong following behind Lu Guanying. When they reached the manor, Lu Guanying ushered the old man to a seat in the main hall and sped off to find his father.

Not long after, two servants carried in a bamboo couch with Master Lu on it. Master Lu greeted the old man politely and said, “I hope my ignorant son has not offended elder in any way.”

The old man shifted his body slightly but did not greet him back. He replied blandly, “Master Lu may dispense with the formalities.” Master Lu asked, “I wonder what elder’s name is?”

The old man replied, “My surname is Qiu and my name is Qianren.”

Master Lu was shocked and asked, “Could it be that elder is the renowned ‘Iron Palm Who Floats on Water’, elder Qiu?”

Qiu Qianren smiled slightly and answered, “To think that you can remember my nickname, you really have a good memory. I have not been active in Jianghu for the past twenty years and thought that people had long forgotten me!”

The name ‘Iron Palm Who Floats on Water’ was indeed a formidable name twenty years ago. Master Lu knew that the old man was the chief of the Iron Palm Sect in Hunan. He had been famous and active in Jianghu but had disappeared suddenly for a very long time so it was not surprising that many juniors born later would not know of him.

Master Lu was surprised and curious by his visit and asked, “I wonder what has caused Senior Qiu to come here? If you need junior’s help, I would be more than happy to offer it.”

Qiu Qianren stroked his beard and laughed, “It’s nothing big actually, just that I have been too softhearted and fate has it that it will not end…um, I would like to seek a secluded place to practice my skills; we’ll talk again in the night.”

Master Lu saw that he wore no evil expression but was still unsettled and asked, “I wonder, did Senior happen to meet the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’?”

Qiu Qianren replied, “The ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’? That evil pair are not dead yet?”

Master Lu was greatly comforted by what he heard and spoke out, “Ying’er, please bring Senior Qiu to my study to rest.” Qiu Qianren gave everyone a nod and left with Lu Guanying.

Although Master Lu had never seen Qiu Qianren’s skills before, he had heard his formidable name. He knew that when the five greats, Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor, Northern Beggar and Central Divinity met for the Hua Shan tournament, they had invited him but he had something to attend to and thus turned down the invitation. His skills must have been exceptional to get the invitation; even if he was not up to the level of the greats, he should not be far from their standards. Should the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ come, they would not be able to mess around with him.

He turned to Guo Jing and Huang Rong, “You haven’t gone? That’s very good. The Elder Qiu’s skills are formidable, how lucky that he should appear at this moment. I do not have to fear my opponents any longer! Later on you can rest in your rooms but please do not leave them and you’ll be fine.”

Huang Rong gave a little laugh, “Can I watch the fun?”

Master Lu let out a deep sigh and replied, “I’m afraid that my enemy will bring lots of people so I’m afraid that I won’t be able to protect myself and will allow you two to be hurt. Alright then, but you two must stick with me. With Senior Qiu around, it will be useless no matter how many people they bring!”

Huang Rong clapped her hands in delight and laughed, “I love seeing people fight. It was so interesting that day you defeated that Little Jin Prince.”

Master Lu replied, “This time it will be the Little Prince’s teacher who is much more skilful than him; that’s why I’m worried.” Huang Rong answered, “Ah! How do you know?”

Master Lu replied, “Miss Huang, you won’t understand these fighting matters. That claw technique which the Little Jin Prince used to attack my Ying’er’s thigh is the same as the skill used to create those finger holes in the top of the skull.”

Huang Rong answered, “Oh, I understand now. Wang Xianzhi’s calligraphy was taught by Wang Yizhi and Wang Yizhi was taught by Lady Wei whose teacher was Zhong You. Thus, any professional would be able to guess the family or sect the calligrapher belongs to merely by looking at his works.” Master Lu laughed, “Miss is highly intelligent. I just have to give you a hint and you are able to understand everything. My two opponents are evil and vicious. Compared to Zhong Wang, they have smeared the reputation of their teacher and ancestors.”

Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing’s hand and said, “Let’s see what great skill the white bearded Grandpa is practicing.” Master Lu was alarmed and said, “Ah, don’t…don’t disturb him.”

Huang Rong laughed, “It’s alright,” and stood up to leave.

Master Lu was sitting on the couch and could not move. He thought nervously, “This young lady is too mischievous. How can she spy on him?”

He hurriedly ordered the servants to lift up the bamboo couch and hurry to the study to stop them. When he reached it he saw them bending down and looking into the room through a hole made in the paper covering the window frame. When Huang Rong heard the servants’ footsteps she hurriedly turned and signaled to them not to make a single sound; at the same time she waved to Master Lu asking him to come over and see.

Master Lu was afraid that if he did not go over, the little miss would throw a tantrum and alert Qiu Qianren. He immediately ordered the servants to walk silently and help him over to the window. When he looked through the hole Huang Rong made, he was baffled to see Qiu Qianren sitting cross-legged with eyes shut and smoke continuously coming out of his mouth.

Master Lu’s teacher was highly skilled and knowledgeable. When he trained under him in his younger days, he often heard his teacher talk about the various skills of different sects and schools but had never heard of a skill involving breathing out smoke. He did not dare look longer and pulled Guo Jing’s sleeve, signaling him not to look anymore. Guo Jing respected him and besides, he never thought it proper to spy on others. Guo Jing immediately stood up and took Huang Rong by the hand, following Master Lu back to the hall.

Huang Rong giggled, “That old fellow’s skills are fun. There’s a fire burning inside his stomach!” Master Lu answered, “You do not understand. This is an amazing type of internal energy.”

Huang Rong asked, “Could he breathe out fire to burn someone?” Huang Rong was not joking as she said this; she was indeed curious about Qiu Qianren’s mysterious skills.

Master Lu replied, “No one can breathe out fire, but to be able to attain such profound internal skills would mean that he can probably injure someone using mere flowers and leaves.”

Huang Rong laughed, “Ah, tear a flower to hurt someone!” Master Lu smiled slightly and answered, “Miss is very smart.”

There was a poem entitled ‘Barbaric Buddhist’ which was written by an anonymous poet during the Tang dynasty, which read: “When the peonies reveal real pearls, a beauty walks by the hall.

With a gentle laugh, she asks the gentleman, ‘Which is prettier, the flower or the lady?’ The gentleman mulls it over and answers, ‘The flower is beautiful.’ The lady throws a mild tantrum and flings the smashed flower at him.” [The underlying meaning is actually used to refer to an insolent woman, who is not respected. In the past, the ideal woman is supposed to be gentle and docile.]

The poem thus spread far and wide. Once, there was a court case in which an evil wife broke her husband’s legs. When the Tang Emperor, Xuanzhong learned about it, he laughed and said to his Prime Minister “Isn’t this tearing a flower to hurt someone?”

Master Lu was relieved when he saw how powerful Qiu Qianren was. He ordered Lu Guanying to send people to inspect the lake and politely invite any suspicious-looking person back to the manor. He also ordered the servants to open the main entrance to the manor so as to welcome any guests. Evening came and the servants lit many candles in the main hall of Cloud Manor. The bright lights surrounded the whole hall, as if waiting for a banquet to begin. Lu Guanying personally went to invite Qiu Qianren to the hall in which he was offered the middle host seat. Guo Jing and Huang Rong sat beside him while Master Lu and his son sat on seats beneath their tables. Master Lu made his toasts but did not dare ask Qiu Qianren the purpose of his visit and only engaged in casual talk with his guests.

After drinks, Qiu Qianren spoke out, “Brother Lu, Cloud Manor is the leader among all heroes of the lake and therefore your skills must be good. I wonder whether you would be willing to display a stance or two for me?”

Master Lu answered hurriedly, “Junior’s skills are nothing compared to senior’s, I’m afraid I’ll embarrass myself. Furthermore, I have been crippled for a long time now and have given up the skills my teacher taught me long ago.”

Qiu Qianren replied, “Who is your teacher? I may know him.”

Master Lu let out a long sigh and his face paled. After a long while, he answered, “Junior is dumb and rough and is unable to serve my teacher. Due to the doings of others, my teacher disowned me. This is such a shameful story and I do not want my teacher’s name to be smeared. I hope Senior understands.”

Lu Guanying thought silently, “So father was disowned by his teacher and thus never displayed his skills. I didn’t even know what a skilled fighter he is. If it weren’t for that Jin dog that hurt me, father would never have displayed his skills. He must have experienced a very devastating and hateful event in his life.” Lu Guanying was deeply saddened and disturbed by this thought. Qiu Qianren answered, “Brother is at the peak of his life and is the leader of a group of heroes. Why not take this opportunity to make your name known? It will help extinguish the wrongs done to you and make the seniors in your school regret them.”

Master Lu replied, “Junior is crippled and is hopeless. Senior’s advice is insightful but I cannot accept it.”

Qiu Qianren answered, “Brother is too courteous. There is a pathway but I’m not sure whether brother will agree to take it.” Master Lu answered, “Then I shall bother Senior to help me out.”

Qiu Qianren laughed softly but continued eating and did not answer. Master Lu knew that this man had hidden himself for twenty years and thought, “There must be some reason why he has resurfaced in Jianghu. Since he is a senior master, it is not proper for me to probe further and I can only wait for him to tell me.”

Qiu Qianren spoke, “If brother does not want to display your skills, it’s fine with me. Cloud Manor is a famous name and the leader must be from a famous school.”

Master Lu gave a small laugh, “The matters of Cloud Manor have long been handled by my son Guanying. His teacher is the monk Kumo of Yun Qi Monastery.”

Qiu Qianren answered, “Ah, Kumo is a skilled fighter of the Xian Xia sect which is affiliated to Shaolin. His skills are also commendable. How about the Junior Master displays some stances for me?”

Master Lu said, “It is the child’s fortune to receive some pointers from Senior Qiu.”

Lu Guanying thought it was rare to be able to meet such a highly skilled master and his advice would be insightful and precious. Therefore, he hoped to receive a few pointers. He immediately walked to the centre of the hall and said, “Elder, please give some pointers.”

With that, he positioned himself and displayed his best stance, the ‘Luo Han Subduing the Tiger’ fists which created some wind when he punched with his fists. He was indeed the disciple of a skilled martial artist. His skills were unique and he displayed them for a while longer before releasing a loud roar which sounded like a tiger’s roar; the candle lights wavered and a gust of wind blew to the four corners of the room. The servants felt a chilling sensation and were startled by his performance. Lu Guanying continued with a palm technique while shouting loudly, looking very impressive. He did a flip and crouched on the floor; then suddenly stretching his left palm out straight, displayed a stance of the ‘Ru Lai Buddha Palm’. After a while longer, his roar grew softer but the pace of his ‘Luo Han Fists’ quickened and with his last stance, he attacked the floor and the force broke some bricks nearby. Lu Guanying flipped upright into position and with his left arm in the air and his right leg kicking out, he steadily and motionlessly formed the image of a Luo Han Buddha.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong cheered out loud and shouted, “Excellent palm technique!”

Lu Guanying relaxed, stood in normal position again, then turned to face Qiu Qianren who gave a slight smile. Master Lu asked, “How are this child’s set of palm techniques?”

Qiu Qianren answered, “Passable.”

Master Lu said, “If it’s far from perfect, I hope Senior gives some pointers.”

Qiu Qianren replied, “Your son’s palm techniques can be used to build up his body but is useless when fighting an opponent.” Master Lu answered, “I would like to hear Senior’s comments so that he can improve them.”

Guo Jing could not understand either and thought silently, “Junior Master’s skills are not formidable, but how can the Elder say that they’re useless?”

Qiu Qianren stood up and walked to the middle of the hall and returned to his seat with a two pieces of the bricks which Lu Guanying had broken earlier. He did something with his hand and a cracking sound was heard as the pieces broke into smaller pieces. He kneaded the pieces and they turned to powder, which floated off the table. Everyone was astonished by what they saw.

Qiu Qianren swept the dust and powder on the table onto his clothes and walked to the middle of the hall before shaking off the powder onto the floor. He laughed softly as he went back to his seat and said, “It is commendable for Junior Master to be able to break the bricks with a palm but think about this: The opponent is not a brick and will not stand there quietly, waiting for you to attack him or her. Furthermore, if the opponent’s internal energy is stronger than yours and your palm strikes him or her and they repel the strike, you will be heavily injured yourself.” Lu Guanying nodded silently.

Qiu Qianren sighed and continued, “There are many martial artists these days but only a few can be considered skilled fighters.” Huang Rong asked, “Which few?”

Qiu Qianren replied, “Wulin’s well-known five greats: Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor, Northern Beggar and Central Divinity. However, Central Divinity Wang Chongyang has the most profound skills. As for the other four, they are skilled in their own way. But a person has strengths as well as weaknesses. If one knows their weakness, it is not difficult to defeat them.” With those words, Qiu Qianren shocked Master Lu, Huang Rong and Guo Jing. Lu Guanying did not know of the five greats and did not know why the rest were surprised. Huang Rong was actually in awe of Qiu Qianren when she saw his display of skills, but when she heard his disrespect towards her father, she was furious and gave a polite laugh before asking, “So if Elder can defeat the five greats, wouldn’t that be incredible for you?”

Qiu Qianren answered, “Wang Chongyang has already passed away. I was caught up with some affairs at home during the Hua Shan tournament and could not attend it. That allowed that old Taoist to steal the title ‘number one’. At that time, the five were competing for the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, deciding that the most skilful fighter and winner would get the manual. They dueled for seven days and seven nights and Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Northern Beggar and Southern Emperor lost. Later, when Wang Chongyang passed away, there was chaos again. I heard that the old Taoist passed the manual to his martial brother, Zhou Botong. Eastern Heretic, Huang Yaoshi rushed there and Zhou Botong was not his match, thereby allowing the former to steal half of the manual. No one knows what happened later.”

Huang Rong and Guo Jing thought silently, “So there were things which happened in between. Half of the manual was stolen by the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’.”

Huang Rong said, “Since Elder is the higher skilled, then the manual should belong to you!”

Qiu Qianren replied, “I cannot be bothered to fight for it. The four greats are mediocre and have been practicing all these years so as to compete for the number one title. It would be fun to see the second Hua Shan Tournament though.”

Huang Rong asked, “There is a second Hua Shan Tournament?”

Qiu Qianren replied, “Once in every twenty-five years. If the old ones die, the young ones will take over. The next Hua Shan Tournament will take place in a year’s time. But all these years have passed without any outstanding talents. I think it will be us old fellows once again. Ah, there are no outstanding descendants; the skills of the future generations will not be as great as the earlier ones.” He shook his head as he spoke as though filled with deep regret.

Huang Rong asked, “Is Elder going to participate in the next Hua Shan Tournament? If yes, please take us alright? I love seeing people spar with each other.”

Qiu Qianren grunted, “Ah, such childish talk! How can you call that sparring? Initially I didn’t want to go. I am so old already, why bother about fighting for all these useless titles? However, I have a very important matter at hand, which involves the lives of everyone. I would be a selfish and greedy person if I do not step forward to help or the matter will turn into a catastrophe.”

The four of them were astonished by his agitated tone and hurriedly asked him what was it.

Qiu Qianren answered, “This is a highly secretive matter. Since Brothers Guo and Huang are not Jianghu people, its better that you don’t hear about it.”

Huang Rong laughed, “Master Lu is my good friend; if you tell it to him then he will tell it to me.” Master Lu secretly scolded Huang Rong for being so cheeky but did not deny her words.

Qiu Qianren replied, “Since this is so, I will tell all of you then. But before the matter is resolved, I would like all of you to keep it a secret.”

Guo Jing thought, “We are not related to him in anyway and since it’s a secretive issue, it’s better not to hear it.” With that, he stood up and announced, “Both us juniors bid our farewell.”

He pulled Huang Rong’s hand and was about to leave when Qiu Qianren replied, “Since both of you are Master Lu’s good friends, you are not outsiders. Please sit,” With that, he tapped Guo Jing on the shoulder. Guo Jing did not find his energy spectacular but obeyed and returned to his seat.

Qiu Qianren stood up and toasted the wine to the four people before saying, “Not more than half a year from now, Great Song will be in trouble. Does anyone know why?” The others were stunned by his serious expression. Lu Guanying waved to signal to the servants to leave the room and ordered them not to bring in any more food.

Qiu Qianren continued, “I have gotten news that in six months time, the Jin will attack the south with a formidable army and our Song Empire will be lost. Hai, this is so sudden that we cannot do much about it.”

Guo Jing was alarmed and asked, “Then Elder Qiu had better go and inform the Imperial Court and ask them to prepare and make plans to counter the enemy.”

Qiu Qianren stared at him and scolded, “What does a young man like you know? If Great Song is prepared, they will lose out even more.” No one understood what he was saying and looked at him with alarm.

He continued, “I have wracked my brain for a plan to protect the safety and happiness of the people and there is only one way to protect the country. I have traveled all the way to Jiangnan for this. I heard that the Little Jin Prince and Commander Duan are held in this manor. Why not invite them in for a discussion?”

Master Lu did not know how Qiu Qianren knew of this but hurriedly ordered two servants to bring them in. He ordered their chains removed but asked the servants to place them on the floor and denied them any utensils for dinning. Guo Jing and Huang Rong noticed that Wanyan Kang looked weak and exhausted. Commander Duan looked like he was in his early fifties, had a thick beard and wore a frightened expression.

Qiu Qianren looked at Wanyan Kang and said, “Little Prince has suffered?”

Wanyan Kang nodded and thought, “I wonder why Guo Jing and Huang Rong are here?” The day he fought in Master Lu’s study, he didn’t notice them hiding in one corner. The three looked at, but did not greet each other.

Qiu Qianren faced Master Lu and said, “There is much wealth in front of your manor but why hasn’t brother retrieved it?” Master Lu was curious and asked, “I live a simple, rural life. What wealth is Elder talking about?”

Qiu Qianren answered, “When the Jin Army attacks the South, a great war will start and many lives will be lost. If brother gathers the heroes of Jiangnan and you fight together, you will banish the Jin and attain peace.”

Master Lu thought silently, “This is a serious matter indeed.” He answered hurriedly, “It is my honor to help fight for my country and it is something that I am responsible for. I am loyal to my country but the Imperial Court does not appreciate it. If a person is evil, even if he becomes a priest, it is useless if he does not have the right morals. I hope Senior creates a pathway for me and Junior to follow and we will be more than grateful. I do not crave any wealth or rewards.”

Qiu Qianren stroked his beard and laughed. He was about to answer when the housekeeper rushed forward and said, “Leader Zhang has spotted six suspicious-looking people on the lake. They have already reached the Manor.”

Master Lu paled and called out, “Invite them in quickly.”

He thought silently, “Why are there six people? Could it be that the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ have found allies?”