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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 7

 Chapter 7: Boundless Regrets of Profligate Love
Duan Zhengchun and the others returned to his palace, where a feast had been prepared. At the banquet table, aside from Duan Zhengchun and his wife, and Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing, no one else was present save the servants, which numbered seventeen or eighteen. In her entire life, how could Mu Wanqing have seen or experienced such splendor and luxury? She had neither heard of nor ever seen any of the dishes which were being presented.

She saw that Duan Zhengchun and his wife were treating her like a member of the family. It were as though two generations of husband and wife were happily dining together. Her affection was won by this display.

Duan Yu saw that his mother was continuing to treat his father somewhat coolly. She neither drank, nor ate any meat. The only dishes she touched were some vegetarian dishes. Duan Yu poured out a cup of wine, then, holding it with both hands, rose to his feet. “Mother, your son would like to offer you a cup. My respectful congratulations on you and father reconciling. Finally, our family of three can enjoy domestic bliss again.”

The Sage of Hollow Jade replied, “I don’t drink wine.” Duan Yu poured out yet another cup of wine, then winked towards Mu Wanqing. “Miss Mu would also like to offer you a cup.” Taking the cup with both hands, Mu Wanqing also rose to her feet.

The Sage of Hollow Jade felt that it wouldn’t be appropriate to act too coldly towards Mu Wanqing. She let out a small smile. “Miss, this son of mine is extremely naughty. We, his parents, aren’t able to control him. In the future, you’ll have to help us keep him under control.” Mu Wanqing replied, “If he’s disobedient, I’ll grab him by his ears and beat him!”
The Sage of Hollow Jade let out a surprised laugh, then glanced at her husband out of the corner of her eye. Duan Zhengchun laughed. “That’s how it should be.”

The Sage of Hollow Jade extended her left hand to accept the wine cup from Mu Wanqing. Underneath the flickering candlelight, Mu Wanqing saw that her hand was delicate and fine, as clear and lustrous as fine jade. On the back of the Sage’s hand, she saw some sort of mark, as red as the color of blood. Mu Wanqing’s entire body began to tremble. “You…your name…is your name, Dao Baifeng?”

The Sage of Hollow Jade smiled. “My family name is very rare and unusual. How did you know?” Mu Wanqing’s voice shook. “You…you are Dao Baifeng? A woman of the Baiyi tribe? Once, you wielded a soft whip as your weapon? Am I right?” The Sage of Hollow Jade saw that her expression seemed strange, but didn’t harbor any misgivings against the girl. Smiling, she said, “Yu’er really is good to you. He even told you my full name. Your husband is also half Baiyi, which is probably why he acts so wildly.”

Mu Wanqing asked, “You truly are Dao Baifeng?” The Sage of Hollow Jade smiled a little. “Yes, I am.”

Mu Wanqing shouted, “A master’s benevolence is very profound, a master’s orders cannot be disobeyed!” With a lift of her right hand, she shot out two poisoned quarrels towards Dao Baifeng’s chest. During the banquet, the four of them had talked and laughed together as though they were part of one family. Who could have foreseen that Mu Wanqing would suddenly attack?

Dao Baifeng’s martial arts were roughly at the same level as Mu Wanqing to begin with. But at this moment, the distance between them was extremely short, and this attack was so unexpected that she wasn’t able to defend herself. It seemed as though those two poisoned quarrels would hit her no matter what. Duan Zhengchun was sitting on the other side of the table, behind Mu Wanqing. He called out, “Aiyo!” He immediately struck out with a finger, but this finger could only hit Mu Wanqing, and could not save his wife.
Duan Yu had seen Mu Wanqing kill people with those poisoned quarrels many times, and knew that the venom was extremely lethal. In a very short time, the victim’s blood would coagulate and choke off the victim’s throat. As soon as he saw her wave her sleeves, he immediately knew something was wrong. He was sitting by his mother’s side, but unfortunately did not know any martial arts. There was no way for him to deflect this attack. He sprang to his feet, immediately executing his “Graceful Steps Upon the Waves”. With a slanting horizontal motion, he quickly positioned himself in front of his mother. Bo, bo! The two poisoned quarrels struck him directly in the middle of his stomach. At the same time, Mu Wanqing’s back and heart suddenly felt numb, and she fell face-first towards the table, unable to move.

Duan Zhengchun, seeing the desperate situation, flew towards Duan Yu and immediately sealed the eight acupoints surrounding the area where Duan Yu had been struck by the quarrels. This would prevent the poison from spreading throughout the rest of his body for a time. With a flip of his hand and a cracking sound, he immediately dislocated Mu Wanqing’s right arm, preventing her from firing off any more quarrels. Then he unsealed her acupoints. In a stern voice, he said, “Give me the antidote!”

Mu Wanqing’s voice trembled. “I…I only wanted to kill Dao Baifeng. I didn’t want to harm my darling Duan.” Resisting the pain from her dislocated right arm, she reached towards the bosom of her clothes and withdrew two bottles filled with an extract of flowers. “The antidote in the red bottle should be taken internally, and the antidote in the white bottle should be applied externally. Hurry! If you take too long, we won’t be able to save him!”

Dao Baifeng saw that her concern for Duan Yu was genuine and unfeigned. She had already roughly guessed the reasons behind the girl’s actions. Stretching out her hand, she immediately snatched the medicine. She placed two red pills within her son’s mouth. The other bottle was filled with a white powder. She grabbed the end of the quarrels and lightly pulled the two out, then applied a layer of the medicinal powder on top of the wound. Mu Wanqing said, “Thank heaven! He…his life won’t be in danger now, otherwise I…I…”
The three people were extremely anxious. They did not know that Duan Yu had consumed the “King of Ten Thousand Poisons”, the Cinnabar Toad, and that he was immune to all poisons. The venom on Mu Wanqing’s quarrels couldn’t do anything to him. Even if the antidote had not been applied, he would have been fine. However, after being shot with the quarrel, Duan Yu felt twinges of pain in his chest. After seeing the lethal effectiveness of the poisoned quarrels so many times, Duan Yu truly believed that he was definitely going to die. In his panic, he fainted within his mother’s arms.

Watching carefully, Duan Zhengchun and his wife noticed that within a twinkling of the eye, the color of the blood flowing from Duan Yu’s wound had changed. First, it had changed from black to purplish; then, it had turned from purplish to red. Only now did they let out a sigh of relief, knowing that their son’s life was saved.

Dao Baifeng carried her son to his bedroom and covered him with a quilt. She took his pulse, and felt that his pulse was strong and steady. There wasn’t the slightest sign of any weakness, causing her to be extremely happy. So assured, she returned once more to the dinner hall.

Duan Zhengchun asked, “No problems?” Dao Baifeng did not answer. Instead, she turned to Mu Wanqing and said, “Go tell the ‘Asura Sabre’ [In Buddhist mythology, Asuras are malevolent spirits], Qin Hongmian…” As soon as Duan Zhengchun heard the six words, “ ‘The Asura Sabre’, Qin Hongmian”, he said, “You…you…” Dao Baifeng paid no mind to her husband, continuing to address Mu Wanqing. “Tell her that if she wants to take my life, she should make her attempts openly and honestly. Acting with such maliciousness and deceptiveness, isn’t she afraid that people will laugh their heads off?” Mu Wanqing replied, “I don’t know who this ‘Asura Sabre’, Qin Hongmian is.” Baffled, Dao Baifeng asked, “Then who is it that ordered you to kill me?”

Mu Wanqing said, “My master. She ordered me to kill two people. The first person was you. She told me I could identify you by a red mark on your hand. She told me that you are named Dao Baifeng, are of the Baiyi tribe, are very beautiful, and wield a soft whip as your weapon. She…she didn’t tell me that you dressed up like a nun. I saw that your weapon was a
flywhisk, and are called the ‘Sage of Hollow Jade’. I never thought…never thought that you are the person whom Master wishes to kill. Much less that you are Duan Yu’s mother…” And as she finished, teardrops cascaded down her face.

Dao Baifeng said, “The second person your master asked you to kill, is it the “Lovely Poisonist” Gan Baobao?” Mu Wanqing replied, “No, no! The “Lovely Poisonist” Gan Baobao is my martial uncle. She sent people to deliver a message to my master. She said that two people had caused great pain to my master all her life, and that this great wrong must be avenged no matter what…” Dao Baifeng said, “Ah, I understand. The other woman is surnamed Wang and lives in Suzhou, right?” Surprised, Mu Wanqing said, “Right. How did you know? I went with my Master to Suzhou to kill her, but this evil woman had a lot of flunkies under her command. Her dwelling was also very strange. Not only was I unable to find her, but her flunkies chased me all the way to Dali instead.”

Duan Zhengchun listened with his head bowed. The color of his face alternated from blue to red.

A tear suddenly rolled down Dao Baifeng’s cheek. She said towards Duan Zhengchun, “Please take good care of Yu’er and instruct him well. I…I’m leaving now.” Duan Zhengchun said, “Dearest phoenix [the ‘feng’ character in Baifeng stands for phoenix], that’s all in the past. Why are you taking it to heart?” Dao Baifeng said softly, “You aren’t taking it to heart, but I am, and so are other people.” Suddenly, her body flew into the air, and she leapt towards a window.

Duan Zhengchun extended his hand to grasp at her sleeve, but Dao Baifeng waved her own and shot a palm towards his face. Duan Zhengchun turned his face to avoid the blow. With a tearing sound, he ripped off half of her sleeves with his hand. Turning her head, Dao Baifeng said angrily, “Are you really intending to fight me?” Duan Zhengchun said, “Dearest phoenix, you…” With a kick of her legs, Dao Baifeng shot into the air, landing on the top of a nearby room. Within a few movements, she had already moved a hundred feet away.
From far away, Chu Wanli’s voice could be faintly heard. “Who is it?” Dao Baifeng replied, “It’s me.” Chu Wanli said, “Ah, so it is the princess…” After this, nothing more could be heard. Dao Baifeng was far away.

Duan Zhengchun sadly remained standing for a long time. Then, with a sigh, he returned to the warm pavilion. He saw that Mu Wanqing’s face was extremely pale, but that she had not fled. Duan Zhengchun reached out and took a hold of her right arm with his hands. With a “ka” sound, he popped her dislocated arm back in place. Mu Wanqing thought to herself, “I attacked his wife with poison quarrels. I wonder how he is going to torture me?” But Duan Zhengchun only sat down dispiritedly and slowly poured himself a cup of tea. With a ‘gu’ sound, he drained it all in one go.

Duan Zhengchun stared at the window from which his wife had fled as though he were in a trance. After a long time passed, he slowly poured himself a second cup of tea. ‘Gu’. He drained this one in one go as well. Pouring a cup, draining a cup. He repeated this twelve or thirteen times. After finishing the pot of tea, he reached out and grabbed another pot, this one filled with wine. As with before, he poured very slowly, but drank extremely quickly.

Finally, Mu Wanqing became impatient. “What type of strange, vicious way of punishing me are you devising? Whatever it is, hurry up and use it!”

Duan Zhengchun lifted his head to stare at her. After some time had passed, he shook his head and sighed. “So similar. So very similar! I should have realized a long time ago. Your appearance. Your temper…”

Mu Wanqing had no idea what he was babbling about. “What are you talking about?” She asked. “You’re full of rubbish!”

Duan Zhengchun did not reply. Rising to his feet, he sent a backwards palm with his left hand. With a swishing sound, a candle was extinguished by his palm wind. He immediately followed this with another backwards palm with his right hand. A second candle was unexpectedly snuffed out. In this manner, he sent out five palms behind him and extinguished five candles. All throughout, his gaze was towards the front, and yet the palms flowed out like rolling clouds or running water, with natural ease.
Mu Wanqing said in shock, “This is…this is the ‘Five Gentle Smoke Palms’. How do you know this skill?” Duan Zhengchun laughed bitterly. “Did your master teach it to you?” Mu Wanqing said, “My master told me that she would never teach this to anyone, and that she would take it to her coffin with her.” Duan Zhengchun nodded. “Huh. She said that she would never teach it to anybody, and that she would take it to the grave?” Mu Wanqing said, “Right! But whenever she thought I wasn’t watching, she would often practice this set of palms by herself. So I’m used to seeing it by now.” Duan Zhengchun said, “She would often practice this set of palm strokes by herself?” Mu Wanqing nodded. “Yes. Every time after she was done practicing this set of palms, she would become very angry and curse me out. How…how is it that you know it as well? And it seems as though you’re even more skilled in it than my master!”

Duan Zhengchun let out a sigh. “This ‘Five Gentle Smoke Palms’ was taught by me to your master.”

Mu Wanqing was shocked, but she couldn’t help but believe him. She saw in the past that when her master practiced this art, that often there would be one candle that she couldn’t extinguish, and would force her to have to send out a second or third palm. Her skill definitely was not as high as that of Duan Zhengchun, who exercised the set of palms as his heart desired, as though he were effortlessly wiping away wine. She stuttered, “So you are my master’s master…so you would be my grandmaster?”

Duan Zhengchun shook his head. “No!” Resting his cheek on one hand, he mused to himself, “So every time after she practiced this set of palms, she would be angry. She said that she wouldn’t teach anyone this skill, and would take it to her grave…” Mu Wanqing asked, “Then you…” Duan Zhengchun waved his hand, signaling for her to stop asking. After a while, he suddenly asked, “You are eighteen this year. You were born in September, right?” Mu Wanqing sprang to her feet. Shocked, she asked, “How do you know everything about me? What relation do you have with my master?!”

A look of great pain was on Duan Zhengchun’s face. In a hoarse voice, he said, “I…I unforgivably wronged your master. Wan’er, you…” My Wanqing asked, “Why? From what I’ve seen, you have a kind disposition
and are a good person.” Duan Zhengchun said, “Your master has never told you her name?” Mu Wanqing said, “My master told me that she is called the ‘Guest of the Secluded Valley’. Her real name or her surname, I have no idea.” Duan Zhengchun softly repeated to himself, “ ‘Guest of the Secluded Valley’…‘Guest of the Secluded Valley’…” Suddenly, he remembered Du Fu’s [one of China’s most famous poets] poem, ‘Beautiful Maiden’. Every single word in the poem suddenly tingled in his heart. “A peerless beauty, residing in an empty valley. She proclaims herself as being from a good family, but is fallen like rotted trees or decayed grass. Her husband is a philanderer, and his new woman is as beautiful as jade. Hearing the new woman laugh, the previous wife can but cry…”

After a long time, he asked again. “How has your master lived her life, all these years? Where have you lived?” Mu Wanqing replied, “My master and I have lived in a deep valley which was hidden behind a tall mountain. My master said that it was called the ‘Secluded Valley’. It wasn’t until now that the two of us left it.” Duan Zhengchun said, “Who are your parents? Your master never told you?” Mu Wanqing said, “My master told me that I am an orphan who was abandoned by my parents. She found me by the side of a road and took me in and raised me.” Duan Zhengchun asked, “Do you hate your mother and father?” Mu Wanqing inclined her head. She lightly bit at the pinky of her left hand.

Seeing this, Duan Zhengchun felt an boundless distress in his heart. Mu Wanqing saw two large tears roll down his face. Very much surprised, she asked, “Why are you crying?” Duan Zhengchun turned is face away, drying his tears. With a strong laugh, he said, “How was I crying? I drank too much. The alcohol is taking effect.” Mu Wanqing didn’t believe him. “I clearly saw you cry. Only women cry. Men cry as well? I’ve never seen a male cry, besides little children.”

Duan Zhengchun saw that she was inexperienced with worldly affairs, and felt even more miserable. “Wan’er, in the future, I promise to take good care of you. I will try to make up for my past mistakes. If there’s anything you desire, just let me know, and I will definitely obtain it for you.”

Mu Wanqing had just shot poisoned quarrels towards his wife. She was feeling very worried, but upon hearing Duan Zhengchun’s words, happily
said, “I shot quarrels towards your wife. You aren’t going to blame me?” Duan Zhengchun said, “It is as you yourself said. ‘A master’s benevolence is very profound, a master’s orders cannot be disobeyed.’ The affairs of the previous generation have nothing to do with you. Naturally, I won’t blame you. But you must never be disrespectful to my wife again.” Mu Wanqing asked, “In the future, if my master starts to ask questions, what shall I say?”

Duan Zhengchun said, “Take me to see your master. I’ll personally explain to her.” Mu Wanqing clapped her hands. “Great, great!” But immediately, she wrinkled her forehead. “My master often says that all men are people who are faithless and unkind. She never meets men.”

A strange expression flashed across Duan Zhengchun’s face. “Your master never meets with men?” Mu Wanqing said, “Yes. Whenever my master needs rice or salt, she always has Granny Liang go shop for her. Once, when Granny Liang was sick, she had her son do it instead. Master was extremely angry. She ordered him to place it far away outside, and would not allow him to enter the room.”

Duan Zhengchun sighed. “Hongmian, Hongmian. Why must you make your own life so miserable?”

Mu Wanqing said, “You said the words ‘Hongmian’ again. Who, exactly, is ‘Hongmian’?” Duan Zhengchun hesitated for a moment. “This can’t be hidden from you forever. Your master’s real name is Qin Hongmian. Her nickname is the ‘Asura Sabre’.” Mu Wanqing nodded. “Ah. No wonder your wife, upon seeing me shoot out those short quarrels, asked me in such an angry manner as to what my relationship was with the ‘Asura Sabre’, Qin Hongmian. At that time, I really didn’t know. I wasn’t trying to deceive her on purpose. So my master’s name is Qin Hongmian? It’s a very pretty name. I don’t know why she didn’t tell me it.”

Duan Zhengcun said, “I hurt your arm just a while ago. Does it still pain you?” Mu Wanqing saw that a warm, caring expression was on his face. She smiled slightly. “It’s much better now. Let’s go take a look…take a look at your son. Okay? I’m afraid that the toxin on the quarrel won’t disappear immediately.” Duan Zhengchun said, “Alright!” As he stood up, he added, “If there’s anything you desire, just tell me.”
Suddenly, Mu Wanqing flushed, as a blushing red colored her face. Lowering her head, she said, “I’m just afraid…afraid that I shot quarrels towards your wife, and she’ll resent me.” Duan Zhengchun said, “Let’s slowly beg her forgiveness. Maybe in the future, she won’t be so angry.” Mu Wanqing said, “I’m not the type of person who begs others. But for the sake of my darling Duan, it’s no big deal to beg her.” She suddenly summoned all her courage and said, “South-Subduing Prince, if I tell you my wish, will you really…will you really achieve it for me?”

Duan Zhengchun said, “So long as it is within my power, I will definitely make your wish become a reality.” Mu Wanqing said, “The words you have said, you can’t go back on!” A slight smile appearing on his face, Duan Zhengchun walked to her side. Extending his hand, he lightly stroked her hair. His eyes overflowing with love, he said, “I naturally won’t go back on my word.” Mu Wanqing said, “You must make sure my marriage with him goes through. Don’t let him renege on it.” After saying this, her face glowed radiantly.

The expression on Duan Zhengchun’s face immediately changed. He slowly backed away and sat down in a chair. Quite some time passed without him saying a single word. Mu Wanqing felt something was amiss. Her body quivering, she said, “You…you won’t allow it?” Duan Zhengchun said, “You definitely cannot marry Yu’er.” His voice was sluggish and slow, but the tone was extremely certain. Mu Wanqing’s heart froze. Sadly, she said, “Why? He…he personally agreed to marry me.” Duan Zhengchun only replied, “Karmic sin…karmic sin!” Mu Wanqing said, “If he doesn’t want me, I…I will kill him, then kill myself. I swore a heavy oath in front of my master.” Duan Zhengchun slowly shook his head. “Can’t!” Mu Wanqing impatiently said, “I’m going to go ask him right now. Why can’t I?”

Duan Zhengchun said, “Yu’er…he himself…he himself doesn’t know.” He saw the look of intense suffering on Mu Wanqing’s face, identical to the expression which would appear on the face of Qin Hongmian eighteen years ago, when she received the sad news of the passing of a beloved person. He could no longer hold himself back, and the words rushed out of him. “You may not marry Yu’er, and you may not kill him either!” Mu
Wanqing said, “Why?” Duan Zhengchun said, “Because…because… because Duan Yu is your brother by blood!”

Mu Wanqing’s eyes widened. She could hardly believe her ears. Her voice shaking, she said, “Wha…what? You’re telling me Duan Yu is my brother?” Duan Zhengchun said, “Wan’er, do you know who your master is? She is your birth mother. I…I am your father.”

Mu Wanqing was both terror-stricken and furious. Not a hint of color could be seen on her face. Stamping her feet, she said, “I don’t believe you! I don’t believe you! I…I don’t believe you!”

Suddenly, a female voice let out a long sigh from outside the window. “Wan’er, let’s go home.” Mu Wanqing suddenly came to her senses, and called out, “Master!” The window suddenly opened. Outside stood a middle-aged woman. She had a sharp face and two slender eyebrows. Her appearance was extremely attractive. But in her eyes was a mixture of stubbornness and maliciousness.

Duan Zhengchun saw that his former lover Qin Hongmian had suddenly appeared. He was filled with a mixture of surprise and joy. He called out, “Hongmian, Hongmian. These many past years, I’ve…I’ve missed you so painfully.”

Qin Hongmian called out, “Wan’er, come out! A home belonging to such a heartless, faithless man. We can’t even stay here as guests.”

Seeing the expressions on Duan Zhengchun and Qin Hongmian’s faces, Mu Wanqing’s heart grew still colder. “Master, he…he lied to me. He said you are my mother, and that he is…he is my father.” Qin Hongmian replied, “Your mother died long ago. Your father is also dead.”

Duan Zhengchun rushed to the window. “Hongmian, come in. Let me gaze upon you a bit longer. Don’t leave me. Let’s always be together from now on.” Qin Hongmian’s gaze suddenly brightened, and she happily replied, “You just said that we’d always be together from now on. Are these words of yours sincere?” Duan Zhengchun replied, “Absolutely! Hongmian, there hasn’t been a single day that passed where I did not think of you.” Qin
Hongmian said, “You can bear parting with Dao Baifeng?” Duan Zhengchun hesitated, unable to respond. An awkward expression appeared on his face. Qin Hongmian said, “If you have any pity at all for our daughter, come with me now. You must never think of Dao Baifeng again, and you must never come back here.”

Listening to the two speak, Mu Wanqing felt her heart sink lower and lower. Tears began to gather at the corner of her eyes. The forms of both her master and Duan Zhengchun appeared only as blurs. She knew that the two people standing before her really were her parents. Even if she wanted to deny it, she couldn’t. These past few days, she had truly fallen deep in love. But it turned out that the man of her dreams, her darling Duan, was actually her step-brother, who had the same father but a different mother. Her dreams of ‘flying together like mandarin ducks’, of ‘growing old white hairs together’, all evaporated like mist.

She heard Duan Zhengchun gently respond, “But I am the South-Subduing Prince of Dali. I administer critical affairs of state both civil and military. I can’t leave for even a day…” Only to hear Qin Hongmian harshly say, “Eighteen years ago, these were the words you used. Now, today, eighteen years later, you are using the same words. Duan Zhengchun, oh, Duan Zhengchun! You heartless, faithless man. I…I hate you so much.”

Suddenly, from the rooftops of the eastern rooms, could be heard three ‘pa’ sounds of palms being exchanged. From the west as well could be heard the sounds of people exchanging palms. Immediately afterwards, Gao Shengtai and Chu Wanli’s voices said simultaneously, “Assassins! Brothers, remain on guard at your positions. Do not act rashly!”

Qin Hongmian loudly shouted, “Wan’er! You still aren’t coming out?”

Mu Wanqing replied, “Yes!” She flew out of the building from the window, throwing herself in the arms of this woman who doubled as her birth mother and as her benevolent master.

Duan Zhengchun said, “Hongmian, are you really going to just leave me like this?” An extreme sense of misery and bitterness permeated his voice.
Qin Hongmian’s voice suddenly turned soft and gentle. “Brother Chun, you’ve been a prince for decades now. Haven’t you had enough? Come with me. From now on, I’ll be obedient to you and listen to your every word. I won’t dare to curse at you even slightly, or hit you a single time. Look at our adorable daughter. Can you possibly not cherish her?” Duan Zhengchun was suddenly moved, and blurted out without thinking, “Alright! I’ll go with you!” Qin Hongmian was ecstatic. She stretched out her right hand and waited for him to take it.

Suddenly, a female voice rang out icily behind her. “Martial sister, you… you’ve been deceived by him once again. He’ll humor you a few days. After that, he’ll go back to being the prince here.” Turning his head, shock filled Duan Zhengchun’s heart. He called out, “Baobao [this can also translate as ‘precious’ or ‘babe’]! It’s you! You came as well!”

Mu Wanqing turned her head, and saw that the woman who spoke wore a green silk blouse. It was Madame Zhong of the “Ten Thousand Calamity Gorge”, her own martial uncle, the “Lovely Poisonist” Gan Baobao. Four people stood behind her. One was Ye Erniang, another was Yun Zhonghe, and the third was the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas, who had so recently arrived and departed. What surprised her all the more was that the fourth person was Duan Yu. The Divine Crocodile’s big, meaty hand was clamped on his neck. Whenever he wanted to, he could snap Duan Yu’s neck. Mu Wanqing called out, “My darling Duan! Are you alright?!”

Duan Yu had been resting in bed. Slipping in and out of consciousness, he had been abducted from his room by the Divine Crocodile. He hadn’t been poisoned at all. The lethality of Mu Wanqing’s poisoned quarrels rested in the word ‘poison’, not in the word ‘quarrel’. A minor quarrel wound would cause him no real harm. Stunned into wakefulness by his abduction, he overheard the conversation between his father, Mu Wanqing, and Qin Hongmian. Although he didn’t hear everything, he managed to guess eighty or ninety percent of it. Hearing Mu Wanqing continue to address him as ‘her darling Duan’, sourness filled his heart. “Little sister, from now on, there will be sibling love between the two of us. Things will be the same.”

Mu Wanqing angrily replied, “No. No, it isn’t the same. You are the first man to ever see my face.” But she suddenly remembered that both of them
were sired by Duan Zhengchun. Brothers and sisters cannot wed. If anyone in the world had tried to disrupt her marriage, she could shoot out those poisoned quarrels and kill them. But the thing which was preventing her marriage was natural law and the will of heaven. No matter how high her martial arts level was, or how great her power, there was no way to get around it. Suddenly, she felt that everything around her had turned to gray ash. With a kick of her legs, she rapidly began to run away. Qin Hongmian urgently called, “Wan’er! Where are you going?”

Mu Wanqing didn’t even care about her master now. She said, “You harmed me. I’m not going to pay attention to you anymore.” And she sped up her footsteps.

As she ran, a palace guardsman extended his arms towards her, barking out, “Who is it?” With a wave of her sleeves, Mu Wanqing shot out her poisoned quarrels, striking the guardsman directly on the throat. She didn’t pause at all, and in an instant, disappeared within the darkness of the night.

Duan Zhengchun saw that his son had been taken captive by the Divine Crocodile, and had no idea where his daughter had run off to. Extending a finger, he struck towards the Divine Crocodile. Ye Erniang intercepted him with a palm of her own, chopping towards his wrist veins. Duan Zhengchun flipped his hand, reversing it into a hooking attack. With a laugh, Ye Erniang flicked her middle finger towards the back of his hand. Within the blink of an eye, these two pugilists had exchanged three stances. In his mind, Duan Zhengchun was secretly startled. “So this b.itch is this powerful?”

Extending her hand, Qin Hongmian reached out and pressed her palm against the top of Duan Yu’s head. She called out, “Do you want to preserve son’s life or not?” Shocked, Duan Zhengchun stayed his hand. He knew that she had always had a terrible temper. She hated his wife, Dao Baifeng, to the core. He feared that in her anger, she might exert her strength and take Duan Yu’s life.

He hurriedly replied, “Hongmian, my son was struck by your daughter’s poison arrows. His wounds are not light.” Qin Hongmian replied, “He’s already taken the antidote. He won’t die. I’m going to take him away from
here for now. I want to see if you want to be the prince more, or if you want your son more.” The Divine Crocodile laughed uproariously. “In the end, this kid will still have to take me as his master.” Duan Zhengchun replied, “Hongmian, I’ll agree to anything. Just let go of my son.”

The love which Qin Hongmian felt for Duan Zhengchun hadn’t waned even a little in the eighteen years which had passed. Hearing him speak so anxiously, her heart softened. “You really…really will agree to anything?” Duan Zhengchun replied, “Yes, yes!” Madame Zhong interjected, “Martial sister, are you going to believe the words of this heartless man again? Mr. Yue Number Two, let’s go.”

The Divine Crocodile straightened his body. While carrying Duan Yu, he suddenly rose in the air. In the blink of an eye, he landed on the roof of the adjoining room. Immediately afterwards, Ye Erniang and Yun Zhonghe followed him, then each struck a palace guardsmen and threw them to the ground.

Madame Zhong called out, “Duan Zhengchun! Are we going to have a fight today?”

If Duan Zhengchun summoned all the forces in his palace, he wouldn’t necessarily be unable to defeat these people. But his son had fallen into their hands. It would be difficult to obtain victory via force of arms. Not to mention, the relationship between him and the two sisters standing before him was anything but ordinary. In a soft voice, he said, “Baobao, you… you’ve also come to make things difficult for me?”

Madame Zhong replied, “I am the wife of Zhong Wanchou. What type of nonsense are you speaking? You have no right to address me in such a way.”

Duan Zhengchun said, “Baobao, all these years, I’ve often been thinking of you.” Madame Zhong’s eyes suddenly reddened. “That day I found out that Duan Yu was your son, my heart…my heart was filled with such agony.” Her voice had softened as well. Qin Hongmian called out, “Martial sister! Are you also going to fall for his lies?” Madame Zhong pulled at Qin Hongmian’s hand and yelled, “Alright. Let’s go!”
Turning her head, she said, “If you come pay your respects at the Ten- Thousand Calamities Gorge holding Dao Baifeng’s head in your hand, maybe we’ll return your son to you.”

Duan Zhengchun said, “The Ten-Thousand Calamities Gorge?!” He saw that the Divine Crocodile was getting farther and farther away, and that Gao Shengtai and Chu Wanli were leading men to intercept him from all sides. With a sigh, Duan Zhengchun called out, “Worthy brother Gao, let them go.” Gao Shengtai called back, “But the young prince…” Duan Zhengchun replied, “We’ll slowly think of a way to get him back.”

As he was speaking, he flew to Gao Shengtai’s side. He called out, “The assassins have retreated. Everyone, return to your original position.” With a sway of his body, he then arrived next to Madame Zhong. In a soft voice, he said, “Baobao, have you been well, these past years?” Madame Zhong replied, “Why wouldn’t I be well?” Noiselessly, Duan Zhengchun sent out a silent finger and struck her on her ‘Zhangmen’ acupoint at her waist. Madame Zhong didn’t manage to react in time, and her body immediately turned soft. Duan Zhengchun stretched out his left hand and caught her. Pretending to be alarmed, he called out, “Oh no! Baobao, what happened?”

Qin Hongmian was unaware of the trickery which had just occurred. She rushed over to their side and asked, “Martial sister, are you alright?” Duan Zhengchun then struck out with his “Solitary Solar Finger” and sealed off the ‘Zhangmen’ acupoint on her waist as well. Their vital acupoints struck, Qin Hongmian and Madame Zhong were now trapped in Duan Zhengchun’s embrace, and he hugged one of them with each arm. [Translator’s note: ROFL!!! What a player…]

The two simultaneously cast him hateful glares, thinking to themselves, “Tricked by him again. Am I really as silly as this? All my life, I’ve been deceived by him. At a critical point such as this, I still wasn’t vigilant against him.” Duan Zhengchun called out, “Worthy brother Gao, your internal injuries haven’t fully healed yet. Hurry back to your room and rest. Wanli, you take command of the guards and have them remain vigilant.” Gao Shengtai and Chu Wanli bowed and obeyed.
Clasping one woman under each arm, Duan Zhengchun returned with them to the insides of the warm pavilion. He ordered the cooks and maids to restart the banquet, once more preparing cups and plates.

After everyone else retired, Duan Zhengchun struck the ‘Huantiao’ and ‘Ququan’ acupoints on the two women’s legs, preventing them from walking. Then, with a smile, he released the ‘Zhangmen’ acupoint on their waist. Qin Hongmian shouted loudly, “Duan Zhengchun! You still are trying to bully people…” Duan Zhengchun turned around and clasped his hands to greet them. “I am sorry for my offense. I’ll offer you my apologies right here and now.” Qin Hongmian angrily responded, “Who wants your apologies?! Release us immediately!”

Duan Zhengchun replied, “The three of us haven’t met for over ten years. It’s rare that we can meet like this. We have countless things to say to each other. Hongmian, you’re always so impetuous. Baobao, you’re even more beautiful than before. You look as though you are even younger than when we were together in the past.” Madame Zhong did not reply. Qin Hongmian angrily said, “Let me go now! So my martial sister is even more beautiful than before. I guess that means I’m even uglier and more freakish than before! Why would you want to stare at an ugly old hag like me?”

Duan Zhengchun quickly replied, “Hongmian, take a look in a mirror and see for yourself. If you are an ugly old hag, then when those literary men write essays describing ‘peerless beauties’, they would have to include the line, “A face which can mesmerize fish and geese, bearing the appearance of an ugly old hag.”

Qin Hongmian couldn’t help but let out a laugh. She was about to stamp her foot coquettishly, but her legs were paralyzed. Her anger renewed, she replied, “Nobody came here to exchange jokes with you! Grinning and smiling like an idiotic monkey. What type of prince are you?”

Under the candlelight, Duan Zhengchun saw the angry expression on her face and suddenly recalled one evening long ago. His heart was suddenly moved, and he walked forwards and kissed her on the cheek. Qin Hongmian’s upper body was not paralyzed, and with a clear, cracking sound, she slapped him on the face. If Duan Zhengchun had wanted to
dodge, it wouldn’t be difficult at all. But he purposefully let her hit him. In a low voice, he whispered by her ear, “To die beneath the asura sabres, even as a ghost I would roam carefree.”

Qin Hongmian’s entire body trembled. Tears began to flow down her face, and she began to cry loudly. “You…you are saying these lascivious words again…” In the past, Qin Hongmian wielded a pair of asura sabres as she roamed the jianghu, which is why her nickname became the “Asura Sabre”. The day she gave herself to Duan Zhengchun, he had kissed her on the cheek, and she had slapped him on the face. His response was precisely the same two lines which he just uttered. “To die beneath the asura sabres, even as a ghost I would roam carefree.” These words had been replayed in her heart thousands of times. At this moment, hearing him once more say these words, she felt both happy and angry, sweet and bitter, as a hundred emotions flooded her.

Madame Zhong said in a low voice, “Martial sister, this fellow excels in using sweet and honeyed words to please others. Are you really going to fall for it again?” Qin Hongmian said, “Right. Right! I’ll never believe your lies again!”

These words were directed towards Duan Zhengchun. Duan Zhengchun walked to Madame Zhong’s side. Laughing, he said, “Baobao, let me kiss your face as well. Will you allow me to?” Madame Zhong replied in a stately voice, “I am a married woman. I will not allow anyone to ruin the good name of my husband. If you so much as touch me, I will immediately bite my tongue off and swallow it, suffocating myself and dying in front of you.”

Seeing the cold expression on her face, and hearing how resolute and unhesitating her words were, Duan Zhengchun didn’t dare to behave with impropriety. He asked, “Baobao, what type of husband did you marry yourself to?” Madame Zhong said, “My husband is ugly in appearance, has a strange temperament, inferior martial arts compared to you, inferior talent compared to you, and certainly does not have your riches and glorious life. But he loves me whole-heartedly, and I treat him the same way. If I, Gan Baobao, do anything to betray him, let heaven punish me and the earth extinguish me, and let ten thousand calamities prevent me from being
reincarnated. I’ll tell you something right now. The place where I live with him is called the ‘Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge'. The name comes from this deadly oath I have sworn.”

Duan Zhengchun couldn’t help but feel respect in his heart, and no longer dared to bring up their old love from bygone days. But even though he no longer spoke of it, he saw that Gan Baobao’s white, tender face was as beautiful as it was in the past, as was her slightly lifted, cherry-red lips. How could he forget about their former passion? Hearing how devoted she was to her husband from her speech, he couldn’t help but feel sourness in his heart. He let out a long sigh. “Baobao, I am an unlucky man. I don’t have the fortune to be treated so well by you. Initially…initially, I knew you before he did. Alas! It is my own fault.”

Madame Zhong heard the desolate sound of his voice and the profound, sincere emotions in it. These words were not said to deceive her. Once again, her eyes reddened.

The three people silently faced each other, all of their thoughts wandering to the past. In all three of their hearts was a mixture of joy and sorrow.

After a long while, Duan Zhengchun gently asked, “You’ve kidnapped my son. Why? Baobao, where is your Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge?”

From outside the window, a grating voice said, “Do not tell him.” Duan Zhengchun was startled, and thought to himself, “Chu Wanli and the others are standing guard outside. How did this person manage to sneak his way in?” Madame Zhong’s face dropped. “Your injuries aren’t healed yet. What are you doing here?”

Following her words, a female voice rang out. “Mr. Zhong, please enter.” Upon hearing this voice, Duan Zhengchun was even more surprised. He couldn’t help but blush fiercely, his face turning red all the way to his ears.

The curtained door to the warm pavilion was parted, and Dao Baifeng walked in. A furious expression was on her face, and behind her followed an exceptionally ugly man with a long, horse-like face.
As it turned out, Qin Hongmian’s mission of assassination in Gusu was a failure, and she was parted from her beloved daughter. Consequently, as had been agreed upon, she came south to Dali to visit with her martial sister. The Wang family of Gusu sent Granny Rui and Granny Ping to pursue and attack Mu Wanqing. But because Qin Hongmian fell behind by a bit, her journey was peaceful and undisturbed. After arriving at the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, in order to ascertain the situation, she came out with Madame Zhong.

On the road, she came upon the ‘Three Evils’, Ye Erniang, the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas, and Yun Zhonghe. These ‘Three Evils’ had been invited by Zhong Wanchou to help assist him in his efforts against Duan Zhengchun, and immediately began discussing the situation with Madame Zhong. Naturally, the matter of the Divine Crocodile having accepted Duan Yu as his master was glossed over. Upon hearing that Mu Wanqing was currently residing within Dali’s South-Subduing Palace, Qin Hongmian immediately accompanied them to the palace.

Zhong Wanchou loved his wife even more than his own life, and was an extremely jealous person to begin with. Ever since she had left, he had been very restless and could not find any peace of mind. He no longer cared that his injury was as-yet not fully healed, and secret left at midnight to follow her. Outside the South-Subduing Palace, he ran into Dao Baifeng, who was about to leave. Both were filled with a belly full of anger. Each began to insult the other, and soon, the two came to blows. After fighting for some time, Dao Baifeng was slowly finding it hard to sustain herself. Then suddenly a person dressed in black flitted past, her face covered with sobs. It was Mu Wanqing. Both of them called out to her, but she ignored them both and fled.

Zhong Wanchou shouted, “I’m going to go find my wife. I don’t have the time to spare, fighting you!” Dao Baifeng asked, “Where are you going to find your wife?” Zhong Wanchou replied, “The home of Duan Zhengchun, that thieving dog. If my wife meets up with him, everything will become disastrous!”

Dao Baifeng asked him, “Why will everything become disastrous?” Zhong Wanchou replied, “Duan Zhengchun is full of sweet and honeyed words.
He’s a pretty boy who knows how to deceive women. I definitely must kill him!”

Dao Baifeng thought to herself, “Zhengchun is in his forties now, and has a large beard. How can he be considered a ‘pretty boy’? But he really does have a playboy’s heart. This horse-faced man’s words can’t be ignored.” Inquiring as to who his wife was, she realized that the person was Gan Baobao. She knew long ago that the ‘Lovely Poisonist’ Gan Baobao was one of her husband’s former flames. Her jealousy became all the greater, and she immediately accompanied Zhong Wanchou and returned to the palace.

Even though the palace was tightly guarded, upon seeing the princess, the guardsmen would naturally give way. And so the two easily made their way to the warm pavilion without a single person issuing a warning call. The words which Duan Zhengchun had said to Gan Baobao and Qin Hongmian, his teasing and his flirting, had been heard by both of them from outside the window. Listening, Dao Baifeng was so infuriated that her chest felt as though it would explode. Zhong Wanchou, on the other hand, listening to how properly his wife behaved, was filled with ecstatic joy.

Zhong Wanchou rushed to his wife’s side, filled with affection and happiness. He winded around her multiple times, then said, “Baobao, thank you…thank you for being so good to me. If he dares to bully you, I’ll fight to the death with him.” A long time passed before he realized that his wife’s acupoints had been sealed. Turning his head, he barked towards Duan Zhengchun, “Hurry up and unseal my wife’s acupoints!”

Duan Zhengchun replied, “My son has been abducted by you. Once you release my son, I naturally will release your lady wife.”

Zhong Wanchou stretched out his hands and struck the acupoints on his wife’s waist. But no matter how he pinched or struck, he was unable to unseal them. Although his internal energy was very strong, the technique behind the Duan family’s “Solitary Solar Finger” was unparalleled under heaven, and outsiders could not hope to counter it. He exerted so much effort that all his muscles bulged.
Madame Zhong was pinched and struck by him repeatedly, causing her to feel both ticklish and pained, but the sealed acupoint on her leg wasn’t even slightly opened. Madame Zhong furiously said, “You idiot, stop making a fool out of yourself.” Zhong Wanchou angrily stopped his efforts. His fury bottled up with nowhere to go, he exploded, “Duan Zhengchun, come and f.ucking fight with me for three hundred stances!” Grinding his fists and stretching out his palms, he was about to go forward and start fighting.

Madame Zhong said coldly, “Prince Duan, your son has been kidnapped by the Divine Crocodile and the others. Even if my husband wanted them to release him, these evil people might not necessarily do so. Let me and my martial sister go back, and wait for a chance to rescue him. This could conceivably work. At the very least, I can keep them from mistreating your son.”

Duan Zhengchun shook his head. “I can’t trust in that. Mr. Zhong, go back home. Come back to me with my son, and I will release your wife to you.”

Zhong Wanchou was infuriated, and loudly roared, “Your South-Subduing Palace is a shameless place! If my wife is left here, she will be subject to ten thousand dangers.” Duan Zhengchun’s face reddened. He shouted out, “If such rude words continue to spew forth from your mouth, do not blame me from being discourteous as well!”

After entering the room, Dao Baifeng didn’t say a single word. Now, she suddenly spoke. “What is the purpose behind you keeping these two women here? Is it really for Yu’er? Or is it for your own sake.”

Duan Zhengchun let out a sigh. “Even you do not trust me.” He pointed backwards and struck Qin Hongmian’s waist, unsealing her acupoint. Taking another step, he struck towards Madame Zhong’s waist as well.

But Zhong Wanchou stepped between his wife and Duan Zhengchun. Shaking his two hands hurriedly, he yelled loudly, “You are a sly and sneaky chap. You are an expert at taking advantage of women! You aren’t allowed to touch my wife’s body at all.” Duan Zhengchun laughed bitterly, “Although my acupoint-sealing skill is shallow and superficial, outsiders cannot break it easily. If too much time passes, I’m afraid that Madame
Zhong’s legs will become permanently crippled.” Zhong Wanchou angrily retorted, “My beautiful, flower-like wife, as precious as a piece of jade, is currently in perfectly good health. If she becomes a cripple, I’ll tear your bastard dog’s son into a thousand pieces!” Duan Zhengchun laughed. “You want me to unseal her acupoint, but you won’t let me touch her body. What exactly do you want me to do?”

Zhong Wanchou was speechless for a moment. Suddenly, he let out an indignant shout. “Who told you to seal my wife’s acupoints? Wait. Crap! When you sealed her acupoints, you already touched her body! I’m going to go poke your wife’s body as well!”

Madame Zhang glared at him. She angrily said, “You’re talking rubbish again. Aren’t you afraid of others laughing at you?” Zhong Wanchou said, “What’s there to laugh at? I refuse to let others take such a big advantage over me!”

Just as the dispute was at its noisiest, the curtained door was parted, and a man wearing a yellow satin gown entered. Three long strands of a beard was on his face, which was fine and attractive. It was the Emperor of Dali, Duan Zhengming.

Duan Zhengchun cried, “Imperial brother!” Emperor Baoding nodded. Stretching out with a finger, he pointed towards Madame Zhong. Madame Zhong only felt a warm sensation in the top her dantian [the place where internal energy accumulates] as two warm currents of energy streamed towards her leg. Immediately, her acupoints were unsealed and her blood began to flow unimpeded, and she rose to her feet.

Zhong Wanchou seeing that Emperor Baoding possessed the godlike ability to “Seal Acupoints Through Air”, was shocked. Utter amazement filled his face, and his jaw hung open slackly. He couldn’t say a single word. He never would have imagined that someone possessed such an unfathomable ability.

Duan Zhengchun said, “Imperial brother, Yu’er was kidnapped by them.” Emperor Baoding nodded. “The Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment has already informed me. Younger brother Chun, if an offspring of the Duan
dynasty has been kidnapped by others, then his parents and his uncles will naturally go and rescue him. It is not acceptable for us to hold others hostage.”

Duan Zhengchun’s face reddened. “Understood!” Emperor Baoding’s speech was straightforward and upright, keeping in with his dignity and status. The hidden meaning of his words was thus; “You wanted to keep them hostage, so as to exchange them for your son. Isn’t this an act which would tarnish the honorable name of Dali’s Duan dynasty? How can we, the majestic, royal scions of Dali’s Duan dynasty, use this sort of method against a few female commoners?”

The Emperor was silent for a few moments, then spoke to Zhong Wanchou. “The three of you may leave at your leisure. Within three days, the Duan family will send delegates to your Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge to retrieve our people.

Zhong Wanchou replied, “My Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge is truly a hidden, secretive place. You might not be able to even find it. Would you like for me to give you directions?” He wanted for Emperor Baoding to ask for his assistance, so he could refuse and make things hard for him.

Who would have thought that Emperor Baoding would pay him no mind. With a sweep of his sleeves, Emperor Baoding said, “Escort our guests out.”

Zhong Wanchou had an explosive temper, but in front of this majestically composed Emperor Baoding, he found himself utterly bewildered. Upon hearing him say, “Escort our guests out,” Zhong Wanchou said, “Fine, we’ll leave! All my life, your old man hates those surnamed Duan the most! There isn’t a single good person in the world, who has the surname Duan!”

Grabbing his wife by the hand, he turned to leave the room in a towering rage. Madame Zhong grabbed Qin Hongmian by her sleeve. “Sister, let’s go.” Qin Hongmian cast a glance at Duan Zhengchun, but saw that he was silent. She couldn’t prevent her heart from being filled with a sour pain. She glared fiercely at Dao Baifeng, then lowered her head and left. After the three of them left the room, they leapt up to the rooftops.
Standing at the corner of the eaves, Gao Shengtai bowed slightly, and said, “Escorting our guests out!” From the rooftops, Zhong Wanchou spat, then vehemently replied, “You guys are all false hypocrites. Not a single one of you is a good person!” Exerting his internal energy, he flew from one rooftop to another. Very shortly, he arrived at the palace walls. Once more exerting his energy, he jumped up, extending his left foot to step on the top of the wall.

But suddenly, another person appeared, standing right at the place where he was about to alight. Wearing a broad gown and a loose girdle, it was Gao Shengtai, who had come to escort the guests out as he said he would. Gao Shengtai was initially behind him, but somehow he arrived at the wall before Zhong Wanchou did. He then saw where Zhong Wanchou was about to step, and took the position before Zhong Wanchou had a chance to.

Zhong Wanchou’s body was in mid-air. There was no way for him to retreat, nor was there a way for him to change directions. He shouted, “Scram!” He shot out twin palms to attack Gao Shengtai. He thought to himself, “The power of my twin palms is enough to shatter tablets and crack open boulders. If the opponent wants to take it head on, I’ll definitely be able to knock him off the wall. Even if his internal strength is on par with mine, I’ll be able to borrow his energy and change direction to stand next to him on top of the wall.” But just moments before his twin palms would have struck the other on his stomach, Gao Shengtai’s body suddenly leaned backwards, as though he were an iron bridge. Both of his feet remained firmly planted on the top of the wall, but he had gotten out of the way of Zhong Wanchou’s twin palms.

Zhong Wanchou, having missed his attack, secretly cried out to himself, “Oh no!” His body had already passed by Gao Shengtai’s reclined form. With his attack having missed, his chest, abdomen, and lower body were totally open to a counter-attack. At this point, the enemy could arbitrarily strike him as he pleased. Fortunately, Gao Shengtai did not strike him at all. As Zhong Wanchou’s feet landed on the ground, he said to himself, “Thank goodness!” Immediately afterwards, Madame Zhong and Qin Hongmian also passed the wall.
Gao Shengtai straightened his body and turned around to face them. “Forgive me for not escorting you any further!” Zhong Wanchou let out a ‘hngh’ sound. Suddenly, his trousers began to fall down. He hastily extended his hand and caught them just in the nick of time, else he would have been utterly humiliated. Only then did he realize that his belt had been broken by Gao Shengtai with a flick of the finger when he flew over Gao Shengtai’s reclining form. If it weren’t for the fact that Gao Shengtai was showing mercy, he would have been struck by this finger on his dantian and turned into a corpse on the spot. He was half alarmed, half angered. With a cough, he turned to once more face the wall and spat out a dense mouthful of phlegm. ‘Pah!’ The phlegm was shot out with great accuracy and great power.

Mu Wanqing left the South-Subduing Palace in a daze. She had heard but ignored the hails of Dao Baifeng and Zhong Wanchou. Covering up her face, she sprinted away. She only felt that in all the vastness of the earth, there wasn’t a single place for her to take shelter. In the middle of a wild, mountainous terrain, she blindly ran and leapt about in a state of confusion until the coming of dawn. She was now so exhausted that both of her legs were limp and painful. Only now did she come to a halt. Leaning against a large tree, she stamped her feet and shouted, “I’d rather die! I don’t want to live anymore!”

Even though she was filled with resentment and anger, she had no idea who it was her hatred should be directed towards. “My darling Duan wasn’t fickle or unfaithful to me. It was just that the stars were misaligned, and he turned out to be my brother by the same father. My master turned out to be my mother. These past years, she toiled and labored so hard to bring me up and raise me. Her benevolence towards me is as weighty as a mountain, how can I possibly blame her? The South-Subduing Prince is my father. But although he was not faithful to my mother, perhaps he had many hidden difficulties which prevented him from being with her. He showed me a pleasant demeanor and showered me with love. He even said that if there was anything I desired, that I needed to only let him know, and he would strive with all his ability to make it happen. Alas, this desire of mine he was simply unable to fulfill. Mother wasn’t able to marry father, this was no doubt due to Dao Baifeng's interference. That must be why she wanted me
to kill her. But if I were in her shoes, I definitely wouldn’t let my darling Duan have a second woman either. And she even entered a convent and became a nun. No doubt, father was faithless towards her as well, causing her to be so broken-hearted. I shot two quarrels towards her outside the Temple of Hollow Jade, but she wasn’t angry with me at all. At the palace, I shot two more quarrels towards her and even harmed her beloved only child, but she still didn’t make trouble for me. It seems…it seems she isn’t a cruel, vicious woman either.”

No matter what she thought, she was filled with sorrow. “I need to forget about darling Duan, and never think about him again.” This was something that was easily said. But to forget about him just like that was something she simply could not do. Every time Duan Yu’s attractive features and slender figure sprang to the fore of her mind, her chest felt as though someone had struck her with a fist. After awhile, she tried to console herself. “In the future, I’ll just view him as my elder brother. I used to be a fatherless, motherless orphan. Now all of a sudden, I not only have a father and a mother, but also such a wonderful elder brother. I should be ecstatic. Stupid girl, what are you so sad about?”

But she had already been fallen into love’s trap. The more deeply she become entangled, the more deeply it bound her. When she miserably waited for Duan Yu at the peak of Mt. Wuliang for seven days and seven nights, she had become immersed in the webs of love, and would never be able to extricate herself again.

She heard the roaring sound of water unceasing galloping and surging forth. Suddenly, Mu Wanqing’s heart became severed from all earthly desires and dreams. She sought only death. She headed towards the sound of running water. After crossing a mountain, she saw the grandiose, majestic sight of the Lancang river falling down from the mountain peak. She took a deep breath. She thought to herself, “All I need to do is steel myself and jump, and I will never have any cares or worries again.” Following the mountain slope, she arrived by the side of the river. The morning sun was just rising. Casting its gentle glow upon the jade-like river, it appeared as though a layer of gold had been sheathed on the water. If she really jumped down,
then she would never be able to see this beautiful and wondrous sight again, nor any of the other wonderful things in the world.

Standing quietly by the river, her thoughts swirled about like the waves. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that several hundred feet away, someone was sitting on top of a large rock. This person was completely still, and was wearing a green gown that was the same color as that of the green cliffs. This was why, even though she had been at the riverside for a long time, she hadn’t noticed him. Mu Wanqing cast him a few glances, then thought to himself, “Probably just a corpse.”

She could kill with but a lift of her hand, and so naturally wasn’t afraid of a corpse. Feeling curious, she quickly walked towards the body to investigate. The man in a green gown was old, with a long beard that stretched down to his chest. He had a pitch-black face, and both of his eyes were wide open and fixed on the center of the river.

Mu Wanqing said, “So it isn’t a corpse after all!” After she took a closer look, she noticed that within the eyes of the corpse was a look of great intelligence, and that there was some color in his face. Mu Wanqing extended her hand, waving it beneath his nose to test for breath. It seemed as though there was a sign of breathing, and yet there also wasn’t. Next she touched his face. Strangely, it felt both warm and cold. When she extended a hand to touch his chest, it seemed as though his heart was both still and beating. Absolutely baffled, she said, “This person is so strange. If I want to call him a dead person, he seems to have the characteristics of the living. But were I to call him a living person, he seems so much more like a dead person.”

Suddenly, a voice said, “I am a living person!”

Mu Wanqing was very surprised. She quickly turned her head, but saw no one behind her. The stones scattered by the riverside were all no bigger than eggs. There was no place for anyone to hide. And while she was inspecting that freak, she had clearly seen that when the sound of that voice entered her ears, that person had not moved his lips at all. She loudly shouted, “Who is playing tricks on me? Are you tired of living?” Retreating two
steps, her back was now towards the river, her eyes closely scanning the other three directions.

She saw nothing, but heard a voice say, “I truly am tired of living.” Mu Wanqing’s surprise was not small at all. The only person in front of her was this freak, but she clearly saw that his lips hadn’t moved. Deciding he wasn’t the one who had spoken, she loudly said, “Who is speaking?”

That voice replied, “You are speaking!” Mu Wanqing said, “Who is the person who is speaking with me?” That voice said, “Nobody is speaking with you.” Mu Wanqing hurriedly spun around three times, but saw nothing aside from her own shadow.

By now, she had already figured out that the voice must be coming from the freak in a green gown. Summoning her courage, she walked towards him and pressed his lips shut with her hands. Then she asked, “Are you the one speaking to me?” That voice replied, “No!” Mu Wanqing didn’t feel the slightest vibration from her fingers on his lips. She asked, “A person is clearly speaking to me. Why are you saying there isn’t?” That voice replied, “I am not a person. I am not even myself. I no longer exist in this world.”

Mu Wanqing suddenly felt her hair stand on end. She thought to herself, “Can it really be a ghost?” She asked, “You…are you a ghost?” That voice replied, “You yourself said that you do not want to live anymore, and were going to kill yourself and become a ghost. Why are you afraid of a ghost then?” Mu Wanqing forcefully replied, “Who says I’m afraid of ghosts? I fear neither heaven nor earth!” That voice replied, “There is one thing you are afraid of.” Mu Wanqing made a ‘hngh’ sound. “I fear nothing!”

That voice said, “You fear it, you fear it. You fear a perfectly fine husband suddenly turning into your own brother by blood.”

These words were like a cudgel strike to her head. Mu Wanqing’s legs suddenly felt weak, and she sat down on the ground. After being dazed for a long time, she murmured, “You’re a ghost. You’re a ghost.” That voice said, “I have a method to change Duan Yu from being your brother to being your husband again.” Quivering, Mu Wanqing replied, “You…you’re lying to me. This is the will of the heavens. You…you can’t change it.” That voice
said, “Heaven? The lord of heaven deserves to die. He is an a.sshole! No need for us to pay attention to him. I have a way to turn your brother into your husband. Do you want it or not?”

Originally, Mu Wanqing’s had been utterly disheartened, and she had felt utterly detached from the world. These words truly came as though they had descended from the skies. Even though she half-believed, half-doubted, she urgently said, “I want it! I want it!” But that voice fell silent.

After a while, Mu Wanqing said, “Who are you? Let me see you. Is that alright?” That voice replied, “You’ve been staring at me for a very long time now. Haven’t you stared enough?” After a moment, it continued, “Even I do not know if I am still myself. Alas!” Only when letting out this long sigh did he betray the feeling of deep sorrow and depression in his heart.

No doubt was left in Mu Wanqing’s mind at all that the voice came from the old man in a green gown who sat before her. She asked, “How can you speak without your lips moving?” The man replied, “I am a living corpse. My lips cannot move. My voice comes from my abdomen.”

Although Mu Wanqing was highly disciplined, she still had a childish personality at times. Just moments ago, she was feeling extremely sorrowful, but upon hearing that this person claimed that he could speak with his abdomen, she couldn’t help but feel fascinated. “Speaking with your stomach? That’d truly be a bizarre thing!” The man in the green robe replied, “Extend your hand and rest it against my belly. Then you’ll understand.” Mu Wanqing extended her hand and placed it against his stomach. The man in the green robe said, “My stomach is vibrating when I speak. Can you feel it?” Mu Wanqing indeed felt the man’s stomach quiver with every word he spoke. Laughing, she said, “Haha, that’s so very weird!” She didn’t know that the man in the green robe practiced a form of ventriloquism. There were thousands of puppetmasters and ventriloquists in the world, but to be able to speak with such clarity was truly no easy feat. It could only be achieved with a deep and profound internal energy.

Mu Wanqing circled around him a few times. Closely examining him, she asked, “If your mouth isn’t able to move, how do you eat?” The man in the
green robe stretched out his hands. One hand gripped his upper lip, whereas the other gripped his lower lip. He pulled his mouth open, then held his mouth open with his left hand while tossing something in his mouth with his right. With a gulping sound, he swallowed it. “That is how.”

Mu Wanqing sighed. “Alas! What a pity! If you eat like this, how can you possibly taste your food?” Suddenly, she saw that all of the flesh on his face was stiffened, and he could not close his eyes. Neither expressions of anger nor joy could be seen on this man’s face. This was the reason why, when she first saw him, she thought that he was a corpse.

Although her fear had dissipated, she suddenly thought to herself, this person is himself in such dire straits. How can he possibly counter the will of heaven and change her brother into her husband? Evidently, all the words he said earlier were just nonsense. She muttered to herself for a long time, then sighed. Turning her body, she began to walk away. Only to hear that voice say, “I am going to make Duan Yu into your husband. You cannot leave.” Mu Wanqing laughed dully, then took a few steps towards the west. Suddenly, she stopped and turned around. “The two of us don’t know each other. How can you know what is in my heart? Can it be that you…you know my darling Duan?”

The man in the green robe replied, “That which is in your heart, I naturally am aware of.” From the sleeves of his arms he suddenly withdrew a pair of thin black metal canes. “Let’s go!” Tapping the rock on which he sat with his left cane, he suddenly rose into the air. With ease and grace, he landed on the cane over ten feet away. Mu Wanqing saw that both of his feet remained in midair, and that he supported himself only on that one metal cane. Despite that, his body remained exceptionally steady. Curious, she asked, “Your two legs…” The man in the green robe said, “My legs were crippled long ago. Enough. From now on, you are no longer allowed to ask questions about me.”

Mu Wanqing said, “And if I keep on asking?” Just after the fourth word had left her mouth, she felt her legs turn soft. She fell down. The man in green had moved as quickly as a gust of wind and had arrived by her side, then tapped her twice at the back of her knees with a steel cane. He had followed that with a single blow from the cane which had caused pain so deep, it
reached her marrow. “Ah!” She let out a loud cry. The man in green tapped her two more times, releasing her sealed acupoints. His movements were so fast as to be unbelievable. Mu Wanqing leapt to her feet. Angrily, she said, “You are so impolite!” Unfastening her sleeves, she was about to shoot a quarrel at him.

The man in green said, “If you shoot a quarrel at me, I will spank you. If you shoot ten quarrels at me, I will spank you ten times. If you don’t believe me, try for yourself.” Mu Wanqing thought to herself, “If that quarrel of mine hit him, he would have died on the spot. How could he possibly hit me back? But this man possesses an incredible, godlike ability. His martial arts is even better than that of the Divine Crocodile. I probably wouldn’t be able to hit him with my quarrels. It looks like he’ll be able to do as he says he will. If he really ended up spanking me, what a humiliation that would be!” She heard the man say, “If you no longer dare to attack me, then obediently listen to my instructions. You may not disobey.” Mu Wanqing said, “I’m not going to listen to your commands!” But although she was outwardly defiant, her left hand released the mechanism for shooting out quarrels.

The man in green strode forward, using those two thin black metal canes in lieu of his arms and legs. Walking behind him, Mu Wanqing saw that those two canes were each roughly three feet long. His strides were twice as long as that of ordinary people. Summoning her energy, Mu Wanqing followed him rapidly, only managing to follow him with an effort. The man in green climbed mountains and traversed ravines as though he were walking on flat plains. He did not travel on the mountain paths, but rather made his own way. No matter how rough the terrain was, he would pass through it with ease with the tap of a cane. This put great hardship on Mu Wanqing. Her sleeves and skirts were ripped and torn into many slices by thorns and bushes, but she did not complain or give any signs of weakness.

After crossing several mountain peaks, far off in the distance a large dense copse of trees could be seen. Mu Wanqing thought to herself, “We’ve arrived at the Ten-Thousand Calamities Gorge.” She asked, “What are we doing here?” The man in green turned around. Suddenly, his metal canes flew out. With a ‘sou’ sound, one knocked on her right leg. Then he said,
“Are you going to keep babbling?” Based on Mu Wanqing’s temperament, in the past if someone mistreated her like this, even if she knew she was not their match she wouldn’t put up with this. But she saw that the man in green’s martial arts were so very incredible, and faintly thought in her heart that perhaps he really could help her achieve her dream. She only replied, “Don’t think I’m afraid of you! I’m just giving way to you for the time being.”

The man in green said, “Let’s go!” He did not pass into the forest but rather circled behind the gorge, taking a sloped path. He appeared to be very familiar with the layout of the area. Mu Wanqing wanted to ask him how, but was afraid that he would wave the stick and whack her again. She could only swallow back the question, just as it had almost exited her lips. She saw that as the road they took continued to twist and turn, it took them farther away from the gorge proper and deeper into the rear of the gorge. In the past, when she came to the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge to meet with her martial uncle Gan Baobao, she had stayed at the gorge for many days. But she had never come here before. She never would have imagined that the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge could have such a wild, desolate, hidden and remote place.

After traveling for several kilometers they arrived within a large wooded area. All around them were ancient trees that stretched far up in the sky. Although the sun was shining brightly, within the woodland it was as dark as dusk. The deeper they went, the more dense the forest growth, until it was necessary to turn their bodies sideways to squeeze through the trees. After walking for a few hundred more feet, she saw two enormous trees which had grown into each other, forming a large, interlinked wall that was impassable. The man in green extended his left cane and lightly waved it behind Mu Wanqing’s back. Mu Wanqing’s body suddenly rose high up in the air and floated onto the top of the tree wall. Mu Wanqing could only accept this, and she obediently made her way past the tree branches, jumping down on the other side of the tree wall.

A large, empty space appeared before her eyes, with a single lonely stone house in the middle. The appearance of that house was extremely strange. It looked as though it had been formed from boulders which weighed over a
hundred thousand jin, much like a little mountain that had an entrance to a cave on its side. The man in green shouted, “Enter!” Mu Wanqing gazed towards the stone house. It was extremely dark inside. Who knew what type of monster might be in there? How could she dare to rashly enter? But she suddenly felt a palm press against her back. She quickly tried to dodge, but the man in green had already exerted his force, pushing her into the stone house.

Mu Wanqing used her left palm to protect her body, executing the stance “Dawn Wind Whisks the Willow” to protect her face. She was afraid that some sort of monster might attack from within the darkness. But all she heard was a rumbling sound as the entrance to the house was suddenly sealed by a heavy object. She was shocked. As she rushed to the entrance to push the object away, she felt that the material under her hand was rough and coarse. It was a gigantic boulder.

She exerted all her strength with her two arms, but couldn’t budge the boulder at all. She tried even harder, but felt like ‘a dragonfly trying to push a stone column’. How could she move it? She loudly shouted, “Hey! Why are you imprisoning me here?” Only to hear the man in green reply, “Have you already forgotten the matter which you begged me about?” His voice penetrated the huge boulder via some small cavities on the top of it, and was extremely clear. Mu Wanqing calmed herself down. She saw although the boulder was blocking the entrance, many small openings around it were exposed. Some were a third of a foot wide, others were perhaps one foot. But none of them would allow her to escape.

Mu Wanqing shouted loudly, “Let me out! Let me out!” Nothing came in response from outside. Pressing her eye against a crack, she peered outside. The man in green was in midair, flying over the distant tree wall as though he were a large green bird.

Turning around, she opened her eyes widely. She saw that the room had both a bed and a table, and that someone was sitting on the bed. She was startled, and called out, “You…you…”

That person stood up, then walked forward two steps. He called, “Sister Wan. You came as well?” His voice was filled with surprised joy. It was
Duan Yu.

In the middle of her despair, Mu Wanqing suddenly saw her beloved darling. She was so happy that she rushed towards him, throwing herself into his embrace. Although the light in the stone house was faint, Duan Yu could see that her face was deathly pale, and that two teardrops had forced their way out of her eyes. He held her firmly in his arms. Her two cherry- red lips were quivering, and he couldn’t resist lowering his head to give her a kiss.

But just as their lips met, they immediately both thought to themselves, “We’re brother and sister. We definitely can’t act like this!” Both their bodies shook, and they released each other’s arms, each retreating a few steps. The two of them both backed into the stone walls, staring at each other with stricken eyes. “Wah!” Mu Wanqing suddenly began to cry.

In a soft voice, Duan Yu consoled her. “Sister Wan, this is our destiny as is willed by heaven. Don’t feel so agonized. To have such a wonderful sister as you fills me with joy.” Mu Wanqing repeatedly stomped on the floor. Crying, she said, “I insist on feeling agonized! I refuse to be joyful! If you’re really so happy, then you have no conscience!” Duan Yu sighed. “What can be done? Perhaps it would be better if we had never met.”

Mu Wanqing said, “It isn’t as though I wanted to meet you. Who told you to come looking for me? Even if it weren’t for you, I probably still wouldn’t have been killed. You harmed my Black Rose and caused her to die. You harmed me and caused me to be unhappy for so long. You harmed me and caused my master to become my mother; you harmed me and caused your father to become my father; you harmed me and somehow caused yourself to become my elder brother! I don’t want it. I don’t want any of it! Now you’ve harmed me and caused me to be imprisoned in here. I want out. I want out!”

Duan Yu said, “Sister Wan, it’s all my fault. Don’t be angry. Let’s slowly think of a way to escape.” Mu Wanqing said, “I’m not escaping. Dying inside here, dying outside of here…it’s all the same to me. I’m not leaving! I’m not leaving!” Just moments ago, she was loudly shouting, “I want out!” But within the blink of an eye, it had changed to, “I’m not leaving!” Duan
Yu knew that her heart was greatly disturbed, and that for now, there would be no way to get through to her. He fell silent.

Mu Wanqing was throwing a fit, but saw that Duan Yu ignored her. She asked, “Why aren’t you talking?” Duan Yu replied, “What do you want me to say?” Mu Wanqing said, “Tell me what you are doing here.” Duan Yu said, “My apprentice kidnapped me…” My Wanqing asked, confused, “Your apprentice?…” Suddenly, she remembered that the Divine Crocodile had accepted Duan Yu as his master. She couldn’t help but laugh through her tears. “You should act as a master would, and order him to release you.” Duan Yu replied, “I ordered him to do so more than a few times, and put on the demeanor of very stern and imposing master. But he said that he would only release me if I bowed to him and accepted him as master as well.” Mu Wanqing said, “Hah! Most likely, you didn’t act the part out properly.” Duan Yu said, “That’s probably how it is. Sister Wan, who is it that caught you?”

Mu Wanqing briefly summarized her meeting with the man in green. But with regards to the matter of ‘turning her brother into her husband’, she left it out. Duan Yu, hearing that this person couldn’t move his lips but could speak with his stomach, was crippled but could move as though he were flying, couldn’t help but feel vastly amused. He couldn’t help but repeatedly ask Mu Wanqing’s questions, his tongue clicking incessantly.

The two of them chatted for a long time. Then suddenly, with a cracking sound, a bowl was passed into the room via a hole in the boulder. A voice said, “Eat!” Duan Yu reached out and took the bowl. He saw that inside it was a dish of fragrantly cooked ‘red-roasted pork’. Next, the man passed in ten or so steamed buns. Duan Yu put both the dishes and the steamed buns on the table. In a low voice, he whispered, “Do you think there is any poison in the food?” Mu Wanqing replied, “If they wanted to kill us, it would be an easy task. No need for them to poison us.”

Duan Yu thought that this made sense. He was also extremely hungry, and said, “Then let’s eat!” Clamping some of the pork inside a steamed bun, he handed one to Mu Wanqing. Then he started to eat as well. The person outside said, “After eating, put the bowl outside. Someone will come to take it.” After he finished speaking, he immediately left. Mu Wanqing peered
past the boulder. She saw that person pull himself up past the tree wall, then descend on the other side. She thought to herself, “The person who delivered food has only an ordinary skill.” Walking back to Duan Yu’s side, she started to eat the pork and the steamed buns.

While eating, Duan Yu said, “Don’t be worried. My father and uncle will definitely come to rescue us. Although the Divine Crocodile and Ye Erniang’s martial arts might be high, they aren’t necessarily a match for my father. And if my uncle himself comes? It will be like the wind scattering the leaves. They’ll flee at the mere sight of his oncoming force.” Mu Wanqing let out a ‘hngh’ sound. “He’s just the Emperor of Dali. What’s so special about his martial arts? I don’t believe he can beat the man in the green robe. He’ll probably just lead a few thousand armored cavalry and invade this place.” Duan Yu repeatedly shook his head. “Not so, not so! The ancestor of the Duan lineage used to be a respected figure within the wulin of the Central Plains. Even though he became the Emperor of Dali, he wouldn’t dare forget about the rules of the wulin. If he took advantage of his position to bully others, and achieved victory by superior force of numbers, wouldn’t Dali’s Duan dynasty be derided by all the heroes of the world?”

Mu Wanqing nodded. “I understand. Even after the people of your family became Emperors and princes, they were unwilling to throw away their standing as heroes of the jianghu.” Duan Yu said, “My uncle and my father often tell me, this is the meaning of the saying, ‘A person must not forget his origins’.” Mu Wanqing made a contemptuous sound. “Pei! Their mouths are full of righteousness and morality, but they act in shameless and despicable ways. Since your father already had your mother, why would he come after my master as well?”

Startled, Duan Yu said, “Eh?! How can you insult my father? He’s your father too, you know. Besides, of the princes and dukes in the world, how many of them don’t had multiple wives? Even if they had eight or ten wives, it still wouldn’t be a big deal.”

Actually, during the Northern Song dynasty, the north was occupied by the Khitan, the center was occupied by the Great Song, the northwest was occupied by the Western Xia, the southwest ruled by Tibet, and the south by
Dali. The princes and dukes of these five countries all had, in addition to a ‘formal wife’, a large number of concubines. At the very least, they would have three or four; some even had dozens. Even high ranking nobles or officials would have a few concubines. This is how it had been since ancient times, since the beginning of the imperial system. Most people had long since accepted it as a matter of course. [Translator’s note: Jinyong and his bloody history lessons….]

Hearing his words, anger swelled in Mu Wanqing’s heart. She dealt Duan Yu a heavy blow right on his cheeks. A loud cracking sound could be heard, loud, sharp and clear. This blow knocked him silly, causing the half-eaten steamed bun in his hand to fall to the ground. All he could say was, “You… you…”

Mu Wanqing angrily said, “I refuse to acknowledge him as my father! If a man takes on multiple wives, then he has no conscience. If a person has split desires and a split mind when it comes to love, then that person is faithless and heartless.” Gently caressing his swollen cheeks, Duan Yu let out a bitter laugh. “I’m your elder brother. As my little sister, how can you be so disrespectful towards me?” The grief and anger in Mu Wanqing’s heart was difficult to bear. Upon hearing these words, she struck at him again.

This time, Duan Yu was prepared. With a slip of the foot, he exercised his “Graceful Steps Upon the Waves” and dodged behind her. Mu Wanqing sent out a palm backwards, but Duan Yu avoided that one as well. Although the square room was only around ten feet in diameter, the “Graceful Steps Upon the Waves” truly was a wondrous skill. Mu Wanqing’s palm attacks came faster and faster now, but she wasn’t able to hit him again.

Mu Wanqing was all the more infuriated by this. Suddenly, she let out a loud cry of pain and pretended to fall down. Alarmed, Duan Yu asked, “What’s wrong?” He bent over her, extending a hand to help her up. Mu Wanqing leaned gently against his body. She hooked her left arm around his neck, then suddenly tightened her grip. She laughed. “Can you still run away from me now?” She slapped him once again with her right hand, this time on his left cheeks. The ringing sound was extremely sharp and clear.
Duan Yu was hurt, but only let out a single cry. “Ow!” Suddenly, he felt a warm stream rapidly rise up from his dantian. His blood vessels began to rapidly expand, filling him with an irresistibly sensual sensation. He suddenly was aware that the girl whom he had embraced within his bosom was delicately panting. Waves of fragrant scents filled the air, throwing his mind into great turmoil. He placed a kiss on her lips. Upon being kissed, Mu Wanqing’s entire body immediately went soft. Duan Yu, still holding her body in his arms, set her down on top of the bed, then undid one of his buttons. Mu Wanqing said in a low voice, “But you…you are my elder brother…”

Although Duan Yu’s mind was in turmoil, this sentence struck him like a thunderbolt out of the clear sky. Stunned for a moment, he quickly released her and took three steps back. Attacking with both palms, he struck himself on his mouth four times. He cursed at himself. “I deserve to die. I deserve to die!”

Mu Wanqing saw that both of his eyes were bloodshot, and had a strange light in them. The flesh of his face was moving and churning, and his nostrils were dilating, then contracting. Frightened, she said, “Ah! Darling Duan, there was poison in the food! We have been deceived!” Duan Yu felt as though his entire body was boiling up, as though he had been placed within a steamer and was being thoroughly steamed. Upon hearing Mu Wanqing cry that the food was poisoned, he was actually relieved. “So it was poison which threw my mind into chaos and caused me to act in such a depraved way towards younger sister Wan. It isn’t as though I was an insane creature who had never read the classical scriptures, acting in ways which imitate beasts.”

But the heat coming from his body was truly hard to resist. Slowly, he removed one article of clothing after another, until he wore but a single shirt and trousers. He sat down on his knees. His eyes focused on his nose, and his nose pointed towards his heart. With a powerful effort, he restrained the capricious desires the drug was causing.

After consuming the Cinnabar Toad, he had become immune to all poisons. But the drug which had been put in the bowl of pork wasn’t a poison which would actually harm a person’s life. Rather, it was an aphrodisiac designed
to generate lust. The desire for men and women to be together is inborn. This aphrodisiac only aroused the natural lusts which are innate to every person, intensifying them and making them difficult to control. The Cinnabar Toad’s venom could, using the principle of ‘fighting poison with poison’, counteract thousands of toxin, but this aphrodisiac was not actually poisonous. Thus, the Cinnabar Toad could do nothing for Duan Yu.

Mu Wanqing was also feeling somewhat hot. After some time, it was more than she could bear, and she also removed her outer garments.

Duan Yu called out, “You can’t take anything else off! Rest your back against the stone wall. It’ll help cool you down.”

Both of them leaned back against the stone walls. Although their backs were cool, every inch of their chest, stomach, limbs, face, and necks felt as though they were being rolling in fire. Duan Yu saw that Mu Wanqing’s cheeks were a fiery red, and that she appeared unspeakably lovable and glamorous. Tears glimmered in her eyes, and it was obvious that she would like to do nothing better than to throw herself in his embrace. Duan Yu thought to himself, “At this moment, we need to be resolute in fighting off the effects of this drug. But our strength has limits. If we engaged in depraved, incestuous acts, we will have lost all face for the Duan family. Even a hundred deaths would not redeem such a heavy offense.” He said, “Give me one of your poisoned quarrels.”

Mu Wanqing asked, “For what?” Duan Yu said, “If…if I become unable to withstand the strength of this drug, I’ll use the quarrel to stab myself to death, so I won’t harm you.” Mu Wanqing said, “I’m not giving it to you.” Neither of them knew that the poison the quarrel could do nothing to Duan Yu. Duan Yu said, “You need to promise me something.” Mu Wanqing said, “What?” Duan Yu said, “If I so much as extend my hand and touch your body, you must shoot your quarrels and kill me.” Mu Wanqing said, “I refuse to promise you that.” Duan Yu said, “I’m begging you. Promise me. The reputation of Dali’s Duan dynasty, pure and clean for the past hundreds of years, cannot be ruined by my hand. Otherwise, how can I face my ancestors after death?”
Suddenly, a voice spoke from outside the stone room. “Dali’s Duan dynasty used to be awe-inspiring in the past. But then the kingship passed into Duan Zhengming’s hands. His mouth is filled with righteousness and moral platitudes, but he has the heart of a wolf and the innards of a dog. He’s long since lost the Duan dynasty’s pure reputation!”

Duan Yu angrily replied, “Who are you? You’re full of s.hit!” Mu Wanqing said in a low voice, “He’s the freak in the green gown.” Only to hear the man in green say, “Miss Mu, I promised that I’d help you turn your brother into your husband. I’ve taken this task to heart, and I will definitely accomplish it.” Mu Wanqing angrily said, “You’re poisoned the food to harm us! What does this have to do with my request?”

The man in green replied, “In that bowl of red-cooked pork, I placed a large quantity of the ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder. After being ingested, if yin and yang do not enter into a harmonious relationship, and the male and female do not become man and wife, then their flesh and skin will crack and split. They will bleed from their seven orifices, then die. The potency of this ‘Conjoining Powder’ grows with every day. On the eighth day, even if you were the Great Golden Immortal Luo [a Taoist deity] himself, you still wouldn’t be able to hold it off.”

Duan Yu angrily replied, “There are neither enmities nor grievances between the two of us. Why did you cook up such a poisonous plot to harm me? You are trying to force me to lose all face as a man, and cause my parents and my uncle to suffer shame for the rest of their entire life. I…I would rather die a hundred times than engage in such a shameless, depraved, incestuous act!” The man in green replied, “Although neither enmities nor grievances exist between us, the grievances between your uncle and I are as deep as the oceans of the four seas. Duan Zhengming, Duan Zhengchun. I can imagine nothing better than for those two kids to lose all face and suffer lifelong shame, and be unable to face others in the future. Wonderful. Wonderful! Heh heh, heh heh.” His lips could not move, so the sound of laughter emanated from his larynx, sounding all the more hideous and strange.

Duan Yu was about to continue arguing, but, out of the corner of his eye, saw Mu Wanqing’s beautiful face, which looked like the slumbering spring
or a lovely cherry, and her slender body, which appeared as though it were a blooming hibiscus flower. His heart beat so frantically that even he was almost able to hear it. His brain was once more confused, and he thought to himself, “Little sister Wan and I originally had agreed to wed. If the two of us had not returned to Dali, who would have known that we were siblings? This is a karmic retribution born from the affairs of the heart of the previous generation. What does it have to do with the two of us?”

When his thought process arrived at this point, he shakily rose to his feet, only to see that Mu Wanqing, her hand supporting her against the wall, was also slowly rising to her feet. Suddenly, within his heart a sudden thought flashed by, striking upon it like a ray of sunlight on a flintstone. “Cannot! Cannot! Duan Yu, ah, Duan Yu! This is the critical moment, where your actions will determine if you am a man or a beast. If you make the wrong choice now, not only will you suffer a complete and utter fall from grace, but you will also destroy your uncle and your father as well.”

He immediately cried out loudly, “Sister Wan! I am your elder brother, and you are my younger sister! You know that, right? Do you understand the Book of Changes?”

In the midst of her fuzzy-headedness, Mu Wanqing heard him ask such a strange question. “Huh? Book of Changes? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Duan Yu replied, “Alright, I’ll teach you! The study of the Book of Changes is extremely difficult and abstruse. Listen carefully!” Mu Wanqing was confused. She asked, “What good is it going to do me?” Duan Yu replied, “After you learn it, it will benefit you greatly! Maybe the two of us can use it to escape from our current predicament.”

He felt that his desires were driving him mad. At the critical juncture between being a man and a beast, a thousand things rested upon this one decision. If Mu Wanqing rushed over to him and tried to seduce him even but a little, his mental walls and willpower would surely crumble. The reason he wanted to teach her the Book of Changes was out of the hope that with one of them teaching, and the other learning, their attention would be focused somewhere else, and they wouldn’t think about the affairs between males and females.
He said, “The basics of the Book of Changes rest in the Taiji, the Absolute Ultimate. From Taiji is born Liangyi [two mutually correlated opposites, aka Yin and Yang], and Liangyi gives birth to Sixiang [the four images]. In turn, the Sixiang gives birth to the Bagua [the eight divinatory Trigrams]. Do you know what the Bagua trigram looks like?” Mu Wanqing replied, “No, I don’t. This is so annoying! My darling Duan, come over here. I have something I want to tell you.”

Duan Yu said, “I’m your brother. Don’t call me ‘darling Duan’. Call me ‘elder brother’. I’ll tell you the secret mantra of the Bagua diagram. Concentrate and do your best to remember it. ‘Qian’ is three links, ‘Kun’ is six pieces, ‘Zhen’ stares at the cup, ‘Gen’ overflows the bowl. Within ‘Li’ is emptiness, within ‘Kan’ is fullness. Above ‘Dui’ is deficiency, below ‘Xun’ is absoluteness [the eight trigrams of the Bagua are ‘Qian’, ‘Kun’, ‘Zhen’, ‘’Gen’, ‘Li’, ‘Kan’, ‘Kuang’, and ‘Gen’].”

Mu Wanqing repeated it after him once, then asked, “What’s this ‘cup’ and ‘water’ and food bowl stuff all about? What are you talking about?” Duan Yu replied, “This is the shape of the Bagua diagram. You must understand the hidden meaning of the Bagua. All living things in the world, bar none, are encompassed by it. Let’s use a family as an example. ‘Qian’ is the father, ‘Kun’ is the mother, ‘Zhen’ is the eldest son, ‘Xun’ is the eldest daughter. We’re siblings, so I would be the ‘Zhen’ trigram, and you would be the ‘Xun’ trigram….”

Mu Wanqing lazily said, “No. You are the ‘Qian’ trigram, and I am the ‘Kun’ trigram. We’ll become husband and wife. Only in the future, when we have children, will the ‘Zhen’ trigram and the ‘Xun’ trigram appear.” Duan Yu, hearing her speak so sluggishly yet flirtatiously, couldn’t help but be moved. He quickly said, “Don’t think crazy thoughts! Keep listening to me speak.” Mu Wanqing replied, “If you…if you come sit next to me, I’ll listen to you speak.”

Only to hear the man in green say from outside the room, “Excellent. Excellent! After the two of you become husband and wife and give birth to sons and daughters, I will release you two. Not only will I not kill you, but I will teach you two all the martial arts I possess, and set you two to rampage across all the land under heaven.”
Duan Yu angrily replied, “At the last hour, the two of us will kill ourselves by smashing our heads against the stone walls. The scions of Dali’s Duan dynasty would rather die than be disgraced! You want to revenge yourself upon my body? Forget it!”

The man in green replied, “You dying is fine. You living is fine. I don’t care. If you two choose the path of death instead, I will strip your bodies naked, removing every stitch of clothing. I’ll write on your bodies that you two are the nephew and niece of Dali’s Duan Zhengming, and Duan Zhengchun’s children. I will write that while you two secretly had conjugal relations with each other, you were discovered by others, and that in your shame and anger, you committed suicide. I will preserve your bodies with salt, then hang your bodies up above Dali’s main gate for three days. Then I will go to the city of Kaifeng, Luoyang, Lin’an, and Guangzhou and publicly expose your bodies there as well.”

Duan Yu was absolutely livid. He loudly roared, “How exactly did my Duan family offend you, for you to retaliate in such a malicious way against us?”

The man in green replied, “Why should I discuss my own affairs with a little kid like you?”

After saying this, he fell silent. Duan Yu realized that every time he spoke with Mu Wanqing, he increased the danger of their situation by another degree. Turning, he sat facing the wall, and began to deeply ponder the secrets behind the ‘Graceful Steps on the Waves’.”

After pondering the dazzlingly complicated footwork for a long time, he suddenly thought to himself, “The dear Goddess in the stone cavern is ten times more beautiful than sister Wan. If I must marry, only by marrying that dear Goddess will I have not married in vain.” In a dazed state, he turned his head, then saw Mu Wanqing’s beautiful face slowly turn into that of the stone cavern’s jade statue. Duan Yu shouted loudly, “Dearest Goddess! I’m suffering so miserably right now. Please come rescue me!” He knelt down on the spot and embraced Mu Wanqing’s calf.
At this moment, a voice came from outside. “Time to eat!” A lit red candle was tossed in. The person laughed. “Quick, catch! It is your first night of spring-like lust in the marital chambers. How can there not be a flower- scented candle?” Startled, Duan Yu rose to his feet. By the glow of the candle, he saw Mu Wanqing’s eyelashes ripple, beautiful beyond description. With a single breath he blew the candle out. He shouted back, “There’s poison in the food. Take it away! We’re not eating!”

That person replied, “You were poisoned long ago, and consumed a sufficiently large dose. There’s no need to add more.” Then he sent in the rice and the dishes.

Duan Yu accepted the food, placing it on the table. He thought to himself, “After a person dies, all comes to an end. With regards to issues that come up after his death, how can he possibly be concerned?” Then he had a second thought. “Father, mother, and my uncle have loved me so dearly. How can I allow the Duan family to be laughed at by the world?” Suddenly, he heard Mu Wanqing gently say, “My darling Duan, I am going to commit suicide with my poisoned quarrels, so I won’t end up harming you.” Duan Yu shouted, “Wait! Even after the two of us, brother and sister, die, this evil man will not be done with us. This man is vicious and dangerous. Compared to the baby-murdering Ye Erniang or the heart-ripping Divine Crocodile, he’s even more evil! Who can this man possibly be?”

Only to hear that man in a green gown say in a low voice, “Kid, you have some experience after all. This old man is the chief of the Four Great Evils. I am known as ‘Evil Beyond Human Capacity!’”

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