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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 20

Chapter 20 – The Altered Manual

Hong Qigong and Guo Jing watched Ouyang Feng and his nephew lead Zhou Botong to a cabin in the back, while they were taken to a different cabin to change their clothes. Four white-dressed maidens served them. Hong Qigong laughed, “The Old Beggar has not had the luck to enjoy this kind of treatment,” he said. After taking off all his clothes a maiden dried him with a clean towel.

Guo Jing felt blood flowing up his neck and face and he did not dare to take his clothes off. Hong Qigong laughed, “What are you afraid of? They won’t eat you alive!” he said. Two maidens approached him to take his boots off and loosen his belt. Guo Jing quickly took back his boots and upper garment, jumped onto the bed and while hiding underneath a blanket, changed his clothes. Hong Qigong burst out laughing and the four maidens also giggled.

Once they were finished, two other maidens entered the cabin carrying trays full of wine, meat dishes, vegetables, and some white rice, saying, “Please gentlemen, quickly eat what we prepared.”

Hong Qigong waved his hand, “All of you get out of here, please. When the Old Beggar sees good-looking ladies I can’t get food into my tummy.” The maidens smiled and complied, closing the door on their way out.

Hong Qigong lifted the wine and the dishes to his nose and sniffed them, “Don’t eat or drink this,” he whispered, “The Old Poison is so crafty. Just eat the plain white rice.” He took the gourd from his back, pulled the plug and took two mouthfuls of wine. Then he quickly ate three big bowls of rice. Guo Jing followed his lead and dumped the other dishes under the deck-boards.

“I wonder what they want Big Brother Zhou to do?” Guo Jing asked in a low voice.

“Can’t be anything good,” Hong Qigong replied, “This time the Old Urchin really got himself in trouble.”

The cabin door was suddenly pushed open and a maiden said, “Master Zhou asks Young Master Guo to come to the rear cabin. He has something to discuss with you.” Guo Jing looked at his master and walked out of the cabin following the maiden. They walked along the port side of the boat towards the back. The maiden lightly knocked on the cabin door and after waiting a moment, shoved the door open, announcing, “Young Master Guo has arrived.”

Guo Jing entered the cabin and the door was closed behind him. There was no one inside the cabin. Guo Jing felt uneasy, but then a small door to his left opened and Ouyang Feng and his nephew walked in.

“Where is Big Brother Zhou?” Guo Jing asked.

Ouyang Feng closed the door with the back of his hand then took two steps forward and grabbed Guo Jing’s wrist. His movement was very swift; not in a million years would Guo Jing have guessed that Ouyang Feng would do that. He felt like his wrist was grasped by a pair of tongs; he could not move. Ouyang Ke pulled a steel-spined folding fan from his sleeve and placed it on a vital acupoint on Guo Jing’s back. Guo Jing was dumbstruck; he could not guess what the uncle and nephew wanted from him.

“The Old Urchin lost a bet with me, but when I asked him to do something for me he refused,” Ouyang Feng coldly said. “Hmm?” Guo Jing was confused.

“I told him to rewrite the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ from memory for me to read, but he unexpectedly did not keep his word,” Ouyang Feng explained.

“How could Big Brother Zhou give the manual to you?” Guo Jing thought; and again he asked, “Where is Big Brother Zhou?”

“It was he who said that whoever did not keep his word must jump into the sea to be eaten by the sharks. Humph! He finally made up his mind and did what he said he would,” Ouyang Feng said coldly.

Guo Jing was shocked. “He … he …” he stammered. He tried to pull his hand free and dash to the door, but Ouyang Feng’s grip was very tight, forcing Guo Jing to stop. Ouyang Ke pushed his fan slightly harder against Guo Jing’s ‘Most Positive’ [zhi yang] acupoint.

Ouyang Feng pointed to a table with a stack of paper, a brush and some ink on it and said, “In the whole wide world you are the only one who knows the manual’s full text. Write it down for me quickly.”

Guo Jing shook his head. Ouyang Ke smiled and said, “The food and wine you and the Old Beggar ate just now was poisoned. If you don’t take my Uncle’s antidote you will die within twelve hours, just like the sharks you saw earlier. If you comply, we will spare both you and your master’s lives.”

Guo Jing was quite shocked, “Had Master not been so alert we would certainly have fallen into their trap.” He stared at Ouyang Feng and thought, “You are a great master of martial arts, yet you commit a despicable act like this.”

Watching Guo Jing starring at him without saying anything Ouyang Feng said, “You have memorized the manual anyway. You won’t lose anything by writing it down. What are you waiting for?”

Guo Jing shivered with rage, “You have harmed my sworn brother; now there is hatred as deep as the ocean between you and I. If you want to kill me then go ahead. But if you think you can force me, keep on dreaming!”

“Humph!” Ouyang Feng said, “Good, you have guts kid! You are not afraid of death, but does your master’s life mean nothing to you?”

Before Guo Jing could reply a sudden loud bang was heard as the cabin door was shattered and wood fragments flew everywhere. Ouyang Feng turned his head to see Hong Qigong with a couple of wooden water barrels in his hands. Hong Qigong threw the water out from the barrels and two deep green transparent columns flew toward Ouyang Feng and his nephew. Ouyang Feng knew the fierceness of this water attack; he leaped to the left to elude it while his left hand still tightly held Guo Jing’s wrist. The water hit the cabin’s wall and splashed in all directions. Ouyang Ke loudly called out in alarm because Hong Qigong had grabbed the back of his head.

Hong Qigong laughed loudly, “Old Poison, you’ve always wanted to kill me by any means possible, fortunately the Heavens won’t allow that to happen!”

Ouyang Feng saw his nephew had fallen into Hong Qigong’s hands so he smiled and said, “Brother Qi, are you going to challenge me again? It won’t be too late if we wait until we are ashore.”

“I see you like my disciple so much that you won’t let his hand go,” Hong Qigong laughed.

“I made a bet with the Old Urchin and I won, didn’t I?” Ouyang Feng asked, “You are our witness, are you not? Let me ask you this: The Old Urchin did not keep his word, did he?”

Hong Qigong repeatedly nodded his head in answer to his questions, “That’s correct. Where is the Old Urchin?” Guo Jing was grieved, he shouted, “Big Brother Zhou was … he was forced to jump into the sea and die!”

Hong Qigong was startled; with Ouyang Ke still in his grip he jumped out of the cabin. He looked in all directions but all he could see were the billowing waves and not a glimpse of Zhou Botong.

Ouyang Feng, still gripping Guo Jing, also walked out onto the deck. Loosening his grip he said, “Nephew Guo, your skills are still quite far from being adequate. You let someone grab your hand without being able to do anything about it. Go and learn from your master for ten more years, then you can roam Jianghu again.”

Guo Jing was worried about Zhou Botong’s safety; he ignored his derogatory remarks and climbed the mast, looking at all directions.

Hong Qigong lifted Ouyang Ke and tossed him towards Ouyang Feng. He shouted, “Old Poison, you forced the Old Urchin to his death; the people of Quanzhen will deal with you. Your martial arts may be profound, but I don’t believe you’ll survive the Quanzhen Seven’s combined force.”

Ouyang Ke did not let his body to touch the deck; his right hand pushed the deck and he somersaulted into an upright position while inwardly cursing, “Stinky beggar! By this time tomorrow you will crawl in front of me, begging me to save your life.”

Listening to Hong Qigong’s remark Ouyang Feng simply smiled faintly, “I am afraid you won’t be able to witness it when it happens.”

“Very well!,” Hong Qigong said, “Until that time comes, I am going to use my dog beating stick to beat some wet dogs.” Ouyang Feng raised his hands in salute then entered the cabin.

After looking around for a while without seeing anything Guo Jing climbed back down to the deck and told his master how Ouyang Feng had tried to force him to write out the manual. Hong Qigong nodded without saying anything as he quietly pondered, “Once the Old Poison sets his mind to something, he won’t easily let go. Until he gets hold of the manual he will harass my disciple continually.”

Guo Jing, thinking of Zhou Botong’s death, cried mournfully. Hong Qigong also grieved. He knew the boat was sailing fast to the west and within two days they were going to reach land. He was afraid Ouyang Feng would poison their food again, so he went to the kitchen and plundered some dishes and plenty of rice. After eating it with Guo Jing, his head nodded and then he snored.

Ouyang Feng and his nephew waited until the afternoon of the next day; after nearly sixteen or so hours passed, they had not heard Hong Qigong or his disciple made any sounds. Ouyang Feng was afraid his poison was too strong and had killed them. Killing Hong Qigong was not a big deal, but killing Guo Jing meant the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ would be lost forever. He secretly took a peek through a crack in the door, only to see two people sitting comfortably and chatting amiably. Hong Qigong’s voice was loud and clear. Ouyang Feng was enraged, “It seems the Old Beggar was alert. They weren’t poisoned after all.” His poison collection was vast, but in order to poison Hong Qigong without harming Guo Jing, he had to think of a better plan.

Hong Qigong was telling Guo Jing the ins and outs of the Beggar Clan. He said that although they begged for a living, every member actually had the responsibility to uphold justice, to help those in distress, and to follow their predecessors’ good deeds and not the bad ones. These facts were mostly hidden from the public eye. He talked further about the election procedure of the Beggar Clan Leader when the time came to find a successor. “It’s a pity you don’t like being a beggar,” he said, “Otherwise you have the perfect character to be a leader; there is no one inside the clan superior to you. I’d really like to bestow the ‘Dog Beating Stick’ [da gou bang] on you.” While they were still chatting there came a sudden banging noise from outside, it sounded like a hatchet or a chisel hitting the wall.

Hong Qigong jumped up in alarm, “Not good! That stinky snake is going to sink the boat,” he shouted. Rushing towards the door he yelled to Guo Jing, “Quickly go to the small life boat at the back!” He had just finished shouting when, with a loud crash, a big hole appeared in a wooden partition, followed by loud hissing noises; it was not seawater that came rushing in, but dozens of venomous snakes.

“So it’s the Old Poison’s snake attack!” Hong Qigong mocked. His right hand swept, scattering dozens of steel needles and dozens of snakes were pinned to the wooden deck; with loud hissing noises their bodies coiled but they were not able to move forward any longer.

“Rong’er is very good at this needles scattering technique, but compared to Master she still falls far short,” Guo Jing thought.

By that time dozens more snakes came through the hole in the wall. Hong Qigong kept shooting steel needles and more and more snakes were nailed to the floor. The sound of a wooden whistle was heard outside as more and more snakes were herded into the cabin.

Hong Qigong shot more and more needles, “The Old Poison kindly sends all these targets for me to practice my martial arts skill on; it is truly a rare opportunity,” he said. But when he put his hand into his pocket to grab more needles he was startled to find only a few left. Inwardly he was alarmed considering that the snakes kept coming. He was thinking hard as to what to do next when a loud crash was suddenly heard as the wall behind him fell down and a palm swiftly moved towards his back.

Guo Jing was standing beside his master when he heard the swift and fierce wind; he turned around and using both hands he blocked the sneak attack. The incoming attack was so strong that he felt his stomach turning upside down and he almost passed out.

Having his attack unexpectedly blocked Ouyang Feng uttered a cry of surprise. He stepped back a little bit and then hacked horizontally with the back of his hand.

Guo Jing knew this attack would be hard to defend against, so with his left palm he parried the attack, while his right hand launched a counterattack towards Ouyang Feng’s side, forcing him to withdraw. Ouyang Feng did not dare to take Guo Jing’s palm hit on his side, so he ducked while sending out a hand in a chopping motion toward Guo Jing’s lower body.

Guo Jing was aware that the situation was extremely critical. The snakes would keep coming in as long as Ouyang Feng could control the entrance; he and his master would be in grave danger. He gritted his teeth and to the utmost of his ability used one hand to fend off the incoming attacks while the other hand tried to deliver counterattacks. When his left hand defended his right hand attacked; when his right hand was void his left hand was solid, following Zhou Botong’s ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique. Ouyang Feng had never seen this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique before, so he was confused for the moment, giving Guo Jing a chance to use several stances. When comparing true martial arts skill, Ouyang Feng was two times superior to Guo Jing, but this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique was so strange to him and it took him by surprise. Guo Jing was able to gain the upper hand for a while. But the Western Poison Ouyang Feng had enjoyed his title as a ‘Great’ for dozens of years; he was a great martial arts master, so he was confused only for a short time and soon thought of a method to deal with this strange technique. “Ugh!” with a loud grunt both his palms shot forward.

Guo Jing would not be able to block this attack single handedly; he was forced to step back, but behind him a mass of snakes could be heard hissing loudly.

“Wonderful…wonderful!” Hong Qigong shouted loudly, “Old poison, you can’t even defeat my disciple; how can you boast about yourself as a great hero?” With the ‘Flying Dragon Soaring Through the Heavens’ [fei long zai tian] he leaped over both Ouyang Feng and Guo Jing’s heads, towards Ouyang Ke. With one kick he knocked Ouyang Ke down. Hong Qigong then used his elbow and sent Ouyang Ke somersaulting towards Ouyang Feng’s back. Ouyang Feng leaned sideways to avoid his nephew and because of that, Guo Jing escaped his vicious attack.

“Master’s martial arts skill is at par with his, while his nephew’s is below mine and he is injured. With two against two, we should certainly win,” Guo Jing thought. His spirits rose and with renewed vigor his hands and feet attacked Ouyang Feng like a violent storm.

While fighting violently with the enemy Hong Qigong kept his eyes open in all directions. He saw dozens of snakes approaching Guo Jing’s back, ready to strike. Once Guo Jing got bitten he would certainly die. Hong Qigong called out anxiously, “Jing’er, get out of here, quickly!” He increased the intensity of his attack against Ouyang Feng, forcing him to move away from Guo Jing.

Ouyang Feng was facing attacks from both his front and rear; he was feeling the strain. Hong Qigong’s attack had forced him to lean sideways, thus giving Guo Jing an opportunity to dash out of the cabin while Ouyang Feng and Hong Qigong remained in a fierce battle. Meanwhile hundreds of snakes slithered around the deck surrounding the two. “Fighting with pets as your helpers? You are shameless!” Hong Qigong mocked, but in his heart he was nervous. The snakes were countless and they were everywhere. With the dog beating stick in his right hand he crushed dozens of snake’s heads. Pulling Guo Jing’s hand they headed for the mast.

Ouyang Feng was inwardly alarmed, “This is not good! If those two leap onto the mast they will be unreachable for a while.” He flew out to block them.

Both of Hong Qigong’s palms made a ferocious chopping motion creating a roaring gust of wind. Ouyang Feng’s fist swept horizontally to parry. Guo Jing stepped forward to help his master, but Hong Qigong called out, “Just go to the mast, quickly!”

“I want to kill his nephew to avenge Big Brother Zhou,” Guo Jing replied. “The snakes…the snakes!” Hong Qigong urgently warned him.

Guo Jing saw vipers slithering all around him, so he did not dare to linger much longer. With the back of his hand he grabbed Ouyang Ke’s ‘Flying Swallow Silver Shuttle’ [fei yan yin suo], then, leaping dozens of feet upwards, his left hand grasped the mast. At that very moment he heard the sound of an incoming projectile, so he shot the ‘yin suo’ from his hand and, with a loud clang, the two projectiles met midair; both changed directions towards the sides of the boat and fell into the sea. Guo Jing moved his hands and feet and in a short time he had reached the middle of the mast.

Ouyang Feng knew Hong Qigong also wanted to go up the mast so he intensified his attacks. Even though Hong Qigong was able to hold his ground he could not move towards the mast.

When Guo Jing saw the snakes crowding around his master’s feet he was very anxious; with a loud shout he wrapped his legs around the mast and hung his body down. Hong Qigong understood his intentions; his left foot kicked the deck, his right foot flew toward Ouyang Feng’s face while extending his dog beating stick towards Guo Jing. Guo Jing grabbed the end of his stick, pulled it upwards, and Hong Qigong’s body flew into the air. With a loud laugh Hong Qigong’s left hand caught the mast above Guo Jing. Now the two were high in the air looking down on their opponents and occupying a superior position.

Ouyang Feng knew that if he tried to climb the mast he would certainly be at a disadvantage, so he called out loudly, “Very well! We lost this time. Turn the rudder to the east!” With an abrupt turn the boat sailed to the east.

From high above the deck Hong Qigong and Guo Jing could see that the snakes were very dense on the deck. Hong Qigong sat comfortably on the sail yardarm while he loudly sang the ‘Falling Lotus Flower’ [lian hua luo], a song beggars sang when begging for food. His face showed calmness, but he was actually very anxious. “How long can we stay on this mast?” he wondered, “Even if the Old Poison doesn’t chop it down we still can’t climb down if he does not call off the snakes. Those two can drink wine and sleep, but all the two of us can do up here is eat wind and urinate. That’s it!” As soon as he remembered urinating, he stood up, pulled his pants down and sprayed his urine onto the snakes. “Jing’er,” he shouted, “Let those scoundrels drink your urine and quench their thirst.”

Guo Jing still enjoyed his childish side; he followed his master’s instructions while shouting happily, “Please! Be my guests!” Both master and disciple sprayed their urine about.

“Get the snakes out of here…quickly!” Ouyang Feng barked while at the same time leaping back several steps. He moved so fast that Hong and Guo Jing’s urine did not touch his body. Ouyang Ke, on the other hand, was startled upon hearing his uncle’s anxious call and some drops of urine splashed on his face and neck. He was a neat and fastidious person, so naturally he was indignant; then he suddenly remembered, “Our snakes fear urine!” Amidst the sounds of the wooden whistle the snakes slowly slithered away, but dozens of them closest to the mast were drenched in urine. These vipers were all hybridized in the snake valley of the Western Region where the White Camel Mountain was; their toxicity was extreme. Ouyang Feng had used big bamboo baskets hung between several hundred pairs of camels to transport these vipers thousands of li to the Central Plains. He intended to use them as weapons to dominate the Wulin world, but the snakes were affected by human excretions. As soon as they were wet they started to squirm around, coiling in confusion and biting each other; the snake herders were unable to control them.

Hong Qigong and Guo Jing laughed long and hard at seeing the chaotic situation they’d caused. Guo Jing thought, “If Big Brother Zhou saw this I am sure he would be very happy. Ay! A major martial arts expert of this age had to die in the sea. Even with their level of martial arts skills, Island Master Huang and the Old Poison were still drenched by his urine; but my master’s and my urine did not even touch the Old Poison.”

About four hours later the sky gradually turned dark. The boat crew prepared banquet tables on the deck; meat and wine flowed freely and the sweet smelling aroma drifted upward assailing Hong Qigong and Guo Jing’s nostrils. Ouyang Feng was very shrewd; how long could a glutton like Hong Qigong endure this kind of torture? The gourd on Hong Qigong’s back was emptied only a short while later.

That night Hong Qigong and Guo Jing took turns on night watch duty. On the deck below them the crew lit dozens of lanterns, while a mass of snakes stayed on guard around the mast. They really did not have a chance of breaking this formidable defense, and they certainly could not urinate continuously.

Hong Qigong cursed Ouyang Feng’s ancestors back eighteen generations, creating every fabricated scandal he could think of while adding some spice to make the scandals even more dramatic; but Ouyang Feng did not even come out of his cabin. Hong Qigong cursed until his jaws were tired and he finally fell asleep.

Early the next morning Ouyang Feng sent a servant to shout loudly under the mast, “Hong Bangzhu, Guo Xiaoye [Clan Leader Hong, Young Master Guo], Master Ouyang has prepared a superb wine and food banquet for you to enjoy; please come down and enjoy it.”

“You go and invite Ouyang Feng to come out and we will serve him our urine!” Hong Qigong shot back.

Not long afterwards the banquet table was readied below the mast. The foods were steaming hot and looked like they were fresh from the kitchen. They placed two chairs on each side of the table; it seemed they were waiting for Hong Qigong and Guo Jing to come down and enjoy their banquet.

Several times Hong Qigong wanted to slide down the mast and gobble down the food, but he knew it must be poisoned; he had no choice but restrain himself. He was so upset and started his ‘your mother is a bitch’ and ‘you are a male dog with a bird’s brain’ series of curses.

By the third day the two were so hungry and thirsty that their heads began to spin. “If only my female disciple was here,” Hong Qigong sighed, “She is so smart that I am sure she would come up with something to counter the Old Poison’s tactics. All we can do is just stare and swallow our own saliva.” Guo Jing also sighed.

About noon that day as the sun shone brightly, Guo Jing suddenly saw two white dots on the horizon. He thought they were a couple of white clouds, but the dots moved much too fast for clouds. They grew closer and got bigger and bigger and uttered loud cries. It was two white eagles. Guo Jing was ecstatic; he curled his left fingers, put them in his mouth, and whistled repeatedly.

The eagles circled above the boat several times before diving down and perched on Guo Jing’s shoulders. They were indeed the pair of eagles Guo Jing had raised on the Mongolian Steppe. “Master, could it be Rong’er is sailing this way?” he asked happily.

“That would be wonderful!” Hong Qigong replied, “Too bad these eagles are too small and can’t carry us away from here. We are stuck here, at loss as to what to do. Quickly tell her to come here and think of something.”

Guo Jing took out his dagger and cut two five inch square pieces from the sail and cut out two characters ‘you nan’ [lit. having trouble] on one and the outline of a gourd on the other piece. Then he strapped those pieces, one on each white eagle’s leg, and said, “Fly back quickly and get Miss Huang to come here.” The white eagles made some chirping sounds, stretched their wings, and flew from Guo Jing’s shoulders. They circled the boat once then flew towards the west.

About an hour after the white eagles left, Ouyang Feng again tried to entice Hong Qigong and Guo Jing into coming down from the mast by preparing another banquet table, loaded with food and wine. Hong Qigong was indignant, “The Old Beggar is a glutton and the Old Poison is using this dirty trick to torture me. I’ve practiced martial arts my whole life, but I have to admit my spiritual strength is rather lacking. Jing’er, what do you say we go down and beat them up real good?”

“The white eagles will have already delivered our message; I believe the situation will change very soon. Please be patient and wait a little bit longer,” Guo Jing replied.

Hong Qigong smiled. A while later he asked, “Among the world’s disgusting aromas, what do you say is the worst?” “I don’t know. What is it?” Guo Jing replied.

“There was one time I wandered way up north. I was caught in a heavy snowstorm for eight days without any food; not even a squirrel could be found. I wanted to eat tree bark, but I couldn’t find any of that either. I randomly dug around in the snow-covered ground and was lucky enough to find five living things, so I could extend my life another day. The next day I found a yellow wolf and that was able to satisfy my hunger.”

“What were those five living things?” Guo Jing asked.

“They were earthworms, fat juicy earthworms. I just swallowed them alive, and did not dare to chew them,” Hong Qigong replied.

When Guo Jing recalled how the slimy earthworms wiggled, he almost threw-up. Hong Qigong laughed heartily. He intentionally talked about the world’s dirtiest and smelliest things to battle the aroma coming from the food and wine below them. He talked some more and cursed some more, before finally saying, “Jing’er, the Old Beggar has eaten earthworms, but there is something even more disgusting than them and the Old Beggar would rather eat my own toes than eat that thing. Do you know what it is?”

Guo Jing smiled, “I know…it’s dung!” he exclaimed.

Hong Qigong shook his head, “No, it is dirtier that that.” He let Guo Jing make some more guesses before bursting out in laughter, “I’ll tell you what it is; the world’s dirtiest and most disgusting thing is the Western Poison Ouyang Feng!”

“Right…that’s right!” Guo Jing also burst out laughing.

After they’d suffered the whole afternoon, that evening Ouyang Ke came out and stood amidst his mass of vipers. He smiled and said, “Uncle Hong, Brother Guo, my uncle wants to borrow the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ just to take a look, nothing else.”

Hong Qigong cursed under his breath, “That son-of-a-bitch….he has such good intentions!” In the midst of his anger an idea suddenly came into his head; but he kept a straight face and shouted loud and clear, “Little Rascal, the old man admits defeat to your dog-like uncle’s evil scheme. Quickly prepare some food and wine and we’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Ouyang Ke was delighted; he knew Hong Qigong’s word was as firm as a mountain and he certainly would live up to his promise. He gave the command to withdraw the snakes immediately. Hong Qigong and Guo Jing slid down the mast and went into the cabin; where Ouyang Ke’s servants delivered all kinds of food and wine. As soon as the door was closed Hong Qigong immediately drank half a pot of wine, ripped apart half a chicken and started to chew.

“Is this food and wine free of poison?” Guo Jing asked with a low voice.

“Stupid kid,” Hong Qigong said, “That bird brain wants you to write out the manual, he won’t harm you just yet. Quickly eat as much as you can; we have things to discuss afterwards.” Guo Jing silently agreed and in one breath he ate four big bowls of rice.

After eating and drinking to his heart’s content Hong Qigong used the end of his sleeve to wipe his greasy mouth, then whispered in Guo Jing’s ear, “The Old Poison wants the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ [jiu yin zhen jing] from you, so you will write a ‘Nine Yin Altered Manual’ [jiu yin jia jing] for him.” [Note: ‘zhen’ means real and ‘jia’ means fake.]

Guo Jing was puzzled, “Nine Yin Altered Manual?” he asked in a low voice.

Hong Qigong smiled, “That’s right!” he said. “In this whole wide world, you are the only one who knows the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. Whatever you want to write, just write. Who is going to say that what you write is not the real manual? You will intentionally alter and mix up the sentences and let him use that to train himself in that martial art. I am sure that if he practices for a hundred years he won’t master even one fart of it!”

Guo Jing was delighted and thought, “This is really a clever trick; the Old Poison will surely fall for it.” But then he remembered something, “Ouyang Feng’s martial arts are profound and he is also crafty and vigilant; if disciple just scribbles some nonsense, he will find out eventually, then what?” he asked.

“You have to write something that appears right but is actually wrong,” Hong Qigong explained, “Write three correct sentences then alter the fourth one. Add or subtract some numbers, for example, if the manual says you need to do it eight times, change it to six or perhaps ten. As smart as he is, he will never find out. I am willing to spend seven days and seven nights without food or wine just to watch him train from the fake manual.” Speaking to this point he could not restrain a smile.

Guo Jing laughed, “If he really practices according to the altered manual, not only will he waste his time and energy, but he could suffer some internal injuries as well,” he said.

“Now quickly think carefully about how you are going to alter the manual; if he once gets suspicious, our plan will be foiled,” Hong Qigong said with a smile; then he added, “The contents of the second volume was read and rewritten by Huang Yaoshi’s wife; moreover, that little rascal read it on Peach Blossom Island and therefore you can’t change that part too much, just add some incorrect words here and there. I am sure the little rascal won’t know the difference.”

Guo Jing silently recited the manual in his head, trying to think which sentences he could alter and where he could insert some misleading sentences. He replaced hold with move, above with below, and other simple alterations that did not require him to recompose a whole sentence; in short, he was following his master’s instructions to make subtle changes everywhere in the manual. For example, he changed the sentence ‘hand and mind toward the sky’ to ‘foot and buttock toward the sky’; or ‘feet firmly on the ground’ into ‘hands lightly moving on the ground’. On the internal energy cultivation he changed ‘concentrate ‘qi’ in the pubic region (dan tian)’ into ‘concentrate ‘qi’ in the chest and throat’.

While thinking about all these changes he could not restrain from heaving a heavy sigh and saying in his heart, “Playing practical jokes like this is Rong’er and Big Brother Zhou’s greatest delight. It’s a pity that one is nowhere near and the other is already dead. Someday I will see Rong’er again, but I will never be able to tell this story to Big Brother Zhou.”

Early the morning on the next day Hong Qigong called Ouyang Ke and proudly told him, “The Old Beggar’s martial arts are already unique; I don’t need to know the kinds of ‘Nine Yin Manual’ arts. As a matter of fact, even if you hold the manual in front of my face I won’t even cast a glance at it. Only some bird brain whose martial arts are useless would be dying to steal all sorts of gold and silver [play of words here: shen jing – divine scripture, shen jin – pure gold, shen yin – pure silver]. Tell your dog-of-an-uncle that the manual will be written just for him. Tell him to shut himself up and train hard; when he’s done, to come to the Old Beggar to test his newfound skills. The Manual is naturally a good thing, but I don’t even want to give it a single glance. I want to see, if with the Manual’s help, he will be able to defeat the Old Beggar. I want to see, if after he has painstakingly practiced the martial arts from the manual, whether he’ll even be equal to [ban jin ba liang] the Old Beggar? I’d say he’s just taking off his pants to fart; it’s totally useless!”

Ouyang Feng was actually standing behind his cabin door, so he heard everything, but he was delighted instead of getting angry. “It’s a very good thing the Old Beggar is so proud that he doesn’t mind letting me have the manual,” he thought, “Otherwise, even if I fought him, threatened him with snakes or poison, or starved him to death, it would still be difficult to force him.”

“Uncle Hong, you are wrong!” Ouyang Ke said, “My Uncle’s martial arts have reached perfection. With Uncle Hong’s ability, you could not gain even half a move advantage; so why would Uncle want to learn the ‘Nine Yin Manual’? My Uncle once told little nephew that he is convinced the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ has enjoyed an undeserved reputation. Otherwise, when Wang Chongyang won the book, why didn’t he learn anything from it and demonstrate it in front of everybody? My Uncle wants to take a look at it to point out the errors and prove that the manual is actually a hoax. Wouldn’t you say that it will benefit the Wulin world tremendously?”

Hong Qigong burst out in laughter, “You are foolishly blowing your horn too hard!” he mocked. “Jing’er, go ahead and write the manual from your memory. If the Old Poison can point out any errors in the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, the Old Beggar will kowtow to him.”

Guo Jing agreed and went out. Ouyang Ke led him to the big cabin where there was a stack of paper, some ink sticks and a brush; he’d even prepared the ink himself and respectfully waited at one side.

Guo Jing’s had not had much schooling and his handwriting was shoddy; he often had to think about the characters he had to write so he worked very slowly. More than once he did not know how to write a certain character, so he had to ask Ouyang Ke to write it for him. Working until noon that day he’d barely finished the first half of the first volume.

Ouyang Feng did not show himself at all, but every time Guo Jing finished writing a page Ouyang Ke would take that page and give it to his uncle. Ouyang Feng looked at them carefully. Some sentences did not make any sense to him, but even though sloppy, the characters were clear. He thought those sentences must have very deep meanings behind them; when he returns to the west he will then slowly digest the manual. He believed that with his intelligence and ability he would eventually understand the manual thoroughly. After a dozen years or so he would master all of the martial arts in the manual. He could not help but feel elated. He knew Guo Jing was dumb, he also noticed Guo Jing’s handwriting was plain and simple, almost child-like. He believed that a person like him would not be able to fabricate a complex manual such as this one. Besides, his nephew had told him that for many characters Guo Jing knew the sounds, but did not know how to write them, so his nephew had to teach him or write the characters himself. This was the real manual without a doubt. How could he know that this dumb kid had conspired with his master to deliberately alter the manual to deceive him? As for the confusing sentences, he blamed that on Guo Jing’s inability to remember the text correctly.

Guo Jing did not stop writing even though the sky had turned dark and he’d finished more than half of the second volume. Ouyang Feng did not allow him to return to his cabin for fear that Hong Qigong would convince him to change his mind and make things difficult for him. Even though he already had most of the manual in his hands, he wanted the complete manual. Therefore he arranged for a sumptuous meal and wine to be brought to Guo Jing and let Guo Jing continue to write without interruption.

Hong Qigong waited until about the end of the eleventh hour or early twelfth hour [about 9 pm] but Guo Jing did not come back. He felt queasy and afraid that Ouyang Feng had discovered their scheme and his dumb disciple might suffer the worst. He snuck out of his cabin and quietly walked towards the main cabin. There were two snake herders standing guard in front of the main cabin. Hong Qigong sent his left palm forward creating a gust of wind making the sail ropes move. The two snake herders heard the noise and looked around while Hong Qigong moved to the right. His movement was so quick that the two did not see a thing; they thought it was a ghost or something. Very soon Hong Qigong was at the starboard side of the main cabin.

Hong Qigong could see a faint glow coming out of the main cabin’s window. He took a peek inside and saw Guo Jing still crouched at the desk, writing. Two white-clothed maidens stood beside him, keeping busy serving tea or lighting incense or replenishing the paper or preparing more ink. Guo Jing was well taken care of. Hong Qigong was relieved. Then his nostrils caught the scent of the wine. He fixed his gaze on it and saw in front of Guo Jing a cup of amber brown aged wine, almost rouge in color; the sweet fragrance assailed his nose mercilessly.

Hong Qigong cursed inside, “The Old Poison is very stingy; because my disciple writes for him he serves him the best wine, but to the Old Beggar he only serves a very average cheap wine.” He was the world’s number one glutton and wine connoisseur; seeing his disciple with this excellent wine, how could he restrain himself from wanting some of it? “The Old Poison must store the good wine in the boat’s hold; I am going to drink to his happiness, then replace the wine with my urine. Let him taste the Old Beggar’s own vintage urine wine. Compared to what the Old Beggar and his disciple went through with the sharks, the Old Poison drinking some urine in his wine won’t be too bad. At least he won’t die because of it.”

Having had this thought he could not help but smile; stealing wine and food was the skill he’s most proud of. He once spent three whole months inside the Imperial Palace in Lin’an; he hid on a beam in the Imperial kitchen and tasted practically every single dish or wine that was to be served to the emperor. The Imperial Palace was heavily guarded, yet he was able to come and go like there were no other people there. Stealing food and wine from a boat’s kitchen certainly would not give him any trouble.

He looked for the stairs that would lead him below and, after making sure nobody was watching, he carefully went down, relying on his nose to find where the food supply was. Even though the hold was pitch black, Hong Qigong’s nose was able to smell food from a mile away. He slowly walked along the wall, lit a torch and saw six or seven wooden barrels piled up in the corner. Hong Qigong was delighted; he extinguished the torch after picking up a broken bowl he found laying around and put it in his pocket. He groped around towards the barrels and tried to lift one. The barrel was very heavy; it could contain anything.

With his left hand he found the plug, while his right hand placed the bowl under it. He was about to pull the plug when his sensitive ears suddenly heard footsteps. It seemed like there were two people walking towards the hold. Their steps were very light, so Hong Qigong knew it was Ouyang Feng and his nephew since nobody else on board had that kind of ability. He thought if those two came to the hold late at night, they must have some evil intentions, like poisoning the food to harm others. He shrank his body and hid curled up among the barrels. He heard the door open quietly, a flame flared, and two people walked in; they stopped right in front of the barrels. Hong Qigong’s heart skipped a beat, “Are they going to poison the wine?” he wondered inside; but what he heard next turned his heart cold.

“Have you placed oil, firewood and sulfur in each cabin?” he heard Ouyang Feng ask.

Ouyang Ke laughed, “Everything is ready; as soon as we start the fire this boat will turn into ashes and the stinky Beggar will be scorched to death instantly.”

“They are going to burn the boat?” Hong Qigong was shocked.

“We must wait a little bit longer,” Ouyang Feng said, “As soon as that kid named Guo falls asleep you go to the life boat; just be really careful not to wake the Old Beggar up. I’ll come here and light the fire.”

“What are we going to do with the maidservants and the snake herders?” Ouyang Ke asked.

“The stinky Beggar is a great master of this age; it’s worthy of his reputation to sacrifice some people to accompany him in death,” Ouyang Feng said coldly.

While they talked their hands were not idle; they unplugged a barrel and the smell of oil reached Hong Qigong’s nose. It turned out the barrels were full of vegetable oil. Ouyang Feng and his nephew also took some sulfur from a stack of wooden boxes, some firewood and sacks of wood shavings from the shelves, then scattered them on the floor.

Not too long afterwards they’d finished their job and turned around to go when Ouyang Ke laughed and said, “Uncle, in less than twelve hours that Guo kid will be buried at sea and the only person who knows the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ will be you.”

“No, there will be two. Won’t I pass it on to you?” Ouyang Feng replied. Ouyang Ke was delighted; he closed the door with the back of his hand.

Hong Qigong was furious and shocked at the same time, he thought, “If there was no ghost or spirit urging me to steal some wine how would I have found out about the two’s treacherous plan? When the boat suddenly caught fire, how would I’ve escaped the disaster?” When he could not hear the footsteps of those two anymore, he carefully snuck out and went back to his own cabin. Guo Jing had already come back and was sleeping soundly on the bed. He was about to wake him and discuss what they were going to do when there was a slight rustling noise outside the door. He knew it must be Ouyang Feng checking to see if they were sound asleep, so he pretended to talk in his sleep, “Good wine! Good wine! I want ten more pots!”

Ouyang Feng was startled, at first thinking the Old Beggar was still awake, drinking wine; but then Hong Qigong called out loudly again, “Old Poison, let us fight for another thousand stances … (giggling) … Good boy! That was awesome!” Standing outside the door Ouyang Feng listened to him speaking nonsense. He was confused for a while, then realized that Hong Qigong was talking in his sleep. “The stinky Beggar’s death is imminent, yet he still drinks and fights in his dreams,” he thought.

As Hong Qigong’s mouth talked nonsense, his ears listened attentively. Ouyang Feng’s lightness kungfu was superb, but Hong Qigong was still able to hear him walking towards the port side of the boat. Hong Qigong put his mouth on Guo Jing’s ear and lightly shook his shoulder, “Jing’er!” he whispered.

“Mmm!” Guo Jing mumbled as he awoke.

“Just follow my lead and don’t ask any questions,” Hong Qigong said urgently, “Get out quietly and make sure nobody’s watching you.”

Guo Jing rolled over and crawled quietly towards the door. Hong Qigong silently opened the door and, tugging Guo Jing’s sleeve, they moved towards the starboard side. He was afraid they would be detected by Ouyang Feng, so instead of jumping he climbed over the rail. With his left hand holding onto the rail his right hand pulled Guo Jing along; both of them hung outside the boat. Guo Jing thought it was strange, but did not dare to make any sounds. Hong Qigong slowly released his hands from the rail and quietly crawled downwards keeping his eyes on Guo Jing fearing that the boat was too slippery for him. Should he fall, he would surely make noise.

The boat was smoothly painted, plus, it was wet and they were going downwards to where the boat sloped towards the water. The boat was moving in waves making the boat rock, so climbing down was not an easy matter. Luckily Guo Jing had been trained by Ma Yu to go up and down the cliff everyday on the Steppe; plus, his skills had been improved tremendously this past year or so. He would stick his fingers in between the wooden planks or grab the head of a nail or find a crack somewhere and slowly but steadily moved down.

Half of Hong Qigong’s body was already in the water. He moved towards the stern with Guo Jing following close behind. His target was the small life boat tied on a rope behind the boat. “Get on that boat!” he told Guo Jing. He loosened his grip and released his body from the big boat.

The big boat was traveling quite fast, so only a second later Hong Qigong grabbed the edge of the small boat. Swinging with his hands his body somersaulted and landed in the small boat without making a sound. After Guo Jing followed his example he quietly said, “Cut the rope.” Guo Jing took out his dagger and a moment later the small boat was floating free on the ocean waves. Hong Qigong pulled the oars to get them some distance from the big boat. A moment later the big boat disappeared into the darkness.

Suddenly flames were seen on the big boat’s stern coming from the torch in Ouyang Feng’s hand. Ouyang Feng could be heard shouting in alarm because the small life boat was nowhere to be seen. He sounded shocked, angry and afraid at the same time. Hong Qigong concentrated his ‘qi’ in the ‘dan tian’ region and let out a long laugh.

Out of nowhere another boat appeared, heading rapidly towards the starboard side of the big boat. Hong Qigong wondered, “Uh, whose boat is that?” Before he finished speaking a pair of white eagles came down from the sky, circling the big boat’s main sail. Someone dressed in white could be seen leaving the incoming boat and leaping towards the big boat. In the bright starlight one could see the glimmer of a golden hair band on her head. “Rong’er!” Guo Jing gasped.

The person leaping onto the big boat was indeed Huang Rong. Just before leaving Peach Blossom Island she saw the little red horse galloping from the forest, she thought, “This little red horse is useless on the sea, but those two eagles would actually be able to help me find Jing ge ge.” So she whistled loudly to call the white eagles to her.

Eagles’ eyes are sharp and they can fly extremely fast. On this boundless sea they unexpectedly found Guo Jing on the big boat. Huang Rong was alarmed, but also pleasantly surprised to find the ‘in danger’ message Guo Jing had tied on the eagles’ leg; she immediately let the eagles soar in the sky and steered the boat to follow them. Eventually her boat caught up with the big boat, but she was a little bit too late, Hong Qigong and Guo Jing had already left the big boat.

Huang Rong had not forgotten the ‘in danger’ message she got earlier and she was afraid she might be too late; as soon as the eagles circled above this boat, she ordered her crew to sail alongside. As soon as the distance was manageable she leaped onto the big boat with a butterfly steel projectile in her hand, only to see Ouyang Ke pacing around nervously, like an ant on a hot pot.

“Where is Guo Jing?” Huang Rong shouted, “What did you do to him?”

Ouyang Feng had lit the fire in the hold and was planning to escape using the small life boat when he suddenly saw the boat was gone. Perspiration ran down his forehead like beads or pearls when he heard Hong Qigong’s loud and long laugh. He silently cursed his own stupidity because instead of harming others he was harming himself; of course he was very anxious. Then Huang Rong suddenly arrived on a boat and he rushed to grab this opportunity, “Quickly seize that boat!” he shouted.

The crew of Huang Rong’s boat was deaf mute servants from the island. As long as Huang Rong was on board, they followed her commands out of fear; as soon as Huang Rong left the boat, they immediately turned the boat around, hoisted the sail and escaped as fast as they could.

Not long after Hong Qigong and Guo Jing saw Huang Rong jump onto the big boat, the fire in the hold was starting to reach the deck. Guo Jing, unaware of what had happened, called out in alarm, “Fire…fire!”

“That’s right,” Hong Qigong said, “The Old Poison set the boat on fire to burn the two of us to death.” Guo Jing had a blank expression on his face as he excitedly said, “We must save Rong’er!”

“Let’s go back to the boat!” Hong Qigong said. With all his might Guo Jing pulled the oars. The big boat had also changed its direction to approach the small life boat. The deck was full of male snake herders and female maidservants running around frantically, shouting for help. Hong Qigong had to raise his voice to be heard, “Rong’er! Jing’er and I are here! Swim over quickly!”

On the sea the mighty waves rolled, the night was dark, so it was a very dangerous time to swim. But Hong Qigong knew Huang Rong’s water skills were excellent and it was also a critical moment, so he was compelled to take this risk.

When Huang Rong heard her master’s voice, she was delighted. No longer paying attention to Ouyang Feng and his nephew she rushed to the boat’s side and jumped into the water below. Suddenly she felt something was holding her back. Huang Rong turned her head in great surprise to see her right wrist in Ouyang Feng’s hand. “Let me go!” she shouted, sending her left fist toward Ouyang Feng’s face; the result was, both of her wrists were in Ouyang Feng’s hands.

Ouyang Feng saw the boat that brought Huang Rong had already far away, too far for them to pursue and the big boat they were on was already ablaze. The main mast was burning and about to fall and things on deck were extremely chaotic; the boat would sink at any minute. His only hope now was the small life boat in Hong Qigong’s control; so he shouted loudly, “Stinky Beggar! Miss Huang is in my hands; do you see her?” He lifted Huang Rong high in the air.

By that time the sea was lit bright red from the fire on the boat. Hong Qigong and Guo Jing could see her clearly. Hong Qigong was very indignant, “Again he uses a dirty trick to get this boat. Humph! I am going to get Rong’er back.” Guo Jing saw the boat was nearly burnt to the rails, “I am coming too!” he said.

“No! You stay and guard this boat; don’t let the Old Poison take it away,” Hong Qigong said.

“All right!” Guo Jing said and exerted his strength pulling the oars. By that time the big boat was motionless on the sea’s surface, so with several pulls they had come close to the big boat.

Hong Qigong kicked the small boat and his body flew toward the big boat. Stretching his left hand he grabbed the boat’s rail with his strong fingers and then catapulted his body upward and somersaulted to the deck.

Ouyang Feng was still holding Huang Rong’s wrists; “Stinky Beggar, what do you want?” he said, smiling ferociously.

Hong Qigong cursed him silently, “Come…let us fight another one thousand stances.” ‘Swish…swish…swish!’ He sent three palm attacks towards Ouyang Feng’s face. Ouyang Feng was shrewd; he pushed Huang Rong’s body forward as a shield, forcing Hong Qigong to retract his attack. Ouyang Feng had sealed Huang Rong’s acupoints, so she was paralyzed.

Hong Qigong shouted loudly, “Old Poison, you are shameless! Quickly unseal her and let her go; you and I will fight here to decide victory or defeat.”

How could Ouyang Feng release his prisoner so easily? Then he noticed his nephew was continuously being pushed backwards by the fire; he threw Huang Rong towards him and called out, “Go to the small boat!”

Ouyang Ke caught Huang Rong and looked downward to see Guo Jing waiting in the small boat below. He thought the small boat was too small. If he jumped down carrying someone, he might cause the boat to turn over, so he found a thick rope. After tying it to a mast he used his right hand to slide down onto the small boat while holding Huang Rong with his left.

Guo Jing was relieved to see Huang Rong on the small boat but he did not know that Huang Rong’s acupoints were sealed. His attention was focused on his master and Ouyang Feng fighting a fierce battle on the blazing deck. He was so worried about his master’s safety that his gaze was fixed on the fight and he forgot to speak to Huang Rong.

Both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng demonstrated their excellence in martial arts while leaping around to avoid falling wood and ropes. They attacked and counterattacked each other. Hong Qigong had a slight advantage in that his body was still wet from swimming to the small boat earlier, while Ouyang Feng’s clothes and hair had caught fire here and there.

The two’s martial arts were at par to begin with and a slight advantage was enough for Hong Qigong to gain the upper hand. Ouyang Feng was forced to step back bit by bit until his back was very close to the cabin and his clothes and beard started to catch fire. He wanted to jump into the sea, but Hong Qigong did not give him any slack. If he tried to jump and thus diverted his attention from the fight, he might be seriously injured or even worse, killed. Ouyang Feng became very anxious and it seemed like defeat was imminent.

Hong Qigong also realized that he would certainly win this time and that boosted his confidence. But then another thought came into his mind, “If I forced him to enter the fire and die, that won’t do my plan any good. He has obtained the ‘Nine Yin Altered Manual’ from Jing’er and he won’t die satisfied until he practices that manual. Why don’t I let him off this time?” Thereupon he laughed and said, “Old Poison, I let you off this time, quickly jump into the boat.”

Ouyang Feng looked at him strangely, then turning his body he jumped into the sea. Hong Qigong was about to follow when Ouyang Feng suddenly flew back up. “Hold on! Now that my body is also wet, we are on level ground. Let us fight again to decide victory or defeat.” Holding onto the boat’s rail he swung his body up and landed on the deck.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Hong Qigong said, “I’m having a very satisfying fight today!” He sent his fist forward, and the two engaged in a fierce battle one more time.

“Rong’er, do you see how fierce the Old Poison is?” Guo Jing asked. Huang Rong’s acupoint was still sealed, so of course she was not able to answer. “Do you think I should go up there and help Master? The boat is about to sink,” Guo Jing said. There still was no answer from Huang Rong. Guo Jing turned his head to see Ouyang Ke hugging Huang Rong; he became angry and shouted, “Take your hands off her!”

After great difficulty Ouyang Ke was finally able to touch Huang Rong’s hands; how could he let go that easily? Smiling he said, “If you move, I am going to bash her brains out with my palm.”

Guo Jing did not even think; he swept the oar in his hand horizontally. Ouyang Ke ducked to avoid this attack, but Guo Jing sent his palm with a whistling sound toward his head. Ouyang Ke was forced to let Huang Rong go and swung his head backwards to avoid this attack. Guo Jing’s fists moved simultaneously, one downward, the other upward, both aimed at Ouyang Ke’s head.

Ouyang Ke realized this small boat was not the best place to fight while his enemy attacked fiercely. He stood up and sent a stance from his ‘Spirit Snake Fist technique’ [ling she quan], his hand swept horizontally. Guo Jing extended his left arm to parry, but suddenly Ouyang Ke’s fist curved upward turning into a palm that slapped Guo Jing hard on his cheek.

This blow was very hard and Guo Jing’s head was spinning because of it; but he realized the danger and he opened his eyes to see the second attack coming. Ouyang Ke’s movement resembled a wine gourd with two bends. Guo Jing avoided this attack by throwing his head backwards while sending his right arm forward to counterattack. Because his head was moving backwards, his attack was not effective. Luckily he had learned the ‘Mutual Hands Combat technique’ from Zhou Botong, so both his left and right hands could move independently of each other. This time his left hand followed his right with a different stance heading at his opponent. Because Ouyang Ke’s hand was still coming towards Guo Jing, Guo Jing’s arms surrounded his hand. Ouyang Ke's right arm happened to get caught in between Guo Jing's hands and as the left hand was pulling inwards and the right was pushing outwards. With a crack one of Ouyang Ke’s arm bones was broken.

Actually Ouyang Ke’s martial arts skill was not much below those of Ma Yu, Wang Chuyi or Sha Tongtian. No matter which technique he used, he should be able to defeat Guo Jing in a fair battle. Because Guo Jing’s techniques were more bizarre than any other techniques he had seen before, he suffered under Guo Jing’s hands twice. Ouyang Ke fell onto the small boat’s deck.

Guo Jing did not pursue his attack on his opponent; instead he quickly took Huang Rong’s yielding body and unsealed her acupoint. Luckily for him that when Ouyang Feng sealed her acupoint, he did not use too much energy; he was trying to conserve his energy because he’d anticipated Hong Qigong’s attack. Guo Jing would not have been able to unseal the Western Poison’s acupoint sealing otherwise.

Huang Rong came to her senses, “Quickly help Shifu!” she called out.

Guo Jing lifted his head to see his master and Ouyang Feng engaged in close hand-to-hand combat and looked like they were dancing in the midst of the blazing fire. The sound of the winds generated by their movements was intermingled with the sounds of cracking and debris falling over them. Suddenly a loud crack was heard as the boat’s back broke; the stern slowly sank into the sea and vanished in the dark water. The bow was lighter, but slowly sank as well. Guo Jing took his oar and started paddling to get the small boat closer with the intention of helping his master.

Hong Qigong’s feet hit the water first. His clothes had been dried out by the fire, while Ouyang Feng’s were still wet from jumping into the sea earlier. This time the Western Poison had gained the upper hand over the Northern Beggar. Hong Qigong did not want to surrender so easily, so he fought with all his might. At that moment the main mast broke and fell. The two hurriedly jumped backwards so they were separated by the burning mast.

Ouyang Feng fetched his snake staff and jumped over the burning mast. Hong Qigong immediately drew the bamboo stick from his waist and fended off the attack. They had been fighting ferociously barehanded before, so imagine how fierce the battle had become now that both were wielding weapons.

Guo Jing held the oar in his hands, ready to jump on board. He was very concerned about his master’s safety, yet watching the two’s wonderful weapon techniques he was carried away, clucking his tongue and praising them unceasingly.

There is a saying among martial arts practitioners, “A hundred days to master a saber, a thousand days to master a spear, ten thousand days to master a sword,” indicating that sword techniques were the most difficult to learn. However, when martial artists reached perfection, each would develop his/her own unique skill and the difference between various weapons would become minuscule. Twenty years ago during the Sword Meet of Mount Hua both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng already admired each other’s martial arts very much. Even using swords it was very difficult for one to defeat the other. Now neither used the sword any longer.

Hong Qigong wielded a bamboo stick which he carried anywhere he went as the symbol of authority of his position as the Beggar Clan Leader. The bamboo was pliable but hard to break. Compared to a sword it was about one foot longer. His skill in external martial arts was superb; he was able to impart an incredible amount of strength to the flexible weapon in his hands, increasing its might tremendously.

Ouyang Feng’s snake staff was also unique in that he’d combined the cudgel, stick, and spear techniques; the movements were complicated. The staff’s head was carved in the form of a human head; its mouth grinned ferociously, looking very scary. The two rows of sharp teeth inside its mouth were covered with poison. The head danced around like a ghost ready to strike its victim. On top of that, there was a hidden button on the staff that, when pressed, would shoot some poison towards the enemy. If that wasn’t enough, fiercer still were the two snakes wrapped around the staff. They were alive and able to make unpredictable moves and were very difficult to guard against.

The two exchanged palms and weapons, displaying their respective unique skills. Ouyang Feng had a slight advantage in terms of weaponry, but Hong Qigong was the leader of beggars everywhere and beggars were experts in catching snakes. His bamboo stick danced amidst the snake staff movements and parried every move that came his way. He also took advantage of any opening in his opponent’s offense and struck at the snake staff’s vital point. Ouyang Feng moved his staff very quickly, making it difficult for his opponent to take accurate aim; he knew Hong Qigong meant to kill the snakes on his staff. He did not activate the secret button on his staff for fear that his reputation would be ruined.

Hong Qigong still had a unique skill set belonging to the Beggar Clan, namely the ‘Dog Beating Stick technique’ [da gou bang], its changes were subtle yet marvelous. It was a very sophisticated stick technique. However, Hong Qigong did not want to use this special skill unless except in an emergency situation. He was planning on using it at the second Sword Meet of Mount Hua the following year and he did not want to let this would-be-contender to have the advantage of watching his moves beforehand.

Guo Jing stood on the bow of the small boat and several times wanted to jump on board to help his master; but the two combatants were fighting closely. He realized his own skill was too far below theirs and it would be very difficult to even get close to them. All he could do was stare blankly, unable to do anything.