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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 17

Chapter 17 – Mutual Hands Combat

“Did you think my martial brother became a ghost?” asked Zhou Botong, “Or did you think he came back to life again? No not at all. He was faking death.”

“Ah!” Guo Jing gasped. “Faking death!”

“Yes,” Zhou Botong answered. “A few days before he died, my martial brother found out that the Western Poison had been lurking around the temple and waiting for him to die so he could steal the book. Therefore, my martial brother stopped his breathing by using his excellent internal energy and feigned death. He knew that if he told his disciples they would not grieve convincingly. Then, since Western Poison is so crafty, he would see through the ruse straight away; that was the reason nobody knew martial brother’s plan. Anyway, my martial brother flew out from the coffin and struck Western Poison with the ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ [yi yang zhi]. Ouyang Feng clearly saw me from outside the window as I was beside my martial brother’s death bed. He obviously saw us placing the body inside the coffin. Now, suddenly, my martial brother jumped out of the coffin; he was so shocked that the blood drained from his body. He was so frightened by my martial brother that he did not move. My martial brother’s ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ hit him on the eyebrow and broke his many years of training the ‘Toad Stance’ [ha ma gong]. Ouyang Feng then escaped back to the west and I’ve never heard of his returning to the Central Plains. My martial brother laughed long and hard as he sat cross-legged on a table. I knew launching the ‘’Solitary Yang Finger’ consumed a lot of his energy, so he needed to meditate and restore his strength and I did not bother him. I ran outside and helped my martial nephews get rid of the other attacking enemies. When my nephews heard that their master was not dead, their happiness was beyond belief. We rushed back into the temple but then stopped dead in our tracks …”

“What happened?” Guo Jing asked nervously.

“I saw my martial brother’s body skewed to one side and his face looked strange,” Zhou Botong said. “I rushed to him and checked his pulse; his body was cold as ice. He was really dead this time. Martial brother’s last words were for us to divide the ‘‘Nine Yin Manual’’ into two parts, so that if somebody should steal one, the whole book would not be lost. I took the first part with the intention of hiding it later on, and brought the second part to the south to hide it on a mountain peak somewhere. On my way south I came across the Old Heretic Huang.”

“Ah!” Guo Jing exclaimed.

“Even though Old Heretic Huang’s behavior is queer and he is very arrogant, he is unlike the Western Poison who knows no shame and dared to come to steal the book,” Zhou Botong said. “Old Huang happened to be with a lady who turned out to be his wife.”

“That must be Rong’er’s mother,” Guo Jing thought, “I wonder if she knows that her mother was involved in this matter?”

“I saw them so happy together,” he heard Zhou Botong continue. “He said they were just married. I thought Old Heretic Huang was smart, what good would a wife do for him? So I teased him about the marriage. Old Heretic Huang did not get angry; he even invited me to have a drink. I told him about my martial brother playing dead and wounding Ouyang Feng. Old Heretic Huang’s wife was listening to my story; she asked me if she could take a look at the book. She told me she did not understand any martial arts, she was merely curious as to what kind of book had caused the deaths of numerous masters of the Wulin world. Naturally I did not let her. Now the Old Heretic Huang loved his young wife very much and he wanted to make her happy, so he said to me, ‘Botong, this woman does not know any martial arts at all. She is still young and loves to see amusing things. What’s the problem with letting her take a look? If I, Huang Yaoshi, cast a single glance toward your book, I will immediately gouge out my eyeballs and give it to you.’ Old Heretic Huang is a man who can be ranked among the best if this present age; his words, without doubt, carry a lot of weight. But to let somebody see the book is a grave matter, so I shook my head. Old Heretic Huang was not happy. He said, ‘How can it be that I don’t understand your difficulty with the book? If you agree to let my wife take a look, there will be time when this old Huang repays the Quanzhen Sect’s kindness. But if you don’t agree, that is entirely up to you. Who said that I have to have your friendship? I don’t even know any of your Quanzhen disciples.’ I understood very well his meaning. This man will do what he says. He felt uncomfortable giving me a hard time, but he could make things difficult for Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others. His martial arts skill is too high; it was not a good idea to provoke his anger.”

“That’s true,” said Guo Jing. “Priest Ma, Priest Qiu and the others are not his match.”

Zhou Botong continued, “At that time I said to him, ‘Old Heretic Huang, if you are angry come and find me, the Old Urchin. Why do you have to look for my martial nephews? Won’t that make you ‘the big bully the little’?’ When his wife heard me mentioning my nickname, ‘the Old Urchin’, she burst into laughter and said, ‘Big Brother Zhou, you love to play around; let us forget this whole thing and let us play around together. I don’t want to see your precious book anymore.’ She turned her head to Old Heretic Huang and said, ‘I think the ‘‘Nine Yin Manual’’ was stolen by that Ouyang fellow, that’s why Big Brother Zhou could not show it to me. If you keep pestering him I am afraid you will only make him lose face.’ Old Heretic Huang smiled and said, ‘That’s right. Botong, let me help you find that Old Poison and deal with him. His martial arts are above yours.’”

“Looks like Rong’er inherits her mother’s odd intelligence,” Guo Jing thought. To Botong he said, “They were just provoking you!”

“I know that!” said Zhou Botong, “But I didn’t want to lose to them. So I said, ‘The book is in my possession and I have no problem with letting sister-in-law taking a look. But you inferred the Old Urchin cannot defend the book; you have to prove it to me.’ The Old Heretic Huang smiled, ‘If we fight, we might injure our friendship. You are the Old Urchin; let us play like little kids.’ His wife clapped her hands and called out, ‘Goody, goody! Why don’t you two compete by playing with marbles?’ before I could answer him.”

Guo Jing showed a faint smile. Zhou Botong continued, “I am an expert in playing marbles; so I shouted, ‘Let’s play marbles then, do you think I am afraid of him?’ Madame Huang smiled and said, ‘Big Brother Zhou, if you lose, you will let me take a look at your book. But if you win, what do you want in return?’ The Old Heretic Huang immediately said, ‘The Quanzhen Sect has its treasure, don’t you think Peach Blossom Island also has one?’ He took out a shiny black cloth completely covered with thorns. Can you guess what it is?”

“Soft Hedgehog Armor [ruan wei jia],” Guo Jing said.

“That’s right, so you know of it,” Zhou Botong said. “The Old Heretic Huang said, ‘Botong, your martial arts are outstanding so naturally you don’t need any protection; but someday you will meet a girl urchin and soon have little urchins. This ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ will be invaluable for protecting the child; nobody will bully him. If you can beat me at marbles, this Peach Blossom Island treasure will be yours to keep.’ I said, ‘I won’t meet any girl urchin so naturally a little urchin will not be born; but your ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ is famous in the Wulin world. If I win it, I will wear it outside my clothing and then I will wander around Jianghu and let the people know that the Peach Blossom Island Master lost to the Old Urchin.’ Madame Huang interrupted, ‘Stop talking, after both brothers’ play then we can talk again.’ So we reached an agreement. Each man had to put nine marbles into nine holes, so I made eighteen holes altogether. Whoever put in nine marbles first will win the game.”

Listening to this part Guo Jing recalled his own childhood playing marbles with his sworn brother Tolui on the steppe, a smile broke out on his face. Meanwhile Zhou Botong continued, “I always carry plenty of marbles in my pocket, so we went outside to play our game. I paid close attention to Madame Huang’s movements and I found out she really did not know any martial arts. I went down and made some holes in the ground. I let Old Heretic Huang choose his marbles first, and he did. Then we started our game. His special hidden projectile skill, the ‘Divine Flicking Finger’ [tan zhi shen tong] is well known throughout the world. He knew his skill with small objects was superior to mine. But he did not know that this game had a secret; there was a slight difference in the way I made the holes. I made them in such a way that when a marble went in, it would jump right back out. You have to shoot the marble with the perfect amount of strength; it had to be just right with a little bit of pulling force behind it, so the marble will stay in the hole.”

Guo Jing never thought that playing marbles on the Central Plains would be so complicated; Mongolian kids would never be able to compete. He heard Zhou Botong proudly continue, “The Old Heretic Huang launched three marbles and all were right on target. But as soon as they entered the holes they would jump back out. He did not know my secret. In the meantime I flicked five marbles and all went into the holes and stayed. His secret projectile skill was very good; he tried hard to catch up to me by flicking three more marbles, while I put another marble in a hole. I was already in the lead, how could I let him catch up? He was having a hard time with the marbles. Secretly I was smug, thinking that his defeat was imminent; even the Heavens wouldn’t be able to help him. Ay! Who knew that the Old Heretic Huang would use a dirty trick to gain victory? Can you guess what he did?”

“He hurt your hand using his superior martial arts?” Guo Jing guessed.

“No, no,” Zhou Botong said. “The Old Heretic Huang is bad, but he is not stupid; he wouldn’t use such a foolish method. He knew he was going to lose, so he sent his energy into the marbles; he flicked three marbles and hit my last three. Mine were smashed while his marbles stayed intact.”

“Ah! Then you didn’t have any marbles left!” Guo Jing exclaimed.

“I had to helplessly watch him put his marbles into the holes one by one. Thus, I lost!” Zhou Botong said. “But that doesn’t count!” Guo Jing said.

“That was what I said,” Zhou Botong answered. “But Old Heretic Huang said, ‘Botong, we have agreed that whoever got all nine marbles inside the holes, he wins. Blame your own inadequacy! It was your own fault that you don’t have enough marbles to put into the holes. Therefore, you lost!’ I still think he was being deceitful, but I had to admit I didn’t expect his move. Also, even if I wanted to destroy his marbles I couldn’t do what he did; I can’t hit a marble without smashing my own. So I secretly admired his ability. I said, ‘Sister-in-law Huang, I will let you see the book but I want it back by sundown.’ I said that because I was afraid they would say, ‘We didn’t say how long we might borrow the book; we haven’t finished looking at it so why are you taking it back?’ If that happened, the book would be in their hands for ten or even a hundred years.”

Guo Jing nodded his approval. “Right! Luckily Big Brother is smart and could foresee this. If it was me, I would fall for their scheme.”

Zhou Botong shook his head, “Speaking of intelligence, who on earth can be compared to the Old Heretic Huang? I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to find a wife who was as smart as he is. At that time Sister-in-law Huang only showed a faint smile, she said, ‘Big Brother Zhou, you are known as the Old Urchin, but you are smart. You are afraid it will be the same as Liu Bei borrowing the city of Jingzhou forever, aren’t you? Don’t you worry; I will sit right here in front of your eyes and I won’t hide in a secret place. If you are feeling uneasy, you can stay by my side and stand guard.’ I listened to her say this and I took the book from my pocket and handed it over to her. Sister-in-law Huang took it and walked to a tree and sat on an upturned rock.

The Old Heretic Huang saw I still showed some trepidation on my face and said, ‘Old Urchin, in this present age, how many people can defeat us two in martial arts?’ I replied, ‘Nobody can necessarily defeat you; but to defeat me, including you there are four or five people!’ Old Heretic Huang smiled, ‘You flatter me. Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor and Northern Beggar are four people and each one has his own strengths; none could defeat any of the others. Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’ has already been broken by your martial brother, so for ten years he won’t be able to compete with us. There is ‘Iron Palm Floating on Water’, Qiu Qianren and I’ve heard his martial arts are good, but because he did not attend the ‘Sword Meet on Mount Hua’ [hua shan lun jian], I am not sure that his martial arts are superb. Old Urchin, I believe that other than these people, you are number one in terms of martial arts. If we combine our strength, nobody can beat us.’ I said, ‘Naturally!’ Old Heretic Huang then asked, ‘Why then, are you so anxious? With both of us standing right here; who in the world could come and steal your precious book?’ He was very reasonable, so I felt better.

I saw Madame Huang flipping one page after another and she read attentively from the beginning; her lips moved slightly which I found a little funny. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contains high-level secrets of martial arts; even if she was well versed in literature, I am afraid she wouldn’t comprehend even half a word. She read slowly from the beginning to the end, taking her time. I waited impatiently until she finally flipped the last page. I thought she was done, but she unexpectedly turned to the first page and read again. But this time she read quickly and finished in the time needed to drink a cup of tea. She gave the book back to me and smiled, ‘Big Brother Zhou, you have been deceived by the Western Poison; this is not the ‘Nine Yin Manual’!’ I was shocked. I asked, ‘What do you mean it isn’t? Obviously this was left behind by my martial brother and it looks good to me!’ Madame Huang replied, ‘What use is this book? Ouyang Feng obviously swapped your book for this cheap copy on how to do fortune telling and divination’.”

“Could it be that Ouyang Feng swapped the books before the Venerable Wang came out of the coffin?” Guo Jing asked.

“That was what I thought at first,” Zhou Botong replied. “But I’ve known for some time that Old Heretic Huang is very shrewd; I could not really believe what his wife said either. Madame Huang saw me standing silently; she knew I doubted her words, so she asked, ‘Big Brother Zhou, how do you know this is the real ‘Nine Yin Manual’?’ I told her, ‘Ever since my martial brother took possession of the book, nobody has ever seen its contents. Martial Brother had said that he fought for seven days and seven nights to avoid further bloodshed in the Wulin world, not for his personal gain. Therefore, he forbade the Quanzhen disciples from learning any martial arts from the books. Madame Huang then said, ‘Venerable Wang had a just and upright heart, truly deserving of endless admiration. Even so, there are other people who would not hesitate to deceive him. Big Brother Zhou, you go ahead and take a look at the book.’ I hesitated, remembering my deceased martial brother’s last words that I did not dare to defy. Madame Huang continued, ‘This is a book of divination that is available anywhere in Jiangnan and not worth half a ‘wen’ [Chinese coin]. Besides, even if this book is the real ‘Nine Yin Manual’, it is all right to look as long as you do not learn anything from it, isn’t it?’

So I opened the book and looked at the first page. To me the book seemed to be describing methods and techniques for practicing martial arts; where was fortune telling and divination stuff? Madame Huang said, ‘I have played with this kind of book since I was five; I know the contents from the beginning to the end. Of we Jiangnan kids, nine out of ten are familiar with it. If you don’t believe me, just listen to this.’ Having said that, words started flowing like water from her mouth; she recited the book from the beginning to the end. I looked at the book to see if she really was reciting it from memory. Indeed, not a single word was wrong. My body turned cold, as though I’d been plunged into a hole full of ice. Madame Huang also said, ‘No matter which page you want me to recite, as long as you read the beginning, I can recite the rest for you. I have read this kind of book since I was little, so I won’t forget its contents.’ I chose several sections just as she said and she did recite them without hesitation.

The Old Heretic Huang burst out in laughter. I was really angry; I tore the book to pieces and then burned it. Old Heretic Huang said, ‘Old Urchin, you don’t need to lose your urchin’s temper. Let me give you the ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’.’ I wasn’t aware I’d fallen for his scheme; I thought I looked so upset to him that he wanted to ease my feelings. I was upset, but how could I take the treasure of Peach Blossom Island? So I thanked him without taking his gift. I went back to my hometown and closed the door on the world. I wanted to practice my martial arts. I knew at that time that I was not Ouyang Feng’s match, so I was determined to train hard for five years. I thought I would go to the west to take the book back from the Western Poison. My martial brother entrusted me with the book and the Old Urchin could not keep it safe. How could I face martial brother in the underworld?”

“The Western Poison is so crafty. I know you must deal with him; but wouldn’t it be a lot better if you take Priest Ma, Priest Qiu and the others with you?” Guo Jing asked.

“Ay! I can only blame my own arrogance,” Zhou Botong said, “After suffering from that humiliation I did not want to talk to Ma Yu and the others. If I did they would certainly see something was amiss. Several years later there arose a rumor amongst the Jianghu people that the Peach Blossom Island disciples, the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ had gotten hold of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. They had mastered several kinds of exquisite martial arts from the book and created havoc everywhere. At first I did not believe it, but the rumor got stronger. A year later, Qiu Chuji came to my home. His visit was in connection with the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ affair. He said that the book really had fallen into the Peach Blossom Island disciples’ hands. I was fuming mad and said, ‘Old Heretic Huang is not worthy to be my friend!’ Qiu Chuji was taken aback, ‘Martial Uncle, why did you say Huang Yaoshi was not worthy to be your friend?’ I told him, ‘He went to get the book back from Western Poison without consulting me and did not give it back to me.’”

“I think he intended to do it, but right after he got the book back it was stolen by his renegade disciples,” Guo Jing reasoned. “I know he was quite angry because of this, so he cut the ligaments in the legs of his other innocent disciples and expelled them from his school.”

Zhou Botong shook his head. “You are as naive as I was; if this affair happened to you, you would surely be bullied without knowing it,” he said. “That day Qiu Chuji discussed martial arts with me and we talked at length before he finally left. Two months later he suddenly reappeared. He had visited Chen Xuanfeng and Mei Chaofeng, the couple that had stolen the Old Heretic Huang’s book. They were practicing the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ and ‘Heart Destroying Palm’, two evil martial arts. He took a big risk to eavesdrop on the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ conversation and found out that Old Heretic Huang did not get the book from Ouyang Feng. Not at all … he’d stolen it from my hands.”

“You burned the book. Did Madame Huang swap the book and gave you a fake one?” Guo Jing asked.

“I guarded against that possibility from the beginning,” Zhou Botong said. “When Madame Huang looked at the book, I did not dare to move even half a step from her side. She did not know martial arts. Even if her hands and feet were swift she could not get away from we who practice hidden projectiles. No, she did not make a swap; she merely recorded it in her mind!”

Guo Jing did not understand. “How did she record it?” he asked.

Zhou Botong answered his question with another, “Brother, when you are reading a book, how many times do you have to read it until you commit what you read into your memory?”

“If it is easy … maybe thirty or forty times. If it is difficult or long, probably seventy or eighty times, or even a hundred times. Even after I read it a hundred times, I still cannot guarantee its accuracy,” Guo Jing replied.

“Speaking of brain power, I am afraid you cannot be considered smart,” Zhou Botong said.

“Your Brother is dumb by nature,” Guo Jing admitted. “It doesn’t matter whether I am studying literature or martial arts, I am always very slow.”

Zhou Botong sighed. “Let’s not talk about studying literature,” he said. “Just talk about practicing martial arts. When you learned a fist or palm technique, didn’t your masters have to teach you dozens of times before you could understand it?”

Guo Jing’s face was red with shame. “That’s true,” he said. “Sometimes I knew it but couldn’t recall it, and sometimes I remembered it but could not apply it.”

“But there are people in the world who, simply by watching other people do a stance, will be able to remember it forever,” Zhou Botong said.

“Totally correct!” Guo Jing exclaimed. “Island Master Huang’s daughter is just like that. When Benevolent Master [Enshi] Hong taught her martial arts, at most he would teach her twice; it was very seldom that he had to repeat the lesson three times.”

“That girl is so smart,” Zhou Botong slowly said, “Let’s just hope she won’t share her mother’s short life! That day when Madame Huang borrowed my book she only read it twice, yet she did not miss a single word. After we bade farewell she wrote down everything for her husband to see.”

Guo Jing could not restrain his amazement. He was silent for a while only to say, “Madame Huang did not understand what she was reading; yet she was able to memorize the whole thing. How can there be such an intelligent person on the earth?”

“I am afraid your little friend, that Huang girl, is also capable of doing that,” Zhou Botong said. “Anyway, after listening to Qiu Chuji I was ashamed. I immediately summoned the Quanzhen Sect’s seven first generation disciples to discuss this matter. Everybody agreed we should deal with the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ and get the book back from them. Qiu Chuji said, ‘The ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ martial arts skills may be high, We are your juniors so Martial Uncle does not need to go into action personally; otherwise the heroes of Jianghu would say that the older generation bullied the younger one.’ I thought he was right, so I assigned one or two of them to find the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ while the rest shadowed from out of sight to guard against the ‘Twin Killers’ escaping.”

Guo Jing nodded his head in agreement, “If all the Quanzhen Seven Masters went into action the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ wouldn’t have a chance.” His mind wandered to the time when Priest Ma Yu along with his six masters masqueraded as the Quanzhen Seven Masters atop the barren Mongolian hill.

“They pursued the ‘Twin Killers’ as far as Henan, when the two unexpectedly disappeared,” Zhou Botong continued. “The Quanzhen Seven tried to get information and as it turned out another disciple of Old Heretic Huang, Lu Chengfeng had gathered dozens of heroes and valiant people of the Central Plains to fight those two with the intention of capturing them, sending them back to Peach Blossom Island and handing them over to the Old Heretic Huang. Nevertheless, they were still able to escape and vanished without a trace.”

“No wonder Village Master Lu hated his martial brother and martial sister so much; he was unjustly expelled from his school,” Guo Jing said.

“Since I couldn’t find the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’, naturally I looked for Old Heretic Huang. I carried the first volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ because I was afraid I might lose this one as well. Upon arrival at Peach Blossom Island I scolded the Old Heretic Huang, but he said, ‘Botong, Huang Yaoshi always means what he says. I said I wouldn’t cast a glance at ‘your’ book and when did I look at it? The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ that I saw was the one recorded by my wife, certainly not your book.’ His words sounded reasonable, but I was furious so I spoke harsh words to him and asked to talk to his wife. He smiled bitterly and led me to the main hall. As soon as we were there I was shocked. It turned out Madame Huang had passed away. There in the main hall was her memorial tablet.

I was going to pay my respects to her spirit but Old Heretic Huang sneered and said, ‘Old Urchin! You don’t have to be pretentious on my behalf. If not for your damned ‘dog fart manual’ [gou pi zhen jing] my wife wouldn’t have left me.’ I was startled, ‘What?’ I asked. He didn’t answer and only looked at me with angry eyes; then tears started rolling down his cheeks. After a long while, he began to tell me what really happened.

Madame Huang wrote down the book the first time for her husband’s sake. Huang Yaoshi then found out that the book in his hands was the second volume which was harmful if used without knowing the first volume. So he decided to set the book aside while he was trying to get hold of the first volume. Who would have thought that the book would be stolen by Chen Xuanfeng and Mei Chaofeng? Madame Huang wanted to comfort her husband and she was quietly determined to rewrite the whole book.

First of all, she did not understand the meaning of what she wrote; she merely memorized the words. Secondly, it had been several years since she wrote it the first time; how could she remember everything? At that time she was entering the eighth month of her pregnancy. After much painstakingly hard thought she was able to re-write about seven or eight thousand words, but not every word was accurate. Her heart and mind were exhausted and because of that she gave birth to a baby girl prematurely. The baby was healthy, but her own condition was like a lantern that had run out of oil. Even though Huang Yaoshi’s medical skill is peerless, in the end, he was not able to save his beloved wife’s life.

Old Heretic Huang always loved to vent his anger and blame others; during this time after his wife passed away, he was like a madman and talked incoherently to me. I knew he was grieving so I did not want to argue with him. I simply smiled and said to him, ‘You are a pugilist, yet you invest so much feeling towards the husband and wife relationship. Aren’t you afraid you are becoming the laughing stock of other people?’ ‘My wife was different,’ he said. I told him, ‘Your wife died and now is the best time to train your martial arts. If it were me, that is exactly what I would expect of myself. The earlier your wife died the better. Congratulations! Congratulations!’”

“Ah!” Guo Jing gasped. “How could you say such thing?”

Zhou Botong eyes rolled, “I said what I was thinking; what’s wrong with that?” he snapped. “But that Old Heretic Huang got angry and without saying anything he struck me with his palm and we fought. In the end I had to stay in this stupid place for fifteen years.”

“Did you lose to him?” Guo Jing asked.

Zhou Botong smiled, “If I’d won, I wouldn’t be here. He hit me until I was spitting up blood. I ran away until I found this cave. He pursued me, wanting to break my legs. He also wanted to snatch the first volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ and burn it in front of his wife’s memorial tablet. I hid the book in a hole and sat at the cave entrance guarding it. I said that if he resorted to force I would destroy the book immediately. He said, ‘I will find a way to force you out of there.’ I said, ‘We’ll see!’

Just like that and I have been here for fifteen years. That man is arrogant, but he is not desperate yet, so I am sure he won’t put poison in my food. But he has used every means possible to force me out of here. I leave the cave only to urinate and defecate so he won’t have any opportunity to sneak in. Only I have to live with this stench. Sometimes I pretend to have a bowel movement. His heart itches to lay his fingers on it, but he ended up enjoying the smelly thing.” He ended his narration by laughing heartily.

Listening to his story Guo Jing was fascinated. He found this big brother of his to be smart and witty. Zhou Botong continued, “After fifteen years he started to attack my heart and mind, but so far I’ve been able to defend myself. Last night I was almost broke; fortunately a ghost or angel brought you here and you helped me. If not, this book would certainly have fallen into Old Heretic Huang’s hands. Ay! Old Heretic Huang’s ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave Song’ contains strong internal energy, very profound.”

Guo Jing listened to him recounting this tale of gratitude and grudges; his heart was troubled. “Big Brother, what will you do now?” he asked.

Zhou Botong smiled, “I will continue our competition. We’ll see if Old Heretic Huang outlives me, or I’ll live a few years longer than him. I told you the life story of Huang Shang a while ago; he outlived all his enemies.”

Guo Jing felt this was not a good idea, but he didn’t have anything better, so he asked, “How come Priest Ma Yu and the others did not come to rescue you?”

“Most probably they don’t even know I am here,” Zhou Botong said. “Even if they do, the vegetation on this island is so strange that unless Old Heretic Huang himself gives consent, other people won’t be able to enter Peach Blossom Island. Also, even if they come to rescue me, I won’t go. I haven’t finished the competition with Old Heretic Huang yet.”

After talking with Zhou Botong for half a day, Guo Jing decided that even though this man was old, he was filled with childlike innocence and always spoke straightforwardly and without any pretensions.

In the meantime the sun had climbed high in the sky. The old servant came to deliver their meal. After finishing eating Zhou Botong continued, “I have stayed on Peach Blossom Island for fifteen years, yet my time was not totally wasted. Here my heart and mind are clear, without any distractions. Here I have achieved what would take twenty-five years to achieve elsewhere. Although I know I have advanced greatly, it’s too bad I didn’t have a sparring partner. I had to use my left hand to fight my right hand.”

Guo Jing was astonished. “How can the left hand fight with the right hand?” he asked.

“I pretend my right hand is the Old Heretic Huang and the left hand is the Old Urchin. The right hand attacks, the left hand neutralizes that attack and launches a counterattack, like this,” Zhou Botong said, then moved his hands to battle each other.

At first Guo Jing thought it was very funny; but after several moves he realized that the stances were wonderfully mysterious. He couldn’t help but feel great admiration. People who practice martial arts, regardless as to whether they are barehanded or wield a saber or thrust a spear, will always use both hands either to attack or to defend. But Zhou Botong was different. He used one hand to attack and the other to defend; each attack was fierce and always aimed at vital points, while the defending hand would parry and counterattack with no less fierceness. It truly was like two people fighting each other. Guo Jing had never seen nor heard of anything like this before.

After watching Zhou Botong fight himself for a moment Guo Jing commented, “Big Brother, why don’t you use your feet too?”

Zhou Botong halted and smiled, “Not a bad observation! You could see through my moves. Come, come! You try!” While speaking thus he stretched his palm to attack. Guo Jing also stretched his to parry.

“Careful! I am going to push you to the left,” Zhou Botong said. As soon as he finished speaking he exerted his energy. Guo Jing was ready, even before Zhou Botong warned him he had prepared himself to use the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. Two great forces collided and Guo Jing staggered back seven or eight steps. He felt his arm become sore and numb.

“This time I borrowed strength from my feet and you were pushed back,” Zhou Botong said, “Now I am not going to use my feet. You try again.”

Guo Jing followed his bidding to attack again, but suddenly he felt a pushing and pulling force. He was unable to keep steady, so he fell forward and his forehead hit the ground. He crawled as he tried to stand up; he was in a daze.

Zhou Botong smiled, “Do you understand?” “No, I don’t,” Guo Jing replied.

“I developed this technique through training and meditation after toiling for more than ten years inside this hole,” Zhou Botong said. “My martial brother once told me about the technique of using emptiness to gain victory. At that time my understanding of Taoist principles was still shallow. I heard him but I didn’t understand. About five years ago I was moving my hands when it suddenly dawned on me that I could develop a palm technique using that principle. I was unsure about it since it was only a theory and I have never tried it in real combat. Brother, come and fight me again. Please don’t fear the pain. I am going to make you fall a few more times.”

He saw Guo Jing hesitate, so he tried to persuade him again, “Good Brother, I have been here for fifteen years and always longed for someone to come and train with me. Several months ago Old Heretic Huang’s daughter came and talked with me to ease my boredom. I was thinking of training with her, but she did not return the next day. Good Brother, I’m certainly not going to hit you too hard.”

Guo Jing saw both of his hands were itching to move and his face showed eagerness that was hard to resist, so he agreed and said, “So what if I fall a few more times?” He launched his palm and fought a few stances; but it seemed that Zhou Botong’s palm was sometimes void of strength. He was about to fall again when Zhou Botong’s left hand suddenly hit his shoulder from below. His body was sent somersaulting in the air and he fell to the ground hard. His shoulder was hurting badly.

Zhou Botong’s face showed regret and he said, “Good Brother, I can’t let you fall for nothing. Hear me out and I’ll teach you this technique.” Guo Jing endured the pain and crawled near to him.

Zhou Botong said, “In Lao Tse’s [the founder of Taoism] ‘The Book of the Way’ [dao de jing] there is a saying: ‘a clay utensil is useful because it is empty, a room is useful because it is empty.’ Do you understand this saying?” [There are several spellings Lao Tse’s name and several translations of the name of his book. I chose these.- ed]

Guo Jing’s literary knowledge was limited so naturally he did not understand the saying. He smiled sheepishly and shook his head.

Zhou Botong took a rice bowl they’d used earlier. “This bowl is empty inside, that’s why we can fill it with rice. If it was a solid clump of clay, how could we put food inside it?” he asked.

Guo Jing nodded and thought, “It is a very simple truth, but I’ve never thought about it.”

“Likewise a house can be occupied by people because it has four walls and windows and doors in those walls,” Zhou Botong added. “What good is it if the building is made of solid brick without windows and doors?

Guo Jing nodded again; his heart was more open to this truth.

Zhou Botong continued, “Our Quanzhen Sect’s highest martial art is based on these two characters ‘empty’ [gong] and ‘soft’ [ruo]. It was called so because ‘lacking accomplishment does not necessarily mean weak, lacking fullness does not necessarily mean empty.’”

Following these deep and profound thoughts Guo Jing listened attentively and pondered deeply.

Zhou Botong added, “In terms of energy exertion, your master Hong Qigong’s martial arts are on the external side of the spectrum. Even though I know Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts, I am not his match. But I am afraid that once you reach certain level of external type martial arts you cannot go much higher. Not so with the internal type of martial arts, the type that my martial brother practiced. The time when my martial brother won the title ‘Number One in the Martial Arts World’ he was not just lucky. If he was still alive today and with the additional ten years of training, if he again fought Eastern Heretic, Western Poison and the others, I believe he would probably only need half a day, not seven whole days and nights, to subdue them.”

“Founder Wang’s martial arts were truly amazing; Brother is unfortunate not to have made his acquaintance,” Guo Jing said. “Benevolent Master Hong’s ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ are the pinnacle of the ‘hard’ type of martial arts; but a moment ago Big Brother made me fall to the ground using the worlds ‘softest’ type of martial arts, isn’t that so?”

Zhou Botong laughed. “That’s true, that’s true,” he said. “Although the soft can subdue the hard, I wouldn’t be able to push you that easily if your ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ was as fierce as Hong Qigong’s. It all depends on the depth of your comprehension. Do you remember the move I used to push you down just a moment ago? Try to remember it well.” And then he carefully explained how to move the hand and how to exert the energy. He knew Guo Jing’s comprehension was slow, so he took his time explaining everything.

Guo Jing tried the move dozens of times; fortunately he had a good foundation in profound internal energy techniques from the Quanzhen Sect, so he was able to grasp it, albeit slowly.

Zhou Botong was elated and said, “Brother, if your pain has lessened, let me make you fall one more time.”

Guo Jing laughed. “Pain is nothing,” he said, “But I am afraid I won’t be able to remember your lesson.” While speaking he was still trying hard to memorize everything.

Zhou Botong had childlike enthusiasm so he kept urging, “Is it enough? Have you memorized it? Come on, quickly!”

But his nagging was actually disturbing Guo Jing’s mind. After some time was he finally able to memorize the move. So again he charged towards Zhou Botong and again he fell down.

Day and night those two trained together. Guo Jing was a young man, so he did not need too much sleep; but even when he did, Zhou Botong wouldn’t let him. He kept urging him to train. Guo Jing fell down seven or eight hundred times. His body was swollen, hurt all over and covered with purple bruises. Fortunately he was strong, so he just gritted his teeth and doggedly learned and finally mastered Zhou Botong’s special skill which he’d created during his fifteen years inside the cave, the seventy-two move ‘Vacant Fist’ [kong ming quan].

The two were so engrossed in training their martial arts that they did not know how many days passed. Guo Jing thought about Huang Rong all day, but since he was unable to seek her, he had to be content with waiting patiently. Several times he wanted to go with the mute servant who delivered their meals to find her; but every time, Zhou Botong called him back.

One day right after lunch Zhou Botong said, “You have mastered the entire ‘Vacant Fist’. After this I won’t be able to make you fall so easily; so we have to change the way we play.”

“Very well. How should we play?” Guo Jing asked, laughing.

“We will play as though four people were fighting each other,” Zhou Botong replied. “Four people?” Guo Jing was perplexed. “Absolutely,” Zhou Botong said. “Four people! My left hand is one person, my right the other and your pair of hands are the two other people. Four separate individuals and nobody help anybody. Four people in a tangled battle! That should be more interesting.”

Guo Jing’s interest was piqued. “It certainly is interesting; too bad I cannot separate my left and right hands,” he smiled as he said it.

“I mean to teach you that later,” Zhou Botong said. “For now, let us just have a three-way fight.” His hands made two people and attacked Guo Jing immediately. He separated himself into two different entities and each hand launched a different stance. They did not complement each other and it was completely different to one person using two hands. When his left hand was giving Guo Jing a hard time, his right hand would come to Guo Jing’s rescue. Likewise when his right was gaining the upper hand, his left fought his right. When Guo Jing gained the upper hand, Botong’s hands would fight together like two people facing one opponent. In short, it was like three separate individuals fighting with each other. After fighting for a while they stopped for a rest.

Guo Jing thought this way of playing was very amusing; but he could not help but remember Huang Rong. He thought that if she was here, the three people would be able to fight as six individuals. He was sure Huang Rong would be very interested.

Zhou Botong was full of enthusiasm. As soon as Guo Jing caught his breath he taught him how to divide his hands into the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’. This technique was actually more difficult than the ‘Vacant Fist’.

There is a saying, ‘The mind cannot be divided,’ and something along the same line, ‘The left hand drawing a square, the right hand drawing a circle, is not a good habit.’ But this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique was exactly that: dividing one’s mind into two. And the way to train it was by drawing a square with the left hand and a circle with the right hand. Guo Jing practiced doing the drawings. Initially his square resembled a circle and his circle looked like a square. He painstakingly practiced for a long time before he finally got the hang of it and both hands could simultaneously draw a perfect square and circle at will.

Zhou Botong was very excited. “If you hadn’t practiced our Quanzhen’s internal energy cultivation, which enables you to combine inner and outer strength, how could you master this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique so quickly?” he said. “Now, use your left hand to launch the ‘South Mountain Fist’ technique [nan shan quan] and your right hand the ‘Yue Maiden Sword’ technique [yue nu jian].” These were the martial arts Guo Jing learned from Nan Xiren and Han Xiaoying. Guo Jing knew these techniques by heart, but launching them at the same time, one with each hand, was actually very difficult.

Zhou Botong was dying to play the ‘four persons mutual combat’, so he urged Guo Jing to train and he did not stop giving instructions and pointers. A few days later Guo Jing had mastered the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique. Zhou Botong’s delight was boundless. “Come, come!” he urged, “Your left hand and my left one form an alliance against your right hand and mine. Let us have a martial arts contest.”

Guo Jing was still young, how could this kind of game not interest him? Immediately his right hand fought Zhou Botong’s left while his left hand fiercely fought Zhou Botong’s right. No one had ever seen or heard of this kind of battle.

While they were fighting each other and themselves, Zhou Botong gave Guo Jing pointers unceasingly on how to attack swiftly and fiercely and how to form a stable defense. Guo Jing listened and committed each and every one of them to memory.

Zhou Botong only wanted to have an interesting playtime, but Guo Jing’s mind came up with other thoughts. One day when they were playing, he thought, “If our legs can also be divided, wouldn’t two people be able to fight as eight individuals?” But he knew if he brought this up, Zhou Botong would go on indefinitely, so he refrained from saying anything.

Several more days passed. Guo Jing and Zhou Botong fought as four separate individuals. Zhou Botong was having fun; he fought and laughed heartily. Guo Jing’s skill was still shallow, so when one of his hands was unable to defend, the other involuntarily would come to its rescue. Zhou Botong’s fists moved rapidly and Guo Jing was not able to keep fighting as separate individuals, so he often became one individual fighting two people, as in the ‘three person mutual combat’. But his two hands launched different moves, so it was like two Guo Jings fighting together hand-to-hand against two opponents.

Zhou Botong laughed heartily, “You are fighting without regard to the rules,” he said.

Guo Jing jumped back. He was silent for a while then opened his mouth, “Big Brother, I have been thinking of something.” “What is it?” Zhou Botong asked.

“Well, your hands can launch completely different moves. Why can’t they work together like two people facing a common enemy? This technique can be very useful; if your enemy is strong, you can divide your mind and help yourself. Although the force won’t be doubled, the stances would enjoy a great advantage.”

Zhou Botong had created the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique out of boredom while living in the cave alone. It never occurred to him that he could actually use the technique in real combat. Now that Guo Jing reminded him of it a thought suddenly flashed back and forth in his mind. He suddenly leaped out of the cave and walked back and forth at the cave entrance, laughing incessantly.

Guo Jing saw the sudden change in his actions, like an evil spirit possessed him; he became anxious and called out, “Big Brother, what happened to you? What is it?”

Zhou Botong did not answer but kept laughing. After a while he said, “Brother, I am coming out of this hole! I am not going to urinate, I don’t need to have a bowel movement, but I am coming out.” “You are!” Guo Jing exclaimed.

Zhou Botong smiled, “Right now my martial arts are number one in the world, why should I fear Huang Yaoshi? I only hope he will show up so I can beat him really good.”

“Are you sure you can defeat him?” Guo Jing asked.

“Actually my martial arts are still a notch below his, but by dividing my mind I can be two people against one; nobody can defeat me. Huang Yaoshi, Hong Qigong, Ouyang Feng, their martial arts are superb; but how can they defeat two Zhou Botongs?” Guo Jing was delighted; what Zhou Botong said seemed very reasonable.

“Brother,” Zhou Botong continued, “You understand this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique; all you need is just a few more years of practice and then your martial arts skills will be doubled.” As they chatted, the two became more and more excited.

Before this time, Zhou Botong was afraid Huang Yaoshi would come and make things difficult for him; but now he hoped Huang Yaoshi would show up. He would beat him up and leave this awfully smelly cave forever. He impatiently looked outside hoping to catch a glimpse of Huang Yaoshi’s shadow. He would’ve dashed out to seek him if he hadn’t known the pathways on the island were arranged mysteriously.

That night the mute servant came to deliver their dinner. Zhou Botong grabbed his neck and said, “Quickly tell Huang Yaoshi to come, tell him to test my new technique!” But the old servant only shook his head.

Zhou Botong swore and uttered some indistinct remark before he suddenly realized, “Bah! I forgot you are deaf and mute!” Turned his head to Guo Jing he said, “Tonight we must eat really well.” Then he reached out to grab the food basket.

Guo Jing’s nostrils caught a delicious smell coming from the basket, unlike the meals they usually got. He hastily opened the basket and saw two small dishes of vegetables with a big bowl of chicken cooked with winter-picked mushrooms…one of his favorites. With a thumping heart he took a porcelain spoon to scoop a spoonful of the soup. It tasted exactly like the one Huang Rong prepared for him, so he was certain it was from Huang Rong. His heart thumped even harder. Quickly he looked at the basket to see if there was anything unusual. He found a box with ten steamed buns inside. One of them had the image of a gourd, carved with a nail. The marking was so subtle that if he had not paid attention he would surely have missed it. Guo Jing knew this bun was unusual. With a trembling hand he picked up the bun, broke it into halves, and found a wax pill inside. Guo Jing observed that Zhou Botong and the old servant were not looking his way, so he quickly slipped the pill inside his pocket.

This time the two men ate their dinner without caring about its taste: one was eating while thinking of how to have the peerless martial art in the world. While the right hand grabbed a steamed bun the left hand threw some fists, so both hands were very busy. Sometimes they fought each other while the mouth was chewing. The other person wanted to eat as fast as he could so that he could see what Huang Rong had hidden inside the wax pill.

Zhou Botong ate the last steamed bun with some effort and with a noisy slurp he finished the soup too. The old servant cleaned up and took the basket away. Guo Jing hurriedly pulled out the wax pill, crushed it, and took out the paper hidden inside. It was indeed Huang Rong’s handwriting. It said, ‘Jing ge ge, please do not worry. Father and I are reconciled. I will carefully arrange to ask him to release you.’ The letter was closed with two characters, ‘Rong’er’. Guo Jing was ecstatic; he showed the letter to Zhou Botong.

Zhou Botong laughed. “Leave it to me,” he said. “He can’t refuse to release you; we will compel him to, so there’s no need to ask him nicely. If he refuses, I will imprison him in this hole for fifteen years. Aiyo! That’s not right! What if, in fifteen years, he finds the secret of the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’?”

The sky was gradually becoming dark. Guo Jing sat cross-legged and was going to practice internal energy. But his mind kept wandering back to Huang Rong. For a long time he could not concentrate. Finally he was able to calm himself and his chest relaxed; he started to breath evenly. A sudden thought came to his mind: if he could divide his mind to control two hands and use two different martial arts, why not try dividing his breathing into two? So he closed one of his nostrils and practice breathing using only one nostril.

He had practiced for about an hour and felt that he had made some progress when he heard some rustling sounds. He opened his eyes and could see in the dark somebody with long hair and a long beard moving around; Zhou Botong was practicing martial arts. He opened his eyes wide and looked closely. He saw Zhou Botong’s left hand was doing the seventy-two stance ‘Vacant Fist’, while his right hand was doing some other Quanzhen Sect fist technique. The fists moved slowly, but they created gusts of wind that had created the rustling sound he heard earlier. Guo Jing admired his amazing skills.

While he was half watching and half lost in thought, he suddenly heard Zhou Botong call out anxiously, “Aiyo!” then hastily brush something from his body. A long black and shiny thing flew from his body and hit a distant tree like he was throwing a hidden projectile of some sort. Guo Jing noticed Zhou Botong shaking and he was startled. Hurriedly going to him he called out, “Big Brother, what happened?”

“I was bitten by a viper! I am dying!” Zhou Botong shouted.

Guo Jing was shocked as he held Zhou Botong’s body. His expression had changed; he leaned on Guo Jing’s shoulder and slowly walked back to the cave. Guo Jing quickly tore a piece of his clothing and tightly wrapped it around Zhou Botong’s thigh to prevent the venom from reaching the heart.

Guo Jing took a piece of flint from his pocket and lit a fire. In the bright firelight he could see more clearly. His heart jumped to his throat. Zhou Botong’s calf was swollen very badly.

“This island does not have this kind of venomous green viper. I wonder where it came from?” Zhou Botong said weakly. “The snake wouldn’t be able to bite me when I practice normally. But this time I was practicing two sets of fist techniques; I had all my attention on my movements … Ay!”

Guo Jing heard his trembling voice and knew the poison was severe. If Zhou Botong had not possessed a profound internal energy he would have died earlier. Nervously he bent over and sucked on the wound.

“You can’t do that!” Zhou Botong cried out. “The snake’s venom is extraordinary. It will kill you.”

But Guo Jing was only thinking of saving Zhou Botong’s life; he did not even think of his own safety. His right arm held Zhou Botong’s body firmly, while his mouth continued sucking. Zhou Botong tried to struggle, but his body was weak and he could not move. A little while later he passed out.

Guo Jing kept sucking the venom out and spat it on the ground. With the poison drained out of his body, plus his profound internal energy Zhou Botong slowly regained consciousness. His eyes were still heavy lidded. Half awake he said, “Brother, your Big Brother is going to return to heaven today. But before leaving this world I gained your friendship, my heart is extremely happy.”

Even though Guo Jing had only crossed Zhou Botong’s path a short while ago, because they were of the same straightforward and honest nature, they hit it off immediately. He felt like they had known each other for dozens of years. Right now, as he looked at his dying face, he couldn’t prevent tears from flowing down his cheeks.

Zhou Botong smiled sadly and said, “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is hidden inside a box beneath the stone where I usually sit. I was going to give it to you; but since you sucked the deadly snake venom, you will not live long. We two will walk hand in hand to the underworld. No need to fear that we won’t have someone to play with. We will play as four people in the clouds … No, as four ghosts

… that would be interesting. The bigheaded ghost and the grim reaper will be baffled watching us. The ghost world won’t be the same.” Speaking like this made him quite happy.

Guo Jing heard Zhou Botong say that he too was going to die, but he did not feel anything unusual. He used the fire to examine himself. The fire was about to burn out, so he took Huang Rong’s letter and burned it. He then looked around the cave entrance to find a dried branch or grass, but in the hot summer weather the vegetation around him was green and lush.

He was getting more and more anxious. He groped in his pocket to find something that could be used as a torch. But he found nothing, except that leather-like thing wrapped around his dagger that came from Mei Chaofeng. Without giving it a second thought he lit that thing and extended it to examine Zhou Botong’s face. He saw his face turning gray, no longer ruddy like a child’s.

Zhou Botong saw the flickering fire and showed a faint smile. He saw Guo Jing’s countenance had not changed; there was no sign of poison at all. He was confused. He blinked his eyes and looked at the fire. He saw the thing that Guo Jing used as a torch had characters written all over it. He squinted, trying to read what was written; after reading about ten characters or so he was startled. He recognized that the words were taken from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He didn’t have time to ask any questions so he just raised his hand and struck out the fire, asking, “Brother, what kind of medicine did you take? How come the deadly poison did not affect you?”

Guo Jing guessed it was because he’d drunk the blood of Liang Ziwong’s big ginseng-fed snake. So he said, “I once drank a big snake’s blood; perhaps that is why I can resist the snake’s venom.”

Zhou Botong pointed to the leather on the ground, “That is a very precious thing; it absolutely cannot be destroyed …” he passed out before he could finish his sentence.

At this time Guo Jing did not care about any precious objects; he was busy sealing Zhou Botong’s ‘Palace Crossing’ [gong guo] acupoint, but it did not help. He felt Zhou Botong’s calf; it was hot and very swollen.

“Four weaving machines, mandarin ducks fly in pairs …” he heard Zhou Botong mutter indistinctly. “What did you say?” Guo Jing asked.

“Too bad that old fellow’s head has turned white, too bad …” Zhou Botong sighed.

Guo Jing knew he was delirious from the poison and he was very anxious. He dashed out of the cave and climbed a tree outside, shouting loudly, “Rong’er! Rong’er! Island Master Huang! Island Master Huang! Help…help!” But Peach Blossom Island encompassed an area of more than ten li across; it was a big island. Huang Yaoshi’s residence was located on the other side of the island. Guo Jing’s shout was in vain. The only response he heard was his own voice echoing from the mountain and valley ahead, “ … Island Master Huang! Help! Help …!”

Guo Jing jumped down from the tree, at a loss. In that critical moment an idea flashed into his mind, “Snake’s venom cannot harm me; perhaps my blood contains an antidote to the snake’s poison.” Without wasting another second he fumbled about on the ground, looking for the big green bowl that Zhou Botong used to drink tea from everyday. He took his dagger and without hesitation sliced his left arm and let his blood drip into the bowl until the dripping stopped by itself. He made another cut until blood filled the bowl. Then he propped Zhou Botong up on his knee and with his left hand he forced Zhou Botong’s mouth open and with his right hand fed him the blood. Although he was young and his body strong, losing that much blood had drained his energy. After feeding it all to Zhou Botong he leaned against the cave wall and closed his eyes; he fell asleep not long afterward.

He didn’t know how long he slept, but he felt someone tending his wounds. He opened his eyes and saw Zhou Botong’s white hair and beard. Guo Jing was delighted. “You … you … are you well?” he called out.

“I am well, Brother. You have sacrificed yourself to save my life,” Zhou Botong said. “I am sure the grim reaper is greatly disappointed; I am not that easy to kill.”

Guo Jing looked at Zhou Botong’s calf and saw that the dark swelling was no longer there, only a red inflammation that was not life threatening.

That morning the two sat together to meditate, cultivate their inner strength and revitalize their bodies. After lunch Zhou Botong asked Guo Jing the origins of the leather wrap. Guo Jing gathered his thoughts for a moment then started narrating how his Second Shifu at Cloud Manor had taken some things from Mei Chaofeng; the dagger was amongst those things and the leather was wrapped around it. Later he also noticed the characters, but he did not know what they were so he simply kept it in his pocket without giving it another thought.

Zhou Botong mumbled and was lost in thought for a long time. “Big Brother, you said it was a very precious object, what is it?” Guo Jing asked.

“I have to examine it before I can answer your question. I don’t know if it is the real thing; but since it came from Mei Chaofeng, I have strong reasons to believe it is,” Zhou Botong replied. Taking the leather he looked at it from top to bottom.

Wang Chongyang won the book, not for his personal gain, but to avoid bloodshed amongst the people of Wulin; therefore, he had strictly forbidden his disciples from ever learning any martial arts from the book. Zhou Botong naturally did not dare to disobey his martial brother’s last words. But he recalled what Madame Huang said, ‘Simply taking a look without training it can not be considered disobeying.’ He’d spent fifteen years in the cave without anything to do, so out of boredom he had read the first volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ that was in his possession. However, the first volume only contained the methods of cultivating internal energy as well as the basics of swordsmanship; there were no real profound martial arts to defeat an opponent. It was useless if one did not learn the second volume.

Over these past ten years or so, Zhou Botong read the first volume over and over again; he even made some guesses as to what the second volume contained. As soon as he read the leather wrap, he immediately knew it was related to what he had already memorized.

Zhou Botong raised his eyes to the distant hills and was deep in thought. He loved martial arts; in fact he was obsessed with them. Now he had in his hand the world’s greatest and most profound martial arts manual. In all honesty he wanted very much to learn what was in the book; not to build up his own reputation, not to seek vengeance, also not to show off his prowess or to rule the world; he was simply and purely curious to see how profound the martial arts in the book actually were.

He recalled his martial brother’s story of Huang Shang compiling the 5481 chapters of the Everlasting Life Taoist Canon [aka The Book of Salvation]; then later on he spent forty years painstakingly studying various exquisite martial arts from various schools. This was no small matter. The ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ only got hold of the second volume and they only managed to learn two techniques among the many; yet they were able to wreak havoc in Jianghu. What if they had been able to learn the entire second volume? The result would be inconceivable. But martial brother’s last words could not be disobeyed. Zhou Botong pondered these things in his heart; he heaved a heavy sigh, put the leather inside his pocket, closed his eyes and fell asleep.

After having a good rest, he took a tree branch to dig a hole in which he intended to bury both volumes. He was digging and sighing at the same time. Suddenly an idea came to him and he exploded in laughter and cheers, “That’s right! That’s right! I can have it both ways!” He was so ecstatic that he startled Guo Jing, “Big Brother, what both ways?” But Zhou Botong merely laughed without saying anything. It looked like he’d come up with a really great idea.

“Brother Guo is not my Quanzhen Sect’s disciple. I will teach him and let him train; then I will see the results,” he thought. “That way I can satisfy my curiosity and follow martial brother’s dying wish at the same time.” He was going to tell this idea to Guo Jing when he suddenly had another thought, “From the way he speaks I gather he detests the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He thinks it is an evil martial art; but that is because the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ who only looked at the second volume. They did not learn the first volume. It would have told them how to cultivate their inner energy and build a foundation for the subsequent techniques. They only took the fiercest martial arts they could find and that resulted in the monstrosity of their martial arts. I’d better not tell him anything; I’ll let him practice and let him know afterwards. By that time he will have mastered the books’ martial arts and even if he wanted to get rid of them he won’t be able to do anything about it. Won’t that be interesting?”

By nature he was mischievous; other people would scold him or get mad at him, he did not care. Other people loved him or showed him favor, but he did not give it a thought. As long as he could play or make practical jokes and have fun, he would be happy. Now that he had thought of this idea he maintained his composure and with a straight face he told Guo Jing, “Younger Brother [Xian Di], during my fifteen years inside this cave I have created not only the ‘Vacant Fist’ and the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ techniques, but also some other ones. Now that we don’t have anything to do, what do you say to me teaching you some more to pass the time away?”

“Nothing could be better,” Guo Jing said, “But Rong’er said she is thinking of a way to get us out of here …” “Has she found a way out for us?” Zhou Botong asked. “Not yet,” Guo Jing replied.

“Then what’s wrong with learning new things while waiting for her?” Zhou Botong suggested. Guo Jing happily complied, “That will work. Big Brother’s other martial arts must be marvelous.”

Zhou Botong laughed inside, “Don’t you be happy yet,” he thought, “You have fallen for my scheme!” So he immediately passed on the essence of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ a little at a time from his memory. Naturally Guo Jing did not immediately understand it, but Zhou Botong was very patient. He would repeat the lesson as many times as needed. As for the lessons from the second volume on the leather wrap, he would memorize it first when Guo Jing was not looking, and then he would pass it on as he had memorized it.

The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contained various martial arts techniques which were different from each other. Zhou Botong taught the theory but did not give any examples on how to do it. He let Guo Jing ponder them and find out on his own. Afterward he would test the newly learned technique against his Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts.

After several days he started to see the marvelous martial arts of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ which Guo Jing was gradually mastering; however, Guo Jing was still completely unaware that he was learning the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. Zhou Botong was very happy; he would often smile in his sleep.

In the meantime Huang Rong kept preparing food for Guo Jing, although she did not show up personally. Guo Jing’s heart became contented and his skills advanced more quickly.

One day Zhou Botong was teaching the ‘Nine Yin Divine Claw’ [jiu yin shen zhua]; he instructed Guo Jing to use all of his fingers to practice against the cave’s wall. Guo Jing had practiced this several times when he suddenly realized something. “Big Brother,” he said, “I think Mei Chaofeng also learned this kind of martial arts, only she practiced against humans. She could insert her five fingers inside someone’s skull. It was very cruel.”

Zhou Botong was startled, “That’s true,” he thought, “Mei Chaofeng did not know the first volume’s contents so she followed the instructions literally. The second volume only stated ‘concentrate the energy in the five fingers and firmly attack the enemy’s head.’ She did not know that ‘the enemy’s head’ means the enemy’s vital points and not literally to insert five fingers into the enemy’s skull. It’s no wonder she thought she had to train using real skulls. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contains lessons for spiritual purity to chase evil spirits away; how could it teach anyone to practice her type of cruel and ferocious martial arts? That old hag strayed too far from the truth. Brother Guo is already suspicious so I’d better not teach him that kind of martial arts.” Thereupon he smiled and said, “Mei Chaofeng practices a demonic type of martial arts; how can she be compared with our true orthodox school of martial arts? All right, we won’t train this ‘Divine Claw’ martial art for the time being; instead, I will teach you more of our Quanzhen heritage martial arts.”

While speaking he hatched another good idea, “I will teach him the first volume until he really comprehends everything. Then I will continue with the second volume. He will see the logical connection between the first and the second and he won’t be suspicious any longer.” So he started to recite the theory from the first volume and told Guo Jing to memorize it.

The lessons in the manual were very deep and profound; how could Guo Jing comprehend everything? Zhou Botong realized Guo Jing was slow, so he told him to recite it aloud. After repeating them dozens of times Guo Jing was able to memorize almost everything. He did not understand the meaning of some of it, but he memorized it anyway. Several days passed and Zhou Botong had passed on most of the book, so he told Guo Jing to start practicing his internal energy cultivation.

Guo Jing felt that the internal energy cultivation method was similar to the one he’d learned from Ma Yu, only this one was deeper and more difficult. He credited that to the fact that Zhou Botong was Ma Yu’s martial uncle, so naturally his way of cultivating internal energy would be profounder than Ma Yu’s. He also recalled that when Mei Chaofeng sat on his shoulder battling enemies in the Zhao palace she’d asked him some questions about internal energy cultivation which he was able to answer. He did not suspect anything at all. Although he frequently noticed Zhou Botong’s funny expression, as though he was amused by something, he thought it was Zhou Botong’s natural disposition to play jokes. Maybe he was thinking of other amusing things.

The manual contained more than one thousand gibberish characters without any clear meaning. For the past several years Zhou Botong had repeatedly pondered over those words in the cave, but he still did not have a clue as to what they meant. Nevertheless he passed them on to Guo Jing anyway. When Guo Jing asked what they meant, Zhou Botong simply said, “This secret can’t be divulged right now, you will understand it when the time comes.”

Memorizing those thousand or so words without understanding what they meant was a hundred times more difficult than memorizing a regular book. It might not be too difficult for a sharp minded person; but even though Guo Jing was slow, he had strong determination. After more than a thousand times of reciting those words he eventually was able to memorize everything.

Guo Jing woke up early one morning and immediately started practicing his martial arts. When breakfast came he noticed another unusual steamed bun. Without waiting to finish his meal he took the bun into the forest and immediately crushed the wax pill inside to get the letter. Once he had taken a glance he could not help but feel very anxious. The letter said, ‘Jing ge ge, Western Poison has proposed to Father to give my hand in marriage to his nephew, and Father answered …” The letter was not finished, indicating that she was writing it in a hurry. It looked like the word after ‘answered’ was ‘yes’.

Guo Jing’s mind was frantic; he waited impatiently for the old servant to clean up then he hastily showed the letter to Zhou Botong. “Her father gave his consent, that’s good. It’s none of our business,” Zhou Botong said. “I can’t go along with that,” Guo Jing said, “Rong’er has promised to be with me. She must be frantic right now.”

“If you take a wife, there are some martial arts you cannot practice. That will be too bad,” Zhou Botong said. “I … I feel deep remorse that I didn’t listen to good advice. Good Brother, listen to my advice: you’d better not to take a wife.”

Guo Jing felt the more Zhou Botong spoke, the more unreasonable he became; that made Guo Jing more concerned than ever. Zhou Botong continued, “If I hadn’t lost my virginity and therefore could not practice my martial brother’s fiercest martial arts, how could Old Heretic Huang have imprisoned me in this confounded hole? You see, if your thoughts are focused on your wife, your heart is divided. I am sure today’s martial arts practice will not get you anywhere. If you really marry Old Heretic Huang’s girl… ay! That will be too bad! If only I … ay! Never mind that. In short, if you let yourself get entangled in an affair with a woman, you won’t reach the pinnacle of perfection. Moreover, you will offend your friend and disobey your martial brother. It is very difficult for you to forget her. I wonder how she is … Anyway, don’t ever look at her pretty face, don’t ever caress her beautiful body and don’t teach her acupoints sealing techniques, because she will feel your body to find those acupoints. Those are great taboos … worse yet, don’t ever ask her to marry you ... ”

To Guo Jing Zhou Botong was just mumbling illogically, but it was troublesome. “Whether I marry her or not, we’ll sort that out later,” he said, “Big Brother, we have to help her now.”

Zhou Botong laughed, “Western Poison is very evil; his nephew cannot be different. Old Heretic Huang’s daughter is pretty, but she must have the same character as Old Heretic Huang: a perverted mind. Let Western Poison’s nephew take her as his wife; let them both suffer and let their martial arts not go anywhere. That way we kill two birds with one stone. No, more precisely…lose two birds with one stone. There’s nothing good in either one of them. Don’t you think this is a good idea?”

Guo Jing sighed, walked into the woods, and sat on the ground. His mind was jumbled, “Even if I have to die on Peach Blossom Island’s pathways, I must find her,” he thought. Once his mind was set he leaped up and started moving. At that moment he heard two loud calls from the sky and two white forms swooped down towards him. They were the white eagles Tolui brought him from the steppes. Guo Jing was delighted and extended his arm to let the eagles perch. Only then did he see a bamboo tube tied to the male eagle’s leg. Hastily he loosened it and found a letter inside. It was from Huang Rong. She told him the latest developments - how Western Poison would arrive in a few days to arrange the betrothal; how her father was closely guarding her and not letting her out of her quarter’s even half a step. That included preparing food for Guo Jing. In the end she said that if she could not get away from all of this, she would commit suicide to show her love for him. She also told Guo Jing that the pathways on the island were dangerous and mysterious and full of booby traps, so she warned Guo Jing not to try to find her.

Guo Jing was dumbstruck. He pulled out his dagger and carved these six characters on the bamboo tube, ‘live together, die together’ [yi qi huo, yi qi si]; then he tied the tube back on the eagle’s leg and raised his arm and pointed north. The eagles circled him several times, and then they flew north. Once he’d made this decision his heart was calm. He walked back to Zhou Botong, sat on the ground in front of him and listened to him imparted more lessons on martial arts.

The next ten days passed without any word from Huang Rong. Guo Jing had managed to memorize the first volume in its entirety. Zhou Botong was inwardly delighted; he proceeded to recite the second volume for Guo Jing to memorize. Again, he did not give any examples or instruction on how to practice them for fear that Guo Jing would see through his scheme. Guo Jing diligently studied and committed each and every word to his memory. Several hundred times worth of reciting later he had both the first and second volumes down pat in his mind, including all the gibberish words such as ‘ang li na de’ and ‘ha hu wen bo ying’ [translator’s note: these characters don’t make logical sentences, so I leave them as they are]. He did not miss a single word.

Listening to Guo Jing Zhou Botong’s heart was filled with admiration. “This dumb kid can actually memorize the entire dumb martial arts manual. Old Urchin salutes him.”

That night the sky was clear and the sea was calm reflecting the bright silver moon shining over the island. Zhou Botong just finished checking Guo Jing’s progress. He discovered that Guo Jing had made tremendous advancements in his martial arts without even realizing it. He was very happy and believed that the manual really did contain profound martial arts techniques. He thought that if he were to learn the techniques from books, he would eventually surpass Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong.

The two were sitting on the ground, idly chatting when they suddenly heard rustling noises coming from the distance. Zhou Botong jumped up in alarm, “Snakes!” he cried. He’d just closed his mouth when hissing sounds reached their ears. It sounded like there was a swarm of snakes coming their way. Zhou Botong’s face turned pale and he dashed into the cave. He was a courageous man and his martial arts might be superb, but not when facing snakes. Guo Jing immediately moved some big rocks and covered the cave entrance.

“Big Brother,” he said, “I’ll go take a look. Don’t come out.”

“Be careful and return quickly,” Zhou Botong answered. “But I’d say you don’t need to take a look. What’s so interesting about vipers? How … how can there be so many snakes on this island? I have lived here for fifteen years and haven’t seen a single snake. Look how bad this island has become! Old Heretic Huang always boasts of his vast knowledge and resourcefulness but look how dirty this Peach Blossom Island has become. Sea turtles, vipers, centipedes and all kinds of creepy-crawlies are coming here.”