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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 15

Chapter 15 – The Divine 

A moment later Lu Guanying remembered their other guests; he helped Wanyan Kang stand up but he could not move because his acupoints were still sealed; only his eyes were moving.

“I accepted your Master’s request, you may go,” Lu Chengfeng said. He did not want to unseal the acupoints, since it was someone outside his school who did that. If he did, he would be showing disrespect towards other people. He therefore cast his glance toward his guests. Before he even said anything Zhu Cong had come up to Wanyan Kang and hit several times on his waist, and tapped some more on his back; unsealing the acupoints.

Lu Chengfeng was impressed. “This Wanyan Kang’s martial arts are not weak, yet this man was able to seal his acupoints without any resistance. His martial arts must be good,” he thought. What he did not know was that Zhu Cong took advantage of the commotion caused by the collapsing roof so that Wanyan Kang did not even realize what was happening.

Wanyan Kang was ashamed; he turned his back and walked away without saying anything. Zhu Cong saw the Jin officer still lying around; he unsealed his acupoints and called out, “Who is this officer? Take him away.”

That officer had thought that he was going to die, but he was unexpectedly released. He was delighted and hurriedly kowtowed, “Valiant Hero … thank you so much for saving my lowly life. Duan Tiande will not forget it as long as I live. Next time when you visit the capital, please make sure you stop by my residence, I will be at your service with all my heart …”

Guo Jing heard that name ‘Duan Tiande’; his ears were buzzing. With a trembling voice he asked, “You … your name is Duan Tiande?”

“That’s right,” answered Duan Tiande. “Duan Tiande at your service, Young Hero.” “Eighteen years ago, were you serving as a military officer in Lin’an?” Guo Jing asked.

“How did the Young Hero know that?” Duan Tiande asked; and then he remembered that Lu Chengfeng had mentioned that Lu Guanying was a disciple of the monk Kumu; he turned his head to Lu Guanying and said, “I am Monk Kumu’s nephew, only I did not attend the monastery. I say we belong to the same family. Ha … ha …!” He laughed merrily.

Guo Jing looked at him strangely but did not say anything. Meanwhile Duan Tiande was still smiling happily. After a while Guo Jing regained his composure and turned his head to Lu Chengfeng. “Manor Master Lu, may I please borrow your courtyard for a moment?” he asked.

“Sure, use it as you wish,” Lu Chengfeng answered.

Guo Jing took Duan Tiande’s arm and led him to the courtyard in big strides. The Six Freaks of Jiangnan were having mixed feelings; they thought the heavens did indeed have eyes. Had he not said his own name, they would not have known he was the person they’d been looking for these past seven years and tens of thousands li.

Lu Chengfeng and his son, along with Wanyan Kang followed behind. They had no idea what Guo Jing was about to do.

The courtyard was bright with the torches held in the manor servants’ hands. Guo Jing requested the use of some writing instruments, which the servants also quickly provided. Guo Jing then turned to Zhu Cong.

“Second Master,” he requested, “Would you please write down my father’s name?” To which Zhu Cong complied. He wrote in large characters, ‘Guo yi shi Xiaotian zhi ling wei’ [memorial tablet for the righteous warrior Guo Xiaotian] and placed it on the center table.

When he was taken out of the hall, Duan Tiande thought they were going to enjoy some refreshments; but as soon as he saw the name ‘Guo Xiaotian’ the blood drained from his face. He looked around and found the Six Freaks of Jiangnan had taken positions surrounding him. He was especially wary of Han Baoju with his short and stout stature; involuntarily he wet his pants. That day when he took Guo Jing’s mother to the north with the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan hot on his trail, he stopped at an inn for the night. He heard a commotion and took a peek through a crack in the door and had seen Han Baoju. Han’s short and stout stature was not easily forgettable. Earlier that day they met in the hall, but since he was a prisoner, he was more worried about his own fate so that he did not pay too much attention to anyone else. But now under the bright torch light it was impossible to mistake Han Baoju for someone else.

Guo Jing smashed a table and loudly shouted, “Now tell me, do you want a quick and easy death, or do you want me to slice your body with a thousand cuts before killing you?”

Duan Tiande knew he was not going to see another day. He scrambled to find something; anything to save his life. “Your father the chivalrous hero Guo’s death was unfortunate and I did have a small role in his death, but … what could I do as a lowly officer against higher authority?” he stammered.

“Who was that? Who sent you to harm my father? Quick, say it!” Guo Jing shouted. “It was the Sixth Prince of the Great Jin, Prince Wanyan Honglie,” Duan Tiande said. “What did you say?” Wanyan Kang was startled.

At this point all Duan Tiande could think of was, if he was going down, other people were going down with him. Who knows? He might get away with his crime. Therefore, without concealing anything he narrated how Wanyan Honglie was infatuated with Yang Tiexin’s wife, Bao Xiruo; how he conspired with Song authorities to kill Yang Tiexin while Wanyan Honglie would pretend to be the good guy who rescued Bao Xiruo. He told how they ransacked Ox Village and ended up killing Guo Xiaotian; how Duan Tiande then took Guo Jing’s mother to Beijing and then joined the Jin envoy to Mongolia. He explained how, during the chaotic times in Mongolia, he got separated from Guo Jing’s mother; how he decided to go back to Lin’an and worked diligently as a career soldier, finally to get promoted to his current position. He ended his story by kneeling in front of Guo Jing.

“Young Hero Guo, Guo Da Ren [‘honorable’ – someone in high position],” he said. “Please do not blame your lowly servant. I saw how chivalrous your father was, how solemn his expression was; I wanted to befriend him, only … only … your lowly servant was a very low ranking officer and I must obey orders. It was useless for me to have good intentions. Heaven is my witness, how I, Duan Tiande, did not have any enmity towards anybody …” He saw Guo Jing’s expression had not changed a bit and he did not say anything either. He quickly scooted over to the table and kneeled in front of Guo Xiaotian’s memorial. “Master Guo,” he continued. “I am sure your spirit in heaven is very clear that it was the Sixth Prince Wanyan Honglie who killed you, and not this lowly creature in front of you. Today I witnessed that your son is an extraordinary young man, your spirit must be very proud of him. I pray, with your blessing, he will forgive a lowly dog like me …”

While he was still babbling, Wanyan Kang swiftly leaped, struck with both hands and shattered his skull. He collapsed and died instantly.

Guo Jing kneeled in front of the table, sobbing uncontrollably. Only now did Lu Chengfeng understand the real story, so along with his son and the Six Freaks of Jiangnan they bowed to pay their respects in front of Guo Xiaotian’s memorial. Wanyan Kang also kneeled and kowtowed several times. Then he stood up and said, “Brother Guo, today I know that … that Wanyan Honglie is our archenemy. Little Brother did not realize it and has committed many-many despicable actions, more like heinous crimes.” And then he remembered his mother’s suffering and wept bitterly. “What are you going to do then?” Guo Jing lifted his head and asked.

“Little Brother found out today, that my surname is actually ‘Yang’, the name ‘Wanyan’ does not have anything to do with me. From now on, I will be called ‘Yang Kang’,” Wanyan Kang answered.

“Good!” Guo Jing exclaimed. “Finally you are a real man who does not forget your origins. I am going to Beijing tomorrow to kill Wanyan Honglie. Are you coming with me or not?”

Yang Kang still remembered Wanyan Honglie’s kindness in raising him from childhood; he hesitated for a moment. But seeing Guo Jing’s stern expression he hastily answered, “Little Brother will accompany Big Brother to seek revenge.”

Guo Jing was delighted. “Good! You know that our late fathers were sworn bothers and my mother told me that they made a pact to make us sworn brothers too. What do you say?”

“That is precisely my wish,” answered Yang Kang. So they asked each other their respective ages, it turned out that Guo Jing was born two months before Yang Kang. They kneeled in front of Guo Xiaotian’s memorial, bowed eight times toward each other and became sworn brothers.

With everything under control, they turned in to take some rest in Returning Cloud Manor. Early the next morning the Six Freaks, Guo Jing and Yang Kang bade farewell to Manor Master Lu and his son. The Manor Master presented each guest with a generous amount of money as a farewell gift to cover their traveling expenses.

Leaving the village Guo Jing said to his six Masters, “Disciple and Brother Yang are going north to kill Wanyan Honglie. I am asking Masters to give me some advice.”

“The mid-autumn festival is still weeks away, while we do not have anything pressing to do. I think we’d better accompany you to take care of this important business,” Ke Zhen’E said. Zhu Cong and the rest voiced their approval.

“Your kindness towards your disciple is as heavy as a mountain. Wanyan Honglie’s martial arts are mediocre. With Brother Yang’s help, I am sure killing him will not be a difficult task. For your disciple’s sake my Masters have been away from Jiangnan for more than ten years. Now that you are back in your hometown, your disciple does not dare to trouble Masters with my personal business.”

The Six Freaks thought Guo Jing was being very reasonable; also, they had seen with their own eyes that Guo Jing’s martial arts had improved tremendously. Hence they did not press him and one by one they gave their blessings to him.

Finally Han Xiaoying said, “On the matter of Peach Blossom Island, I don’t think you should go.” She knew Guo Jing was uprightly honest and that Huang Yaoshi was hot-tempered and strangely cruel. If Guo Jing went to Peach Blossom Island chances were he would meet some unfortunate events.

“If disciple does not go, wouldn’t that mean I broke my promise to him?” Guo Jing asked.

“When dealing with a monster we don’t have to have good faith,” Yang Kang countered. “Big Brother, I think you adhere too rigidly to old-fashioned values and traditions.”

Ke Zhen’E snorted and said, “Jing’er, as chivalrous heroes we have to do what we say. Today is the fifth day of the sixth month; we will meet again on the first day of the seventh month at the ‘Pavilion of the Drunken Immortal’ in Jiaxing [in modern day Zhejiang]. Then we will go to Peach Blossom Island together. Now you’d better rush to Beijing on your red horse to seek revenge. You don’t always have to be with your younger brother. If you can achieve your goal, that would be great. If not, we can always look for the Quanzhen Sect’s priests to help us kill the traitor. Their righteousness is as heavy as a mountain; they certainly will not turn down our request.”

Guo Jing understood his First Master’s love toward him as shown by his willingness to go with him into a dangerous situation. His heart was overwhelmed and he kneeled and kowtowed respectfully.

“Your younger brother comes from a rich and honorable family, you must be careful,” Nan Xiren reminded him. Guo Jing did not understand, he only looked at his master. Han Xiaoying smiled, “You don’t understand your Fourth Master’s words. It’s all right. You will understand later. Just be careful at all times,” she said. “Yes,” Guo Jing said.

Zhu Cong smiled, “Huang Yaoshi’s daughter is actually very different from her father,” he said. “We shouldn’t provoke her anymore, should we, Third Brother?”

Han Baoju twitched his moustache. “That little brat scolded me even though she is as short as a winter melon; she even thinks herself pretty.” Speaking thus he could not restrain a smile.

Guo Jing knew his masters no longer bore any grudges toward Huang Rong; he was delighted. But then he remembered her whereabouts was unknown, he couldn’t help feeling depressed.

“Jing’er,” Quan Jinfa said, “The sooner you leave, the sooner you will be back. We will wait patiently in Jiaxing.” With that the Six Freaks of Jiangnan headed south.

Guo Jing held his red horse’s reins and followed his masters with his eyes until he no longer could see them. Then he turned his head toward Yang Kang. “My worthy younger brother [xiandi], this red horse of mine is extremely fast; we can go to Beijing and back within ten days. What do you say I accompany you and spend several days looking around?” Yang Kang agreed. Two young men mounted the horse and headed slowly to the north.

Yang Kang sighed with heavy feelings. Only a month ago he lived a luxurious life. He came to Jiangnan with a great company as a special emissary of the Great Jin, with all the power and prestige that came with it. Now he was traveling back to the capital quietly, with nobody pampering him along the way. It was like he was having a pleasant dream and suddenly woke up to the harsh reality of life. Guo Jing might not necessarily take him along to kill Wanyan Honglie; which made him more distressed. He contemplated warning Wanyan Honglie, but could not make up his mind about it.

Guo Jing, noticing his grim expression, thought that he was mourning the death of his parents and so tried to console him.

Around noon they arrived in Liyang and straightaway tried to find a restaurant for some refreshments. Out of the blue, someone who looked like a restaurant worker, approached. “Are you gentlemen Mr. Guo and Mr. Yang?” he bowed as he asked, smiling broadly. “The table is ready, please come with me and eat.”

Guo Jing and Yang Kang were baffled. “How did you know us?” Yang Kang asked.

“A guest arrived earlier and asked us to prepare a meal for you. I was even given a detailed description of how Mr. Guo and Mr. Yang look,” he said, still with a smile on his face. He then took the horses’ reins and led them to the stable.

Yang Kang snorted and cynically said, “The Returning Cloud Manor Master Lu is so kind.” They entered the restaurant and sat down. As it turned out, the food was exquisite and the wine was superb. Guo Jing even found some chicken that he liked very much. They ate to their hearts’ content and were about to pay the bill, but the restaurant worker simply smiled and said, “No need to pay gentlemen, everything has been taken care of.” Yang Kang laughed and tipped him generously. He thanked them profusely and led them out of the restaurant, bowing and smiling the whole time.

Guo Jing praised Manor Master Lu’s generosity. Yang Kang, however, still bore a grudge because he had been captured and held prisoner. “I assume he uses this trick to befriend the people of Jianghu; no wonder he’s the leader of the Lake Tai area,” he said.

“Isn’t Manor Master Lu your martial uncle?” Guo Jing wondered.

“It’s true that Mei Chaofeng taught me some martial arts,” Yang Kang answered. “But that doesn’t necessarily make her my master. If I had known they came from a heretical sect, I would not have wanted to learn any of it and I wouldn’t have fallen into this situation.”

“How so?” Guo Jing was confused.

Yang Kang realized he had made an indiscreet remark. He blushed and said with a smile, “Little Brother feels the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ and her other martial arts are unorthodox.”

Guo Jing concurred. “What my worthy younger brother said is correct. Your master, Priest Changchun’s [Eternal Spring] martial arts are exquisite and he comes from an orthodox Taoist school. If you tell him the truth and repent, I am sure he will be willing to forget past matters.” Yang Kang silently agreed.

That evening they arrived at Jintan. Again, another restaurant worker welcomed them and led them to a table full of choice foods and wine. This happened for the next three days. The next day the two crossed a river and arrived at Gaoyou and received the same welcome. Yang Kang sneered and said, “I want to see just how far Returning Cloud Manor extends their hospitality.” However, Guo Jing was starting to get suspicious; every time they ate, he would find one or two bowls of his favorite food. If it was Lu Guanying, how would he know what he liked?

After they finished eating Guo Jing proposed, “My worthy younger brother, let me go ahead and investigate.” Mounting his red horse he quickly rode ahead, passing three scheduled stops and soon arrived at Baoying. Sure enough, nobody welcomed him there. Guo Jing found the biggest inn in town and checked into the best room. That evening he heard a horse with loud ringing bells galloping and stopping right in front of the inn. Someone entered and ordered some food scheduled for tomorrow, for Mr. Guo and Mr. Yang.

Guo Jing had guessed earlier it must be Huang Rong; but on hearing her voice he was overjoyed nonetheless. He restrained himself from coming out to see her. He thought that since Huang Rong liked to play around, he would surprise her later that evening. He slept soundly until about the second hour, quietly got up and went tiptoeing to scare Huang Rong in her room. Then he saw a shadow flashing on the roof; it was Huang Rong. “Where is she going in the middle of the night?” Guo Jing wondered.

Quickly using his lightness kungfu he followed behind. Huang Rong ran without looking around to the outskirts of town; oblivious that somebody was following her. She stopped at the bank of a small creek and sat beneath a willow tree. She took something out of her pocket and bent down to play with it.

The moonlight shone on her beautiful face as a cool breeze swayed the willow branches and her clothes gently fluttered. The creek whispered softly and the insects chirped quietly. It was a beautiful scene to behold. Guo Jing was about to come near when suddenly he heard Huang Rong quietly say, “This is Jing ge ge, this one is Rong’er. You two sit down nicely face-to-face. Yes, like this …”

Guo Jing tiptoed behind her. He could not see clearly in the dim moonlight, but he saw in front of her two clay figurines, one resembled a man, the other a woman. These figurines were made in the famous Wuxi city; they were round, fat and really cute. During their stay at Returning Cloud Manor Guo Jing had learned from Huang Rong that although mere toys, Wuxi’s products were the result of very high quality craftsmanship. The locals called them ‘da a fu’ [big lucky]. Huang Rong owned several such figurines on Peach Blossom Island.

Guo Jing came nearer and saw in front of the figurines tiny clay bowls filled with flower petals, leaves, and so on. He heard her saying softly, “Jing ge ge can eat this bowl, Rong’er will have this one. Rong’er cooked them herself. Aren’t they delicious?”

“Delicious, very delicious!” Guo Jing said as he stepped out.

Huang Rong was startled. She turned her head and smiled sweetly; rushed into Guo Jing’s arms and hugged him tightly. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder beneath the willow tree busily talking about what had happened during their few days of separation [which felt like years to them]. Actually it was Huang Rong who busily talked; Guo Jing was content with simply looking at her face and listening to her chatter.

Huang Rong told him how that night after her father threatened Guo Jing’s life she had jumped into the lake. After hiding for some time she figured out her father must have left, so she came back to the village. She saw Guo Jing was safe and sound and was greatly comforted; but recalling how she had been so harsh with her father she felt really bad. The next morning she saw Guo Jing and Yang Kang heading north to Beijing; thereupon she preceded them and arranged for meals along the way.

They talked all through the night in the warm sixth month’s weather. The weather was pleasant and Huang Rong’s heart was happy; after a while she became sleepy, her speech became fuzzy and not too long afterward fell asleep against Guo Jing’s chest; her jade- white skin felt cool and her breath blew softly. Guo Jing was afraid he might awaken her, so he sat motionless against the willow tree and after a while he too dozed off.

Guo Jing did not know how long he slept, but by the time he opened his eyes he could hear the birds chirping merrily and he smelled the sweet fragrance of the wild flowers. The sun was rising; but Huang Rong was still asleep. With her eyebrows creased, her ruddy complexion, her graceful smile, she looked like she was having a sweet dream.

“Let her sleep a bit longer; I must not make any noise,” Guo Jing thought. He looked like he was counting her long eyelashes when suddenly a voice was heard, coming from about twenty feet to his left.

“I found the Eldest Miss Cheng’s room; it is on the second floor of the building surrounded by a flower garden behind the Tong Ren pawnshop,” the voice said.

“Good! We will work tonight,” another voice replied, it sounded like an older man. Both men spoke in low voices, but in the quietness of the morning Guo Jing could hear every single word clearly. He was startled; they sounded like some ‘flower picking thieves – rapists’ [cai hua yin zei], naturally he could not let them do all kinds of evil things.

Suddenly Huang Rong opened her eyes; she leaped out of Guo Jing’s arms and called out, “Jing ge ge, catch me!” She ran toward a big tree. Initially Guo Jing was perplexed, but Huang Rong kept beckoning him to come. Finally he understood. They were pretending to be a young couple playing hide-and-seek in the morning. He pursued her while laughing and joking loudly, intentionally made his footsteps heavy to conceal his lightness kungfu.

The two men were not expecting anybody else to be around that early in the morning. They were startled, but upon seeing a young man and a young woman noisily playing, their suspicions vanished. However, they did not continue talking and left immediately.

Huang Rong and Guo Jing could see their backs. They were dressed in rags and looked like they were beggars.

“Jing ge ge, what do you think they are going to do to that Eldest Miss Cheng?” Huang Rong asked after they had walked far enough. “Most likely not a good thing,” Guo Jing answered. “Do you think we should help her?”

“For sure,” Huang Rong answered with a smile. “Only I don’t know if they belong to Hong Qigong’s clan or not?”

“I don’t think so,” Guo Jing said. “But then Qigong said that all beggars under the heaven are in his care … Hmm … perhaps those two are impostors.”

“There are tens of thousands beggars in the world; certainly some of them have turned bad. I don’t care how good Qigong is, he will not be able to manage each and every one of them. Looks like these two are the bad ones. Hong Qigong has been so kind to us that it is impossible to ever repay him. I think he will like it if we take care of these bad ones.”

“You are right,” Guo Jing agreed. Even though he was a little bit tired, the thought of repaying Qigong’s kindness lifted his spirits.

“Those two men’s bare legs were covered with boils. I am sure they are not false, so those two were real beggars. Other people would not disguise themselves like that,” Huang Rong said.

“You really are very observant,” Guo Jing said admiringly.

The young couple went back to town for some breakfast; then they walked idly down the street toward the west end of town. There they saw a very big pawnshop with four characters painted on the white wall, ‘Tong Ren Pawnshop’, with each character taller than an average man. Behind the shop was a garden and in the middle was a two-story building. There was a dark green bamboo curtain covering a big window on the second floor. Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other and smiled. Hand-in-hand they walked away to play elsewhere. After dinner that evening they retreated to their respective rooms for some rest and meditation. About one o’clock that night they ran toward the western part of the town; leaped up on the garden wall and saw the dark shadow of the big building. Silently they climbed to the roof and swung their bodies down from the eaves. It was a summer night, so the window was open. They looked around the big room and to their surprise there were seven young girls, all about eighteen or nineteen years of age. One beautiful girl was sitting next to a lamp, reading. They thought she must be Miss Cheng. The other six were dressed as servant girls, all holding unsheathed weapons in their hands; they looked stern yet graceful, obviously they knew martial arts.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong initially intended to help this young woman, but, seeing she was well prepared, they thought they would wait and see. So they quietly climbed back to the roof and waited.

Not too long after they heard a faint call from outside the wall. Huang Rong immediately pulled Guo Jing and they looked down to see two shadows leaping the wall and walking toward the building. The shadows looked like the two beggars they’d seen earlier. One of the beggars whistled softly. A servant girl drew back the curtain and asked, “Have the hero brothers from the Beggar Clan arrived? Please come up.” The two beggars leaped up and entered the room.

In the darkness outside Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other in surprise. Earlier they thought that as soon as the beggars arrived there would be some fighting or something interesting; who would have thought that they knew each other?

Miss Cheng immediately stood up, paid her respects, and uttered some pleasantries. “Would you tell me your honorable names, please?” she asked.

“My surname is Li,” the older beggar answered, “And this is my martial nephew Yu Zhao.”

“So you are Senior Li and Elder Brother Yu,” Miss Cheng said. “The valiant heroes of the Beggar Clan always uphold justice and are admired by the people of the martial arts world. It really is an honor for me, young disciple, to finally meet two revered role models. Please, sit down.” Although what she said was common Jianghu pleasantries, her facial expression was shy. She paused a lot in between sentences; which showed she was not used to this kind of talk. She said ‘admired by the people of the martial arts world’ with sincerity, but sounded like she was not sure what she was talking about. When she finished speaking her head hung low and her face blushed.

Shyly she looked up toward the old beggar’s one eye and timidly asked, “Senior Hero, aren’t you the venerable ‘Serpent King of the East River’ [jiang dong she wang] Li Sheng?”

The old beggar laughed. “You have keen eyes, Miss! I have had the honor of meeting your master, the ‘Sage of Tranquility’ [qing jing san ren]. Even though we are not the best of friends, we’ve always had great respect for each other.”

Guo Jing had also heard the name ‘Sage of Tranquility’ mentioned and was delighted, “The Sage of Tranquility, Sun Bu’Er, is one of the Quanzhen Seven Masters; therefore, this Miss Cheng and those two beggars are not strangers.” He heard Miss Cheng continue, “I am very grateful to receive the Senior Hero’s aid in upholding justice. I will listen to Senior Hero’s instructions.”

“Miss, you are worth a thousand gold taels,” Li Sheng said. “But for this licentious man to look at you, even with one eye, is still too much.” Hearing this Miss Cheng’s face blushed profusely. Li Sheng continued, “Now I suggest you stay overnight in the main house, along with these honorable servants of yours. I will deal with that conceited man alone.”

“Young disciple is not skilled in martial arts, but I am not afraid of that villain,” Miss Cheng said. “How can I let Senior deal with him alone?”

“Please don’t say such things Miss,” Li Sheng said. “Our Clan Leader Hong and your honorable founder Senior Wang were good friends; that means we belong to the same family. Why do you want to consider it otherwise?”

Actually Miss Cheng wanted to try out her own martial arts, but she listened to Li Sheng since she dare not defy him. So she bowed and said, “Then I will leave everything in Senior Li and Elder Brother Yu’s capable hands.” After saying that, she gracefully led her maidservants downstairs.

Li Sheng walked towards the young lady’s bed, pulled back the embroidered quilt, and without taking off his shoes laid his dirty body on the sweet smelling bedding. “Go downstairs,” he told Yu Zhao, “Be on guard with everyone else. Do not make any moves without my command.” Yu Zhao complied. Li Sheng then hid his entire body under the blankets after extinguishing the candle beside the bed.

“Miss Cheng might not want to sleep under that blanket anymore,” Huang Rong laughed inside. “The members of the Beggar Clan are just like their leader, they like to deliberately create trouble in a funny way. This matter is actually much more amusing than I originally thought.”

Because there were other people standing guard, Huang Rong and Guo Jing quietly hid themselves under the eaves. About an hour later she heard the night watch sounding the signal ‘knock, knock, bang, bang, bang …’ at the front of the building. It was the third hour. Then she heard a pebble fall in the flower garden.

A moment later eight people came leaping over the wall and headed straight to the second floor. They lit a lantern briefly, enough to see the bed, then quickly extinguished it. In that very short time Guo Jing and Huang Rong could see their appearance. It turned out they were the female disciples of Ouyang Ke who dressed like men and all wore white clothing. Four of them pulled open the bed’s curtain and covered Li Sheng’s head with a silk hood; firmly held, they lifted him up. Two of them opened a big sack and in went the blanket with Li Sheng inside it. They quickly tightened the sack mouth and lifted up the sack. They worked swiftly and quietly in the dark, without making any noise. It seemed they were very skilled in what they were doing.

They leaped back downstairs. Guo Jing was about to make a move when Huang Rong whispered in his ear, “Let the Beggar Clan go first.” Guo Jing complied. He stretched his neck and saw four female disciples carrying the sack with Li Sheng in it, while the other four were guarding the rear. Further back, about ten yards behind them, were the Beggar Clan members, each wielding a wooden staff.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong waited a moment to put some distance between them before they quietly leaped out of the garden and followed from afar. A little while later they arrived at the edge of the town. The eight women took the sack to a big house, while the four Beggar Clan members spread out to surround the building.

Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing’s arm and they walked toward the back of the building; jumped over the back wall and saw that the building was actually an ancestral temple. The main hall was full of memorial tablets. On the main beam hung big banners with the deceased people’s merits and honorable titles written on them. The hall was lit by four or five big red candles; and in the center sat a man waving a folding fan.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong had guessed earlier it must be Ouyang Ke’s doing and they were right. They hid themselves under a window, not daring to move at all, while wondering in their hearts, “Would that Li Sheng fellow be able to fight him?”

They saw the eight women entering the hall and one said, “Young Master, Miss Cheng is here.” Ouyang Ke sneered coldly. He looked outside and said, “Friends, you have been so kind to visit, why not come in and introduce yourselves?”

Hiding on top of the wall, the Beggar Clan members knew they had been found out, but without Li Sheng’s command they did not dare to make any noises.

Ouyang Ke turned his head and looked at the sack. “I did not expect such a beautiful lady as you would be so easily invited to come here.” He walked slowly forward, waving his folding fan slowly. When he folded the fan, it resembled an iron pen.

Huang Rong and Guo Jing saw his hand movements and his expression; they were shocked. It seemed Ouyang Ke had already discovered that an enemy was hiding inside that sack and was going to strike.

Huang Rong instantly put three steel needles into her hand, aimed toward the fan; ready to strike if Li Sheng was in danger. Suddenly there were swishing sounds and a couple of sleeve-arrows flew toward Ouyang Ke’s chest. They were released by a beggar who appeared on the windowsill. They also had seen the danger threatening Li Sheng and launched a pre-emptive strike.

Ouyang Ke moved his left hand sideways, his index and middle fingers pinched one arrow, his ring and little fingers pinched the other, with a ‘crack’ sound the two arrows became four pieces.

The Beggars saw this and were amazed. “Martial Uncle Li, come out!” Yu Zhao called. He had not even finished shouting when the sack was ripped open; out came two blades followed by Li Zheng rolling on the floor. He used the sack as a shield and quickly stood up.

Li Sheng knew Ouyang Ke was a fierce opponent and he was not sure he could defeat him; that was the reason he wanted to attack him by surprise by hiding inside the sack. Who would have thought that Ouyang Ke would foil his plan?

“A beautiful lady turned into a beggar. That was a good sack trick!” Ouyang Ke laughed.

Li Sheng ignored his remark. “This city has lost four girls in three days. All were your doing, I presume?” he countered.

“This Baoying County is certainly not a poor area, how did a law enforcement officer turn into a beggar?” Ouyang Ke smirked.

Li Sheng remained calm. “I am not begging for food here,” he answered. “But I heard yesterday that four adolescent girls suddenly vanished without a trace. My curiosity was piqued, so I took a look.”

Ouyang Ke reluctantly said, “Actually those girls are not exceptional; since you want them and considering we are the people of the martial arts world, I’d like to give them to you. Beggars usually eat dead crabs; so I am sure you will treat these four girls as your treasures.” He waved his right hand, and several female disciples of his went inside to get the four girls. The girls’ clothes were unkempt, their faces thin and pale and their eyes red from crying.

Li Sheng was outraged to see this. He loudly shouted, “What is your honorable name? Whose disciple are you?”

Ouyang Ke still maintained his carefree attitude. “My surname is Ouyang. What is it that you want, my friend?” he nonchalantly answered.

“I want to fight you!” Li Sheng roared.

“Nothing could be better!” Ouyang Ke replied. “Please start!”

“Good!” Li Sheng shouted and moved his right hand. Just before he struck a white shadow flashed with a gust of wind. He was very shocked and leaped up immediately, but his neck was scratched nonetheless. Luckily he was swift, if not; his neck would have a hole in it.

Li Sheng was an eight-bag disciple of his clan; a highly respected position. His martial arts were strong and the beggars in Liangzhe area came to him for advice. In short, he was one of the Beggar Clan’s elite fighters; who would have thought that he was nearly injured in just one stance. His face flushed with anger and embarrassment. Without turning his body he launched his hand backward.

“He knows the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’,” whispered Huang Rong. Guo Jing nodded.

Ouyang Ke could see this move was fierce and did not dare to meet it head-on; he jumped sideways. By this time Li Sheng had turned his body around and stepped forward. He lifted both hands in front of his chest and with a loud cry pushed them forward.

This time it was Guo Jing who whispered into Huang Rong’s ear, “Is that move from the ‘Wandering Strides’ fists technique [xiao yao you quan fa]?” Huang Rong nodded; but she noticed that Li Sheng’s movements were heavy and not elegant like the ‘Wandering Strides’ should be executed.

Ouyang Ke saw Li Sheng’s step was steady and his hands were proficient at launching wonderful moves; he did not dare to act casual and underestimate his opponent any longer. He slipped his folding fan into his waist and quick as a flash launched a counterattack toward Li Sheng’s shoulder.

Li Sheng parried with the ‘Begging for Rice’ move [fan lai shen shou], still from the ‘Wandering Strides’ fists technique. Ouyang Ke parried with his left hand, which forced Li Sheng to lift his right arm; Ouyang Ke swiftly moved toward Li Sheng’s back and stretched both hands with all fingers forming two claws attacking Li Sheng’s vital ‘Sleeveless Garment’ [bei xin] acupoints.

Huang Rong and Guo Jing were startled, “That move is difficult to defend against.”

By that time the rest of the Beggar Clan members had entered the hall. They saw Li Sheng was in grave danger and were rushing to help.

Li Sheng could hear the wind behind his back and felt the claws almost touching his clothes. Again he launched his hand backward using the ‘Divine Dragon Swings its Tail’ [shen long bai wei] from the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. The stance came from the trigram, ‘to tread on’ which is part of the Yi Jing [Book of Changes]. The master who created the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ actually named the stance ‘Treading on the Tiger’s Tail’ [lu hu wei]. It was a more powerful description compared to ‘Attacking the Tiger from Behind’ because if one steps on the tiger’s tail, it will no doubt turn around and attack furiously. However, the later generation felt that this description in the Yi Jing was too soft and not pleasing to the tongue. Thus, they changed it to the ‘Divine Dragon Swings its Tail’.

Ouyang Ke did not dare to meet this attack head-on, so he flexed his body and jumped back.

“A very close call!” Li Sheng said in his heart. He turned his body around to face his opponent again. His martial arts were inferior to Ouyang Ke’s exquisite moves. They had fought thirty or forty moves and already his life was threatened five or six times. Fortunately he could always use the ‘Divine Dragon Swings its Tail’ to get out of trouble.

“Looks like Hong Qigong only passed on this single move to him,” Huang Rong whispered. Guo Jing nodded. He recalled the time when Hong Qigong passed on to him the ‘Proud Dragon Show Remorse’ and he fought Liang Ziweng using this single move over and over. Later on Hong Qigong taught him a total of fifteen moves, while this important figure in the Beggar Clan only knew one move. His heart swelled with gratitude toward Hong Qigong.

In the meantime Ouyang Ke had increased the intensity of his attacks and step-by-step he forced Li Sheng into a corner. Earlier Ouyang Ke sent his fierce attacks without any particular target, but now his moves were intended to prevent Li Sheng from turning around and launching his backward palm. Li Sheng understood his intentions very well, so he worked hard to step back into the middle of the room.

Suddenly Ouyang Ke let out a long laugh; he whirled the fist straight up from below hitting Li Sheng’s chin. Li Sheng stuttered in pain and cried out in alarm. He tried to stretch his hand to counterattack but he was a split second too late. Ouyang Ke’s fist had struck its target. Li Sheng was hit five or six times on the head and chest. He felt dizzy and his body weak as he wobbled and fell to the floor.

The Beggar Clan people rushed to help but Ouyang Ke turned around, grabbed two of the front most attackers and threw them to the wall. They fainted immediately. The rest of the beggars did not dare continue.

“What, did you think that a bunch of stinky beggars would deceive me so easily?” Ouyang Ke sneered. He clapped his hands and two female disciples came out dragging a young woman along. Her hands were tied behind her back, her face forlorn and tears flowed down her cheeks; it was none other than Miss Cheng.

Everybody, including Huang Rong and Guo Jing, was shocked and baffled.

Ouyang Ke waved his hand and his disciples took Miss Cheng back inside. With a smug expression he said, “While the old beggar went into the sack, I worked downstairs capturing Miss Cheng and came back here immediately to wait for the rest of you.”

The beggars looked at each other in blank dismay; they’d lost this bout big time.

Ouyang Ke casually waved his fan and mocked, “The Beggar Clan’s name is well-known throughout the world. Today I have seen it with my own eyes; it’s a fame that will make people laugh until their teeth fall out of their mouths! Your special skills of stealing chickens, stroking dogs, begging for food, catching snakes, I have seen them all. Now, do you still dare to meddle in your Young Master’s business? I am willing to spare this old beggar’s life, but I must take his two lights as a souvenir.” After saying that, he stretched out two fingers toward Li Sheng’s eyes.

“Hold it!” a voice suddenly called out. A man leaped into the hall and immediately sent an attack toward Ouyang Ke.

Ouyang Ke sensed the swiftness and fierceness of the attack; he moved sideways to evade, but could not get out of the wind. His body shook and he was forced to draw back two steps. He could not help but be inwardly startled. “Since I left the Western Regions I have fought many skilled masters; who is this man who has an unexpectedly high martial arts skill?” He turned his eyes toward the newcomer and once again he was startled. He had fought Guo Jing before at the Zhao Palace and his martial arts were only average; how did his palm carry such profound strength just now?

“You have committed all kinds of evil, but instead of repenting you wanted to injure this good man. Do you really not have any consideration for the heroes of Jianghu?” Guo Jing scolded.

Ouyang Ke thought that Guo Jing’s last attack was just a fluke. He looked down on Guo Jing, “Are you one of those ‘heroes’?” he mockingly asked.

“I do not dare to call myself a hero,” Guo Jing answered. “With all due respect, I am asking you to release Miss Cheng and return to the west immediately.”

“And what if I don’t want to listen to your childish request?” Ouyang Ke smirked.

Before Guo Jing had a chance to reply, Huang Rong called from outside the window, “Jing ge ge, just punch that bastard!”

When Ouyang Ke heard Huang Rong’s voice, his spirits were shaken. “Miss Huang, you want me to release Miss Cheng, that is easy, just as long as you follow me wherever I go. Not only Miss Cheng, but I will also release all my female disciples; moreover, I will promise you not to take another female disciple. Wouldn’t that be good?”

Huang Rong leaped inside the hall, smiling as she said, “That is very good! We are going to tour the Western Regions. Jing ge ge, are you coming?”

Ouyang Ke shook his head, “No, I want you to come with me. I don’t want this stinky kid to come along,” he said, still smiling. Huang Rong was angry, her palm slapped backward. “You dare to slur him? You are the stinky one!” she shouted loudly.

Ouyang Ke was mesmerized with Huang Rong’s gracefulness and her sweet smile while talking to him. She looked so innocent yet free. His spirit was enthralled. Who would have thought that she would abruptly turn hostile? He was not on guard against her and Huang Rong used the exquisite move from the ‘Peach Blossom Divine Sword Palm’, the ultimate in Peach Blossom Island palm techniques. His left cheek was slapped. Fortunately Huang Rong did not use her full strength, but his face burned with pain nonetheless.

“Bah!” Ouyang Ke spat. His left hand suddenly stretched out toward Huang Rong’s breast. Huang Rong did not elude him but threw both hands toward the top of his head. Ouyang Ke was lascivious and seeing that Huang Rong did not move, he was delighted. Ignoring the blow on his head his hand caressed her breast. Who would have thought that as soon as his fingers touched her clothing he felt a stabbing pain. It suddenly dawned on him, “She is wearing the soft hedgehog armor.” Luckily he was being frivolous and had not used much strength. Quickly he lifted his arm to parry her blow.

“It’s not easy for you to hit me,” Huang Rong smiled. “I can hit you, but you can’t hit me.”

Ouyang Ke was exasperated; he could not get angry with Huang Rong, so he directed his anger toward Guo Jing. “Let me kill this kid first; I hope then her feelings toward him will die,” he thought. While his eyes were fixed on Huang Rong, his leg flew backward towards Guo Jing’s chest. This leg movement was swift and ruthless. It was the ‘Western Poison’ Ouyang Feng’s unique family skill. It was difficult to fend against. Once the leg hit its target, the ribs would fracture in towards the lung.

Guo Jing did not have enough time to jump back, so he turned his body around and launched a backward palm. With a loud crash Guo Jing’s palm hit Ouyang Ke’s leg just as Ouyang Ke’s leg almost simultaneously hit Guo Jing’s chest. Both men felt pain that seared to the bone. They turned their bodies around facing each other and stared at each other angrily; then they immediately attacked each other again.

The Beggar Clan people were surprised and thought, “This move obviously is Li Sheng’s unique skill, the ‘Divine Dragon Swings its Tail’, how come this young man can use it? Moreover, his movement was superior to that of Li Sheng.” By now they had already pulled Li Sheng, who had come to his senses, to the side. He also recognized not only the ‘Divine Dragon Swings its Tail’, but other stances as well. He saw Guo Jing’s moves were exquisite and powerful; he was amazed. “The ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ is Clan Leader Hong’s special skill. Because I had no regard for my own life and rendered a great service, the leader generously rewarded me with one stance. Where did this youth learn the full set of eighteen stances?” Obviously he did not realize Guo Jing only knew fifteen stances.

Ouyang Ke was also amazed. He secretly admired Guo Jing’s progress. “How could this kid’s martial arts improve so much in just two months?”

In a short time they already exchanged about forty moves. Guo Jing had repeatedly used his fifteen stances several times. It was enough for him to defend himself; but in all honesty he had to admit that Ouyang Ke’s martial arts were several levels above his. He realized he would not win.

Another ten or so moves later Ouyang Ke changed his tactics. He swiftly moved in all directions to divert Guo Jing’s attention then he launched an attack from an unexpected direction. Guo Jing tried hard to fend it off but his left hip was kicked. He stepped backward limping. Luckily his stances were concentrated in his palms, so he could still launch his fifteen moves in succession.

Ouyang Ke did not dare to press the situation for a while. He tried to force an opening in Guo Jing’s defense line. About a dozen or so moves later, he did see an opening and immediately launched an attack. Guo Jing had finished all fifteen moves and was about to repeat the whole set. After the fifteenth stance, the ‘Seeing the Dragon in the Fields’ [jian long zai tian], he could have launched the first stance, the ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’ [kang long you hui]; but he could also repeat the last stance, the ‘Seeing the Dragon in the Fields ’. His mind was not quick enough as he pondered, “Shall I repeat from the beginning, or shall I reverse the order?” This slight hesitation was enough for Ouyang Ke. He immediately took advantage of this small flaw and attacked Guo Jing’s shoulder.

Guo Jing was taken aback; he did not have any chance to think which one of the fifteen stances he could use to parry that attack, so in reflex he stepped backward and slapped his opponent’s hand. It was a move that followed no martial arts principles; it was a move without a move. It took Ouyang Ke by surprise and his arm was squarely hit. Ouyang Ke was shocked; he leaped back and immediately examined his arm. Luckily, even though it hurt, it was not broken.

Guo Jing was delighted with this unexpected result. He thought, “I realized there are three areas on my body that are not protected well: my shoulder, left hip and right waist. If only I could develop more stances using both hands …” His mind was still reeling as Ouyang Ke launched another attack.

Guo Jing was not the smartest kid in the country. Even if he painstakingly racked his brain for ten days or two weeks, he would not necessarily come up with even half of a new move. Right now he was engaged in fierce combat, how would he have a chance to think? All he could do was clumsily modify whatever principles he had learned from the ‘Dragon Palms’ just to protect these three areas, his shoulder, left hip and right waist.

Ouyang Ke was anxious. “His stances are limited, and given enough time, I am sure I can gain the upper hand. Where did the three additional stances come from?” he thought. He did not know that Guo Jing’s three additional moves were actually useless; but he was a little bit wary since he was hit before. He slowed his pace and concentrating his strength on defense, carefully studied Guo Jing’s new moves. After a while he could see the flaw. “Right! He has not mastered these moves yet, that was the reason he did not use them at the beginning,” he thought. While still moving his body around he thrust his left hand to divert Guo Jing’s attention and at the same time swung his right leg straight toward Guo Jing’s left hip.

Guo Jing was not able to use his three self-developed stances to their full extent yet. Suddenly seeing his opponent attack his weak point, he was nervous. As he was launching a palm, he suddenly retracted it halfway and diverted his palm to parry his opponent’s kick.

Huang Rong was secretly disappointed. “To hesitate in a match like this is truly martial arts biggest taboo. In this one single move Jing ge ge has wasted seven or eight opportunities. Not only that, even if he won’t be able to injure the enemy, he should be able to defend himself. By turning his palm around like that, he actually made the flaw bigger,” she reasoned. She knew for sure that Ouyang Ke had put all his strength into that kick and Guo Jing might not be able to parry it. Immediately seven or eight steel needles flew swiftly from her hand.

Ouyang Ke quickly drew the folding fan from his waist and in one fluid motion opened it and waved it gently to block the needles. He was sure all needles were knocked down so he did not slow down his kick toward Guo Jing. He was confident Guo Jing would get hit hard and fall to the floor; but then he felt a slight numbness as though the acupoint above his ankle was sealed. His kick did not stop, but it had lost all its strength. Ouyang Ke leaped back in great surprise. “Which meddler was brave enough to backstab your Young Master?” he fumed, “Come out if you have guts …”

But before he finished he heard a noise from above and something flew his way. He lifted his hand to block that thing, but it came too fast. Before he knew it something had entered his mouth. It was a little bit salty and hard. He was startled and frightened. Quickly he spat that thing out. As it turned out it was a chicken bone.

Nervously he looked above him, but at that precise moment more debris came down on him. He quickly leaped sideways while spitting the dust from his mouth. Just as he opened his mouth several chicken bones came hitting his teeth. They were not knocked out but it was painful! Ouyang Ke was wild with rage. Suddenly he saw something fly down from a shadow on the roof beam above; he immediately launched a palm to strike that something. He managed to knock it down to the floor only to see that something was a half- eaten chicken foot. Then he heard the shadow on the beam explode in laughter. “How is the beggar’s stealing chickens skill?”

Huang Rong and Guo Jing leapt with joy as soon as they heard his voice. “Qigong!” they shouted together.

Everybody looked up and saw Hong Qigong sitting on the roof beam, his legs spread and with half of a chicken in his hand, which he ate enthusiastically. The Beggar Clan people bowed and open their mouths together, “Clan Leader! We wish you well Senior.”

Ouyang Ke saw it was indeed Hong Qigong and his heart sank. “If what he threw at me was not chicken bones but projectiles, I would be dead by now. Real men are not afraid of defeat; the most important thing now is escaping.” He bowed and said, “Uncle Hong, your nephew kowtows to you.” His mouth said ‘kowtow’ but he did not kneel.

Hong Qigong was still chewing the chicken. “Are you not returning to the west? You have committed evil acts here, do you want to end your little life in the ‘Central Plain’ [zhong yuan]?” he asked indistinctly. “In the Central Plain Uncle Hero is invincible,” Ouyang Ke replied. “As long as Uncle Hero shows mercy and did not come here to bully the young and the weak, your young nephew has nothing to fear. My uncle has instructed me that if I ever see Uncle Hong I should be respectful to you. He warned me about the difference between our skill levels and that Junior simply could not even touch you. Should I insist on trying I would be the laughingstock of all the heroes of the world.”

Hong Qigong laughed heartily and said, “You flatter me and try to prevent me from fighting you. But there are actually a lot of people on the Central Plain who want to kill you. I don’t have to move my finger if I really want you dead. Earlier you said that you have seen my skills of stealing chickens, stroking dogs, begging for food and catching snakes and you belittled those skills, did you not?”

Ouyang Ke hastily answered, “Your young nephew was not aware this old hero is Uncle Hong’s disciple. It was very disrespectful of me. I beg Uncle and this old hero’s forgiveness.”

Hong Qigong leaped down from the beam. “You called him ‘the old hero’ but he was defeated by you. Aren’t you the hero then? Ha … ha … aren’t you ashamed?”

Ouyang Ke was angry, but knew his martial arts were too far below Hong Qigong’s so he did not dare to say anything wrong. He suppressed his anger and did not make a sound.

“Your skills were imparted by that old Western Poison and you are thinking of running amuck in the Central Plain. Humph … did you really think I am already dead?” Hong Qigong said.

“Uncle holds the same rank of honor as my uncle; Junior will have to listen to Uncle’s instructions,” Ouyang Ke said.

“Is that so?” Hong Qigong said. “You are saying that I’ve put you on the spot; that the older bully the younger?” Ouyang Ke did not say anything, which was the same as agreeing to what Hong Qigong was saying.

“Even though the Old Beggar is the leader of all beggars, old and young alike, not all beggars are my disciples,” Hong Qigong continued. “This man surnamed Li has learned a superficial amount of my martial arts; how could he be regarded as my successor? His ‘Wandering Strides’ fist technique has not yet reached perfection. You belittled my stealing chickens and stroking dogs skill, humph … if the old beggar really takes a disciple, he wouldn’t be inferior to you.”

“Naturally,” Ouyang Ke agreed. “Uncle Hong’s disciple would be much stronger than your nephew. But your martial arts skill is too high; it wouldn’t be easy for anybody to learn.”

“Your mouth is sweet,” Hong Qigong said, “But I am sure you are scolding me in your heart.” “Your nephew does not dare,” Ouyang Ke answered.

“Qigong, don’t believe his lies,” Huang Rong quipped. “He scolds you in his heart all right and he scolds you really bad. He said that although your martial arts are not bad, it only benefits you; you don’t have the ability to teach. Even if you teach your stealing chickens and stroking dogs’ skills to the end of your life, nobody would be able to learn it to perfection.”

Hong Qigong just stared at her. He snorted and mumbled, “This little girl knows how to provoke me.” He turned his head and said, “So? This kid dares to scold me?” Suddenly he stretched out one hand and, quick as lighting, he snatched the folding fan from Ouyang Ke’s hand. He unfolded the fan and saw some painted peonies and two characters ‘Xu Xi’. He did not know that Xu Xi was a poet from the Northern Song Dynasty. Although the peonies were beautifully painted, he still said, “Not good!” There were several lines of characters written on the fan and at the end was a signature, ‘Young Master of the White Camel Mountain’ [bai tuo shan shao zhu]. It was Ouyang Ke’s handwriting.

“What do you think of these characters?” Hong Qigong asked Huang Rong.

Huang Rong raised her eyebrows and said, “Very crude. But what do you expect? A spoiled rich kid like him wouldn’t know how to write. I bet he hired a pawnshop clerk to write those characters.”

Ouyang Ke prided himself on being both a martial arts and literature expert, which was actually not too far from the truth. Upon hearing Huang Rong’s words he was really angry. He shot a glare towards her, only to see in the candlelight the corners of her eyes showed a very faint smile. She looked so sweet and innocent that his anger vanished into thin air.

Hong Qigong spread the fan in his hand, raised it, and wiped his mouth with it. He had just eaten a chicken, so his mouth was greasy. As soon as he did that, the painting and calligraphy were completely destroyed. Then he casually crumpled the fan, made a paper ball and tossed it to the floor.

Other people would think nothing of it, but not Ouyang Ke; his fan’s spines were made of steel. The fan was his weapon. It was a demonstration of profound internal energy. He was terrified.

“If I personally fight you, you will die unsatisfied. So I am going to take a disciple and let him fight with you,” Hong Qigong said.

Ouyang Ke pointed to Guo Jing. “This fellow has fought with me for dozens of stances. If Uncle Hong had not appeared, I would have gained the upper hand. Brother Guo, don’t you agree?” he said.

Guo Jing nodded his head, “I might lose.” Ouyang Ke smiled with satisfaction. Hong Qigong looked up and laughed. “Jing’er, are you my disciple?” he asked.

Guo Jing recalled he kowtowed to Hong Qigong, but Hong Qigong returned those kowtows. “Junior is not fortunate enough to be your disciple,” he quickly replied.

“Did you hear?” Hong Qigong asked Ouyang Ke.

Ouyang Ke was dissatisfied. “You can’t fool me; where did this kid’s exquisite palms come from?” he asked.

Hong Qigong turned toward Guo Jing. “If I don’t make you my disciple, that little girl brat will not let me die peacefully. She will pester me with hundreds of evil schemes forever. I guess the old beggar has to admit defeat. All right, bow to me; I’ll take you as my disciple,” he said.

Guo Jing was ecstatic. Quickly he dropped to his knees and quickly kowtowed several times while calling out, “Master!” That day at ‘Returning Cloud Manor’ he had recounted to his six masters how Hong Qigong had taught him most of the ‘Eighteen Dragon- Subduing Palms’. The Six Freaks of Jiangnan were very happy and all said it was a pity this highly skilled extraordinary character of the Wulin world was not willing to take Guo Jing as his disciple. They told him that if Hong Qigong happened to reveal his willingness to take him, Guo Jing should accept without reservation.

Huang Rong was even happier. She smiled broadly and said, “Qigong, I have helped you find a very fine disciple. My contribution is not small. Starting today you will have somebody you can call your successor. How will you thank me?”

Hong Qigong made a face at her, “Kiss my ass!” Then he turned to Guo Jing and said, “Stupid kid [sha xiao zi - it’s a vulgar term, lit. foolish/dumb etc.], let me first teach you three stances.” He immediately taught Guo Jing the last three stances of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ right in front of everyone. Of course, compared to Guo Jing’s own three desperately-brewed stances, these moves were a world apart.

Ouyang Ke said to himself, “This old beggar’s martial arts are outstanding, but he is not too smart. He is concentrating on teaching his disciple, totally forgetting that I am standing here, watching.” With rapt attention he watched Guo Jing’s every move. But he did not see anything extraordinary. Sometimes Hong Qigong whispered something into Guo Jing’s ear. He guessed it must be the theory behind these three moves. Sometimes Guo Jing would nod his head, but most other times he just stood there, staring blankly or shook his head. Hong Qigong would repeat what he just said until Guo Jing reluctantly nodded his head; obviously he did not fully comprehend the theory. “This guy is really stupid,” he thought, “This short period of time is not enough for him to learn the three stances. I might as well take the opportunity to study them.”

In the meantime Hong Qigong had Guo Jing practice them six or seven times. “Good, smart disciple,” he said. “You have mastered about fifty percent of these three stances. Now go and beat this lecherous thief for me.”

“Yes,” Guo Jing answered and moved forward two steps and launched a palm toward Ouyang Ke. Ouyang Ke slanted his body and counterattacked with a fist. Thus the two engaged in a fight again.

The secret of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ lies in the exact timing of energy exertion. The moves themselves were quite simple. That was the reason that although Liang Ziweng, Mei Chaofeng and Ouyang Ke’s martial arts were higher than Guo Jing’s, he was able to fight them without losing ground. Just a moment ago Ouyang Ke was watching Hong Qigong pass on the three stances to Guo Jing and he knew Guo Jing had not fully comprehended the moves while he himself had memorized the stances. Yet, now that he was fighting Guo Jing, he found it difficult to overcome those three stances.

Guo Jing, on the other hand, had now mastered the complete set of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. He was able to use it from head to tail and back to head again. The fierceness of the original fifteen moves he had already mastered was greatly increased.

Ouyang Ke had used four different kinds of martial arts, yet he could only match Guo Jing without being able to gain the upper hand. Dozens of moves later he started to get anxious. “If I don’t use my family’s unique skills I may lose,” he thought. “I was trained by my uncle since childhood. How come I cannot defeat the old beggar’s disciple who received instructions just a moment ago? I am afraid the old beggar will look down on my uncle.”

A dozen or so moves later Guo Jing raised his hand to parry Ouyang Ke’s fist which suddenly turned around and hit Guo Jing’s skull from behind. Guo Jing was stunned. He ducked to avoid a blow while simultaneously throwing a fist slanting upward. Ouyang Ke stepped sideways and sent another fist. Guo Jing did not dare to parry that fist; he dodged to the right. Who would have thought that Ouyang Ke’s arm would suddenly move like a whip! Guo Jing clearly saw it was aiming at his left side but suddenly twisted to the right and struck Guo Jing’s shoulder.

Guo Jing was hit three times in a short period of time. These three hits were heavy; he was anxious for he had no idea how to deal with them. “Jing’er, stop!” Hong Qigong called out, “Let’s just admit defeat this time.”

Guo Jing leaped back about ten feet; he felt pain in the parts hit. To Ouyang Ke he said, “Your martial arts are really brilliant; turning your arm around like that was really odd.” Ouyang Ke was proud of himself; he cast a boastful look toward Huang Rong.

Hong Qigong said, “The Old Poison raises snakes for a living; this set of the ‘Snake’s Flexible Skin’ [ruan pi she] fists technique must be developed from the movements of venomous snakes’. It was brilliant. The old beggar has not been able to devise a method to overcome it. Just consider yourself lucky. Now, get out of my way!” Ouyang Ke’s heart turned cold. “Uncle warned me a thousand times not to use this ‘Spirit Snake Fist’ [ling she quan] unless in an extremely dangerous situation. Today I have let the old beggar see it. If my uncle finds out, I will be in big trouble.” His self- satisfaction disappeared almost immediately. He bowed toward Hong Qigong and walked out the temple.

“Hold on a second! I have something to say,” Huang Rong called out. Ouyang Ke halted his steps; his heart beat faster. But Huang Rong did not pay any attention to him. She turned toward Hong Qigong and bowed respectfully. “Qigong,” she said. “You have to accept two disciples today. Good things come in pairs; you have accepted a male disciple, now you must accept a female one. Otherwise I won’t let you off easily.”

Hong Qigong shook his head. “I have already made an exception by accepting one disciple,” he smiled. “The old beggar doesn’t want to talk about it. Moreover, your father is also highly skilled in martial arts, how could he let you take the old beggar as your master?”

Huang Rong pretended to be suddenly enlightened. “So, you are afraid of my father!” she exclaimed. Hong Qigong was provoked, but he was actually very fond of her. “Me? Afraid of your father?” he said with a straight face. “All right, I’ll take you as my disciple. I want to see if Old Heretic Huang will eat me alive.”

Huang Rong smiled. “You’ve said it, you can’t take it back,” she said. “You know, my father oftentimes remarked that after Wang Chongyang died, amongst the martial experts in this world, only you and he were the two people that counted. The Southern Emperor and the rest of them are not even in his books. I am sure father will love that I take you as my master. Master, how does a beggar catch a snake? Please teach me this skill first.”

Hong Qigong was not sure he knew her intentions, but he did know the young girl was smart. She must have had some clever trick up her sleeve. So he explained simply, “Grab the snake seven inches from its head. Use your two fingers like a pair of tongs. As long as you pinch the snake at seven inches, no matter how venomous the snake is, it won’t be able to move.”

“What if the snake is very big?” Huang Rong asked.

“Lure it to bite your left hand, then, use your right hand to hit it at seven inches,” Hong Qigong answered. “Do you have to be extremely quick?” Huang Rong asked again.

“Of course,” Hong Qigong replied. “You have to put some ointment on your left hand, so even if it gets bitten by the snake you won’t get hurt.”

Huang Rong nodded. She winked at Hong Qigong and asked, “Master, please apply the ointment to my hand.”

Catching snakes was the Beggar Clan’s specialty. Hong Qigong had never used any ointment or antidote; he would simply beat the snake with his stick. But, seeing Huang Rong’s meaningful glance, he took the scarlet gourd from his back, which actually contained some wine, and applied the wine to both of Huang Rong’s palms.

Huang Rong sniffed her palms, made a face, and said to Ouyang Ke, “Hey, I am now a world famous beggar, the Old Hero Hong’s disciple. I am asking for a lesson on the ‘Snake’s Flexible Skin’ from you. But I must warn you that my hands are full of the antidote to your poison, so you must be careful.”

“Having a match with you is exactly what I hoped for,” Ouyang Ke thought. “I don’t care what witchcraft is on your hands, as long as I don’t touch them.” So he smiled brightly and said, “I am willing to die by your hands.”

Huang Rong said, “Your other martial arts are so sloppy and ordinary, I only want to fight your stinky snake moves. If you use any other martial arts, you lose.”

“Whatever Miss says, I wouldn’t dare to disobey,” Ouyang Ke said.

Huang Rong laughed. “I can’t believe a bastard like you would have a very sweet mouth,” she said. “Watch out!” As soon as she finished speaking her fist came flying with Hong Qigong’s ‘Wandering Strides’ technique.

Ouyang Ke let the fist pass to his side. Huang Rong followed with her left leg kicking horizontally, while her right hand formed a hook. It was a stance from the ‘Peach Blossom Divine Sword Palm’, her own family heritage. Unfortunately Huang Rong was still too young and the time she spent on training was limited; however, this time her purpose was a victory, so she used whatever kungfu she knew, regardless of who passed it on to her.

Ouyang Ke saw the exquisiteness of her moves; he did not dare to be careless. His right arm extended and suddenly curved back to hit her shoulder. This move from the ‘Spirit Snake Fist’ was swift. His hand almost touched Huang Rong’s body when he suddenly remembered that she was wearing the soft hedgehog armor. Had he proceeded, wouldn’t his fist be dripping with blood?

Huang Rong quickly dodged and sent both her palms whishing toward an opening on his face. Ouyang Ke brushed his sleeve and parried her palms.

Huang Rong’s body was protected by the soft hedgehog armor, her hands were covered with ointment; the only part unprotected was her face. Ouyang Ke was in a predicament; he was getting attacked without any chance to hit back. Even though the ‘Spirit Snake Fist’ was wonderful; he was forced to fly east and dodge west trying to elude Huang Rong’s attack, while keeping himself from touching her palms. “If I hit her face to gain victory, that would be offensive to her, and if I pull her hair, I treat her rudely; other than that I can’t think of anything else,” he thought. But he suddenly had an idea. He stepped aside and quickly tore the corner of his sleeve; ripped it into two parts and wrapped them around his hands. With protected hands he tried to grab Huang Rong’s palms. “You lost!” Huang Rong jumped out of the arena and called out. “That’s not the ‘Stinky Snake Fist’.”

“Oh, I forgot,” Ouyang Ke said.

“Your ‘Stinky Snake Fist’ is not that special, it cannot defeat Hong Qigong’s disciple,” Huang Rong continued. “At the Zhao Palace you defeated me, but that was because you had Liang Ziweng, Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu, Reverend Ling Zhi, and also that wart- headed Hou Tonghai at your side. I was overwhelmed by sheer numbers; also I did not want to get into trouble, so I admitted defeat. All right, now that we have defeated each other, let’s just have a match to decide victory or defeat.”

Li Sheng and the others were taken aback, they thought, “Even though this young girl’s martial arts are good, she is definitely not this man’s match. She won by using a trick. Why would she add something superfluous and ruin the victory? What else does she want to prove?”

Hong Qigong on the other hand fully realized that this girl was full of clever tricks; she must have something in mind to trick the enemy. So he simply smiled but did not say anything. He continued gnawing the chicken leftovers and ate noisily; like that chicken was the best food in the world.

“Why are you so serious?” Ouyang Ke laughed. “You’ll win or I’ll win, it doesn’t make a difference. But if you really want to play, I will accompany you.”

“At the Zhao Palace we were surrounded by your friends. Had I won, they would surely attack me; thus I was not willing to fight you seriously,” Huang Rong said. “But now you have your friends,” she pointed to the female disciples/concubines in white, “and I also have my friends. Although you have more friends than I do, I am not afraid. Let us fight just like we did before: you may draw a circle on the ground; we will follow the same rule; whoever steps out of the circle first, loses. I have kowtowed and taken Senior Hong as my master; I also have highly skilled martial siblings, including this young man. You do not have to tie your hands behind your back as before.”

Ouyang Ke was amused. What she said was partly funny, but also, if you thought about it, it did make sense. So he planted his left foot on the floor, and used it as the axis; while his right foot was stretched three feet away. He turned around and made a circle about six feet in diameter.

The Beggar Clan people did not like him, but seeing this they could not help but secretly praise him.

Huang Rong entered the circle and said, “Are we going to fight the ‘soft’ way [‘wen’ – literary] or ‘hard’ way [‘wu’ – military, or martial arts]?”

Ouyang Ke was baffled, “You are eccentric,” he said in his heart, but his mouth asked, “How do fight the ‘soft’ way? And how do you fight the ‘hard’ way?”

“If we fight the soft way, I attack you three times, you don’t counterattack; then you attack me three times, I won’t counterattack,” Huang Rong explained. “If we fight the hard way, we can fight each other at will. You can use your ‘Dead Snake Fist’ or ‘Live Mouse Stance’, I don’t care. Whoever steps out of the circle first, loses.”

Ouyang Ke thought for a moment. “I think we’d better fight the ‘soft’ way,” he said. “That way, we can avoid injury and won’t spoil our friendship.”

“If you chose the ‘hard’ way, you will certainly lose,” Huang Rong said. “But if we fight the ‘soft’ way, you still have a chance. Good! Let us fight as you wish, the ‘soft’ way. Do you go first, or I go first?”

How could Ouyang Ke hit her first? “Certainly ladies first,” he said.

Huang Rong smiled. “You are sly! You know you will suffer a loss if you hit me first. All right, I am being generous to you; let me hit you first.”

Ouyang Ke was going to say, “In that case I will hit you first.” But before he could open his mouth Huang Rong had already shouted, “Watch out!” She immediately sent her palm to attack. Something flashed in her hand; as it turned out she was throwing some hidden projectiles.

Ouyang Ke saw the multitude of projectiles; normally he would use his folding fan to parry an attack like this, but his fan was crushed by Hong Qigong’s hand. He could also use his long sleeve to trap the projectiles, but he’d torn his sleeves earlier. The steel needles encompassed an area about six or seven feet wide; if he leaped sideways, he would be out of the circle. He had no time to consider any other alternatives, so he leaped about ten feet vertically. The steel needles flew below him.

Huang Rong waited until he was at the peak and was falling back down before she called out, “Here comes the second attack!” Her hands launched about a hundred steel needles. It was the ‘Blossoms Rain from the Sky’ needle tossing technique [man tian hua yu zhi jin zhen] from Hong Qigong. She did not even try to aim and just shot the needles toward Ouyang Ke.

Even if Ouyang Ke’s skills were much higher, his body was midair and there was simply no way he could avoid them. “I am finished!” he sighed in his heart, “This girl is so vicious.” Right at that moment he felt someone pulling his collar and his body moved back upward; with swishing noise the needles fell to the ground. Ouyang Ke knew somebody must have saved him. He was thrown back to the ground. It was not too hard, but the energy behind that throw was peculiar – a sign of a highly skilled martial artist; he fell left shoulder first. Naturally he tried to stand back up, but he was unable to do so. He rolled around on the floor a bit before he finally managed to stand. He knew it must be Hong Qigong, because nobody in that vicinity had that kind of skill. He was terrified yet upset and immediately walked out the temple without saying anything. His female disciples followed.

“Master, why did you save that scoundrel?” Huang Rong asked.

Hong Qigong smiled. “His uncle is an old friend of mine. That kid has committed many disgraceful acts; he deserves to be damned. But it wouldn’t be good for his uncle’s face if he were injured by my hand.” He patted Huang Rong on the shoulder and said, “Smart girl, you have given me much good face today. How should I reward you?”

Huang Rong stuck out her tongue. “I don’t want your bamboo stick,” she said.

“Even if you want it, I cannot give it to you,” Hong Qigong said. “I have a mind to teach you one or two kinds of kungfu, but I am too lazy these past few days. I don’t have any interest in doing anything.”

“I’ll prepare some good food for you to boost your interest,” Huang Rong offered.

Hog Qigong’s eyes lit up; but then he heaved a big sigh. “I don’t have time to eat right now. What a pity, what a pity …!” He turned to Li Sheng and the others and said, “The Beggar Clan has several matters we need to discuss internally.”

Li Sheng and the others came to Guo Jing and Huang Rong, expressing their gratefulness for saving their lives. Huang Rong had cut the rope that bound Miss Cheng’s hands and feet. Miss Cheng was extremely shy; she held Huang Rong’s hand and quietly said her thanks. Huang Rong pointed to Guo Jing and said, “Your Eldest Martial Uncle, Priest Ma taught him kungfu, your Martial Uncles Qiu and Wang are also very fond of him, so I can say that we belong to the same family.”

Miss Cheng turned her head toward Guo Jing and suddenly blushed. She lowered her head and after a while quietly stole a glance toward Guo Jing again.

Li Sheng and the others also congratulated Hong Qigong, Guo Jing and Huang Rong. They knew Qigong did not usually accept disciples; even amongst the Beggar Clan members did he rarely teach more than one or two stances. They wondered how Guo Jing and Huang Rong persuaded him so that he was willing to take them. In their hearts they envied these two.

“We are going to prepare a banquet tomorrow evening to congratulate Clan Leader on having accepted two very fine disciples,” Li Sheng said.

Hong Qigong smiled, “I am afraid they won’t like filthy foods, the kind we beggars eat.”

“We will certainly come,” Guo Jing hastily said, “Big Brother Li is a Senior Hero, Junior would very much like to know you.” Li Sheng had been saved by Guo Jing; thus he kept his eyes on this young man and listening to his humble speech he was even more delighted. He decided right then and there to befriend Guo Jing.

Hong Qigong said, “I am glad you two feel like old friends at your first meeting; but I warn you not to persuade my first disciple to be a beggar like you! You, my younger disciple, go and take Miss Cheng back home. We, the beggars are going to steal some chickens and beg for some rice.” After saying these words, he left the temple followed by all the beggars. Just before leaving Li Sheng told Guo Jing that the banquet tomorrow would be held in that very same temple.

Guo Jing accompanied Huang Rong escorting Miss Cheng back home.

Miss Cheng quietly told Huang Rong her full name was Cheng Yaojia. Even though she had learned martial arts from the ‘Sage of Tranquility’ Sun Bu’Er, she was born to a rich family and had been pampered since her childhood. Thus, by nature, she was very shy and did not know too many people. She was very different from Huang Rong who was carefree and brave. She did not dare to say even a half word to Guo Jing. Occasionally she would steal a glance and immediately lower her head; her cheeks blushed profusely.