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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 8

 Chapter 8: Hiss of the Tiger, Moan of the Dragon
Within the warm pavilion of the South-Subduing Palace, the Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment Gao Shengtai, returned and reported that Zhong Wanchou, his wife, and Qin Hongmian had departed the palace grounds. The South-Subduing Princess Dao Baifeng, concerned about her son, said, “Emperor, do you know the location of the so-called Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge?” Duan Zhengming, also known as the Emperor Baoding, replied, “Today isn’t the first time that I’ve heard of this place. But up until now, it has had no interactions with Dali”.

Dao Baifeng worriedly said, “From what Zhong Wanchou said, it seems this place is very remote and hidden. I’m worried we might not be able to find it. If Yu’er remains in enemy hands for too long…” Emperor Baoding let out a small smile. “Yu’er has been sheltered all his life. He doesn’t understand how dangerous and sinister the world can be. For him to undergo some hardships and gain some endurance and experience may not necessarily be an altogether bad thing.” Dao Baifeng’s mind was filled with anxiety, but she did not dare rebut him.

Emperor Baoding said to Duan Zhengchun, “Little brother Chun, could I trouble you to have some wine and dishes brought out?” Duan Zhengchun said, “Yes!” He sent the orders, and in a short amount of time an entire banquet was prepared with all sorts of exotic delicacies. Emperor Baoding ordered everyone present to partake of the banquet, feasting and drinking.

Dali was a small, rustic nation of the south where hundreds of minorities lived. The Han people were not necessarily in the majority. The South- Subduing Princess, Dao Baifeng, was herself of the Baiyi tribe. The people of the country accepted the teachings of the central plains as profound, but even the daily rituals of the imperial court were much more casual and simpler than that of the far away Song dynasty. In addition, Emperor Baoding had a very compassionate, gentle character. Aside from when he
 
was visiting monasteries or temples, he never liked to stand on ceremony. Thus Duan Zhengchun, his wife, and Gao Shengtai sat next to him at the head of the table and kept him company.

While eating and drinking, Emperor Baoding refused to bring up the previous matter. Dao Baifeng’s eyebrows were tightly knit with worry. To her, the food had no taste at all. At dawnbreak, the guards outside said, “Minister Ba has come to pay his respects to the Emperor.” Duan Zhengming said, “Enter!” The curtain screen was parted, and a short, skinny black man entered. He knelt before Emperor Baoding and said, “Reporting to your majesty, to arrive at the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, one must first pass the ‘Benevolent Man’s Crossing’, then go through the ‘Iron Rope Bridge’. To enter the gorge itself, one needs to pass through a hole in a gigantic tree.”

Dao Baifeng clapped her hands and laughed. “If I had known that Minister Ba had been sent out, why would I possibly have worried about being unable to locate the enemy’s lair? I wouldn’t have had to be worried for so long either!” That black man bowed slightly and said, “Princess, you flatter me. Ba Tianshi is embarassed and not deserving of such praise.”

Although the skinny black man, Ba Tianshi, had a rustic appearance, he was an extremely intelligent and capable person. He had gained great merit from accomplishing many tasks for Emperor Baoding. Presently, his position was that of the ‘Sikong’, Minister of Soil and Water. The three ministerial positions of ‘Situ’, Minister of Education, ‘Sima’, Minister of War, and ‘Sikong’, Minister of Soil and Water, were the foremost positions in the imperial court, of exceeding glory and honor. Ba Tianshi’s martial arts were absolutely outstanding, and he was an expert in qinggong. This time, he had been sent out by Emperor Baoding’s decree to locate and investigate the enemy’s base of operations. He secretly followed behind Zhong Wanchou’s party and actually managed to find the location of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge.

Emperor Baoding smiled a little. “Tianshi, sit down and eat your fill. Then we’ll go together.” Ba Tianshi knew that the Emperor hated when others acted too worshipfully or formally towards him, and that he loved and addressed his subjects and his officials as though they were his brothers or
 
friends. If he acted too formally or respectfully towards the Emperor, he might actually cause the Emperor to be angry with him. He immediately assented.

Lifting up his rice bowl, he began to eat. He didn’t touch a single drop of wine, but the quantity of food he ate was astonishing. In a twinkling of an eye he consumed eight large bowlfuls of food. Duan Zhengchun, Gao Shengtai, and himself had known each other for a long time, and so the other two weren’t surprised at all. After Ba Tianshi had finished eating, he stood up and wiped away the grease from his lips. “Your vassal, Ba Tianshi, will lead the way.”

He left, taking the position of vanguard. Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun, his wife, and Gao Shengtai followed behind him. After leaving the South-Subduing Palace, they found the Four Imperial Guards, Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu standing outside the door, waiting for them with horses already prepared. Dozens of swordsmen who had sworn to follow Emperor Baoding were there as well.

Before founding their country, the Duan family was originally part of the wulin of the central plain’s. In the past hundreds of years, their descendants had never lost the customs and manners of their ancestors. Although the two brothers Duan Zhengmin and Duan Zhengchun had boundless riches, they often strolled about incognito in plain clothes. If any members of the wulin community came to visit or to carry out a vendetta against them, they always treated the visitors according to the rules of the wulin, never putting on imperial airs.

Thus, everyone present was long since used to the sight of Emperor Baoding was personally leading an expedition, and weren’t startled. From Emperor Baoding on down, everyone changed into ordinary clothes. They no longer appeared like gentry, dressed in fine red silks, but rather just a group of ordinary people roaming about.

Dao Baifeng saw that out of the people whom Ba Tianshi had selected, twenty or so of them were carrying large hatchets and long saws. Laughing, she asked, “Minister Ba, are we disguising ourselves as carpenters on our
 
way to building a large house?” Ba Tianshi replied, “We’re sawing down trees and tearing apart houses!”

The party were riding on fine stallions, and thus moved like the wind. They arrived at the forest outside the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge before noon. Ba Tianshi ordered his men to chop down the obstructing trees one at a time. Arriving at the mouth of the gorge, Emperor Baoding pointed at the large tree upon which was painted the words, “Any person surnamed Duan who enters this gorge shall be mercilessly killed.” He laughed. “What a great enmity the master of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge has with our family!”

But Duan Zhengchun knew that Zhong Wanchou was afraid that he would enter the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge to seek out Gan Baobao. He glanced at his wife out of the corner of his eye, and saw that she only smiled coldly.

Four men carrying large hatchets rushed over to that large tree. In a short period of time, that large tree, with a trunk so wide that many people would be needed to wrap their arms around it, was felled.

Ba Tianshi ordered everyone present to wait with their horses at the mouth of the gorge.

The Four Imperial Guards, Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu led the way. Behind them was Ba Tianshi and Gao Shengtai. Following them was the South-Subduing Prince and Princess. Last of all was Emperor Baoding. Upon entering the gorge, they noticed that everything was quiet and still. No one came to greet them. According to the rules of the jianghu, Ba Tianshi, holding the name placards of the two brothers Duan Zhengming and Duan Zhengchun, strode boldly forth and made his way to the front of the main house. In a clear voice, he said, “The two brothers of Dali’s Duan dynasy have come to pay a visit to the gorge-master Zhong!”

Just as the sound of his voice was dying away, a long shadow suddenly appeared from the trees to the left. It rushed towards Ba Tianshi with rapid speed, extending his hand and snatching at the two name placards in Ba Tianshi’s hands. Ba Tianshi retreated three steps to the right and shouted,
 
“Who are you, honored sir?” It was none other than ‘Thoroughly Cruel and Evil’, Yun Zhonghe! His first snatching attempt having missed, he sped up even more, once more pouncing towards Ba Tianshi.

Ba Tianshi saw that his qinggong was exceptionally formidable and wanted to compete with him a bit. He immediately rushed forward three more steps, and Yun Zhonghe pursued for three steps. With a kick of his feet, Ba Tianshi begin to run quickly, with Yun Zhonghe chasing directly after him. A short man, pursued by a tall man. In the blink of an eye, they had circled the room three times. Yun Zhonghe’s stride was unnaturally long, but Ba Tianshi kept jumping and leaping about. The rise and fall of his footsteps were much quicker than that of Yun Zhonghe. Throughout the race, a distance of a few meters was maintained between the two. Yun Zhonghe knew that he would not be able to catch up, but Ba Tianshi, in turn, knew he wouldn’t be able to shake him off. Both of them had long fancied themselves as having the best qinggong in the world. At this moment, upon meeting such a formidable opponent, both of them were secretly startled. Their movements became faster and faster. The lapels of their clothes fluttered in the wind, releasing a series of ‘hu’ sounds. Although there were only two people chasing after each other, from an outsider’s perspective, it looked as though five or six people were running around in a circle. As the contest continued and as the distance between their two bodies grew slightly, it turned into a circular race around the room. No one could tell if Yun Zhonghe was chasing Ba Tianshi, or if Ba Tianshi was chasing Yun Zhonghe. If Ba Tianshi managed to catch up to Yun Zhonghe, then he naturally would have won this qinggong competition. But with a burst of strength, Yun Zhonghe once more increased the distance between himself and Ba Tianshi.

But suddenly, the main door opened with a cracking sound, and Zhong Wanchou walked out. Ba Tianshi did not stop. Secretly generating his internal energy, he shot out with his left hand. The name placards smoothly flew towards Zhong Wanchou.

Extending his hand, Zhong Wanchou received the placards. He roared, “You! The one surnamed Duan! Since you have come to visit me in
 
accordance with the rules of the jianghu, why did you destroy the trees that served as my gate?”

Chu Wanli called back, “How could a person of the Emperor’s stature lower himself to tunnel his way through the hole in that tree?”

Dao Baifeng was worried for her beloved son the entire time. She couldn’t help but call out, “Where’s my son? Have you hidden him here?” Suddenly, a sharp female voice came out from the room. “You came a bit late. We’ve already ripped apart the stomach and torn the chest of that kid surnamed Duan, and fed his body to the dogs!” This woman gripped a blade in each hand. The blades were as thin as a willow leaf and gleamed with a blue light. It was the deadly Asura Sabres, which would quickly take the life of any person whose blood it tasted!

Eighteen years ago, these two women hated and were jealous of each other, laying down a deep enmity and a strong feud. Dao Baifeng knew that Qin Hongmian was lying, but upon hearing her claim that her beloved only son had died in such a miserable fashion, felt the flames of her old hatred rise and stir anew. She coldly replied, “My question was directed towards gorge-master Zhong. No one will speak with such a cheap s.lut as yourself, to avoid lowering their own dignity!”

Suddenly, with two ‘dang’ sounds, Qin Hongmian struck out with her twin sabres, her attack coming as fast as the wind. This attack, the ‘Character Ten Chop’ [the Chinese character for ‘ten’ is a cross, so this would be a cross chop], was her finest skill with which she had become famous in former days. No one knows how many heroes had died under this venomous stance of her Asura sabres. Dao Baifeng pulled out her flywhisk and hurriedly moved backwards, spinning around as she did so and sending the tail of her flywhick towards Qin Hongmian’s heart.

Duan Zhengchun felt extremely awkward and conflicted. One was his current beloved wife; the other was his former sweetheart. His love towards Dao Baifeng was truly deep and profound, but was also unable to forget what he and Qin Hongmian had once shared. He knew that if the two women started fighting, they would be using vicious, life-taking techniques. No matter who was harmed, he would have hated the outcome. He called
 
out, “Stay your hand!” Slanting his body, he quickly moved closer, pulling out his sword and trying to separate the two women.

As soon as Zhong Wanchou saw Duan Zhengchun, his belly had filled with anger. With a clattering sound, he pulled out his large ringed sabre and chopped towards him. Chu Wanli called out, “Prince, no need to personally deal with this. I’ll take care of him!” Striking out with his iron staff, he attacked Zhong Wanchou’s neck. His previous iron staff had been broken in two by Ye Erniang, so he had ordered a new one be forged.

Zhong Wanchou cursed at him. “I always knew that the one surnamed Duan only knew how to rely on winning via superior numbers!” Duan Zhengchun laughed. “Wanli, stand down. I was just about to test out gorge-master Zhong’s martial arts!” His long sword struck out, deflecting Chu Wanli’s iron staff. At the same time, he dragged his sword down the back of Zhong Wanchou’s large-ringed sabre, nicking his fingers. In one stroke, he ‘deflected,’ ‘dragged down’, and ‘nicked’, not revealing even half of a flaw or opening. Zhong Wanchou was startled. “What a formidable sword skill this thief surnamed Duan has!” He immediately clamped down his anger. In front of such a powerful opponent, he dared not be careless or reckless.

Duan Zhengchun’s straight sword continued to attack. Zhong Wanchou saw that the power in his attack was lively and powerful, difficult for him to block. He leapt three steps backwards. Duan Zhengchun had only wanted him to stop intervening, and with him gone, moved sideways to stand next to Dao Baifeng and Qin Hongmian. Qin Hongmian’s sabre techniques were becoming slightly disorganized, and Dao Baifeng kept advancing and pressing onwards. With a series of ‘chi’ sounds, Qin Hongmian suddenly shot out three poisoned quarrels. Her quarrels were identical to those shot out by Mu Wanqing, but her skill in shooting them out was much higher.

These quarrels were aimed to three parts of Dao Baifeng’s body; the left, the right, and the center. This was an extremely difficult attack to dodge. Dao Baifeng leapt into the air and all three quarrels passed by underneath her feet. But just as her body was in mid-air, three more quarrels were shot out. The first was aimed at her abdomen. The second was aimed between her two legs. The third was aimed at her foot. At the moment, Dao Baifeng was unable to ascend any higher, and as her body descended, these three
 
quarrels were perfectly positioned to strike at her head, chest, and stomach. This attack was vicious to the extreme.

Fear filled Dao Baifeng’s heart and she attacked hurriedly with her flywhisk, managing to deflect the first poisoned quarrel. Her body was descending rapidly, and it seemed as though the second and third quarrels, aimed at her chest and stomach, would be impossible for her to dodge or deflect. Suddenly, a white light flashed, and the hilt of a long sword flashed by her face, chopping these two poisoned quarrels into four pieces. At the same time, someone placed his own body protectively in front of hers. It was Duan Zhengchun who had rushed over and saved her life. If he had been even slightly slower and been unable to chop the quarrels in half, then they would have struck his own body instead.

Upon seeing those, both Dao Baifeng and Qin Hongmian were so terrified that their faces turned pale, and their hearts thumped frantically. Dao Baifeng called out, “I don’t want your help!” She sidestepped past her husband, striking towards Qin Hongmian with her flywhisk. She despised the venomous, cruel techniques which Qin Hongmian employed, and her flywhisk attacked with extreme speed. It swept towards Qin Hongmian, preventing her from using those poisoned quarrels again. Moments ago, Qin Hongmian had almost hit Duan Zhengchun with those poisoned quarrels and saw him protect his wife’s body without a care for his own life, showing extreme bias in this fight. In her heart, panic had intermingled with bitter misery, and for the moment she was unable to block the attack of the flywhisk.

Dao Baifeng’s flywhisk technique, “Phoenix Alights on the Parasol Tree”, descended towards the crown of her head. Qin Hongmian hurriedly dodged to the right, just as Dao Baifeng struck out with her left palm in that direction. It seemed as though she was about to be struck right on the pit of her stomach and suffer a severe enough injury that she would vomit blood. The palm was only inches away from her abdomen, but suddenly a male palm appeared and blocked, diverting Dao Baifeng’s palm. It was Duan Zhengchun who had saved her. He said, “Dearest phoenix, don’t be so fierce against her.”
 
Qin Hongmian was startled, then angrily replied, “What’s with the ‘dearest phoenix’, ‘beloved peacock’ crap? You’re so affectionate towards her!” Her left sabre chopped towards Duan Zhengchun’s neck. Dao Baifeng was also furious at her husband rescuing his former mistress. She withdrew her attacking flywhisk, redirecting it and sending it sweeping towards Duan Zhengchun’s face.

The two women struck at the same time, and saw each other’s attack at the same time as well. They simultaneously cried out, “Oh no!” Both of them wanted to protect their lover. Dao Baifeng’s flywhisk changed direction once again to block the Asura sabre; Qin Hongmian, on the other hand, sent out a flying kick towards Dao Baifeng, wanting to force her to retract the flywhisk.

Duan Zhengchun slanted his body to dodge, but with a ‘peng’ sound, Qin Hongmian’s kick landed on his buttocks. Dao Baifeng angrily said, “Why are you kicking my husband?” Qin Hongmian said, “My darling Duan, I didn’t do that on purpose! You…are you hurt?” Duan Zhengchun decided to put on an act, and loudly cried, “Ouch! Ouch!! You kicked me to death!” He squatted down.

Zhong Wanchou, seeing the situation, thought to seize the advantage and raised his sabre to hack at Duan Zhengchun. Dao Baifeng called out, “Stay your hand!” Qin Hongmian cried out, “Hit him!” The flywhisk and the Asura sabres struck out at Zhong Wanchou simultaneously, forcing him to retract his strike to defend against them. He loudly shouted out, “The stinking thief surnamed Duan! You useless pretty boy, you’re relying on women to save your life! What type of hero are you?” Duan Zhengchun burst out into loud laughter. He suddenly leapt up, and with three ‘shua’ sounds, sent out three sword attacks that forced Zhong Wanchou to stumble and stagger backwards.

Qin Hongmian was startled, then angrily called out, “You aren’t injured at all! You were faking it!” Dao Baifeng was also angry. “This bastard excels at scamming others. How could you have believed him?” Qin Hongmian cried out, “Beware my sabres!” Dao Baifeng also cried out, “Hit him!” The two women joined together to attack Duan Zhengchun.
 
Emperor Baoding, seeing his brother getting entangled in the dispute with the two women, turned his head away and laughed secretly. He said to Chu Wanli, “Go inside and check the place out.” Chu Wanli replied, “Yes sir!”

The Four Imperial Guardians Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu rushed into the room. Right as Gu Ducheng’s left foot crossed over the threshold, he felt a cold wind rush towards the crown of his skull. Before his left foot had touched the floor, his right foot had already leapt backwards. He saw an extremely thin but broad sabre slice downwards in front of his face. The distance between him and the blade was but a few inches. If he had been but a moment slower to dodge, even if he had lucked out and his head wasn’t split in twain, his nose would have been sliced off at the very least. Cold sweat trickled down his back. He saw that the hidden figure was a middle aged woman with elegant features. It was ‘No Evil Left Undone’, Ye Erniang. Her thin sabre was rectangular in shape. In all four directions, the blade was surpassingly sharp. Holding on to the short sabre-handle, she brandished it about, forming a circular halo about her.

Gu Ducheng was extremely startled at first. After calming himself, he let out a loud cry, then with a wave of his broad axe, chopped towards her thin blade. Ye Erniang’s thin sabre continually spun around, not daring to directly meet such a heavy weapon as an axe. Gu Ducheng executed the seventy two strokes of his “Chaotic Whirlwind Hatchet” technique, his twin axes chopping upwards and downwards towards her. Ye Erniang was possessed of a weird temperament, and alternated between gently cooing towards Gu Ducheng and speaking boldly towards him. Zhu Dancheng, seeing how leisurely she fought and how strange her sabre techniques were, conjectured that if the battle went on for too long, Gu Ducheng wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer. Immediately, he struck out with his twin judge’s pens in a pincer attack towards her.

At this time, Ba Tianshi and Yun Zhonghe were still happily running around in circles. Their qinggong abilities were on par, and it would take a long time before victory or defeat could be determined. At this time, what they were really competing in was the relative superiority of their internal energy. After having ran over a hundred circles, Ba Tianshi knew that although Yun Zhonghe’s skill in his lower legs was abundant and graceful,
 
he was unable to center himself perfectly. In this respect, Yun Zhonghe was inferior to his own movements, with its elegant and perfectly executed leaps and bounds which had no left-over energy. All he had to do was to come to a sudden halt and strike with three palms, and Yun Zhonghe surely would not be able to take it. But Ba Tianshi was determined to defeat Yun Zhonghe solely through superior qinggong, and not through superior fighting ability. Thus, he continued to run with all his might.

Suddenly, a coarse voice let fly a stream of curses. “Goddamnit, you guys are kicking up such a racket that your old man here can’t even sleep. What type of rabbit whelp has come?” The Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas suddenly appeared, Crocodile Maw Scissors in hand, as he leapt closer and closer.

Fu Sigui called out, “Your master’s father has come!” The Divine Crocodile yelled back, “What are you talking about, ‘my master’s father’?” Fu Sigui pointed towards Duan Zhengchun. “The South-Subduing Prince is the father of young lord Duan. Young lord Duan is your master. Are you trying to deny it?” Although the Divine Crocodile had done many vile things, he had one good quality. He never reneged on anything he said or agreed to. Upon hearing these words, he was so angry that his face turned bright yellow, but couldn’t deny them. He angrily replied, “What ****ing business is it of yours, you son of a turtle, with regards to what goes on between me and my master?” Fu Sigui laughed. “I’m not your son. Why are you calling me the son of a turtle?”

The Divine Crocodile was confused. Only after a long moment had passed did he realize that the other person had insulted him and called him a turtle in a roundabout way. After coming to this realization, with a series of loud ‘wa’ cries, he repeatedly opened then chomped closed the two sides of his Crocodile Maw Scissors, then attacked Fu Sigui. He was a dim-witted person, but truly capable in martial arts. The Crocodile Maw Scissors were filled with a forest of white ‘teeth’, similar to the sharp needles on top of a wolf’s fang cudgel. Fu Sigui received three of his attacks using his copper truncheon, and already felt his two arms turn sore. Chu Wanli waved his long pole, flourishing the soft steel-wire whip attached to the top of the pole
 
and attacking the face of the Divine Crocodile. The Divine Crocodile drew his Crocodile’s Tail Whip and blocked the attack.

Watching the battle scene, Emperor Baoding felt that none of his people were in any real danger. He said to Gao Shengtai, “Stay here and watch over things.”

Gao Shengtai replied, “Yes sir!” He stepped aside.

Emperor Baoding entered the room and called out, “Yu’er! Are you here?” But no one responded. He opened the door to a side-room and called out again. “Yu’er! Yu’er!” Only to see a fifteen or sixteen year old girl come out from behind the door and ask, “You…who are you?” Emperor Baoding replied, “Where is Duan Yu?” The girl replied, “Why are you looking for him?” Emperor Baoding replied, “I’m going to rescue him.”

The girl shook her head. “You won’t be able to rescue him. He’s been locked inside a stone house, and sealed in with a large boulder. Someone is guarding him too.” Emperor Baoding replied, “Take me to him. I’ll knock down the guard and push aside the boulder. Then I’ll rescue him.” The girl shook her head again. “I can’t! If I took you there, my daddy will kill me.” Emperor Baoding asked, “Who is your father?” The girl replied, “My surname is Zhong. My daddy is the master of this gorge.” The girl was Zhong Ling, who had escaped from Mt. Wuliang.

Emperor Baoding nodded. He thought that for such a little girl, using words to threaten her or martial arts to force her to reveal the secret would be degrading to his stature and position. Since Duan Yu was definitely in the gorge, it wouldn’t be too hard to locate him. He immediately exited the room, intending to find someone else to take him to Duan Yu.

Inside the stone room, upon hearing that the freak in green was actually the most vile man in the world, he who was known as ‘Evil Beyond Human Capacity’, Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing were terrified. In their shared fright, they rushed over and embraced each other. Duan Yu said in a low voice, “So we fell into the hands of ‘Evil Beyond Human Capacity’, the most evil man in the entire world. This is really, really bad.” With a ‘wu’ sound, Mu
 
Wanqing rested her head against his chest. Duan Yu gently stroked her hair. He consoled her, “Don’t be afraid.”

Both of their clothes were moist with sweat, as though they had just climbed out of a pool of water. Their bodies were burning hot, as though filled with steam. Smelling each other’s breath, they were even more attracted towards each other. One was a healthy and vigorous male youth; the other was a young woman filled with deep love. Even if they hadn’t been excited by the aphrodisiac, it would be difficult for them to control themselves. Much less now, having eaten the ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining Powder’, which had an abnormally powerful effect and possessed a despotic might. It was enough to turn an honorable scholar into a lewd lowlife, a chaste woman into a prostitute. It bewildered minds, turning even virtuous sages into beasts. At this moment, everything depended on one thing remaining bright in Duan Yu’s mind; the pure and honorable reputation of the Duan dynasty. Only this allowed him to restrain himself.

The man in green was extremely pleased. His strange voice laughed. “You two, brother and sister! Hurry up and become husband and wife. The sooner you two have a baby, the sooner you will escape your imprisonment. I’m leaving!” After speaking, he leapt over the tree wall.

Duan Yu yelled loudly, “Yue Number Three! Yue Number Three! Your master is in trouble! Hurry up and help out!” He called out for a long time, but how could there be any response?

Duan Yu thought to himself, “We’re in such a critical state. I can’t even accept him as my master now, even if I wanted to. If I had made a wrong choice and accepted an evil man as my master, that would only be my personal business. I wouldn’t have implicated my uncle and my father in this.” Following this train of thought, he loudly shouted, “Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas! I’m willing to accept you as my master now! I’m willing to be the heir of the Southern Seas sect! Quick, come and rescue your apprentice! If I die, you won’t have a student anymore!”

He wildly shouted and cried out for a time, but never heard the Divine Crocodile’s voice. He suddenly thought to himself, “Oh no! Not good! The one person whom the Divine Crocodile fears the most is his superior, the
 
most evil person in the world, ‘Evil Beyond Human Capacity’. Even if he heard me shouting, he wouldn’t dare to come rescue us.” His heart was filled with pure bitterness.

Mu Wanqing softly said, “My darling Duan, after we become husband and wife, do you want for our first baby to be a boy or a girl?” Duan Yu replied, in a dazed voice, “A boy!”

Suddenly, the sound of a female voice drifted in from outside the stone house. “Mr. Duan, you’re her big brother! You definitely can’t marry her!” Duan Yu was startled. “You…are you Miss Zhong?” That girl was indeed Zhong Ling. “Yes, it’s me! I eavesdropped on what that evil man in green said. I’ll definitely find a way to rescue you and Miss Mu!” Duan Yu was ecstatic. “That’s great! Quick, find and steal the antidote to the poison for me!” Mu Wanqing angrily shouted, “Zhong Ling! You little devil, scram! Who wants you to save us?” Zhong Ling said, “It’d be best if I first thought of some way to push this boulder away and rescued you two.” Duan Yu replied, “No, no! You go find the antidote. I…I can’t hold on much longer. I’m…I’m about to die.” Frightened, Zhong Ling cried, “What’s wrong? What do you mean, you can’t hold on much longer? Does your tummy hurt?” Duan Yu replied, “It isn’t my stomach that hurts.” Zhong Ling asked again, “Is it your head that hurts?” Duan Yu replied, “That isn’t it either.” Zhong Ling asked, “So where exactly do you feel uncomfortable?!”

Duan Yu was filled with uncontrollable lust. How could he possibly explain this to the little girl? He only replied, “My entire body is uncomfortable. Just think of a way to steal the antidote for me.” Zhong Ling wrinkled her forehead. “If you can’t tell me the symptoms, I won’t be able to find the antidote for you. My father has lots of antidotes, but I need to know if it is your stomach that hurts, your head that hurts, or your heart that hurts.” Duan Yu let out a sigh. “I’m not hurting, precisely. I just…I was poisoned by something called the ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder.” Zhong Ling clapped her hands. “Since you know the name of the poison, it’ll be no problem at all. Big brother Duan, I’ll go and get the antidote from my daddy right now!”

She hurriedly climbed over the tree wall, intending to go find her parents and convince them into giving her the antidote for the ‘Yin and Yang
 
Conjoining’ powder. The ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder actually belonged to the man in the green, but as soon as Zhong Wanchou heard the name of it, he knew what type of thing it had to be. His horse-like face stretching in disapproval, he said, “Little girl, why are you asking about such inappropriate things? If you keep on talking such rubbish, I’ll grab you by the ear and give you a spanking.” Zhong Ling hurriedly replied, “I’m not talking rubbish.”

Just then, Emperor Baoding and the rest of the party had entered the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. Zhong Wanchou had hurriedly rushed out to confront the enemies, leaving Zhong Ling by herself in the room. She heard the sounds of a ferocious fight brewing outside, with weapons clashing, but ignored them. She focused her energies on rummaging through her father’s secret medicine cabinet. Zhong Wanchou had over a hundred medicine bottles with the names of the medicine written on them, but none of them were the antidote for the ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder. She had no idea what to do. Suddenly, she heard someone entering the house. Exiting the room to see who it was, she had run into Emperor Baoding.

Emperor Baoding looked for someone to lead him to Duan Yu, but couldn’t find anyone at all. Suddenly, he heard someone running towards him from behind. Turning his head, he saw Zhong Ling rushing towards him. He immediately stopped and waited for her. Zhong Ling ran towards him and said, “I couldn’t find the antidote! I guess it’ll be best to take you there. I wonder if you can push the boulder aside.” Emperor Baoding was baffled. “Antidote? Boulder?” Zhong Ling said, “Just follow me. As soon as you see everything, you’ll understand.”

Although the pathways within the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge were complex and winding, with Zhong Ling leading the way, Emperor Baoding arrived at the tree wall in a matter of moments. Emperor Baoding grasped Zhong Ling’s arm. His body did not jump or flex, but suddenly levitated into the sky, smoothly and steadily flying past the tree wall. Zhong Ling clapped her hands excitedly. “Wonderful, wonderful! You fly so wonderfully! Wait! Oh no!”

Someone was in front of the stone house. It was the man in green!
 
Zhong Ling was absolutely terrified of this half-dead, half-living person. She whispered, “Hurry, let’s leave. We’ll come back after this person has left.” Upon seeing this freak, Emperor Baoding was also extremely astonished. He comforted Zhong Ling. “With me here, you don’t need to be afraid. Duan Yu is inside this stone house, right?” Hiding behind him, Zhong Ling nodded.

Emperor Baoding casually strolled forward. “Honored sir, please step aside.” But the man in green seemed to have neither heard nor saw him, sitting there unmoving.

Emperor Baoding said, “Honored sir, if you refuse to move, then please do not blame me for offending you!” Leaning sideways, he flashed past the man in green from the left. Slanting his right palm, he pressed it against the side of the boulder. Just as he was about to exert his energy to push it aside, he saw the man in green take out a thin steel cane and point it at his ‘Quepen’ acupoint. When the steel cane reached within a foot of his body, it came to a halt, then began to quiver. If Emperor Baoding exerted any energy on the boulder, the steel cane would immediately attack, and he would be unable to dodge it at all.

Emperor Baoding’s heart was filled with cold fear. He thought to himself, “This man’s acupoint sealing technique is extremely brilliant. Who can he be?” His right palm fluttered slightly, then chopped towards the steel cane. His left palm snaked underneath his right palm, resting itself against the boulder once more. The man in green shifted the position of his steel cane. It was now pointing at his ‘Tianchi’ acupoint. Emperor Baoding’s palm moved as swiftly as the wind, shifting positions seven times. But each time, the man in green would simply move his cane to point at a different acupoint, adapting to the situation.

The two exchanged many stances. Each time, the man in green’s threatened attack would prevent Emperor Baoding from exerting any energy to pushing the stone aside. His knowledge of the various acupoints on a persons body was extremely accurate. Emperor Baoding felt that it was on par with his own, and above that of his brother, Duan Zhengchun. Suddenly, he turned his palm into a finger, and with a ‘chi’ sound, exercised the power of his ‘Solitary Solar Finger’. He pointed at the steel cane. If his attack
 
managed to connect with it, the cane would definitely be bent and warped. But suddenly, a ‘chi’ sound came from the cane as well as it pointed back. Their energy streams met in the middle of the air. Emperor Baoding moved one step back while the man in green’s body trembled. A red light flashed across Emperor Baoding’s face. At the same time, a faint layer of even distributed blue light appeared on the man in green’s face as well.

Emperor Baoding was astounded. He thought to himself, “Not only is this man’s martial arts extremely high, but he definitely must have some sort of past relationship with me. His cane technique is clearly related to the ‘Solitary Solar Finger.’ Immediately, he cupped his hands towards him. “Senior, what is your respected name? I hope you can tell me.” Only to hear a voice sound out. “Are you Duan Zhengming, or Duan Zhengchun.” Emperor Baoding saw that he was able to speak without his lips moving and was all the more flabbergasted. He replied, “I am Duan Zhengming.” The man in green let out a ‘hngh’ of contempt. “So you are the current Baoding emperor of the country of Dali?” Emperor Baoding replied, “Exactly so.” The man in green asked, “How does your martial arts compare with mine? Who is superior, who is inferior?”

Emperor Baoding hesitated for a long moment, then said, “In martial arts, you are slightly better than me. But if the two of us are really to fight, I can defeat you.” The man in green replied, “Correct. After all, my body is crippled. Sigh! I would never have thought that after becoming an emperor, you would have continued to practice martial arts so assiduously and not slack off in the slightest.” Although the voice which emanated from his abdomen was extremely strange, one could still discern a sense of anger and despair.

Unable to guess the origins of this person, countless questions flooded into Emperor Baoding’s heart. Suddenly, he heard an urgent cry from inside the room. It was Duan Yu’s voice. Emperor Baoding called out, “Yu’er! Are you alright? Don’t panic, I’ve come to rescue you!” Zhong Ling cried out in fear, “Mr. Duan! Mr. Duan!”

Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing were suffering the powerful effects of the aphrodisiac. It was become harder and harder to resist their lustful desires. As time passed, Mu Wanqing had become so dazed that she had long-since
 
forgotten that Duan Yu was her elder brother. She cried out, “My darling Duan, hold me. Hug me.” She was a virgin, and thus had only a smattering of knowledge with regards to conjugal relations between men and women. All she knew was that her body felt so very dry and hot, and that only Duan Yu holding her would make her feel better. She threw herself at Duan Yu. Duan Yu cried out, “I can’t do that!” He dodged sideways, his feet unconsciously moving in the pattern of the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’. Mu Wanqing, having missed her mark, fell onto the bed and fainted.

Duan Yu walked a few more steps, and his internal energy automatically began to flow along his meridians. He walked faster and faster. An incredible suffocating feeling welled up in his stomach, making him feel as though he could hardly breathe. He couldn’t help but let out a loud cry. Suddenly, the feeling of suffocation diminished. He immediately walked a few more steps, then let out another cry. The feeling of lust diminished a bit. He heard but ignored the conversation between Emperor Baoding and the man in green, as well as Emperor Baoding’s exhortations to him to not panic.

The man in green said, “This kid’s self control is not bad. After taking my ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder, he can actually hold out for so long.” Emperor Baoding was startled. “What type of poison is that?” The man in green replied, “It isn’t poison. It’s just a very strong type of aphrodisiac.” Emperor Baoding asked, “What are your intentions, for you to feed him something like that?” The man in green replied, “Inside the room, there is a female as well. His sister!”

As soon as Emperor Baoding heard this, he immediately understood this person’s treacherous plot. Even if his level of self-cultivation were much higher, he wouldn’t have been able to control the huge surge of anger he felt. Waving his sleeves, with a ‘chi’ sound he struck out with a finger towards the man in green. The man in green blocked that attack with his steel cane. Emperor Baoding struck again with a second finger, this one aimed at his ‘Qitu’ acupoint, right beneath his larynx. That was a fatal acupoint, and he expected the man in green to fiercely defend and counterattack.
 
Who would have thought that the man in green only let out two cold chuckles. He neither defended nor dodged. Emperor Baoding, seeing him ignore the attack, felt the situation was extremely strange and retracted his attack. He asked, “Why are you willing to die?” The man in green replied, “It couldn’t be better if I died under your hands. Your sins will become yet another level deeper.” Emperor Baoding asked, “Who are you?” The man in green whispered a single sentence.

Upon hearing that sentence, the color of Emperor Baoding’s face changed. He said, “I don’t believe you!” The man in green switched the steel cane in his right hand to his left hand, then with his right hand, pointed at Emperor Baoding with a ‘chi’ sound. Emperor Baoding slanted his body, dodging the attack, then returned a finger. The man in green then struck out with his middle finger. Emperor Baoding’s countenance grew heavy, and countered the attack with his own middle finger. The man in green’s third attack came with a sweeping motion from his ringer finger, then his fourth attack came from his pinky finger. In each case, Emperor Baoding countered with the exact same stance. When the time came for the fifth attack, the man in green pressed forward with his thumb. The thumb is the shortest of all fingers, and thus is the most ineffective and clumsy of them as well. But the power from this finger of his was the strongest yet. Emperor Baoding dared not to ignore it, and struck out with his own thumb as well.

Watching from the side, Zhong Ling felt quite curious and baffled. She forgot how afraid of the man in green she was. Laughing, she said, “What are you guys doing? Playing rock, paper, scissors? He’s pointing at you, then you’re pointing at him. Who is winning?” While speaking, she walked closer to them. Suddenly, a powerful gust suddenly appeared, pushing at her. Startled, Zhong Ling suddenly felt her left shoulder hurt, so badly that she almost fainted. Turning his hand over, Emperor Baoding waved his palm towards her, smoothly pushing her body backwards, then leapt backwards as well and supported her. He said, “Stand here and don’t move.” Startled, Zhong Ling asked, “Is he trying to kill me?” Emperor Baoding shook his head. “No. We’re competing martial arts. Other people can’t get close to us.” Stretching out his hand, he gently patted her on the back a few times.
 
The man in green said, “Do you believe me yet?” Emperor Baoding rushed forward, then bowed towards the person. “Zhengming pays his respects to his senior!” The man in green said, “You only refer to me as your senior. Are you refusing to fully recognize me, or is there still doubt in your heart?” Emperor Baoding replied, “I, Zhengming, am the guardian of an entire country. My words and actions must therefore be correspondingly serious and certain. I, Zhengming, have no sons. A heavy national responsibility is therefore laid upon the shoulders of this boy, Duan Yu. I ask for you, senior, to please release him.” The man in green replied, “I want for Dali’s Duan dynasty to collapse and engage in evil, incestuous acts, then come to an end. Such a rare opportunity as this, do you expect me to so easily let it slip away?” Emperor Baoding said in a stern voice, “I, Duan Zhengming, definitely will not allow it!”

The man in green laughed. “Heh, heh. You claim you are the emperor of Dali, but in my eyes, you are nothing but a rebel who coveted and stole the throne. If you have the courage to do so, feel free to go back and call out the national army and the imperial bodyguards. Let me tell you this. My influence is vastly less than yours, but for me to kill Duan Yu first would be accomplished as easily as turning over my hand. If you want to fight with me, you might be able to overcome me after several hundred stances. But if you want to actually kill me, that will be an incredibly difficult thing for you to accomplish. And as long as I am not dead, you will not be able to rescue Duan Yu.”

The color of Emperor Baoding’s face alternated between blue and white. He knew that this man’s words definitely were not false. There was no need to call for the national army or the imperial guards; all he needed was a single helper, and this man in green wouldn’t be able to hold out against them. But this would badly injure the reputation of the Duan family, and would not be in keeping with his own station. He couldn’t kill this man either. He said, “What do you want, before you are willing to release him?” The man in green said, “Something that is easily done, very easily done. All you need to do is to go to Tianlongsi, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, and become a monk. Give the title of emperor back to me, and I will dissolve the drugs in Duan Yu’s body. I will return to you your good nephew, who is utterly without moral flaw or deficit, a rare dragon amongst men.” Emperor
 
Baoding replied, “How can I casually discard the inheritance which my ancestors have passed down to me?”

The man in green laughed. “Heh, heh. So it was meant to be your inheritance, and not my inheritance? To return a possession to its original owner cannot be considered as ‘casually discarding’ it. For me to not pursue the matter of you conspiring to seize my throne is already a sign of my magnanimousness. If you aren’t willing to do as I suggest, then you might as well wait for a while. After Duan Yu and his sister have a son together, I’ll release them.” Emperor Baoding replied, “Better that you kill them instead!”

The man in green replied, “Aside from this, there are two more options.” Emperor Baoding asked, “What are they?” The man in green said, “The first option is to come up with a devious plot to murder me. Then, you can let him out.” Emperor Baoding said, “I cannot plot against you.” The man in green said, “Even if you wanted to scheme against me, you might not succeed. The second option is for you to call out Duan Yu and have him fight me himself, using the ‘Solitary Solar Finger’. If he is able to defeat me, then he can leave, of course. Hah hah.”

Emperor Baoding felt his temper rising, and almost flared out. Only with a powerful effort did he manage to curb it. “Duan Yu doesn’t know a single shred of martial arts, much less know the ‘Solitary Solar Finger’.” The man in green replied, “The nephew of Dali’s Duan Zhengming doesn’t know the ‘Solitary Solar Finger?’ Who can believe that?” Emperor Baoding replied, “Ever since he was young, Duan Yu studied the classics and Buddhist texts. He has a merciful character, and steadfastly refused to learn martial arts.” The man in green said, “Yet another hypocrite putting on airs of false righteousness. If a person like this becomes the monarch of Dali, it definitely will not be a good thing. Better for me to kill him first!”

Emperor Baoding asked forcefully, “Senior, are there truly no other options available?” The man in green replied, “Years ago, if other options were available, would I have fallen to such a state? Half living, half dead. Others gave me no options back then. Why should I give you other options now?”
 
Emperor Baoding lowered his head and hesitated for a long moment. With a powerful effort, he raised his head. A resolute, unyielding expression was on his face. He called out, “Yu’er, I’ll think of a way to rescue you. Never forget that you are a scion of the Duan family!”

Only to hear Duan Yu call out in reply, “Uncle, you…come in and kill me with a single finger.” At this time, he had halted his footsteps, and was resting against the large boulder which was blocking the doorway. He clearly heard the second half of the conversation between Emperor Baoding and the man in green. Emperor Baoding said in a stern voice, “What? Have you acted in a way which would destroy the reputation of my Duan family?” Duan Yu replied, “No! No, I haven’t. Your nephew…your nephew is suffering from extreme heat. I won’t be able to live much longer.”

Emperor Baoding sighed. “Life and death are determined by fate. Let things take their course!” Grasping Zhong Ling’s arm, he ran across the open plains, then flew over the tree wall. He said, “Little girl, thank you for leading the way. In the future, I will definitely repay you.” Retracing his steps, he returned to the main building.

Emperor Baoding saw that despite Chu Wanli and Fu Sigui teaming up against the Divine Crocodile, victory or defeat was still yet to be determined. But Zhu Danchen and Gu Ducheng, under the pressure of Ye Erniang’s rectangular sabre, were find it difficult to cope. To the side, although Yun Zhonghe’s feet movements hadn’t slowed in the slightest, he was panting heavily, as though he were feeling weary. But Ba Tianshi showed great ease and relaxation with his ceaseless leaps and bounds.

His hands folded behind his back, Gao Shengtai was casually strolling about as though he were utterly indifferent to the life-and-death battles which were being played out before him. But in actuality, his senses were keenly attuned, and he was keeping track of the entire overall situation. So long as no one appeared to be in imminent danger, there was not yet a need for him to intervene.

Duan Zhengchun, Dao Baifeng, Qin Hongmian, and Zhong Wanchou had disappeared.
 
Emperor Baoding asked, “Where is younger brother Chun?” Gao Shengtai responded, “After the South-Subduing Prince chased away gorge-master Zhong, he left with the princess to locate young lord Duan.” Emperor Baoding called out loudly, “At this moment, there have been unexpected developments in the situation. Everybody, withdraw!”

Ba Tianshi suddenly halted in his footsteps. Yun Zhonghe directly rushed towards him, and immediately, with a ‘peng’ sound, Ba Tianshi sent out a palm towards Yun Zhonghe, who blocked with his own twin palms. Yun Zhonghe felt as though his mind, his qi, and his blood were all thrown into turmoil, and almost vomited blood on the spot. He forcefully suppressed the urge, but his vision had turned blurry. He was unable to see clearly where his opponent had gone. Ba Tianshi, however, did not follow up on his victory and press home the attack. With a clear, cold laugh, he said, “Thanks for the lesson!”

Suddenly, Duan Zhengchun’s voice could be heard from behind the copse of trees to the west. “He isn’t here either. Let’s return to the back of the house and check again.” Dao Baifeng’s voice followed. “Let’s just find someone and interrogate them. Can it be that this place really has no servants at all?” Next came Qin Hongmian’s voice. “My martial-sister told them to all go into hiding.”

Emperor Baoding, Gao Shengtai, and Ba Tianshi exchanged incredulous glances and smiles. All three of them felt that the South-Subduing Prince’s ability truly was vast and godlike. None of them had a clue as to what brilliant technique he used to cause these two women, who previously had been locked in a battle of life and death, to set aside their differences and work together to search for Duan Yu.

Only to hear Duan Zhengchun say, “Then let’s go find your martial-sister. She certainly knows where Yu’er has been imprisoned.” Dao Baifeng angrily said, “I won’t allow you to go see Gan Baobao! You scheming bastard!” Qin Hongmian said, “My martial-sister has already sworn to never see you ever again.”

While chatting, the three of them exited the tree line. Seeing Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun said, “Elder brother, did you resc-…did you
 
locate Yu’er yet?” At first, he was going to ask if Duan Yu had been rescued, but seeing that his son wasn’t here, he changed the sentence midstream. Emperor Baoding nodded. “I found him. Let’s talk about it when we get back home.”

Chu Wanli, Zhu Danchen, and the others had heard the emperor’s order to cease fighting, and had every intention of doing so, but Ye Erniang and the Divine Crocodile were enjoying the battle. They had no intention of stopping, and continued to embroil their opponents in this deadly battle. Emperor Baoding’s brows furrowed slightly. “Let’s go.”

Gao Shengtai replied, “Yes sir!” He withdrew his iron flute from his breast pockets, and with a ‘ting’ sound, pointed it at the Divine Crocodile’s throat. Following that, he raised his arm and flipped his hand, sweeping the flute against Ye Erniang. These two attacks with the flute were both aimed at critical cracks in the enemy’s defense. The Divine Crocodile managed to dodge by somersaulting away. With a clapping sound, the iron flute repeatedly struck Ye Erniang’s left arm. Ye Erniang let out a loud cry, then hastily glided away, beating a retreat.

Actually, Gao Shengtai’s level of martial arts wasn’t that much superior to these two. But he had been watching the fights progress for a long time, and had long since devised masterful strokes to deal with those two. Although his attack seemed as though it was meant to deal purely with the Divine Crocodile, it was actually a feint. His fierce, unexpected, genuine attack was actually aimed towards Ye Erniang, repaying her for the injury that palm of her had inflicted upon him. Although it appeared as though he executed these strokes as casually as another might write a few lines of free verse, in actuality, he had contemplated this attack in his heart many times. He had gathered all of his power, then struck out with full force with this attack.

The Divine Crocodile’s bean-like eyes widened. He felt both alarmed and respectful. “Sonufa*****, what a guy! I couldn’t tell that you…” He didn’t complete the line of thought, but the meaning was naturally, “I couldn’t tell that you’re actually this fearsome. Looks like your old man here isn’t your match, kid.”
 
Dao Baifeng asked Emperor Baoding, “Emperor, how is Yu’er?” Emperor Baoding’s mind was filled with worry, but didn’t allow a single flicker of it to show on his expression. He said, in a voice devoid of passion, “He’s fine. This is an excellent opportunity for him to build up his self-discipline and to temper his character. He’ll come out in a few days. We’ll discuss this at length when we return to the palace.” After these words, he turned and immediately left.

Ba Tianshi took the front and led the way, while Duan Zhengchun and his wife stayed behind the emperor. Following them was Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu, the Four Imperial Guards, with Gao Shengtai bringing up the rear. With that outstandingly brilliant attack earlier, he had managed to cow those two people. Although the Divine Crocodile was violent and ferocious, he didn’t dare to go up and challenge him.

After walking thirty or so meters, Duan Zhengchun couldn’t help but turn his head and gaze back at Qin Hongmian. Qin Hongmian was also watching his receding figure. Their two pairs of eyes met, and both of them were struck dumb.

Suddenly, Zhong Wanchou brandished his large-ringed sabre and rushed out, flustered and exasperated, from the back room. He called out, “Duan Zhengchun! On this visit, you weren’t able to see my wife. Consider that your good fortune! I won’t give you trouble on your way out. My wife has already sworn an oath that she will never see you again in the future. But… but…but I can’t rely on that alone! If she sees you again, maybe she’ll
****ing…she’ll…bah, to put it briefly, you aren’t allowed to come here again!” After fighting with Duan Zhengchun and being unable to achieve victory after many stances, he had immediately retreated, going back to guard his wife, so as to prevent Duan Zhengchun for coming for her and seducing her. After hearing his wife swear an oath that she definitely would never see Duan Zhengchun again, he was hugely relieved, and then hurriedly ran out again to make this demand towards Duan Zhengchun.

Duan Zhengchun’s heart was saddened. He secretly said to himself, “Why? Why is it that you refuse to see me in the future? You are already another man’s wife. How could I possibly act to ruin your chastity? Although the second son of Dali’s Duan dynasty is dissolute and lascivious, he isn’t a
 
shameless, contemptible thug. Just let me see you again. Even if the two of us stood far away from each other and didn’t say a single word to each other, I would be happy.” Turning his head, he saw that his wife was gazing at him coldly. His own heart suddenly trembled, and he sped up his footsteps, leaving the gorge.

The party returned to Dali. Emperor Baoding said, “Everybody, let us discuss the situation at the palace.” Arriving at the royal study in the imperial palace, Emperor Baoding sat on a chair covered with leopard fur in the middle of the room. Duan Zhengchun and his wife sat on the ground next to him. Gao Shengtai and the others cupped their hands, awaiting further orders.

Emperor Baoding ordered that stools be brought for each of them, then ordered for them to be seated. Dismissing the servants, he explained how it was that Duan Yu fell into the enemy’s hands. Everyone knew that the man in green was the key to the situation. Upon hearing Emperor Baoding say that not only did this person know the ‘Solitary Solar Finger’, but that his skill in it was above the emperor’s own, everyone present didn’t dare to interrupt. Each of them lowered their heads in thought. They all knew that the ‘Solitary Solar Finger’ was something which was passed down from one generation to the next within the Duan family. Only the sons were trained in it, and not the daughters, much less outsiders. If the man in green knew this art, he must be the offspring of the royal line.

(Note: This rule was unbroken until a later descendant of the Duan family, Duan Zhixing, also known as master Yideng, broke the ancestral proscriptions by teaching this divine art to Wang Chongyang in order to subdue Ouyang Feng. He later passed the teachings of it to his four disciples: The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer, and the scholar. For a comprehensive overview, see ‘Legend of the Eagle-Shooting Heroes’.) [Translator’s note: This note was not put in by me, but was included in the text of my copy of the novel.]

Emperor Baoding said to Duan Zhengchun, “Younger brother Chun, try and guess who this person is.” Duan Zhengchun lowered his head. “I can’t guess it. Can it be that someone from the Heavenly Dragon Monastery has
 
returned to the secular world?” Emperor Baoding said, “No. It is Crown Prince Yanqing!”

After these words were spoken, everyone present was extremely shocked. Duan Zhengchun said, “Crown Prince Yanqing left the mortal world long ago! This man surely must be an imposter who is faking his identity!” Emperor Baoding replied, “His identity can be faked, but the ‘Solitary Solar Finger’ cannot be. It’s a commonplace occurrence in the wulin for someone to secretly learn the martial arts of another sect. But how could anyone possibly manage to pilfer his way into this type of internal energy learning? This person is definitely Crown Prince Yanqing. There is no mistaking it!”

Duan Zhengchun pondered this for a long time. He asked, “Then he is a noble figure within our Duan family. Why would he choose to destroy pristine and pure reputation of our house?” Emperor Baoding sighed. “This person’s entire body is crippled. His temperament is strange as well. Nothing can be understood through conventional reasoning. Much less, I now sit on Dali’s imperial throne. His heart is naturally filled with resentment and melancholy. He wants for us brothers to have our reputations swept away.”

Duan Zhengchun said, “Elder brother, you assumed the throne long ago. The ministers and the common folk alike support you, and the borders are peaceful. Forget about Crown Prince Yanqing, even if Emperor Shangde [Duan Yanqing’s father] was reborn, he couldn’t reclaim the throne.”

Gao Shengtai rose to his feet. “The South-Subduing Prince’s words are absolutely correct. Let’s just have Crown Prince Yanqing deliver young lord Duan into our hands. In fact, there’s no need for us to recognize him as a Crown Prince at all. We should only view him as the leader of the four most evil villains in all the world, whom every man must condemn and punish. Although he possesses a high level of martial arts, in the end, he can’t overmatch all of us.”

[This excerpt is translated partially by Laviathan, partially by me.]

More than ten years ago during the fifth year in the reign of the Emperor Shangde Duan Lianyi, a great and sudden upheaval occurred in the court of
 
Dali. The Emperor Shangde was killed by the treacherous official Yang Yizhen. Consequently, Duan Shouhui, the nephew of the deceased emperor, sought the assistance of the eminent monks of the Heavenly Dragon Temple and the loyal minister Gao Zhisheng to have Yang Yizhen killed. After ascending the throne, Duan Shouhui became the Shangming emperor. Emperor Shangming did not want to be an emperor. After reigning for but a single year, he abdicated and became a Buddhist monk at the Heavenly Dragon Temple, giving his position to his younger cousin Duan Zhengming, who became the Baoding emperor. The Emperor Shangde had a son, whom the court addressed as Prince Yanqing. During the coup of Yang Yizhen, the situation had been so chaotic that no one knew where Prince Yanqing had gone. He was soon presumed dead, killed by Yang. Therefore, no one had expected that Prince Yanqing would suddenly reappear so many years after the incident.

[Excerpt completed.]

After hearing Gao Shengtai’s words, Emperor Baoding shook his head. “The position of emperor originally belonged to Crown Prince Yanqing. It was only because he could not be found that Emperor Shangming accepted the throne, then passed it to me. Since Crown Prince Yanqing has appeared, I should resign my position to him.” Turning his head, he said to Gao Shengtai, “If your esteemed father was still alive, he would be of like mind.” Gao Shengtai was the son of Gao Zhisheng, a minister who had rendered outstanding service. The wiping out of the rebel forces in the past was completely due to the great efforts Gao Zhisheng had exerted.

Gao Shengtai took a step forward, then knelt down. “My late father was loyal to his lord and loved his citizens. This freak in green claims to be the leader of the Four Evils. If he became the monarch of Dali, who can imagine how much the people would suffer under his reign? Even if I, your servant, were threatened with ten thousand deaths, I cannot accept your abdication!”

Also kneeling down, Ba Tianshi said, “Earlier, I heard the monstrous voice of the Divine Crocodile calling out and saying that their leader, the head of the Four Evils, was known as…what was it again? ‘Evil Beyond Human Capacity’? If this person is not Crown Prince Yanqing, he naturally cannot
 
be allowed to achieve his goals. But even if he is Crown Prince Yanqing, how can such a vicious, treacherous knave be allowed to rule over the people of Dali? If that were to happen, the country would certainly collapse, and many lives would be lost.”

Emperor Baoding waved his arm. “The two of you, please rise. Your words are full of sense and reason. But Yu’er has fallen into his clutches. Aside from me abdicating, what method is there for us to get Yu’er back home?”

Duan Zhengchun said, “Elder brother, we, the subjects, should be the ones giving away our lives to help protect our emperor. Even though you love Yu’er, how can you throw away your important position for him? Even if Yu’er manages to escape using your method, he would become the greatest sinner of all Dali.”

Emperor Baoding rose to his feet. With his left hand, he stroked his long beard, while he lightly tapped his forehead with two fingers of his right hand. He began to pace in a circle in the study room. Everyone here knew that he always pondered in such a way when he was unsure as to how to best deal with an important issue. No one dared to make a sound, for fear of derailing his train of thought. Emperor Baoding walked back and forth. Only after a long time had passed did he speak again. “Crown Prince Yanqing is a poisonous and vile schemer. He fed Yu’er the ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder. The strength of this drug is very profound. It’s difficult for ordinary people to resist. I fear…I fear that his brain has already been fully bewildered by this drug.” He sighed. “This is is a villainous plot indeed. We can’t hold Yu’er responsible for what he does.”

Duan Zhengchun lowered his head. His sense of shame was boundless. He thought to himself that the root of this disaster came from his dissolute, lascivious way.

Emperor Baoding returned to his seat. “Minister Ba, issue a decree. Have the Imperial Hanlin Academy prepare a written edict, conferring up on my brother, Zhengchun, the position of Huang Taidi, ‘Imperial Crown Brother’. [This is a title conferred upon a sibling of an Emperor which puts that sibling first in the line of succession for the throne, above that of even the Emperor’s own children.]
 
Duan Zhengchun was startled, then hurriedly knelt down. “Elder brother, you have always been benevolent and upright, and have governed the people virtuously. The heavens will surely protect you, and you will have countless sons and grandsons. Please rescind your edict!”

Extending his hand, Emperor Baoding lifted Duan Zhengchun up. “You and I are brothers. The country of Dali should’ve been administered by the both of us to begin with. Forget about the fact that I don’t have sons or grandsons. Even if I had both, I would transfer my throne to you. Younger brother Chun, I made the decision to make you my heir long ago. Everyone in the country knows that. Today, we’ll make it official, to let Crown Prince Yanqing know that he will not achieve his heart’s desire!”

Duan Zhengchun declined multiple times, but Emperor Baoding refused to allow him to. He had no choice but to kowtow and thank the emperor. Gao Shengtai and the others rushed forward to congratulate him. As Emperor Baoding was without sons, the imperial throne would definitely go to Duan Zhengchun in the future. This is something which had been long anticipated, and no one was surprised at all. Emperor Baoding said, “Everyone, go get some rest. This affair with Crown Prince Yanqing can only be told to Minister of Education Hua, and Minister of War Fan. Besides those two, this secret cannot be divulged.” Everyone agreed in one voice, then left after paying their respects. Ba Tianshi immediately left for the Imperial Hanlin Academy to publicly declare the imperial order.

Emperor Baoding ate some food, then took a little nap. When he woke up, he faintly heard the sounds of celebration from outside, as firecrackers exploded ceaselessly. A servant helped him into his robes, then reported, “After hearing that your majesty conferred the position of ‘Imperial Crown Brother’ upon the South-Subduing Prince, the common people were filled with joy and started to celebrate. It’s quite lively outside.” In the past few years, military ventures had become outmoded in Dali, and the imperial court was pure and bright. The citizens lived and worked in peace and happiness. They absolutely loved and respected such rulers as Emperor Baoding, the South-Subduing Prince, and the Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment.
 
Emperor Baoding said, “Send forth my decree. Tomorrow, hang out colored lanterns in celebration everywhere. Cancel the usual curfews. Reward the entire army, and bestow a gift of wine and meat to all the elderly and all the orphans.” After this edict was passed out, the joy of the common people only increased even more, to the point of the entire city boiling with it.

At the fall of night, Emperor Baoding changed into cheap clothes and left the palace by himself. He covered much of his face with a big hat, hiding his features behind it. Everywhere he went, he only saw the common people clapping and singing songs of praise, with young men and women singing and dancing together.

At the time, the people of the central plains considered the people of Dali to be barbarians, as their etiquettes and customs were very different from that of China proper. The streets were filled with young men and women holding hands, flirting, and laughing together as though they were in a secluded area. No one thought this was strange at all. Emperor Baoding secretly prayed, “If only the people of Dali can forever be so happy.”

After leaving the city, he hastened his steps, traveling more than twenty li before he entered a mountain range. The farther he walked, the more barren was the land around him. After passing through four mountain cavities, he arrived in front of a small monastery. At the monastery gates were written the words, “Flower Gathering Monastery”. The national religion of Dali was Buddhism. There were tens of large monasteries outside the nation’s capitals, and over a hundred small ones. The ‘Flower Gathering Monastery’ was far away from civilization, and few joss sticks were burning in front of it. Even if one was a citizen of Dali, one might not know of the place.

Emperor Baoding stood silently in front of the monastery for a short moment, then strode forward and lightly knocked three times at the gate. After quite some time, the monastery gates opened and a novice monk came out. He politely asked, “A respected guest has brightened our doorway. What worthy purpose has led you here?” Emperor Baoding replied, “I’d like to trouble you to inform Master Huangmei [lit. ‘Yellow Brows’] that an old friend, Duan Zhengming, is requesting to see him.” The novice monk said, “Please, enter.”
 
Turning, he respectfully waved him in. Emperor Baoding lifted up his foot, preparing to step inside the monastery. He suddenly heard two clear ‘ding’ sounds emanate from a chime the inner courtyard. All of a sudden, his entire body felt cool and pure. His thoughts became tranquil, and his spirit filled with peace.

Freed of anxiety, he entered the monastery and headed for the inner courtyard. The novice monk said, “Respected guest, please wait here. I will go report to my master.” Emperor Baoding said, “Alright.” Folding his hands behind his back, he stood in the middle of the courtyard.

There was a gingko tree standing in the courtyard. He watched as a single yellow leaf slowly drifted down from it. In his entire life, there had been extremely few instances of him standing outside and waiting for someone else. But as soon as he entered the ‘Flower Gathering Monastery’, customs and conventions died away. He totally forgot that he was the emperor.

Suddenly, an aged voice laughed. “My worthy younger brother Duan, what problems do you have in your heart?” Emperor Baoding turned around, seeing a tall, lofty old monk with a face full of wrinkles push open the door from a small residence. On this old monk’s face was two long, sickly yellow eyebrows, the tails of which sagged downwards. It was the Yellow Browed Monk.

Cupping his hands, Emperor Baoding said, “Excuse me for disrupting your meditations.” The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. “Please, enter.” Emperor Baoding strode forward and entered the small residence. Two middle-aged monks immediately cupped their hands, paying their respects to him. Emperor Baoding knew that they must be the disciples of the Yellow Browed Monk, and quickly returned their salute. He sat down on a prayer mat to the left of the main prayer mat, which the Yellow Browed Monk took.

After the Yellow Browed Monk seated himself, Emperor Baoding said, “I have a nephew named Duan Yu. When he was seven, I carried him here, and we listened to you, martial brother, expound on the scriptures.” The Yellow Browed Monk let out a small smile. “That child has an extremely remarkable comprehension. He’s a good kid. Good kid!” Emperor Baoding
 
said, “He has been enlightened by Buddhism doctrine and has a merciful heart. He was unwilling to learn martial arts in order to avoid killing others.” The Yellow Browed Monk said, “If one doesn’t know martial arts, one can still kill others. If one learns martial arts, one still might kill others.”

Emperor Baoding replied, “Yes!” Thereupon he related the story of how Duan Yu was firmly opposed to learning martial arts and ran away from home, how he met Mu Wanqing, and how he was trapped by ‘The Most Evil Man in the World’, Crown Prince Yanqing, inside the stone house. A small smile on his lips, the Yellowed Browed Monk listened quietly, not interjecting a single time. The faces of his two disciples, who were standing behind him and waiting on him, didn’t change in the slightest.

After Emperor Baoding was finished, the Yellow Browed Monk slowly said, “This Crown Prince Yanqing is your older male cousin. It’s inappropriate for you to fight with him. It’s even inappropriate for you to send your subordinates to fight with him.” Emperor Baoding replied, “Martial brother, you see things clearly.” The Yellow Browed Monk said, “The elder monks of the Heavenly Dragon Temple are extremely virtuous, and their martial arts exceed yours as well, worthy brother. But by entering Buddhist orders, they have severed their ties with the Duan dynasty. It’s also inappropriate for them to side with you, worthy brother, in an internicine dispute. Thus, you cannot request aid from the Heavenly Dragon Temple as well.” Emperor Baoding said, “Exactly so.”

The Yellow Browed Monk nodded. He extended his middle finger slowly, then pointed towards Emperor Baoding. Emperor Baoding let out a small smile, then pointed out with his own finger as well. Aiming at the Yellow Browed Monk’s middle finger, he pointed towards it. Their figures swayed, and they immediately withdrew their fingers. The Yellow Browed Monk said, “Worthy brother Duan, the force from my ‘Vajra Finger’ cannot overcome your ‘Solitary Solar Finger’.” Emperor Baoding replied, “Martial brother, your wisdom is deep and your intelligence is vast. You can achieve victory without purely relying on the power of your fingers.” The Yellow Browed Monk lowered his head and was silent.
 
Emperor Baoding rose to his feet. “Five years ago, you told me to revoke the salt taxes. But I did not, for two reasons. First, the country did not need it. And secondly, I desired for Duan Zhengchun to assume the throne after me, and intended for him to do it in my stead, thereby winning the hearts of the populace. But tomorrow, I will immediately order for the salt taxes to be abrogated.”

The Yellow Browed Monk stood up, then knelt and respectfully prostrated himself before the Emperor. “Worthy brother, you take such care of your people. This old monk is endlessly gratified.” Emperor Baoding also knelt down and returned the bow. He said nothing more, and quickly glided away from the monastery.

Returning to the palace, Emperor Baoding immediately ordered the servants to summon Minister Ba. He ordered him to abolish the salt tax. Ba Tianshi kowtowed, thanking the Emperor for his benevolence. “Majesty, your great benevolence is the utmost fortune of the common people.” Emperor Baoding said, “Make sure that our own use of salts is reduced and restrained whenever possible in the palace. Go discuss this with ministers Hua and Fan and see if you can think of any areas where we can cut back.” Ba Tianshi agreed and left the palace.

Ba Tianshi immediately arranged for a meeting with Minister Hua Hegen, and together they arrived at the manor of Fan Hua, the Minister of War. He informed them of the abolishment of the salt tax. With regards to the matter of Duan Yu being kidnapped, he had already informed them earlier.

Fan Hua muttered to himself, “The South-Subduing Prince’s son has fallen into the hands of a vile man. For the Emperor to suddenly decide to abolish the salt tax…he must be using this as a method of beseeching heaven for its help to return the South-Subduing Prince’s son safe and sound. If we cannot help alleviate his concerns as a Emperor and as an uncle, what face will we have to remain in the leadership position of the imperial court?”

Ba Tianshi said, “Exactly so. Second brother, what brilliant scheme have you thought of to rescue the child?” Fan Hua replied, “Since our opponent is Crown Prince Yanqing, the Emperor will do everything possible to avoid directly confronting him as an enemy. I do have a plan, but I’m afraid it will
 
be burdensome for our elder brother.” Minister Hua Hegen hurriedly said, “So what if it requires hard work? Second brother, hurry and explain.”

Fan Hua explained, “The Emperor himself said that Crown Prince Yanqing’s martial arts ability was slightly above that of his own. Naturally, it won’t be possible for us to forcibly break Duan Yu out of the house. Elder brother, why don’t you once more take up that old profession of yours from twenty years ago?” Minister Hua’s entire face blushed red. He laughed. “Second brother, you’re making fun of me again.”

The Minister of Education Hua Hegen was originally named Hua Egen. He was of lowly birth. Although he had now risen to the stature of being one of the three most powerful ministers of Dali, before his rise, he was in the business of graverobbing. His best skill was in looting the tombs of princes and rich merchants. After they died, these wealthy people would often be buried with many riches and precious treasures. Hua Egen would tunnel his way into the tombs and steal the treasures. Although it required a tremendous amount of effort, he was never detected by anyone.

Once, upon tunneling his way into a particular tomb, he discovered a secret martial arts manual. Practicing in accordance with it, he managed to learn an extraordinarily powerful set of exterior martial arts. Following that, he abandoned his mean job and became an assistant to Emperor Baoding, rendering outstanding service and finally rose to the prestigious level of Minister of Education. He felt that the deeds attached to his old name were too vulgar, and therefore changed his name to Hegen. Aside from Ba Tianshi and Fan Hua, those two dear friends of his whom he had undergone life and death experiences with, very few people knew of his origins.

Fan Hua said, “How would I dare mock you, elder brother? I was thinking of us secretly sneaking inside the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, then digging a tunnel straight into the stone house where the South-Subduing Prince’s son is kept. That way, without a single soul knowing, we would be able to rescue him.”

Hua Hegen slapped his thigh. “Brilliant! Brilliant!” He was born addicted to the hobby of tomb-robbing. Although in the past twenty years he didn’t dare do such a thing, whenever he thought about the old days and
 
reminisced, his hands couldn’t help but itch. But he was a high official of exceeding rank and glory. How could he possibly go back to grave-robbing again? But now, upon hearing Fan Hua’s words, he couldn’t help but be hugely delighted.

Fan Hua laughed. “Elder brother, don’t be too happy this early. There are plenty of difficulties with regards to this plan. The Four Evils are residing with this gorge; in addition, Zhong Wanchou, his wife, and the Asura Sabre are also exceptionally formidable people. To keep this hidden from them really is no simple task. In addition, Crown Prince Yanqing has personally decided to serve as garrison for the stone house. If the tunnel is dug past him, how could he not feel it?

Hua Hegen mumbled to himself for a long while, then said, “The tunnel must be dug from the back of the stone house, so as to avoid Crown Prince Yanqing.” Ba Tianshi said, “The South-Subduing Prince’s son is in imminent danger. Digging a tunnel is no small task. I’m worried that we won’t be able to complete it in time.” Hua Hegen said, “Let us three brothers do it together. I’ll have to request that you lower your stations and dignity, and learn the arts of being a petty graverobbing thief from me.” Ba Tianshi laughed. “It seems that the three great ministers of Dali are now unshakeably duty-bound to engage in the unsavory business of tomb raiding.” All three of them laughed, clapping their hands together.

Hua Hegen said, “There’s no time to waste. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it!” Ba Tianshi immediately whipped out the map of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. Hua Hegen drafted out a proposed tunnel route. The issues of what to do with the dirt they dug out, or how to avoid being detected, were things that he was incomparably skilled at.

Duan Yu had felt hot and agitated for every moment within the past day and night. He began to use the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’, walking about quickly within the room. He only needed to complete one or two revolutions before feeling a sense of coolness. But Mu Wanqing’s entire body felt as though it were scorching, and her senses were addled. At least half the time, she would just dazedly lean against the stone wall.
 
At midday, Duan Yu once more began to stride about the room. Suddenly, he heard an aged voice speak from outside. “So very many people have been engrossed by the nineteen horizontal and vertical lines. Layman, would you be in the mood to discuss some things with this old monk?” Duan Yu felt strange. He immediately slowed down his footsteps, and after taking ten more, came to a halt altogether. He peered outside via the hole through which food was delivered.

He saw an old monk with sallow yellow eyebrows and a face filled with wrinkles. In his left hand, he held a steel muyu instrument [Buddhist percussion instrument used to beat a rhythym while chanting prayers] the size of a rice bowl. In his right hand, he held a hammer. He repeatedly struck the muyu with the hamer several times, producing a series of loud clangs. From the sound of it, the hammer must have been made of steel as well. While doing so, he chanted Buddhist prayers. “Amituofo! Amituofo!”

Bowing his head, he pointed the hammer at a blue stone in front of the stone house and began to draw a line. With a ‘chi’ sound, bits of stone began to fly everywhere, and a straight line immediately appeared. Duan Yu felt strange. He vaguely felt as though he had seen this old monk before in the past. The power in his hands was incredible. With but a casual wave of the hand, a deep mark had been made in the blue stone. The results were similar to that which a stonemason might have achieved using hammer and chisel over a long period of time. The line carved was extremely straight as well. If a stonemason had wanted to carve out a line so straight, he would have had to draw it out first.

A gloomy voice in front of the stone house spoke. “Power of the Vajra Finger. Good skill!” It was the man in green, “Evil Beyond Human Capacity.” Stretching out his left cane, he also carved out a horizontal line on the stone. This straight line intersected perfectly with the one carved out by the Yellow Browed Monk. His line was also carved deeply within the stone and very straight, without any crookedness or curvature.

The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. “Benefactor, you are willing to grant your instructions to me? Excellent, excellent.” He carved out a second vertical line with his steel hammer. Following him, the man in green carved out a horizontal line with his steel cane. And thus, in such a manner, these
 
two exerted their energies to carve. They carved slower and slower, unwilling for there to be the slightest difference in the depth of their respective lines, or crookedness in their lines. If that had happened, they would have lost to their opponent.

In the time it would take to cook a bowl of rice, the nineteen horizontal and vertical lines of a Go chessboard had been neatly carved out on the stone. The Yellow Browed Monk thought to himself, “Mr. Zhengming spoke truly. Crown Prince Yanqing’s internal energy really is formidable.” Crown Prince Yanqing didn’t know that the Yellow Browed Monk had come with a specific purpose in mind. He was shocked, wondering to himself, “Where did such a powerful old monk come from? Hm, he must be a helper whom Duan Zhengming called for. With him keeping me entangled, if Duan Zhengming were to go rescue Duan Yu, I would be unable to prevent him from doing so.”

The Yellow Browed Monk said, “Benefactor Duan, your strength is deep and profound. Admirable, admirable. Your skill at chess is surely tenfold that of this old monk’s as well. This old monk would like to request that you allow me a handicap of four stones.” The man in green was startled. He thought to himself, “The power of your fingers is so very profound. You must be a famous man of high status. You came to challenge me. How could you immediately ask for me to give way to you?” He replied, “Master, no need to be courteous. Victory and defeat must naturally be determined on an even playing field.” The Yellow Browed Monk replied, “You really must allow me the handicap of four stones.” The man in green said emotionlessly, “Since you claim that you have little skill in chess, there is no need for you to force yourself to play.” The Yellow Browed Monk replied, “Then just let me have an advantage of three stones instead?” The man in green replied, “I will give you a handicap of one stone, if you give me the same.”

The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. “Evidently, your accomplishments in the field of chess are limited. I’ll allow you the handicap of three stones instead.” The man in green replied, “That is also unnecessary. We shall simply play.” In the Yellow Browed Monk’s heart, a feeling of dread grew. “This man is neither conceited nor rash. He is somber to the extreme. A
 
truly formidable opponent. No matter how I badgered him, he wouldn’t react to me.” As it happened, the Yellow Browed Monk wasn’t certain of victory. He knew that all chess players liked to outdo others. Generally, when he requested a handicap of three or four stones, his opponents would agree. He himself was beyond such worldly things, and cared little for such empty things as reputations. If Crown Prince Yanqing, desiring to flaunt his abilities in chess, had agreed to allow a handicap, the Yellow Browed Monk would have gained a massive advantage, and naturally would have had an increased chance of success in this battle. He didn’t expect that Crown Prince Yanqing neither allowed others to take advantage of him, nor would take advantage of others. He wasn’t the least bit negligent, showing an unparalleled solemnity and sternness.

The Yellow Browed Monk said, “Fine. You’re the host. I’m the guest. I’ll take the first move.” The man in green said, “No! A powerful dragon cannot crush a snake in his own haunts [lit., a powerful force must give way to a weaker one if on the weaker one’s turf]. I will go first.” The Yellow Browed Monk said, “Then the only way we can determine who will go first is via a guessing game. Please guess if my age this year is even or odd. If you guess correctly, you may go first. If not, I go first.” The man in green said, “Even if I guess correctly, you will deny it.” The Yellow Browed Monk said, “Fine! Then guess something which I won’t be able to deny. When I am seventy years old, will the number of toes on my feet be even, or odd?”

This riddle was extremely bizarre. The man in green thought to himself, “Everyone has ten toes. Of course the number will be even. He’s purposefully trying to lead me into saying that the number of toes he has when he is seventy will be an odd number. It is written in the Art of War that lies are hidden within the truth, and the truth is hidden within lies. He has ten toes, but purposefully made the exact number seem mysterious so as to deceive me. How can I fall for such a trick?” He said, “The number is even.” The Yellow Browed Monk replied, “Wrong. It is odd.” The man in green said, “Remove your shoes and prove it.”

The Yellow Browed Monk took off his left shoe, revealing five toes in perfectly good shape. The man in green, observing his opponent’s
 
countenance, saw a small smile on his face. He thought to himself, “So he really only has four toes on his right feet.” He watched as the monk unhurriedly removed his right shoe as well, then slowly began to remove his socks. He was just about to say, “No need to check. Just go ahead and play the first stone.” But suddenly, he thought to himself, “Wait. I can’t fall for a trick.” He watched as the monk removed the sock from his right foot as well. Once again, five perfect, undamaged toes were revealed. Where was any disfigurement? There was none at all.

Countless thoughts flashed through the mind of the man in green, as he wondered what was the meaning behind this move of his opponent. Only to see the Yellow Browed Monk casually wave his small steel hammer downwards. With a ‘ka’ sound, he chopped off the pinky toe of his right foot. His two disciples stood behind him. Upon seeing their master disfigure himself, causing blood to flow in front of him, they couldn’t help but let out an ‘ah’ cry. Uncertaintly, the elder disciple took out the ‘Golden Salve’ medicine from his breastpocket, applying it to his master’s wounds. Ripping off part of his clothes, he bound up the wound.

The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. “This old monk is sixty nine years old. When I am seventy years old, the number of toes on my feet will be odd.”

The man in green said, “So it will be. You may move first.” He was known as ‘The Most Evil Man in the World’. What type of vile or brutal atrocity had he not committed? Why would he care about the mere chopping off of a pinky toe? But upon seeing this old monk be willing to part with his own toe and resort to such extreme methods in order to gain the small advantage of moving first, he knew that he would definitely prove the victor in this game of chess. Even if he lost, the terms which he would exact would be harsh beyond imagining.

The Yellow Browed Monk replied, “Thank you for giving way.” Extending his steel mallet, he drew two circles on a diagonal line of the inside of the board, symbolizing white chess pieces. The man in green extended his own cane and lightly pressed on the line of the opposing diagonal. The circular indentation served to symbolize the black chess pieces. Together, the four formed a square within the middle of the board. To place two black and two white chess pieces on the board in such a fashion, forming a ‘shizi’, was a
 
rule in the ancient Chinese art of Go. The white pieces would be placed first, followed by the black pieces, opposite of what later generations would do. Following this, the Yellow Browed Monk placed a white piece in the ‘Ping’ quadrant, where the sixth vertical and third horizontal lines intersected. The man in green answered with a piece at where the ninth vertical and third horizontal lines intersected. These two starting moves came extremely quickly. The Yellow Browed Monk didn’t dare to be the slightest bit negligent, for fear of losing the advantage which he had purchased using his own pinky toe.

By the time the seventeeth or eighteenth stones were laid, the two sides were in diametric opposition to each other, engaging in a fierce struggle. At the same time, the power from each person’s finger continued to be used up. They focused on the game, striving for victory, while also generating their internal energies. The game began to slow down.

The second disciple of the Yellow Browed Monk, Pochen, was also an expert at this game. He saw his master and the man in green utilize marvelous military tactics, and many variations were used. A threat to the Yellow Browed Monk’s pieces in the lower right corner of the board appeared. If the Yellow Browed Monk did not move to cope with the threat, he would be exposing those pieces to extreme hidden dangers. But if he used a piece to guard that corner, he would have lost the offensive.

The Yellow Browed Monk was unable to make up his mind for a long time. Suddenly, a voice cried out from the stone house. “Counterattack at the ‘Qu’ quadrant, and you won’t lose the offensive.” As it happened, Duan Yu excelled at chess ever since his youth. At this moment, seeing the vicious battle which those two were engaged in, he couldn’t help but blurt out what the next move should be. A common saying described this situation most aptly: “The spectators see clearly, the players’ eyes are clouded.” Duan Yu’s skill in chess was higher than that of the Yellow Browed Monk. With him being in the position of a spectator, it was all the more easier for him to see the key to solving the dilemma.

The Yellow Browed Monk said, “This old monk was going to make that move all along. Only, I was unable to follow through with that choice. Young benefactor, your words have removed the doubt in my mind.” He
 
immediately placed a piece at the ‘Qu’ position, where the seventh vertical line met the third horizontal. According to ancient Chinese rules of playing Go, the chessboard was divided into the quadrants of “Ping”, “Shang”, “Qu”, and “Ru”. The “Qu” quadrant was in the upper right corner.

The man in green said emotionlessly, “The onlooker who does not speak is of noble character; the player who makes his own move is a true man.” Duan Yu yelled back, “You imprisoned me in this room. You aren’t a gentleman of noble character to begin with!” The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. “I’m a true monk, not a true man.” The man in green said, “Shameless. Shameless.” After thinking for a moment, he pressed his cane down and created an indentation within the ‘Qu’ quadrant.

After their armies had exchanged countless attacks, the Yellow Browed Monk’s forces were once more in danger. His disciple, Pochen, was worried while watching. Duan Yu, however, didn’t make a sound. Thus Pochen walked next to the stone house. In a low voice, he whispered, “Mr. Duan, how should this next move be played?” Duan Yu replied, “I already thought of a solution. The problem is, the solution must be implemented across seven moves. If I say it and the opponent hears me, he’ll counter it. That is why I hesitated to speak.” Pochen extended his right palm. With his left hand, he wrote on his right palm, “Please write it out.” Following that, he immediately extended his hand into the hole in the boulder. But as he did so, he said, “Since this is the case, there’s nothing that can be done.” He knew that the internal strength of the man in green was astonishing. No matter in how low a voice Duan Yu whispered, he would overhear.

Duan Yu thought to himself that this strategy was brilliant. He immediately stretched out his finger and wrote out the seven moves. He said, “The venerable master is an expert at chess. He certainly has a wonderful move in mind. There’s no need for me to give any more advice.” Pochen thought for a while, then realized that these seven moves truly were extremely clever. He returned to his master’s side. Extending his finger, he began to write out those moves on his master’s back. The billowing folds of the sleeves of his cassock hid his hands, rendering the man in green unable to see his chicanery. The Yellow Browed Monk thought for another moment, then made his move as instructed.
 
The man in green let out a ‘heng’ sound. “Another instructed you to make this move. Based upon your own accomplishments in chess, master, you could never have formulated such a move.” The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. “The game of chess originated as a battle of the wits. A person must be modest and not reveal their real skill to the opponent. If the depths of my chess abilities could be see easily and totally seen through by you, benefactor, would we even need to play this match?” The man in green replied, “Crafty, cunning schemer, playing tricks with your sleeves.” He had seen Pochen walk back and forth, then cover the Yellow Browed Monk’s back with his sleeves. He knew that there must be something odd about that action. But he was too busy concentrating on the changes and variations within the chess game, and so could not spare any more attention to other things.

The Yellow Browed Monk’s next six moves were all acccording to Duan Yu’s instructions. He did not need to use his energy to think of them, and only needed to exert his energy to draw the actual pieces on the board. Correspondingly, the six circles which he drew with his steel hammer were extremely round and deep, giving him the appearance of being full of vigor and an unending source of energy. The man in green, seeing that each of these six moves were more powerful than the previous, was forced to ponder deeply in order to defend against each one of them. He was totally forced to the defensive, and the indentations which his steel canes made began to show some differences in depth. After the Yellow Browed Monk played his sixth piece, the man in green simply sat there for a long moment. Then, suddenly, he played a piece in the ‘Ru’ quadrant.

This move was strange to the extreme. It was completely different from what Duan Yu had anticipated. The Yellow Browed Monk was stunned. He thought to himself, “This seven-step strategy of Mr. Duan was carefully devised and perfect in the details. By the time I laid down the seventh piece, I would have advanced from being one move ahead to being two moves ahead. But now, I’ll no longer be able to make the seventh move. All my previous efforts were wasted.”

As it happened, the man in green saw that the battleground was becoming more and more disadvantageous to him. No matter what defense he might
 
use, he would still be in trouble. So instead, he decided to ignore the threat to his own pieces, and attack the opponent’s pieces in a different area instead. This was known as “defending without defending”. Truly, it was a formidable move. Furrowing his forehead, the Yellow Browed Monk tried to devise a good reply.

Pochen saw the sudden change in the battlefield of chess pieces and that his master’s pieces were once again in great danger. He immediately ran next to the stone house. Duan Yu had long ago come up with a strategy, and wrote six countermoves on Pochen’s palm, one after the other. Pochen then rushed back to the Yellow Browed Monk’s side, once more writing down the moves on his master’s back.

The man in green was known as “The Most Evil Man in the World.” How could he possibly ignore his opponent’s constant cheating and trickery? He stretched out his left steel cane, pointing it at Pochen’s shoulder. He shouted, “Junior disciple, stand farther back!” And as he pointed, a ‘chi’ sound emanated from the cane.

The Yellow Browed Monk saw that his disciple wouldn’t be able to resist the enemy’s power, and that it would be difficult for him to avoid sustaining a heavy injury. He thrust out his own left palm in a snatching attack towards the cane. The man in green’s cane trembled, then pointed towards the acupoint beneath the left side of the monk’s chest. The Yellow Browed Monk turned the snatching attack into a chopping attack on the cane. But once again, the steel cane changed position.

In the blink of an eye, the two had exchanged over eight stances. The Yellow Browed Monk thought to himself that his arm couldn’t reach long enough. He struck with his finger at the steel cane. The man in green didn’t budge a single step, and the monk’s finger and the steel cane touched. Both of them generated their power and began to compete in internal energy. Immediately, the steel cane and the monk’s fingers came to a halt, neither of them moving in the slightest.

The man in green said, “Master, it is your move. You have delayed for so very long now. Are you preparing to forfeit?” The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. “Sir, you are an elite master of a senior generation. Why would
 
you launch a sneak attack against my disciple? I’m afraid you really are lowering your own status!” With his right hand, the monk drew another small circle on the blue stone with his steel hammer. The man in green didn’t even take time to think. With a casual wave of his hand, he made his own move. And so, their left hands remained locked in a fierce internal energy competition, with neither side daring to slacken off in the slightest. Their right hands continued to play chess. Each side continued to advance their own pieces, continuing to counter each move of the other.

Five years ago, the Yellow Browed Monk had pled on the behalf of the commoners of Dali, asking Emperor Baoding to abolish the salt tax. Only now did Emperor Baoding agree. The two of them had reached a tacit understanding that the Yellow Browed Monk would rescue Duan Yu in Emperor Baoding’s place. The Yellow Browed Monk thought to himself, “It is of little consequence if I lose my life. But if I cannot rescue Duan Yu, how can I possibly face my worthy brother, Zhengming?”

When martial arts exponents were cultivating their internal energy, they couldn’t allow themselves to be distracted in the slightest. This is what is described as “Reflecting the brilliance of emptiness, forgetting both myself and the world.” But in playing chess, one must strive to outdo someone else. Each game of chess had three hundred and sixty one possible moves, and every single move had to be carefully contemplated. It truly did require that one calculate out ever minor detail, and haggle over every minor point. These two principles were directly opposite to each other, highly incompatible. Although the Yellow Browed Monk was a master at chan meditation, his skills in chess were inferior to his opponent. While secretly generating internal energy to resist the opponent, he neglected the game. If he focused on the game of chess instead, he would find himself disadvantaged in the internal energy competition. It seemed as though today, he found himself in an inextricably dangerous and strange situation. His only option was to die fighting, so as to repay his bosom friend. His own safety was no longer a concern for him. As the ancients said, “An army burning with righteousness is guaranteed victory.” But although the Yellow Browed Monk certainly was filled with righteousness, the words ‘guaranteed’ and ‘victory’ really did not apply.
 
The three ministers of Dali, ‘Minister of Education’ Hua Hegen, ‘Minister of War’ Fan Hua, and ‘Minister of Soil and Water’ Ba Tianshi, led thirty subordinates who possessed martial arts in their expedition. They brought along timber, shovels, kongming lanterns, and other tools, and snuck into the forest at the back of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. After selecting a suitable location, they began to dig the tunnel. The thirty three men dug for an entire night, tunneling out a passageway that was several hundred feet long. The following day, they continued to dig, all the way until late afternoon. They calculated that they shouldn’t be too far from the stone house. Hua Hegen ordered his subordinates to withdraw and dispose of the dirt, leaving only the three of them as they continued to dig. They knew that Crown Prince Yanqing’s martial arts were extremely profound, and so they dug as quietly as possible, not daring to make even the slightest of sounds. Under the circumstances, their forward progress slowed greatly. They didn’t know that at this moment, Crown Prince Yanqing was exhausting all of his energy and concentration in competing in both chess and internal energy with the Yellow Browed Monk. There was no chance that he might hear them digging a tunnel.

They continued to dig until the ‘shenpai’ hour [3 PM to 5 PM], then stopped, calculating that they should be beneath Duan Yu. They were now no more than ten feet away from Crown Prince Yanqing. Consequently, it was now all the more important for them to proceed with caution. They definitely could not risk making a single sound. Hua Hegen put down his iron shovel and began to dig using his ten fingers. He executed his ‘Exceeding Claw Skill’, and his ten fingers became much akin to a pair of steel claws, tearing through large chunks of dirt. Fan Hua and Ba Tianshi stood behind him, taking the dirt which his claws dislodged and disposing of it. At this point in time, Hua Hegen was no longer digging forwards; rather, he had begun to dig upwards. The architectural feat had been completed. But as to whether or not Duan Yu could be rescued, they would find out very soon. All three of them couldn’t help but have their heart’s beat faster.

Digging upwards was a much less taxing proposition than digging forwards. Once the dirt and mud was loosened, they would fall down of their own accord. After Hua Hegen had dug sufficiently upwards to allow himself to
 
straighten his body, his digging speed increased even further. After digging for a while, he would stop and listen carefully, trying to hear any movement above him. In such a manner, he dug for the length of time which might take two joss sticks to burn down. By then, he judged that he could be no more than a foot away from the surface. He dug even more slowly now. As he gently brushed aside the remaining mud and dirt, his hand came into contact with a flat wooden plank. He was ecstatic. “So the stone house has a wooden floor. That makes it much easier to deal with.”

Pouring power into his fingers, he slowly carved out a two-foot long square in the wooden board. He then withdrew the support his free hand had been providing the wooden plank, and the wooden square lightly fell down, creating an aperture which a single person could easily pass through. Hua Hegen lifted up his iron shovel, waving it in a circle above the floor in order to guard against a sneak attack. Suddenly, he heard a loud ‘ah’ sound, as a female voice screamed loudly.

Hua Hegen said in a low voice, “Miss Mu, don’t scream. I’m a friend. I’m here to rescue you.” With a leap, he jumped out of the hole.

But when he saw the insides of the room, he was hugely startled. What type of ‘stone house’ was this? The room was bright and clean, and all sorts of bottles and jars covered every single cabinet and table. A young girl with a terrified expression on her face was standing in one corner. Hua Hegen immediately knew that he had miscalculated, and dug into the wrong place. The location of the stone house was only known by Emperor Baoding, who had described it to Ba Tianshi, who in turn described it to him. Afraid of being caught, he hadn’t dared to personally inspect the terrain. Operating on the basis of thirdhand information, he hadn’t been too far off, but nonetheless a huge error had been made.

Hua Hegen had dug himself directly into Zhong Wanchou’s house. That young girl was Zhong Ling. She was in the process of rummaging through her father’s belongings, trying to find the antidote for Duan Yu. All of a sudden, a big man suddenly jumped up out of the floor. How could she not be terrified?
 
Hua Hegen’s thoughts moved quickly. “Since we dug to the wrong place, we’ll have to start digging anew. I’ve already left behind traces of my passing. If I kill this girl in order to silence her, after finding her corpse Zhong Wanchou will certainly search the area. He’ll find me before I can manage to tunnel my way to the stone house. The only option is to temporarily take her into the tunnel. If others go looking for her, they’ll definitely search outside of the gorge.”

But at this very moment, footsteps could be heard outside the room as someone walked nearby. Hua Hegen waved his hands towards Zhong Ling, signifying that she wasn’t to cause a disturbance. Turning his body, he extended his left leg towards the hole, as though he were preparing to go back down. But suddenly, he spun around and leapt towards Zhong Ling, covering her mouth with his left hand while hugging her around the waist with his right. He carried her within the hole, passing her downwards. Fan Hua received Zhong Ling from Hua Hegen, then grabbed a big handful of mud and covered her mouth with it. Hua Hegen jumped back into the tunnel, then placed the wooden square which he had cut out back to its original position. Pressing his ears against the cracks, he listened to any sounds which might come from above.

He heard the sound of two people walking into the room. A male voice said, “You must have lingering affection for him. Otherwise, why would you keep on trying to prevent me from ruining the reputation of the Duan family?” A displeased female voice replied, “What ‘lingering’ affection are you babbling about? I never had any affection for him to begin with.” The male voice said, “If that’s true, I couldn’t be happier. Excellent, excellent!” Utter happiness was in his voice. The woman said, “However, Miss Mu is my martial sister’s daughter. She’s one of our people. How can you mistreat her so?”

By now, Hua Hegen had already realized that the two people speaking had to be gorge-master Zhong and his wife. Hearing that the topic of their conversation had to do with Duan Yu, he became all the more attentive in his eavesdropping.

He heard Zhong Wanchou say, “Your martial sister wanted to sneakily release Duan Yu. Fortunately, she was discovered by Ye Erniang. Your
 
martial sister is already one of our enemies. Why care about her daughter? Wife, the people who are now at our halls are all famous members of Dali’s wulin community. But you didn’t pay the slightest attention to them. You walked into the room, widened your eyes, and glared at them. Isn’t that a little…a bit…eh, not polite.” Madame Zhong angrily replied, “What’s the point of you inviting those fellows into our house? We don’t have much of a relationship with any of them. Do you think they will dare offend the Emperor of Dali for our behalf?”

Zhong Wanchou said, “I didn’t invite them here for the purpose of asking them to loan us their fists in battle and rebel against Duan Zhengming. As it happened, they all were present within Dali. I invited them here to drink wine and serve as witnesses for what will happen. Duan Zhengchun’s own son has shared a room with his own sister and engaged in licentious, incestuous acts, as though they were animals. The guests that I invited today even include some heroes from the Central Plains to our north. Early tomorrow morning, we’ll open the door to the stone house and give everybody something to see. The heir of the Duan family’s ‘Solitary Solar Finger’, in such a state…won’t that be so very amusing? Won’t this be spread far and wide throughout the jianghu?” As he spoke, he began to laugh loudly, utterly delighted.

Madame Zhong let out a ‘heng’ sound. “Contemptible and despicable! Brazen and shameless!” Zhong Wanchou said, “Who are you cursing as being despicable and shameless?” Madame Zhong said, “Whoever performs despicable and shameless acts is a despicable and shameless person. There’s no need for me to curse them as being such!” Zhong Wanchou said, “Right! That evil fellow, Duan Zhengchun, describes himself as being a dissolute playboy, and has brought many sins upon his own head. In the end, his own children will fall in love and engage in an illicit sexual relationship. He really is extremely despicable and shameless!” Madame Zhong let out a cold smile, but did not respond. Zhong Wanchou asked, “Why did you just smile coldly like that? Can it be that those two words, ‘despicable’ and ‘shameless’, were not directed towards Duan Zhengchun?”

Madame Zhong smiled coldly again. “You aren’t able to overcome the Duan family with your own abilities, and hide yourself here in this gorge,
 
not daring to show yourself. Fine, whatever. As the saying goes, knowing how to avoid being shamed is something akin to courage. This is still something which a man might do. But I never would have imagined that you would use such despicable means to manipulate his children instead. The heroes of the world won’t be laughing at him, no. They will be laughing at you! Zhong Wanchou!”

Zhong Wanchou leapt to his feet. He angrily said, “You’re calling ME shameless and despicable?”

Tears flowed down Madame Zhong’s face. Her voice choked with sobs, she said, “I didn’t imagine that the husband whom I married, the good man to whom I entrusted my entire being, would be…would be a person like this. I….I…my life is so bitter!”

Seeing his wife cry, Zhong Wanchou couldn’t help but be flustered. “Fine. Fine! If you want to curse at me, then curse at me as much as you want!” He stalked back and forth across the room. He wanted to offer his wife some sort of apology, but couldn’t immediately think of anything appropriate to say. Finally, he said, “This wasn’t my idea! Duan Yu was captured by the Divine Crocodile. Mu Wanqing was seized by ‘Evil Beyond Human Capacity’. The ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder belongs to him as well. How could I use such a despicable and shameless sort of drug?” At the moment, he wanted to disavow all responsibility. Madame Zhong laughed coldly. “As long as you know what the words ‘despicable’ and ‘shameless’ mean. If you don’t approve of this idea, then you should release Miss Mu.” Zhong Wanchou said, “That won’t work, that won’t work. If I release Mu Wanqing, what type of performance can Duan Yu put on by himself?”

Madame Zhong said, “Fine! If you want to be despicable and shameless, I’m going to do something despicable and shameless as well for you to see!” Zhong Wanchou was startled, and hurriedly asked, “You…you…what are you going to do?” Madame Zhong let out a ‘heng’ sound. “Just go imagine it by yourself.” In a trembling voice, Zhong Wanchou said, “You… are you going to find Duan Zhengchun…find Duan Zhengchun, that evil thief, and commit adultery with him again?” Madame Zhong angrily roared, “What do you mean, AGAIN?” Zhong Wanchou hurriedly laughed. “Wife,
 
don’t be angry. I misspoke. Of course you never…never…never did that with him. When you said you would do something despicable and shameless for me to watch, that was…that was just a joke. Right?” But Madame Zhong did not respond.

Zhong Wanchou’s mind was greatly disturbed. Casting his gaze wildly about the room, he saw that all the bottles and jars were all jumbled about. He said, “Humph. What a mischievious kid Zhong Ling is. At her tender age, she actually came and asked me about the ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder. Where did she hear about it, anyhow? Now she came here and made a mess of things.” As he spoke, he went into the room and began to straighten and reorganize the medicine cabinets. One foot strode on top of the piece of wood which had been cut away earlier. Hua Hegen hurriedly exerted his strength to keep the piece of wood from collapsing, in order to prevent Zhong Wanchou from discovering them.

Madame Zhong said, “Where is Ling’er, anyhow? Where’d she go? Why did you need to take her to the grand hall to meet the guests, anyhow?” Zhong Wanchou laughed. “The two of us made such a beautiful little girl together. How can I not introduce her to my friends?” Madame Zhong said, “What, are you a monkey showing off your treasure? I saw the wicked look in the eyes of that Yun Zhonghe fellow as he stared nonstop at our daughter. You need to be careful.” Zhong Wanchou laughed. “I only need to be careful about you. You are a lovely woman with the complexion of a flower and are as beautiful as the moon. Who wouldn’t be scheming to steal you away?”

Madame Zhong spat, then shouted, “Ling’er! Ling’er!” A serving girl walked towards her. “The young miss was just here a moment ago.” Madame Zhong nodded. “Go find that young lady. I have something to tell her.”

Underneath the floor and within the tunnel, Zhong Ling clearly heard every single word her parents exchanged. Unfortunately, there was no way for her to respond. Her heart was filled with fear, and in addition, her mouth was covered with mud, making her feel even worse.
 
Zhong Wanchou said, “Take a rest. I’ll go keep our guests company.” An icy expression on her face, Madame Zhong coldly replied, “Why don’t you rest instead. I’ll go keep them company.” Zhong Wanchou said, “Let’s go together.” Madame Zhong said, “The guests want to see my ‘flower-like complexion’ and my ‘moon-like beauty’. Why would they be interested in seeing your long, horse-like face? One day, even I’ll be tired of seeing that face, and then you’ll know how it feels.”

These past few days, Zhong Wanchou had been getting blamed for everything he did. No matter what he said, his wife would abruptly ridicule him. He clearly saw that after his wife had met with Duan Zhengchun again, old passions once more began to rise in her thoughts. Even though he was unhappy, he never dared to snap back at her. He could only let out a laugh, then walk towards the great hall. While walking, he thought to himself, “She’s going to do something shameful and despicable for me to see? Then she said that one day, even she’ll be sick of seeing my face. Hmm. That means, she isn’t sick of seeing my face yet. Things aren’t so very bad! I’m just worried about Duan Zhengchun, that thieving scoundrel…”

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