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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 10

 Chapter 10: Sword Qi and Lines of Jade Smoke
Early in the morning, Duan Zhengchun bid his wife and son farewell. Upon hearing Duan Yu say that Mu Wanqing had already slipped away with her mother the previous night, he seemed dazed for a long time. He let out a sigh, then inquired as to the status of Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi. He was informed that the two had left early in the morning, travelling northwards. Following this, he took the three ministers and four imperial guards to meet with Emperor Baoding, before departing with the monks Huizhen and Huiguan for Luliang prefecture. Duan Yu escorted him for ten li past the eastern gate before turning back.

By now, it was afternoon. Emperor Baoding was within his palace, reading and reciting Buddhist scriptures, when a eunuch named Zhanshi from Duan Zhengchun’s palace entered with a message. “Reporting to your majesty. Your imperial brother’s son has fallen ill to some sort of strange disease. The imperial doctor has already been dispatched to investigate.” Emperor Baoding had been worried all along that Duan Yu might not have escaped from Crown Prince Yanqing’s poison without injury. He immediately sent two of his own eunuch’s to further investigate the situation. After an hour had passed, the two eunuch’s returned with news. “Your Imperial Crown Brother’s son’s disease is a serious one. His mind seems to be deranged.”

Emperor Baoding was inwardly alarmed. He immediately left his palace, heading towards the South Subduing Palace to personally investigate. As soon as he reached Duan Yu’s bedchamber, he could hear a cacophonous series of sounds without end. Peng peng, ping pang, ka la, qiang lang. It was as though many household utensils were being smashed. The servants outside the room immediately knelt upon seeing the Emperor. A look of panic was on their faces.

Upon entering the room, Emperor Baoding saw Duan Yu dancing in the middle of the room like a madman, tossing and throwing about all sorts of
 
household items, including the tables and the chairs. The two imperial physicians were dodging this way and that way, a pitiable sight. Emperor Baoding cried out, “Yu’er, what’s wrong?”

Duan Yu was still quite clear-headed. However, the internal energy flowing throughout his body was simply too powerful, raging as though it were preparing to burst forth from his chest. If he waved his arms about and destroyed some things, he felt slightly more comfortable. Upon seeing Emperor Baoding enter the room, he called out, “Uncle, I’m about to die!” His two hands frantically drew circles in the air as he spoke.

Dao Baifeng was standing off to one side, tears flowing. She said, “Elder brother, Yu’er was perfectly fine this morning when he saw his father off. I don’t know how or why, but he’s suddenly gone mad.” Emperor Baoding consoled her, “Sister-in-law, it must be that the drugs he was poisoned with in the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge have not fully been eradicated yet. It won’t be too hard to cure.” He said to Duan Yu, “How are you feeling?”

Repeatedly stamping his feet, Duan Yu replied, “My entire body feels swollen and is incredibly painful.” Emperor Baoding saw that the skin on his face and his hands seemed unblemished and perfectly normal, without the slightest sign of swelling at all. This, clearly, was a case of Duan Yu’s mind being confused. He couldn’t help but furrow his forehead.

As it were, this was caused by his draining of a small half of the internal energy reserves of those five master martial artists last night. At the time, he hadn’t noticed anything amiss, and after he had seen his father off, he went home and took a small nap. In the midst of his slumber, his internal energy began to circulate improperly, and instantly began to rush about wildly. Duan Yu had immediately jumped up and began to exercise the steps of the Graceful Steps Upon the Waves. But as he moved faster and faster, the energy in his body only grew more and more agitated, growing even wilder and even less controllable. Right away, he began to shout and howl, terrifying everyone in the household.

An imperial physician opined, “Your majesty, his pulse is incredibly strong and vigorous right now. It seems as though his blood vessels have become enormously dilated. In your humble servant’s opinion, a little bit of
 
bloodletting may prove helpful. May we try it?” Thinking to himself that this idea might have some merit, Emperor Baoding nodded. “Fine. Go ahead and bleed him a little.” The imperial physician replied, “Yes sir!” Opening his medicine bag, he retrieved from within a porcelain box a particularly large and fat leech. Leeches were considered to be an excellent way to bleed a patient, as it could draw away a patient’s blood conveniently but not cause pain. Grabbing onto Duan Yu’s forearm, the imperial physician carefully placed the leech directly on top of a blood vessel. But as soon as the leech touched Duan Yu’s body, it began to writhe and squirm. No matter what the imperial physician did, it refused to bite Duan Yu. The imperial physician was startled. He forcefully pressed the leech down against Duan Yu’s blood vessels. After some time passed, the leech’s body grew stiff. It had actually died. The imperial physician, having humiliated himself in front of the emperor, began to sweat. He hurriedly withdrew a second leech from his medicine bag, but to no effect; it, too, ossified and died.

A worried look on his face, the other physician interjected, “Your majesty, he must have been poisoned by some sort of powerful toxin. Even the leech was poisoned to death.” He had no idea that Duan Yu had swallowed the “King of Ten Thousand Poisons”, the Cinnabar Toad. Any sort of serpent or vermin, upon smelling Duan Yu, would fearfully scurry far away. Even the most venomous of vipers would be cowed into submission, much less a mere leech.

Emperor Baoding was extremely worried. He asked, “What sort of poison is it, for it to be so incredibly lethal?” The physician replied, “In your humble servant’s opinion, your nephew’s pulse seems to be incredibly dry. He must have been poisoned by some sort of extremely hot poison. But as to exactly what that poison might be? Well…that is….forgive your humble servant’s inadequacy…” The other physician said, “I disagree. His pulse appears to have a deficiency of Yin. The toxin must be cold in nature. A hot toxin may neutralize it.” In reality, Duan Yu’s body was not only bursting with powerful, vigorous, masculine Yang internal energy from the Yellow Browed Monk, the Divine Crocodile, and Zhong Wanchou, but also with the soft Yin internal energy from Ye Erniang and Yun Zhonghe. Each of the
 
physicians could only grasp half of the problem, and thus were unable to come up with the real answer as to why he was so ill.

Emperor Baoding listened as the two physicians debated each other incessantly. They were the finest medical minds Dali had to offer, and yet their diagnoses differed so radically. However, it was unarguable that his nephew’s illness was bizarre to the extreme. Stretching out the ‘Shi’, ‘Zhong’, and ‘Wuming’ fingers [the index finger, the middle finger, and the ring finger, respectively], he gently touched the “Lique” acupoint on Duan Yu’s wrist. The scions of the Duan family had a strange characteristic; unlike ordinary people, whose pulses flowed through the “Cunkou” point, theirs flowed through the “Lique” point. This was what physicians termed the “Reversed Juncture Pulse”.

Upon seeing Emperor Baoding demonstrate a profound knowledge of medicine with this simple movement, the two famous physicians were in awe. One of them said, “This is written in medical books: ‘A Reversed Juncture Pulse on the left hand is the sign of nobility; one on the right hand is a symbol of wealth. For both hands to have a reversed juncture is a sign of great nobility and great wealth.’ His highness, the South Subduing Prince, and his nephew all have ‘Reversed Juncture Pulses’ on both hands.”

The other one opined, “One needn’t test their acupoints to know that these three are of great nobility and wealth.” The first one replied, “That isn’t the point. For his nephew to have two ‘Reversed Juncture Pulses’ is a sign that although this illness is certainly fearful, it will not prove to be a serious problem.” The second physician disagreed. He secretly thought to himself, “What, no one who is both rich and noble can die young?” But he didn’t dare say this aloud.

Emperor Baoding found that his nephew’s pulse was both strong and quick. If it continued, how could his heart possibly stand the strain? He exerted the slightest bit of pressure with his finger, trying to discover any irregularities within Duan Yu’s internal energy’s circulatory system. Immediately, his own internal energy began to flow towards Duan Yu, disappearing without a trace. Greatly astonished, he hurriedly released Duan Yu.
 
He was unaware that Duan Yu had already learned the “Divine Art of the Northern Darkness” and mastered the ‘Shoutaiyinfei’ channels of absorption. The ‘Lieque’ acupoint just so happened to be part of that set of meridian channels. When he exerted his internal energy, he only filled Duan Yu’s body with even more internal energy.

Duan Yu cried out, “Ow!” His entire body began to violently shake, trembling without end.

Emperor Baoding retreated two steps. He said, “Yu’er, did you somehow come across Ding Chunqiu of Xingxiuhai?” Duan Yu replied, “Ding…Ding Chunqiu? Your nephew doesn’t know the person.” Emperor Baoding replied, “Rumors say that he is an old man with the appearance similar to that of a Taoist divinity in paintings.” Duan Yu replied, “I’ve never met him before!” Emperor Baoding said, “This man is learned in heretic and evil martial arts, and is a master at dissolving and destroying the internal energy of others with some sort of skill called the “Great Art of Energy Dissipating. He can cause the internal energy which a martial artist has cultivated all his life to be destroyed in a day. There is nobody in the wulin world who does not utterly despise him. If…if you never met him, how could you have learned this evil skill?” Duan Yu hurriedly replied, “I have never…never learned such a skill. ‘Ding Chunqiu’ and the ‘Great Art of Energy Dissipating’…this is the first time I’ve ever heard of either.”

Emperor Baoding felt that Duan Yu wouldn’t lie to him, much less try to dissipate his own internal energy. Suddenly, another thought hit him. “I know! It must be that Crown Prince Yanqing learned this heretic skill. Somehow, he must have found a way to implant the art within Yu’er’s body, with the intention of using Yu’er to harm me and brother Chun. Hmph, this man claims to be the ‘Most Evil Man in the World’. He lives up to the reputation!”

He saw Duan Yu randomly scratch and tear at his body, ripping his clothes to utter shreds. Bloody lines began to appear on Duan Yu’s body. It was only with an effort that he managed to refrain from howling out, but continuous groans escaped from his lips. Dao Baifeng repeatedly tried to console him, “Yu’er, just endure it for a bit longer. Everything will be alright soon.” Emperor Baoding thought to himself, “What a difficult
 
problem…I must seek advice from the Heavenly Dragon Monastery.” He said, “Yu’er, I am going to take you to pay your respects to a number of elders. I’m sure that they will have some way to cure this vile poison!” Duan Yu replied, “Yes sir!” Dao Baifeng hurriedly retrieved a new set of garments for her son to change into. Emperor Baoding escorted him out of the palace. Each mounting a chariot, they rode for Mt. Diancang.

The Heavenly Dragon Monastery was located outside of the city of Dali, being situated in the northern peaks of the Diancang mountains. Its formal name was the ‘Sublime Sage Monastery’ [Chongsheng Si], but the citizens had become accustomed to simply calling it the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. Its was built on the shoulders of Mt. Diancang, facing the waters of a river, an utterly lovely sight The monastery had three pagodas which were built during the Tang dynasty. The largest one was sixteen stories high, stretching over seventy meters. At the top, the following words were inscribed in metal: “Virtuously Built by Yuchi Jing, Loyal Officer of the Great Tang.” Of the five treasures of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, the three pagodas were considered to be the chief.

Many of the ancestors of the Duan family who became Emperor eventually discarded their thrones and became monks here, at the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. Thus, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery became the family temple for the imperial family of Dali. It was the most respected and venerated monastery in all of Dali. After each former Emperor came here, upon their birthdays, their sons and grandsons would come to the monastery to pay their respects. And each time they paid their respects, they would build a new building as a gift. The temple possessed three pavilions, seven storied buildings, nine halls, and a hundred mansions, all of them huge in size and majestic in beauty. Even the most famous Buddhist mountain temples of the central plains, such as Wutai, Putuo, Jiuhua, or Emei could not match its splendid opulence. Only, it was situated too far to the south, and thus its fame was not as great.

During the journey, Duan Yu listened to his uncle’s instructions and suppressed the incessantly clashing and raging energy streams within him. As the pain subsided slightly, he arrived with his uncle in front of the monastery. Emperor Baoding was very familiar with the Heavenly Dragon
 
Monastery, having often come here, and immediately searched for the abbot of the monastery, master Benyin.

In terms of familial relationship, Abbot Benyin would be considered Emperor Baoding’s uncle. However, as a monk, he did not need to pay Emperor Baoding the respects due to a king, nor did Emperor Baoding need to treat him as he might ordinarily treat a family elder. The two met with each other on equal terms. Emperor Baoding explained how Duan Yu was kidnapped by Crown Prince Yanqing, how he had been poisoned with a vile venom, and how he had been afflicted with an evil skill that caused him to dissolve the internal energy of others.

Abbot Benyin mumbled to himself for a short period of time, then said, “Please accompany me to Muni [as in Sakyamuni] Pavilion and meet with my three apprentice-brothers.” Emperor Baoding said, “I have disturbed the tranquil meditations of so many master monks. My sin is grievous indeed!” Abbot Benyin replied, “The son of the South Subduing Prince shall one day be the heir to the throne of Dali, which will be a true blessing to the people of the country. Your experience and internal energy can only be above that of my own. For you to come and ask me for help can only mean that this is a difficult problem indeed. I cannot help you by myself, and must consult with my apprentice-brothers.”

Two young apprentice monks led the way, with Abbot Benyin directly behind him and Emperor Baoding with his nephew in the rearmost position. They took a left at the Auspicious Crane Gate, passed by the Billowing Heaven Gate, the Jade Pavilion of the Pure Capital, the Boundless Hall, the Three Principals Temple, the Great Tushita [a heavenly realm] Courtyard, the Rain and Flowers Courtyard, and the Prana Terrace. Finally, they arrived at a long corridor. The two apprentice monks respectfully stood outside the doorway, halting their steps. Following the corridor, the three headed westwards, arriving at a number of rooms. Although Duan Yu had often come to the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, he had never come here before. Those rooms were all built out of pinewood. The wooden pillars were simple and unadorned and in perfect shape. They looked totally different from the splendid and majestic buildings which the three had passed on their way here.
 
Abbot Benyin clapped his hands together a few times, then said, “Amitabha! Benyin has come across a difficult problem which I cannot solve. Forgive me for interrupting your studies, my apprentice-brothers.” From within a room, someone spoke, “Please enter, abbot!” Slowly, Benyin stretched out his hand and pushed the door open. The door creaked and squeaked as it opened; clearly, it was opened or closed only very rarely. Duan Yu followed Abbot Benyin as the latter walked walked inside. Earlier, he had heard Benyin say he would consult with ‘three apprentice-brothers’, but there were four monks inside, seated on cattail hassocks. Of the three monks that could be seen, two of them had withered appearances, with the third one possessed of a large frame. The fourth monk was situated towards the east, and was facing the wall, still and unmoving.

Emperor Baoding recognized the two withered, skinny monks; one was named Benguan, the other was named Benxiang. They were Abbot Benyin’s elder apprentice-brothers. The large, stalwart monk was named Bencan; he was Benyin’s younger apprentice-brother. He only knew that Muni Pavilion housed three elder monks with the names ‘Guan,’ ‘Xiang’, and ‘Can’; but did not recognize the fourth monk. He immediately bowed low and paid his respects. A slight smile on their lips, Benguan and the other two returned his salute. Perhaps the monk facing the wall was rooted to the floor, or his studies had reached a critical juncture and rendered him unable to turn his attention away; regardless, he did not pay the slightest attention to Emperor Baoding. Emperor Baoding knew that the two characters, ‘Mu’ and ‘Ni’, referred to stillness and quiet. In the Muni Pavilion, the fewer words that he spoke, the better. Thus he was succinct and terse in describing the evil poison flowing in Duan Yu’s body. He finished by saying, “I earnestly hope that you four can benevolently give me some pointers.”

Benguan mumbled to himself for some time while measuring up Duan Yu. He said, “Apprentice brothers, what do you think?” Bencan replied, “Even though it would cost some energy, it might not render us incapable of mastering the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’.”

Upon hearing the four words, “Liu Mai Shen Jian” [Six Meridians Divine Sword]”, Emperor Baoding felt a shock in his heart. He thought to himself,
 
“In my youth, my father once told me that the Duan family’s ancestral homeland had an infinitely powerful skill known as the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians.’ But according to my father, this was just a legend, and no one in our family history was recorded as actually having mastered this technique. Moreover, no one actually knows if this technique is really as powerful as the legends say. From the words of master Benguan, it seems as though such a wondrous skill actually exists!”

His thoughts turned in another direction. “Judging from his words, they intend to drive away the poison from Duan Yu’s body by using their own internal energy, but doing so would tire them out and obstruct their attempts at mastering the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. But Yu’er has been poisoned with an evil toxin and an evil skill has been implanted in his body; both are deadly and strange to the extreme. If the five of us do not combine our strengths, how can he be cured?” Although he felt extremely apologetic, in the end, he did not decline the suggestion. Benxiang did not say a single word. He rose to his feet, lowered his head, furrowed his eyebrows, then took a slanted position at the northeast side of the room. Benguan and Bencan each returned to their respective positions as well. Abbot Benyin said, “Shanzai, Shanzai!” [Shanzai is a Buddhist exclamation, usually signifying a good deed being done]. He took a position towards the west- southwest.

Emperor Baoding said, “Yu’er, these four elders of yours have decided to use their own internal energy to drive out the poison in your veins, not caring about the loss of their own strength. Quickly kowtow and thank them!” From the expression on his uncle’s face as well as that of the four monks, Duan Yu knew that this was no small matter indeed. He immediately fell to his knees and kowtowed to each of the monks in turn. Each of them smiled faintly and nodded in response. Emperor Baoding said, “Yu’er, rest on your knees. Don’t think about anything at all, and definitely don’t exert so much as an ounce of your internal energy. If you feel some strange sensations, don’t be alarmed; this is normal.” Duan Yu acknowledged the instructions, then sat down as instructed.

Benguan held up his right thumb and, exercising a precise amount of force, pressed it against the “Fengfu” acupoint behind Duan Yu’s skull. The force
 
of his Solitary Solar Finger gradually emerged. The “Fengfu” acupoint was roughly an inch beneath the hairline, and belonged to the “Du” meridians. Next, Benxiang struck the “Zigong” acupoint of Duan Yu’s “Ren” meridians. Bencan struck the “Daheng” acupoint of his “Yinwei” meridians. Abbot Benyin struck his “Youmen” acupoint of his “Chong” meridians. Finally, Emperor Baoding struck his “Qingming” acupoint of his “Yinjiao” meridians. A human body has seven channels and eight meridians; of the eight meridians, the five of them ignored the “Yangwei” and the “Yangjiao” meridians. All five of them exercised the Solitary Solar Finger, attempting to purify his body of any toxins or evil energies with their pure Yang energy, driving them out through the acupoints of his “Yangwei” and “Yangjiao” meridians.

These five masters of the Solitary Solar Finger had each achieved a very close level of attainment within it. With a ‘chi-chi’ sound, five streams of pure Yang energy entered Duan Yu’s body at the same time. Duan Yu’s body suddenly trembled and was filled with an incredibly warm sensation that was indescribably comfortable, as though he were soaking in the sunlight during winter. The five people’s fingers moved in unison. They felt as though after their energies entered Duan Yu’s body, they would gradually vanish, never to reappear. Duan Yu had not fully mastered all of the aspects of the “Divine Art of the Northern Darkness”, but with the five masters pouring the pure Yang energy of their Solitary Solar Finger into his body, he was helpless to resist, and the energy began to collect in his ‘sea of energy’ at his “Shanzhong” acupoint. The five elite experts of the Duan family gazed at each other, startlement and bewilderment covering each and every one of their faces.

Suddenly, a powerful cry was heard. “WUHUA!” Everyone’s ears shook with the sound, a buzzing noise filling them. Emperor Baoding knew that this was an extremely high-level Buddhist technique known as the “Lion’s Roar” [Shizi Hou]. Within the roar was hidden an extremely deep internal force, easily capable of terrifying opponents or astonishing friends. The monk who was facing the wall spoke. “A powerful opponent is arriving in but a few days, and the centuries-old fame of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery is dangling above a precipice. As for this mewling babe, regardless of whether he has been poisoned or afflicted with some evil skill;
 
is it really worth it to waste internal energy over him at this critical juncture?” These sentences were filled with an awe-inspiring dignity and majesty.

Abbot Benyin said, “Martial-uncle, your instructions are wise!” With a wave of his left hand, the five people retreated at the same time.

Upon hearing Abbot Benyin address that man as ‘martial-uncle’, Emperor Baoding hurriedly said, “I was unaware that elder Kurong was present, and am guilty of being remiss in paying my proper respects.” As it were, elder Kurong was of the highest ranking generation in the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. He had secluded himself into isolated meditation for decades now, and none of the monks of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery had ever seen his actual face. Emperor Baoding, as well, had only heard of him but had never met him before. In the past, he had heard that elder Kurong was in secluded meditation at the Two Trees Courtyard, but no one had mentioned him in over ten years. He had assumed that elder Kurong had achieved nirvana [i.e. died].

Elder Kurong continued, “One must consider a matter’s relative importance and urgency. The date of our appointment with the Shining King of the Great Wheel, from the Great Snowy Mountain, is almost upon us. Zhengming, why don’t you join us in discussing the matter.” Emperor Baoding replied, “Yes!” In his heart, he thought to himself, “The Great Snowy Mountain’s Shining King of the Great Wheel possesses a deep and erudite understanding of the dharma. I wonder what he connection he has with us?”

From within his bosom, Abbot Benyin withdrew a resplendent golden letter, passing it over to Emperor Baoding. Emperor Baoding accepted the letter. It weighed heavily in his hand. This letter was exceptionally bizarre; its ‘envelope’ was actually an extremely thin layer gold beaten into the shape of a envelope, with the words written in Sanskrit using platinum [‘white gold’]. Emperor Baoding could read it. The words were, “Respectfully Presented to the Sublime Sage Monastery”.

He withdrew the actual letter from the envelope; it, too, was made out of an exceptionally thin sheet of beaten gold. Once again, the words were written
 
in Sanskrit. The general meaning was, “Many years ago, I had a chance meeting with the honorable Murong Bo. In the course of our meeting, we conversed at length about the various martial arts in the world. Mr. Murong held your temple’s “Divine Sword of the Six Meridians” in the highest esteem, and deeply regretted not having the opportunity to visit you to see it himself. I recently have heard that Mr. Murong passed away; my sorrow is boundless. I respectfully request that your revered monastery transmit to me the manuscript of the “Divine Sword of the Six Meridians”, so that I might burn it in sacrifice before Mr. Murong’s tomb. I will arrive in a number of days; I hope that my wish might be granted.”

The letter was signed, “Jiumozhi, disciple of the Great Wheel Temple of the Great Snowy Mountain, pays his deepest respects.” The words on the letter were also written using platinum; the carefulness and worksmanship displayed was nothing short of exquisite. Clearly, it had been crafted by a master artisan who had expended boundless efforts in making it. The letter and envelope alone could be considered an overwhelmingly priceless treasure, displaying the obvious wealth and opulence of the Shining King of the Great Wheel.

Emperor Baoding had heard before that Jiumozhi, the Shining King of the Great Wheel, was the national protector and dharma king [an extremely high rank in Tibetan Buddhism; the Golden Wheel Monk of ROCH was originally also titled ‘dharma king’] of the nation of Tibet. He had heard that the man possessed a staggering intellect and a clear understanding of Buddhism. Every five years, he would hold lectures where he would expound at length on various scriptures. Many high monks and men of great virtue of the western regions would converge at the Great Wheel Monastery of the Great Snowy Mountain to ask for clarifications regarding difficult-to- understand parts of various scriptures. After the discussions were complete and the people began to depart, there would not be a single person who was not joyful and full of praise. Emperor Baoding himself had once desired to travel there to listen to the readings of the scriptures. This letter described him as having discussed martial arts with Gusu’s Murong Bo, and even becoming intimate friends with him; clearly, then, the man was also an extremely skilled martial artist. For such a man of great intelligence and wisdom, it would be perfectly normal for him not to practice martial arts. If
 
he really were to be a martial artist as well, then he must be a formidable character indeed.

Abbot Benyin said, “The ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ is a precious treasure of our monastery, passed down from generation to generation. It represents the highest level of martial arts learning which the Duan family of Dali possesses. Zhengming, Dali’s Duan family’s most advanced martial arts technique resides here, in the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. You are not a monk, but a secular man; therefore, even though you are our nephew and possess a deep understanding of many abstruse martial arts concepts, we could not divulge it to you.” Emperor Baoding said, “Yes, I understand this rule.” Benguan said, “Not even Zhengming and Zhengchun knew that our monastery possessed the manuscript for learning the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. I wonder how it is that Gusu’s Murong family learned of it.”

Duan Yu, listening, suddenly thought of the ‘Blessed Reading Ground’ within the cave near Mt. Wuliang, and its empty shelves. One of the shelves had been marked “the Duan family of Dali”, with two additional markings on it: “Solitary Solar Finger, missing” and “Divine Sword of the Six Meridians, missing.” He thought to himself, “My Dear Goddess scoured the land for the martial arts manuscripts of every family and school in the world, but was never able to acquire my family’s “Solitary Solar Finger” and “Divine Sword of the Six Meridians.” He felt delight in his heart, but also some melancholy as he imagined how much the Dear Goddess must have regretted their absence.

He heard Benguan angrily say, “The Shining King of the Great Wheel can be considered a world-famous monk of high standing. He must have lost his wits! How can he demand this manuscript from our monastery? Zhengming, as our brother abbot knows, ‘If he comes, he comes not with good intentions, but with ill will.’ This matter is of the utmost importance, and we ourselves dare not handle it by ourselves. Thus, we invited martial- uncle Kurong to lead us in handling the situation.”

Benyin said, “Although our monastery does indeed have this manuscript, I am ashamed to admit that none of us are capable of learning the divine skill written upon it. We can’t even be said to have a rudimentary knowledge of
 
it. Martial-uncle Kurong has been practicing that which is known as ‘withered [‘Ku’, like his name] meditation’. This is a totally different type of divine skill which our monastery possesses. He, too, is lacking in understanding in the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. But although we are incapable of learning this skill, no one in the world knows about it. Can it be that the Shining King of the Great Wheel is totally confident in himself and is not afraid of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ at all?

Kurong icily said, “I doubt that he dares to look down upon the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. The respect which he holds for Murong Bo, and the respect which Murong Bo held for the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, hmph…I am sure the Shining King of the Great Wheel himself knows which one he holds in greater import. But most likely, he has guessed that, as our monastery has not produced any exceptionally astonishing martial artists, though the manuscript may be priceless, no one can master its skills, and thus he is not worried.”

Benguan loudly shouted, “If he himself admires the skill and asked for a chance to borrow it and read it, on account of us respecting him as an eminent Buddhist monk, at most we would gently and tactfully refuse. There’s no big deal. What really pisses me off is that he’s going to go burn it in front of some dead guy. He’s really thinking too little of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery!”

Benxiang let out a sigh. “Martial brother, there is no need for you to work yourself into such a rage. I do not think that the Shining King of the Great Wheel is such an ignorant and presumptuous man. It seems he wishes to imitate the story of ‘Wu Jizha hanging a sword on the tomb’. It appears he held Mr. Murong in the utmost of esteem. Alas, an excellent friend passes away, and can never be seen again…” And he slowly began to shake his head. Emperor Baoding said, “Master Benxiang, what was the character of Mr. Murong Bo?” Benxiang said, “I do not know. But for such an extraordinary character as the Shining King of the Great Wheel to hold him in such esteem, he must have been an incredible person indeed.” And as he spoke, he seemed to be carried away and carefree.

[Here is a quick summary of the story of Wu Jizha: Wu Jizha was a man of the Zhou dynasty who had a good friend named Xu Jun. Jizha had a
 
precious sword created for him that he needed for a special mission; his friend Xu Jun saw the sword and wanted it very much for himself, but said nothing, as it would be inappropriate. Wu Jizha saw that his friend wanted it and intended to gift him the sword, but could not do so immediately, as he needed it for the mission. He vowed to himself that he would give Xu Jun the sword when he returned, but by the time he completed the mission, Xu Jun was dead. Besides himself with grief, Wu Jizha went to Xu Jun’s tomb and hung his sword over a tree overlooking the tomb. When people asked him what was the point of him doing so, he replied, ‘Although Xu Jun has departed, the promise I made him in my heart still binds me. I promised myself that when I returned, I would make a gift of the sword to him; how could I allow such a paltry thing as death stand in the way of me keeping my oath?’]

Abbot Benyiin continued, “Martial-uncle Kurong believes that, based upon his judgement of our enemy’s capabilities, unless we are able to quickly master the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, the precious manuscript will be forcibly taken from us, and the Heavenly Dragon Monastery will suffer a crushing blow. Unfortunately, the divine technique written on the scroll is heavily dependent upon one’s internal energy reserve, and so there’s no way to simply hasten one’s learning of it. Zhengming, it’s not that we don’t care about Duan Yu or his condition. Only, we fear that if we exhaust too much internal energy and our powerful enemy suddenly arrives, we won’t be able to fend him off. It seems that although Duan Yu’s problem is very severe, he won’t be at risk of losing his life for many days yet. Let’s have him quietly rest here for the next few days. If his condition suddenly takes a dangerous turn for the worse, we will immediately come up with a solution to cure him. After we have driven off our enemy, we will exert all of our energies into curing him and driving out the poison in his body. What do you think?”

Although Emperor Baoding was worried about Duan Yu, he also was capable of understanding the big picture. He knew that the Heavenly Dragon Monastery was a fundamental root and supporting structure of Dali’s Duan family. Whenever the imperial family was in trouble, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery would lend its support, and each time they would pull through. In the past, when the treacherous official Yang Yizhen
 
murdered Emperor Shangde and stole the throne, it was the Heavenly Dragon Monastery who, along with loyal official Gao Zhisheng, put down rebellion and restored peace. Dali was established in the second year of Heavenly Fortune, of the Later Jin dynasty of the Five Dynasties period; it had existed for a hundred and fifty eight years now. It had undergone many trials and tribulations. One of the major reasons why the state had been able to survive them all was the calming and steadying influence of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. Today, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery was in trouble; this was identical to the state itself being in danger. He immediately said, “Abbot, your benevolence is greatly appreciated, and my gratitude towards you is boundless. But if I might ask, how do you intend to defend against the Shining King of the Great Wheel, and how can I, Zhengming, offer my humble assistance?”

Benyin mumbled to himself, “You are a master amongst the secular members of the Duan family. If you can work together with us to defeat this powerful opponent, it will add to our prestige. But for you, a secular person, to get involved in a dispute between Buddhist disciples…no doubt, the Shining King of the Great Wheel will laugh at us, mocking the Heavenly Dragon Monastery for not being able to take care of ourselves.”

Kurong suddenly said, “If each of us were to try to individually learn the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, it would be impossible. Simply put, our internal energy is not strong enough. I had once thought of a workaround, where six of us each master a single one of the six meridians, and all six of us strike in unison. Although there is no glory in us fighting him six against one, in the end, we aren’t challenging him to a duel, but trying to protect our monastery and our scriptures. Even if a hundred of us were to fight him at the same time, it would be acceptable. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of a sixth person in the Heavenly Dragon Monastery who was skilled enough to join us. I have worried about this conundrum for a long time. Zhengming, why don’t you take the sixth position? Only, you’ll have to shave your head and switch into monastery robes.” He spoke more and more quickly, as though he were getting very excited; however, his tone of voice was as icy and cold as ever.
 
Emperor Baoding said, “I have always desired to fully devote myself to the Buddha and his teachings. Only, with regards to the secret manuscript, well, I’ve never seen it before. For me to try and learn it so hastily, I’m afraid that…”

Bencan said, “You long ago learned the fundamentals to this skill. You only need to learn the sword techniques.” Emperor Baoding did not understand. He said, “Abbot, please explain.” Abbot Benyin said, “Be seated.” Emperor Baoding knelt down on one of the cattail hassocks.

Benyin said, “The ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ is not an actual, physical sword. It is the transformation of the energy of the Solitary Solar Finger into sword qi. It has substance, but is invisible; it can be described as ‘invisible sword qi’. The ‘Six Meridians’ refer to the six meridians near the hand from which the energy is executed; the “Taiyinfei” channels [Lunar Lung], the “Jueyinxinbao” channels [Yin Pericardium], the “Shaoyinxin” channels [Lesser Yin Heart], the “Taiyangxiaochang” channels [Solar Intestine], the “Yangmingwei” channels [Brilliant Yang Stomach], and the “Shaoyangsanjiao” channels [Three Lesser Yang Cavities]. And as he spoke, he withdrew a rolled up scroll from behind Benguan’s hassock.

Bencan took the scroll over, unfurling it and hanging it up on the wall. The passage of many years had turned the paper a sickly yellowish-brown color. A picture of a naked male was on the paper, with all of his acupoints clearly marked out. Red and black lines were used to indicate how the internal energy was supposed to flow amongst the six meridians. Emperor Baoding was a superb expert of the Solitary Solar Finger; at a single glance, he could tell that the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ was indeed based upon the Solitary Solar Finger as its foundation.

Duan Yu was lying on the floor, resting. Upon seeing the naked male picture on the scroll, his thoughts instantly turned to the scroll which he accidentally tore up. He thought to himself, “The acupoints of men and women are identical. Dear Goddess was so strange. Why did she draw a scroll of a naked woman instead of a man, much less use give that naked woman her own features?” He faintly felt that it was inappropriate, as though his Dear Goddess had intended to use her beauty and features to lure men into staring at the scroll and seduce them into learning its martial arts.
 
In his delirium, he had accidentally torn up the scroll; perhaps this was actually to his benefit and had aided him in avoiding some sort of catastrophe. But thinking in such a way would profane the Dear Goddess’ purity, and so the thought only flashed by his mind, and he dared not ponder on it longer.

Benyin said, “Zhengming, you are the absolute ruler of the country of Dali. For you to change into a monk’s attire is a critical stopgap measure, but if our enemy realizes who you actually are, a huge blow will be dealt to the prestige of Dali. I leave it to you to decide whether or not the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.” Emperor Baoding folded his hands together. “Guard the dharma, protect the monastery. Honor and duty leave no other options.” Benyin replied, “Excellent. However, the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ may not be passed down to secular disciples. You must enter the monastery gates and become an actual monk; after our opponent has been driven off, I will permit you to return to the secular world and unfrock you.” Emperor Baoding rose to his feet, then knelt down on both knees. “Great master, please be benevolent [and accept me as a disciple].”

Elder Kurong said, “Come over here. I will shave you.”

Emperor Baoding moved forwards until he was kneeling before elder Kurong. Seeing his uncle prepare to be shaven and join the ranks of the monks, Duan Yu was secretly shocked. He watched as elder Kurong stretched his hand out and pressed his palm against the top of Emperor Baoding’s head. There was not so much as a single shred of muscle on his hand; the only thing which lay underneath his skin was bone. Elder Kurong still did not turn around, as he recited, “Within this dust-speck of a world, there are three concealed truths. All accomplishments are predetermined by karma. These accomplishments are meaningless and do not even add to the dust. And yet, it is difficult to stop thinking of the present. [This translation is probably totally off; can someone who understands Buddhism help retranslate this?].” He lifted his hand up. All of Emperor Baoding’s black hair fell off, leaving his head totally bald, without so much as a single strand of hair on top. Even if a razor had been used, such a clean shave would not have been possible. Duan Yu was totally shocked, and Emperor Baoding, Benguan, Benyin, and the others were also extremely impressed.
 
“Elder Kurong has long practiced the art of ‘Withered Meditation’. He has reached such an incredibly high level of strength!”

Elder Kurong said, “Upon entering Buddha’s doorway, you shall now be known as Benchen [Chen means dust, like what he was talking about earlier].” Emperor Baoding joined his palms together. “Master, thank you for granting me a name.” Buddhists do not adhere to secular rules regarding generational gaps. Originally, Abbot Benyin was Emperor Baoding’s uncle, but now that Emperor Baoding had been shaved by elder Kurong himself and brought into the monastery, he became Benyin’s younger apprentice- brother, on the same generational level. Emperor Baoding immediately changed into monastic shoes and clothes, his appearance completely changing into that of a learned and eminent monk.

Elder Kurong said, “That ‘Shining King of the Great Wheel’ might arrive this very night. Benyin, transmit the secrets of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ to Benchen.” Benyin replied, “Yes!” Pointing to the manuscript, he said, “Brother Benchen, you shall focus on the ‘Shoushaoyangsanjiao’ meridians. After your qi is collected at the dantian, circulate it upwards, through your shoulders and arms. Once it reaches the ‘Qinglengyuan’ point [Chilly Pool], curve the qi to pass through the ‘Tianjing’ point [Heavenly Well], then the ‘Sidu’ [Four Recitations] point, the ‘Sanyang’ path [Three Yang], then the Huizong [Ancestral Assembly], Waiguan [Outer Gate], Yangchi [Yang Moat], Zhongzhu [Central Islet], and Yemen [Liquid Door] points. Condense the internal energy, then fire it out from the ‘Guanchong’ acupoint [Vigorous Gate] of your ring finger.”

Emperor Baoding followed the instructions and circulated his internal energy as ordered. With a ‘chi-chi’ sound, his internal energy burst out from the ‘Guanchong’ acupoint of his ring finger.

Elder Kurong happily said, “Your cultivation of internal energy is extraordinary indeed. Although the sword techniques themselves have many heavy and complicated changes, your sword qi has already taken form. You can now execute it at will.”

Benyin said, “Originally, the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ was supposed to be executed by a single person. But in this day and age, martial
 
arts has declined, and there is now no one capable of gathering and cultivating such a powerful, vigorous internal energy. All we can do is divide up the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ amongst ourselves. My martial-uncle has specialized in the ‘Shaoshang’ sword of the thumb; I specialize in the ‘Shangyang’ sword of the index finger; brother Benguan specializes in the ‘Zhongchong’ sword of the middle finger; brother Benchen specializes in the ‘Guanchong’ sword of the ring finger, brother Benxiang specializes in the ‘Shaochong’ sword of the pinky finger, and brother Bencan specializes in the ‘Shaoze’ sword of the left pinky. We must attend to the matter of combining these six swords at once.”

He once more retrieved the manuscripts of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, hanging them on the four walls of the room. The picture describing the ‘Shaoshang’ sword he hung next to elder Kurong. Every single picture was filled with criss-crossing lines, circles, and arcs. Each of the six focused on their respective manuscripts, and began poking and pointing in the air as they sketched out the movements.

Duan Yu slowly sat up. He felt as though the energy in his body was swaying, and even more difficult to bear than before. As it happened, just a short time ago, Emperor Baoding and the other four monks had poured a substantial amount of internal energy into his body. Seeing how his uncle and the other elders were concentrating so hard on their practice, he didn’t dare to make a sound and disturb them. Sitting down for a long while, he began to feel bored. By accident, his gaze came to rest upon the manuscript which was resting above elder Kurong. After staring at it for only a short while, he began to feel his right arm begin to tremble uncontrollably, as though something was trying to burst forth from his skin and escape. That small, mouselike creature that was trying to escape precisely from the ‘Kongzui’ acupoint, as illustrated on the manuscript.

He had successfully completed the practice of the ‘Shoutaiyinfei’ channels. The acupoints illustrated on that manuscript were identical with those on the illustration of the naked girl. However, the lines that were drawn were totally different. According to the pathways drawn by the red lines, the energy from the ‘Zikongzui’ point passed to the ‘Dayuan’ point, then immediately jumped to the ‘Chize’ point, then dropped down to the ‘Yuji’
 
point. Unexpectedly, as he tried to channel the wildly rushing internal energy as according to the manuscript, it actually obeyed, although it took many twists and turns as it moved towards his upper arm. As the internal energy flowed through his meridians, he felt the nausea and pain of his body immediately lessen. Immediately, he dedicated his mind to channeling the energy into his ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint.

However, this gush of energy was different, and could not be easily channeled towards his ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint as instructed by the naked female pictures. After a short period of time, he began to cry out, “Ow, ow!” in pain. Hearing his cries, Emperor Baoding immediately turned his head. “How are you feeling?” Duan Yu replied, “In my body, there are innumerable flows of qi that are running amuck. It is extremely painful. I was thinking about grandmaster Kurong’s manuscript, and the energy began to flow towards my ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint. Ow! But my ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint has been totally filled to the brim, and can’t take in any more energy! My…my…my chest is about to explode!”

This feeling which he had, only he himself could tell, due to it being caused by the internal circulation of qi. Thus, even though he proclaimed that his chest was about to explode, to outsiders, his chest seemed perfectly normal. Emperor Baoding was an expert martial artist, and knew that for a person to experience the feeling of his ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint being filled to the brim with energy would require at least twenty years of practice that resulted in an internal energy of unmatched power and vigor. As Duan Yu had never practiced martial arts, this sensation must have been caused by the evil toxins in his body. Emperor Baoding was inwardly fearful, knowing that unless the internal energy was dispersed, Duan Yu’s entire body would become paralyzed. But if the toxins were dispersed with the qi and settled deep within his body, it would become almost impossible to eradicate in the future.

Normally, when settling grave and important affairs, he would be both impartial and swift in passing judgement, uttering only a single sentence in verdict. But the matter in front of him would affect the entirety of Duan Yu’s life. If only a slight mistake were made, his life would be immediately at risk. Seeing that Duan Yu’s eyes had a dazed look, giving him the
 
appearance of madness, he realized that he had no time to be irresolute. He decided to himself, “At this point in time, even if we have to have Duan Yu ‘drink poison to quench his thirst’, there are no other options.” He said, “Yu’er, I will teach you how to disperse your internal energy.” Immediately, he began to demonstrate while speaking and taught him the method to do so.

Not waiting for Emperor Baoding to finish speaking, Duan Yu immediately began to follow his instructions step by step. The martial arts techniques of Dali’s Duan family were incomparably marvelous. He followed the instructions precisely, and the wildly rushing internal energy in his body began to disperse, settling down into his internal organs. According to traditional Chinese medicine, a person’s organs were divided into the “Five Internal Organs and the Six Hollow Organs.” “Internal Organs” referred to ‘storage’, and “Hollow Organs” referred to ‘home’. The original term had the secondary meaning of storing and accumulating energy. Duan Yu first drained all of the internal energy of seven disciples of Mt. Wuliang’s Sword sect, then absorbed some of the energy of masters such as Duan Yanqing, the Yellow Browed Monk, Ye Erniang, the Divine Crocodile, Yun Zhonghe, Zhong Wanchou, and Cui Baiquan. This day, he gained a small portion of the internal energy of Emperor Baoding, Benguan, Benxiang, Benyin, and Bencan, five master martial artists of the Duan family. His internal energy was now incomparably deep and profound; the phrase, ‘Shocking the ancients and overawing contemporaries’ could be used to describe it. He had no equal in the entire world. Now, under his uncle’s instructions, he began to store away this powerful internal energy within his organs, and his entire body began to feel more and more comfortable. His entire body felt light and carefree, as though he was about to fly away into the sky.

Upon seeing the boundless joy and pleasure on Duan Yu’s face, Emperor Baoding feared that he had deeply fire deviated, and that the toxin in his body would forevermore give him trouble. No matter how hard they tried to remove it, most likely it would exhaust and tire him for the rest of his life. He couldn’t help but inwardly sigh.

Aftering hearing Emperor Baoding finish teaching Duan Yu how to disperse his internal energy, elder Kurong said, “Benchen, as a man sows, so shall he
 
reap. This is true for everything in the world. Good fortune or trouble, calamity or blessing, all arise from the heart. There’s no need for you to worry too much about others. Hurry up and start focusing on mastering the ‘Shaoshang’ sword!” Emperor Baoding said, “Yes!” Putting away his feelings, he once more began to intensively study the ‘Shaoshang’ sword techniques.

The internal energy in Duan Yu’s body was extremely abundant. There was far too much of it for it to be totally stored within a short period of time. But the more he practiced the dispersion technique, the more familiar he became with it, and the more familiar he became with it, the more quickly the dispersal proceeded. The seven of them each concentrated on their own designated martial arts, and none of them noticed as light gradually appeared from the east.

By the time he heard the roosters announce the arrival of down, Duan Yu felt as though his limbs and his bones no longer contained the slightest bit of internal energy. He rose to his feet and stretched a bit. He saw that his uncle and the five elder monks were still totally, unmovingly dedicated to practicing the sword techniques. He didn’t dare to open the door to go out and take a walk, much less make a noise and disturb them. In his boredom, he casually started to check out the manuscript which his uncle was focusing on, as well as the ‘Shaoshang’ sword manuscript again. Although he had heard that the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ could not be transmitted to secular disciples, he felt that he could not possibly understand such a high level martial arts, and so there should be no problem with him just glancing at it. As he was focusing on the manuscript, suddenly he felt a burst of internal energy pour forth from his dantian on its own accord, gushing towards his arms and pouring forth from the ring finger’s ‘Guanchong’ acupoint. But he didn’t know how to actually release the energy from his finger, and consequently felt as though the tip of his ring finger was becoming more and more swollen. He thought to himself, “I better let this burst of energy dissipate.” Just as he thought this, that gush of energy really did return to his dantian.

Duan Yu didn’t know that he had accidentally learned a secret high level technique; all he felt was that the internal energy in his arm flowed up and
 
down as according to his hearts desire. He felt that it was very funny. Out of the three monks of the Muni Pavilion, he felt that master Benxiang was the nicest and most amiable. Turning his head, he stared at Benxiang’s “Shoushaoyinxin Channels” manuscript. The energy from this manuscript was generated from the ‘Jiquan’ [Utmost Spring] acupoint of the armpit, then flowed three inches upwards into the ‘Qingling’ [Green Spirit] acupoint, where it condensed as it passed through the ‘Shaohai’ [Young Ocean] acupoint, the ‘Jingling’ [Spirit Channel] acupoint, ‘Tongli’ [Open Within] acupoint, ‘Shenmen’ [Divine Door] acupoint, and the ‘Shaofuzhu’ [Lesser Residence] acupoint, before exiting via the pinky finger’s “Shaochong” acupoint. As he pondered the manuscript, a gush of energy really did pass through the channels as instructed by the drawing. Only, the speed of that gush of energy could not be controlled; sometimes it was extremely quick, but at other moments, it came to a complete halt. He guessed that it was probably due to him not being very good, and did not overthink it.

In the course of half a day, Duan Yu had already circulated his internal energy through every single passageway as drawn by the paintings. He felt as energetic and vigorous. Without anything to do, he once more began to study the ‘Shaoshang’, ‘Shangyang’, ‘Zhongchong’, ‘Guanchong’, ‘Shaochong’, and ‘Shaoze’ sword pictures. He saw that the red lines and black lines intercrossed in numerous and complicated ways. He thought to himself, “How could anyone memorize such annoyingly complex sword techniques? Besides, martial grand-uncle has already stated that non-monks are not allowed to learn it.” He immediately stopped looking at them. He felt a bit hungry, and thought to himself, “Why haven’t the apprentice monks brought any vegetarian dishes and rice yet? I might as well secretly creep outside and look for some food.” But at that very moment, he suddenly detected a gentle, fragrant scent of white sandalwood, and heard from the sound of a Buddhist chant waft in from afar.

Elder Kurong said, “Shanzai, shanzai! The Shining King of the Great Wheel has graced us with his presence. How well have you learned your respective skills?” Bencan replied, “Although I still have not mastered it, I believe I know enough to fight our enemy.” Kurong said, “Excellent! Benyin, I don’t want to walk. Invite the Shining King of the Great Wheel to
 
come to the Muni Pavilion to hold discourse with us.” Abbot Benyin said, “Yes!” He left. Benguan retrieved five cassocks, arranging them in a row on the east side. On the west side, he put a single cassock. He sat down on the first cassock, Benxiang sat down on the second, Bencan the fourth, and Emperor Baoding the fifth, leaving the central cassock for Abbot Benyin. Duan Yu had no place to sit, and so stood behind Emperor Baoding. Kurong, Benguan, and the others reviewed the techniques on the manuscripts one last time before finally gathering them up and placing them in front of elder Kurong.

Emperor Baoding said, “Yu’er, very shortly a fierce battle will erupt here. Sword qi will be freely flying across the room, and things will become very dangerous. Your uncle won’t be able to divert any attention to protecting you. Why don’t you go outside and take a walk?” A burst of misery suddenly filled Duan Yu’s heart. “From everyone’s tone of voice, it seems as though this ‘Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel’s’ martial arts is at an extraordinarily high level. My uncle only just learned the ‘Shaochong’ sword; I don’t know if he’ll be able to win or not. If some sort of mistake or error occurs, what sort of unthinkable thing might happen?” He replied, “Uncle, I…I want to stay with you. My heart is ill at ease, imagining you sword-fighting with others.” By the time he finished the last few words, his voice was already choked with sobs. Emperor Baoding’s heart was moved as well. “This child really has a filial heart.”

Elder Kurong said, “Yu’er, come sit by my side. No matter how powerful the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel is, I guarantee that he won’t be able to harm a single hair on your head.” Although his tone of voice was as calm and icy as ever, his words conveyed an extremely proud and lofty confidence.

Duan Yu replied, “Yes!” He walked in front of elder Kurong, but did not dare stare at his face. He, too, knelt and stared at the wall. Elder Kurong’s body frame was much larger than that of Duan Yu, totally covering Duan Yu’s smaller body. Emperor Baoding was both moved and relieved. Previously, elder Kurong had demonstrated the ‘Art of the Withered Meditation’ in shaving his head, displaying a power that more than allowed
 
for him to show disdain for the heroes of this age. It would be more than enough to protect Duan Yu.

In a very short amount of time, all sound disappeared from the Muni Pavilion.

After a long period of time, Abbot Benyin’s voice could be heard. “Enlightened Lord, you grace us with your dharmic knowledge. The Muni Pavilion is this way.” Duan Yu heard another voice answered him. “Abbot, thank you for going to the trouble of guiding me.” The second voice was extremely gentle and mild, refined and courteous. It definitely did not belong to a vicious, violent tyrant who took what he wanted. From the sounds of the footsteps, around ten people were headed their way. He heard Benyin push open the wooden door while saying, “Enlightened Lord, please enter!”

The Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel replied, “Excuse me!” He entered the room, then immediately folded his hands in a gesture of respect towards elder Kurong. He said, “I, Jiumozhi, a junior from Tibet, pay my respects to an eminent monk of an elder generation. Eternal or not eternal//twin trees bloom and wither//north and south, east and west//not false, not empty!”

Duan Yu wondered to himself, “What did those four lines mean?” But elder Kurong felt a shock in his heart. “The Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel is reputed to possess a vast and boundless learning. He lives up to his reputation! As soon as he saw me, he laid bare the history behind my practice of ‘Withered Meditation.’

In a past age, the great forefather of Buddhism, Sakyamuni, passed away from the world between the twin Sal trees of the city of Kusinara. He was surrounded in every direction by twin Sal trees. Each twin tree had one side which was blooming, and another side which was withered. They became known as the “Four Withered, Four Blooming.” According to Buddhist scriptures, the twin trees to the east had the meaning of, “Eternal and ephemeral.” Those to the south had the meaning of “Joyful and joyless.” The twin trees to the west signified “Myself and not myself,” and the twin trees to the north signified “Peaceful and restless.” The flourishing and blooming trees symbolized the truth and reality of nirvana: “Eternal, joyful,
 
myself, peaceful.” The withered trees symbolized the real world: “Ephemeral, joyless, not myself, and restless.” The Tathagata Buddha passed away between these eight states of existence; the hidden meaning of this was, ‘neither withered nor blooming, neither false nor empty.’

Elder Kurong had been quietly practicing the art of ‘Withered Meditation’ for decades now, but had only managed to reach the level of being ‘half withered, half blooming’. He was unable to progress to the next level of being ‘neither withered nor blooming, but also withered and also blooming.’ Upon hearing the words of the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel, he immediately became stern and said, “Enlightened Lord, you have come from afar but I did not come out to greet you. Forgive my discourtesy.”

Jiumozhi, the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel, replied, “This junior monk has long heard of and admired the glorious fame of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. For me to be able to see its stately and grand structures is a source of great joy to me.”

Abbot Benyin said, “Enlightened Lord, please be seated.” Jiumozhi thanked him and sat down.

Duan Yu thought to himself, “I wonder what this ‘Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel’ looks like?” He quietly turned his head and snuck a look past elder Kurong’s side. He saw a monk wearing a white cassock seated on a hassock in the western corner. He was not yet fifty years of age. His face was inclined upwards and seemed to have a precious light emanating from it, similar to that of brilliant pearls or precious jade, a natural sheen. After taking but a few glances at him, Duan Yu felt a sense of veneration and kinship towards him. Taking a glance outside the door, he saw eight or nine brutes with savage and fearful appearances. Clearly, they were not from the Central Plains; thus, they must be attendants or servants which the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel brought from Tibet.

Jiumozhi folded his hands together and said, “Thus spoketh the Buddha: ‘Without birth, there is no death; without filth, there is no purity.’ My mind is slow and dull; I am unable to see past love and hate, life and death. In all my life, I have had an extremely close bosom friend; he is a man of the
 
Great Song’s Gusu’s province, surnamed Murong, with his personal name being Bo. In the distant past, I met with him by chance and discussed martial arts and swordplay with him. Mr. Murong had a deep knowledge regarding every single martial arts form in the entire world. He gave me pointers and tips for many days. I have always remembered this. I will never dare to forget the great benevolence and deep kindness which Mr. Murong showed me in transmitting to me so many high-level skills and techniques. Unexpectedly, heaven did not extend a gift of long life to the great hero, and Mr. Murong has departed to the Western Heaven to enjoy bliss. I have a presumptuous request which I hope all of you elders can grant.”

Abbot Benyin said, “Enlightened Lord, your close relationship with Mr. Murong was no doubt predestined. Now that the karmic ties which bound you have come to an end, why try to force it? Mr. Murong is now joying the delights of the Western Heaven, greeting Buddha before his lotus pool. How could he possibly still care about the martial arts learning of the mortal world? Enlightened Lord, isn’t it a bit pointless for you to act in such a way?”

Jiumozhi replied, “Abbot, your advice is very cogent. But from birth my disposition has been silly and wild. Despite secluding myself in solitary meditation for over forty days, I nonetheless found it impossible to forget my former friendship with him. In the past, when Mr. Murong was discussing the sword techniques of the world with me, he was resolute in his opinion that the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ was the best in the world. The fact that he never had a chance to see it with his own eyes was his greatest regret in all his life.”

Abbot Benyin said, “Our monastery is secluded here in the distant south. For us to be esteemed so highly by Mr. Murong is a great honor for us. But why is it that in the past, Mr. Murong himself did not come personally to ask for a chance to see the manuscript of this skill?”

Jiumozhi let out a long sigh. A grieved expression was on his face, and he did not speak for a long time. Finally, he said, “Mr. Murong knew that this manuscript was the most precious treasure of this venerable monastery, transmitted down generation to generation. Naturally, he would not be
 
permitted to view it. He knew that the Duan family, despite being the rulers of Dali, had never forgotten the code of righteousness and their former ties with the jianghu. He knew that the Duan family loved the common man and was filled with benevolence. He could not bring himself to steal or forcibly take the manuscript.” Benyin thanked him, saying, “Mr. Murong praised us too highly. Since Mr. Murong esteemed Dali’s Duan family so highly, you yourself as his close friend, Enlightened Lord, should take his wishes into consideration.”

Jiumozhi replied, “But that day, I made a regrettable boast; I said to him, ‘I am the national instructor of Tibet, without any relations with Dali as well, and Tibet itself has no diplomatic relations with Dali. Mr. Murong, if it’s inconvenient for you to retrieve it, allow me to do so for you!’ After a man has made a promise, he cannot go back on it no matter what! I made this promise to Mr. Murong, and no matter what, I cannot renege on it!” And as he spoke, he lightly clapped three times. From outside, two of his men brought a wooden chest into the room, setting it down on the floor. Jiumozhi simply flicked his sleeve, and the chest calmly opened by itself, exposing a brilliant, gleaming, small golden box. Jiumozhi withdrew the golden box and held it within his hand.

Abbot Benying thought to himself, “Does he think that we monastic folks might be moved by precious treasures and gifts? Besides, after administering Dali for over a hundred and fifty years, how could the Duan family lack for gold or silver ornaments?” He watched as Jiumozhi opened the lid of the golden box and withdrew the contents. It was actually a trio of old, worn books. As Jiumozhi casually turned the books over, Benyin shot them a look. The books had both pictures and words, written in cinnabar ink. Jiumozhi stared at the books for a long time. Suddenly, tears began to fall from his eyes, splattering on his clothes. He had a look of uncontrollable grief on his face. Benyin and the rest were all totally astonished.

Elder Kurong said, “Enlightened Lord, you miss your old friend and are unable to sever your attachments. Aren’t you ashamed to be called an ‘eminent monk’?” Hanging his head, Jiumozhi said, “Master, you possess great wisdom and remarkable ability. I cannot measure up to you. These
 
three books are filled with top-level martial arts techniques, and were written down by Mr. Murong himself. They explain the essence and training methodology behind Shaolin’s 72 Ultimate Techniques, as well as the way by which one might defeat them.”

Everyone who was listening was shocked. They thought to themselves, “The fame of Shaolin’s 72 Ultimate Techniques shakes the world. Supposedly, aside from an extremely wise monk who managed to learn twenty three of these techniques at the beginning of the Song dynasty, no one has ever learned more than twenty. For Mr. Murong to be able to understand the essence of Shaolin’s 72 Ultimate Techniques is very difficult to believe. The claim that he actually managed to figure out the weaknesses of each technique is even less believable.”

Jiumozhi continued, “Mr. Murong gifted these three scrolls to me. I studied them intently, and reaped great benefits from them. My desire is that I might exchange these three precious scrolls for your venerable monastery’s scroll of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. If all of the eminent monks here would be willing to permit me to fulfill my promise, my gratitude would be boundless.”

Abbot Benyin was silent. He thought to himself, “If the skills written on these three scrolls really are that of the 72 Ultimate Techniques of Shaolin, then after acquiring them, we would not merely be on par with Shaolin in terms of martial arts knowledge, but surpass them. The Heavenly Dragon Monastery would have a thorough understanding of Shaolin’s best techniques, but Shaolin would have no knowledge of ours.”

Jiumozhi continued, “After your respected monastery gifts me with the original scroll of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, please feel free to keep a copy of it for yourself. This means that despite allowing me to pay my respects to Mr. Murong, you yourselves would not suffer any loss at all. Secondly, immediately after you give me the scroll, I will seal it. I will not sneak a single glance at it, and personally take it to the grave of Mr. Murong where I will burn it. Thus, you have no need to worry about your elite arts being leaked out. Third, although the martial arts understanding of you, respected reverends, is deep and requires nothing from outside, as the saying goes, a stone from another mountain can be used to polish one’s own
 
precious jade. Shaolin’s 72 Ultimate Techniques have many hidden secrets, and in particular, their “Flower Plucking Finger” [Nianhua Zhi], “Pattra Leaf Finger” [Duoluoye Zhi], and the “Formless Raiding Finger” [Wuxiang Jie Zhi] have many similarities to your own ‘Solitary Yang Finger’.

When Abbot Benyin and the others had first read the golden letter which he had sent them, they believed that he intended to forcibly demand they hand over their precious treasure to them. Such would be an unreasonable, tyrannical act. But now, hearing him speak tirelessly, they began to feel as though his words were very reasonable. It seemed to them that agreeing to his request would bring great benefit to the Heavenly Dragon Temple, without them incurring any losses. It now seemed that he was actually bringing them a great gift instead. Benxiang was a person who liked to get along with others; in his heart, he had already acquiesced. But because Benyin was the abbot, and because Kurong was of an elder generation, it was not for him to speak.

Jiumozhi said, “I am young and my learning is shallow; my words alone might not be enough to win the trust of all of the senior monks here. Please permit me to show some meager skill that I possess with the three finger techniques of Shaolin’s 72 Ultimate Techniques.” As he spoke, he rose to his feet. “In the past, I only casually skimmed through the manual and learned the techniques to a superficial degree. My technique is very sloppy; I hope that all of you will give me some pointers. This technique is the “Flower Plucking Finger.” He gently touched his right hand’s thumb with his index finger, as though he had just plucked a fresh, lovely flower. A small smile was on his face, as he gently flicked all five digits of his left hand towards the right.

Aside from Duan Yu, everyone present was a martial arts expert who had specialized in and analyzed finger techniques for all their life. They saw that the movements of Jiumozhi’s fingers were incomparably gentle. Each time he flicked out the fingers of his left hand, it was as though he were flicking away dewdrops from the flower that he was holding with his right hand, but was afraid that he might cause the flower petals to fall. The entire time, an amiable, kind, gentle expression was on his face, giving him an appearance of great wisdom.
 
According to the legends of Zen Buddhism, Sakyamuni expounded on the Buddhist doctrine at an assembly at Mt. Ling. His fingers plucked a golden Sal flower and showed them to everyone present. Everyone was silent, not understanding; only the Arhat Mahākāśyapa showed a faint smile on his face. Sakyamuni thus knew that Mahākāśyapa had truly understood his mind, and said, “I possess the true Dharma eye, the path to Nirvana, the form of the formless, and the subtle dharma way, which can be neither written down nor taught. I entrust them to Mahākāśyapa.” The most important precept in Zen Buddhism was that of achieving enlightenment via inner understanding. Shaolin belonged to the Zen school of Buddhism, and so they naturally spared no efforts in studying and refining this “Flower Plucking Finger”.

But there seemed to be nothing remarkable whatsoever in Jiumozhi’s flicking movements. After flicking for a few dozen times in succession, he lifted up the right sleeve of his robe and puffed at it. In the blink of an eye, a cascade of chess-piece sized pieces of round cloth descended, revealing dozens of holes within his sleeves. Apparently, the dozens of finger flicks he had demonstrated earlier had all been through-the-air strikes against his own sleeves. The soft energy released had damaged the cloth, but at first, it had seemed totally unharmed. Only after he gently breathed on it was the effect revealed. Benyin, Benguan, Benxiang, Bencan, and Emperor Baoding all glanced at each other a few times. All of them were secretly astonished. “Based on our level of skill, using the ‘Single Solitary Finger’ to strike through the air and puncture holes in clothing is not difficult at all. But to execute such a divine technique with such gentle, soft movements, while holding such a placid, smiling expression on our faces is impossible for us. The ‘Flower Plucking Finger’ is totally different from our ‘Single Solitary Finger’; it emphasizes the use of soft ‘Yin’ energy. There is definitely a great deal we could learn from it, as it is like unto a mirror of our own skills.”

Jiumozhi said, with a small smile, “I’ve embarrassed myself. My skill in the ‘Flower Plucking Finger’ is far inferior to that of master Xuandu of Shaolin. My skill in the ‘Pattra Leaf Finger’ is even more laughable.” He immediately turned his body around and began to circle around the wooden box on the floor. He struck out in repeated succession with all ten of his
 
digits. The onlookers watched as scraps of wood on the chest began to fly off the chest and dance around. In the blink of an eye, the wooden chest had been reduced to a pile of wooden scraps.

Emperor Baoding and the others thought that there was nothing special about him destroying a wooden chest with his fingers. But the chest’s hinges, copper strips, iron locks, padlocks, and other metal components also completely disinitegrated under the pressure of the force of Jiumozhi’s fingers. This caused them to be involuntarily shocked yet again.

Smiling, Jiumozhi said, “In exercising this ‘Pattra Leaf Finger’ technique, I had a tyrannical air. My cultivation in it is shallow indeed!” As he spoke, he folded his hands within the folds of his clothes. Suddenly, that pile of wood and metal scraps began to jump about and dance. It was as though some person wielding a thin, invisible stick was beating them and stirring them up. When they looked at Jiumozhi, they saw that a calm, smiling expression remained on his face. None of his clothes, from his sleeves to lower him of his gown, were moving or fluttering in the slightest. Evidently, he was secretly projecting his finger energy from within his clothes, and yet didn’t reveal a trace of it at all. Benxiang couldn’t control himself and praised, “The ‘Formless Raiding Finger’ lives up to its name! Admirable, admirable indeed!” Jiumozhi bowed and said, “Master, you praise me too highly. The jumping of the wooden chips is still visible. For the technique to truly match up to its name, it must be both formless and invisible. Even if one spent all of his life assiduously practicing this technique, he might not be able to achieve such a level.” Master Benxiang said, “Amongst the scrolls left behind by Mr. Murong, did he include a method by which one can defeat this ‘Formless Raiding Finger’?” Jiumozhi replied, “He did. The method by which one can defeat this technique arises from your own honorable religious name.” Benxiang mumbled to himself for some time, then said, “Right, one must use the ‘True Form’ [Benxiang] to overcome the ‘Formless’ [Wuxiang]. Brilliant, this extremely brilliant.”

Benyin said, “Martial-uncle, the Enlightened Lord has come to us from afar, and his request appears to be genuine and sincere. How should we handle this situation? We respectfully await your instructions.”
 
Elder Kurong said, “Benyin, what is the purpose of our study of martial arts?”

Abbot Benyin never would have imagined that elder Kurong would have replied to him with such a question. After being stunned a brief moment, he replied, “To improve our dharma and to protect our nation.” Elder Kurong asked, “When an evil opponent appears, whom we are unable to dissuade using Buddhism due to our shallow understanding of dharma, and forces us to use force to subdue him, what type of martial arts would we use?” Benyin replied, “If we have no choice but to use force, we would naturally use the ‘Single Solitary Finger’.” Elder Kurong asked, “What level of proficiency have you attained in your mastery of the ‘Single Solitary Finger?’” Sweat began to appear on Abbot Benyin’s forehead. “Your disciple is slow and stupid by nature, and due to my position am unable to settle down to properly advance. I have only reached the forth level.”

Elder Kurong continued, “In your opinion, how does our ‘Single Solitary Finger’ compare with Shaolin’s ‘Flower Plucking Finger’, ‘Pattra Leaf Finger’, and ‘Formless Raiding Finger?’ Which is stronger, and which is weaker?” Benyin replied, “There is no such thing as ‘strength’ or ‘weakness’ in techniques, only in each individual’s learning and power.” Elder Kurong replied, “Precisely so. And what if our ‘Single Solitary Finger’ is practiced to the highest level?” Benyin replied, “The depth of the skill is so profound that I dare not wildly speculate.” Elder Kurong said, “If you managed to live for another hundred years, what level could you attain?” The sweat on Benyin’s forehead dripped down in a steady stream. In a trembling voice, he said, “Your disciple does not know.” Elder Kurong asked, “Can you master the highest level?” Benyin replied, “I definitely cannot.” Elder Kurong fell silent at this point and spoke no more.

Benyin said, “Martial-uncle, your words are wise. We are not yet even able to fully master the highest levels of our own martial arts skills. What uses have we for books containing the skills and techniques of others? Enlightened Lord, you have made an arduous journey to come here. Let us welcome you properly with a vegetarian meal.” In speaking these words, he was tacitly refusing the request of the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel.
 
Jiumozhi let out a long sigh. “It’s all my fault; I shouldn’t have opened my mouth and made such a foolish promise. Otherwise, with Mr. Murong dead, what does it matter whether or not I am able to obtain the scroll of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’? Today, this young monk is going to be wildly bold and say a few audacious words that may display an exaggerated opinion of my own abilities. If the technique of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ really is as amazing and profound as Mr. Murong believed, I fear that even if your venerable monastery has the scroll, it does not have anyone capable of learning it. If someone here is capable of learning it, then in all likelihood it is not nearly as amazing as Mr. Murong believed it to be.”

Elder Kurong said, “This old monk is confused about something. I hope that the Enlightened Lord may instruct me.” Jiumozhi said, “I wouldn’t dare!” Elder Kurong said, “The fact that the ‘Divine Scroll of the Six Meridians’ is hidden within our humble temple is concealed even from the secular members of the Duan family. Might I ask, how is it that Mr. Murong learned of this?” Jiumozhi replied, “Mr. Murong’s understanding of the martial arts of the world was extremely deep and broad. He even had at his fingertips many skills belonging to various sects which had long been forgotten by even the leaders of the sects themselves. The characters used to describe Mr. Murong, ‘Using the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent’, comes from this. But all his life, Mr. Murong was never able to learn any of the secrets of the ‘Single Solitary Finger’ or the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. This troubled him all his life, and he took this regret with him to his grave.”

Elder Kurong grunted, then fell silent. Emperor Baoding and the others thought to themselves, “If he really learns the secrets of the ‘Single Solitary Finger’ and the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, then I fear that he might really be able to use our own techniques against us in the future.

Abbot Benyin said, “It has been well over a decade since my martial-uncle has received any guests. Enlightened Lord, as you are an eminent monk of this era, my martial-uncle made an exception and has accompanied you for a long time. Enlightened Lord, please.” As he spoke, he rose to his feet, signifying the meeting was at an end.
 
But Jiumozhi did not rise with him. He unhurriedly said, “The scroll of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ is only a tool with an undeserved reputation, and has no practical use. Why must your precious temple hold it in such importance, to the point where you would be willing to harm the friendship between the Heavenly Dragon Temple and the Great Wheel Temple, as well as the diplomatic relations of Dali and Tibet?”

Benyin’s face changed slightly. He said in an awe-inspiring way, “Enlightened Lord, are you saying that if the Heavenly Dragon Temple does not hand the manuscript over, that Dali and Tibet will face each other with weapons and armies?” Emperor Baoding had always kept a strong garrison of forces to the northwestern boundaries of the country, so as to keep Tibet from invading. Upon hearing Jiumozhi’s words, he became totally engrossed in the conversation.

Jiumozhi replied, “The master of my country has long yearned for Dali’s local environment and people. He has long desired to meet with your honored country’s master and compete with him. However, I felt that doing so would cause great loss of innocent life, which is greatly in contradiction with the heart of Buddha’s teachings. For many years, I have spared no effort in dissuading him from such a course.”

Benyin and the others were all aware that a veiled threat was hidden within Jiumozhi’s words. He was the national protector and dharma king of Tibet. Everyone in Tibet from the king to the commoners was Buddhist, much like the country of Dali. Jiumozhi always had the trust of the Tibetan king. Whether there would be peace or war with a nation could hinge on a single word from him. It really would not be worth it for the people of their two countries to be forced to endure suffering over a simple manuscript. Tibet was powerful whereas Dali was weak; if war really did break out, the overall situation would be very dangerous. But how could the Heavenly Dragon Temple freely give up their most precious treasure to him, by virtue of him trying to intimidate them?

Elder Kurong said, “Since you, Enlightened Lord, desire this manuscript so much, far be it for this old monk to deny you. But we dare not agree to exchange it for Shaolin’s 72 Ultimate Techniques. Enlightened Lord, as you have mastered all of Shaolin’s 72 Ultimate Techniques in addition to the
 
martial arts of the Great Snowy Mountain’s Great Wheel Monastery, you are no doubt peerless and without equal in the world.”

Jiumozhi clapped his hands together. “Master, do you mean for me to put my incompetence on display?” Elder Kurong said, “Enlightened Lord, you said that our monastery’s manuscript of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ is a useless tool, undeserving of its fame, which cannot be used. We will use the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ to experience your elite skills. If it really is as you said, Enlightened Lord, and the technique is unusable and undeserving of its fame, why should we value it? In such a case, Enlightened Lord, feel free to take it!”

Jiumozhi was secretly startled. In the past, when he discussed the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ with Mr. Murong, he learned enough to know that it totally depended on converting internal energy into invisible sword qi. They both felt that no matter how astonishing the techniques were, for a single person to have enough internal energy to use all six of his meridians to create sword qi was most likely impossible. Now, judging from elder Kurong’s words, not only was he capable of using the technique, but all of the other monks around him were as well. The Heavenly Dragon Temple’s centuries-long fame clearly was no little thing indeed. His expression had been very polite and respectful all along; now, he became even more polite. Bowing forwards slightly, he said, “It is this humble monk’s greatest fortune for you, honored reverends, to be willing to display such a consummate skill in front of me.”

Abbot Benyin said, “Enlightened Lord, what weapons do you wish to use? Please feel free to take them out now.”

Jiumozhi clapped his hands together. From outside entered a very tall and large man. Jiumozhi spoke a few words of Tibetan to him, and the man nodded while responding. He withdrew a stick of fragrant Tibetan incense from an outside box, handing it to Jiumozhi before retreating from the room.

Everyone present was baffled. The stick of incense would snap at a blow; how could it possibly be used as a weapon? Only to see Jiumozhi hold the stick of incense with his left hand while reaching down to pick up some of
 
the wooden scraps with his right. He gently fixed the stick of incense within the pile of scraps. He repeated this five more times, until he had created a row of six sticks of incense. There was roughly one foot of distance between each stick. Jiumozhi knelt down five feet behind the line of incense. Suddenly, he rubbed his palms together a few times, then thrust them outwards. All six pieces of incense suddenly lit with fire in unison. Everyone present was shocked, thinking to themselves that this person’s internal energy strength had reached an inconceivably high level. But then, they smelled a scent of sulfur from the incense and guessed that the incense had been tipped with gunpowder. Jiumozhi hadn’t actually set them alight with his internal energy; rather, he has used his internal energy to generate friction-based heat to agitate the gunpowder. Although this was still no easy task, it was something which Emperor Baoding and the others could do as well, if they exerted their internal strength.

The smoke from the Tibetan incense was dark green in color. Six lines of the dark green smoke lazily curled upwards towards the ceiling. Jiumozhi cupped his hands together as though he were holding a sphere. He generated his internal energy, and the six lines of smoke slowly began to curve outwards. Each line headed towards one of the six monks; one to Kurong, one to Benguan, one to Benyin, one to Benxiang, one to Bencan, and one to Empeor Baoding. This type of palm energy which he was releasing was called the “Blazing Flame Sabre”. Although it had no form and no substance and was invisible, it could still take a person’s life. It was an incomparably powerful technique indeed. At this moment in time, he only wanted to gain the manuscript, not to take someone’s life. Thus, he lit these six sticks of incense, so as to reveal the direction and heading of his palm energy. In this way, not only could he display his power and confidence, he could also demonstrate his merciful and benevolent heart. They would only be competing in terms of comparing their relative martial arts proficiencies, rather than trying to kill or injure each other.

Once the six lines of smoke arrived within a meter of Benyin and the others, they came to a halt and became unmoving. Benyin and the others were astonished yet again; it was not too difficult for a person to cause smoke to move using his internal energy, but to cause the drifting, aimless smoke to come to a sudden halt and freeze in the middle of the air was ten times more
 
difficult. Bencan extended the pinky of his left hand, and a stream of energy erupted from his ‘Shaochong’ acupoint, rushing towards the line of jade smoke in front of him. As soon as that line of smoke came into contact with this stream of energy, it rushed back towards Jiumozhi with incomparable speed. When it reached within two feet of Jiumozhi’s body, he increased the energy of his “Blazing Flame Sabre”, and it could advance no further. Jiumozhi nodded. “Impressive and worthy of the praise which is heaped on it. The ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ really does have a technique known as the ‘Shaoze Sword’.” The internal energy of the two clashed repeatedly for many moves. Master Bencan knew that if he remained seated without moving, it would be very difficult to give free rein to the full power of the technique. He immediately rose to his feet and took three diagonal steps towards the left, with the internal energy from his pinky now attacking diagonally as well. Jiumozhi thrust out his own left hand and immediately blocked the attack.

Benguan’s middle finger suddenly straightened, and the power of his ‘Zhongchong Sword’ rushed forth. Jiumozhi exclaimed, “Excellent! This is the ‘Zhongchong Sword’ technique!” With a wave of his palm, he blocked the attack. Despite fighting against the two of them simultaneously, he did not seem the slightest bit nervous.

Seated in front of Elder Kurong, Duan Yu continually snuck side glances towards this battle, the likes of which wulin might see only once every thousand years. Although he did not understand martial arts, he could still tell that these eminent monks were using their internal energy to compete in a sword competition with each other. The situation was even more dangerous than if they were wielding actual, physical swords against each other. Fortunately for him, Jiumozhi had prepared those six sticks of incense, and so he was able to see some of their sword and sabre techniques of the three via the movement of the smoke. After watching for over ten stances, he suddenly realized, “I know! That’s master Benguan’s ‘Zhongchong Sword’ technique! It is totally identical to the technique which was drawn on his manuscript.” He gently unscrolled the manuscript teaching the ‘Zhongchong Sword’ technique, comparing the movements of the smoke to the sword techniques contained in the manuscript. With it serving as reference, he now understood everything he saw, including
 
Bencan’s ‘Shaoze Sword’ techniques. The techniques of the ‘Zhongchong Sword’ were majestic and imposing, with large, grand motions; in contrast, the ‘Shaoze Sword’ flickered here and there, its changes and movements small and refined.

Abbot Benyin saw that his two martial-brothers could not gain the slightest advantage, despite having joined forces. He thought to himself, “We have not yet thoroughly finished our studies of this technique, and can easily run out of attacking strokes. The earlier all six of us join in, the better. The Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel is intelligent to the extreme; right now, it seems as though he is simply observing Bencan and Benguan’s techniques. He isn’t using all of his abilities.” He immediately said, “Brothers Benxiang and Benshen, let us join in as well.” He stretched out his index finger, attacking with the ‘Shangyang Sword’ technique. Following him was Benxiang’s ‘Shaochong Sword’ technique and Emperor Baoding’s ‘Guanchong Sword’ technique. In unison, the three streams of sword qi attacked the the three lines of jade smoke in front of them.

Duan Yu’s eyes wandered left and right; he would check out the ‘Shaochong Sword’ technique, then the ‘Guanchong Sword’ technique, and then the ‘Shangyang Sword’ technique. After he compared them to the illustrated manual, he could understand what was going on in general, but by and large everything seemed confused and jumbled to him. Just as he was raptly studying the instructions for the ‘Shaochong Sword’ technique, he saw Elder Kurong stretch his finger onto the drawings and write, “Only study one at a time. Move on to the next one only after you are done with the previous.” Duan Yu’s heart jumped; he realized that Elder Kurong was giving him pointers. Turning around, he smiled slightly towards Elder Kurong, so as to express his appreciation.

But as soon as he turned around, the smile on his face immediately froze and became stiff. The face he saw was extremely bizarre. The left side of Elder Kurong’s face was healthy and rosy; the skin was smooth and the flesh was abundant, like the face of a young baby. But the right side of his face was like a withered bone; aside from a layer of sallow skin, there wasn’t so much as a single scrap of flesh. With the bones on prominent display, it seemed very much like half of a skeleton’s skull. In his
 
startlement, he immediately turned back, his heart pounding madly in his chest. He knew that this was the result of Elder Kurong practicing the ‘Withered Glory Meditation’ art, but this half-withered, half-healthy face was simply too terrifying. For the moment, he felt as though he couldn’t calm down no matter what, only to see Elder Kurong’s index finger once more tracing words on the scroll. “Do not waste such a good opportunity. Focus all your attention on studying the sword techniques. Watch by yourself and learn by yourself. That does not count as violating our ancestral commandments.”

Duan Yu realized, “Grand martial-uncle Kurong said to my uncle that the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ cannot be taught to secular disciples. Only after he shaved his head and became a monk could he be taught the technique. But for him to now write, ‘Watch by yourself and learn by yourself, that does not count as violating our ancestral commandments’ implies that the commandments of the ancestors of the Duan family do not specifically forbid secular members of the family from studying the techniques independently. He ordered me to ‘Not waste such a good opportunity’ and to ‘focus all my attention on studying the techniques’. Naturally, he wants me to study and learn by myself right now.” He immediately nodded, then began to carefully study his uncle’s execution of the ‘Guanchong Sword’ technique. After more or less understanding it, he moved on to the ‘Shaochong Sword’ technique and the ‘Shangyang Sword’ technique.

For ordinary people, the ring finger is the least dexterous, whereas the index finger is the most nimble. Thus, the ‘Guanchong Sword’ technique strove to achieve victory in a sluggish, simple, and unsophisticated way, whereas the techniques of the ‘Shangyang Sword’ were ingenious, lively, and difficult to ascertain. The ‘Shaochong Sword’ was similar to the ‘Shaoze Sword’ technique in that it used the pinky; however, one was on the left hand, whereas one was on the right hand. Thus, in terms of technique, the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ had techniques that were ‘skilled’ as well as ‘clumsy’, ‘nimble’ as well as ‘sluggish’. And yet, the ‘clumsy’ techniques were not any less wonderful, nor the ‘sluggish’ techniques contain any less might. They were just displayed in different ways.
 
At first, Duan Yu had just been curious. He was simply comparing the movements of the jade smoke to the techniques written down on the scrolls; it was something akin to guessing riddles. Only now, after receiving directions from Elder Kurong, did he settle down and seriously watch the battle. By the time he more or less understood the techniques of the ‘Shangyang Sword’, ‘Shaochong Sword’, and ‘Guanchong Sword’, Benguan and Bencan were beginning to repeat their respective sets of movements and attacks. Duan Yu no longer needed to refer to the manuscript each time. The movements of the jade smoke were identical to the sword techniques which he had memorized. He felt as though the lines and techniques drawn on the paper were rigid and inflexible, whereas the movement of the jade smoke underwent boundless changes and transformations. The techniques were much richer and more diverse by far than the ones actually written on the scroll.

After watching for a while longer, he saw that Benyin, Benxiang, and Emperor Baoding’s techniques had been exhausted as well. Benxiang flicked out his pinky, striking with the ‘Parting Flowers, Flicking Willows’ technique. It was the second time he had used this technique. Jiumozhi nodded slightly. Following this, Benyin and Emperor Baoding could not help but repeat previously used techniques as well. Suddenly, a ‘chi-chi’ sound could be heard from in front of Jiumozhi, and the power of his ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’ increased dramatically, forcing back the internal energy of the five.

As it were, Jiumozhi initially remained on the defensive, desiring to see the techniques of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ in its entirety before counterattacking. Now that he had changed from defense to offense, the five lines of smoke whirled about in the air with incomparable nimbleness. But that sixth line of smoke remained calmly unmoving in front of Elder Kurong, still three feet away from him and not moving in the slightest. Elder Kurong desired to know the exact extent of his abilities and see how long he could hold out, fighting with five lines of smoke but holding the sixth stock still. This was why that entire time he hadn’t extended his own hand to attack. And, sure enough, Jiumozhi really did expend a rather considerable amount of energy keeping that sixth stream of smoke still. But
 
now, that line of jade smoke finally began to inch its way towards the back of Elder Kurong’s skull.

Alarmed, Duan Yu said, “Grand martial-uncle, the jade smoke is attacking!” Elder Kurong nodded, then unrolled the ‘Shaoshang Sword’ manuscript and placed it in front of Duan Yu. Duan Yu saw that the illustrations of the ‘Shaoshang Sword’ manuscript were made in the splash-ink style, similar to the style used for scenic paintings. The horizontal and vertical lines were tilted and few in number, but the sword technique was strong and vigorous, with the capability of shattering the earth and battering the heavens, containing within it the power of the wind and the rain. Duan Yu studied the sword manuscript, but could not forget about the stream of jade smoke that was floating towards the back of Elder Kurong’s skull. Turning around, he saw that the jade smoke was now only three or four inches away. He cried out in alarm, “Careful!”

Elder Kurong flipped his hands over, then extended the thumbs of both hands. With two ‘chi-chi’ sounds, they launched separate surprise attacks on Jiumozhi’s right shoulder and the right side of his chest. He did not ward off his enemy’s assault; rather, he sent two brilliant attacks of his own to counter-attack his opponent. His judgement was that Jiumozhi’s ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’ internal energy was still not fully released. As it was advancing towards him only slowly, for it to actually harm him would still take it a short while. If, despite moving after Jiumozhi did, his attack arrived first, he would be able to catch Jiumozhi offguard.

Jiumozhi was a careful and contemplative person. Long ago, he had prepared a stream of palm energy which protected his chest. But he had only anticipated a single, ferocious attack from the ‘Shaoshang Sword’, and did not foresee Elder Kurong would launch twin surprise attacks at the same time and threaten two different areas. Jiumozhi raised his palm and used it to block the attack on the right side of his chest. Following that, he kicked upwards with his right foot, hurriedly propelling himself backwards. But no matter how quickly he retreated, he could not move faster than the sword qi, which arrived with the speed of the thunder and the lightning. With a soft sound, the top of the robe on his shoulder split open, and fresh blood spilled forth. Elder Kurong reversed his thumbs, retracting his
 
internal energy and pulling back towards him. All six sticks of incense snapped simultaneously. Benyin, Emperor Baoding, and the rest also withdrew their fingers and dissipated their sword energy. Each of them had fought for a long time without achieving success and had been secretly anxious for a long time now. Only now did they feel relieved.

Jiumozhi walked back inside the room. A small smile on his lips, he said, “Elder Kurong, your Meditation Arts are extraordinary indeed. This humble monk admires you greatly. But as for that ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, well, it seems it really is nothing more than a tool with an undeserved reputation.” Abbot Benyin said, “How is it nothing more than a useless tool? I must ask that you enlighten us.” Jiumozhi said, “What the venerable Mr. Murong admired was the sword techniques of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, not the sword formation. This sword formation of the Heavenly Dragon Temple really is very powerful, but if we were to compare it with Shaolin’s ‘Arhat Sword Formation’ or Kunlun sect’s ‘Chaos Sword Formation’, it can only be said to be on the same level, and cannot be said to be the most unparalleled sword technique in the world.” By describing it as a ‘Sword Formation’ instead of as a ‘Sword Technique’, he was pointing out the fact that all six of them fought in unison with a pre-planned formation, rather than one of them using the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ by himself, as he, Jiumozhi, had done with his ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’.

Abbot Benyin felt that his words were indeed reasonable, and was at a loss for a response. But Bencan only coldly sneered, “Regardless of whether it was a ‘Sword Technique’ or a ‘Sword Formation’, were you, Enlightened Lord, the victor in that competition? Or was the Heavenly Dragon Temple the victor in that competition.”

Jiumozhi did not reply. Closing his eyes, he silently meditated for the time it takes to drink a cup of tea. Opening his eyes, he said, “In the first round, your respected monastery took the upper hand. But in the second round, I believe I am guaranteed victory.” Benyin was startled. He asked, “Enlightened Lord, you want to compete in another round?” Jiumozhi replied, “A man must live up to his words. Since I have already given my word to Mr. Murong, how can I back off at the first sight of difficulty?”
 
Benyin asked, “And why is it that you are guaranteed of victory, Enlightened Lord?”

Jiumozhi smiled slightly. “Everyone here has a profound and deep understanding of martial arts. Can it be that you cannot guess? Please prepare to receive my stances!” As he spoke, his two palms slowly pushed outwards. Elder Kurong, Benyin, Emperor Baoding, and the other three simultaneously felt as though two streams of internal energy were suddenly attacking from different directions. Benyin and the others all felt that they could not use the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ to block this energy attack. Each of them faced two streams of energy, and pushed out with palms to block the attack. Only Elder Kurong continued to thrust out the thumbs of both of his hands, using the ‘Shaoyang Sword’ technique to receive the opponent’s energy.

After pushing out this twin burst of palm energy, Jiumozhi immediately halted his attack. “Excuse me for offending you!”

Benyin, Benguan, and the others all traded glances. All of them understood, “With a single palm, he was able to send out so many streams of internal energy. If Elder Kurong were to launch another concerted double-attack on him, he would be able to withstand it. But we, on the other hand, would have to give up the sword techniques and use palm techniques. It seems our ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ inferior to his ‘Blazing Flame Sabre.’”

Just at this very moment, smoke could be seen rising up from in front of Elder Kurong. Four distinct lines of black smoke drifted upwards, then moved towards Jiumozhi. Jiumozhi held a deep, secret dread of this old monk who sat facing the wall and never turned around a single time. Now, seeing the smoke head towards him and not knowing what the old monk’s intention was, Jiumozhi once again executed his ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’ technique to ward off all four lines of smoke. He did not immediately launch a counterattack, both so that he would not be caught off-guard by a simultaneous attack from Benyin and the others, as well as to enable himself to calmly see if Elder Kurong had any other fearsome techniques.

The black smoke grew thicker and thicker, showing that the attack was extremely aggressive. Jiumozhi was secretly surprised. “To launch an all-
 
out attack like this is like the saying that a windstorm cannot last all morning, and a rainstorm cannot last all evening. How can this possibly be sustained? Elder Kurong is an eminent monk of this age. How could he use such a rash, aggressive method to fight his opponent?” He felt that Elder Kurong couldn’t possibly be that inexperienced; thus, he must have some other trick up his sleeve. He immediately tightened his defenses and raised his guard mentally, preparing himself to immediately act as according to the situation. After a short period of time, the four lines of smoke suddenly began to split. One became two, two became four, four became eight, eight became sixteen, rushing towards Jiumozhi from all directions. Jiumozhi thought to himself, “An arrow at the end of its flight is a spent force. Nothing worth even talking about.” He executed his ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’ technique and blocked every single line. As soon as his internal energy touched the lines of smoke, they split and fell apart, filling the entire room with smoke in the blink of an eye. Jiumozhi was not worried in the slightest, generating his internal energy to protect his entire body.

As the smoke and the mist thinned by degrees, he could hazily see that Benyin and the other five monks were on their knees, a solemn expression on their faces. A look of great grief and indignation could be seen on the faces of Bencan and Benguan in particular. In a moment of clarity, Jiumozhi suddenly realized the truth. He secretly cried out, “Oh no! This old monk, Kurong, knows that they aren’t a match for me, so he actually burned the manuscript of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians!’”

His guess was correct. Elder Kurong had used the force of his ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ to set the six manuscripts ablaze. Afraid that Jiumozhi would prevent him from doing so and snatch the manuscripts by force, he used his internal energy to push the smoke towards Jiumozhi, forcing Jiumozhi to stay on the defense and exert his efforts towards protecting himself. By the time the smoke dissipated, the drawings had been long since reduced to ashes. Benyin and the others were experts of the ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ who had spent many years mastering it. As soon as they saw the black smoke, they knew what caused it. They thought to themselves that their martial-uncle would rather die with glory than live with dishonor [lit., ‘would rather be a broken jade vessel than an unbroken clay pot’] and was willing to destroy this most precious treasure of their monastery rather than
 
let it fall into enemy hands. Fortunately, the six of them had each memorized a portion of the technique. Once their powerful enemy departed, they would simply recreate it from memory. Only, a priceless artifact which had been handed down to them by their ancestors had been totally destroyed.

Now, the Heavenly Dragon Temple and the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel had formed between them a long, deep, and bitter enmity. It would be difficult for there to be any sort of peace between them.

Jiumozhi was both startled and angry. He usually had a very high opinion of his own intelligence and stratagems, but today he had been defeated by Elder Kurong twice in a row and witnessed the destruction of the manual of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, earning himself a bitter enemy without any reward at all. He stood up and folded his palms together. “Elder Kurong, why did you need to be rigid and inflexible to such an extent? That you would rather shatter the manuscript than allow it to fall in the hands of others shows your lofty style and temperament. That your venerable monastery’s most precious treasure was destroyed in part due to the actions of this humble monk is a source of great regret for me. Fortunately, it was impossible for any one person to fully learn the martial arts on this manuscript. Thus, it does not really matter whether or not it was destroyed. I take my leave now.”

He turned around slightly. Not waiting for Elder Kurong or Abbot Benyin to reply, he suddenly struck out and seized Emperor Baoding’s wrist, grabbing his wrist acupoints and saying, “My humble country’s ruler has long wished to meet with Emperor Baoding. Your majesty, I’ll have to invite you to make a journey to Tibet with me.”

Everyone was greatly startled by this totally unexpected turn of events. This sneak attack was executed so unexpectedly that despite Emperor Baoding’s own formidable level of martial arts, Emperor Baoding fell to it. Jiumozhi had seized the “Lieque” and “Pianli” acupoints on his wrist. Emperor Baoding hurriedly exerted his internal energy to protect himself. In the blink of an eye, he had made seven attempts to break lose, but was unable to each time. Abbot Benyin and everyone else present felt that this ambush was too despicable and contemptible, totally not in keeping with his station
 
as an elite martial artist. However, they managed to control their anger, and yet remained unable to think of a plan for rescue. With Emperor Baoding’s acupoints under the control of the opponent, his life could be taken at any point in time.

Elder Kurong laughed. “He once was Emperor Baoding, but has since abdicated and become a monk. His religious name is Benchen. Benchen, since the ruler of Tibet wishes to meet you, you might as well go.” Helpless, Emperor Baoding could only say, “Yes!” He knew what Elder Kurong was trying to do. Jiumozhi considered him the ruler of a country, and thus a priceless hostage. But with Elder Kurong describing him as having already abdicated his throne, he was no longer a priceless royal hostage, but only a monk of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, making him a useless personage of little importance. Perhaps, in that case, Jiumozhi would release him.

Ever since Jiumozhi had entered the Muni Pavilion, Emperor Baoding had not said a single word or revealed a single hint of his real origins. But, in order to execute even a single sword of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, one must be a first class master martial artist, with an extraordinarily deep and profound internal energy cultivation. The people within the wulin who could be considered first class masters were well aware of who the others were. Jiumozhi had not come to Dali unprepared. Before arriving, he had carefully made inquiries regarding the appearance and ages of each and every member of Dali’s Duan family, as well as the disciples of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. He had an eighty or ninety percent understanding of each person’s temperament, habits, and achievements in martial arts. He knew that aside from Elder Kurong, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery had four more martial arts masters. Now, a ‘Benchen’ had appeared out of nowhere, a person he had never heard of before, and with an extremely powerful internal energy that was not one whit inferior to the four other ‘Ben’ generation monks. Seeing his majestic poise and judging from his features that he came from a luxurious background, Jiumozhi guessed that he was Emperor Baoding.

Hearing Elder Kurong say that Emperor Baoding had already abdicated the throne and become a monk, Jiumozhi’s heart was swayed. “I’ve long heard
 
that in each succeeding dynasty, the Duan’s of Dali would often abdicate and join the monastery. It is not altogether unbelievable that Emperor Baoding might do the same and join the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. But if an Emperor were to abdicate and become a monastery, there would be grand ceremonies held throughout the country, with gifts of food being given to monks and rituals made before the Buddha. Pagodas would be renovated and new temples would be built. It would be a huge public affair, not something kept so low-key and under wraps. Even my Tibet would, upon hearing the news, send an envoy to congratulate the new monarch. There’s some trickery involved here.”

He replied, “Regardless of whether or not Emperor Baoding has abdicated, he still needs to make a trip with me and pay a visit to my humble country’s ruler.” As he spoke, he tugged on Emperor Baoding’s hand, intending to immediately exit.

Benyin loudly shouted, “Wait a moment!” His form flickered, and he, along with Bencan and the other monks, simultaneously moved in front of the door. Jiumozhi said, “I have no intentions of harming Emperor Baoding, but if all of you force me to, then there’s no other options I can take.” His right hand feinted towards the back of Emperor Baoding’s heart. The power of his ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’ was all-conquering and unstoppable. With Emperor Baoding’s meridians already under Jiumozhi’s control, Emperor Baoding was helpless to resist and had no way to defend himself. If all of the monks of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery were to attack at once, not only would they fear ‘breaking the dishes in order to pelt the rat’, they still could not be certain of victory. And yet, Abbot Benyin and the others were still hesitant. Emperor Baoding was the ruler of Dali. How could they allow an enemy to kidnap him and march him away under duress?

Jiumozhi loudly shouted, “I’ve long heard of the fame of the eminent monks of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. I never would have imagined that they would be so irresolute over such a small matter, like little boys or girls. Please make way for me!”

After seeing his uncle being captured, Duan Yu was extremely anxious. At first, he thought to himself that with his uncle’s level of martial arts, there was no need to fear. He thought that his uncle was just being patient for
 
now, and when the right moment came, he would free himself. But the more he watched, the more Duan Yu felt that something wasn’t right. There was a look of great arrogance on Jiumozhi’s face and his words were proud and overbearing, whereas Benyin, Benguan, and the others looked anxious, angry, and helpless. As he watched Jiumozhi head towards the exit with Emperor Baoding in tow, Duan Yu was filled with fear and worry. Without pausing to think, he shouted, “Hey you! Let go of my uncle!” Following this, he came out from behind Elder Kurong.

Jiumozhi had long ago seen a young man hiding behind Elder Kurong, but was unable to guess who that person might be, much less the reason why he was sitting in front of Elder Kurong. Now, seeing him come out, his curiosity compelled him to turn his head and ask, “Might I ask who you are, sir?”

Duan Yu replied, “Don’t ask me who I am! Let go of my uncle first!” Stretching out his right hand, he seized Emperor Baoding’s left hand.

Emperor Baoding said, “Yu’er, don’t mind me! Leave quickly and go to your father, and tell him to immediately ascend the throne and take on this heavy responsibility! I am an old monk who is like a lazy cloud or an untamed crane; what is there to be concerned about?”

Duan Yu exerted all his strength to pull at Emperor Baoding’s wrist while shouting, “Quickly let go of my uncle!” The ‘Shaoshang’ acupoint of his thumb was touching the acupoints on Emperor Baoding’s wrist. With him now exerting his strength, Emperor Baoding’s entire body trembled, and he immediately felt his internal energy flowing outwards.

At this exact same point in time, Jiumozhi also felt his internal energy being drawn away from him. His countenance immediately changed drastically. He thought to himself, “How is it that the Duan dynasty of Dali learned the ‘Great Art of Energy Dissipation?’” He immediately gathered his internal energy to fight against this evil, heterodox martial arts.

Emperor Baoding immediately felt as though two fierce and powerful streams of energy were jerking at his body. He immediately used the technique of ‘Borrowing a Sabre to Strike a Knife’, forcing these two
 
streams of internal energy to directly face each other. At this moment in time, these two streams of energy were principally facing off against each other ,with very little focused on his wrists. With a wave of his hand, he broke free from Jiumozhi’s grip. Together with Duan Yu, he floated backwards and retreated. He cried out to himself, “How shameful! That I was able to escape is all thanks to Yu’er.”

[Translator’s note: DRATS! Too bad Emperor Baoding is such a martial arts master, else Duan Yu would now have the internal energy of Jiumozhi, his own (which should be superior to Jiumozhi), AND that of Emperor Baoding by the start of chapter 11. What fun!]

Jiumozhi was more than a little bit startled by this turn of events. He thought to himself, “Another powerful martial artist suddenly appeared in the Central Plains. How could I have been totally unaware of this? This person is very young and is only around twenty years of age. How could he have reached such a level of martial arts? He addressed Emperor Baoding as uncle; he must be of a younger generation in Dali’s Duan family.” He slowly nodded and said, “I’ve always thought that the Duan family of Dali only specialized in their own ancestral martial arts. Only now do I know that a learned member of their latter generation made friends with the Old Man of Xingxiu and studied the strange martial arts technique known as the ‘Great Art of Energy Dissipation.’ Strange, how very strange!”

Although his martial arts learning was profound and vast, even he mistook Duan Yu’s ‘Divine Art of the Northern Darkness’ as the ‘Great Art of Energy Dissipation’. Only, wanting to conduct himself according to the dignity of his station, he changed ‘Old Freak’ into ‘Old Man’ in referring to Ding Chunqiu. Likewise, the people of Wulin all considered the ‘Great Art of Energy Dissipation’ as a vile art and an evil skill; he chose to describe it as a ‘strange martial arts technique’. Just now, in their brief exchange, he felt that Duan Yu’s internal energy cultivation was definitely not inferior at all to that of Ding Chunqiu, the Old Freak of Xingxiu. He definitely was not Ding Chunqiu’s disciple or student, and thus used the phrase “made friends with”.

Emperor Baoding let out a cold laugh. “I’ve long heard that the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel was wise and farsighted, flexible and
 
accommodating, with extraordinary understanding and knowledge. I wouldn’t have imagined he would say such absurd things. The Old Freak of Xingxiu is an expert at plotting and sneak-attacking, despicable and without shame. How can the the sons of the Duan family possibly have any relationship with him?” Jiumozhi’s face reddened slightly, and his heart trembled. The eight words Emperor Baoding had used, ‘Plotting and sneak- attacking, despicable and without shame’, were clearly meant to refer to his own earlier actions.

Duan Yu said, “As you, the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel, have come from afar and are a guest of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, we have received you with proprietry and respect. But you dare to offend my uncle? The only reason we had been showing forebearance and restraint at every turn is because everyone here is a disciple of Buddha, but you have only become more and more overbearing and arrogant. Who, amongst Buddhist disciples, is as flagrant in breaking monastic principles as you are?”

Everyone, hearing Duan Yu righteously castigate Jiumozhi, felt secretly grateful towards him. At the same time, they became even more on guard, fearing that Jiumozhi might suddenly fly into a rage and suddenly launch an attack against Duan Yu to harm him.

They did not expect that Jiumozhi would remain calm and composed. He said, “Today, I have become acquainted with so many eminent personages. It has been my great fortune. I ask that you exchange a few stances with me as well, so as to allow this humble monk to gained great benefit from your tutelage.” Duan Yu said, “I don’t know martial arts and I’ve never learned it.” Jiumozhi laughed. “Wise, wise. I take my leave!” Leaning slightly, with a sweep of his sleeves he struck out with both arms and simultaneously launched four attacks using his ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’ technique, chopping towards Duan Yu.

The enemy had just launched an attack on him using his most ferocious skill, but Duan Yu remained muddle headed and ignorant. Emperor Baoding and Benxiang struck out with their fingers simultaneously, receiving and blocking these four attacks from Jiumozhi’s ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’. Only, under the sudden assault of Jiumozhi’s vigorous internal energy, both of
 
their bodies swayed. Benxiang let out a ‘wa’ cry and vomited out a mouthful of fresh blood.

Only after seeing Benxiang vomit blood did Duan Yu understand that Jiumozhi had just then launched yet another sneak attack. He was absolutely enraged. Pointing at Jiumozhi’s nose, he cursed, “You couth, unreasonable barbarian monk!” With his exertion of energy from his right index finger, his mind and his internal energy connected, and he naturally executed an attack from the ‘Shangyang Sword’ technique. His internal energy was extremely powerful. In this day and age, extremely few people had reached such a level. Just previously, he had studied the manuscripts of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’ while hiding in front of Elder Kurong, and also watched the invisible sword fighting of the seven elder monks. Now, as he struck out with his finger, his mind unconsciously followed the instructions on the manual. With a ‘chi’ sound, a simple, vigorous, and incomparably powerful energy stabbed towards Jiumozhi.

Startled, Jiumozhi hurriedly used a palm strike from the ‘Blazing Flame Blade’ technique to receive the attack. Duan Yu’s attack not only surprised Jiumozhi; it was also wildly out of the expectations of Elder Kurong, Abbot Benyin, and the others. The ones who were the most surprised of all were Emperor Baoding and Duan Yu himself. Duan Yu thought to himself, “Huh. That was weird. I just pointed at him. Why did this monk act so hurriedly to ‘block’ my point? Oh, I get it, I get it. It must be that I accidentally pointed at him in accordance with the techniques of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, and he thought that I knew how to use it. Haha, since that’s the case, I might as well scare him a bit!” He loudly said, “What’s so remarkable about this ‘Shangyang Sword’ technique! Take a look at the ‘Zhongchong Sword’ techniques!” As he spoke, he struck out with his middle finger. But this time, although his technique was correct, the internal energy did not rush out as it did before. He was just pointing aimlessly in the air, without any actual effect.

Jiumozhi, seeing him strike out with his middle finger, immediately gathered his internal energy to resist the attack. He didn’t expect that the ‘attack’ didn’t contain an ounce of internal energy. At first, he thought that his opponent was trying to confuse him, interchanging ‘solid’ with ‘void’.
 
He saw Duan Yu strike out a second time, but once again it was empty and without any power behind it at all. He couldn’t help but feel delight in his heart. He thought to himself, “I was just wondering how someone who could use the ‘Shaoshang Sword’ technique could also be able to use the ‘Zhongchong Sword’ technique. Looks like I was right. This kid is just bluffing. Scared me for a moment!”

During this trip to the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, he had fallen flat on his face, so to speak, several times in a row now. He thought to himself that if he didn’t show off his power a bit, the fame and prestige of the ‘Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel’ would suffer more than a bit of harm. His left palm immediately chopped towards both the left and the right, sealing off any rescue paths which Emperor Baoding and the others might use to aid Duan Yu. Then, he chopped out with his right palm, striking at Duan Yu’s right shoulder. This technique, ‘White Rainbow Pierces the Sun’, was a marvelous and brilliant technique from his ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’ skill. He was intending to cut off Duan Yu’s right arm with a single chop. Emperor Baoding, Benyin, Bencan, and the others cried out in unison, “Careful!” Each of them struck out with a finger towards Jiumozhi.

The three of them were naturally using the first-class martial arts principle of ‘forcing an enemy into a position where he cannot help but withdraw to defend himself’ in their attack. Jiumozhi had already used his internal energy to protect all the critical points on his body. He didn’t draw back his attack on Duan Yu in the slightest, and chopped perfectly straight down. Hearing the alarmed cries from Emperor Baoding and the others, Duan Yu knew that he was in a bad situation. He pushed outwards vigorously with both hands. His mind in a state of panic, his internal energy natural flowed out. The ‘Shaochong Sword’ of his right hand and the ‘Shaoze Sword’ of his left hand simultaneously struck out, dissolving the power of the stroke of the ‘Blazing Flame Sabre’ aimed at him. There was still plenty of energy left over from his strike, and with a ‘chi chi’ sound, the the two attacks counter-assaulted Jiumozhi. Jiumozhi didn’t have time to think, immediately sending internal energy to his left hand to ward off the attack.

After being provoked into striking out for the past few times, Duan Yu had the vague notion that it was necessary for one to first gather his internal
 
energy, and then agitate it to strike out with a finger; only then could his internal strength and power be unleashed. But as to why this was the cause, he had no clue at all. He lightly struck out with his middle finger, once more shooting forth the ‘Zhongchong Sword’. In a blink of an eye, all of the techniques he had learned from the six manuscripts rushed to the front of his mind. All ten of his fingers struck out continuously, attacking here and there in an inexhaustible onslaught.

Jiumozhi was astounded, and hurriedly generated his internal energy to resist the attacks. Sword qi criss crossed the small room, and sabre energy danced in the air. It was as though countless miniature thunderbolts or raging gales were repeatedly clashing against each other midair. After fighting for a while, Jiumozhi felt as though his opponent’s internal energy was only growing stronger and stronger, and his sword techniques were boundless without fathom, as though creating new stances on the spot. It was totally different from his earlier fight with Benyin, Benxiang, and the others, where they were rigidly sticking to a pre-set formula; in contrast, the variations were much more difficult to predict and fathom. He was not aware that Duan Yu was not able to memorize all of the complicated changes and transformations within the sword techniques of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, and was simply randomly piercing and stabbing about in a critical situation, much less inventing new stances on the spot. In his heart, he was both shocked and regretful. “The Heavenly Dragon Monastery actually has such a young and extraordinarily skilled master as this person. Today, I really did bring about my own humiliation!” Suddenly, he struck out three times, with three ‘chi’ sounds, before calling out, “Hold your hand!”

Duan Yu’s internal strength could not be generated or retracted at will. Upon hearing his opponent call for him to halt, he did not know how to cease, and so his only option was to raise his fingers and point them at the ceiling. He thought to himself, “I should stop exerting my strength and hear what he has to say.”

Jiumozhi saw that a perplexed look was on Duan Yu’s face as he stopped fighting. Earlier, when he was withdrawing his internal energy, Duan Yu acted as though he were baffled and did not know what the hell he was
 
doing at all. Jiumozhi’s heart was swayed, and he immediately leapt forwards, striking towards Duan Yu’s face with his fist.

Only through great fortune and luck did Duan Yu manage to learn this highest of martial arts techniques, the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. He didn’t know any of the most basic empty handed or weapon based martial arts at all. Within this punch of Jiumozhi’s was hidden seven or eight separate techniques. This was already a very powerful fist skill to begin with; now, backed up by the might of the Blazing Flame Sabre’s energy, it became an infathomably deep and powerful stroke, impossible for even he himself to measure its strength.

In the martial world, there was no martial artist at all who understood deep martial arts but not superficial ones, who could comprehend complex martial arts not but not simple ones. Duan Yu was the only exception. Seeing Jiumozhi punch towards his face, he awkwardly stretched out his arm to block. Jiumozhi’s right palm flipped over, seizing the ‘Shenfeng’ acupoint on his chest. Duan Yu’s entire body immediately felt limp and he could no longer move. The ‘Shenfeng’ acupoint belonged to the ‘Zushaoyinshen’ group of acupoints, which he had never practiced in his study of the Divine Art of the Northern Darkness.

Although Jiumozhi discovered huge, gaping flaws in Duan Yu’s study of martial arts, he was unable to overcome Duan Yu’s ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’, and intended to use other high-level martial arts to defeat him. But he never would have expected to be able to so easily capture him in a single attack. He was actually afraid that Duan Yu was just play-acting and had some strange trick in mind. With his one hand on Duan Yu’s ‘Shenfeng’ acupoint, he immediately struck out with his other hand and sealed his ‘Jiquan’, ‘Dazhui,’ and ‘Jingmen’ acupoints. This acupoints belonged to the ‘Jingmai’ group, which Duan Yu also had never learned.

Jiumozhi retreated three steps. He said, “This young benefactor has memorized the method by which one might learn the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. The original manuscript has already been burned by Elder Kurong. That makes this young benefactor a living manuscript. Burning him alive as a sacrifice in front of Mr. Murong’s tomb will be just as good.” Spreading out his left palm, he hurriedly made five chops in a row, then
 
seized Duan Yu and dragged him out of the doorway and away from the Muni Pavilion.

Emperor Baoding, Benyin, Benguan and the others wanted to rush forward and reclaim him, but were all sealed out by this chain of five chops which Jiumozhi made. There was no way for them to rescue him.

With a toss, Jiumozhi handed Duan Yu off to the nine escorts which stood guard outside the pavilion. He called out, “Let’s go quickly!” Two of the escorts stretched their hands out simultaneously and caught Duan Yu. They did not leave the way they came in. Rather, apparently on their own intiative, they made their way out via the grove which surrounded the Muni Pavilion. Jiumozhi generated the power of his ‘Blazing Flame Blade’ and simply repeatedly hacked at the doorway of the Muni Pavilion.

Emperor Baoding and the others all urgently clashed the force of their Single Solitary Finger against Jiumozhi’s power, but were temporarily unable to break his invisible net of sabre strikes. Jiumozhi heard the sound of hoofsteps and knew that his nine subordinates had already departed northwards with Duan Yu. He laughed long and loudly. “Burning a living manual is superior to burning a lifeless manuscript! Now that Mr. Murong has someone to accompany him in the underworld, he won’t feel lonely anymore!” He made diagonal cuts with his right hand. With a ‘ka la la’ sound, two of the pillars of the Muni Pavilion were chopped in half. His body swayed slightly, then, as though his body were nothing more than a breath of thin smoke, he flew towards the grove as well. In an instant, his location became indiscernable.

Emperor Baoding and Bencan rushed out at the same time, only to see that Jiumozhi was already long gone. Emperor Baoding said, “Hurry! Chase him!” His gown fluttering in the wind, he had already moved many meters. Master Bencan and him were running shoulder to shoulder, picking up speed and pursuing northwards.

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