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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 13

CSI
 Chapter 13: Giving Pointers to Extraordinary Men at the Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds
The boat drew closer and closer to the shore. Suddenly, Ah Zhu said in a low voice, “Ah Bi, look. This doesn’t seem right.” Ah Bi nodded. “Right. Why are so many lanterns lit?” She let out two quiet laughs, then said, “Sister Ah Zhu, is your home celebrating the lantern festival? There’s so many bright lanterns and lamps. Maybe it’s a birthday party for you?” Ah Zhu remained silent, eyes transfixed on those bright lights.

From far away, Duan Yu could see eight or nine buildings on the islet. Two of those buildings were two-storeyed buildings. There was light emanating from the windows of every building. He thought to himself, “As Ah Zhu’s home is known as the ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’, I imagine it should be much similar to Ah Bi’s ‘Pavilion of Zither Melodies’. The reason there are so many bright lights here is no doubt because sister Ah Zhu likes to keep things noisy and lively.

When the boat came within one li of the shore, Ah Zhu halted her oar and said, “Miss Wang, enemies have come to my home.” Wang Yuyan was startled. “What? Enemies have come? How do you know? Who are they?” Ah Zhu replied, “I don’t know who they are, exactly. But take a whiff. The smell of alcohol reeks to high heaven. It must be that wicked visitors are causing trouble here.” Wang Yuyan and Ah Bi both sniffed hard, but neither could notice any scent. Duan Yu, in turn was attenuated to the scent of maidens, but otherwise was normal and had no special smelling abilities.

Ah Zhu’s nose was extremely sensitive. She said, “Oh no, oh no! They’ve destroyed my jasmine nectar and my rose nectar. Ack! They’ve even ruined
 
my winter plum nectar…” At this point, it seemed as though she was about to cry.

Duan Yu was astonished. “Are your eyes so keen that you’ve seen them?” Sobbing, Ah Zhu choked out, “No. I smelled them. It took me a lot of care and effort to distil those nectars. These evil visitors must have taken them for alcohol and drank them!” Ah Bi said, “Sister Ah Zhu, what should we do? Should we avoid them, or should we go and fight?” Ah Zhu said, “I don’t know if the opponent’s are very powerful…” Duan Yu said, “Right. If the enemies are very powerful, the best choice would be for us to avoid them. If they are just ordinary characters, it would be best for us to go teach them a lesson and prevent sister Ah Zhu’s precious treasures from being ruined even more.” Ah Zhu was feeling very unhappy. Now, listening to Duan Yu’s pointless speech, she replied, “Avoid the strong, bully the weak. Who doesn’t understand this logic? But how do you know if the opponent is very powerful, or just ordinary?” Duan Yu opened his mouth to respond, but had no idea what to say.

Ah Zhu said, “Let’s go take a closer look and find out. However, all of us need to change our clothes and dress up as aged fisherman and old ladies.” Pointing to the east, she said, “An old fisherman and his wife live there. They both know me. Let’s go borrow their clothes.” Clapping his hands, Duan Yu laughed, “Wonderful, wonderful!” With a tug of the oar, Ah Zhu sent the boat eastward. When she thought about putting on new disguises, her spirit was instantly invigorated, and she no longer was to distraught about enemies having come to her home.

Ah Zhu first disguised herself, Wang Yuyan, and Ah Bi. She disguised herself as an old fishwife and turned Wang Yuyan and Ah Bi into middle- aged fishwives. Lastly, she began to work on Duan Yu, changing him into a forty-year old fisherman. Ah Zhu’s disguising skills were truly matchless and incomparably wondrous. She obtained some flour and some mud, then spread a little here and pasted a little there. In the blink of an eye, everyone’s appearances totally changed. Next, she borrowed a fishing boat, a fishing net, a fishing pole, some living fish, and the like, before paddling the boat towards the ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’.
 
Although Duan Yu, Wang Yuyan, and Ah Bi’s appearances had been changed, their voices remained the same. It was the weak point in their disguise. Even if they had years, they wouldn’t be able to master Ah Zhu’s skills in disguise. Wang Yuyan laughed, “Ah Zhu, if anything happens, you’ll have to take the lead in dealing with it. We’ll just have to pretend to be mute.” Ah Zhu laughed, “Right. I promise to keep you from being exposed.”

The fishing boat slowly glided towards the back of the pavilion. Duan Yu saw that weeping willows grew all around the pavilion, but bursts of loud, uncouth yelling sounds continuously emanated from within the building. Such wild shouts and screams were totally at odds with the quiet, ingenious, and tasteful layout of the building and the surrounding plants.

Ah Zhu let out another sigh. She was totally unhappy. Ah Bi whispered into her ear, “Sister Ah Zhu, after we chase the enemies away, I’ll come help you fix the place up.” Ah Zhu squeezed her hand to show her thanks.

The four of them entered the kitchen from the rear. The chef, old Gu, was so busy that his head was covered with sweat. He was unceasingly spitting his saliva into the boiling cauldron, then rubbing his dirty hands together and causing the mud and the dirt on his hands to fall into the cauldron as well. Ah Zhu was half-amused, half-angry. She called out, “Old Gu! What are you doing?” Old Gu was so startled, he jumped. Frightened, he said, “You…you…” Ah Zhu laughed, “I am miss Ah Zhu.” Old Gu was overjoyed. “Miss Ah Zhu, a lot of bad men came. They forced me to cook dishes and broil vegetables for them. Watch!” As he spoke, he blew his nose and dripped his snot into the middle of the vegetables, then began to laugh. Ah Zhu wrinkled her forehead. “You cook such nasty dishes!” Old Gu hurriedly said, “Miss, when I cook for you, I wash my hands clean before I do anything else. But when I am forced to cook for scoundrels, I’ll make the dishes as disgusting as possible.” Ah Zhu said, “The next time I see food which you have cooked, I’ll think of this and be nauseated.” Old Gu said, “No, no. That’s different, that’s totally different.” Although Ah Zhu was a servant to young master Murong, she was the master of the ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’. She had her own servant, chef, boatman, gardener, and other subordinates.
 
Ah Zhu asked, “How many enemies are there?” Old Gu said, “First came a gang of around eighteen or nineteen people. Then came a second gang of around twenty.” Ah Zhu said, “There’s two separate groups? What type of people are they? How are they dressed? Judging from their accents, where are they from?” Lao Gu cursed, “F*ck their mothers…” As soon as the vulgarity left his mouth, he hurriedly covered his lips with his hands, a look of terror on his face. He said, “Miss Ah Zhu, old Gu deserves to die. I…I’m so angry, I’ve gone stupid. One of the two groups of bad men consists of rough fellows from the north. They look like bandits. The second group comes from Sichuan. They all wear white gowns, but I don’t know where they are from.” Ah Zhu said, “Who are they looking for? Have they hurt anyone?” Old Gu said, “The first group of bandits came looking for the old master. The second group of weirdos came looking for the young master. We told them that the old master had passed away, and that the young master wasn’t at home. They didn’t believe us and ransacked the place searching for him. The servant girls have all run away already. I’m the only one who stayed, because I was too pissed. ***….” He was just about to curse again, but just as the vulgarity began to escape his lips, he managed to retract it in time. Ah Zhu saw that his left eye was blackened, and half of his face was heavily swollen. He must have taken a few nasty blows. She no longer blamed him for taking out his resentment on the dishes by spitting and blowing his nose into them.

Ah Zhu muttered to herself, “We need to check it out ourselves. Old Gu wasn’t able to make things clear.” The four of them left the kitchen from a side entrance. They passed by a jasmine flower terrace and two jade cavern gates before arriving outside the flower pavilion. They were still a number of meters away from the window, but could already hear an uproar from within the building.

Ah Zhu quietly snuck to the window, then used her fingernail to poke a hole in the paper window screen. She peeped into the crack. The inside of the main hall was very bright, but only the lanterns on the east side had been lit. There, eighteen or nineteen coarse and burly men were having a little party. The tables were covered with dinner dishes and cups, and the chairs were scattered across the floor. A few people were sitting on the tables. Others were holding chicken drumsticks or pig feet in their hands and chomping
 
away happily. Others brandished their sabres, chopping the meat on the dishes with them and then spearing the meat with the tips of their weapons before delivering the meat to their mouths.

Ah Zhu glanced towards the east side of the room. At first, she didn’t notice anything. But after taking a few more glances, she couldn’t help but feel cold as goosebumps appeared on her flesh. More than twenty or so men dressed in white gowns sat there solemnly. They lit a single candle on the table in front of them. The candlelight did not spread more than a few feet in circumference. She saw that the seven or so people closest to the candlelight had frozen looks on their face, displaying neither happiness nor anger, as though they were but corpses. The entire time, those people sat there without speaking or moving. If it weren’t for the fact that a few of them would blink every so often, she really might have taken them all for dead people.

Sneaking forward as well, Ah Bi grasped Ah Zhu’s hand. Ah Zhu’s hand was icy cold and quivering as well. Ah Bi immediately poked a second hole in the window to take a look for herself. She peered directly into the gaze of a yellow, sallow-faced individual, and their eyes met. That person who seemed half-dead, half-living stared at her. Startled, Ah Bi couldn’t help but let out a quiet cry. With a pair of slamming sounds, the two windows were shattered. Four people jumped out of the windows simultaneously. Two of them were northerners, with the other two being the weirdos from Sichuan. They shouted in unison, “Who are you?”

Ah Zhu replied, “We caught a number of fresh fish and came to ask if Old Gu wanted them or not. The shrimp we have is still living and jumping about.” The words she spoke were of the native Suzhou dialect. The four men initially did not understand, but seeing as how the four of them were dressed in fishermen’s garbs and carrying live fish and shrimp, they figured out what Ah Zhu was saying. One of the men snatched a fish away from Ah Zhu, then shouted loudly, “Cook! Cook! Take this and go make some broth for us to drink to help dilute the alcohol!” The other northerner reached out for the fresh fish Duan Yu was holding.

Seeing that they were fish-sellers, the two Sichuanese men paid them no more mind. They returned to their seats. When they two passed by her, Ah
 
Bi smelled a heavy, masculine musk, and couldn’t resist stretching her hand out to cover her nose. One of the Sichuanese men shot her a glance and saw that when she covered her nose, her arms slid out of her sleeves slightly, revealing skin that was as white as snow and as tender and smooth as rouge. Instantly, he became highly suspicious. “How could a middle-aged fishwife have such white and tender skin?” With a backhand, he grabbed Ah Bi by the wrist and asked, “G’dammit, how old are you?” Startled, Ah Bi wrested away from his grasp. “Whaddya doin’, yeah? Touchin’ people like that.” Her voice was soft, tender, clear and melodious, and her movements were nimble and dexterous. The Sichuanese man only felt that his arm suddenly went numb, and with a stagger he crashed out of the room.

Now, their secret had been totally revealed. As the four men outside of the building cried out at the same time, ten more people exited the room, fully surrounding Duan Yu and the others. One of the men reached for Duan Yu’s beard, tearing it off. Another man tried to grab Ah Bi, but she dodged and gave him a shove, knocking him to the floor instead.

The men began to loudly roar, “Spy, it’s a spy!” “They are crooks in disguise!” “Hang them up and flog them!” They pressed the four of them into the room, then reported to an old man who sat at the east side, “Stronghold-master Yao, we captured two spies in disguise!”

That old man had a large, imposing build, with a grey beard that stretched to the pit of his stomach. He shouted, “Spies, who sent you? Sneaking around and disguising yourselves…what foul deeds are you plotting?”

Wang Yuyan said, “It isn’t any fun dressing up as an old lady. Ah Zhu, Ah Bi, I’m not going to maintain the disguise anymore.” As she spoke, she stretched her hand out and rubbed the mud away from her face. The mud and flour fell away, taking her ‘wrinkles’ with them. Before their awestruck, gaping eyes, the men watched as a middle-aged fishwife was suddenly transformed into a maiden of unsurpassing beauty. In the blink of an eye, silence reigned, and not even a whisper could be heard. The Sichuanese people to the west also had their eyes glued onto her.

Wang Yuyan said, “All of you, remove your disguises as well.” She laughed towards Ah Bi, “It’s all your fault. You revealed our secret!” Ah Zhu, Ah
 
Bi, and Duan Yu immediately rubbed away the mud and flour from their faces as well. Everyone stared at Wang Yuyan, then at Ah Zhu and Ah Bi. None of them could believe that there were such beautiful women in the world, who looked as though they had been chiseled from pure, white jade.

After a long moment, that large old man said, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” Ah Zhu laughed. “I’m the master of this place. Isn’t it a bit odd for outsiders to ask me what I am doing here? Who are you? What are you doing here?” That old man nodded. “Right. So you are the master of this place? Wonderful. You are the young miss of the Murong family? Murong Bo is your daddy, then?” Ah Zhu smiled. “I’m just a servant. How could I have the fortune of being the old master’s daughter? Sir, who might you be? What business have you here?” That old man heard he say she was but a servant girl, but did not immediately believe her. He muttered to himself for a while before saying, “Please invite your master to come, and I will tell him the purpose of this visit.” Ah Zhu replied, “Our old master has passed away. The young master is out on a journey. Sir, what important task do you have here? Just tell us. Can it be that you cannot even reveal your name to us?” That old man said, “Fine. I am Yao Bodang, and I lead the Qin family stronghold of the province of Yunnan.” [The term ‘stronghold’ in its Chinese context usually refers to a mountain stronghold of bandits.] Ah Zhu replied, “Pleased to meet you, pleased to meet you.” Yao Bodang laughed. “You are just a little girl. Why would you be pleased to meet me?”

Wang Yuyan said, “The Qin family stronghold of Yunnan province is most famous for its ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate’ sabre technique. In the years after elder Qin Gongwang invented the sixty-four stances of this technique, his descendants forgot five of the stances. I hear that only fifty nine of the stances have been passed down. Stronghold-master Yao, how many stances have you learned?”

Yao Bodang was greatly astonished. He blurted out without thinking, “How is it that you know that that the Qin family’s ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate’ sabre technique originally had sixty four stances?” Wang Yuyan replied, “That’s what the books say, so it probably isn’t wrong, right? The five stances that you have lost are the stances, ‘White Tiger Leaps Over a Ravine’, ‘Birthing the Wind With a Roar’, ‘Free-Flowing Chopping
 
Pounce’, ‘Powerfully Tyrannizing Many Mountains’, and…right, that fifth stance is named, ‘Lion Emerges From the Appearance of Defeat’. Am I right?” Yao Bodang stroked his beard. He was aware that five of the most exquisite stances of his school of martial arts had become lost, but no one knew what the names of the techniques which had been lost. Now, hearing her speak with such certainty, he was both shocked and suspicious. He didn’t know how to respond to her words.

From the west side of the room, a thirty year old man wearing white said in a deliberately strange voice, “Stronghold-master Yao is an important person with many matters to deal with. He has already forgotten the five stances which the Qin family’s ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate Technique’ is missing. Young miss, what relationship do you have with Mr. Murong, Murong Bo?” Wang Yuyan replied, “Old master Murong is my aunt’s husband. Sir, what is your respected name and surname?” That man smiled coldly, “Miss, you are well-learned and are intimately familiar with stronghold-master Yao’s martial arts technique. I would like to invite you to guess what my own origin is.” Wang Yuyan smiled. “First, you need to demonstrate some of your abilities. I can’t guess anything just based on a few words.”

That man nodded. “True.” He stretched his left hand into the sleeves of his right arm, and did the opposite for his right hand, as though his hands were chilled by winter’s cold. He immediately snapped his hands out. Each hand was holding a strange weapon. In his left hand, he was holding a metal awl which was six or seven inches long. The tip of the awl was split in two. In his right hand, he wielded a small, eight-faced mace. The shaft of the mace was over a foot long, and the head of the mace was smaller than most people’s fists. Both weapons were small and exquisitely made, appearing almost as though they were children’s toys. They seemed to be totally useless for actually fighting off opponents. As the men who sat at the east side of the room saw the weapons, some of them immediately began to loudly laugh. One of them laughed, “You’re actually humiliating yourself by displaying the toys and baubles which Sichuanese babies play with?” The people who sat at the west side all glared at him angrily.
 
Wang Yuyan said, “Right. This is the ‘Thunder God’s Explosion’. Sir, I imagine that you are an expert in qinggong and hidden weapons. The books say that the ‘Thunder God’s Explosion’ is the unique weaponry of Sichuan’s Qingcheng sect, located on Mt. Qingcheng. Within the ‘Qing’ character, there are nine attacks; within the ‘Cheng’ character, there are eighteen destroying strokes. The strangeness and cunning of the techniques are difficult to fathom. Sir, I would like to guess that your surname is Sima, right?”

That entire time, the man’s face was very somber. But upon hearing this girl say those words, he couldn’t help but be shaken. He exchanged a few glances with three of his assistants that stood next to him. After a long time, he family said, “Gusu’s Murong family is well-known for having a deep, broad, and profound understanding of martial arts. You really live up to your reputation! I am Sima Lin. Miss, might I ask you if there truly are nine strikes within the ‘Qing’ character, and eighteen destroying strokes within the ‘Cheng’ character?”

Wang Yuyan replied, “This is an extremely good question. In my opinion, it would be more appropriate to say that there are ten strikes within the ‘Qing’ character. Although the ‘iron Bodhisattva strike’ and the ‘iron lotus seed strike’ seem superficially similar, they have totally separate usages and really shouldn’t be mixed together. With regards to the eighteen destroying strokes of the ‘Cheng’ character, it seems as though there is nothing particularly special or exquisite about the ‘armor destroying’, ‘shield destroying’, and ‘tablet destroying’ stances. It seems as though they were simply thrown in there to fill up the spaces needed for there to be a total of eighteen stances, whereas in actuality they can be discarded or perhaps merged together. In which case, there would be a total of ‘fifteen destroying strokes’ or ‘sixteen destroying strokes’, which would actually be more refined.”

Listening to her words, Sima Lin was struck dumb. He had only learned seven of the techniques within the ‘Qing’ character, and knew nothing of the differences between the ‘iron Bodhisattva strike’ and the ‘iron lotus seed strike’. In addition, the ‘armor destroying’, ‘shield destroying’, and ‘tablet destroying’ stances were the stances which he felt the most proud
 
mastering about all his life, and which had always be considered a unique, consummate skill of his sect. He never would have imagined that this girl would say that they could be abolished. At first, he was startled; then, he was extremely angry. He thought to himself, “It’s natural that the Murong family has long since known of my name and my martial arts. They want to humiliate me, and so have spun these lies and ordered this maiden to come here with scorching, humiliating words.” He didn’t immediately flare up. He only said, “Thank you for your advice, miss. I’ve suddenly seen the light.” Immediately, he turned to an assistant by his side and said, “Apprentice-brother Zhu, why don’t you ask this young miss for a few pointers?”

His assistant, Zhu Baokun, was an ugly man with a face full of pock marks. He appeared to be somewhat older than Sima Lin. Aside from the white gown he wore, he also tied up his hair with a strip of white cloth, as though he were in morning. Underneath the flickering light of the candle, he appeared very sinister and secretive. He rose to his feet, cupping his hands respectfully, then withdrew his weapons as well. He also withdrew a small mace and a short awl, both of which were identical to Sima Lin’s ‘Thunder God’s Explosion’ weapons. He said, “Miss, please advise me.”

All the onlookers thought to himself, “Your weapons are totally the same as that of Sima Lin. If this girl knows his martial arts, then obviously she knows yours as well.” Wang Yuyan also said, “Sir, as you wield the ‘Thunder God’s Explosion’ weapons, naturally you belong to the Qingcheng sect as well.” Sima Lin said, “This martial-brother of mine already possessed some martial arts before entering our school. Miss, I’d like to test your wisdom and see if you can discover what sect he originally came from.” He thought to himself, “Even I am not too sure about the origins of brother Zhu’s martial arts. It’d be rather strange if you could!” Wang Yuyan thought to herself, “This is a difficult question.”

Before she had a chance to say anything, the Qin family stronghold’s Yao Bodang interjected, “Sect-leader Sima, what’s the point in having this young lady guess about the origins of your martial-brother? Isn’t this extremely uninteresting?” Astounded, Sima Lin said, “Why is this extremely uninteresting?” Yao Bodang laughed. “Your apprentice-brother
 
face is now filled with pock marks, which seem to be meticulously carved into his skin. Thus, his true features can’t be too exquisite to look at.” Everyone on the western side of the room exploded into laughter. [True features and true origins can share the same characters.]

All his life, the thing which Zhu Baokun hated the most was others making fun of his pockmarked face. Now, hearing Yao Bodang so openly ridicule him, he could he hold his temper? Without caring that Yao Bodang was a famous hero of the north and the master of a stronghold, he aimed the steel awl in his left hand towards Yao Bodang’s chest, then struck the awl with the steel mace in his right hand. A violent ‘chi’ sound split the air with a sharp roar as a host of hidden weapons shot forth from the awl and towards Yao Bodang’s chest.

As soon as the Qin family stronghold and the Qingcheng sect had entered the pavilion, they had taken each other’s measure. Neither side offered any greetings to the other. They glared at each other and humphed at each other. In all likelihood, if Wang Yuyan and the others had not arrived, they would have gotten into a fight with each other by now. In insulting Zhu Baokun, Yao Bodang originally only wanted to tease him a little. He never would have imagined that the other party would attack so quickly. The secret weapons flew towards him with great haste. He didn’t even have the time to draw out his sabre. With his left hand, he snatched a candlestick which lay on top of the table in front of him, then chopped at the hidden weapons. With a clanging sound, the hidden weapons were redirected upwards, and with a thudding sound embedded themselves into the ceiling. Now, they could be clearly seen. The hidden weapons were three-inch long steel needles. Although the needles were short, the force behind them was tremendous. Yao Bodang’s left hand went numb, and the candlestick slipped from his grasp. With a clanking sound, it hit the floor.

The bandits of the Qin family stronghold pulled out their sabres. In a loud voice, they cried out, “So you are using hidden weapons to harm others?” “What a valiant hero you are!” “Shameless! I’ll f*ck your grandmother, hard!” A very fat person was filled with the most obscenities, even cursing eighteen generation’s worth of the other party’s ancestors. But the people of
 
Qingcheng sect only continued to sit there in that strange silence, as though neither seeing nor hearing the words from the Qin family stronghold.

Earlier, when Yao Bodang snatched the candlestick to block the hidden weapons, he didn’t have a very firm grip. But having his weapon being shaken from his hand by tiny steel needles despite his decades of internal energy training was, by the accepted rules of wulin, a loss for him. He thought to himself, “The opponent’s martial arts are extremely strange. From what the young lady said, within the Qingcheng sect’s martial arts, the ‘Qing’ character has nine strikes, all of which are based upon hidden weaponry. If I’m not careful, I’m going to be in trouble.” He immediately waved his arm and quieted the noisy calls of his subordinates. He laughed, “Brother Zhu, this technique of yours was extremely handsome, but also extremely vicious! What is it called?”

Zhu Baokun let out a cold laugh, but did not respond.

The fat man amongst the Qin family stronghold said, “Most likely, it is called, ‘No sense of shame or face, launching ambushes against others!’” Another middle-aged person laughed, “He never had any face to begin with. The name you just gave is very good. It’s quite appropriate and suits them. Clearly, you are well-learned and lettered! Well-learned indeed!” Within his words was a hidden ridicule directed once more to Zhu Baokun’s pock- marks.

Wang Yuyan shook her head. In a soft voice, she said, “Stronghold-master Yao, now you are at fault.” Yao Bodang said, “How?” Wang Yuyan said, “It’s possible for anyone to suffer an illness or be wounded. When a person is young and trips and falls, it’s possible that his leg might become crippled. When fighting with others, it’s possible to lose a hand or an eye. It’s extremely ordinary for the people of wulin to have wounds or scars on them, am I right?” Yao Bodang could only nod his head. Wang Yuyan continued, “When he was young, Mr. Zhu suffered from a foul disease which left him with some scars. What’s so funny about that? In judging whether a male is a true, stalwart man, the first thing to consider is his character and his moral quality. The second thing to consider is his ability and his competence. The third would be his learning and his martial arts abilities. What does his facial appearance have to do with anything?”
 
Yao Bodang was rendered speechless. He broke out in loud laughter, then said, “There is some reason in your words, miss. By that logic, this old man is at fault for mocking brother Zhu.”

Wang Yuyan laughed, “Old master, for you to be able to freely admit to your mistakes shows that you are an upright, honest, and honorable man.” She turned her face to Zhu Baokun, then shook her head and said, “Won’t do, that won’t work.” When she said these words, a gentle, tender, sympathizing look was on her face, as though she were an older sister who was watching her younger brother exhaust himself trying to do something which he didn’t have the strength to do. Her words were both admonishing and intimate.

Zhu Baokun, upon hearing her say that it was very normal for people of the wulin to have battle scars or wounds, and that a man should be judged first and foremost by his character and his accomplishments, felt very happy. All his life, he had been unhappy about his pockmarked face. He had never heard anyone address the issue so sincerely and reasonably. Now, hearing her say, “Won’t do, that won’t work,” he asked, “Miss, what do you mean?” He thought to himself, “Is she saying that this needle technique of mine, the ‘Lord of Heaven Replenishes the Heart’, won’t do, and won’t work? She doesn’t know that there are twelve steel needles hidden within my awl. If I didn’t stop and instead repeatedly struck it with my mace, I would have taken that old fellow’s life a long time ago. Only, I cannot reveal my secret in front of Sima Lin.”

Only to hear Wang Yuyan said, “This ‘Lord of Heaven Replenishes the Heart’ needle technique of yours truly is a overbearing hidden weapon technique…” Zhu Baokun’s body trembled, and he let out a soft cry. Sima Lin and two other experts of Qingcheng sect also let out a simultaneous shout of, “What?!” The expression on Zhu Baokun’s face changed, and he said, “Miss, you are wrong. This was not the ‘Lord of Heaven Replenishes the Heart’ needle technique. It is our Qingcheng sect’s hidden weaponry technique, the fourth strike within the ‘Qing’ character, named the ‘Green Hornet’ nail technique.” Wang Yuyan smiled. “It did appear as though you used the ‘Green Hornet’ strike. When you executed the ‘Lord of Heaven Replenishes the Heart’ needle technique, the tools and techniques you used
 
are the same as that of the ‘Green Hornet’ nail technique. But the essential nature of hidden weaponry lies neither in the tools nor in the technique, but in the hidden weapon’s force and power. Everyone uses steel needles, but the force which Shaolin disciples release is unique to Shaolin, and the force which the Kunlun sect releases is unique to Kunlun. This cannot be faked. Yours is…”

Suddenly, a murderous look filled Zhu Baokun’s eyes. He suddenly raised the steel awl to his chest. All he needed to do was to strike the awl with his mace, and the steel needles would instantly shoot towards Wang Yuyan…

Half the people watching let out cries of alarm. Earlier, when he attacked Yao Bodang, his movements were very fast and the power released was very strong. Very few hidden weapon techniques could compare to it. Obviously, there was an extremely powerful release mechanism hidden within the awl, as it was definitely impossible for any human force to create such an effect. Moreover, the tip of the awl was curved and split, making it difficult for others to believe that steel needles could shoot out from it. No one knew that the hollow cavity within the awl was straight. Fortunately, Yao Bodang was quick of eye and fleet of hand and thus managed to avoid disaster. If he released the hidden weapons towards Wang Yuyan, how could a beautiful, delicate woman such as her possibly avoid or dodge it? But seeing how beautiful and gentle she appeared, Zhu Baokun couldn’t bear to kill her. In addition, he was still grateful for how she had argued on his behalf earlier. He shouted, “Miss, don’t talk too much and bring disaster upon yourself!”

Just at this moment, a person rushed forward and placed himself in front of Wang Yuyan. It was Duan Yu.

Wang Yuyan smiled. “Young gentleman Duan, many thanks! Mr. Zhu, many thanks to you as well for not killing me. But even if you kill me, there’s no point. The Qingcheng sect and the Penglai sect have been enemies for generations. Your scheme was already tried over eighty years ago, by your venerable sect’s seventh sect leader, Haifeng Zi. I’m afraid that his intelligence and martial arts is not one whit inferior to your own.”
 
Upon hearing these words, the gaze of every member present of the Qingcheng sect turned towards Zhu Baokun. They mercilessly glared at him, all of them thinking to themselves, “Can it be that he is a member of our mortal enemy, the Penglai sect, who is in our sect undercover? How is it that he speaks with the Sichuanese accent, and doesn’t have the slightest trace of a Shandong accent?”

The eastern peninsula of the Shandong province was lorded over by the Penglai sect. Although they were located in the east, and Sichuan’s Qingcheng sect was located in the west, hundreds of years ago a bitter enmity was laid down by experts of their respective sects. From that time forth, each would make retaliatory attacks upon the other, committing many cruel and vicious revenge killings. Both sects possessed consummate martial arts techniques that could counter and restrain the other. In fact, the enmity laid down centuries ago was created by disagreements in a discussion on martial arts. After over ten violent battles and killings, in the end the Penglai sect was unable to defeat the Qingcheng sect, but the Qingcheng sect was also unable to overcome the Penglai sect. Every time the two came to battle, masters and experts from both sides would suffer wounds and often perish together, ending the battle in common ruin.

The Haifeng Zi which Wang Yuyan spoke of was an outstanding talent within the Penglai sect. He carefully examined the strengths and weaknesses of the martial arts of both schools, knowing that although it would not be too hard for him to surpass the Qingcheng sect based upon his own abilities, in the future, after he died and the Qingcheng sect produced a wise and talented student of its own, the Qingcheng would once more have surpassed his own sect. In order to finish the job once and for all, he sent his most talented disciple to sneak into the Qingcheng sect and steal their martial arts. In this way, he would ‘know himself and know his enemy, proving victorious in every battle’. But his disciple had not fully mastered his martial arts and was discovered and executed by disciples of the Qingcheng sect. After this, the enmity between the two groups became only deeper as both sides began to guard against the other side stealing their secrets.
 
Within these past few decades, the Qingcheng sect set down a rule where they would not accept northerners as students. No students who spoke with any northern accents were accepted. Forget about having a Shandong accent, even if the applicant had the slightest Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, or Shaanxi accent. Later on, the rules became even more rigid, and they began to only accept disciples from Sichuan alone.

The ‘Green Hornet’ nail technique was a hidden weapon technique unique to the Qingcheng sect, whereas the ‘Lord of Heaven Replenishes the Heart’ needle technique belonged to the Penglai sect. Zhu Baokun clearly used the ‘Green Hornet’ nail technique, but Wang Yuyan continued to insist that he used the ‘Lord of Heaven Replenishes the Heart’ needle technique. This caused everyone in the Qingcheng sect to be filled with shock and dread. It must be known that the Penglai sect had a rule which was similar to that of the Qingcheng sect; they would only accept disciples from Shandong. Moreover, the people from the eastern part of Shandong were considered better. People from western Shandong or southern Shandong would find it extremely difficult to be allowed into the Penglai sect. It wouldn’t be impossible for a person to put on a disguise and not reveal himself, but it would be extremely difficult for a person to change his manner of speaking so completely that in a thousand words, he wouldn’t say a single word with a slightly strange accent. Zhu Baokun came from the Zhu family of the Guan county of Sichuan, a famous, aristocratic family of western Sichuan. How could he be a disciple of the Penglai sect? Everyone present would never have imagined it in their wildest dreams. Earlier, when Sima Lin wanted Wang Yuyan to guess his origins, all he wanted to do was stump this girl with a tough riddle. He did not suspect Zhu Baokun at all. How could he have imagined that he would receive such a soul-shaking response?

The person who was most startled of all was naturally Zhu Baokun himself. As it was, his original teacher was a Daoist priest named Dulingzi. In youth, Dulingzi had been greatly harmed by the Qingcheng sect, and incessantly schemed to revenge himself upon the Qingcheng sect. He snuck around all of Sichuan, trying to find ways by which he could cause them harm. One year, he met the young Zhu Baokun at the Guan county. At this point, Zhu Baokun was still but a child, but showed an extremely good bone structure and had a very good foundation for learning martial arts. Thus, Dulingzi
 
came up with a plot. He ordered people to disguise themselves as Jiangnan pirates and had them sneak into the Zhu family, tie up the family members, and then, after looting the place, prepare to rape the two daughters of the Zhu family and execute the rest. Dulingzi himself was outside the entire time. He waited until the critical moment, then stepped forth bravely, chased away all the fake bandits, retrieved all of their belongings, and preserved the chastity of the two daughters of the Zhu family. The master of the Zhu family was naturally filled with boundless gratitude towards Dulingzi.

Dulingzi deliberately provoked him, saying, “If one does not possess first- class martial arts, no matter how rich you are, you can still be bullied by robbers and bandits. This group of bandits possessed some decent abilities. They’ve been beaten off today, but it is likely that they will come back for another try some other day.” The Zhu family was an extremely powerful and well-known aristocratic family in the area. Before the master’s very eyes, the guards and martial arts instructors he had invited were knocked down with three punches and two kicks. Now, hearing that the bandits would come back again soon, he was so frightened that his soul almost left him, and he begged Dulingzi to stay. Dulingzi insincerely refused for a while, then ‘reluctantly’ agreed to stay. After a short period of time had passed, he managed to convince Zhu Baokun to kowtow to him as his disciple.

Aside from his single-minded enmity towards the Qingcheng sect, Dulingzi himself was not really a bad person, and possessed extremely capable martial arts. He exhorted the Zhu family to carefully guard the secret of his presence, and secretly taught Zhu Baokun martial arts. After ten years or so, Zhu Baokun became one of the most outstanding individuals within the Penglai sect. This Dulingzi fellow really was patient. After settling down in the Zhu family household, he immediately disguised himself as a mute person. From beginning to end, he did not say a single word to a single person. When teaching Zhu Baokun martial arts, he would only demonstrate the techniques using his hands and feet, or manually write down the instructions for Zhu Baokun to read. He wouldn’t say a single word or reveal his Shandong accent. Thus, although Zhu Baokun had
 
associated with him for over ten years, he had never heard a single word spoken with the Shandong accent.

After Zhu Baokun fully completed his martial arts training, Dulingzi wrote down the entire ins and outs of the situation and told his student to act as he saw fit. Although, he naturally left out the part where he had people dress up as robbers to attack the Zhu family. In Zhu Baokun’s heart, not only had his master saved his entire family, over the past ten years, his master had treated him with great benevolence and kindness, passing down to him all of the Penglai sect’s martial arts techniques. He had long since felt boundless gratitude towards his master, and once he understood what his master wanted, he didn’t hesitate in the slightest. He immediately headed towards Mt. Qingcheng, putting himself under the ‘tutelage’ of the Qingcheng sect’s then-leader, Sima Wei. Sima Wei was Sima Lin’s father.

At this point in time, Zhu Baokun was no longer a child, and moreover declared himself as having learned some low level martial arts from the guards which his family had hired. At first, Sima Wei was unwilling to accept him. But the Zhu family was a very rich family in western Sichuan, possessing both wealth and power. Although the Qingcheng sect belonged to the martial world, in the end, they were still located in Sichuan. They were unwilling to become estranged from the powerful and wealthy local noble clans. In addition, accepting a member of the Zhu family as a disciple would only enhance their sect’s prestige. Thus, Sima Wei agreed in the end. While teaching him their skills, they found that Zhu Baokun already possessed quite impressive martial arts. But whenever they tried to question him, Zhu Baokun, in accordance with what his master Dulingzi had taught him to do, would make up something and throw them off. Sima Wei, wanting to give his father some face, did not pursue the matter too much. He thought to himself that for a scion of a rich family to reach such a level of martial arts was already very difficult.

After entering the Qingcheng sect, Zhu Baokun focused on a specific number of martial arts techniques as instructed by Dulingzi. On New Year’s Day and during other festivals, he gave very lavish gifts to his master and his fellow apprentices. Whenever his master needed anything done, he wouldn’t wait for any actual request to be made before perfectly fulfilling
 
his master’s wants. After all, his family had plenty of money, which made these things easy. Sima Wei always felt rather awkward about this, and thus poured his energy in teaching Zhu Baokun martial arts, holding nothing back and keeping nothing hidden. Thus, within seven or eight years, Zhu Baokun had learned the ultimate skills of the Qingcheng sect.

Three or four years ago, Dulingzi had originally ordered Zhu Baokun to go to Mt. Penglai and display the martial arts of the Qingcheng sect, with the aim of overturning the Qingcheng sect with this knowledge. But after staying with the Qingcheng sect for so many years, Zhu Baokun felt that Sima Wei treated him very well. When teaching him martial arts, Sima Wei treated him as though he were his own son. Zhu Baokun could not bear the thought of him personally causing the destruction of the Qingcheng sect and slaughtering Sima Wei’s entire family. He secretly decided, “I cannot make my move until after master Sima Wei passes away first. Martial-brother Sima Lin’s treatment of me is nothing special; it’s no big deal if I kill him.” Thus, he delayed for a few years. Dulingzi tried to hasten him several times, but each time, Zhu Baokun would reply that he had not fully learned the nine strikes of the ‘Qing’ character and the eighteen destroying strokes of the ‘Cheng’ character. After having expended so much blood and sweat on this scheme, he was unwilling to ‘fail to build a mound for the lack of one last pail of dirt’. He only exhorted Zhu Baokun to learn the secrets as quickly as possible, so that they could launch an attack.

However, during the past winter, Sima Wei was killed within the eastern Sichuan city of Baidi by an enemy who used Qingcheng sect’s own ‘Moon Destroying Awl’ technique of the eighteen destroying strokes of the ‘Cheng’ character. The ‘Moon Destroying Awl’ technique pierced through Sima Wei’s ear, driving through his brain and causing his death. Although the ‘Moon Destroying Awl’ technique had the word ‘Awl’ in its name, in actuality it did not use an awl. Instead, the practitioner would form his five fingers into a claw, then use profound internal strength to drive the claw through the opponent’s ear.

Sima Lin and Zhu Baokun were in Chengdu when they received this news. They rushed to Baidi overnight. After discovering how Sima Wei died, the two of them were both sorrowful and afraid. They all thought to themselves
 
that within the Qingcheng sect, aside from Sima Wei himself, only Sima Lin, Zhu Baokun, and two other venerable experts could use the ‘Moon Destroying Awl’ technique. But when this calamity happened, all four of them were clearly in Chengdu, as they were together during that period of time. None of them could suspect each other. Thus, aside from the famous family which would ‘use the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent’, that being Gusu’s Murong family, no one else could have killed him. The Qingcheng sect immediately turned out in full force, gathering all of their experts and going to Gusu, intending to exact revenge upon the Murong family.

Before heading out, Zhu Baokun secretly asked Dulingzi if it was the Penglai sect which did the deed. Dulingzi wrote, “Sima Lin’s level of martial arts is very close to that of my own. If I were to kill him, I would have to use the ‘Lord of Heaven Replenishes the Heart’ technique to kill him. If a group of people were to besiege him, they would have to use our ‘Iron Crutch’ formation.” Zhu Baokun thought to himself that this made sense. By now, he was fully aware that neither of his two masters was inferior to the other in martial arts. When it comes to using the ‘Moon Destroying Awl’ to kill Sima Wei, not only did Dulingzi not know this technique, even if he knew it, his proficiency in it couldn’t possibly be superior to Sima Wei’s. With no more doubt in his mind, he came with Sima Lin to Jiangnan to seek revenge. Dulingzi did not try to obstruct him, only telling him to be careful. He was to keep his eyes and ears open, but not to throw away his life on behalf of the Qingcheng sect.

After arriving in Suzhou, they sent people inquiring all over the place. It was only with great difficulty that they arrived at the ‘Water Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’. The Qin family stronghold of Yunnan had arrived just before them. The rules of the Qingcheng sect were extremely rigid; without the sect-leader’s permission, no one dared to rashly say or do anything. Seeing how unorthodox and wild the people of the Qin family stronghold, they felt contempt towards them in their heart. Thus, both sides spoke very insultingly towards the other. The Qingcheng sect had come on a mission of revenge, and thus did not disturb a single blade of grass, and ate only the food they themselves had brought. They actually got something good out of
 
this, as none of the members of the Qingcheng sect tasted old Gu’s snot, saliva, or the mud from his hands.

After Wang Yuyan and the other three had arrived, strange things started to happen. When Zhu Baokun used the Qingcheng sect’s ‘Green Hornet’ nail technique to shoot out the steel needles in the past, not even Sima Wei would be suspicious in the slightest. He never could have imagined that this little girl, Wang Yuyan, would expose the truth of the matter in a single sentence. Zhu Baokun did not manage to act quickly enough to silence her; still remembering her kind words from earlier, he hesitated for but a moment and lost the opportunity. In addition, Sima Lin and the others had already heard the words, ‘Lord of Heaven Replenishing the Heart needle technique’. Even if he killed Wang Yuyan, it would only serve to make him look all the more treacherous and wicked.

At this moment, Zhu Baokun’s mind was thrown in confusion, and cold sweat began to drip from his head. Turning around, he saw that Sima Lin and the others all had their hands folded within their sleeves, and were staring at him with fierce glares.

Sima Lin icily said, “Mr. Zhu, so you belong to the Penglai sect?” He no longer address Zhu Baokun as ‘martial-brother’, instead calling him ‘Mr. Zhu’. Clearly, he no longer considered him as being part of the same school.

Zhu Baokun could neither admit to it nor deny it. An extremely awkward look was on his face.

Sima Lin’s eyes opened wide, and he glared at Zhu Baokun. “You came to the Qingcheng sect to steal our skills, then, after learning the ‘Moon Destroying Awl’, used it to murder my father. You brutal, unscrupulous, cold-blooded cur, you are far too vile!” Sweeping his arms from his sleeves, he withdrew the ‘Thunder God’s Explosion’ from his sleeves. He thought to himself that after Zhu Baokun had learned their martial arts, he must have taught it to the masters of the Penglai sect. Although Zhu Baokun was in Chengdu when his father died, after the Penglai sect’s experts learned this technique, any of them could have killed his father.
 
Zhu Baokun’s face was ashen. He thought to himself that although it was true that his master Dulingzi had sent him into the Qingcheng sect with this intention, to date he had not divulged a single secret of the Qingcheng sect. But with the situation having reached this point, how could he possibly explain? It seemed that a violent battle was about to occur. The enemy had more people and a stronger force. The skills of Sima Lin and the two other experts were not one whit inferior to his own. Today, it seemed as though he was about to lose his life. He thought to himself, “Although I did not do this, I did have the intention of betraying my master. Even if I am killed by the Qingcheng sect, it would be no more than receiving just punishment for my deeds.” He immediately hardened his heart, then said, “Our master definitely was not harmed by me.”

Sima Lin shouted, “Naturally, you yourself did not do the deed, but you taught the technique to the person who did. What’s the difference between this and you personally killing him?” He said to the two tall, thin old men by his side, “Martial-uncles Jiang and Meng, when dealing with traitors like this, there’s no need for us to adhere to the martial world’s rules of one-on- one duels. Let’s fight him together!” The two old men nodded, then withdrew their hands from their sleeves. They, too, were wielding the ‘Thunder God’s Explosion’ weapons.

Zhu Baokun took a few steps back, resting his back against one of the room’s pillars to prevent himself from being encircled. Sima Lin loudly cried, “Kill this traitor and avenge my father!” He charged forward, lifting his mace and delivering a powerful blow towards the top of Zhu Baokun’s skull. Zhu Baokun sidestepped and let the blow pass by him, then countered with an awl-strike. The old man surnamed Jiang shouted, “You are fine fellow, you traitor! You still have the stones to use the martial arts techniques of our sect!” With his left hand, he struck out with the awl towards Zhu Baokun’s throat, while with his right hand he struck out with his mace three times, using the ‘Phoenix Nodding’ technique.

The followers of the Qin family stronghold saw that the old man surnamed Jiang wielded the mace with superb skill, and that his techniques were extremely strange. All of them were extremely intrigued. Yao Bodang and the others secretly nodded, thinking to themselves, “The fame of the
 
Qingcheng sect shakes western Sichuan. It looks like this isn’t due to luck.” Sima Lin was impatient in desiring to avenge his father, and thus his attacks were too rash and hasty. Zhu Baokun was consequently able to defend against them. But the two old men generated their internal energy, executing their attacks in accordance with the four critical points of the Qingcheng style: ‘Steady’, ‘Ruthless’, ‘Secret’, and ‘Fierce’. Their awls pierced and their maces struck, with each blow directed towards his vital points. Zhu Baokun was besieged on all sides, and was instantly surrounded by danger.

Zhu Baokun knew by heart all of the mace and awl techniques which the three men were employing. After seeing each stance, he would be able to guess what the next three or four stances would be. This was the only reason why he was able to hold out against the three of them at the same time without being defeated. After ten or more stances, he felt sourness in his heart. He secretly thought to himself, “Master Sima truly treated me extremely well. I know every single one of these techniques which Sima Lin and these two martial-uncles are using. When teaching someone about the weak points in one’s own techniques, it’s very easy and common for the teacher to intentionally hold things back and not teach the student the most important points. At this critical life-and-death juncture, the three of them are naturally holding nothing back and going all out. It seems I really have been taught everything that he knew about Qingcheng sect’s martial arts.” His heart swelling with feelings of gratitude and indebtedness towards his master, he couldn’t help but cry out, “I definitely did not cause my master’s death…”

With his thoughts going astray, Sima Lin rushed forward and was now only a few feet away from him. Qingcheng sect’s weapons were all short, and thus they were naturally most deadly when used in close hand to hand combat. If Sima Lin was fighting a member of any other sect, when he charged in he would have gained a seventy or eighty percent chance of winning. But since Zhu Baokun knew the same martial arts as he did, neither of them gained an advantage. Beneath the flickering candlelight, everyone present felt as though their vision was blurring. All they could see was that both Sima Lin and Zhu Baokun executed their stances very quickly. Their hands weaving and waving about, in the blink of an eye they
 
had each executed seven or eight stances. The steel awls pierced upwards and jabbed downwards, while the steel maces struck horizontally and smashed vertically downwards. It was as though both of them had gone insane. But each of them was so familiar with the other’s techniques that whenever one of them executed an attack, the counterattack came to the other as naturally as breathing. They had been instructed by the same teacher, and thus their techniques and styles were identical. Sima Li was young and strong, but Zhu Baokun possessed an abundance of varied experiences. In a short period of time, tens of stances had been exchanged. The onlookers could hear the clinking and clanging sounds as their weapons clashes, but could no longer tell what attacks and defenses each were using.

The two elders, seeing that Sima Li was unable to achieve victory despite a long battle, suddenly let out a sharp whistle, then rolled on the floor towards them, attacking Zhu Baokun’s lower extremities.

Most of the people who use short weapons, save for females, knew various rolling and jumping techniques which would cause the opponent to be uncertain as to how to respond. Zhu Baokun, too, was originally very familiar with this attack of theirs, known as the ‘Thunder God’s Earth Explosion’, but with his hands occupied defending against Sima Li’s awl and mace, he had nothing left to guard against the two elders. All he could do was run around and try to dodge or jump away. Elder Jiang’s steel mace struck at him from the left, while elder Meng’s awl stabbed from the right. Zhu Baokun leapt up and delivered a flying kick to elder Meng’s lower jaw. Elder Meng cursed, “Son of a tortoise, so you are going all out?” He dodged to the side. Elder Jiang charged forwards, delivering a sweeping attack with his mace, just as Sima Lin’s mace struck towards Zhu Baokun’s forehead. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Zhu Baokun had to choose between the lesser of two evils. Lifting his weapon, he blocked Sima Lin’s attack, while receiving a stiff blow to his left leg from Elder Jiang’s mace.

Although the mace was small, the crushing force of its blows was very formidable. Zhu Baokun felt the pain in the very marrow of his bones. For the moment, he couldn’t even be sure as to whether or not his leg bone was already snapped. With a clanging sound, two maces met and sparks
 
exploded. He then let out a cry as elder Meng’s awl pierced his left leg as well.

He was actually capable of dodging this strike, but if he had done so, the ‘Thunder God’s Earth Explosion’ technique which the two elders were using would have united and transformed into the ‘Earth Goddess’s Thunder Web’ attack, which he would have been unable to resist. Since his left leg might already be broken, he might as well just let it receive some more punishment. Within a few more strokes, bright blood began to splash from his leg, spraying red dots all across the walls.

Wang Yuyan saw Ah Zhu crease her forehead and pucker her lips in a frown. She knew that Ah Zhu hated watching this bunch of people battle against each other here and dirty her clean and tidy house. Smiling, she called out, “Hey, stop fighting! If you have problems, let’s talk them out. Why be so unreasonable?” Sima Lin and the others wanted to execute the ‘evil traitor who murdered their master’ on the spot. Zhu Baokun was willing to stop fighting, but how could he? Seeing how the four of them continued to fight violently and ignore her words, and how it was primarily Sima Lin and the two elders who kept the fight going, she said, “All of you, stop fighting!” Sima Lin roared back, “I will not live under the same sky with the man who murdered my father! How can I not avenge him? What are you babbling about?” Wang Yuyan said, “If you don’t stop, I’m going to help him!”

Sima Lin’s heart went cold. He thought to himself, “This beautiful girl sees very clearly and thoroughly. I imagine her martial arts skills are excellent as well. If she helps the other side, things would get a bit troublesome.” Then he thought, “With so many experts of our Qingcheng sect here, if push comes to shove we can mob them. Can it be that we’ll all be defeated by such a delicate-looking girl?” He added more force to his blows, pelting vicious blows towards Zhu Baokun like the beating of the rain or the raging of the wind.

Wang Yuyan said, “Mr. Zhu, first use, the ‘Force of Li Cunxiao Striking the Tiger’, then use ‘Zhang Guolao Riding the Donkey Backwards’!” [As the reader will have guessed, Li Cunxiao and Zhang Guolao are famous legendary figures.] Zhu Baokun was startled. He thought to himself, “The
 
first stance belongs to the Qingcheng sect, but the second comes from the Penglai sect. These two definitely cannot be mixed together. How can I use them in succession?” But right now, the situation was critical. How could he have the time to ponder in depth? He executed the ‘Force of Li Cunxiao Striking the Tiger’ technique, and with a pair of ‘dang’ sounds, just managed to block two mace blows from Sima Lin and elder Jiang. Following this, he turned around and took three crooked steps backwards, each step taken precisely before an ambushing awl attack by elder Jiang. This stance which elder Jiang used was a combination attack using both the mace and the awl, with three strikes in total. It was extremely sinister and vicious. Each step Zhu Baokun took, he staggered as though he were drunk, and the execution was totally unorthodox. But at the most critical moment of each attack, he managed to avoid the opponent’s ruthless strikes. It was as though the two of them had practiced this in advance and were now showing off their abilities.

These three ambushing strikes were extremely ingenious, but the dodges were even more exquisite. All of the members of the Qin family stronghold watching were rapt and breathless. After every dodge, they let out an exclamation in unison, and by the time all three attacks were dodged, they had let out three mighty shouts. The faces of the disciples of the Qingcheng sect were very gloomy to begin with, but now they looked all the more terrible to behold.

Duan Yu shouted out, “Wonderful, wonderful! Brother Zhu, whatever Miss Wang tells you to do, do it. I promise you won’t lose out by doing so!”

When Zhu Baokun executed this ‘Zhang Guolao Riding the Donkey Backwards’ technique, he had no idea what the results might be. His head was filled with a murky fog, and he felt that life and death were the same, and had long since cast away any hopes of living. He didn’t imagine that these two techniques from the Qingcheng sect and the Penglai sect could actually be executed together and allow him to evade those three vicious blows. The panic in his heart was far greater than even that of the members of the Qin family stronghold, or of the members of the Qingcheng sect.

He heard Wang Yuyan call out, “First execute ‘Han Xiangzi Embraces the Snow of the Blue Gate’, then execute the ‘Crooked Path Opens to the
 
Netherworld’!” The first technique belonged to the Penglai sect, and the second belonged to the Qingcheng sect. Without even thinking, Zhu Baokun drew a circle in front of him using his mace and his awl in a defensive sealing movement. Just at this moment, Sima Lin and elder Meng thrust at him with their awls. The three of them had actually executed their attacks at the same time, but in the eyes of outsiders, it seemed as though Zhu Baokun had completed his defensive movement first, while Sima Lin and elder Meng, despite seeing his defensive movement and finding no flaws in his defense, still insisted on using a large amount of energy in a useless attack. Their two awls connected with his mace, and with a clanging sound, the two awls were flicked aside. Zhu Baokun didn’t hesitate at all, and immediately stooped down and launched a backwards piercing strike with his awl.

Elder Jiang was just about to strike him from behind. He never imagined that Zhu Baokun’s awl would strike at him at this moment, from this angle. The ‘Crooked Path Opens to the Netherworld’ technique belonged to the Qingcheng sect, and elder Jiang knew it by heart. Using the attack in such a manner was totally antithetical to the basic principles of Qingcheng sect martial arts. If Zhu Baokun, while practicing martial arts, had normally executed the technique in such a way, elder Jiang would have burst into loud laughter. But by using such an unreasonable attack, elder Jiang was put into a position where he was about to commit suicide, as he was rushing forwards with his body in line with the tip of the awl. He knew that he was in a disastrous position, but couldn’t retract his charging force in time. With a puffing sound, the awl pierced into his waist. His body swayed, and he fell to the floor. Two disciples of the Qingcheng sect ran forwards, grabbed him, then carried him away.

Sima Lin cursed, “Zhu Baokun, you son of a turtle, you just hurt martial- uncle Jiang with your own hands. You can’t claim this is false as well, right?” Wang Yuyan said, “I told him to hurt elder Jiang. Please, stay your hands!” Sima Lin angrily said, “If you’re really so capable, tell him how to kill me!” Wang Yuyan smiled. “Mr. Zhu, first use the technique, ‘Iron- Crutched Li Passes Through a Tunnel Into the Front Yard Beneath the Moon,’ then use the technique, ‘Iron-Crutched Li Discusses the Way in a Jade Cavern.’”
 
Zhu Baokun replied, “Yes!” He thought to himself, “Within the Penglai sect’s martial arts techniques, there are only the stances, ‘Lu Chunyang Passes Through a Tunnel Into the Front Yard Beneath the Moon’ and ‘Han Zhongli Discusses the Way in a Jade Cavern.’ How did Iron-Crutched Li get mixed up into this? Most likely, this girl’s understanding of our school’s martial arts technique still has its limits, and she misspoke.” But at this critical moment, Sima Lin and elder Meng definitely would not give him the chance to ask her to clarify. All he could do was use his normal techniques and execute ‘Lu Chunyang Passes Through a Tunnel Into the Front Yard Beneath the Moon’.

This technique, ‘Passing Through a Tunnel Into the Front Yard Beneath the Moon’, was originally meant to be executed by taking a large step forward, and was possessed of natural grace and elegance, as though someone were flying through the air. But after his left leg received two serious wounds, when he took a large step he was limping. How could he appear to be like Lu Chunyang? He looked one hundred percent like Iron-Crutched Li. But even though he was forced to limp forwards, he still received a great advantage from this motion. The two awl strikes which Sima Lin had just struck out with hit nothing but the air. Next, when he executed the ‘Han Zhongli Discusses the Way in a Jade Cavern’ technique, his left leg was still limping and his entire body was inclined towards the left. He used the mace in his right hand as a fan, sweeping it across his body. Just at this moment, elder Meng’s head came into contact with his mace. With a clapping sound, the mace hit him right in the mouth. Ten of his teeth were immediately knocked out of his mouth and fell to the floor. It was so painful that he yelled and jumped up like a madman. He threw away his weapons, pressing both hands to his mouth as he sat down on the floor.

Sima Lin was secretly shocked, but for the moment didn’t know what to do. Should he continue to fight, or temporarily withdraw and gain his revenge another day? The two techniques which Wang Yuyan had instructed Zhu Baokun use were simply too miraculous. She had calculated that after those three earlier techniques, elder Meng would charge towards Zhu Baokun’s right hand side. When Zhu Baokun struck out with his hammer at that moment, it was perfectly aligned with elder Meng’s mouth. Since Zhu Baokun’s leg was crippled, ‘Han Zhongli Discusses the Way in a Jade
 
Cavern’ turned into ‘Iron-Crutched Li Discusses the Way in a Jade Cavern,’ and the mace struck out at an angle. If he hadn’t been crippled and the mace came out normally, it would have missed by a few inches. Her calculations were extremely ingenious and her predictions of the opponent’s actions were very accurate. It truly was shocking and astonishing.

Sima Lin thought to himself, “If I want to kill Zhu Baokun, this son of a turtle, first I’ll need to think of a way to shut this girl’s mouth and keep her from giving him advice.” But just as he was trying to think of a strategy by which he could harm Wang Yuyan, he heard her say, “Mr. Zhu, you are a disciple of the Penglai sect. For you to deceive your way into the Qingcheng sect in order to steal their martial arts is extremely inappropriate. However, I do believe that you were not the one who harmed the old master, Sima Wei. Based on your level of martial arts, even if you taught another expert the skills of the Qingcheng sect, he definitely would not be able to use the ‘Moon Destroying Awl’ technique to kill old master Sima Wei. But you are still to blame for stealing other people’s martial arts secrets. Quick, go apologize to sect-leader Sima, and we’ll consider this matter settled.”

Zhu Baokun thought that her words were just. In addition, she had saved his life, as he had only escaped from danger based on her advice. He could not disobey her commands, and immediately bowed deeply towards Sima Lin. He said, “Martial-brother sect-leader, it is your junior brother’s fault…”

Sima Lin leapt to one side, then fiercely cursed, “You bastard, you son of a turtle, you still have the face and the audacity to call me your martial- brother sect-leader?”

Wang Yuyan called out, “Quick! ‘Sauntering About the East China Sea!’

Zhu Baokun’s heart went cold. He immediately rose up and leapt three feet into the air. With a number of ‘chi’ sounds, over ten ‘Green Hornet’ nail projectiles passed underneath his feet, just barely missing him. If it hadn’t been for Wang Yuyan’s warning, as well as her specifically instructing him to use ‘Sauntering About the East China Sea’ technique rather than simply saying ‘Beware his hidden projectiles!’, his focus would have been on the opponent. How could he have guessed that Sima Lin would shoot out
 
‘Green Hornet’ nails from his sleeves? By then, it would have been too late to dodge.

The technique Sima Lin had just used was named ‘Heaven and Earth Within the Sleeves’. This was an ultimate skill which the Sima family passed down only to their children and not to the other disciples of the Qingcheng sect. This was a household rule, and not even the two elders knew this technique. Sima Wei did not pass this skill to Zhu Baokun because he had to obey the ancestral rules. This couldn’t be considered ‘hiding’ something from him. Zhu Baokun couldn’t have imagined that Sima Lin, without batting an eye, only needed to tuck his hands inside his sleeves and the hidden weaponry would erupt from the ‘Green Hornet’ nail mechanism hidden within. Wang Yuyan not only exposed this trick, but even instructed him on how to avoid the hidden weapons, using the Penglai sect’s technique, ‘Sauntering About the East China Sea’.

This never-fail trick which Sima Lin had just executed had actually been defeated, as though by ghosts or demons. Pointing towards Wang Yuyan, he cried out, “You aren’t a human, you’re a ghost, a ghost!”

All the teeth in elder Meng’s mouth had been knocked loose, and he had actually swallowed three of his teeth earlier. Although he was very old, he was very sharp-eyed, his hair was still dark, and his teeth were firm and hard. He prided himself on these things. Whenever he lost a tooth, he grieved deeply. Now, he loudly cried out in an indistinct voice, “Capture that girl, capture that girl!”

The rules of the Qingcheng sect were extremely rigid. Although elder Meng had a very high status, all actions had to be approved by the sect-leader first. Every disciple turned their gaze towards Sima Lin. If he said a single word of approval, they would throw themselves at Wang Yuyan.

Sima Lin said icily, “Miss Wang, how is it that you are so very familiar with the martial arts of our sect?” Wang Yuyan said, “I read them in a book. The techniques of the Qingcheng sect specialize in trickery, deception, viciousness, and ruthlessness. There aren’t a lot of changes or transformations in the techniques. They aren’t too hard to memorize.” Sima Lin said, “What book is this?” Wang Yuyan said, “Oh, it wasn’t a
 
particularly special book. There are two volumes of the tome which discusses the martial arts of the Qingcheng sect. The first volume is called
<<Nine Strikes of the ‘Qing’ Character>>. The second is called,
<<Eighteen Destroying Strokes of the ’Cheng’ Character>>. You are the sect-leader of the Qingcheng sect. Naturally, you’ve read them both.”

Sima Lin secretly cried, “How embarrassing!” When he was young and first starting to learn martial arts, his father said to him, “In our schools martial arts, there originally were the <<Nine Strikes of the ‘Qing’ Character>> and the <<Eighteen Destroying Strokes of the ‘Cheng’ Character>>. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, they were lost, leaving us with incomplete fragments, so that all these years, we have not been able to surpass the Penglai sect, and causing us to only be able to stalemate them. If anyone is able to uncover these two sets of martial arts in their entirety, not only would we be able to destroy the Penglai sect with ease, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for us to rule over the world.” Now, hearing her say that she read these books, he couldn’t help but feel a fire ignite in his chest. He said, “Might you be willing to lend this book to me to read, so that I might see what similarities this book has with the teachings of my sect?”

Before Wang Yuyan had a chance to reply, Yao Bodang began to laugh loudly. “Miss, don’t fall for this kid’s trick. His understanding of the martial arts of the Qingcheng sect is very shallow. He only knows three or four of the strikes of the ‘Qing’ character, and at most eleven or twelve of the ‘Cheng’ character’s destroying strokes. He wants to trick you into letting him check out your strange and wondrous martial arts treatises. No matter what, you can’t lend it to him!”

Sima Lin’s intentions were laid bare by Yao Bodang. Sinister lines of anger appeared on his young face. He said, “I personally wish to borrow some books from Miss Wang. What does this have to do with your Qin family?”

Yao Bodang laughed. “Naturally, this affects the Qin family stronghold. Miss Wang has memorized so many strange and exotic martial arts in the world. Whoever gets her will become matchless in the world. When I, Yao Bodang, see gold, silver, pearls, treasure, or beautiful women, I’ve always stretched my hand out and taken them. How can it be that I’ll let such a rare, once-in-a-lifetime treasure such as Miss Wang slip away from my
 
grasp? Brother Sima, if your Qingcheng sect wishes to borrow books from her, why don’t you come and ask me if I am willing to allow it? Hah hah, hah hah! Why don’t you take a guess? Do you think I will agree?”

These words Yao Bodang spoke were extremely rude and arrogant, but after Sima Lin and the two elders heard them, their hearts were swayed. They thought to themselves, “This young girl’s understanding of martial arts truly is boundless and unfathomable. Judging from her fragile, delicate appearance, it’d be impossible for her to personally fight and achieve victory. But she obviously has read many weird and remarkable martial arts manuals, and has understood how to apply what she has learned as well. If we can manage to take her back to the Qingcheng sect, we would be able to learn more than just the ‘Nine Strikes of the ‘Qing’ Character’ and the ‘Eighteen Destroying Strokes of the ‘Cheng’ Character’. It seems as though stronghold-master Yao has the same though. Looks like we need to prepare for a major battle.”

Yao Bodang continued, “Miss Wang, we originally came to cause trouble for the Murong family. From the looks of it, you seem to belong to the Murong family?”

Once Wang Yuyan heard the words, ‘you seem to belong to the Murong family’, she felt both bashful and happy. Her entire face blushed, and she swayed once before saying, “Young master Murong is my cousin. What business do you have with him? How has he offended you?”

Yao Bodang laughed loudly. “You are Murong Fu’s cousin? That couldn’t be better. The ancestor’s of Gusu’s Murong family owes my Yao family a million taels of gold and ten million taels of silver. It’s been centuries, and they owe us interest on the interest. How shall we settle this debt?” Wang Yuyan was astonished. “How can there be such a thing? My uncle’s family has always been rich. How can they owe your family money?” Yao Bodang replied, “Whether they owe us or not, what does a little girl like you know? I went looking for Murong Bo to get our money back. He agreed to pay us back, but he didn’t pay us back a single copper before his feet stiffened and he dropped dead. Since the old fellow died, the only option is to go find his son. Who would have imagined that upon his creditors arriving, Murong Fu
 
would actually hide himself away? The only choice I have is to find something to serve as a mortgage.”

Wang Yuyan replied, “My cousin is generous and straightforward. If he borrowed money from you, he would have repaid you long ago. Even if he didn’t borrow money from you, if you asked him for some gold and silver, he would not refuse you. What is this nonsense about him being afraid of you and hiding himself away?”

Yao Bodang wrinkled his forehead. He said, “How about this. It’s hard to fully debate matters like this in a short period of time. Tonight, why don’t you temporarily come north with me, Miss? You can stay at the Qin family stronghold for a year or so. I guarantee that the people of the Qin family stronghold won’t touch a hair on your head. The wife of Yao Bodang is a famous for being a jealous old tigress. I’ve always been extremely well- disciplined when it comes to dealing with other women. Put your mind at rest. There’s no need for you to pack either, we’ll leave immediately. After your cousin has coughed up the money to repay this debt, I will naturally escort you back to Gusu and allow you and your cousin to be married. The Qin family stronghold will give you a very lavish wedding gift, and I, Yao Bodang, will have to come and drink a wedding toast as well.” As he spoke, his lips split into another loud laugh.

These words were extremely boorish, and the last few words were all the more mocking, but in Wang Yuyan’s ears, they sounded very sweet and made her very happy. Smiling, she said, “You love to talk rubbish. Why would I go with you to the Qin family stronghold? If my uncle’s family really borrowed money from you, most likely it was something which happened a long time ago which my cousin doesn’t know about. All you have to do is produce evidence, and my cousin will definitely repay you.”

Yao Bodang’s original intention was to carry off Wang Yuyan and force her to reveal martial arts secrets. Everything he said earlier about a million taels of gold and ten million taels of silver were all nonsense. Now, hearing how innocent she was in taking his nonsensical story to be true, he said, “It is best if you come with me. The Qin family stronghold is a very fun place. We’ve raised a pack of black hunting panthers, giant hawks, and deer. Everything is new and exciting. I guarantee that you won’t be bored of the
 
place within half a year. As soon as your cousin receives the news, he will immediately come there to find you. Even if he doesn’t pay me back, I guess I can just forget about it and let the two of you go back to Gusu. What do you think?” These words he spoke caused Wang Yuyan’s heart to actually be moved.

Sima Lin, seeing her gaze wander and a beaming expression on her face, thought to himself, “If she actually agrees to go to the Qin family stronghold, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to prevent her from doing so afterwards.” Without waiting for her to respond, he immediately interjected, “Yunnan is a place of bitter cold, located beyond the Great Wall. Miss Wang, how could a delicate and tender Jiangnan beauty such as you suffer such torment? My hometown of Chengdu is a city of legendary beauty, known as the City of Silk and Satin. The silk which we produce is famous world-wide. Moreover, we have beautiful scenery and ten times as many diverting things to do as Yunnan. Miss Wang, in accordance with your beauty, you should come to Chengdu and buy some silk dresses. It would be like a red rose on a field of green plants, each multiplying the beauty of the other. Young master Murong is both handsome and talented. Naturally, he would like it if you dressed up beautifully for him.” Since he was now certain that his father had been harmed by the people from the Penglai sect, he held no more grudges against the Murong family.

Yao Bodang shouted, “Farting, farting, your dog of a mother is letting out a smelly fart! Can it be that the city of Suzhou lacks silks or brocade? Open your dog eyes and take a close look at these three beautiful girls. Which of them don’t know how to dress up?” Sima Lin let out a cold snort. “It stinks in here. It really does stink.” Yao Bodang angrily shouted, “Are you talking about me?” Sima Lin said, “I wouldn’t dare! I’m saying that a filthy dog naturally lets out nauseating farts.”

With a swishing sound, Yao Bodang drew the short-hilted broadsword from his and called out, “Sima Lin, my Qin family stronghold, compared to your Qingcheng sect, is probably about on par and matched with each other. But if the Qin family stronghold unites with the Penglai sect, we’d probably be able to wipe out your Qingcheng sect. Am I right?”
 
The look on Sima Lin’s face changed. He thought to himself, “His words are not false. After the passing of my father, the strength of my Qingcheng sect is already diminished. In addition, this traitor, Zhu Baokun, has stolen our secret martial arts techniques. If the Qin family stronghold becomes our enemies as well, then things will become very difficult. As the saying goes, ‘he who strikes first becomes the master, he who strikes second suffers disaster’. Goddamnit, the only option we have today is to launch a surprise attack on them.” He immediately said lightly, “What do you propose?”

Seeing him fold his hands into his sleeves, Yao Bodang knew that could shoot forth his insidious hidden weapons at any point in time. Instantly, he became all the more cautious. He said, “I am inviting Miss Wang to stay in Yunnan as my guest until young master Murong comes to escort her back home. But you have chosen to meddle in my business and refuse to accept this. Am I right?”

Sima Lin said, “Your home, Yunnan, is too crappy a place for Miss Wang. I want to invite Miss Wang to come to Chengdu to enjoy herself.” Yao Bodang said, “Fine. Let us determine victory or defeat through battle. Whoever wins will be Miss Wang’s host.” Sima Lin said, “Precisely so. After all, even if the losers want to be Miss Wang’s host, they can’t possibly invite her down to the underworld.” The meaning of his words was that this wasn’t a competition of martial arts, but a life-and-death struggle which would determine who would live and who would be destroyed. Yao Bodang loudly laughed, then shouted, “The life that I, Yao Bodang have lived, has always been one of lapping blood from the tip of my broadsword. Sect- leader Sima, you want to use the word ‘death’ to frighten me? I have not taken it to heart in the slightest!” Sima Lin said, “How shall we compete? Shall the two of us duel with each other, or shall everyone just charge at the other side?”

Yao Bodang said, “Why don’t you just let this old fellow that I am play with you a bit…” Sima Lin suddenly turned his head towards the left, a look of utmost astonishment on his face, as though something bizarre had just happened. Yao Bodang’s gaze had been on him this entire time, fearing that he was planning some sort of trick. But now, he couldn’t help but turn his gaze to the left as well. Suddenly, three sneering sounds could be heard.
 
Snapping his attention back, he saw that the hidden weapons were now less than a meter away from his chest. He felt sourness in his heart, knowing that he was in deep trouble….

Just at this critical, lethal moment, something flashed by his chest. With a clattering sound, it knocked aside all of the poisoned nails. The poison nails were shot out extremely quickly, and despite Yao Bodang being focused upon his opponent, he still would have been unable to avoid them. But the object which knocked aside the poison nails was several times faster than the nails. It was sent out later, but arrived earlier, knocking the poisoned nails aside. As to what exactly was tossed out, no one had seen clearly.

Wang Yuyan cried out in a happy voice, “Is it Uncle Bao who’s arrived?”

An extremely strange voice replied, “Tis not so, tis not so. It isn’t Uncle Bao who’s arrived.”

Wang Yuyan laughed, “You claim not to be Uncle Bao? Even before you yourself appear, your ‘tis not so, tis not so’ comments arrive!” That voice replied, “Tis not so, tis not so! I am not Uncle Bao!” Wang Yuyan laughed. “Tis not so, tis not so? Then who are you?” That voice replied, “The kinsmen of the Murong family call me ‘third brother’, but you addressed me as me ‘uncle’. Tis not so, tis not so! You addressed me incorrectly!” Wang Yuyan’s body swayed with laughter as she pressed her hands to her face. “You still aren’t coming out?”

The voice did not reply. After a while, Wang Yuyan saw that there wasn’t a single bit of movement, and cried out, “Hey, come out! Come help us shoo out these random people away!” But still, no sound could be heard. Clearly, the person surnamed Bao had left long ago. Wang Yuyan felt a bit disappointed, and asked Ah Zhu, “Where did he go?” Ah Zhu smiled. “Third brother Bao always had this sort of weird temper. Earlier, miss, you said, ‘You still aren’t coming out?’ Originally, he was planning to come out, but after hearing you say that, he would do the opposite to make things awkward for you. I’m afraid he might not come back at all today.”

Earlier, there was a 99% chance of death for Yao Bodang, if it hadn’t been for the help of the man surnamed Bao. Naturally, he felt indebted to him.
 
Originally, he held no grudges against the Qingcheng sect and felt no enmity towards them, but now, it was unavoidable that he would want to kill Sima Lin. Brandishing his short-handled broadsword, he shouted, “Shameless scoundrel! You secretly shoot out hidden weapons. Do you think you can hurt this old man with them?” With a sweep of his broadsword, he chopped towards the crown of Sima Lin’s head. Sima Lin’s hands left his sleeves. In his left hand he wielded a steel awl, and in his right hand he wielded a steel mace, and his two weapons began to tussle against Yao Bodang’s broadsword.

Yao Bodang possessed great physical strength, and his sabre techniques were ruthless and vicious. By contrast, Sima Lin specialized in using small, quick weapons and clever techniques. This was the first time a member of the Qin family stronghold and a member of Qingcheng sect had fought against each other. With each of them being the leader of their respective organization, this was more than just a life-and-death battle; this was something which would determine the prestige or downfall of their sects. Both of them were forced to be very careful, not daring to slacken off in the slightest.

After seventy or so stances had been exchanged, Wang Yuyan suddenly said to Ah Zhu, “Check it out. It seems as though the Qin family stronghold is missing more than just five strokes from their ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate’ sabre style. Why isn’t leader Yao using the techniques ‘Carrying the Son Through the River’ or ‘Valuing Integrity, Guarding Righteousness’?” Ah Zhu didn’t know anything about the ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate’ sabre style, and found it difficult to respond.

In the middle of this fierce battle, these four sentences drifted into Yao Bodang’s ears. He was greatly shocked. “This little lady’s eyesight is incredible. It originally was the case that only fifty nine strokes remained of the sixty four strokes of the ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate’ sabre style. But when my master learned this style, he was not intelligent enough to learn those two stances, ‘Carrying the Son Through the River’ and ‘Valuing Integrity, Guarding Righteousness.’ Thus, those two stances were lost, leaving behind only fifty seven strokes. In order to save face, I slightly
 
modified the alternate forms of two other strokes, so as to keep the number of stances at fifty nine. She actually saw through it.”

As it were, the people of the mountain strongholds were a motley, disorderly array. Anyone could mingle together with them, but when Yunnan’s Qin family led raids to loot and plunder, the leaders were always disciples of the ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate’ school. The experts of other sects, knowing that the members of the Qin family stockade would not treat them as one of their own, would not go and try to join forces with them. Yao Bodang’s master came from the Qin family. He was not only the chief of the Qin family stockade, but also the leader of the sect-leader of the ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate’ school of martial arts. His own martial arts level, as well as that of his son, Qin Boqi, was very mediocre. Thus, he gave his own rank and station to that of his head apprentice, Yao Bodang. Several months ago, while in Shaanxi, Qin Boqi was killed by a sabre technique which utilized three horizontal chops and a vertical chop, known as the “Four Knife-Strokes of the ‘Wang’ Character” [The ‘Wang’ character, meaning ‘King’, is written in Chinese with three parallel horizontal strokes and a vertical stroke which bisects all three]. This was the hardest and most fierce technique within the ‘Five Tigers Shattering the Gate’ sabre style. Everyone believed that the killer must have been Gusu’s Murong family. Yao Bodang, remembering his master’s benevolence, marshaled the many experts of his stronghold and came to Suzhou to seek revenge on behalf of his martial-brother. Unexpectedly, he almost lost his life to the poison nails of the Qingcheng sect before he even had a chance to meet with the master of the place, and his life was actually rescued by one of Murong Fu’s friends.

Yao Bodang hated Sima Lin’s vile, treacherous techniques techniques. Now, hearing Wang Yuyan expose the flaws in his martial arts, he felt very ashamed. He wanted to defeat Sima Lin as quickly as possible, so as to maintain his own dignity and prestige within his sect. But this anxiousness to achieve a quick victory made him rash and impatient. He executed several risky attacks, all of which were dodged by Sima Lin. Letting out a loud roar, Yao Bodang brandished his sabre in a mighty downwards chop. Just as Sima Lin leapt to the left, Yao Bodang suddenly kicked out with his right leg. Sima Lin’s body was in midair, leaving him with no place to
 
dodge. Instead, he delivered a powerful thrust towards Yao Bodang’s foot using the steel awl in his left hand, intending to force Yao Bodang to retract this kick. Although Yao Bodang indeed did not follow through with his right kick, his left leg suddenly struck out as well in a tandem strike, attacking the left side of Sima Lin’s waist.

Sima Lin struck diagonally with his steel mace. With a clapping sound, by chance it managed to strike Yao Bodang precisely on the bridge of his nose. Blood immediately began to flow from the wound. But at the same time, Yao Bodang’s left leg struck Sima Lin on his waist.

Unfortunately, since Yao Bodang was struck first, he was startled, causing the power of this kick to have less than 20% of his normal force. Although Sima Lin was hit, he suffered no ill effects at all, aside from some temporary pain. And so, in the twinkling of an eye, victory and defeat had been determined. Letting out a tiger’s roar, Yao Bodang charged forward with his sabre. But feeling pain so severe that it seemed his head had been split in twain, Yao Bodang’s footsteps became staggered and his footing became unsure.

Sima Lin’s winning of this battle was highly due to luck. He knew that if he spared Yao Bodang’s life, Yao Bodang would cause him no end of trouble in the future. Immediately, he made up his mind to be ruthless. The mace in his hand flashed through the air in an attack. Just as Yao Bodang brandished his knife to defend, the steel awl in Sima Lin’s left hand pierced directly towards Yao Bodang’s heart.

The deputy-leader of the Qin family stronghold, seeing that things were going south, let out a loud cry then threw his short-hilted broadsword directly towards Sima Lin. In the blink of an eye, the room was filled with the sound of wind blowing as over ten short-hilted broadswords flew through the air towards Sima Lin.

As it so happened, within the martial arts of the Qin family stronghold, there was a consummate technique which involved throwing their broadswords at an opponent. Each broadsword weighed roughly between three and five kilograms. When thrown at an opponent, they carried an extremely powerful force. Now, with over ten broadswords flying towards
 
him, Sima Lin found himself in a hopeless situation, neither able to deflect them nor able to dodge them.

Just when it seemed as though he was about to fall prey to the flying broadswords, a shadow of a man appeared in the room, flying towards Sima Lin’s side. Stretching out his hands, the shadow plunged them into the midst of those flying broadswords, snatching and grabbing at them until he had seized all of them. He clasped them to his chest with his left hand, then let out a long laugh, seating himself on a chair in the middle of the room. Following this, he hurled all of the broadswords down to his feet with a clanking sound.

Everyone was struck dumb with astonishment. The man seated in the chair was middle-aged, thin and gaunt, extremely tall, and wore a long, grey gown. There was a stubborn, perverse look to his features. Having seen his skill in seizing the broadswords, everyone here was both fearful and awed. Nobody dared to say a word.

Only Duan Yu was laughing. “This brother’s movements are really quick! I imagine your martial arts is at a very high level. Sir, might I ask what your undoubtedly famous name is?”

Before that man had a chance to reply, Wang Yuyan rushed forward and laughed, “Third brother Bao! I thought you weren’t going to come back, and was starting to worry. Wonderful, wonderful!”

Duan Yu said, “Oh, so it’s Mr. Bao.” Mr. Bao tossed him a sideways glance, then icily said, “Boy, who are you? How dare you prattle on and on in front of me?” Duan Yu replied, “My name is Duan Yu. I’ve never studied martial arts and am not a warrior, but during my time stumbling about the jianghu, I’ve somehow managed to avoid death up ‘til now. It’s really rather remarkable.” Mr. Bao turned and stared at him, not knowing how to respond.

Sima Lin stepped forward. Bowing deeply, he said, “Sima Lin of the Qingcheng sect greatly appreciates your assistance. I will never dare to forget your great benevolence and kindness. Mr. Bao, might I ask what your full name is, so that I might forever remember it in my heart?” Mr. Bao’s
 
eyes flashed, and he suddenly struck out with a kick, knocking Sima Lin backwards into a somersault. He shouted, “You think you are worthy of knowing my name? I didn’t have any intention to save you. It’s just that this is the home of sister Ah Zhu. If they dismembered you, you little brat, into many pieces here, it would’ve dirtied this place, the ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds.’ ** off, ** off now!”

When Sima Lin saw him kick out, he wanted to dodge, but could not do so in time. The fall he took was very humiliating. After hearing Mr. Bao speak such bullying words, according to the rules of the jianghu, if Sima Lin didn’t immediately attack and go all out, he would at least have to arrange a future date for a duel. No matter what, he could not allow himself to be humiliated so badly in front of everyone without even a response. He gathered himself, then said, “Mr. Bao, today I, Sima Lin, was besieged by many enemies and almost lost my life. I am indebted to you for your saving of my life. I, Sima Lin, am a person who can distinguish between benevolence and enmity. I will repay benevolence with benevolence, and enmity with vengeance. Please, sir! Your move.” Sima Lin knew all too well that no matter how long or how arduously he trained, he wouldn’t be able to achieve Mr. Bao’s level of martial arts. Thus, he could only use the eight words, ‘repay benevolence with benevolence, and enmity with vengeance’, to indistinctly put up a muddled response.

Mr. Bao wasn’t even paying attention to what he was saying. He turned towards Wang Yuyan and said, “Miss Wang, how is it that the madame allowed you to come here?” Wang Yuyan laughed, “Why don’t you guess how this happened?” Mr. Bao mumbled to himself, “This is a bit hard to guess.”

Sima Lin, seeing how Mr. Bao totally ignored his display in favor of talking to Wang Yuyan, felt even more belittled and humiliated than when he had been kicked earlier. He couldn’t help but feel hatred towards Mr. Bao. He no longer cared at all about the benevolence which Mr. Bao had shown him earlier. With a wave of his left hand, he led all the disciples of the Qingcheng sect away.

Mr. Bao said, “Hold. Stay here and listen to my instructions.” Sima Lin turned around. “What?” Mr. Bao said, “I heard that you came to Gusu in
 
order to avenge the death of your father. You came looking for the wrong person. Your father, Sima Wei, was not killed by young master Murong.” Sima Lin said, “Why do you say that? Mr. Bao, how do you know this?”

Mr. Bao angrily replied, “If I say that young master Murong didn’t kill him, then naturally young master Murong didn’t kill him. Even if he really killed him, if I say he didn’t, then the killing doesn’t count. Can it be that my words hold no weight?”

Sima Lin thought to himself, “These words of his are really far too peremptory.” He replied, “I cannot exist in the same world with a man who murdered my father. Although my skill in martial arts is low, I must avenge his death, even if it results in my body being smashed into powder. Mr. Bao, if you know who murdered him, please inform me.” Mr. Bao loudly laughed. “Your father isn’t my son. Why should I know or care as to who killed him? I’m telling you that young master Murong didn’t kill him, but it seems you won’t believe me. Fine! Let’s just say I killed him. If you want to avenge him, come kill me!” Sima Lin’s face turned ashen pale. “How can the murder of my father be treated as a game? Mr. Bao, I know that I am not your match. If you want to kill me, go ahead, but you are not allowed to humiliate me thusly!” Mr. Bao laughed, “I refuse to kill you, but insist on humiliating you. What are you going to do about it?”

Sima Lin was so furious, his chest was about to explode. However, he still did not have the courage to rush forward and stake his life in an all-out- attack. He was caught between a rock and a hard place, with neither advancing nor retreating being a good option. He felt extremely awkward.

Mr. Bao laughed, “Your father’s level of martial arts is too trifling. Why would brother Murong bother to personally deal with him? Young master Murong’s level of martial arts is ten times higher than mine. Think about it. Is your father fit to die underneath his hands?”

Before Sima Lin had a chance to respond, Zhu Baokun drew out his weapons then loudly shouted, “Mr. Bao, Mr. Sima Wei was my instructor and master. I will not allow you to besmirch his reputation, after his death!” Mr. Bao laughed, “You are a spy who snuck into the Qingcheng sect to steal their martial arts secrets. What does this have to do with you?” Zhu Baokun
 
loudly shouted, “Master Sima Wei treated me with the utmost kindness and decency. I, Zhu Baokun, am ashamed that I was not able to repay him. Today, in dying to protect my departed master’s reputation, I will slightly atone for my sins of deceiving him! Mr. Bao, apologize immediately to sect-master Sima Wei!”

Mr. Bao laughed. “I, Bao the Third, have never admitted to making any mistakes in my life, and have never apologized. Even when I know I am in the wrong, I’ll argue and debate until my dying breath. Even when he was alive, Sima Wei didn’t have much of a reputation. Now that he’s dead, his reputation is even worse. This sort of person should have been killed long ago! It’s great that he was killed! Great!”

Zhu Baokun angrily roared, “Draw your weapons!”

Mr. Bao laughed, “Sima Wei’s son and disciples are a bunch of worthless trash. Aside from using hidden weapons to harm others, what else are they good for?”

Zhu Baokun shouted, “On guard!” He struck out with the technique, “Ascending to Heaven, Descending Past Hell”, a simultaneous attack using both the steel awl in his left hand and the steel mace in his right.

Mr. Bao didn’t even leave the chair. He waved the sleeve of his left arm, and a powerful gust of wind struck outwards. As Zhu Baokun hurriedly dodged, Mr. Bao kicked with his right leg, sending Zhu Baokun collapsing to the floor. Mr. Bao kicked out again with his right leg, striking him directly on the buttocks and knocking him out of the room.

Zhu Baokun flew through the air, landing on his shoulder and his head. He immediately flipped to his feet, then hobbled and staggered towards Mr. Bao, once more stabbing at Mr. Bao’s chest with the steel awl. Mr. Bao seized him by the wrist. With burst of force, he threw him up into the air. With a crashing sound, Zhu Baokun slammed into the ceiling. Falling to the floor, Zhu Baokun flipped to his feet, then rushed towards Mr. Bao a third time. Frowning, Mr. Bao said, “You really don’t know what’s good for you. What, you think I won’t kill you?” Zhu Baokun cried out, “It’s best if you killed me…”
 
Mr. Bao struck out with both arms, capturing both of Zhu Baokun’s hands. With a cracking sound, he shattered both of Zhu Baokun’s arms, also causing Zhu Baokun’s awl to pierce into his own left side, while his mace hit his right shoulder. Blood immediately began to flow from his new wounds. These wounds he sustained were grievous. Although he still wanted to fight, he no longer had the ability to.

Everyone in the Qingcheng sect stared at each other, uncertain as to whether or not they should go forward and assist. Most of their hatred towards him had dissipated upon seeing Zhu Baokun truly be willing to sacrifice his own life in order to protect his master’s reputation.

This entire time, Ah Zhu was silently watching from the sidelines. Now, she suddenly said, “Master Sima, Master Zhu, if Gusu’s Murong family truly did kill Sima Wei, how could we leave the rest of you alive? If third brother Bao truly wanted to exterminate all of you, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be too hard for him to accomplish. At the very least, he wouldn’t have saved master Sima’s life, and miss Wang wouldn’t have tried so hard to help master Zhu. I suggest that all of you go back home and launch a careful investigation as to who really killed Mr. Sima.”

Sima Lin felt that these words were extremely reasonable. He wanted to say a few words in response, but Mr. Bao angrily said, “These is sister Ah Zhu’s place. The hostess has asked you to leave this place. Why haven’t you scrammed yet?!” Sima Lin replied, “Fine! We’ll meet again someday.” With a slight nod, he left. Zhu Baokun and the others followed him out.

Yao Bodang saw that Mr. Bao’s martial arts was very high, and that he had a very weird temperament. He very much wanted to make the acquaintance of this incredible wulin figure, and also wanted to convince Wang Yuyan to divulge more martial arts secrets to him. He immediately rose to his feet and was about to speak, when Mr. Bao loudly said, “Yao Bodang, I’m telling you right now that your worthless martial-brother, Qin Boqi, wouldn’t be worthy of being chopped at a single time by young master Murong, even if he practiced martial arts for thirty more years. And even if he practiced for one or two hundred years, young master Murong would disdain chopping at him four times. I won’t allow you to say a single word more. Roll the ** out, now!” Shocked, Yao Bodang’s face turned ghastly
 
pale. He tightly gripped the hilt of his broadsword. Mr. Bao said, “Your level of martial arts is way too pitiful. Don’t display your meager skills in front of me. If I tell you to roll the ** out, you should roll the ** out. There’s no room for you to say anything else.”

Earlier, the bandits of the Qin family stronghold had thrown their broadswords towards Sima Lin. These broadswords were intercepted by Mr. Bao, and were now piled around his feet. As they watched him humiliate Yao Bodang, all of them wanted to attack and kill him. But unarmed and without their weapons, they were like toothless, fangless tigers.

Mr. Bao let out a loud laugh, then struck out with a series of kicks. Each kick landed on the handle of a broadsword, sending all of the ten-plus broadswords slowly flying towards the bandits of the Qin family stronghold. Each of them caught the broadswords, but as they did so, they were shocked. It had been extremely easy for them to catch their weapons. Clearly, Mr. Bao was intentionally returning their weapons to them. They couldn’t help but realize that for Mr. Bao to make it so easy for them to catch their weapons, he could have easily made it extremely difficult for them to do so as well. It wouldn’t have been hard at all for him to spin the broadswords around and pierce their bodies with them. Each of them wielded their weapons in their hands, but all of them looked extremely miserable.

Mr. Bao said, “Yao Bodang, are you going to roll the ** out or not?” Yao Bodang laughed bitterly. “Mr. Bao, you have saved my life today. The only reason I am alive is because of your kindness. If you have any orders for me, I will carry them out. I bid you farewell.” As he spoke, he bowed politely, then waved with his left hand. “Everyone, let’s go!”

Mr. Bao said, “I told you to roll the ** out, not walk out!” Yao Bodang was stunned. “I don’t understand what you mean.” Mr. Bao said, “Rolling means you roll. Are you going to roll or not?” Yao Bodang thought to himself that this person was extremely strange, clearly insane and unwilling to listen to reason. Paying no more attention to him, he hurriedly walked towards the main doorway.
 
Mr. Bao shouted, “Tis not so, tis not so! This is striding, this is jogging, this is walking, this is running. No matter how you spin it, it isn’t rolling!” With a flicker of his shadow, he appeared behind Yao Bodang. His left hand flashed out, seizing Yao Bodang by the back of his neck. Yao Bodang tried to defend with his right elbow, but Mr. Bao lifted him up with his left hand, raising him above the floor. Thus, Yao Bodang’s right elbow missed him.

Next, Mr. Bao stretched out his right hand, grabbing Yao Bodang by the buttocks. He loudly shouted, “This is the home of my sister, Ah Zhu! It’s not the type of place where you can come and go as you please! Roll your mother****in’ * out!” His hands loosened, rolling Yao Bodang’s huge form out of the building with a throwing motion.

Yao Bodang’s acupoints had been sealed by him, rendering Yao Bodang unable to stand up. All he could do was helplessly roll on the floor like a giant log until his body exited the building. Fortunately, the doorway was very wide and his head did not collide with anything. The bandits of the Qin family let out a cry of alarm, and rushed out afterwards in unison, stopping his roll. Yao Bodang said, “Quick, let’s go, let’s go!” All of them ran away as though a swarm of bees were after them.

Mr. Bao looked at Duan Yu up and down, but wasn’t able to figure out what sort of fellow he was. He asked Wang Yuyan, “What type of person is he? Should I roll him out too?”

Wang Yuyan said, “Ah Zhu, Ah Bi, and I were seized by Granny Yan and were in an extremely dangerous situation. It was our great fortune that young gentleman Duan rescued us. In addition, he knows the circumstances of how elder Xuanbei was killed by someone using a blow from the ‘Veda Sceptre’ technique. We can ask him about it.” Mr. Bao said, “So what you’re saying is that you’d like for him to stay?” Wang Yuyan said, “Correct.” Mr. Bao grinned. “You aren’t afraid that brother Murong will drink vinegar?” [Drinking vinegar means getting jealous] Wang Yuyan’s eyes widened. “What do you mean, drink vinegar?” Mr. Bao pointed towards Duan Yu. “This fellow is glib and sly. Don’t fall for his tricks!” Wang Yuyan still didn’t understand. “What tricks did I fall for? Are you saying he’ll make up false stories about Shaolin? I don’t think that’s the case.”
 
Seeing how innocent and naïve she was, Mr. Bao felt it was inappropriate to say anything else. He let out three cold snickers towards Duan Yu, then said, “I heard that monk Xuanbei was killed in Dali by someone using a blow from the ‘Veda Sceptre’ technique, and that a bunch of stupid
*******s are claiming someone from our Murong family did this. What exactly is going on? Tell me the truth.” Duan Yu felt very unhappy. He coldly replied, “What do you think you’re doing, interrogating a prisoner? If I don’t tell you, what will you do, beat me up?” Mr. Bao was startled, but instead of being angry, he laughed while mumbling repeatedly, “Bold youngster, bold youngster!” He suddenly walked forwards, then seized Duan Yu by his upper arm. He need to only use the slightest bit of force for Duan Yu to feel pain deep within his bones. Duan Yu loudly cried out, “Hey, what are you doing?”

Mr. Bao replied, “I am interrogating a prisoner and cruelly beating him!” Duan Yu let him do what he want, pretending as though the arm no longer belonged to him. Smiling, Duan Yu said, “Go ahead and beat me up. I won’t pay attention to you.” Mr. Bao added more force to his grip, causing Duan Yu’s bones to groan in protest, as though they were about to snap. Duan Yu expended enormous effort to resist the pain, continuing to ignore him.

Ah Bi hurriedly said, “Third brother, this young gentleman is extremely stubborn and has an extremely haughty temper when roused. He is our savior and benefactor. Don’t hurt him.” Mr. Bao nodded. “Wonderful, wonderful. Stubborn and has a haughty temper, eh? That’s a very appealing trait to me, Mr. ‘Tis not so, tis not so!’” As he spoke, he slowly released Duan Yu’s arm.

Ah Zhu laughed. “Speaking of appealing, everyone must be hungry. Old Gu! Old Gu!” Raising her voice, she shouted. Old Gu stuck his head in from a side door. Seeing that Yao Bodang, Sima Lin, and the others had left, he was overjoyed and happily skipped inside. Ah Zhu said, “First, go brush your teeth twice, wash your face twice, then wash your hands three times. Lastly, prepare a few exquisite dishes for us. If they’re even slightly dirty, Mr. Bao will make things rough for you!” Old Gu grinned. “I guarantee they’ll be clean. I guarantee it!”
 
The servants of the ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’ prepared a banquet for them within a flowery pavilion. Ah Zhu arranged for Mr. Bao to take the head seat, with Duan Yu seated next to him and Wang Yuyan taking the third seat. Ah Zhu and Ah Bi took the seats on the right hand side, accompanying them. Not waiting for the tea to be served, Wang Yuyan said, “Third brother, he…he…”

Mr. Bao tossed a glance at Duan Yu, then said, “Miss Wang, there’s an outsider seated here. There are some things we cannot talk about. Moreover, the fellow here is a sly, glib, pretty-faced playboy. I don’t trust him at all…”

Duan Yu’s temper rose as he listened. He suddenly rose to his feet, intending to immediately leave.

Ah Bi hurriedly said, “Young gentleman Duan, don’t be angry. Mr. Bao always has had this sort of attitude. His formal name is Bao Butong [Butong means different, or contrary]. He insists on arguing or offending people for a bit. Only then can he swallow his food. The day he doesn’t offend people with his words is the day the sun rises from the west. Please sit.”

Duan Yu glanced at Wang Yuyan. It seemed to him as though she wanted him to sit as well. Although he couldn’t be certain of it, in the end, he wasn’t willing to give up the chance to enjoy a banquet with her. He once more sat down, then said, “Mr. Bao says that I am a pretty-faced playboy, and that I thus am very untrustworthy. I imagine, then, that your young master Murong’s appearance is similar to that of Mr. Bao’s?”

Bao Butong laughed loudly. “Excellent question! Our young master is much more handsome than you, brother Duan…” Wang Yuyan, hearing these words, immediately broke out into a radiant smile which seemed to come from the depths of her heart. Bao Butong continued, “Our young master has a vigorous, heroic spirit to his appearance. Although he is very handsome, it’s totally different from your useless pretty-face, brother Duan. Totally different! As for my humble self, I am heroic but not handsome. I have an average degree of heroism and vitality, but an extraordinary amount of ugliness. Thus, I can be described as an ugly hero.” Duan Yu and the others all broke out into laughter.
 
After drinking a cup of wine, Bao Butong said, “The young master sent me to Fujian to handle some business. He wanted me to secretly help Shaolin out in an important matter. As to what that matter is, we’ll have to wait until brother Duan leaves before I can tell you. Since we are trying to become friends with the Shaolin sect, there is no way that we would kill one of their monks. In addition, the young master has never been to Dali. Although Gusu’s Murong family is very powerful, I’m afraid we haven’t yet mastered the ability to strike a person from thousands of miles away using the blows of the ‘Veda Sceptre’ technique.”

Duan Yu nodded. “Brother Bao’s words are very reasonable.”

Bao Butong shook his head. “Tis not so, tis not so!” Duan Yu was startled. He thought to himself, “I said your words are reasonable. Why would you disagree?” Bao Butong said, “It’s not that my words are reasonable. This is just how the truth of the matter is. Brother Duan, when you say that my words are reasonable, you leave open the implication that I am simply good at talking, and things aren’t actually the way I say they are. Thus, these words of yours are really incorrect!” Smiling, Duan Yu did not reply, deciding there was no need to argue with him.

Bao Butong said, “Yesterday, I returned to Suzhou. I ran across fourth brother Feng, and the two of us pondered over the situation for a bit. It must be that some son of a turtle has a grudge against Gusu’s Murong family and is secretly harming others with the intention of having others making out the bill for these crimes to Gusu’s Murong family. To tell you the truth, originally, this wasn’t a big deal at all. What can be better than a nice big brawl?” Ah Zhu laughed. “Fourth brother must have been exceedingly happy. He can’t ask for anything better than a fight!” Bao Butong shook his head. “Tis not so, tis not so! How can you say that he can’t ask for anything better than a fight? He always asks for fights! Wherever he goes, he likes to get into fights!”

Seeing how he rebutted Ah Zhu thusly, only now did Duan Yu believe Ah Bi’s earlier words. This person really did take a perverse joy in arguing against others.
 
Wang Yuyan said, “Did you and fourth brother Feng figure anything out? Who is secretly causing trouble for us?” Bao Butong replied, “Number one, it can’t be Shaolin. Number two, it can’t be the Beggar’s Sect. Their vice- chief, Ma Dayuan, was killed by someone using the ‘Throat Locking Technique’. Ma Dayuan became famous because of his skill in the ‘Throat Locking Technique’. It’s no big deal for someone to kill Ma Dayuan, but for someone to use the ‘Throat Locking Technique’ to kill him is clearly trouble for Gusu’s Murong family. Duan Yu nodded. Bao Butong said, “Brother Duan, you’ve been repeatedly nodding. You must be secretly saying to yourself that these words of mine are very reasonable.”

Duan Yu replied, “Tis not so, tis not so! First, I only nodded once, and was not repeatedly nodding. Secondly, it’s not that your words are reasonable; this is simply how the truth of the matter is.”

Bao Butong laughed loudly. “This is the technique known as, ‘using an opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent.’ Do you want to place yourself in service to Gusu’s Murong family? What’s the meaning behind this? Have you taken a fancy to my little sister, Ah Bi?”

Ah Bi’s face immediately turned red. Annoyed, she said, “Third brother, you’re talking wildly again. I haven’t offended you.” Bao Butong replied, “Tis not so, tis not so. If he’s taken a fancy to you, it’s because of your gentleness and adorableness. I said those words precisely because you haven’t offended me. If you had offended me, I would’ve reversed it and said that you took a fancy to this pretty boy, but this pretty boy didn’t take a fancy to you.” Ah Bi was even more embarrassed. Ah Zhu said, “Third brother, stop bullying sister Ah Bi. If you keep on bullying her, then next time I’m going to bully your Liangliang.”

Bao Butong laughed loudly. “My daughter’s name is Bao Buliang. For you to call her Liangliang is flattering her, not bullying her. Sister Ah Bi, I don’t dare bully you anymore.” It seemed as though he was actually a bit fearful when others threatened to bully his daughter. [The character ‘Liang’ means ‘beautiful’; thus, her given name, ‘Buliang’, means ‘not beautiful’. Ah Zhu referred to her as ‘Liangliang’ rather than by her given name, ‘Buliang’, hence Bao Butong’s claim that Ah Zhu was ‘flattering’ his daughter.]
 
Turning his head towards Wang Yuyan, he said, “Sooner or later, we’ll figure out which son of a turtle is causing problems for us. Fourth brother Feng also just came back. He was in Jiangxi. I don’t know the details of what he was doing too much. We two brothers went to pay a visit to the ‘Manor of Blue Clouds’. Brother Deng’s wife informed us that she received the news that a large group of experts from the Beggar’s Clan had arrived in Jiangnan, most likely to cause us trouble. Fourth brother immediately wanted to go and fight with them. It was tough for her to convince him not to go.” Ah Zhu smiled. “She’s really talented. She actually managed to restrain fourth brother and convince him not to go fight.” Bao Butong said, “Tis not so, tis not so. It’s not that she’s talented. Rather, her words were very reasonable. She said, ‘We need to place primary importance on carrying out the young master’s grand mission. We cannot run around cultivating powerful foes.’”

As he said this, Wang Yuyan, Ah Zhu, and Ah Bi all grew solemn as they exchanged a few looks.

Duan Yu pretended not to notice. Extending his chopsticks, he picked up a piece of stir-fried chicken, put it in his mouth, then said, “Old Gu’s techniques really aren’t that bad, but compared to sisters Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, he’s still a ways off.” Ah Bi smiled. “Old Gu is inferior to Ah Zhu, but much superior to me.” Bao Butong said, “Tis not so, tis not so! Each of you have your own strengths.” Ah Zhu laughed. “Third brother, today your sister wasn’t able to personally go to the kitchen and cook something for you. Next time you come, I’ll make it up to you…”

Just as she was speaking, two clear, melodious sounds of a silver bell being run could be heard. Bao Butong, Ah Zhu, and Ah Bi simultaneously said, “Second brother has sent us a message!” The three of them left the banquet, heading to the eaves of the room. Raising their heads, they saw a white pigeon fly in a circle above them before rushing downwards, coming to a rest on Ah Zhu’s hand. Ah Bi stretched out her hand, untying a small bamboo tube which was tied to the bird’s leg. She removed a scroll from within the tube. Bao Butong snatched it away from her. After skimming through it, he said, “If that’s the case, let’s go now!” He said towards Wang Yuyan, “Hey, are you coming or not?”
 
Wang Yuyan replied, “Coming where? What’s going on?”

Bao Butong displayed the letter in his hand. He said, “Second brother sent us a message. He said that the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’ sent out a large number of experts who have arrived in Jiangnan. We don’t know what their intentions are. He wants me to take Ah Zhu and Ah Bi to go investigate.” Wang Yuyan said, “Naturally, I’ll go with you. Can it be that the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’ wants to cause us trouble as well? Our list of enemies is growing larger and larger.” As she spoke, she frowned slightly.

Bao Butong replied, “They aren’t necessarily enemies. However, they definitely haven’t come here for the sake of tourism, and it’s not a religious visit either. It’s been a long time since we’ve met with real experts. Now, both the Beggar’s Clan and the League of Elites are here. Heh heh, now things are getting fun.” As he spoke, a delighted look was on his face, clearly showing his great joy at the possibility of getting into a big fight.

Wang Yuyan walked forwards, intending to take a look at the message. Bao Butong handed it over to her. There were seven or eight lines of characters on the letter, all written very elegantly and with great vigor. Although she recognized every single character, there was no unity or coherence in the sentences. Although she had read many books, she’d never seen a writing style like this. Frowning, she said, “What’s this?”

Ah Zhu smiled. “This is a weird toy which second brother Gongye thought up. It’s derived from poems and song melodies. Words with the ‘flat tone’ are read with the ‘entering tone’, and words with the ‘entering tone’ are read with the ‘falling-rising’ tone. ‘Yidong’ thusly becomes ‘Sanjiang’. We’re used to reading it and can understand it, but outsiders won’t be able to make anything out of it at all.”

Ah Bi saw that Wang Yuyan looked a bit uncomfortable after hearing the word, ‘outsiders’. She hurriedly said, “Miss Wang, you aren’t an outsider! Miss Wang, if you want to learn how to read it, I’ll just teach you later.” Wang Yuyan immediately looked very happy.
 
Bao Butong said, “I’ve long heard that the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’ has accumulated a large number of experts. They have people from all over the western regions of China. If miss Wang comes with us, all you’ll need to do is glance at them and you’ll know what their origins are. After we handle this matter, we’ll go to Henan to meet with the young master.”

Wang Yuyan was overjoyed. Clapping, she cried, “Wonderful, wonderful! I’m coming with you!”

Ah Bi said, “Let’s take care of business here and go to Henan as fast as we can. We don’t want to be late and miss him when he is on the way back. Also, there’s that Tibetan monk. I don’t know how much damage he’s caused over there.” Bao Butong said, “Second brother Gongye’s wife has already sent someone to go investigate. That monk already left. Put your heart at ease. Next time, I’ll help you beat that monk up.” Duan Yu thought to himself, “No matter what he says, there’s no way he can defeat that monk. Forget about beating him up, you should be thanking the heavens if he doesn’t beat you up.”

Bao Butong said, “I’m just afraid that if miss Wang comes us, the next time madame Wang sees me, she’ll give me a fierce scolding…” Suddenly, he turned his head towards Duan Yu and said, “You’re always here listening! I’m unable to speak freely and comfortable with you here. If you please, beat it. As we’re discussing private matters, we don’t need your extra set of ears and lips. When we go fight with others, we don’t need you to stand by the side and cheer either.”

Duan Yu clearly knew that his presence here could only irritate others. Now, seeing as how Bao Butong was openly shooing him off in an extremely impolite way, even though he was reluctant to part with Wang Yuyan, he couldn’t be so shameless as to still stay. Rising to his feet, he said, “Miss Wang, Ah Zhu, Ah Bi. I’ll take my leave now. May we meet again.”

Wang Yuyan said, “It’s the middle of the night. Where can you go? Moreover, you aren’t familiar with the waterways of Lake Taihu. It’s best if you stay here overnight and leave tomorrow.”
 
Duan Yu could tell that although she was inviting him to stay, her attention was elsewhere. Clearly, all she wanted to do was fly as quickly as possible to young master Murong’s side. He couldn’t help but feel both furious and snubbed. He was the son of a royal family, impulsive and stubborn. Although he had undergone many thrilling events and suffered many torments recently, he had never before received such a frosty reception. He immediately replied, “There’s not much of a difference between leaving today and tomorrow. I take my leave.”

Ah Zhu said, “If that’s the case, I’ll send someone to escort you out of the lake.”

Seeing how even Ah Zhu did not try to convince him to stay, Duan Yu felt all the more unhappy. He thought to himself, “What’s so extraordinary about this young master Murong fellow, for everyone to act as though he were some sort of celestial phoenix amongst men. They don’t care at all about Shaolin, the Beggar’s Sect, or the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’. They just want to reach his side as soon as possible.” He replied, “No need. Just loan me a boat. I’ll paddle myself out.”

Ah Bi mumbled to herself, “But you don’t know the waterways. I don’t think this is a good idea. Be careful, and don’t run into that monk again.”

Duan Yu stormily said, “It’s best if all of you hurry and go meet up with your young master Murong. If I meet that monk again, at most I’ll be burnt to death by him. I’m not your cousin or your young master. No need to worry about me.” As he spoke, he quickly strode out of the room. As he left, he heard Bao Butong say, “We don’t know what the origins are of that Tibetan monk either. We need to investigate.” Wang Yuyan replied, “My cousin most likely knows. If we find him…”

Ah Zhu and Ah Bi escorted Duan Yu out. Ah Bi said, “Young gentleman Duan, in the future, after you meet with our young master, perhaps you will become good friends with him. Our young master really likes to make friends.” Duan Yu laughed coldly. “I’m not fit to be his friend.” Hearing a large amount of resentment in his voice, Ah Bi felt very confused. She asked, “Young gentleman Duan, why are you unhappy? Is it that our reception of you was too simple and brief?” Ah Zhu said, “Third brother
 
Bao has always been like this. Young gentleman Duan, please don’t be too upset. Allow Ah Bi and I pay our apologies to you.” As she spoke, she grinned and curtsied towards him as Ah Bi did the same.

Duan Yu returned the courtesy, then took large steps towards the waterline. Arriving next to a small craft, he immediately tugged at the oars, sailing away into the lake. He felt a deep depression in his heart. As to why he felt this way, even he himself could not say. All he knew was that if he stayed ashore for another moment longer, he would lose control of himself. It was even possible that he would begin to cry. He vaguely heard Ah Bi say, “Sister Ah Zhu, does the young master have enough spare clothing? Let’s each sew a new set of clothing for him tonight.” Ah Zhu replied, “Alright! You are so attentive and thoughtful.”

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