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The Legend of the Condor Heroes - Chapter 24

Chapter 24 – Healing in the Secret Room

Huang Rong had walked two steps before she turned her head and saw Guo Jing’s suspicious expression, as if he could see the murderous look on her face. She thought, “I don’t have a problem with killing Sha Gu, but Jing ge ge might ask me about it later. He might not ask me now, he might not even raise this matter…ever, but in his heart he might harbor hatred towards me and that won’t be good. All right, we’ll just have to take this huge risk.” She closed the door immediately and then looked around the room carefully.

In the western corner, near the roof of that small room, there was a small ventilation window about one foot square where the sunlight entered the room through a sheet of clamshell curtain. It was by this light that they were able to see everything inside the room. The ventilation hole was dusty, so Huang Rong took ut her dagger and cleaned it out. The bad smell in the room still lingered, but they did not seem to notice it. In light of the life and death experiences they’d faced earlier, the smelly, dusty room felt like a sanctuary to them.

Guo Jing leaned against the wall, smiled slightly and said, “There is no better place for us to treat my injury than in this room. Unfortunately we are accompanied by two dead people. Are you afraid?”

Inside, Huang Rong was actually frightened, but she was determined not to think about it. She said with a smile, “One was my older Martial Brother [shige], he certainly won’t harm me, and the other was a rice bucket government official. Alive he wouldn’t scare me and by becoming a ghost he would scare me even less.” She immediately kicked the pair of skeletons towards the northern corner of the room. She took the straw mat covering the watermelons, spread it out on the floor, and then she piled the watermelons around it within arm’s reach. “What do you think?” she asked.

“Very good,” Guo Jing replied. “Now we can start.”

Huang Rong helped him sit down on the straw mat and she sat cross-legged to his left. When she raised her head she saw a small peep-hole the size of a coin in the wall right in front of her. She looked through it and to her delight she saw a mirror in which she could see the entire room outside. Apparently the people who built this secret room had planned it well. When they were hiding from enemies inside this room, they could still observe the activities outside in the mirror. It had been unused for a long time and the mirror was covered with a thick layer of dust. She took out a handkerchief, wrapped it around her index finger, and poked it through the hole to clean the mirror. She saw Sha Gu sitting on the floor throwing pebbles while humming a tune. Huang Rong could not hear clearly what she was humming, so she pressed her ear to the hole to listen. It seemed Sha Gu was humming a lullaby: “Swing, swing, swing; swing to the Grandmother’s bridge. Grandmother calls me the precious baby …”

It was strange, but the more she listened, the more she felt the touching emotions that song carried. Her heart overflowed with tender affection. She could not help but wonder: “Could this song be the one her mother sang to her when she was little …? If my mother had not died, would she have sung to me like this?” Thinking of this, her eyes became moist.

Guo Jing saw her sad expression and said, “What are you thinking? My injury is not that bad…don’t feel so sad.”

Huang Rong moved her hand to wipe away tears and said, “Quickly teach me the internal energy cultivation technique.” Thereupon Guo Jing started to slowly recite the ‘Treating Injuries’ chapter from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’.

There was a saying amongst martial arts practitioners: ‘Learn how to take a beating first before learning how to beat someone.’ Therefore, the most basic lesson in martial arts was how to take a beating without getting seriously injured. When the martial arts became more profound, the practitioner must learn how to protect their own body and their life by sealing acupoints to treat an injury, set broken bones, cure poison, treat wounds, and many other kinds of advanced techniques. Better techniques would result in better skills and it did not matter if one’s martial arts skills were unmatched, there would come a day when he would fall. The ‘Treating Injuries’ portion of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ explained how a highly skilled martial artist could use his own internal energy to treat an injury and how to circulate his own and other’s internal energy for treating internal injuries. As for broken bones, weapon-inflicted wounds or other external injury treatments, it was assumed that the person who practiced the ‘Manual’ did not need further instructions.

Huang Rong needed to listen to something once and she would remember forever. There were several unclear passages in the ‘Manual’, which they needed to discuss in detail. One had a strong foundation in the Quanzhen Sect’s internal energy cultivation and the other had extraordinary intelligence. With some deliberation, they were able to grasp almost everything. Huang Rong held out her right hand, clasped Guo Jing’s left, and they started to train diligently according to the techniques in the ‘Manual’.

After training for four hours they took a short break. Taking her knife in her left hand, Huang Rong cut up a watermelon. She fed some to Guo Jing, while her right hand still clasped Guo Jing’s left. After training for several hours, the tightness in Guo Jing’s chest gradually decreased as the warm energy from Huang Rong’s palm slowly dispersed into his bones. The pain in his side also gradually reduced. He thought the techniques contained in the manual were truly incomparable. He did not dare to be negligent and proceeded with care.

When the time came for them to take their third break, the light streaming through the ventilation window had gradually dimmed. It was near dusk. Not only did Guo Jing feel that his chest was a lot less constricted, but Huang Rong also felt invigorated. The two chatted a while before continuing their training. Suddenly they heard running footsteps that stopped in front of the inn. Then several people came in. An insolent voice shouted, “Quickly get some food. Your masters here are starving!”

They recognized that the voice belonged to the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ Hou Tonghai. Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other in surprise. Huang Rong quickly looked through the small hole and to her surprise, she saw in the mirror not only Hou Tonghai, but Wanyan Honglie, Ouyang Feng, Yang Kang, Peng Lianhu and the others. Huang Rong had no idea where Sha Gu had gone to play. Hou Tonghai slapped the table and made quite a racket but nobody came. Liang Ziweng went out and walked around the building. He frowned and said, “Nobody lives here.” Hou Tonghai volunteered to go into the village and buy some wine and food. Ouyang Feng found a spot protected from the blowing wind and spread some straw. Then he carried his nephew and gently placed him on the straw to let him lie quietly to heal his broken legs.

Peng Lianhu said with a laugh, “Although those palace guards are useless, they are haunting us like ghosts. We didn’t even have time to stop and eat for the whole day. Prince, you are a northerner, yet you knew that there is a desolate village by the Qiantang River and led us here. Truly nothing is hidden from your knowledgeable mind.”

Although he heard the flattering tone in Peng Lianhu’s voice, Wanyan Honglie’s face did not show the slightest satisfaction. He merely sighed softly and said, “I came to this place nineteen years ago.” Everyone could see that his expression had changed. They felt a little strange. Of course, nobody knew he was thinking about how Bao Xirou had saved his life in this village. The desolate village still existed, but that gentle lady with a hairpin in her hair, wearing green robes, and who fed him warm chicken soup, was no longer in this world.

Meanwhile, Hou Tonghai had returned from the village with wine and food. Peng Lianhu poured wine for everybody and said to Wanyan Honglie, “Prince, today you succeeded in attaining the marvelous book of military strategy. It is a sign that the Great Jin’s prestige will soon inspire the world, and your armies will dominate tens of thousands of lands. Let us all congratulate you!” He raised his cup and gulped his wine. His voice was loud and clear so Guo Jing could hear him clearly in spite of the wall between them. He was shocked. “Master Yue’s Legacy [Yue Yeye] has fallen into his hands!” he thought bitterly. As soon as his mind became anxious, the flow of energy in his chest reversed. Huang Rong could feel his palm shaking and she knew he’d heard everything. It had affected his ‘dan tian’ [pubic region] energy. If it was not controlled quickly his life might be in danger. She quickly pressed her lips to his ear and whispered, “If he could steal the book, can’t we do the same? When your Second Master [Er Shifu], the ‘Magical Hands Scholar’ makes his move, he can easily steal ten books.”

Guo Jing thought she was right and immediately closed his eyes. His mind no longer listened to the conversation beyond the wall. Huang Rong looked into the hole again and saw Wanyan Honglie raise his cup and drink his wine. Then, with a delighted smile, he said, “In today’s battle everyone worked hard to help and Mr. Ouyang rendered the greatest service. If he had not gotten rid of that kid named Guo, we would have had to expend a lot more effort.”

Ouyang Feng let out a dry laugh which sounded like a broken cymbal. As Guo Jing heard his laughter, his heart was stirred yet again. Huang Rong inwardly thought, “Heaven bless us and not let the Old Poison pluck his devilish zither here, or Jing ge ge’s life will be difficult to save.”

She heard Ouyang Feng say, “This place is so remote, the Song army will not find us here. I wonder what kind of treasure this Yue Fei Yishu [Legacy] is. Let us all take a look.”

He took the stone box from his clothing and placed it on the table. His thoughts were that should Wumu Legacy contain an exquisite martial arts method, then he would, without regard for anyone else, take it for himself. However, if the book only contained marching techniques and military strategies, it would be useless to him. In that case, he would gladly let the others enjoy it and allow Wanyan Honglie keep it.

In the meantime, everyone was gazing at the stone box. Huang Rong thought, “What can I do to destroy the book? Destroying it would be better than letting it fall into the hands of these traitors.” She heard Wanyan Honglie say, “Xiao Wang [lit. little prince] has performed a comprehensive analysis of Yue Fei’s riddle in the form of a poem. I also carefully studied the official historical records of the previous dynasties on the construction of the Imperial Palace. I came to believe that this book was concealed fifteen steps east of the ‘Green-Jade Cold Hall’. Today my deduction was proved correct. I believe no one in the Song Dynasty knew that such a treasure was hidden in their palace. The commotion we made last night….I don’t think anybody knew what it was all about.” He sounded very proud of himself. Everyone seized the opportunity to immediately heap praises on him.

Wanyan Honglie twisted his moustache and laughed. “Kang’er,” he said, “Go ahead…open the box.”

Yang Kang responded and stepped forward. First he removed the seal and then lifted the lid. Everyone’s eyes were on the box. Their countenances suddenly changed and they were confounded. No one made a sound. The box was completely empty. There wasn’t a military strategy book inside … there wasn’t even a blank sheet of paper. Although Huang Rong could not see the box, judging from everyone’s expression, she could deduce that the box was empty. She was delighted and found it amusing.

Wanyan Honglie was very disappointed. He held onto the table as he sat down. His hand propped his cheek as he began thinking deeply. “My thousands of calculations, tens of thousands of iterations, all pointed to Yue Fei’s Legacy being in this box. How can it be that there’s not even a trace of it?” he thought. Suddenly he had an idea and his face lit up. He took the stone box outside towards the well and smashed it with all his might against the flagstones. ‘Bang!’ the box broke into pieces.

When Huang Rong heard that breaking stone she immediately thought, “Ah, there is a secret compartment in the box.” She was anxious to see if the Legacy was inside a secret compartment, but no matter what, she could not go out. After a moment, however, she saw Wanyan Honglie dejectedly return to the room and sit down.

“I knew there was a secret compartment in that box, but who could have known it was also empty,” Wanyan Honglie said.

One after another the others tried to offer their opinions. Huang Rong was amused listening to their wild imaginings. Each was weirder than the next. She immediately told Guo Jing. When he learned that the Wumu Legacy had not been stolen, he was greatly comforted. Huang Rong deliberated further. “These traitors will not give up just like that…they must be thinking of going back to the palace tonight.” She was thinking of her Master who was still inside the palace and she was afraid he might be implicated if found. Zhou Botong was there to protect him, but Huang Rong could not help but feel worried since the Old Urchin behaved like a madman. He could not take care of important matters properly.

Sure enough, she heard Ouyang Feng say, “It’s not a big deal. We’ll go back to the palace tonight and search some more.”

“We can’t go tonight,” Wanyan Honglie objected. “We made quite a disturbance last night and I am sure they will guard the palace closely tonight.”

“We can’t avoid the guards,” Ouyang Feng said, “But why worry over it? The Prince and Young Prince do not need to go. You and my nephew may stay here to have some rest.”

Wanyan Honglie cupped his fists in front of his chest. “Then I will trouble Mister to do this work for me. The Prince will await your good news with a peaceful heart.” Straightaway everyone spread out some straw in the room and lay down to sleep. After they’d slept for more than two hours, Ouyang Feng woke the others and they went to the city once again.

Wanyan Honglie tossed and turned without being able to get any sleep. Around midnight he could hear the sounds of the rising tide in the river. He could also hear a dog barking at the other end of the village and the dog barked intermittently throughout the night, as if it was lamenting. In the quiet of the night it brought sorrow to the heart, adding to the anxiety he already felt inside.

After a long while footsteps were heard outside the door…someone was coming in. Wanyan Honglie quickly sat up and drew his sword. Yang Kang had quickly jumped behind the door to set an ambush. In the moonlight they saw a woman with disheveled hair, humming a children’s song, open the door and come in. It was none other than Sha Gu. She had just got back from playing in the woods all day. She thought little of seeing people sleeping in her room, so she kept walking towards the pile of firewood, and lay down next to it. Not too long afterwards, she was snoring. When Yang Kang saw it was only a dumb country girl, he smiled and went back to sleep. Wanyan Honglie’s mind, however, was filled with thoughts of the past and present. He did not sleep for a long time. He got up, took a candle from his backpack and lit it. Then he took out a book and started flipping the pages.

Huang Rong saw the bright light through the small hole. She took a peek and saw a moth circle the candle, then fly suddenly into the flame. Its wings were immediately scorched and it fell onto the table. Wanyan Honglie picked the moth up. He could not help but feel distressed. He thought, “If my Madame Bao were here, she would certainly take care of you.” From his bosom he took out a small silver knife, a small medicine bottle and stroked them affectionately.

Huang Rong lightly tapped Guo Jing’s shoulder and moved aside so Guo Jing could take a look through the small hole. What Guo Jing saw with his own eyes enraged him. He vaguely recognized the silver knife and medicine bottle as belonging to Yang Kang’s mother, Bao Xiruo. He’d seen her using these items at the Zhao Palace when she was tending a little injured rabbit. He heard Wanyan Honglie softly murmur, “Nineteen years ago, in this very village, I met you for the first time … Ay! I wonder what has happened to your former home?” After saying that he arose, took the candle, and went out of the door.

Guo Jing was startled. “Could it be that this is my parents’ hometown, Ox Village?” he wondered. He pressed his mouth to Huang Rong’s ear to inquire. Huang Rong nodded. Guo Jing’s blood surged and his body shook.

Huang Rong’s right palm was holding Guo Jing’s left palm so she realized his breathing was uneven because of his agitation, which was very dangerous. She immediately reached out her left palm to grab Guo Jing’s right and together they synchronized their energies while Guo Jing slowly controlled his breathing. After a long time they saw a moving light and heard Wanyan Honglie heave a long sigh as he came back to the room. By this time Guo Jing was able to control his emotions, but his left palm was still held in Huang Rong’s right. He looked through the small hole again and saw Wanyan Honglie holding several small pieces of broken brick and tile, sitting in daze in the candle light.

Guo Jing thought, “This traitor is less than ten steps away from me. All I need to do is throw the dagger at him and I will be able to take his life.”

His right hand drew the golden blade that Genghis Khan gave him and he whispered to Huang Rong, “Open the door.”

“Don’t!” Huang Rong hastily said. “Killing him will be easy, but our hiding place will be discovered.”

With a trembling voice Guo Jing said, “In six more days, I won’t know where he’ll be.”

Huang Rong knew it would not be easy to persuade him, so she whispered in his ear, “Your mother and Rong’er want you alive.”

Guo Jing’s felt a cold shiver in his heart. He nodded while putting the golden blade back into its sheath and again looked out through the small hole. He saw Wanyan Honglie sprawled on the table, asleep. Suddenly he saw somebody get up from the straw. This person’s face was illuminated by the candle light, but in the mirror, it was not clear whose face it was. Guo Jing only saw him quietly stand up and walk over to Wanyan Honglie. He took the silver knife and the small medicine bottle from the table, looked at them for a while, then gently put them back down on the table. He then turned his head and Guo Jing saw that it was Yang Kang.

Guo Jing said in his heart, “That’s right, you must avenge your parents. This is a very good opportunity. With a stab of the dagger, the enemy, with whom you cannot live under the same sky, will certainly lose his life. You won’t get the same opportunity once the Old Poison and the others come back.”

He was very anxious, hoping Yang Kang would make his move immediately. But after putting down the silver knife and the medicine bottle, Yang Kang blew out the candle. For a moment the room looked dark to him. Then he saw Yang Kang take off his long robe and gently drape it over Wanyan Honglie’s shoulders to protect him from the cold night.

Guo Jing was very angry and turned his head, not willing to look outside any longer. He did not understand how Yang Kang could treat the enemy who killed his parents with such tender and loving care. Huang Rong comforted him by saying, “Do not be impatient. After your injury is healed, even should the traitor run away over the horizon, we will catch him. He is not the Old Poison…don’t you think killing him will be easy?” Guo Jing nodded and went back to circulating his internal energy.

Dawn soon arrived and from the village came the sounds of roosters crowing and all kinds of morning clatter. The ‘qi’ had circulated inside their bodies seven times and they felt relaxed and comfortable. Huang Rong raised her index finger and said with a smile, “One day has passed!”

“And it was very dangerous!” Guo Jing replied in low voice. “If not for you, I would not have been able to keep my mind peaceful and calm. I nearly made things worse.”

“There are six more days and nights to go,” Huang Rong said. “You promised to listen to what I say.”

Guo Jing laughed. “When did I ever not listen to what you say?” he said. Huang Rong leaned her head to one side and said, “Hmm, let me think.”

At this moment a single ray of sunlight came slanting through the ventilation window. Her white skin and beautiful rosy cheeks looked like the red clouds at dawn. Guo Jing suddenly noticed her palm was exceptionally warm and soft. Something stirred in his chest and he hastily chased that thought away, but his face was already blushing. For as long as they had been together, Guo Jing had never had this kind of feeling towards her before. He could not help feeling shocked and he silently rebuked himself.

Huang Rong saw him blushing and felt strange. “Jing ge ge,” she asked, “What just happened?” With a low voice Guo Jing replied, “I have been bad. I suddenly thought of

… thought of …”

“What is it?” Huang Rong asked.

“I am not thinking about it anymore,” Guo Jing answered. “Then what did you think of?” Huang Rong pressed.

Unable to dodge the question Guo Jing confessed. “I was thinking of hugging you…kissing you.”

Huang Rong felt warm and sweet all of a sudden and she also blushed. She looked shy and even lovelier.

Seeing her lower her head without saying anything Guo Jing asked, “Rong’er, are you angry? I was as bad as Ouyang Ke for having such a bad thought.”

Huang Rong gave him one of her captivating smiles. “I am not angry,” she said with a tender voice, “I was thinking that in the future you will hug and kiss me, for I will certainly be your wife.” Guo Jing was very happy. He stammered but could not say anything.

“You wanted to hug and kiss me…is that bad?” Huang Rong asked.

Guo Jing was about to reply when there suddenly came the sounds of rushing footsteps outside as two men burst into the inn. He heard Hou Tonghai’s voice say, “His granny [he’s cussing], I told you earlier that there are ghosts in the world, but older Martial Brother did not believe me.” He was so agitated that he could not say clearly what was in his raging mind. Then Sha Tongtian replied, “What ghost? I told you…we met a martial arts master.”

Huang Rong looked out through the hole and saw that Hou Tonghai’s face was covered in blood, while Sha Tongtian’s clothes were torn to pieces. It seemed as though these two martial brothers had been through an extremely difficult situation. Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang were confounded to see their condition and they hastily asked about it. Hou Tonghai replied, “We were very unfortunate…we met a ghost at the Imperial Palace last night. Damn it! Old Hou’s ears were cut off by that ghost.”

Wanyan Honglie did indeed see that both sides of his face were covered with blood and looked somewhat unusual. As it turned out, his ears were missing. Wanyan Honglie was astonished.

Sha Tongtian scolded, “Still talking about a strange ghost story! Haven’t you disgraced us enough?”

Hou Tonghai was afraid of his older Martial Brother, but he still tried to argue. “I saw it clearly. His eyes were blue…he was the red bearded ‘Judge of Hell’ pouncing at me with a scary ‘Wah! Wah!’ voice! All I did was turn my head, then he grabbed my neck and my ears were gone. This ‘Judge of Hell’ looked exactly like the one in the temple…how could it not be him?”

Sha Tongtian only fought the ‘Judge’ for three stances and his clothes were ripped to pieces. That ‘Judge’ was definitely a highly skilled martial artist, not some strange ghost, but Sha Tongtian did not have a clue as to why he had the appearance of the ‘Judge of Hell’.

The four people offered their guesses and they even asked Ouyang Ke who was lying down because of his injuries, but nobody came up with a plausible answer.

While they were still talking, Lingzhi Shangren [Shangren is a respectful term for addressing a Buddhist monk], Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziweng also arrived, one after another. Venerable Lingzhi’s hands were bound behind his back with an iron chain, Peng Lianhu’s cheeks were a swollen red and blue, and Liang Ziweng’s condition was the funniest…the white hair on his head had been pulled out so cleanly that he looked like a Buddhist monk. As he stood near and talked to Sha Tongtian, they looked alike with their bald heads reflecting the light.

As it turned, out those three had entered the Imperial Palace and spread out in order to find the Wumu Legacy. All of them had met ghosts, but each met a different ghost. One met with a ‘wu chang gui’ [the ghost supposed to take soul after death], the other ‘huang ling guan’ [yellow spirit officer], and the last was ‘tu di pu sa’ [earth god].

Liang Ziweng stroked his own bald head and opened his mouth to curse using all the dirty words he knew, including some like ‘mother-in-law of the earth grew some fungi’. Peng Lianhu endured it all silently and did not say a single word as he worked hard trying to take the iron chain from Venerable Lingzhi’s wrists. The chain, with hooks on either end, connected tightly to each other and cut deep into the flesh. Peng Lianhu had to exert a lot of strength and his hands were bruised and bloody before he could unhook the chain. Everyone looked at each other with blank dismay and nobody made a sound. They knew in their hearts that last night they had met a highly skilled martial artist and were greatly insulted. They all felt ashamed. Hou Tonghai still believed it was a ghost and nobody bothered to argue with him.

After a long time Wanyan Honglie opened his mouth. “I wonder why Mr. Ouyang has not come back yet. Perhaps he also met a ghost.”

“Mr. Ouyang’s martial arts skill is unmatched,” Yang Kang said. “Even if he met a ghost he wouldn’t suffer a defeat.” Peng Lianhu and the others were indifferent.

Huang Rong heard everything about how these people met extremely difficult situations and talked about ghosts. She was very pleased and thought, “The masks I bought for Zhou Dage [Big Brother] have unexpectedly boosted his power and prestige …that is truly beyond my expectations. I wonder if he’s met and fought the Old Poison yet.” At that moment she felt Guo Jing’s internal energy starting to flow into her palm, so she immediately turned back to join him.

Peng Lianhu and the others had been busy all night and were starving. Working together they chopped firewood, bought rice and vegetables, and prepared the food. When the food was ready, Hou Tonghai went to the cupboard to get some bowls. He noticed the iron bowl and tried to take it… naturally it would not budge. He was startled and shouted, “A ghost!” He pulled the bowl with all his strength, but of course the bowl did not move. Huang Rong heard his voice and was shocked, for she knew that their hiding place must not be found by them. Not only that, if a fight broke out they would not necessarily win and besides, if they moved ever so slightly, Guo Jing’s life would be in danger. That must not happen. Inside the secret room she was frightened and did not know what to do. Outside of the room, Sha Tongtian heard his martial brother’s shout and reprimanded him for making such a big fuss over nothing.

Hou Tonghai was not angry and said, “All right then, come and take this bowl.” Sha Tongtian reached out his hand to pick up the bowl, but the bowl stayed put. “Ah!” he exclaimed.

Peng Lianhu heard him and came over. “Brother Sha [Sha Xiong],” he said, “There must be a secret mechanism connected to it. Try turning it to the left or right.”

Huang Rong knew the situation was pressing and knew that they were being forced to risk it all. She handed the dagger to Guo Jing and reached out her hand to take the bamboo stick given to her by Hong Qigong. Inwardly she felt sad to think their lives would end this way. At the last moment she turned her head and noted the skeletons at the corner of the room. Suddenly an idea came to mind. She hurriedly grabbed the skulls, lifted a big watermelon, and placed the skulls on the watermelon.

With a creaking sound the iron door opened, revealing the hole behind it. Huang Rong placed the watermelon on top of her head and spread her long hair over her face. As Sha Tongtian opened the door, he saw a monster with two heads inside the cabinet, making scary ‘Wah! Wah!’ sounds. The monster’s two heads were skulls, side by side on top of a blue and green striped sphere, with a clump of long black beard beneath it.

Everyone had suffered a lot the previous night and they were still shaken. Now they suddenly saw a ghost inside the cabinet and they were really frightened. Hou Tonghai screamed and ran away. Without thinking, everyone else followed. The only one left was Ouyang Ke. He was lying on a straw bed with broken legs, unable to run. Huang Rong heaved a long sigh and quickly closed the cabinet door. She could not help but smile considering that, for the moment, they had barely escaped serious trouble. She also knew those traitors were some of Jianghu’s top veterans, so surely they would come back. They were running away because they had been frightened by the Old Urchin. If not for that, how could she have fooled them so easily? Once they calmed down they would come back and not be frightened away so easily. She was still undecided on the next course of action.

Huang Rong’s grin had not disappeared before she heard a noise at the inn’s door…someone was coming. Huang Rong grabbed a steel Emei Sting tightly in her hand and kept the bamboo stick was close by her side. As soon as the cabinet door was opened, she would throw the projectile first and think about her actions later. After waiting for a moment she heard a beautiful voice calling out, “Innkeeper…Innkeeper!”

Huang Rong was really surprised to hear this call. She quickly looked out through the small hole and saw a lady wearing an embroidered gown sitting down. Her clothes and adornments were gorgeous, indicating that she came from a wealthy family. She sat with her back facing the mirror, so Huang Rong could not see her face.

The lady waited for quite a while and then she called out again, “Innkeeper…Innkeeper!”

Huang Rong thought, “That voice sounds familiar…tender yet strong. In fact she sounds like the Eldest Miss Cheng [Cheng Da Xiaojie] from Baoying.” At that moment the lady turned around and it was Miss Cheng. Huang Rong was pleasantly surprised. “Why would she come this place?”

Sha Gu had not been awakened by the commotion made by Hou Tonghai and the others, but by now she’d had enough sleep, so she crawled up from her straw bed.

“Innkeeper,” Miss Cheng said. “Would you please prepare some food for me? I would be much obliged.” Sha Gu shook her head, indicating she did not have any food. Suddenly she sniffed and smelled cooked rice. She rushed over to lift the pot’s lid and saw it was full of plain white rice that Peng Lianhu and the others had prepared. Sha Gu was delighted and, without wondering where the food came from, she filled two bowls, gave one to Miss Cheng while she gobbled the other. Miss Cheng noted there was no other food, only plain rice. She ate a few bites, and then put the bowl down. Sha Gu quickly ate three full bowls, then she patted her belly, looking very satisfied.

“Miss,” Miss Cheng said. “May I ask you a question? Do you know how far Ox Village is from this place?”

“Ox Village?” Sha Gu said. “This is Ox Village. How far it is from this place, I don’t know.”

Miss Cheng blushed. She lowered her head and played with the end of her belt. After some time she said, “So it turns out that this is Ox Village. Then I wonder if you know someone. I wonder if you know… know…someone

…”

Sha Gu did not wait for her to finish. She just shook her head impatiently and then rushed out of the door. Huang Rong wondered, “Who is she looking for in Ox Village? Ah, that’s right! She is the disciple of Sun Bu’Er. Most likely she received an order from her Master and Martial Uncles to find Qiu Chuji’s disciple, Yang Kang.”

Huang Rong saw Miss Cheng sitting up straight, her clothes properly arranged and she gently stroked the pearl head ornament at her temple. Her face was flushed and she had a slight smile at the corner of her lips. Huang Rong did not know what she was thinking and found this interesting. She suddenly heard footsteps as someone came in from outside. This person was tall, handsome and his steps were brisk. As soon as he came in, he also called out for the innkeeper. Huang Rong thought, “By what coincidence would people I know gather together in this ‘Cow’ Village? The feng shui [harmonious balance - lit. wind and water] of Jing ge ge’s Ox Village must be very good…if not for wealth, then for the individual.” As it turned out, the incoming person was the Young Master of Cloud Manor, Lu Guanying. When he saw Miss Cheng he was startled. Then he called again, “Innkeeper!”

When Miss Cheng saw this young man, she felt shy and hurriedly turned away. Lu Guanying also felt awkward. “How come there’s a beautiful young girl sitting alone in this place?” he thought. He walked around the kitchen and did not see anyone else. He was very hungry and saw there was rice in the pot. He turned to Miss Cheng and said, “Xiao Ren [lit. little/ – he’s referring to himself] is very hungry, could Miss please give me a bowl to eat.”

Miss Cheng hung her head lower, smiled slightly, and said, “The rice is not mine. Xiang Gong [honorable master], please help yourself.”

Lu Guanying ate two full bowls, then cupped his fists to express his gratitude. He said, “This lowly person wishes to ask Miss about a certain place. I wonder how far Ox Village is from here?”

Miss Cheng and Huang Rong were both delighted. “Ha, it turns out he is also looking for Ox Village,” they both thought. Miss Cheng stood up to return his respects and said, “This is Ox Village.”

Lu Guanying was delighted. “That’s wonderful!” he said, “This lowly person also wonders if Miss knows a certain man.”

Miss Cheng was about to say that she was not a local when she suddenly changed her mind. “I wonder who he is looking for?” she thought.

Lu Guanying said, “I am looking for a gentleman surnamed Guo, Master Guo Jing. I was wondering where he lives… Is he home right now?”

Both Miss Cheng and Huang Rong were startled. “Why is he looking for him?”

Miss Cheng was dumbstruck. She hung her head and blushed to her ears. Looking at her expression, Huang Rong, with eighty percent certainty, guessed, “It seems this Miss secretly fell in love with Jing ge ge because he saved her in Baoying.” Because Huang Rong was still very young, was an open-minded person, and believed in her heart that Guo Jing would not disagree with her reasoning, her heart, therefore, was free from jealousy. In fact, she was delighted to find that others liked Guo Jing as well.

Huang Rong’s speculation was right on target. When Miss Cheng was held captive by Ouyang Ke, it was true that it was the Beggar Clan’s Li Sheng and his men who tried to help her, but they were not Ouyang Ke’s match. If Guo Jing and Huang Rong had not gone into action, she would have suffered a disgrace. She’d noticed Guo Jing was young, his skill superb, and his manner, sincere. Unexpectedly a strand of love thread floated from her to stick on Guo Jing.

She was the young lady of a very rich family and had never been away from home before. She had reached the age where she started to have an interest in the opposite sex, so when she met an attractive young man, Guo Jing, she unexpectedly fell in love. Even after Guo Jing left, he was always in Miss Cheng’s mind. She thought it over from many sides and mustered up enough courage to leave home in the middle of the night. Though she was a martial artist, she had never left home before and did not have the slightest idea about the ways of Jianghu people. She happened to hear that Guo Jing was from Ox Village in Lin’an prefecture, and thereupon found her way there.

Because her appearance was elegant and her bearing noble, bad people did not dare to bully her along the way. At the previous village she was told that Ox Village was near and when she suddenly heard Sha Gu say that this was Ox Village, she had no idea what to do next. She had come thousands of li to find Guo Jing…and now she was hoping Guo Jing would not be home. Her thoughts were, “I will secretly go to his home in the evening, take one look at him, and then go home. I can’t let him know I came to find him…I would die of embarrassment if he found out.”

Now, at this moment, Lu Guanying arrived and inquired about Guo Jing. Miss Cheng was afraid he had found out her heart’s desire. She was at a loss for a moment, and then decided she would stand up and leave. Suddenly, outside the door, an ugly face appeared then vanished. Miss Cheng was startled and drew back two steps. That ugly face reappeared and called out, “Two-headed ghost! Come out in the sun if you have the ability. Three-Headed Dragon [San Tou Jiao] Master Hou challenges you to fight. I have one more head [referring to his Three-Headed Dragon nickname] than you do. In the bright sun, Master Hou does not fear you!” His meaning was clear: when it was dark, Master Hou would candidly admit defeat even though he had more heads. Lu and Cheng obviously did not understand.

“Humph!” Huang Rong snorted. “So they finally came back,” she murmured. She believed Lu’s and Cheng’s martial arts skills were not too high and it would be difficult for them to fight Peng Lianhu and the others. If she and Guo Jing wanted to help, all they would be doing is delivering two more lives. The best way would be to tell them to get out of the way quickly. But how could she let them know? She went over other possibilities, but after thinking it over, she still could not produce any really good ideas. All they had was each other and their courage.

When Peng Lianhu and the others saw the double-headed ghost, they all thought it was the same expert, dressed as a ghost, who had humiliated them the previous night. Therefore, they all ran from the village as far as possible. No one dared to come back, with the exception of Hou Tonghai. He was a simple man and actually believed it was a real ghost. He felt the blazing sun on his head, burning his scalp. While everybody else had disappeared, he cursed, “Ghosts will meet their doom under the sun. They know that, yet they dare to roam Jianghu. I, Lao Hou [Old Hou], am not afraid and I’m going back to face the ghost. Let them respect me.” Thereupon he came back to the inn with big strides, albeit with some trepidation in his heart. When he stuck his head in the door he saw Miss Cheng and Lu Guanying sitting in the middle of the room. “Not good!” he said to himself, “The double-headed ghost has transformed itself into a man and a woman. Old Hou, oh, Old Hou, you have to be very careful.”

Lu Guanying and Miss Cheng heard his challenge, but they did not understand the reason. They looked at each other and decided he was a mad man; hence they ignored him. Hou Tonghai kept cursing, but the ghost did not come out to fight. He believed that the ghost was afraid of the sun. As for barging in and capturing the ghost, Old Hou did not have the nerve. They were in a stalemate for quite a while. He was waiting for the two ghosts to transform themselves into other forms, but who would have thought that the ghosts did not show any signs of activity at all. Suddenly he remembered an old saying that ghosts were afraid of filthy things, so he left at once to find some dung.

There were several outhouses in the village and there was one big one next to the inn. In his efforts to capture the ghost he was not afraid of filth, so he took off his outer garment, scooped up a large bundle of dung, and returned to the inn. He saw Lu and Cheng still sitting in the inn. The secret weapon in his hands boosted his courage considerably. He called out loudly, “All right, daring ghost! Master Hou wants you to return to your original form.” With his three-pronged fork in his left hand and the bundle of dung in his right hand, he boldly entered the room.

As Lu and Cheng watched this lunatic coming back, they were slightly startled. Even before the man arrived they had already noticed the bad smell he was bringing. Hou Tonghai pondered, “I’ve heard people say that men are more vicious than women, but the female ghost is more dangerous than the male.” Therefore, he lifted the bundle and threw it towards Miss Cheng.

Miss Cheng called out in alarm and moved sideways to evade it. Lu Guanying had already lifted a bench to strike the bundle aside. It fell to the floor and broke open. Dung flew everywhere and a terrible smell attacked their nostrils making them want to throw up.

Hou Tonghai shouted loudly, “Double-headed ghost, quickly go back to your original form.” Lifting his fork he attacked Miss Cheng ferociously. He was simple-minded, but his martial arts skills were not bad. His fork attack was both swift and fierce.

Lu and Cheng were alarmed and both thought, “This man is obviously a Wulin expert and he is by no means a lunatic.”

Lu Guanying saw Miss Cheng as a lady from a renowned family and she looked so frail and tender that a whiff of wind might blow her away. He was afraid this mad man might hurt her, so he lifted the long bench to parry the three-pronged steel fork. “Who are you, Sir?” he asked. Hou Tonghai ignored his question and jabbed at him with his fork three times. Lu Guanying kept using the bench as his weapon and repeatedly asked his name.

Hou Tonghai noticed that although the ghost’s martial arts skill was not weak, it was entirely different from that of the mysterious appearing and disappearing ghost of last night. He concluded it was the result of his dung attack earlier. He was very smug and called out, “You, the enchanting ghost, want to know my name so that you can put a curse on me, don’t you? Your master won’t fall for your trick.”

Initially he’d called himself ‘Master Hou’, but now that he had this sudden inspiration, he omitted the word ‘Hou’ and only used the word ‘Master’ to avoid the ghost’s throwing a curse on him. The steel rings on his fork made a ding-dong sound as he intensified his attack.

Lu Guanying’s martial arts were inferior to his opponent’s to begin with and he was using a bench as a weapon. He wanted to draw the saber from his waist but did not have the chance to do so. He was forced to step back so that after a while his back was against the wall, covering the small hole through which Huang Rong was looking.

Hou Tonghai stabbed with his steel fork and Lu Guanying hastily moved sideways to evade it. ‘Bang!’ the fork punctured the wall less than a foot away from Huang Rong’s peep-hole. Before he’d pulled his fork back, the bench in Lu Guanying’s hand struck towards the top of his head. Hou Tonghai’s foot flew out to kick Lu Guanying’s hand, while his left fist attacked Lu Guanying’s face. The bench fell from Lu Guanying’s hands as he was forced to duck to avoid the blow. Meanwhile Hou Tonghai had withdrawn his steel fork from the wall.

Miss Cheng saw this critical situation and she jumped forward, pulled the saber from Lu Guanying’s waist, and handed it to him. “Many thanks!” Lu Guanying said. He had never imagined that, at this critical moment, this polite and charming girl would have the courage to enter such a fierce battle and draw his saber to help him. As he saw the bright flickering light from the steel fork coming towards him, his saber immediately went up horizontally in front of his chest and ‘clang!’ sparks flew everywhere. The steel fork was forced sideways, but he felt a pain in his chest. It seemed that this lunatic’s strength was not insignificant, but with a saber in his hand, he was greatly encouraged.

After exchanging several stances, both men’s feet had stepped into the dung and spread it everywhere they stepped. In the beginning, Hou Tonghai was fighting with some trepidation and he’d thought about darting out of the door to escape. He did not dare to use all of his strength, but the longer they fought, he began to see that the ghost was unable to defeat him. Obviously his enchantment powers were restrained by the dung. He became bolder and his attacks became fiercer. In the end Lu Guanying was having a hard time blocking his attacks.

At first Miss Cheng was repulsed by the dung on the floor and she stood in a corner watching the fight. Then she saw that this handsome young man would lose his life to the lunatic’s steel fork. She hesitated for a moment, finally made up her mind, and drew a sword from her bundle. She called out to Lu Guanying, “Honorable elder brother [Xiong Gong], I … I am going to help you. Please forgive me.” Her manners were so ingrained that she was apologizing before helping someone to fight. Her sword flashed towards Hou Tonghai’s chest.

She was the Sage of Tranquility [Qingjing Sanren], Sun Bu’Er’s disciple, so naturally she was well-versed in the Quanzhen Sect’s sword techniques. Hou Tonghai had anticipated her move. He thought that the double-headed ghost had transformed itself into two and that the female ghost would attack him soon as an evil spirit, so he was not surprised. But Lu Guanying was pleasantly surprised. He saw that her movements were quick and her sword technique exquisite. His heart was full of admiration. His own saber was starting to become erratic and he was sweating profusely, but now someone suddenly came to help him and his spirits rose.

At first Hou Tonghai was quite worried by the female ghost’s fierceness. But after a few stances he noticed that although her sword technique was proficient, her strength was ordinary. Moreover, she looked nervous. Probably she had not been a ghost for long and had not reached the ‘old ghost’ level yet. He gradually felt more relieved. His three-pronged fork created strong gusts of wind. One against two and he was still able to attack more than his opponents.

Watching from the other room, Huang Rong felt very anxious since she knew Lu and Cheng would eventually fall to their enemy. She wanted to lend them a hand, but she could not leave Guo Jing even half a step. Otherwise, with her intelligence and abundant experience, it would be very easy for her to play tricks on this ‘Three-Headed Dragon’.

She heard Lu Guanying call out, “Miss, Go away! You don’t have to endanger yourself with him.”

Miss Cheng knew he was worried that she might be injured and wanted to fight this mad man alone. She was very grateful, but she also knew that if he fought alone, he would not be able to resist this enemy. She shook her head, unwilling to withdraw.

As Lu Guanying fought furiously, he shouted to Hou Tonghai, “As a real man you are making things difficult for a young girl…what kind of hero are you? Just deal with me, a man surnamed Lu, and let this Miss go.”

Although Hou Tonghai was muddle-headed, he knew by now that these two were not ghosts. But seeing how beautiful Miss Cheng was, and since he had gained the upper hand, how could he let her go? With a laugh he said, “I want to capture the male ghost and I also want to take the female ghost.” His steel fork traveled horizontally with a violent thrust. He was being thirty percent lenient towards Miss Cheng, otherwise he would have stabbed her already.

“Miss, go quickly!” Lu Guanying said anxiously, “The man surnamed Lu is grateful for your kindness.”

“Honorable master’s honored surname is Lu, is it?” Miss Cheng asked in a low voice.

“Precisely,” Lu Guanying replied. “Miss, what is your name? What school do you belong to?” “My Master’s surname is Sun. People call her the Sage of Tranquility,” Miss Cheng said. “I … I …” She was going to say her name, but suddenly felt shy and closed her mouth.

“Miss, I’ll block him and you run quickly,” Lu Guanying said. “As long as the man surnamed Lu is still alive, I will look for you. I thank you for your help today.”

Miss Cheng was blushing as she stammered, “I … I don’t … honorable elder brother …” Turning her head to Hou Tonghai she said, “Hey, mad man! Don’t you dare injure this man. My Master is the Sun Zhenren [lit. true person, a respectful term of address for a Taoist priest] from the Quanzhen Sect. She will arrive shortly.”

The names of the Quanzhen Seven Masters were well-known throughout the world. Hou Tonghai had seen it that day with his own eyes when the ‘Immortal with the Iron Foot’ [Tie Jiao Xian], Jade Sun [Yuyang Zi], Wang Chuyi, intimidated the group of experts at the Zhao Palace. Now, hearing Miss Cheng, he was somewhat afraid, but after that slight shock he cursed, “Even if the Quanzhen Seven Masters come together your master here will butcher them all, one by one!”

From outside the door, there suddenly came someone’s clear voice saying, “Who is it in there that’s speaking such nonsense and doesn’t want to live?”

The three were engaged in a fierce battle, but when they heard this voice they all leaped backwards. Lu Guanying was afraid Hou Tonghai would launch a sneak attack so he pulled Miss Cheng behind him and wielded his saber in front of her. Only then he did raise his head to take a look.

He saw a young Taoist priest standing at the doorstep, wearing a feather robe and a star crown. His face was handsome, his eyes bright, and he held a Taoist fly-whisk in his hand. “Who said he wants to butcher the Quanzhen Seven Masters?” he asked coldly.

With the fork in his right hand, his left hand on his hip, Hou Tonghai, with glaring eyes, loudly said, “It was me, your master. So what?” “All right,” the young priest said, “You’re welcome to try.” Leaning his body forward he swept the whisk toward Hou Tonghai’s face.

Guo Jing had finished one round of exercise by now and hearing the clamor of the battle outside he looked out through the small hole. Huang Rong asked, “Is this young priest also one of the Quanzhen Seven Masters?”

Guo Jing recognized the young priest as Yin Zhiping, Qiu Chuji’s disciple. Two years ago he received an order from his master to deliver a letter to the Jiangnan Six Freaks and had a martial arts contest with Guo Jing at night in which Guo Jing was defeated. Guo Jing quietly told Huang Rong everything.

As Huang Rong watched him exchange a few stances with Hou Tonghai, she shook her head and said, “He won’t defeat the Three-Headed Dragon.”

As Yin Zhiping slightly gave way to Hou Tonghai’s attacks, Lu Guanying, saber in hand, immediately stepped forward to help him. Compared to the time he fought Guo Jing that night, he had made some progress, but even fighting side by side with Lu Guanying, they only managed to face Hou Tonghai evenly.

Miss Cheng’s left hand had been grabbed by Lu Guanying for only a short moment, yet her heart was still pitter-pattering madly. As the three people fought furiously right next to her, she was actually daydreaming and gently stroking her hand. With a start she was suddenly awakened from her dazed condition by a clanking noise and Lu Guanying’s urgent voice, “Miss, watch out!”

Hou Tonghai noticed her condition and thrust his fork at her. Lu Guanying hastily fended off the attack while shouting at her. Miss Cheng’s face turned completely red as she gathered her thoughts and re-entered the battle. Miss Cheng’s martial arts skill was not very high, but with one against three, Hou Tonghai had a hard time blocking these enemies. He brandished his fork ferociously, trying to create an opportunity to escape and find some help, but Yin Zhiping’s fly-whisk was dancing around in front of his face, blurring his vision. He was negligent for a split second and Lu Guanying’s saber slashed his leg. “Your eighteen ancestors be damned!” Hou Tonghai cursed. But because of this wound he gradually became slower. He thrust the steel fork forward and Yin Zhiping parried with his whisk and the whisk coiled around it. They both pulled their respective weapons back in a tug-of-war. Because Hou Tonghai was stronger, Yin Zhiping was forced to let his whisk go.

Miss Cheng thrust her sword using the ‘Fighting and Shaking Star and River’ [dou yao xing he] and stabbed his right shoulder. Hou Tonghai could no longer hold his steel fork and it fell. Yin Zhiping took this opportunity to sweep his leg and Hou Tonghai tumbled to the floor. Lu Guanying immediately pounced on him. Taking the leather belt from his waist he bound Hou Tonghai’s hands behind his back.

Yin Zhiping laughed and said, “You can’t even defeat a Quanzhen Seven Masters’ disciple, so how would you butcher the Quanzhen Seven Masters?” Hou Tonghai opened his mouth and shouted curse words, saying that it was three against one and that it was not a real hero’s deed. Yin Zhiping tore off a piece of his clothing and stuffed it into his mouth. Hou Tonghai’s face looked very angry, but he could not say a thing.

Yin Zhiping bowed to Miss Cheng, “Elder Martial Sister [Shijie] is the disciple of Martial Uncle Sun [Sun Shishu]? Your little brother Yin Zhiping greets you.”

Miss Cheng quickly returned his bow and said, “I don’t deserve it. I wonder, who Martial Brother’s [Shixiong] Martial Uncle [Shibo] is? Little sister pays my respects to Elder Martial Brother Yin.”

“Little brother is a disciple of Eternal Spring [Changchun],” Yin Zhiping replied.

Since becoming an apprentice to her master, Miss Cheng had never left her home. Of the Quanzhen Seven Masters, she had never met six of them. However, her master had told her all about her martial uncles and that Changchun Zi, Elder Martial Uncle Qiu [Qiu Shibo] was the most heroic and possessed the highest martial arts skills. Learning that Yin Zhiping was Qiu Chuji’s disciple, she regarded him with respect. Lowering her head she said, “Elder brother is my older martial brother. I am surnamed Cheng. Just call me Younger Martial Sister Cheng.”

Yin Zhiping had been under his master’s tutelage for quite a long time and he also had inherited his master’s broad-minded and heroic disposition. He regarded this martial sister as girlish and shy. She did not look like a heroic person at all, so he was secretly amused. He chatted with her about their school for a while then turned toward Lu Guanying to introduce himself. Lu Guanying introduced himself, but did not mention his father’s name or title.

Yin Zhiping turned his attention to Hou Tonghai. “This lunatic’s martial arts are actually very good. I wonder where he came from. We must not release him,” he said.

Lu Guanying said, “Let little brother use my saber and finish him off.” He was the leader of a band of pirates at Lake Tai and killing was not a serious matter for him. Miss Cheng, on the other hand, was tender-hearted. “Ah! Don’t kill him!” she said.

Yin Zhiping smiled, “It’s all right with me if we don’t kill him,” he said. “Younger Martial Sister Cheng [Cheng Shimei], have you been here long?”

Miss Cheng blushed. “Little sister has just arrived,” she said.

Yin Zhiping looked at the couple and thought, “Looks like these two are in love with one another…I must not interfere. I’ll just visit for a while and then I’ll go.” He said, “I received an order from Master to go to Ox Village to find someone and convey a message to him. Little brother must take his leave. We’ll meet again later.” He cupped his hands and turned around to leave.

Miss Cheng’s blush had not quite faded and from listening to him it seemed like a tinge of redness crept back onto her face. Hanging her head she asked timidly, “Elder Martial Brother Yin, who are you seeking?”

Yin Zhiping hesitated slightly as he thought, “Younger Martial Sister Cheng is a disciple of my school and this fellow surnamed Lu is her travel companion, so he is not an outsider. I think there is no harm in telling them.” Thereupon he said, “I am looking for a friend surnamed Guo.”

With these words, the people on both sides of the wall were stunned. Lu Guanying asked, “Could it be that this friend has the single character ‘Jing’ as his name?”

“That’s right,” Yin Zhiping said, “Brother Lu also knows this Guo friend?” he asked.

Lu Guanying replied, “The one little brother is looking for is exactly this Martial Uncle Guo [Guo Shishu].”

Yin Zhiping and Miss Cheng were both surprised, “You call him Martial Uncle?”

“My father is of the same generation as he,” Lu Guanying said. “That’s why Little Brother calls him Shishu.” Lu Chengfeng and Huang Rong were of the same generation [meaning that they had the same teacher-Huang Yaoshi] and Guo Jing and Huang Rong were engaged to each other. It was for this reason that Lu Guanying referred to Guo Jing as Martial Uncle.

Miss Cheng did not say anything, but her heart was troubled. Yin Zhiping quickly asked, “Have you seen him? Where is he?”

“Little Brother has just arrived. I was about to inquire about him when this lunatic attacked without any reason,” Lu Guanying replied.

“Good!” Yin Zhiping said. “Then let us look for him together.” The three went out the door together.

Huang Rong and Guo Jing looked at each other with bitter smiles on their faces. “They will come back,” Guo Jing said. “Rong’er, open the door and call them.”

Huang Rong sighed and said, “How can I do that? These people are looking for you and it must be about some important matters. You are still trying to heal your injury…how can your attention be diverted?” “That’s right,” Guo Jing agreed. “It must be a very important matter. Can you think of something?”

Huang Rong said, “I will not open the door even if the sky is falling”

Sure enough, not too long afterwards, Yin Zhiping and the others came back to the inn. Lu Guanying said, “Even in his hometown no one can shed any light on his whereabouts. This is not good.”

Yin Zhiping said, “May we know for what important matter does Brother Lu seek him?”

Initially Lu Guanying was unwilling to say, but seeing Miss Cheng’s hopeful look, for some unknown reason he found it hard to refuse. He said, “It is a long story. Let little brother sweep the filth from the floor first, then I will relate the story to you two.” There was no broom or dustpan in this inn, so Yin and Lu had to use tree branches to clean up the mess and only then did they sit down to talk.

Lu Guanying was about to speak when Miss Cheng suddenly said, “Wait a minute!” She went to Hou Tonghai and cut two small pieces from her clothing to stop his ears. “We can’t let him listen,” she said in a low voice.

Lu Guanying praised her, “Miss is very careful. We don’t know where this lunatic came from, so we must not let him listen to what we are discussing.”

On the other side of the wall Huang Rong silently laughed. “We are eavesdropping in here and it is impossible for you to know about it. Ouyang Ke is lying there inside and listening and nobody notices, yet you still talk about being careful?”

Miss Cheng had not roamed Jianghu before. Yin Zhiping had his master’s impetuousness and he was young and inexperienced. Lu Guanying was the leader of Lake Tai’s pirates and he was used to giving orders and not used to paying attention to the details. For that reason the three talked about important matters without carefully investigating their surroundings.

As Miss Cheng stooped down, she saw that Hou Tonghai’s ears had been cut off. She was only startled for moment before stuffing the pieces of cloth into his ear holes. She smiled slightly and said to Lu Guanying, “Now you can talk.”

Lu Guanying reluctantly said, “Ay! I don’t know where to start. I am looking for Martial Uncle Guo and reasonably speaking, I should not be looking for him, but I have to.”

“This is so strange,” Yin Zhiping commented.

“That’s true,” Lu Guanying continued, “I am looking for Martial Uncle Guo not because of him, but because of his six masters.”

Yin Zhiping slapped the table and shouted, “The Six Freaks of Jiangnan?” “Exactly,” Lu Guanying replied.

“Aha!” Yin Zhiping exclaimed. “I think Brother Lu came to this place for the same matter as little Brother. Why don’t we write down a name and let Younger Martial Sister Cheng decide whether we are thinking of the same thing or not.”

Before Lu Guanying could answer, Miss Cheng was already smiling and said, “That’s a good idea. You two turn your backs and write.”

Yin Zhiping and Lu Guanying both picked up a twig and wrote something on the floor. Yin Zhiping said with a smile, “Younger Martial Sister Cheng, see if what we wrote is the same or not.”

Miss Cheng looked at their writing and in a low voice said, “Elder Martial Brother Yin, your guess was wrong. The two of you did not write the same thing.”

“Ah!” Yin Zhiping exclaimed and stood up.

Miss Cheng smiled and said, “While you wrote ‘Huang Yaoshi’, he actually drew a peach blossom.”

Huang Rong was shocked. “Both of them are looking for Jing ge ge in regards to my father?” she thought. She heard Lu Guanying say, “What Brother Yin wrote is the name of the Grandmaster of my school. Little brother does not dare to write down his name.”

Yin Zhiping was startled. “Your Grandmaster? Hmm, it seems that what we wrote down is the same after all. Isn’t Huang Yaoshi the Master of Peach Blossom Island?”

“Oh! So that’s how it is,” Miss Cheng said.

Yin Zhiping said, “Since Brother Lu is a Peach Blossom Island disciple, then the reason you are looking for the Six Freaks of Jiangnan is certainly not in their favor.”

“That’s not true,” Lu Guanying said.

Yin Zhiping noticed Lu Guanying spoke with reluctance. He was unhappy as he said, “Since Brother Lu does not regard little brother as a friend, it’s useless for us to talk any longer. I’ll take my leave now.” He stood up and turned around to leave.

Lu Guanying hastily said, “Elder Brother Yin, wait! Little brother has a difficulty and I wish for older brother’s help.”

Yin Zhiping was overjoyed when others came to him for help so he happily said, “All right, talk with me.”

Lu Guanying said, “Elder Brother Yin, you are a disciple of the Quanzhen Sect. If you know someone is in danger, you will certainly warn that person to guard against the danger. That is part of your duty as a chivalrous person. But what if your own superior wanted to harm innocent people…would you still warn those innocent people to guard against your superior?”

Yin Zhiping slapped his thigh and exclaimed, “That’s right! I know you are a Peach Blossom Island disciple, so you must have great difficulty with this matter. All right, let us see what I can do.”

Lu Guanying said, “In this matter, if little brother does not do anything, I am not doing my duty upholding righteousness. But if I do something, I am betraying my own school. Even though little brother wishes to ask older Martial Brother’s help, in all honesty, I cannot open my mouth.”

Yin Zhiping had more or less guessed what he wanted, but since he was not willing to say it out loud, Yin Zhiping did not quite know what to do. He lifted his hand to scratch his head and looked bemused.

Miss Cheng remembered something: when a girl was too shy to say her heart’s desires, the mother or her sisters would usually ask her questions, and determine what she really wanted by her nodding or shaking her head. Although it was not the best method, it would usually reveal the contents of the girl’s heart in the end. For instance the mother would ask, “Child, are you in love with Zhang San’ge [Third Brother surnamed Zhang]?” The girl would shake her head. “Is it Li Silang [Fourth lad of Li family]?” The girl would shake her head again. “Then it must be the Wang family’s cousin.” The girl would hang her head without saying anything which meant the guess was correct. Thereupon Miss Cheng said to Yin Zhiping, “Elder Martial Brother Yin, you ask big brother Lu questions. If it is correct, he will nod, if wrong, he will shake his head. That way he won’t say anything to betray his own school.”

Yin Zhiping was delighted. “Little sister…that is a wonderful idea. Brother Lu, let me tell you first about my business. My Master, Changchun Zhenren, happened to hear that the Master of Peach Blossom Island hates the Six Freaks of Jiangnan to his soul and that he is going to wipe out the entire six families from the face of the earth. My Master immediately set out to Jiaxing to deliver a warning, but the Six Freaks were not at home. They were traveling somewhere. Thereupon my Master visited the six families one by one and told them to escape. When Island Master Huang arrived, he did not find a single person. He was livid and lashed out his anger to the air…then he went north. I don’t know what happened afterwards. Do you know of this matter?”

Lu Guanying nodded. Yin Zhiping continued, “I think Island Master Huang is pursuing the Six Freaks to the north. Originally there was some friction between my Master and the Six Freaks, but first, this friction has been taken care of, secondly, my Master greatly admires the Six Freaks’ chivalrous deeds in helping others in distress, and finally, my Master thinks this matter is not the Six Freaks’ fault at all. It so happened that the Quanzhen Seven Masters were having a meeting in Jiangnan and hence they spread out to find the Six Freaks, to warn them of this danger. It would be best if they could go into hiding in a faraway place so that your Grandmaster won’t be able to find them. Don’t you agree that we are doing the right thing?”

Lu Guanying repeatedly nodded his head.

Huang Rong was puzzled. “Jing ge ge has already fulfilled his promise to go to Peach Blossom Island. Why would Father still want to settle the debt with the Six Freaks?” She did not know that her father had heard Lingzhi Shangren’s lie and believed that his daughter had died at sea. Therefore, grief-stricken, he wanted to vent his anger on the Six Freaks.

She listened as Yin Zhiping continued, “Since he could not find the Six Freaks, my Master then remembered the Six Freaks’ disciple, Guo Jing. He is a native of Ox Village in Lin’an prefecture and has most likely returned to his hometown. For that reason my Master sent little brother to find him here. Chances are he would know his six masters’ whereabouts. Did you also come to this place regarding this business?”

Lu Guanying again nodded his head. Yin Zhiping said, “Who would have thought that Brother Guo has not come home yet. My Master is very fond of the Six Freaks, but since he could not find them, he did not know what else he could do. But since this is the case, Island Master Huang might not be able to find them either. Brother Lu wanted to ask for my help…does it concern this matter also?”

Lu Guanying nodded. Yin Zhiping said, “Whatever orders Brother Lu might have, please tell me. Little brother will do his best to fulfill your wish.”

Lu Guanying did not open his mouth and he looked quite bemused. Miss Cheng said with a smile, “Older Martial Brother Yin, you forget that Young Master Lu [Lu Xiang Gong] cannot open his mouth to speak frankly.” Yin Zhiping smiled, “That’s right,” he said. “Brother Lu…do you want me to wait for Brother Guo in this place?” Lu Guanying shook his head.

“Do you want little brother to find the Six Freaks and Brother Guo then?” Yin Zhiping asked. Again Lu Guanying shook his head.

“Ah, I get it,” Yin Zhiping said. “Brother Lu wants little brother to spread the news in Jianghu. The Six Freaks are natives of Jiangnan. Once the word is out, sooner or later they will hear it.”

Lu Guanying again shook his head. Yin Zhiping proposed seven or eight more guesses, but Lu Guanying kept shaking his head. Miss Cheng also asked him two questions, but none of her guesses were correct either. Not only was Yin Zhiping confounded, but Huang Rong in the adjacent room was equally so. The three were in a deadlocked situation for a long time. Finally Yin Zhiping laughed and said, “Little Sister Cheng, you can talk with him…I cannot play this riddle game any longer. I am going out for a walk. I will be back in a couple of hours.” With that he went out the door.

Other than Hou Tonghai, Lu and Cheng were left alone. Miss Cheng hung her head and she noticed that Lu Guanying still had not made a move. She stole a glance at him just as Lu Guanying was also looking at her. Their eyes met and both hurriedly glanced away. Miss Cheng blushed even redder than before and hung her head even lower so that her chin touched her chest. Her hands played with the silk tassels at the end of her sword’s hilt.

Lu Guanying slowly stood up and walked to the nearby stove above which was a Kitchen God idol. He stood in front of the Kitchen God idol and said, “Kitchen God, this lowly person has a burden in my heart, but I cannot reveal it to anyone else. I am going to bare it all to you, hoping that with your divine power you will bless this matter.”

Miss Cheng silently praised him, “A smart man.” She raised her head to listen carefully.

Lu Guanying said, “This lowly person is Lu Guanying, the son of Manor Master Lu of Cloud Manor by Lake Tai. My father’s name is Chengfeng and he is a disciple of Island Master Huang of Peach Blossom Island. A few days ago my Grandmaster came to the manor and he said he wanted to kill the Six Freaks of Jiangnan and their entire families. He ordered my father and my Older Martial Uncle [Shibo] Mei Chaofeng to help find the Six Freaks’ whereabouts. Older Martial Uncle Mei has a deep enmity with the Six Freaks, so she accepted this order with gladness. Not so my father since he knew the Six Freaks of Jiangnan as patriots and chivalrous heroes. Killing them would not be righteous. Moreover, my father has become friends with the Six Freak’s disciple, Younger Martial Uncle Guo and therefore, he could not simply ignore this matter. My father had received an order from my Grandmaster, so he was in a very difficult position. He had a mind to dispatch this lowly person to deliver a warning to the Six Freaks of Jiangnan, telling them to go into hiding and save their lives, but he could not betray his own master. That night my father looked up to the sky, heaved a deep sigh, and softly talked to himself, revealing his concerns. This lowly person was nearby and heard everything. Being a filial person I share my father’s sorrow. Eventually my Grandmaster left and this lowly person departed that very same night to try to find the Six Freaks and deliver the warning.”

Huang Rong and Miss Cheng both thought, “It turns out he is copying his father’s method of telling someone without betraying his school.”

They listened to Lu Guanying continue. “The Six Freaks were nowhere to be found, but I remembered their disciple, Younger Martial Uncle Guo, but he is also nowhere to be found. Younger Martial Uncle Guo is my Grandmaster’s son-in-law …”

“Ah!” Miss Cheng could not help but exclaim softly, then hastily covered her mouth with her hand. Originally she was attracted to Guo Jing and thought she was in love with him. She did not realize it was only a young girl’s infatuation and not true love. Today she’d met Lu Guanying who looked distinguished, handsome and elegant. In all respects he seemed superior to Guo Jing. When she heard that Guo Jing was Huang Yaoshi’s son-in-law she was shocked, but not at all sad or heartbroken. On the contrary, she felt relieved. She also recalled at Baoying she’d noticed that Guo Jing and Huang Rong were very close to each other. All of a sudden it did not matter to her anymore. Unconsciously, the heart of this young woman had already been taken by somebody else.

Lu Guanying heard her soft exclamation. He wanted to turn around and look at her face, but he forced himself to bear with it. He thought, “If I acknowledge someone is listening from the side, I must stop talking altogether. That day when Father talked to the heavens, he never once looked in my direction. Right now I am talking to the Kitchen God. If she is listening, that means she is eavesdropping and I have nothing to do with it.” Thereupon he continued, “I am hoping that when I find Younger Martial Uncle Guo, he and Martial Aunt Huang [Huang Shigu] will beseech the Grandmaster to show mercy. My Grandmaster is hot-tempered, but he loves his daughter and son-in-law, so it is possible that he will not kill his son-in- law’s masters. However, from the way my father talked, it sounds as though Younger Martial Uncle Guo and Martial Aunt Huang have encountered some calamities. Whatever they were, it was not convenient for me to ask it of my father.”

Listening to this point Huang Rong thought, “Does father know that Jing ge ge is suffering from a serious injury? No, he simply cannot know about it. Most probably he heard that we were stranded on that deserted island.”

Meanwhile Lu Guanying continued, “Elder Martial Brother Yin is straightforward and just. Miss Cheng is intelligent and friendly …”

Listening to him praising her to her face, Miss Cheng was happy and shy at the same time.

“… but what’s in my heart is like a fantasy and they cannot possibly guess it. I am thinking that the Six Freaks of Jiangnan are well-known heroes and real men. Although their martial arts skills are inferior to my Grandmaster, isn’t asking them to run away from danger the same as accusing them of being afraid of death? They certainly will not consider such a cowardly act. I am afraid that if they hear the news, instead of running away, they will go and find the Grandmaster! Therefore, instead of helping them, I would be sending them into a disaster.” Huang Rong nodded unseen. She thought Lu Guanying was worthy of being the leader of the Lake Tai heroes and he had a profound understanding of the ways of Jianghu people. She heard him continue, “I also think that the Quanzhen Seven Masters are chivalrous people with resounding names and prestige. Their martial art skills are also high. If Elder Martial Brother Yin and Miss Cheng are willing to earnestly ask their masters to be mediators, Grandmaster would most likely give them face. I don’t think there is an irreconcilable deep animosity between Grandmaster and the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. It’s more likely the Six Freaks said or did something that was offensive to the Grandmaster. What they need is a reputable character to act as the mediator, then forgiveness is surely not impossible. Kitchen God, Master, this lowly person’s difficulty is that my idea is in vain since I cannot reveal it to anyone. I am asking you to handle this business for me.” Having finished speaking, he repeatedly bowed to pay his respects to the Kitchen God.

As he finished speaking, Miss Cheng hastily turned around to look for Yin Zhiping, but as she walked to the door she heard Lu Guanying saying something more. “Kitchen God, if the Quanzhen Seven Masters are willing to mediate, they will be performing an enormously good deed. When the Seven talk to my Grandmaster, I hope that they will be courteous and respectful and not offend my Grandmaster in any way. Otherwise, ‘when one wave has not yet subsided, another wave arises’…all efforts will be wasted. This is all I have to say to you.”

Miss Cheng smiled and said in her heart, “You have finished talking and now it’s my turn to take care of your business.” Then she left the inn to look for Yin Zhiping. After going around the village she saw neither his shadow nor his tracks.

She was about to turn around and go back when she suddenly heard Yin Zhiping calling her in a low voice, “Younger Martial Sister Cheng!” He beckoned to her from the corner of a wall.

“Ah! Here you are,” Miss Cheng said happily. Yin Zhiping made a hand signal, telling her to be quiet. He pointed to the west and walked towards her. In a low voice he told her, “There are some suspicious looking people snooping around over there and they all carry weapons.”

Miss Cheng’s mind was pre-occupied with what Lu Guanying had just said. She said, “I think they are just passers-by.”

Yin Zhiping’s face actually looked serious and again in a low voice he said, “Those people’s movements are agile and their martial arts skills must be very high. We must be very careful.” Actually what he saw was Peng Lianhu and the others. They’d waited for Hou Tonghai for a long time and he had not come back. They thought he must be in some danger, but all of them remembered the expert who pretended to be the ghost the previous night in the Imperial Palace. Who would dare to go and rescue him? Suddenly they spotted Yin Zhiping, so they withdrew and hid themselves. Yin Zhiping waited for a while and after not seeing any activity ahead, he went over to take a look...but those people were already gone without a trace. Then Miss Cheng told him everything she’d heard from Lu Guanying.

Yin Zhiping smiled and said, “So that’s what he was thinking about. How could anybody guess it? Younger Martial Sister Cheng, you go and ask Martial Uncle Sun’s help and I’ll go and tell Master. As long as the Quanzhen Seven Masters are willing to act, what matter under the sky can’t they solve?”

“But we must be careful not to mess things up,” Miss Cheng said. Then she relayed what Lu Guanying said just before she left the inn.

“Humph,” Yin Zhiping sneered, “Who is Huang Yaoshi anyway? Is he stronger than the Quanzhen Seven Masters?”

Miss Cheng was about to remind him not to be too arrogant, but seeing his stern expression she swallowed back the words that were on her lips. The two went back to the inn together. Lu Guanying said, “Little Brother will have to take his leave. Whenever you pass through the Lake Tai area, please pay me a visit at Cloud Manor for a few days.” Miss Cheng was crushed to have him leave so soon, but how could she dare to reveal her deepest feelings?

Yin Zhiping turned around to face the Kitchen God idol and said, “Kitchen God, Master, the Quanzhen Sect is most willing to help other people in distress. Whenever there is any injustice in Jianghu and the Quanzhen disciples find out about it, there is no way we will not intercede.”

Lu Guanying knew these words were directed at him and he also spoke, “Kitchen God, Master, I pray that you will give your blessing so that this matter will be resolved peacefully. Disciple is forever grateful towards all those gentlemen who expend their energy to help.”

Yin Zhiping said, “Kitchen God, Master, please do not worry. The Quanzhen Seven Masters’ power shakes the world. As long as they are willing to act, there is nothing in this world they cannot deal with.”

Lu Guanying was startled and thought, “How will my Grandmaster be convinced if the Quanzhen Seven Masters rely on power?” He quickly said, “Kitchen God, Master, you know that my Grandmaster comes and goes as he wishes and never pays attention to other people. To others who speak to him as friends, he will certainly listen, but he loathes it if others try to reason with him.”

“Ha, ha …” Yin Zhiping laughed, then said, “Kitchen God, Master, how can the Quanzhen Seven Masters be afraid of others? Originally this matter had nothing to do with us and my Master only sent me to deliver a warning, but if anybody provokes us Quanzhen disciples, I don’t care whether he is Huang Yaoshi or Hei Yaoshi [surname ‘huang’ lit. ‘Yellow’, hei lit. ‘Black’], the Quanzhen Sect will definitely teach him a lesson.”

Lu Guanying felt anger rising in his chest and said, “Kitchen God, Master, what disciple just said, please just consider it as talking in my sleep. If anyone belittles us, we will no longer want to accept anyone’s favor.” These two were talking to each other, but they were facing the Kitchen God idol. One spoke and the other responded and gradually this exchange of words became hotter and hotter.

Miss Cheng wanted to interfere, but those two men were young and hot- tempered and neither was willing to yield even half a word. Finally Yin Zhiping said, “Kitchen God, Master, the Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts are the purest of the orthodox skills, while others’ have heretical skills. Even if they are good, how can they be measured against the Quanzhen Sect?”

Lu Guanying responded, “Kitchen God, Master, I have long heard of the reputation of the Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts. Certainly there are many martial arts experts within the Quanzhen Sect, but this doesn’t mean that there are no arrogant blabbermouths amongst the disciples.”

Yin Zhiping was angry. His palm struck and the corner of the kitchen stove collapsed. He stared hard and shouted loudly, “Kid, you demean people!”

‘Bang!’ Lu Guanying struck the other corner and it fell to the floor. He shouted, “How would I dare to demean you? I am demeaning only those disciples who are condescending and conceited.”

Yin Zhiping had seen Lu Guanying’s martial arts skill just now and he knew it was inferior to his own, so his confidence was boosted. With a cold laugh he said, “Fine! Let us spar and we’ll see who is conceited.”

Lu Guanying knew perfectly well he was not Yin Zhiping’s match, but he hated it when others insulted his school. He was like someone riding on a tiger’s back. He could not continue riding, but it was difficult to get off safely. He drew his saber, made a gesture of respect with his left hand and said, “Little Brother is ready to receive the Quanzhen Sect’s excellent stances.”

Miss Cheng was very anxious and tears streamed down from her eyes. She wanted to throw herself between these two men, but each time she thought to do so, her courage failed her. She saw Yin Zhiping sweep his fly-whisk and step forward to launch his attack. Straightaway the two fought ferociously. Lu Guanying did not expect victory…he merely hoped he would avoid an embarrassing defeat. He immediately launched the ‘Buddhist Worthy One Saber technique’ [luo han dao fa] he’d learned from Reverend Kumu [Dead Wood], creating a tight defense around himself.

Yin Zhiping assumed the offensive position immediately and to his surprise he found the opponent’s saber power to be quite strong. He realized he had recklessly underestimated his opponent when his left arm was almost chopped off. His heart quivered and he hastily concentrated his attention on facing the attack and responding accordingly. Utilizing his school’s special skill of calming his mind and spirit, he used slow steps with quick hand movements. Only by doing this did he gradually gain the upper hand.

For the past several months, Lu Guanying had received his father’s instructions so he’d progressed by leaps and bounds. but the length of his training was too short for him to be compared to Yin Zhiping who was the main disciple of Qiu Chuji.

Huang Rong watched this fight through the small mirror. She saw Yin Zhiping gradually take the lead and she cursed in her heart. “This ‘xiao za mao’ [lit. small mixed-up hair – a derogatory term for Taoist priest] was disparaging my father. If Jing ge ge was not injured, I would certainly teach you some lessons about the heretical Peach Blossom Island martial arts. Aiyo! This is not good!” She saw Lu Guanying’s saber strike with a familiar stance which Yin Zhiping intercepted and diverted with his whisk. Then he twisted his hand and his finger moved with exceptional speed towards the crook of Lu Guanying’s elbow. Lu Guanying felt his arm go numb and his saber fell to the floor. Without showing any mercy, Yin Zhiping swept his whisk towards Lu Guanying’s face while loudly shouting, “This is the Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts…remember it well!” His whisk was made of horse’s tail mixed with strands of silver. Should Lu Guanying’s face get hit, it would certainly be slashed with countless cuts.

Lu Guanying understood the danger and quickly ducked. The whisk followed by sweeping downward. Suddenly a tender voice shouted, “Older Martial Brother Yin!” Miss Cheng thrust her sword to block the whisk. Lu Guanying took that opportunity to leap back and pick up his saber from the floor.

Yin Zhiping laughed coldly, “Good! Younger Martial Sister Cheng…you are helping an outsider. Come! You two lovers can fight me together.”

“You … you …” Miss Cheng stammered.

‘Swish! Swish! Swish!’ Yin Zhiping swept his fly-whisk three times, forcing her to move her hands and feet in an uncoordinated manner. Lu Guanying saw her precarious situation, so he raised his saber and joined the two against one fight. Miss Cheng did not want to fight her martial brother, so she jumped back.

“Come!” Yin Zhiping said, “He cannot fight me alone. In a while you will come and help again him anyway.”

Huang Rong watched these three people fighting each other with amusement. Just as she was wondering how this matter could be resolved, she suddenly heard some noises from the door. She saw Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian, along with Wanyan Honglie, Yang Kang, and the others coming in together.

They had been waiting for Hou Tonghai for a long time and he had not come back. Sha Tongtian was concerned for his martial brother. Gathering his courage, he quietly came over to take a look. He saw two people fighting inside the inn and noticed their martial arts skills were only average. He waited for a long time but could not see anybody else. He was afraid to go in alone, so he went back, gathered the others, and brought them back to the inn.

Yin and Lu saw these people come in so they leaped back and stopped fighting. They asked these newcomers for their names, but Sha Tongtian only stepped forward with arms open and grabbed both men’s wrists. Meanwhile, Peng Lianhu stooped down and untied Hou Tonghai’s hands.

Hou Tonghai had been suffering for nearly half a day and was really angry. Without taking the cloth from his mouth, he roared and threw himself at Miss Cheng, attacking her with his palms. Miss Cheng evaded by moving backward in a circle. Hou Tonghai’s face was purple from the bruising he’d received and his fists went straight, up and down, as he fiercely attacked Miss Cheng.

“Hold on!” Peng Lianhu repeatedly said. “Let’s talk first.” But since Hou Tonghai’s mouth and ears were stopped with cloth, how could he have heard anything?

The acupoint on Lu Guanying’s wrist was grabbed by Sha Tongtian. He felt half his body go numb and he could not move. Seeing Miss Cheng in danger and Hou Tonghai acting like a mad tiger, he struggled hard and without knowing where the strength came from, shook loose from Sha Tongtian’s grip. Then he fiercely threw himself towards Hou Tonghai.

Before he reached his target, Peng Lianhu swept his leg and sent him tumbling down and immediately pounced on him. He grabbed Lu Guanying by the back of his neck and lifted him up. “Who are you?” he asked. “Where is that fellow who played the ghost?”

Suddenly, the door creaked and opened slowly. Everyone turned their heads at once, but nobody came in. Peng Lianhu and the others could not help but feel shivers of fear in their hearts. Just as suddenly, a female head with disheveled hair was at the door. Liang Ziweng and Lingzhi Shangren jumped up in fright and even shouted, “This is not good…a female ghost!”

Peng Lianhu could see that she was just an ordinary country girl. “Come in!” he shouted.

Sha Gu walked in with a giggle and, while sticking out her tongue, she said, “Wah, so many people!”

Liang Ziweng was the one who shouted, “Female Ghost!” earlier and now he could see that she was just a poor peasant girl with tattered clothes and a silly demeanor. Filled with shame, he became angry. He jumped forward and shouted, “Who are you?” Stretching out his hand, he grabbed her arm. Who would have thought that Sha Gu would withdrew her arm, flip her hand, then her palm struck with the Peach Blossom Island’s ‘Jade-Green Wave Palm technique’ [bi bo zhang fa]? Although her skill was unrefined, the stance was subtle and wonderful to see. Liang Ziweng did not defend against her counterattack at all. ‘Slap!’ Sha Gu’s palm hit the back of his hand hard.

Liang Ziweng was stunned and angry at the same time. “Good!” he called out. “You are only playing dumb!” He rushed forward with both fists raised. Just as Sha Gu stepped back to evade, she suddenly pointed towards his shiny bald head and burst out laughing. This laughter caught everyone by surprise. Liang Ziweng was stunned and stopped dead in his tracks for a few seconds…then he ferociously resumed his attack. Sha Gu raised her hands to block, but staggered back. She knew she was not his match, so she turned around and tried to run away, but Liang Ziweng would not let her escape. He stretched his left leg to block her, while his elbow struck backwards, followed by his fist. Sha Gu’s nose was hit hard and she felt her head spinning. She cried out, “Sister who eats watermelons, come out quickly! Help me! Somebody is hitting me!”

Huang Rong was startled and thought, “My not killing this dumb girl was a big mistake. She is bound to bring us disaster.” Suddenly she heard a soft ‘humph’ sound. It was so soft, almost inaudible, but Huang Rong’s heart jumped with delight. “Father is here!” she thought. Quickly she looked through the small hole and saw Huang Yaoshi wearing a human-skin mask, standing on the doorstep. Nobody saw him come and it seemed as if he had just arrived…but it also seemed as if he had been there before anybody else came. He stood motionless like a piece of wood, without showing the least bit of emotion on his face. Anyone who saw him could not help but shudder. He did not have a green face nor did he have fierce teeth and he did not even look loathsome or ugly, but in all honesty, nobody could say that his face belonged to a living person.

Sha Gu had only exchanged three stances with Liang Ziweng but Huang Yaoshi could immediately tell that she was using the martial arts of his school. With a head full of questions he asked, “Miss, who is your master? Where is he?” Sha Gu simply shook her head and stared at him blankly. She suddenly clapped her hands and laughed. Huang Yaoshi frowned and he knew she must have had some relations with his disciples. If not their disciple, then she must be of their family or a relative. He was very fond of and tended to be over-protective towards his disciples. In no way would he allow anybody to bully them. Mei Chaofeng was a renegade disciple of his and she had committed a great crime against her master. Yet when she was defeated by Guo Jing, Huang Yaoshi would still help her, much less Sha Gu, who was a naïve and child-like young girl. Therefore he said, “Dumb kid…others hit you, why don’t you hit back?”

That day on the boat, when Huang Yaoshi was looking for his daughter, he did not wear a mask, so his appearance was not the same as today and nobody recognized him, but as soon as he opened his mouth, Wanyan Honglie, Yang Kang and Peng Lianhu, remembered his voice and tentatively guessed his identity. Peng Lianhu knew this evil man must not have good things in mind and also guessed that the ghost in the Imperial Palace last night might be this man. He knew there was no way he could fight him, so while there was the opportunity, he was thinking of launching his thirty-sixth stratagem, namely…running away.

Sha Gu said, “I can’t hit him!”

“Who says you cannot hit him?” Huang Yaoshi said. “He hit your nose, then you must hit his nose. He hit you once, so you must pay him back three times.”

Sha Gu laughed. “All right!” she said. Without thinking about Liang Ziweng’s skill being way above hers, she walked over to him and said, “You hit my nose…I must hit your nose. You hit me once…I must pay you back three times.” Her fist went straight for his nose.

Liang Ziweng raised his hand to block when suddenly the ‘Crooked Reservoir’ [qu chi] acupoint at the bend of his arm went numb. His hand was half way up but could go no further. ‘Bang!’ his nose was squarely hit by Sha Gu’s fist.

“Two!” Sha Gu called out and sent out another fist. Liang Ziweng bent his knees while keeping his back straight and his left hand moved straight out using one of the highest ‘Seize and Control’ [qin na] techniques. He was sure he could turn Sha Gu’s arm and divert the attack. Who would have thought that as soon as his fingers touched Sha Gu’s arm, the ‘Scholar’s Arm’ [bi ru] acupoint on his arm went numb and he was unable to divert Sha Gu’s fist. ‘Bang!’ for the second time his nose was hit by Sha Gu. It was such a violent blow that his head was thrown backwards and he staggered, almost falling down. Liang Ziweng was really angry.

The others were astounded, but they did not see anything unusual. Peng Lianhu was an expert in hidden projectile usage and he was the only one who noticed something. Each time Liang Ziweng tried to block the attack, Peng Lianhu heard the very light swishing sound of secret projectiles. He knew Huang Yaoshi had launched some kind of tiny metal needles towards Liang Ziweng’s acupoints, but he did not see Huang Yaoshi’s arm move, so he did not know how Huang Yaoshi did it.

Actually Huang Yaoshi was flicking his finger inside his sleeve and sending the needles through the fabric towards the enemy. The needles arrived suddenly, invisible and were almost inaudible. How could an enemy evade this kind of attack?

“Three!” Sha Gu called out. Neither of Liang Ziweng’s arms would obey their master’s orders. His eyes saw the fist coming straight towards his face and he did not have any choice but to step backwards to evade it. Just as he was about to step back, the ‘White Ocean’ [bai hai] acupoint on the inside of his right leg suddenly went numb. His shock had not yet subsided when a spark flashed in the air and he felt tears brimming in his eyes.

As it turned out, when his nose was hit the tear acupoint was also hit. He had always regarded defeat in martial arts contests as nothing important, but if tears streamed down his face, his lifelong reputation would be ruined. He hastily tried to lift his sleeve to wipe the tears away, but his arm did not obey. Two big teardrops finally rolled down his cheeks. Sha Gu saw his tears and quickly said, “Please don’t cry! Don’t be afraid, I won’t hit you anymore.”

Compared to the three blows to his nose, those two comforting sentences were more difficult for Liang Ziweng to bear. In embarrassment, he vomited a mouthful of blood. He looked up at Huang Yaoshi and said, “Who are you Sire? You harm people secretly …what kind of hero are you?”

With a cold laugh Huang Yaoshi replied, “Are you worthy enough to ask my name?” Suddenly he raised his voice, “Everybody…leave my presence!”

Everyone standing on the sidelines had felt their limbs and hundreds of bones weaken and none had the guts to fight. They just stood still in that inn without knowing what to do. When they heard his shout, it was as if they had just received a pardon for their lives. Peng Lianhu was the first one who wanted to leave, but after two steps he saw that Huang Yaoshi was standing in the doorway, not allowing anybody to pass, so he stopped dead in his tracks.

Huang Yaoshi sneered, “I told you to go, but you don’t go. Do you want me to slaughter all of you one by one?”

Peng Lianhu had heard about Huang Yaoshi’s strange temperament so he would do what he said. Therefore, Peng Lianhu turned to the rest and said, “This Senior Master told us to leave. Let’s just leave.”

By this time Hou Tonghai had pulled the cloth from his mouth. He dashed towards Huang Yaoshi and glared at him menacingly. “Let me pass!” he shouted.

Huang Yaoshi did not pay him any attention to him. “You are not worthy to make me move aside,” he said flatly. “If you want to live, crawl out between my legs.”

Everyone looked at each other with blank dismay and it was clear from their expressions that  they were  angry. They thought  that even  though Huang Yaoshi might be highly skilled, there were many skilled pugilists gathered in that room. If they joined forces and risked it all, they might not necessarily lose.

Hou Tonghai roared and jumped at Huang Yaoshi. With a cold laugh, Huang Yaoshi moved his left hand and Hou Tonghai was lifted high in the air. Then his right hand pulled Hou Tonghai’s left arm. ‘Crack!’ Hou Tonghai’s arm, flesh and bones, was torn from his body. Huang Yaoshi cast the severed arm and the man to the floor. He raised his head to look at the sky, seemingly indifferent to his surroundings. Hou Tonghai passed out from the severe pain and blood gushed forth like a fountain from the wound from his missing arm.

Everyone’s face changed color. Huang Yaoshi slowly turned his head and his eyes swept past everyone’s face one by one. Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu and the others were used to killing people without batting an eye, but seeing Huang Yaoshi’s gaze on them, they involuntarily shuddered with fear. With their hair standing on end, goose bumps appeared on their skin.

Huang Yaoshi suddenly roared, “Are you going to crawl or not?” The mere sound of his voice was enough to scare the hell out of them. Nobody any longer thought about joining forces and attacking him together. Peng Lianhu hung his head and was the first to crawl out between his legs. Sha Tongtian released Yin and Lu and, holding his martial brother in his arms, he followed. Yang Kang helped Wanyan Honglie, followed by Liang Ziweng and Lingzhi Shangren, as one by one they crawled out between Huang Yaoshi’s legs. Once they were out the door, they scurried away like frightened cats. None dared to turn around and look back.