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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 14

CSI
 Chapter 14: Intensely Drinking a Thousand Cups, and the Affairs of Men
Duan Yu had been bullied by the Divine Farmers clan and the Mt. Wuliang Sword sect, coerced by the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas, imprisoned by Crown Prince Yanqing, kidnapped by Jiumozhi, then was forced to become a gardener at the Highland Manor of the Camellias. The misery and humiliation he had undergone in recent times was significant indeed, but never before had he felt such anger and indignation.

In all fairness, there was no one within the Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds who was truly impolite to him or intentionally tried to embarrass him. Although Bao Butong asked him to leave, he showed forbearance when he did so; he did not break Duan Yu’s arms as he did Zhu Baokun, nor did he kick him away like a ball as he did to Yao Bodang. Wang Yuyan verbally expressed the desire for him to stay a bit longer, and Ah Zhu and Ah Bi solicitously escorted him off. But all of this only increased the unspeakable misery in his heart.

The evening wind rolled across the surface of the lake, carrying with it the scent of water chestnut leaves. Tugging mightily at the oars, Duan Yu wasn’t sure whom his anger and hatred should be directed towards. He really couldn’t say why he was as angry as this. Previously, Mu Wanqing, the Divine Crocodile, Crown Prince Yanqing, Jiumozhi, and madame Wang had all exceptionally humiliated him, but he had maintained his calm and did not feel too wronged. In his innermost heart, he indistinctly felt as though perhaps it were because he deeply yearned for Wang Yuyan, but within her heart, she didn’t care about Duan Yu in the slightest. Even Ah Zhu and Ah Bi thought very lightly of him. Ever since he was young, he had been pampered and treated as a precious, beloved treasure by others. Within Dali, everyone from the Emperor on down felt that he was an extraordinary person. Even enemies had treated him thus; the Divine
 
Crocodile, for example, had whole-heartedly wanted him to become his disciple. Jiumozhi, in expending so much effort to abduct him from Dali to Jiangnan, showed that he valued Duan Yu highly. And, of course, the young maidens such as Zhong Ling and Mu Wanqing fell in love with him almost at first sight.

He had never before been looked down upon or treated as coldly as he had been today. Although they were polite to him, it was polite indifference. Within their hearts, young master Murong was naturally much more important to them than he was. Over the past few days, whenever someone even mentioned young master Murong’s name, a sensation would be created and everyone would become absorbed in listening closely. It seemed as though Wang Yuyan, Ah Zhu, Ah Bi, Bao Butong, and even this ‘elder brother Deng’, ‘second brother Gongye’, and ‘fourth brother Feng’ all lived for him.

Duan Yu had never before tasted the bitter fruit of envy or jealously. Now, as he was paddling a boat in middle of the lake all by his lonesome, it seemed to him as though young master Murong’s shadow appeared in the sky and was smirking at him. He seemed to hear young master Murong speak and ridicule him, saying, “Duan Yu, oh, Duan Yu. How can you ever compare to even a single strand of hair on my body? You are interested in my cousin, something which is like an insane shrimp of a toad being desirous of a heavenly swan. Isn’t this disgraceful and ludicrous?”

As his heart filled with anger, the strength with which he pulled at the oars increased as well. After rowing for about two hours, his powerful internal energy slowly began to come out. The more he rowed, the more vigorous he became, and the gloomy feeling in his heart slowly faded away as well. After rowing for two more hours, the night sky was slowly beginning to brighten. A small mountain peak appeared to the north, surrounded by clouds and mist. Approximating his current location, he decided that the ‘Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds’ and the ‘Pavilion of Zither Melodies’ were located to the east. All he had to do was keep rowing northwards, and he would not accidentally return to his place of origin.

But with each rowing motion, he felt an attachment and longing in his heart. He couldn’t prevent himself from thinking that with every meter the boat
 
travelled, he was becoming a meter away from Wang Yuyan.

Close to noon, he arrived at the base of that small mountain peak. Going ashore, he asked the locals where he was, and was told that he had arrived at Mr. Maji [Maji means ‘Horse Tracks’], and was now very close to Wuxi.

He had seen the name ‘Wuxi’ before within a book. He knew that it was a large city that had become famous during the ‘Spring and Autumn’ period. He immediately returned to his boat and began rowing north again. After some time, he arrived at the city of Wuxi.

As he entered the city, he saw that pedestrians were hurry about here and there, giving an appearance of a bustling market. Compared to Dali, it had its own unique style. As he leisurely strolled about, he suddenly smelled something delicious. It was the smell of caramel and soy sauce mixed into cooked meat. He hadn’t eaten for quite some time and had spent the past few hours rowing a boat. He was famished, and immediately began to follow the delicious smell. After turning a cover, he saw a huge wine-house across the street. On its gold-lettered signboard were written the words, “The Pine and the Crane.” The shop sign itself was very aged, long since blackened by mist and smoke. But in contrast, the golden characters on it were gleaming and bright. The fragrant scent of wine and meat flowed out of the wine-house, and the chef’s chopping sounds mixed with the calls of the customers and the staff.

As he entered the place, a waiter came and greeted him. Duan Yu ordered a kettle of wine and four types of food to go with the wine. Leaning against the railing, he poured himself a few cups and began to drink. Suddenly, he felt cold and dreary. He couldn’t help but let out a loud sigh.

A large man sitting towards the west turned his head towards him. The man’s two eyes, radiating frozen lightning, flashed across Duan Yu’s face. Duan Yu saw that this person had an extremely large and tall physique, was thirty years or so of age, and wore an old grey gown that was already a bit tattered. He had thick eyebrows and big eyes, a high nose and broad lips, with a face that had the shape of the ‘Guo’ character. He looked as though he had endured many hardships, and when he turned around to look at Duan Yu, he displayed an aura of power and influence.
 
Duan Yu secretly praised, “What a man! He must be a fervent person from the northern nations of Yan and Zhao which are sung about in those elegies. Neither Jiangnan nor Dali can produce a person such as this. Bao Butong tooted his own horn about having a vigorous, heroic spirit. But only this man can be described as having a vigorous spirit and a heroic aura!” [Yan and Zhao are nations which existed during the Warring States period. They can roughly be approximated to be towards the north, near Beijing.]

On the big fellow’s table was a plate of cooked beef, a large bowl of soup, and two kettles of wine. Aside from those three, there was nothing else. Even in eating and drinking, he appeared to be very unrestrained and displayed a heroic spirit.

After glancing at Duan Yu a few times, that man turned his head back and went back to eating and drinking. Duan Yu was feeling a bit lonely and bored. Wanting to make a new friend, he called a server over. Pointing to the back of the big fellow, he said, “Put all of that gentleman’s things on my tab.”

Hearing Duan Yu give those instructions, the big fellow turned around and smiled. He nodded, but didn’t say anything. Duan Yu wanted to strike up a conversation with him and relieve his own sense of loneliness, but couldn’t find an appropriate way to begin.

After drinking three more cups of wine, Duan Yu heard the sound of footsteps on the stairway. Two men appeared from downstairs. One had a lame foot and propped himself up on a crutch, yet still walked very quickly. The other was an elder with a frowning, worried face. The two walked to the big fellow’s table, then very politely bowed towards him. The big fellow nodded, but did not stand up or return their salute. The man with a lame foot said in a low voice, “I have a report, elder brother. The other party has arranged for us to meet with them at the crack of dawn tomorrow, at the wayside pavilion of Mt. Hui.” The big fellow nodded, then said, “That’s a bit rushed.” The elder said, “I originally told them that we should meet up in three days time. But it seemed as though they knew that we haven’t gathered all our forces yet, ridiculing and mocking us. They said that if we don’t have the guts to face them, it’s fine if we don’t show up tomorrow.”
 
The big fellow said, “Fine. Send down the word for everyone to arrive at Mt. Hui at midnight tonight. We’ll get there first and wait for them there.” The two bowed, then left.

The three spoke in very quiet tones, and none of the other guests could hear what they were saying. But Duan Yu had abundant internal energy and very acute hearing. Although he did not intend to intentionally eavesdrop on them, he naturally overheard every single word. Intentionally or unintentionally, that big fellow glanced at Duan Yu yet again. He saw that Duan Yu’s head was lowered and he was looking away, as though he had overheard his words. Instantly, his twin eyes were filled with a ferocious light. He let out a deep ‘humph’. Startled, Duan Yu’s left hand quivered. With a cracking sound, the wine cup he was holding fell to the floor and shattered. That big fellow smiled. “Brother, why are you so nervous? Why don’t you come over and have a few cups with me?”

Duan Yu laughed. “Wonderful, wonderful!” He instructed the server to bring over his cup and his chopsticks, then moved to the big fellow’s table and asked him his name. The big fellow smirked, “Brother, why ask when you clearly already know the answer? There’s no need for us to rigidly stick to the proper forms. Won’t it be a wonderful thing for us to drink a few large bowls of wine now? Afterwards, when we are clearly divided as enemies, we won’t have the chance.” Duan Yu laughed. “Brother, it seems as though you’ve mistaken me for someone else, perhaps an enemy. However, I love to hear the words, ‘no need to rigidly stick to the proper forms’. Let’s drink!” Pouring a cup of wine, he drained it at one go.

That big fellow smiled. “Brother, you are easygoing and straightforward. But your wine-glass is too small.” He called out, “Bartender! Go bring me two large bowls and ten jin [five kilograms] worth of hard liquor!” Upon hearing the words, ‘ten jin worth of hard liquor’, the bartender and Duan Yu both jumped in shock. The bartender laughed, “Sir, will you be able to finish ten jin of hard liquor?” The big fellow pointed towards Duan Yu and said, “This gentleman is treating me. There’s no need for you to be concerned about saving me money! If ten jin aren’t enough, bring twenty jin!” Laughing, the bartender said, “Alright, alright!” After a short period of
 
time, he brought out two large bowls and an enormous jug of liquor, placing them on the table.

The big fellow said, “Pour us two full bowls!” The bartender poured him two bowls as instructed. As he was pouring, Duan Yu felt the smell of the alcohol assault his nostrils, causing him to feel a bit uncomfortable. While in Dali, he would only drink a few cups of wine occasionally, and had never seen anyone drink like this. He couldn’t help but wrinkle his forehead. The big fellow laughed, “Why don’t the two of us start off by drinking ten bowls together. What do you think?”

Duan Yu saw that there was more than a hint of ridicule in the big fellow’s eyes. Normally, he would beg to be excused in this sort of situation and admit that he had very low tolerance for alcohol. But the previous night, he had been treated coldly and indifferently within the Waterside Pavilion of Fragrant Sounds. He also thought to himself, “This big fellow is most likely one of young master Murong’s people. If he isn’t big brother Deng or second brother Gongye, he’s probably fourth brother Feng. He’s already arranged to enter into a martial arts competition at Mt. Hui with his opponents, who must be either the Beggar’s Clan or the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’. Hmph, what’s so special about young master Murong? I refuse to be belittled and held in contempt by his underlings. At worst, I’ll drink myself to death. What’s the big deal?” He immediately puffed his chest out and loudly said, “I’ll risk my life and accompany a gentleman! If I forget myself and act improperly later while drunk, please don’t blame me, brother!” As he spoke, he lifted one of the bowls of liquor and gulped it down.

He drank down the entire bowl of wine in a fit of pique. Although Wang Yuyan wasn’t nearby, in Duan Yu’s mind, she might as well have been, as he considered himself competing with Murong Fu in drinking. He refused to admit defeat in front of the person he loved. Forget about merely drinking one large bowl of liquor; even if he had to drink a bowl full of poisoned wine, he would have downed it without the slightest hesitation.

Seeing how casually and straightforwardly Duan Yu was drinking, the big fellow was greatly surprised. Laughing loudly, he said, “Nicely done!”
 
Lifting up his own bowl, he poured the liquor down his throat, then set it down and poured them two more bowls.

Duan Yu laughed, “Good stuff! Good stuff!” He let out a breath, then drained that bowl in one gulp as well. The big fellow drained his own bowl, then once again poured two more. Each bowl contained at least half a jin of liquor [a quarter kilogram!]. Duan Yu had just drank two jin, and felt as though a raging fire was burning his innards. His head was already becoming confused, but he thought to himself, “What’s so great about Murong Fu? What’s so special about him? How can I lose to one of his underlings?” Taking the third bowl of alcohol, he drained that one as well.

The big fellow saw that he had become totally wasted in the blink of an eye. He was secretly amused, and knew that after this third bowl, Duan Yu would collapse to the floor very shortly.

Even before he drank the third bowl, Duan Yu felt as though he was going to throw up. After this third bowl of liquor entered his belly, all his organs seemed to be in a state of turmoil and were writhing. He tightly closed his mouth, refusing to allow any of the alcohol he had just drunk come back out. Suddenly, his dantian vibrated, sending forth a gush of vigorous energy. He felt as though as though the internal energy in his body was agitated, akin to how he felt back at the Heavenly Dragon Monastery when he was unable to control his internal energy. Immediately, he used the technique his uncle had taught him and called that gush of internal energy back to his ‘Dazhui’ acupoint.

As it were, he had so much alcohol in his body that it was beginning to mix with his internal energy. Alcohol is something which has form and substance. Unlike internal energy, it could not hide itself within his acupoints. But Duan Yu had an easygoing disposition, and allowed his internal energy to naturally travel from his ‘Tianzong’ acupoint to his ‘Jianzhen’ acupoint, then travel to his left arm’s ‘Xiaohai’, ‘Zhizheng’, and ‘Yanglao’ acupoints, then through his left hand’s ‘Yanggu’, ‘Houhuo’, and ‘Qiangu’ acupoints, before rushing out of his pinky finger’s ‘Shaoze’ acupoint. The route which his internal energy travelled was precisely that of the Shaoze sword technique of the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. Originally, the Shaoze sword technique was that of a vigorous, invisible
 
sword qi. But at this moment, a stream of alcohol slowly and unhurriedly poured out of his little finger.

At first, Duan Yu didn’t notice this, but after a while, he began to feel sober. After realizing that alcohol was pouring from his little finger, he secretly cried out, “Extremely miraculous!” His left hand was pointing to the floor, and the big fellow didn’t pay it any attention. He just saw that while just moments ago, Duan Yu was so drunk that his eyes were closing, Duan Yu now seemed alert and vigorous. He couldn’t help but secretly feel amazed. Laughing, the big fellow said, “Brother, it seems you have quite some tolerance for alcohol! Not bad at all.” He poured two more bowls of wine.

Duan Yu laughed, “My capacity for wine is extraordinary because of your presence. As the saying goes, ‘When meeting with a bosom friend, a thousand cups of wine is still too few.’ I estimate that there are no more than twenty or so cups worth of wine in each bowl. In order to reach a thousand cups, we’ll still need to drink another forty or fifty bowls. I’m afraid I won’t be able to drink another fifty!” As he spoke, he drank the bowl of liquor in front of him, then immediately began to exercise his internal energy. He rested his left hand on top of the window railing next to their table, forcing the alcohol out from his pinky finger and causing it to flow down the wall. This was a perfect deception, which not even gods or devils could discern. In a short amount of time, he had forced out all of the four bowls worth of liquor from his body.

The big fellow saw that Duan Yu had just carelessly downed four large bowls of very potent liquor. He was extremely pleased, and said, “Wonderful, wonderful! When meeting with a bosom friend, a thousand cups of wine is still too few. Let me drink a few bowls first!” He immediately poured out two bowls of wine, then drank both of them in succession. Next, he poured two more bowls for Duan Yu. Duan Yu casually and cheerfully drank both while engaging him in conversation. It seemed as though he drank the hard liquor even more easily than others drank water and ate food.

Drinking in such a manner, the two of them astonished all of the other patrons of ‘The Pine and the Crane’. Even the kitchen cook and the fire- starters came out and surrounded them upstairs, watching as they drank.
 
The big fellow said, “Bartender! Bring me twenty more jin of liquor!” The bartender stuck out his tongue in disbelief. He too was caught up in the excitement of it and did not try to dissuade him this time. He left, and when he returned, he brought back another huge vase of liquor with him.

Duan Yu traded bowls with the big fellow, one after the other. In the time it takes to eat a meal, they drank over thirty big bowls of liquor.

Duan Yu knew that he was playing a deceitful trick with his little finger. The alcohol would simply cycle through his body then immediately pour out from his finger. It could be said that his alcohol tolerance was inexhaustible and infinite. But that big fellow had drank over thirty bowls worth, based purely on actual ability. And yet, he still seemed utterly composed, neither batting an eye nor displaying the slightest hint of intoxication. Duan Yu secretly felt great admiration for him. At first, he viewed the big fellow with animosity, thinking him one of young master Murong’s people. But now, seeing his bold and heroic air, his regal, heroic spirit, Duan Yu couldn’t help but cherish the man. He thought to himself, “If we continue competing like this, it’s impossible for me to lose, but if this fellow keeps drinking the way we are now, he’ll invariably damage his health.” As they reached their fourtieth bowl, he said, “My dear brother, we’ve drunk about forty bowls by now, right?”

The big fellow laughed, “Brother, it seems you are still very sober and clear-headed! You’re still able to keep clear count.” Duan Yu laughed, “Both of us have met our match today. I think it won’t be easy for either of us to claim victory. But if we keep on drinking in such a manner, I’m afraid I won’t have enough money to pay for it!” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out an embroidered pouch. As he tossed it onto the table, a light clinking sound could be heard. Clearly, he didn’t have too much money in his pouch. Duan Yu had been abducted by Jiumozhi from Dali, and didn’t have the chance to bring any possessions. The bag was embroidered with silver and gold thread; clearly, it was a rare and precious object. But at a glance, one could tell that it wasn’t filled with very much.

As soon as he saw it, the big fellow began to laugh loudly. He withdrew an ingot of silver from his own pouch, tossing it onto the table. Grabbing Duan Yu by the hand, he said, “Let’s go!”
 
Duan Yu was very happy. While he was in Dali, it was hard for him to make any real friends, due to him being the young prince. Today, he had become friends with this fellow, not because of his scholarly knowledge, nor because of his martial arts, but purely because of his fictitious drinking ability. This was something rare and strange indeed!

After going downstairs, the big fellow began walking faster and faster. After leaving the city gates, his steps grew larger and larger still as he rushed down the street. Duan Yu gathered his energy then ran alongside him, shoulder to shoulder. Although Duan Yu did not know martial arts, he had an extremely abundant reservoir of internal energy. This sort of quick movement was nothing to him at all. That big fellow glanced at him, then smiled. “Great. Let’s see who is faster.” Immediately, he upped his speed, starting to run.

After running for but a few steps, Duan Yu tripped and almost fell because he was moving too hurriedly. Only after taking a staggering step leftwards did he steady himself. This step happened to be one of the movements of the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’. By unintentionally using this movement, he actually gained a meter or two. Secretly elated, the next step he took was also based on the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’, at which point he caught up to the big fellow. The two travelled forwards, shoulder to shoulder. The wind whistled past them as they flew past all the trees by their side.

When he was learning the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’, Duan Yu didn’t have any intention of competing in speed with anybody. Now, he was like an arrowed nocked onto a taut bow; he didn’t have any choice but to be shot out. All he could do was to do his utmost; he didn’t actually have any intention to outdo the big fellow. All he did was move in accordance to the footwork he learned while using his incomparably deep internal energy. He no longer cared at all as to whether that big fellow was in front of him or behind him.

The big fellow lengthened his strides, moving faster and faster. In the blink of an eye, he far outpaced Duan Yu. But if he took the slightest of breathers, Duan Yu would immediately catch up to him. Glancing at him askance, the big fellow saw that Duan Yu’s movements were natural and unrestrained, as
 
though he were taking a stroll within a courtyard. There wasn’t a single bit of a forced aura to his footwork. He secretly admired Duan Yu. Adding more force to his steps, he once more left Duan Yu behind, but very shortly Duan Yu once again caught up to him. After trying this out a few times, the big fellow realized that Duan Yu’s internal energy was extremely vigorous, greater than that of his own. It wouldn’t be too hard for him to outrace Duan Yu in a ten-li long race, but if the race continued for thirty or forty li, it would be very difficult for a victor to be determined. If the race reached sixty li, he would definitely lose. Laughing loudly, he came to a stop and said, “Young master Murong, today I, Qiao Feng, submit to you! Gusu’s Murong family really lives up to its name!”

Duan Yu rushed past him a few steps, but immediately turned around and came back. Hearing the man address him as ‘young master Murong’, he hurriedly replied, “My name is Duan Yu. Brother, you’ve mistaken me for someone else!”

The big fellow looked astonished. “What? You…you aren’t Murong Fu, young master Murong?”

Duan Yu smiled. “Every day since my arrival in Jiangnan, I have heard of young master Murong’s famous name. I admire him very highly, but to this day I haven’t had the good fortune of meeting him.” He thought to himself, “If this fellow misrecognized me as Murong Fu, then clearly he isn’t one of his people.” When he came to this realization, he felt all the more warmly towards the man, and asked, “Brother, would your surname, then, be Qiao, and your given name be Feng?”

The look of shock had not disappeared from the fellow’s face. He said, “Just so. I am Qiao Feng.” Duan Yu said, “Your humble brother, I, am a person from Dali. It is my great fortune to be able to make friends with such a hero as yourself during this trip to Jiangnan.” Qiao Feng muttered to himself, “Oh, so you are a scion of Dali’s Duan lineage. No wonder, no wonder. Brother Duan, what important business brings you to Jiangnan?”

Duan Yu replied, “It’s a bit embarrassing to explain. Your humble brother was captured and brought here by an enemy.” He immediately gave a brief explanation of how he was kidnapped by Jiumozhi, how he met two of
 
Murong Fu’s servant girls, etc. Although he only briefly summarize the long story, he didn’t hold anything back at all, nor did he try to conceal any of the humiliating things which had happened to him.

After hearing his story, Qiao Feng was both astonished and pleased. He said, “Brother Duan, you are an extremely straightforward and honest man. I’ve never met anyone like you. Although we’ve just met, I feel as though you are an old friend. What say you and I become sworn blood brothers?” Overjoyed, Duan Yu replied, “That is more than I can wish for.” They compared their ages. Qiao Feng was eleven years older than Duan Yu; naturally, he assumed the rank of elder brother. They immediately built a mound of dirt, stuck in a few sticks of incense, then kowtowed eight times towards heaven. Qiao Feng addressed Duan Yu as ‘worthy junior brother’, and Duan Yu addressed him as ‘elder brother’. Both of them were extremely pleased.

Duan Yu replied, “At ‘The Pine and the Crane’, I secretly overheard you, elder brother, talk about an appointment you’ve made with an enemy for tonight. Although your humble brother doesn’t know any martial arts, I’d still like to go check out the fun. Elder brother, will you agree to this?”

Qiao Feng interrogated him for a bit and learned he really didn’t know any martial arts at all. He couldn’t help but click his tongue in astonishment. “Worthy brother, with your incredible cultivation of internal energy, learning first-class martial arts would be as easy as taking an item out of a bag. You would face no difficulties at all. With regards to the battle tonight, there’s no reason why you cannot come with us to watch. Only, I’m worried that that enemy will use vicious and sinister techniques. Worthy brother, do not reveal your presence no matter what.” Duan Yu happily replied, “Naturally, I’ll listen to your orders, elder brother.” Laughing, Qiao Feng said, “It’s still early. Why don’t we two brothers go back to Wuxi and drink for a while longer before going to Mt. Hui.” Hearing him say that he wanted to go back and drink even more wine, Duan Yu was shocked. He said, “Elder brother, when I was competing with you in drinking, I was actually deceiving you. Please don’t blame me.” He immediately explained how he purged the alcohol from his system via the ‘Shaoze’ acupoint. Astonished, Qiao Feng said, “Brother, this…is this the outstanding skill, the
 
‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’?” Duan Yu replied, “Precisely so. I learned it not too long ago, and am very unskilled with it.”

Qiao Feng was stunned for some time, then sighed, “My master once told me that there is a legend in the martial world that Dali’s Duan family possesses a technique known as the ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians,’ which uses invisible sword qi to kill people. No one knows if this is true or not. So such a divine art actually exists in the world.”

Duan Yu replied, “Actually, aside from using it to compete with you in drinking, this skill isn’t very useful. I was kidnapped by that monk, Jiumozhi, and wasn’t able to defend myself at all. The people of the world overstate and exaggerate the strength of this ‘Divine Sword of the Six Meridians’. Elder brother, alcohol is very harmful to the body. You need to know when and where to stop. Today, I think it’s best if we don’t go drinking again.” Qiao Feng laughed loudly. “Worthy brother, your advice is wise. Only, your foolish elder brother has a body like an ox. Ever since I was young, I loved to drink alcohol. The more I drink, the more energetic I get. Tonight, we are about to confront a major opponent. I need to drink a lot of hard liquor before going there and mixing it up with them.” As the two spoke, they returned to Wuxi. This time, they were not competing in speed, and the two of them casually strolled back in, shoulder to shoulder.

Overjoyed at having made such a good friend, Duan Yu felt extremely elated. Nonetheless, he still constantly thought about Murong Fu and Wang Yuyan. After casually chatting for a while, he couldn’t help but ask, “Elder brother, earlier you misrecognized me as young master Murong. Can it be that I look somewhat similar to him?”

Qiao Feng replied, “I’ve long heard of the fame of Gusu’s Murong family. I have come to Jiangnan on their account. I hear that Murong Fu has a handsome, learned appearance, and is about twenty eight or twenty nine years old. He’s several years older than you, but I could not believe that aside from Murong Fu, there could be another handsome young man with such impressive martial arts. Thus, I mistook you for him. I’m very embarrassed.”
 
Hearing him say that Murong Fu was a handsome young man with impressive martial arts, Duan Yu felt an uncomfortable sourness in his heart. He asked, “Elder brother, have you come from afar to make friends with him?”

Qiao Feng let out a sigh, and a downcast expression appeared on his face. Shaking his head, he said, “Originally, I had hoped to become friends with him, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to, now.” Duan Yu asked, “Why not?” Qiao Feng replied, “I have an extremely close bosom friend who died a violent death two months ago. Everyone says that it was Murong Fu who did the vile deed.” Duan Yu nervously said, “Using an opponent’s technique, utilizing it upon the opponent!” Qiao Feng replied, “Right! The injury which my friend died from was inflicted by someone using the skill which he himself became famous for.” As he said this, his voice became choked with sobs, and he looked very grieved. After pausing for a while, he said, “But there are many strange things which occur in the martial world, and its people are hard to fathom. I cannot place blame on someone solely based upon rumor and hearsay. Thus, I have come to Jiangnan to ferret out the truth.”

Duan Yu asked, “And what is the truth?” Qiao Feng shook his head. “It is hard to say at the moment. That friend of mine became famous long ago and displayed upright conduct. He had a meek, modest temperament, and handled things very rationally. He wouldn’t have offended young master Murong without a good reason. It’s very hard for a person to puzzle out why someone would have murdered him.”

Duan Yu nodded. He thought to himself, “On the surface, elder brother looks crude and straightforward, but on the inside, he is actually extremely careful and meticulous. He’s not like Mr. Huo, Guo Yanzhi, Sima Lin, and the others, who insist that young master Murong is the killer without even doing any independent investigations.” He asked, “Who, then, are the powerful opponents which you have arranged an appointment with?”

Qiao Feng replied, “They are…” Just as he said these two words, two beggarly fellows dressed in tattered clothes rushed towards them. Qiao Feng immediately fell silent. Exercising their qinggong, the two appeared before them in the twinkling of an eye. They bowed in unison. One said,
 
“Chief, four people have rushed into the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’. They’ve demonstrated exceptional skill. Hall-master Jiang, seeing that they seem to have come with evil intentions and concerned that he might not be able to hold them off, ordered the two of us to locate the ‘Hall of Great Benevolence’ and request aid.

Hearing that the two extremely respectfully address Qiao Feng as ‘Chief’, Duan Yu thought to himself, “So elder brother is the lord and master of some clan or sect.”

Qiao Feng nodded, then asked, “What type of people are they?” One man replied, “Three of them are females. One of them is a very tall, very skinny middle-aged man who is extremely unreasonable and arrogant.” Qiao Feng humphed. “Hall-master Jiang is a bit too careful. There’s only one opponent. Can it be that he can’t hold him off?” The man said, “Chief, it seems as though those three woman also know martial arts.” Qiao Feng chuckled, then said, “Fine. I’ll go check it out.” A happy expression appeared on the faces of those two, and they replied in unison, “Yes sir!” Letting their hands fall, they retreated behind Qiao Feng.

Qiao Feng said to Duan Yu, “Brother, shall you come along with us?” Duan Yu replied, “Naturally.” The two men led them westwards, following a crooked, winding path, until they arrived at a countryside farmland. The land around them was all very fertile, as there were many rivers intersecting all about the place.

After walking for a few li, they arrived by a forest filled with apricot trees. A strange voice could be heard coming from that forest. “Brother Murong went to Luoyang to meet with your chief. Why is it that the people of the Beggar’s Clan have come to Wuxi? Aren’t you intentionally avoiding him? It’s not a big deal if you guys are cowards and afraid of dying, but aren’t you guys tiring brother Murong out by causing him to make a trip in vain? Outrageous, this is totally outrageous!”

As soon as Duan Yu heard this voice, his heart began to beat frantically. It was precisely the voice of “Mr. Tis not so, tis not so”: Mr. Bao! He thought to himself, “Is miss Wang with him? Didn’t they say there were three women with him?” Then he thought to himself, “The Beggar’s Clan is the
 
largest clan in all the world. Can it be that today, I have become sworn brothers with their chief?”

A man who spoke with a northern accent loudly replied, “Did young master Murong make an appointment in advance to meet with our humble clan’s chief?” Mr. Bao replied, “It makes no difference whether they made an appointment or not. Since young master Murong went to Luoyang, the chief of the Beggar’s Clan can’t just up and leave and let him have made the trip in vain. Outrageous, simply outrageous!” The other person said, “Did young master Murong send a message or a scroll informing our humble clan?” Mr. Bao replied, “How should I know? I am neither young master Murong, nor the chief of the Beggar’s Clan. How would I know? This question of yours makes no sense. Outrageous, totally outrageous!”

Qiao Feng’s face sunk, and he quickly strode into the forest. Following him in, Duan Yu saw that within the forest was two groups of people facing each other. Behind Mr. Bao stood three females. As soon as Duan Yu’s gaze came across one of the maiden’s faces, it froze there.

Naturally, the young maiden was Wang Yuyan. She let out a soft exclamation. “You came as well?” Duan Yu replied, “I came as well.” He stupidly stared at her, utterly enraptured. Wang Yuyan blushed and she turned her head away. She thought to herself, “This person is staring at me like that. He’s so rude.” But she knew that Duan Yu greatly admired her beauty, and so she couldn’t help but secretly feel happy instead of being angry with him.

Standing on the opposite side of Bao Butong was a bunch of beggars in tattered clothing. When the person standing in front saw that Qiao Feng had arrived, a look of great joy appeared on his face. He immediately rushed forward, and led all of the beggar’s behind him into a deep bow. They called out in unison, “Chief, we, your subordinates pay our respects to you!”

Clasping his fists, Qiao Feng replied, “Brothers, it is good to see you.”

Bao Butong still had a look of arrogance on his face. He said, “Hmph, so this is chief Qiao, leader of the Beggar’s Clan? My name is Bao Butong.
 
I’m sure that you’ve heard of me before.” Qiao Feng replied, “So it is Bao the Third! I’ve long admired your illustrious name. It is my good fortune to be able to meet you today.” Bao Butong replied, “Tis not so, tis not so! What illustrious name do I have? I only have a stinking name! Everyone knows that I, Bao Butong, like to provoke disputes and insult people with my words. Heh heh, chief Qiao, you are in the wrong for coming so casually to Jiangnan”

The Beggar’s Clan was the largest clan in the world. The chief of the clan held a position of great venerance and respect; the disciples of the clan treated him as though he were a living divinity. Seeing how impolite Bao Butong was towards their chief, and hearing his reproachful words, everyone present was filled with righteous indignation. Behind hall-master Jiang of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’ stood six or seven people who were gripping the hilts of their sabres, or clenching their fists. All of them wanted to charge forwards.

But Qiao Feng only lightly replied, “How am I in the wrong? Mr. Bao, please advise me.”

Bao Butong replied, “My family’s young master Murong knows that you, chief Qiao, are an outstanding personage, and that there are many amazing figures within the Beggar’s Clan. Thus, he personally rushed to Luoyang to pay his respects to you. How could you so contentedly come to Jiangnan instead? Outragous, simply outrageous!”

Qiao Feng smiled. “If I had known in advance that young master Murong was going to honor us at Luoyang with his presence, I would have respectfully awaited his arrival. Please forgive me for the sin of failing to meet a guest.” As he spoke, he cupped his fist in a salute.

Duan Yu secretly applauded him. “Elder brother’s words are very courteous and totally in keeping with his status as the leader of a clan. If instead he had gotten into a verbal battle with Mr. Bao, he would have lost some status instead.”

Unexpectedly, Bao Butong continued to press the case. Nodding, he said, “You did commit the sin of failing to meet a guest. Although there is the
 
saying that ‘the one who commits an offense unknowingly has done nothing wrong’, whether or not the sinner is to be punished lies wholly in the hands of others!” Just as he was feeling very self-satisfied, several people within the apricot forest began to loudly laugh in unison. The sound of their laughter shook the heavens. Within the midst of the laughter, someone said, “I’ve long heard that Jiangnan’s Bao Butong loves to let out dog farts. You really live up to your reputation!”

Bao Butong replied, “As the saying goes, a loud fart doesn’t stink, and a stinky fart isn’t loud. The dog’s fart I just heard was both stinky and loud. Can it be that it came from the six elders of the Beggar’s Clan?”

That person replied, “If Bao Butong is aware of who the six elders of the Beggar’s Clan are, how does he dare to continually spout nonsense?” Before the sound of their words had died away, four old men out from behind the apricot forest. Some had white beards and white hair, others had faces which were glowing with health. Each of them held a weapon in their hands, and they formed a rectangle around Bao Butong, Wang Yuyan, and the others.

Bao Butong naturally knew that the Beggar’s Clan was not only the largest clan in the world, but also the top clan amongst the best large clans. The experts within the clan were as plentiful as the clouds. Its six elders naturally had an even more impressive reputation in the martial world. But he had a naturally arrogant disposition, and ever since he was young had an attitude of fearing neither heaven nor hell. Now, seeing that he had been secretly surrounded by four of the six elders, he quietly groaned to himself, “That’s not good, that’s not good. Looks like today my illustrious reputation will be dragged through the dust.” But he didn’t outwardly show any fear at all. He said, “What instruction do you four old fellows intend to offer me? So you want to get into a brawl with Mr. Bao? Why haven’t the other two elders appeared as well to help you out? Hiding and sneaking about, are they intending to ambush me? Good, good, absolutely great! Mr. Bao loves to fight!”

Suddenly, a voice sounded out from mid-air. “Who is the person who likes to fight more than anyone else in the world? Is it Mr. Bao? Wrong, wrong! It is Jiangnan’s ‘Gust of Wind’, Feng Bo’e!”
 
Raising his head, Duan Yu saw that a man was standing on a branch of an apricot tree. The branch continuously waved up and down, but the man simply bobbed up and down along with it. The man appeared to be thirty two or thirty three years of age, had a small, thin frame, hollow cheeks, and a rat-like beard split into two strands, and drooping eyebrows. He looked extremely ugly. Duan Yu thought to himself, “It seems that this person is the ‘fourth brother Feng’ which Ah Zhu and Ah Bi were talking about.” Indeed, he heard Ah Bi call out, “Fourth brother Feng, have you heard any news about the young master?”

Feng Bo’e called out, “Wonderful. We’ve met up with some excellent opponent’s today! Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, we’ll discuss the young master’s affairs later.” He somersaulted down from the branch, throwing himself at the short and stout elder who stood north of their group.

That elder was wielding a steel staff. He suddenly struck out with it, attacking Feng Bo’e’s chest. This steel staff was as thick as a goose egg, and when it struck out, it carried with it a vigorous wind. The force of it was fierce and awesome indeed. Feng Bo’e shot his body up, stretching out his hand to seize the staff. The elder flipped his hand around. The staff trembled, then the other end shot out and attacked Feng Bo’e’s chest again. Feng Bo’e cried out, “Wonderful!” He suddenly ducked down, snatching at his opponent’s waist. The steel staff had already struck out and could not immediately be retracted to block this blow. Seeing how close the enemy was to him, the elder countered with a flying kick to his stomach.

Feng Bo’e slanted his body and dodged this kick, then actually continued the motion and attacked the red-faced elder to the east side. With a flash of dazzling white light, a broadsword appeared in Feng Bo’e’s hand and he launched a horizontal chop. The red-faced elder was wielding a demon- headed sabre. The sabre was extremely long, with the back of the sabre being thick and the cutting part sharp and thin. Seeing Feng Bo’e chopping at him, he lifted up his demon-headed sabre to directly blocked the chop with one of his own, intending to slam the edge of his blade against Feng Bo’e’s. Feng Bo’e called out, “Your weapon is too fearful. I’m not going to directly clash mine against it!” He leapt a few meters, then launched a backwards chop towards the white-bearded elder at the south side.
 
The white-bearded elder wielded a steel mace in his right hand. The surface of the mace was covered with spikes. It was a weapon designed to penetrate an opponent’s outer defenses. Seeing that Feng Bo’e had launched a backwards chop, but that the red-faced elder had not yet fully retracted the power of the chop from his demon-headed sabre, he felt that if he warded off the blow right now, it could be construed as the two elders launching a pincer attack against Feng Bo’e. He greatly valued his own status and was unwilling to fight against him two on one. Immediately, he sidestepped and dodged the attack instead.

He didn’t know that Feng Bo’e simply loved fighting. The more thrilling the fight, the more happy he was. He didn’t really care too much about who the winner was or who the loser was, and never followed any of the ordinary rules to fighting. When the white-bearded elder sidestepped the attack, it was obvious to every present that he was intentionally giving way. But Feng Bo’e paid no attention at all to the customary rites and rituals of the martial world. Upon seeing that there was a weakness to be exploited, he struck out with four chops in a row. All of them were advancing and attacking strokes, carrying with them the force of the fluttering wind and and incomparable swiftness.

The white-bearded elder didn’t expect him to take the opportunity to attack. This was truly impolite, and he hurriedly waved his mace to block. He had to take four steps back before regaining his footing. By this time, he had been backed against an apricot tree and no longer was able to retreat any further. He launched a horizontal strike with his mace. The technique he just used was his best skill for going from defense to offense to kill an opponent. He didn’t expect that Feng Bo’e would shout out, “Lemme fight another one!” Instead of blocking, he simply retreated, his broadsword spinning about in a circle as he launched an attack against the fourth elder. By the time the white-bearded elder’s attack was launched, the opponent was long gone. He was so angry that he repeatedly let out angry breaths, causing his white beard to fly up high.

The fourth elder had two very long arms. In his left hand, he was carrying a very soft weapon. Seeing Feng Bo’e charge at him, he lifted his left arm and unveiled his weapon. It was a gunnysack used to hold rice. As the wind
 
blew into it, the gunnysack opened and expanded. He struck out with the open in the sack towards Feng Bo’e’s head, trying to cover it.

Feng Bo’e was both startled and delighted. He cried out, “Wonderful, wonderful! I’ll fight with you!” There was nothing more he liked better than fighting. If his opponent’s utilized unusual techniques or strange weaponry, he would go wild with joy, much like how a person who loved to go sightseeing might react when seeing a famous mountain or a large river, or how a person who loved eating and drinking might react when tasting a wonderful new dish for the first time. He had never even heard of anyone who used a gunnysack as a weapon, much less fought with him. He was so overjoyed that the surplus joy turned into caution, as he carefully jabbed out with his broadsword, wanting to see if he could use his weapon to poke holes in the sack. The long-armed elder tossed the gunnysack to his right arm, then, spinning his fist, launched a punch at Feng Bo’e.

Feng Bo’e raised his head upwards, dodging the blow, and was just about to launch a counterattack with his broadsword against the elder’s lower parts. But the long-armed elder had mastered an extremely brilliant fist technique known as the “Arm Passing Through”. Just when it seemed the energy from his punch had dissipated, new energy appeared and his fist continued forward another half-foot. Fortunately, Feng Bo’e was a person who loved fighting and had been through over a thousand battles, large or small. He could come up with ways to improvise his way out of a bad situation like none other, and as the fist came towards his fast, he opened his mouth and chomped at it. The long-armed elder had expected to be able to knock loose a few of his teeth with this punch. How could he have imagined that just as his fist reached Feng Bo’e, Feng Bo’e would open his mouth and bite at him with all those pearly white teeth? He hurriedly withdrew his hand, but was just a bit too late. He let out a loud cry as Feng Bo’e’s teeth drew blood from the tips of his fingers. Some of the onlookers began to curse violently, while others began laughing loudly.

Bao Butong said in a perfect deadpan, “Fourth brother Feng, this technique you just used, ‘Lu Dongbin Bites the Dog’, really lives up to its reputation! You’ve practiced it to a legendary, mythical level. That you can reach such a level is all due to you spending ten bitter years, braving summer heat and
 
winter frost, practicing this technique and biting to death one thousand eight hundred white dogs, black dogs, and splotchy dogs.”

Wang Yuyan, Ah Zhu, and Ah Bi all began to laugh. Duan Yu laughed, “Miss Wang, you know everything there is to know about the martial arts of the world. What school or clan does this technique of biting people belong to?” Wang Yuyan smiled slightly, “This is a skill which is unique to brother Feng. I don’t know it.” Bao Butong said, “You don’t know it? Heh heh, you are too ignorant and ill-informed! ‘The Nine Great Stances of Lu Dongbin Biting Dogs’. Each stance contains eight orthodox and unorthodox biting techniques. Eight times nine is seventy two, giving this style a total of seventy two biting techniques. This is an extremely high level martial arts technique!” Seeing how delighted Wang Yuyan was in listening to Bao Butong’s nonsense, Duan Yu also wanted to make a few jokes. But suddenly he realized, “That long-armed elder is one of elder brother Qiao’s subordinates. How can I make fun of him?” He hurriedly shut his mouth.

At this time, the sound of roaring wind could be heard, as the long-armed elder waved his gunnysack about, turning it into a yellow blur and enveloping Feng Bo’e within his techniques. But Feng Bo’e’s own broadsword techniques were brilliant and wondrous, and he used it to impede the enemy’s advance, allowing him to fend the elder off. Only, he did not know all the techniques of the gunnysack, and he had already experienced the power of the ‘Arm Passing Through’ fist technique. The ‘technique’ he had used to counter it, ‘Lu Dongbin Bites the Dog’, only landed by sheer luck earlier and could not be used again. Thus, at this time, he didn’t dare slacken up in the slightest.

Qiao Feng, seeing how Feng Bo’e was able to take on the long-armed elder’s ‘Arm Passing Through’ fist technique for over a hundred stances without being defeated, was secretly astonished. His impression of young master Murong went up another level.

The three other elders of the Beggar’s Clan retreated to one side, raptly watching the ferocious battle.

Ah Bi saw that Feng Bo’e would not be able to hold out for long, and grew worried. She asked Wang Yuyan, “Miss Wang, this respected elder uses a
 
gunnysack as his weapon. What type of technique is this?” Frowning, Wang Yuyan said, “I’ve never read about this sort of technique in the books. The fist technique is the ‘Arm Passing Through’ fist technique. As for the gunnysack technique, it seems to possess the strength of the ‘Thirteen Circling Soft-Whip Strikes of Dabie Mountain’, combined with the techniques of the ‘Eighty One Three-Sectioned-Staff Techniques’ of Hubei’s Ruan family. It seems as though that the gunnysack technique is something he himself invented.

Her voice was not particularly loud, but the words, ‘Thirteen Circling Soft- Whip Strikes of Dabie Mountain’ and ‘Eighty One Three-Sectioned-Staff Techniques of Hubei’s Ruan family’ thundered in the long-armed elder’s ears. Originally, he was a disciple of Hubei’s Ruan family, having learned the three-sectioned-staff techniques from them. Afterwards, he committed the great offense of killing one of his elders. Thus, he changed his name and abandoned the three-sectioned-staff, refusing to ever use it again, so that no one would ever know of his origins. Unexpectedly, although he had done the best he could to abandon the martial arts he learned as a child, in the midst of a major battle he automatically revealed some of them. He was astonished. “How is it that this girl knows about my origins?” He thought that the shameful deeds which he committed decades ago were known to this girl. With his attention thus diverted, Feng Bo’e launched a series of broadsword attacks which he found difficult to cope with.

He retreated three steps in a row, hurriedly dodging aside. Seeing that Feng Bo’e’s broadsword was about to arrive, he immediately sent out a flying left kick, striking at Feng Bo’e’s right wrist. With a wave of the broadsword, Feng Bo’e chopped at his foot. The long-armed elder kicked out with his right leg as well in tandem, sending his body into mid-air. Feng Bo’e saw that, despite his great age, this elder was strong and vigorous, not at all inferior to younger people, and couldn’t help but exclaim, “Wonderful!” With a whooshing sound, Feng Bo’e launched a punch at his kneecap. As the long-armed elder’s body was in midair, it was very difficult for him to dodge this attack. If it landed, his kneecap would disinitegrate and his leg would snap.
 
Feng Bo’e saw that his opponent refused to change his move, despite his fist almost having reached the elder’s kneecap. Suddenly, he felt as though the sound of the wind had picked up. His opponent had opened the mouth of his gunnysack, and was about to cover Feng Bo’e’s head with it! Although he could shatter the elder’s kneecap with this punch, it would be a huge disaster for his head to be covered with the gunnysack. He immediately changed his punch into a sweeping strike, intending to sweep aside the gunnysack strike. The long-armed elder inclined his right arm slightly to the side and spun the bag about, capturing Feng Bo’e’s fist within it.

The difference in size between Feng Bo’e’s small fist and the huge opening in the gunnysack was significant. Although it was easy to cover Feng Bo’e’s fist, there was no way it could actually trap it. As soon as Feng Bo’e retracted his hand, it came out from within the gunnysack. Suddenly, he felt slight pain on his upper arm, as though it had been pierced by slender needles. When he took a look, he felt great shock; there was a tiny scorpion attached to his upper arm! This scorpion was smaller than most, but it was multicolored and bright, appearing to be very fearsome. Feng Bo’e knew that he was in trouble, and immediately exerted all his strength to shake the scorpion off. Unfortunately, the scorpion’s stinger was firmly lodged in his arm, and no matter what he did, he could not shake it off.

Feng Bo’e hurriedly stretched out the broadsword in his right arm, slapping the flat of it against his left arm. With a clapping sound, the multicolored scorpion was smushed. But if the long-armed elder put this scorpion in his bag, its venom definitely wouldn’t be something which could be easily dealt with. Even ordinary beggars were extremely adept at using poisonous substances, much less one of their six elders. He immediately leapt three meters away, withdrawing an antidote from his robes and immediately swallowing it down.

The long-armed elder did not pursue him. Putting away his gunnysack, he instead turned to stare at Wang Yuyan, thinking to himself, “How did this girl know that I am from Hubei’s Ruan family?” Bao Butong was extremely concerned. He hurriedly said, “Fourth brother, how do you feel?” Feng Bo’e waved his left arm a few times, but felt nothing out of the ordinary. He
 
was very puzzled, thinking to himself, “It’s impossible for the multicolored scorpion in the gunnysack not to have some oddities about it.” He said, “No problem…” Just as he said these words, with a thudding sound, he fell down, face-forwards….

Bao Butong hurriedly propped him up, repeatedly asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” The flesh and muscles on Feng Bo’e’s face had stiffened into an extremely forced smile. Bao Butong was shocked. He immediately sealed the acupoints around Feng Bo’e’s wrist, elbow, and shoulder, intending to stop the progress of the poison. How could he know that the poison of the multicolored scorpion acted extremely quickly? Although it wasn’t so lethal as to ‘seal the throat upon touching blood’, it was on a similar level. The venom acted more quickly than even the toxins of vipers. Feng Bo’e opened his mouth, wanting to speak, but all he could muster out was a few horrifying croaking sounds. Seeing how deadly this poison was, Bao Butong feared that it might already be too late to save him. Feeling inconsolable grief and rage, he let out a loud howl and threw himself at the long-armed elder.

The short and stout elder who wielded the steel staff said, “You want to fight in turns and tire him out? Allow this shorty to spar with the heroes of Gusu’s Murong family!” His steel staff shot out, striking towards Bao Butong. This was an extremely heavy weapon, but he wielded it as though it were as light as a feather. His techniques were very quick and agile, as though he were actually using a sword. Although Bao Butong was extremely angry, his opponent was very powerful and he did not dare to ignore him. He intended to capture the short and stout elder and use him to force the long-armed elder to give Feng Bo’e an antidote to save his life. He immediately began to use seizing and capturing hand techniques, launching raids in between the hollow spaces left by the steel staff’s attacks.

Ah Zhu and Ah Bi each stood to one side of Feng Bo’e. Tears glimmered in their eyes as they cried out, “Fourth brother! Fourth brother!” Wang Yuyan had no knowledge at all regarding the usage of poison or the curing of poison, and felt very regretful. “In all the martial arts scrolls I’ve read, there was a lot of information regarding the usage of poison. Only, I believed all of that stuff was useless and didn’t even take a look at them. If I had at least
 
glanced at them, I would remember at least a little bit and wouldn’t be totally helpless right now, able to do nothing but watch as fourth brother Feng dies an unnatural death.”

Qiao Feng, seeing how Bao Butong and and the short elder were evenly matched, knew that victory could not be determined for some time. He said to the long armed elder, “Elder Chen, please go ahead and cure Mr. Feng!” The long-armed elder was startled. He said, “Chief, this fellow was extremely impolite and his martial arts is not weak. If I rescue him, there’ll be no end of trouble in the future.” Qiao Feng nodded. “What you say is true. But for us to kill a master’s subordinates before even meeting him might be construed as us bullying the weak. It’s best for us to firmly plant ourselves on the moral high ground.” Elder Chen angrily said, “Vice-chief Ma was clearly killed by that brat from the Murong family. We’re here to take revenge, not to engage in moral or righteous posturing.” A look of slight displeasure appeared on Qiao Feng’s face. “Go and cure his poison first. It won’t be too late for us to slowly discuss other things later.”

Although elder Chen was extremely unwilling to do this, in the end, he did not dare to disobey his chief’s orders. He said, “Yes sir.” From within his robes, he withdrew a small bottle. Taking a few steps forward, he said to Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, “My chief puts benevolence and righteousness ahead of all other things. This is the antidote. Take it!”

Ah Bi was overjoyed. She immediately rushed forward to accept the antidote, then very respectfully curtsied to Qiao Feng and paid her respects to elder Chen as well. “Thank you, chief Qiao. Thank you, elder Chen.” As she took the antidote, she asked, “Elder, if I might ask, how should the antidote be applied?” Elder Chen replied, “After drawing out the poison in the wound, apply the antidote directly to the wound.” After pausing for a moment, he said, “If the venom isn’t totally drawn out, this medicine will do more harm than good. You should be aware of this.” Ah Bi replied, “Understood!” Rushing back to Feng Bo’e’s side, she lifted up her arm and was about to press her open mouth against the wound and suck out the venom.

Elder Chen loudly shouted, “Hold!” Ah Bi was stunned. “What is it?” Elder Chen said, “Females cannot draw the poison out!” Ah Bi’s face reddened
 
slightly. “What’s wrong with females?” Elder Chen replied, “This poison has a cold Yin nature. Females are Yin by nature. To add even more Yin would be to increase the toxicity of this venom.”

Ah Bi, Ah Zhu, and Wang Yuyan all half-believed, half-doubted him. Although they felt his words were very strange, they weren’t totally unreasonable. If he was telling the truth, then them drawing out the venom would be actually making things worse. On their side, the only man left was Bao Butong, but he was currently embroiled in a huge battle with the short elder. The shadow of the elder’s staff flashed about, and Bao Butong’s palms fluttered about here and there. It would be difficult for the battle to come to an end soon. Ah Zhu called out, “Third brother, stop fighting for now! First come and help rescue fourth brother!”

There was only a hairs breadth of difference between Bao Butong’s strength and that of the short elder. Even if he wanted to retreat and disengage, it wasn’t something he could do very quickly. When experts competed in martial arts, they risked their lives with every stroke. If someone could advance and retreat freely, they would be able to take their opponent’s life easily. How could it be so easy for him to charge or disengage? Hearing Ah Zhu’s call, Bao Butong knew that there was a change in Feng Bo’e’s condition. Growing anxious, he launched several powerful attacks in a row, hoping to be able to shake the short elder off.

By now, the short elder had already fought with Bao Butong for over a hundred strokes. Although they were evenly matched, he himself was wielding a large, long, and powerful weapon, whereas Bao Butong was empty handed. Thus, superiority and inferiority had already been determined. Brandishing his steel staff, the short elder had launched many attacks in succession against Bao Butong, but Bao Butong had been able to dissolve all of them. He knew that most likely, if this battle were to continue, he would lose, not win. Seeing how ferocious Bao Butong’s attacks became, he thought that Bao Butong was trying to vanquish him and immediately used all of his energy to counterattack. These four elders of the Beggar’s Clan each had their own unique accomplishments in martial arts. Zhu Baokun and Sima Lin of the Qingcheng sect, along with Yao Bodang of the Qin family stronghold, were all dispatched by Bao Butong in a
 
laughably easy manner, but this short elder really was difficult to deal with. Although Bao Butong had the advantage, for him to actually defeat his opponent by one stance or half a stroke would depend on his opponent’s strength, and clearly the short elder possessed strong stamina.

Qiao Feng saw that Wang Yuyan and the other two girls looked very frightened. He knew that it was true that females cannot draw out this poison, and also knew how lethal the multicolored scorpion’s venom was. He knew that if he ordered his subordinates to launch an attack, even if the situation was a hundred times more dangerous than it was today, not a single person would dare to complain. But no matter what, he could not give out the order for one of his subordinates to risk his own life to save an enemy. He immediately said, “I will come and draw out his poison myself.” As he spoke, he walked towards Feng Bo’e.

As soon as he saw the anxious look on Wang Yuyan’s face, Duan Yu had the intention of helping Feng Bo’e draw out the poison. Only, Qiao Feng was now his sworn brother, and it would be totally improper for him to go and help his sworn brother’s enemy thusly. Although Qiao Feng had ordered elder Chen to provide the antidote, Duan Yu didn’t know if he was sincere in doing so or not. Seeing as how Qiao Feng was personally walking towards Feng Bo’e and intended to draw out the poison himself, Duan Yu hurriedly said, “Elder brother, let me do it instead.” Rushing forward, he immediately executed the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’. With a swaying flicker, he rushed in front of Qiao Feng. Grabbing Feng Bo’e’s upper arm, he pressed his mouth against the wound and began drawing the poison out.

At this point in time, Feng Bo’e’s arm had already turned totally black. His eyes were wide open; the flesh on his face had become so rigid that he couldn’t even close them. After drawing out a mouthful of poisoned blood, Duan Yu spat it out on the ground. The poisoned blood was as black as ink. Everyone who saw it was astonished. Just as Duan Yu was about to draw out more poison, more black blood began to flow from the wound. Startled, Duan Yu thought to himself, “It’d be best if I let this poisoned blood flow out first.” He did not know that this was because he had once ingested the ‘King of Ten Thousand Poisons’, the Cinnabar Toad, which could conquer
 
all venoms. The venom of the multicolored scorpion was far inferior to it. As soon as they touched, the venom began to flow out. Feng Bo’e’s body suddenly came to life, and he said, “Many thanks!”

Ah Zhu and the rest were all overjoyed. Ah Bi said, “Fourth brother, you can speak again!” The flow of black blood slowly lessened, beginning to turn purple. After the purple blood flowed for a bit longer, the blood turned a scarlet red. Ah Bi hurriedly applied the antidote to his arm, and Bao Butong unsealed his acupoints. In a short period of time, Feng Bo’e’s arm, previously swollen grotesquely, looked normal again, and he had no problems speaking or moving.

Feng Bo’e bowed deeply towards Duan Yu. “Thank you for saving my life.” Duan Yu hurriedly returned the courtesy, saying, “There’s no need to be so courteous about such a trifling matter.” Feng Bo’e grinned. “My life might be a trifling matter to you, but it’s a rather important matter to me.” Taking the small antidote bottle from Ah Zhu, he tossed it towards elder Chen, saying, “I’m giving your antidote back to you!” Turning towards Qiao Feng, Feng Bo’e cupped his fists. “Chief Qiao, you are exceptionally benevolent and righteous. You are worthy of being the leader of the largest clan in the world. I, Feng Bo’e, admire you very much!” Qiao Feng cupped his fists in return. “You are too kind.”

Feng Bo’e picked up his broadsword, then pointed with his left arm towards elder Chen. “Today, I was defeated by you. I, Feng Bo’e, freely admit my inferiority! Next time we meet, let’s fight again! But this today, we’re not fighting anymore.” Elder Chen smiled. “I will naturally keep you company next time.” Slanting his body, Feng Bo’e called out towards the elder wielding a mace, “I’d like to go a few rounds with you, sir!” Ah Zhu and Ah Bi were astonished. They called out, “Fourth brother, no! Your body isn’t fully recovered yet!” Feng Bo’e replied, “Not getting into a fight when one’s available? That’s not in keeping with my character!” Brandishing his knife, he charged at the mace-wielding elder.

The mace-wielding elder had white eyebrows and a white beard. He had become famous decades ago. What type of person hadn’t he met? But he couldn’t help but be struck dumb with amazement as he saw Feng Bo’e vigorously charging towards him, just moments after being brought back
 
from the brink of death. Originally, there were many transformations and changes in his mace techniques. Aside from beating, striking, sweeping, and piercing techniques, he also had bizarre techniques to lock up an enemy’s weapons. But now, feeling a bit nervous, his skill decreased by a significant degree and all he could do was to ward off Feng Bo’e’s attacks, without being able to counterattack at all.

Qiao Feng frowned slightly. “This Feng fellow really doesn’t know what’s good for him. Brother Duan just saved his life. How could he so indiscriminately and rashly charge off into battle?”

Bao Butong and Feng Bo’e both slowly gained the upper hand in their battles. However, it would still take some time for victory or defeat to be determined. When experts were competing against each other, the situation could change in the blink of an eye. It only took one particularly brilliant stroke or the slightest negligence for a losing position to be turned into an equal one. None of the four dared to be the least bit negligent, and all of the onlookers watched raptly.

Duan Yu suddenly heard the sound of many people rushing this way from the east, followed by people coming from the north. Duan Yu said to Qiao Feng in a low voice, “Elder brother, people are coming.” Qiao Feng also had heard the sounds long ago, and nodded. He thought to himself, “Most likely, other forces under young master Murong’s command have come. So this Bao fellow and Feng fellow arrived first to keep us entangled here while they prepared a large group of men to attack us.” He prepared to give a secret command, ordering the ordinary members of the clan to head west and individually disappear off to the south while the four elders, hall-master Jiang, and himself would secure the rear. But suddenly, he heard footsteps coming from the west and the south as well. They had been totally surrounded by enemies.

Qiao Feng said in a low voice, “Hall-master Jiang, the enemy force is weakest to the south. Later, when I give the hand signal, immediately order all of our brothers to retreat to the south.” Hall-master Jiang replied, “Yes sir!”
 
Just at this moment, fifty or sixty people burst in from the east. All of them wore ragged clothes, had uncombed hair, and either wielded weapons or broken bowls and bamboo staffs. All of them were members of the Beggar’s Clan. Next, eighty or so disciples of the Beggar’s Clan appeared from the north. All of them had very serious expressions on their face, and when they saw Qiao Feng, they didn’t pay him any courtesies at all. Instead, they seemed to be faintly hostile towards him.

Bao Butong and Feng Bo’e, seeing so many disciples of the Beggar’s Clan suddenly appear, were both alarmed. They thought to themselves, “How can we rescue miss Wang, Ah Zu, and Ah Bi from this situation?”

However, the person who was most astonished of all was Qiao Feng. These were all members of his clan, and normally would be extremely respectful towards him. If they saw him from afar, they would immediately rush forward to pay their respects. How could it be that today, they wouldn’t even let out a call of ‘Chief’? Just as he was feeling confused, he saw that dozens of additional clan members had rushed here from the west and the south. In a short period of time, the apricot forest was crammed with people. However, aside from the four elders and hall-master Jiang, who had arrived earlier, none of the other leaders of the Beggar’s Clan were present. Qiao Feng was more and more astonished. Slowly, cold sweat began to form on his palms. He had never been shocked than he was today, not even when he was facing the toughest of enemies. He could only think to himself, “Can it be that there has been a riot or rebellion within our ranks? Can it be that the skill-instructing elder and the law-enforcing elders, along with the various hall-masters, have all been murdered?” But with Bao Butong and Feng Bo’e still fighting with the two elders, and Wang Yuyan and the other two girls still watching, he could not give voice to his thoughts.

Elder Chen suddenly shouted in a loud voice, “Form the ‘Dog Beating Formation!’” From each direction, ten or twenty Beggar’s Clan disciples rushed forwards, all wielding weapons, surrounding Bao Butong and Feng Bo’e.

Bao Butong saw that in the blink of an eye, the Beggar’s Clan had formed a battle array against them. He knew that although he himself might be able
 
to just barely escape, Feng Bo’e had been greatly exhausted by his battle with the poison and would suffer severe injuries while doing so. It would be harder than hard to rescue Wang Yuyan and the other girls. When faced with a situation like this, he really had no other options but to throw up his hands and admit defeat. For him to admit defeat when so badly outnumbered would not cause any harm to his reputation at all. But Bao Butong had a stubborn, pigheaded nature. He would intentionally do the opposite of what normal people considered to be natural. In addition, Feng Bo’e was a person who loved fighting more than his own life. As long as there was an opportunity to fight, regardless of whether he would win or lose, whether he would live or die, or whether the cause was just or injust, he would fight to the very end. Victory and defeat had already been determined, but Bao Butong and Feng Bo’e continued to fight hard, not yielding in the slightest.

Wang Yuyan cried out, “Third brother Bao, fourth brother Feng! This won’t work! The two of you aren’t capable of defeating this ‘Dog Beating Formation’! It’s best if you stop fighting now!”

Feng Bo’e replied, “Lemme fight a bit longer! When I am totally helpless, I’ll stop fighting!” As he spoke, his attention was diverted and the white- haired elder landed a hit on his shoulder with his mace. The spikes on the mace tore a bloody wound in his shoulder. Feng Bo’e cursed, “Your grandmother’s! What a nasty stroke!” He launched three swishing suicidal attacks, as though he wanted nothing more but to die with his opponent. The white haired elder thought to himself, “It isn’t as though the two of us have irreconcilable differences. Why must you go all out like that?” He immediately tightened his defenses, no longer attacking.

The long-armed elder began to sing, “Brothers from the south, come beg for food! Ai-yo-ai-yo-yo…” Although he was singing a begging song, what he actually was doing was issuing out combat orders. The tens of beggars at the south all raised their weapons. As soon as the elder stopped singing, they would charge forwards. Qiao Feng knew that once the ‘Dog Beating Formation’ was launched, the beggars in the formation would not stop until the enemy had been wounded and killed. He was unwilling to create a deep grudge with Gusu’s Murong family before he had fully investigated the
 
situation. He immediately waved his left hand and shouted, “Wait!” His shadow swaying, he arrived before Feng Bo’e, launching a clawing attack towards his face….

Feng Bo’e dodged to the right, but Qiao Feng launched an attack with his right hand, seizing him by the wrist and disarming him. Wang Yuyan cried out, “This is a stroke from the ‘Dragon Claw Hand’ named the ‘Three Pearl-Snatching Strokes’!”

Then she cried out, “Third brother Bao, his left elbow will collide with your chest, then his right hand will chop at your upper waist, and his left hand will seize your ‘Qihu’ acupoint. This is a ‘Dragon Claw Hand’ stroke known as ‘Copious Amounts of Rain’.

Just as Wang Yuyan said, ‘his left elbow will collide with your chest’, Qiao Feng’s left elbow really did strike out and collide with Bao Butong’s chest. As Wang Yuyan said, ‘his right hand will chop at your upper waist’, Qiao Feng’s right hand really did chop at his upper waist. He acted at exactly the same moment that she spoke; the synchronicity was so perfect that it couldn’t even have been trained for. Just as Wang Yuyan said the third sentence, Qiao Feng’s fingers formed a hook and seized Bao Butong’s ‘Qihu’ acupoint.

Bao Butong felt his entire body go limp, rendering him incapable of movement. He indignantly said, “What a nice ‘Copious Amounts of Rain’! Little sister, what’s the point of you telling me about it after the fact? If you told me a bit earlier, I could’ve prepared for it!” Wang Yuyan apologized, “He’s simply too powerful. When he executes his attacks, he doesn’t reveal any hints in advance, and I wasn’t able to realize what he was about to do. I’m really sorry.” Bao Butong replied, “What’s this ‘really sorry, really sorry’ nonsense? Today, we lost this fight and have shamed the Basin of the Swallows!” Turning his head, he saw that Feng Bo’e was standing straight and stiff. When Qiao Feng took away his weapon, he had also sealed his acupoints. Otherwise, how could he simply stand there without fighting so obediently?

Elder Chen, seeing how his chief had already subdued Feng Bo’e and Bao Butong, stopped singing the song without finishing it. The four elders and
 
various experts of the clan, seeing how Qiao Feng had immediately subdued those two as soon as he acted with such unimaginably wonderful skill, all felt great admiration for him in their heart.

Qiao Feng unsealed Bao Butong’s ‘Qihu’ acupoint, then gently tapped Feng Bo’e on the shoulder, unsealing his sealed acupoint as well before saying, “The two of you, feel free to leave.”

Even if Bao Butong was more stubborn than he already was, he knew that the gap between his level of martial arts and that of his opponent was simply far too wide. Even if the Beggar’s Clan didn’t have the ‘Dog Beating Formation’ or the four elders, Qiao Feng would still easily overcome him. At this point in time, if he said anything at all, he would only lose more face. Without saying a single word, he immediately returned to Wang Yuyan’s side.

Feng Bo’e, on the other hand, spoke. “Chief Qiao, I am definitely inferior to you in martial arts. But I’m not happy with how you beat me using that technique earlier. You caught me a bit off guard.” Qiao Feng replied, “True. I did catch you off guard. Let’s go a few more stances, shall we? I’ll receive some strokes from your broadsword.” As soon as he finished speaking, he lifted up his hand, making a snatching motion mid-air. A current of air suddenly agitated the broadsword lying on the floor, causing the broadsword to actually jump up and leap into his hand. With a flick of his finger, Qiao Feng spun the broadsword around, then presented it to Feng Bo’e.

Feng Bo’e immediately froze in utter shock. In a quivering voice, he said, “This…this is the ‘Dragon Capturing Art’? Someone exists who is actually…actually able to use this incredible technique?”

Qiao Feng smiled. “My proficiency in the skill is very basic. Please don’t laugh at me.” As he spoke, he glanced at Wang Yuyan. Earlier, when Wang Yuyan had recognized him using ‘Copious Amounts of Rain’, she had predicted with incredible foresight, as though she were a prophet. This had greatly astonished him. At this moment, he was curious as to how this young maiden who had a thorough knowledge of martial arts would comment on his execution of the ‘Dragon Capturing Art’.
 
Unexpectedly, Wang Yuyan didn’t say a single word. It seemed as though she hadn’t even seen Qiao Feng’s outstanding display. As it turned out, she was lost in thought. “Chief Qiao’s martial arts skill is so incredible. My cousin shares an equal amount of fame with him, and everyone in the martial world knows the saying, ‘Northern Qiao Feng, Southern Murong’. But…but my cousin’s proficiency in martial arts, how can it…how can it…”

Feng Bo’e shook his head. “I can’t beat you. The difference between our respective skill levels is too great. There’s no fun in fighting you. Chief Qiao, farewell!” Although he had just been defeated, he didn’t look crestfallen at all. The saying, ‘Victory is joyful, but defeat is delightful as well’ applied to him. The only thing he wanted to do was fight. The more exciting the battle became, the happier he was. He didn’t care at all about victory or defeat. He could honestly be described as someone was deeply in tune with the ‘Way of Battle’.

After saluting Qiao Feng, he said to Bao Butong, “Third brother, I hear that the young master went to Shaolin. There’re a lot of people there. There must be a lot of fights willing to happen as well! I’m going to go stir up some trouble! You guys take your time.” The only thing he was afraid of was missing half a chance to get into a fight. Without even waiting for Bao Butong to respond, he immediately ran off.

Bao Butong said, “Let’s go, let’s go! As my skill is inferior to others, I have lost all face! Even if I practiced for ten more years, I would still be totally defeated. I might as well stop now, and come to a rest!” He sang the words in a loud voice as he swaggered off. Even in defeat, he looked carefree and unrestrained.

Wang Yuyan said to Ah Zhu and Ah Bi, “Third brother and fourth brother have both left. Where shall we go to find…to find him?” Ah Zhu lowered her head. “The Beggar’s Clan needs to discuss some serious matters here. Let’s go back to Wuxi and discuss things there.” Turning her head towards Qiao Feng, she said, “Chief Qiao, the three of us are leaving now!” Qiao Feng nodded. “Ladies, at your leisure.”
 
From within the group of beggars to the east, walked out a middle-aged beggar with an elegant, refined face. “Chief, we haven’t yet avenged the murder of vice-chief Ma. How can you so casually let our enemies leave?” These words seemed on the surface to be very courteous, but the person appeared very overbearing and aggressive, not acting as though he were a subordinate at all.

Qiao Feng replied, “We came to Jiangnan for the purpose of avenging the death of vice-chief Ma. But over the past few days, I have done some investigating and now believe that he was not necessarily slain by young master Murong.”

The middle-aged beggar was named Quan Guanqing. He was nicknamed the ‘Fully Learned Scholar’. He was wise and full of stratagems, and possessed a high level of martial arts as well. Within the clan, he was an eight-bagged hall-master whose position was inferior only to the six elder’s themselves. He was in charge of the ‘Hall of Great Wisdom’. He asked, “Chief, what makes you say that?”

Wang Yuyan, Ah Zhu, and Ah Bi were just about to leave, but upon hearing someone in the Beggar’s Clan bring up Murong Fu, they immediately went to one side and quietly listened, out of their love and solicitude for him.

Qiao Feng replied, “It is based purely on my own conjecture. I cannot provide any proof.” Quan Guanqing said, “What conjectures do you have, chief? Your subordinate would like to hear them.” Qiao Feng replied, “When I was in Luoyang and heard that second brother Ma died to the ‘Throat Locking Technique’, I suddenly thought of Gusu’s Murong family, famous for ‘using an opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent.’ I believed that second brother Ma had unequaled proficiency in the ‘Throat Locking Technique’, and that aside from Gusu’s Murong family, no one is capable of using second brother Ma’s own ultimate technique against him.” Quan Guanqing said, “Correct.” Qiao Feng said, “But over the past few days, more and more I have begun to think that our initial judgment might not be correct. It’s possible that there are other complications to this matter.” Quan Guanqing said, “All of the brothers here are willing to listen to your thoughts and help you clarify them.”
 
Qiao Feng felt that his words seemed to spring from an evil intention, and also noticed that all of the members present had a strange look on their faces. Some tremendous unforeseen event must have occurred within the clan, and he asked, “Where is the skill-instructing elder and the law- enforcing elder?” Quan Guanqing replied, “Your subordinate has not seen either of the two elders today.” Qiao Feng then asked, “And where are the hall-masters of the ‘Great Benevolence, ‘Great Trustworthiness’, ‘Great Valor’, and ‘Great Courtesy’ halls?” Quan Guanging turned and looked at a seven-bagged disciple who stood towards the northwest and asked, “Zhang Quanxiang, where is your hall-master?” The seven-bagged disciple replied, “Um…um…I don’t know.”

Qiao Feng always knew that Quan Guanqing, the hall-master of the ‘Hall of Great Wisdom’, was a person who utilized careful planning. He was a very capable and experienced person, and was originally one of his own exceptionally competent personal subordinates. But now that he was conspiring to cause upheaval, he became an exceptionally dangerous enemy. Seeing a look of shame on that seven-bagged disciple, Zhang Quanxiang, how he was unwilling to meet his own gaze, and hearing how he hemmed and hawed, Qiao Feng shouted out, “Zhang Quanxiang! You murdered the master of your hall. Right?!” Zhang Quanxiang was shocked. He hurriedly said, “I didn’t, I didn’t! Hall-master Fang is safe and sound in that place. He isn’t dead, he isn’t dead! This…this has nothing to do with me. I didn’t do it!” Qiao Feng said in a severe voice, “Then who did it?” This sentence was not said particularly loudly, but it was filled with dignity and majesty. Zhang Quanxiang couldn’t help but begin to tremble from head to foot, and his gaze turned towards Quan Guanqing.

Qiao Feng realized that the revolt had already come to pass. Even if the skill-instructing elder and the law-enforcing elder had not been slain, they were definitely in critical, life-and-death danger. He had to act quickly, before the opportunity faded away. Letting out a long sigh, he turned and asked the four elders, “Four elders, what exactly has happened?”

The four elders looked at each other, each of them hoping that another person would be the first to speak. Upon seeing this, Qiao Feng knew that the four elders were also complicit in whatever had happened. Smiling
 
slightly, he said, “Within our clan, from myself on down, everyone highly values the code of brotherhood…” As he said this, he suddenly took two steps backwards. Each step he took was over three meters long; other people couldn’t move so quickly even if while walking forwards, and their steps would not be as large. After taking those two backward steps, he was within one meter of Quan Guanqing. Without turning around, he shot both hand backwards and seized Quan Guanqing’s ‘Zhongting’ and ‘Jiuyi’ acupoints, located on his chest.

Qiao Feng exerted his internal energy through his hands, sending it through Quan Guanqing’s captured acupoints and into his meridians, where it surged to the ‘Zhongwei’ and ‘Yangtai’ acupoints near his kneejoints. Feeling his legs go soft, Quan Guanqing couldn’t help but fall to his knees.

Quan Guanqing possessed outstanding martial arts ability, and was not at all inferior to the four elders. How could it be that he was subdued in but a single stroke, without even having the chance to retaliate? Everyone present turned pale. They were all astonished and fearful, uncertain as to how to proceed.

Qiao Feng had surmised that Quan Guanqing must be the principal troublemaker in this revolt. Qiao Feng knew that if he did not subdue him immediately, there would be no end of problems. Even if he was able to suppress the traitors, it would be difficult to avoid a bloody, fratricidal civil war within the clan itself. While about to face tough opponents, how could the Beggar’s Clan inflict wounds on itself? He saw that of the people present, everyone aside from the hall-master of the ‘Great Righteousness’ seemed to have been deluded and mislead by Quan Guanqing. If they began to fight each other, things would become very difficult to handle. Thus, he intentionally turned around to ask a question of the four elders and, while Quan Guanqing was not on his guard, suddenly retreated and sealed his acupoints. Outwardly, this may have appeared as a simple, uninterrupted action, like a hare rearing its head and a hawk descending to slay it, but in actuality Qiao Feng had to draw upon everyone he had ever learned to carry it out. If Qiao Feng’s backwards strikes were off-target even slightly, even though he would have been able to subdue Quan Guanqing, he wouldn’t have had the chance to send his internal energy to Quan Guanqing’s
 
kneejoints, and Quan Guanqing’s co-conspirators might have rushed forward to aid him, forcing a battle. But with Quan Guanqing falling to his knees, everyone present thought that he was actually surrendering to Qiao Feng, and thus no one dared to make any rash moves.

Qiao Feng turned around. He lightly clapped Quan Guanqing on the shoulder and said, “Since you admit your mistake, there’s no need for you to kneel down. However, I cannot fail to mete out punishment to you for going against your superiors. We’ll slowly discuss how to handle this.” With a light tap of his elbow, he sealed Quan Quanqing’s ‘Mute’ acupoint, preventing him from speaking.

Qiao Feng knew that Quan Guanqing was a superb orator. If he was given a chance to speak and incite the people present, it would cause many problems. This was a moment of great crisis, and thus he had to use drastic measures to deal with it. He had subdued Quan Guanqing and forced him to his knees. Now, he turned to Zhang Quanxiang and loudly said, “Lead hall- master Jiang of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’ to invite the skill- instructing elder and the law-enforcing elder here. If you obediently listen to my commands, your own offenses will be lessened. Everyone else must immediately sit down. Without my permission, none of you are allowed to rise!”

Zhang Quanxiang was both shocked and overjoyed. He repeatedly agreed, “Yes! Yes!”

Hall-master Jiang of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’ was not part of this revolt. When he saw how Quan Guanqing and the others dared to stage an armed rebellion against their superiors, he was filled with so much rage that his face was swollen red. He breathed heavily and furiously. Only now, upon hearing Qiao Feng order him to go rescue the two elders, did he calm down slightly. He said to the twenty or so members of his hall, “Our clan has unfortunately fallen victim to turmoil. Now is the time when all of us must exert all our efforts to repay our chief’s benevolence. Everyone must protect the chief and obey all his commands!” He was afraid that the four elders would, once he left, launch an attack against Qiao Feng. Although the people of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’ were far outnumbered by the traitors, the chief couldn’t be allowed to face the traitors all alone.
 
But Qiao Feng said, “No! Brother Jiang, take all of the brothers within your hall with you. Nothing can go wrong on this critical mission of saving the two elders.” Not daring to disobey him, hall-master Jiang replied, “Yes sir!” Then he said, “Chief, please be careful. I will come back as soon as possible.” Smiling, Qiao Feng said, “Everyone here is a brother with whom I have gone through life-and-death experiences with. It’s just that they have some temporary complaints. It is no big deal. Set your mind at rest and go.” Then he added, “Send someone to inform the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’ that our meeting at Mt. Hui must be pushed back by seven days.” Hall-master Jiang respectfully bowed, then left with all of his subordinates.

Although Qiao Feng spoke very casually, he was actually very anxious. With the members of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’ having departed, aside from Duan Yu and the three girls, each and every one of the two hundred plus people within the apricot forest had participated in this revolt. It would only take one person taking command for all of them to suddenly move against him, making the situation very hard to deal with. Staring at everyone, he saw that there was a look of extremely awkward embarrassment on all of their faces. Some tried to put on a pretense of calmness, while others let their fear show on their faces. But still others seemed itchy and eager to give battle, appearing to be ready to take reckless actions. None of the two hundred people surrounding him spoke, but it was clear that if someone did, there would immediately be great chaos.

By this time, the sky had slowly become black, as dusk enveloped the world. A mist arose within the apricot forest, billowing hither and to. Qiao Feng thought to himself, “At this time, I need to calm everyone down. The best thing to do would be to change their current state of mind. Once the skill-instructing elder and the rest come, everything will be solved.” Glancing at Duan Yu, he said, “Brothers, a joyous thing has happened to me today. I’ve made a new friend. This is brother Duan, Duan Yu. The two of us got along perfectly, and I have become sworn brothers with him.”

Upon hearing that this bookworm had become sworn brothers with the chief of the Beggar’s Clan, Wang Yuyan, Ah Zhu, and Ah Bi were all astonished.

Qiao Feng continued, “Brother, let me introduce to you some of the most important people in my clan.” He led Duan Yu to the white-haired elder
 
who wielded the spiked mace. “This is Elder Song. He is a senior statements of our clan, whom everyone respects. When his spiked mace freely roamed across the martial world, you, brother, weren’t even born yet.” Duan Yu said, “Pleased to meet you, pleased to meet you. For me to have the good fortune of meeting an eminent, virtuous person is a true blessing.” As he spoke, he cupped his fist and saluted the elder. Elder Song forced himself to return the courtesy.

Next, Qiao Feng led Duan Yu to stand before the short and stout elder who wielded the steel staff. “Elder Xi is an expert of our sect who specializes in armed combat. Ten or so years ago, I often sought advice from him regarding martial arts. The relationship between us can be characterized as half that of a master-disciple relationship, and half that of a deep friendship. The ties of affection that bind us are deep and unabiding.” Duan Yu said, “Just earlier, I watched elder Xi fight with that other fellow. He really is superb at martial arts. Admirable, admirable.” Elder Xi had a straightforward and frank disposition. Upon hearing how highly Qiao Feng esteemed their friendship, and how Qiao Feng had never forgotten that elder Xi had once instructed him, he himself couldn’t help but feel greatly ashamed for listening to and stupidly believing Quan Guanqing’s words.

After Qiao Feng had introduced elders Xi and Chen, he was about to introduce Duan Yu to the red-faced elder Wu, who wielded the demon- headed sabre, when suddenly he heard the sound of many footsteps rush in his direction from the northeast. There was a great deal of noise, and some people were repeatedly calling out, “How is the chief? Where are those traitors?” Others were saying, “We fell for their tricks and were imprisoned by them! I’m so angry.” All the voices came together in a chaotic roar.

Qiao Feng was overjoyed, but did not want to be discourteous and risk making elder Wu unhappy. He introduced Duan Yu to elder Wu and explained elder Wu’s status and great fame before turning around. As he did, he saw that the skill-instructing elder, law-enforcing elder, and the hall- masters of the ‘Great Benevolence’, ‘Great Valor’, ‘Great Courtesy’, and ‘Great Trustworthiness’ halls had all arrived, along with a large group of their subordinates. All of them had many things they wanted to say, but in front of their chief, none of them dared to speak too rashly.
 
Qiao Feng said, “Everyone, please be seated. I have some things I want to say.” They all answered in unison, “Yes sir!” Each of them seated themselves in accordance to their own rank and station. To Duan Yu’s eyes, it seemed as though everyone was just scrambling about for a seat, but in actuality, there was a regimented order and method to their seating arrangements.

Seeing how everyone seated themselves according to regulations, Qiao Feng felt thirty percent relieved. Smiling, he said, “It is the good fortune of our clan that the people of the martial world hold us in high esteem, so as to allow us to be the largest clan in the world for over a century. With so many people in our clan, it’s natural that we have differing opinions and feelings. All we need to do is clearly explain the situation and politely discuss our differences. Everyone here is the closest of brothers and friends to everyone else. There’s no need for us to take any temporary personal disputes too seriously.” When he said these words, a very kind and gentle look was on his face. He had long since decided to handle this situation peacefully and cause this great disaster to totally disappear. No matter what, he could not allow the brothers of the Beggar’s Clan to kill and slaughter each other.

As everyone heard his words, the dangerous, explosive air actually did diminish a bit.

An old, yellow-faced beggar seated to Qiao Feng’s right rose to his feet. He said, “Elders Song, Xi, Chen, and Wu. Might I ask, why is it that you ordered for us to be imprisoned within a small boat on Lake Taihu?” This was the law-enforcing elder. His name was Bai Shijing. He had always been incorruptible and impartial, and whenever anyone within the clan who had broken its rules saw him, they all became very nervous, no matter what their rank or station.

Of the four elders, elder Song was the oldest, and so he was something of their de-facto leader. His face flushed red. Coughing, he said, “This…this… um…we are all old friends who have gone through many trials and tribulations together over the years. Naturally, we had no ill intentions towards you…Bai…law-enforcing elder Bai, please give me some face and don’t hold it against me.”
 
Everyone, upon hearing his words, thought that he was becoming old and muddleheaded. To revolt against one’s leaders was an extremely serious offense. How could it be simply waved off with the words, ‘please give me some face and don’t hold it against me’?

Bai Shijing replied, “Elder Song, you say that you had no ill intentions, but that is not the case. The skill-instructing elder and I, along with our brothers, were all imprisoned on three boats and set adrift in the middle of the lake. The boats were filled with firewood, sulfur, and saltpeter. We were told that if we tried to escape, the boats would immediately be set aflame. Elder Song, are you telling me that this is not an example of ill intentions?” Elder Song said, “This…this, well, this really was way too excessive. We’re all one big family and are like brothers to each other. How can we be so reckless and rough? In the future, how can we face each other? This…isn’t this humiliating?” These last few sentences were directed towards elder Chen.

Pointing to a man, Bai Shijing said in a fearsome voice, “You tricked us aboard the ship by telling us it was the chief’s command. Tell me, what is the penalty for falsifying the chief’s orders?” The man was so terrified, his entire body was quivering. In a trembling voice, he said, “My station is humble and low. How could I dare commit such a rebellious act? It was all…it was all…” His eyes looked towards Quan Guanqing, and his meaning was clearly. He was saying, ‘it was all due to my hall-master, who ordered me to lie to you.’ But, as one of Quan Guanqing’s subordinates, he didn’t dare to openly accuse him. Bai Shijing replied, “It was the orders of hall-master Quan, right?” The man hung his head, not daring to either say yes or say no. Bai Shijing said, “When hall-master Quan ordered you to lie to me and tell me that our chief wanted me to get on this boat, did you know that this order was false?” Instantly, all the blood drained away from that man’s face, and he didn’t dare to utter a sound.

Bai Shijing laughed grimly. “Li Chunlai, you’ve always been a tough man who has never been afraid to admit to your actions. Am I right? As a man, if you had the guts to do something, how can you not have the guts to admit to it?” Suddenly, a firm, unyielding look appeared on Li Chunlai’s face. Puffing out his chest, he said in a clear voice, “Elder Bai, your words are
 
correct! I, Li Chunlai, have acted wrongly. Regardless of whether I am to be killed or dismembered, I await your orders! If I so much as wrinkle my forehead when it happens, then you can say I’m not a real man! When I gave you the ‘orders’ from the chief, I knew very well that the orders were false.”

Bai Shijing asked, “Did the chief wrong you? Was it I who wronged you?” Li Chunlai replied, “Neither is true. The chief has always acted righteously and loyally by me, and you, elder Bai, are just and impartial. No one can say differently.” Bai Shijing said in a severe voice, “Then what is the meaning behind all this? What is the reason for your actions?” Li Chunlai glanced at the kneeling Quan Guanqing, then glanced at Qiao Feng. He loudly said, “I broke our clan’s regulations and deserve death. But I do not dare give the reason for my actions.” He flipped his wrist, and a bright flash of steel could be seen. With a puffing sound, he stabbed himself in the heart. His movements were very quick, and his dagger was aimed at his own heart. As the dagger pierced into his heart, he immediately died.

All the beggars present let out a loud cry of shock, yet all of them remained seated. None of them moved.

Bai Shijing didn’t even bat an eye. He said, “You knew that the order was false, and yet instead of reporting this to the chief, you lied to me. You deserved to be put to death.” Turning towards the skill-instructing elder, he said, “Brother Xiang, which person tricked you into going on the boat?”

Suddenly, a person jumped to his feet and quickly tried to run away from the apricot forest.

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