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Ode to Gallantry Chapter 3

Chapter 3 - The Skyscraping Cliff

The sedan-chair travelled for several li (1 li = 500 metres) before turning into a small road. The horse-whip would swing out at the slightest deceleration in the footsteps of the forward sedan-chair bearers and strike them heavily across their backs. Hence, these men did not dare to slow down at all, forcing their counterparts at the back of the sedan-chair to keep up with their frenetic pace. Behind them, came the errand-runners.

After speeding along for another four to five li (2.0-2.5 km), the occupant of the sedan-chair said, "All right, stop."

The four sedan-chair bearers reacted as if they had received a great amnesty, setting the chair down on the ground between gasps of air.

The curtain parted and an old man stepped out, his left hand pulling a little beggar boy behind him. He was none other than the Master of the Black Steel Symbol, Xie Yanke.

Turning to the errand-runners, he roared: "Go back and tell your damned officer that today's happenings must not be made public. As soon as I hear a single word about it, I will have your heads plucked off and your officer's stamp of authority thrown into the Yellow River."

"Yes, yes," answered the errand-runners, bowing repeatedly. "We will certainly not speak a single word. Old Master, please take your time as you
 
leave!"

"Take my time as I leave?" asked Xie Yanke. "Are you thinking of getting some soldiers to arrest me?"

"No, no," replied an errand-runner. "We would not dare to. Absolutely not."

"Do you remember all the things that I told you to say to your damned officer?" asked Xie Yanke again.

"Yes, I do," answered the errand-runner. "I will say: My colleagues and I saw with our own eyes that the old man who sold fried cakes in Hou Jian Ji, as well as the worker of the sundry store, were all killed by an old fellow named Bai Zizai, the leader of the Snow Mountain School. Although he is nicknamed the 'Gentleman of Impressive Strength and Virtue', he is in reality weak and dishonest. The murder weapon is a blood-stained sabre. Since we have both eye-witnesses and material evidence, the old man should not have any excuses for the crime."

Apparently, the errand-runner had been beaten so badly by Xie Yanke that he had become afraid. Thus, in order to get into the latter's good books, he made up the part about eye-witnesses and material evidence. As for the sabre, it was a simply rouse that was often used by the local authorities to blame someone for a crime.

Xie Yanke laughed. "This Old Bai uses a sword," he said, "not a sabre."

"Yes, yes," said the errand-runner. "The murderous Bai had a sword of dark steel, which he used to stab the body of the old fried-cake seller. Everyone in Hou Jian Ji saw it as clearly as daylight."

Xie Yanke was amused: If the Gentleman of Impressive Strength and Virtue Bai Zizai really wanted to kill Wu Daotong, would he really have needed a weapon? Hence, he paid no further attention to the errand-runner. Taking the little beggar's hand in his left hand, and holding the Twin Swords of Black and White in his right, he strode away in satisfaction and delight.
 
Earlier, after taking the little beggar away, Xie Yanke had become suspicious about Shi Qing and his wife, as well as the disciples of the Snow Mountain School. He was concerned that these people might hatch a plot against himself, so he struck the little beggar's acupoints and threw the immobilised boy into a clump of grass. Then, he returned to the scene of conflict, hid behind a tree and eavesdropped on the conversations of Shi and the others. Since his martial arts skills were far beyond those of Shi and the others, no one -- not even renowned pugilists like Shi Qing and Min Rou -- noticed his presence. After listening to all the details, he realised that the matter had absolutely nothing to do with himself. However, when he saw Shi Qing giving the Twin Swords to Geng Wanzhong, he decided to snatch them away. He returned to the little beggar in the clump of grass and unblocked his acupoints. Just then, the county magistrate passed by on a sedan-chair. The magistrate was on his way to Hou Jian Ji to investigate the killings that had taken place. Xie Yanke pulled the magistrate out of the sedan-chair before forcing the errand-runners and sedan-chair bearers to take the little beggar and himself on the mission to seize the Twin Swords. Thus, it was only natural for Geng Wanzhong and the others to believe that Shi Qing and his wife were the culprits because they could not see Xie Yanke at all.

Xie Yanke took the little beggar by the hand and headed for a more secluded area of the countryside. Arriving at a stream and finding no one there, Xie Yanke released the little beggar's hand. Then, he unsheathed Min Rou's White Sword and held its blade against the boy's neck. "Whose instigation are you acting on?" he asked in a stern voice. "If you speak even half of an untruth, I will have you killed immediately." As he spoke, he waved the White Sword and cut a small tree nearby into two. The upper part of the tree fell into the river -- branches, leaves and all -- and followed the current downstream.

"I ... I ...," stammered the little beggar. "What ... instigation ... I   "

Xie Yanke took out the Black Steel Symbol and roared: "Who gave you this?"

"I ... I ... ate it out   out of a fried cake," answered the little beggar.
 
Furious, Xie Yanke turned his left hand over and brought it swiftly towards the boy's cheek. Just before the back of his hand touched the boy, he suddenly remembered the deadly oath that he had sworn years ago: He could not use the strength of even a single finger to harm anyone who put the Black Steel Symbol into his hands. Thus, he forced himself to restrain his hand and roared: "Rubbish! What fried cake? I am asking you: Who gave you this piece of metal?"

"I picked a fried cake off the ground, took a bite and nearly ... nearly broke my tooth ...," said the little beggar.

Xie Yanke thought: Could that scoundrel Wu Daotong have hidden the Symbol in the fried cake? Then, he had another thought: How could such a coincidence exist under the sun? That scoundrel valued the Symbol more than his life, so how could he be willing to put it into a fried cake?

He did not know that the situation then was simply too urgent. With the riders of the Golden Sabre Stockade closing in on Hou Jian Ji from all directions, Wu Daotong had no opportunity to find a suitable hiding place for the Black Steel Symbol. Hence, he had taken the great risk of putting the Symbol into a fried cake and handing the cake to the leader of the Golden Sabre Stockade. The latter had erupted in rage and thrown the cake into a ditch. Consequently, the men of the stockade turned the cake shop upside-down, without even thinking of looking inside the cakes that were scattered on the ground around them.

Xie Yanke looked at the little beggar and asked, "What is your name?" "I ... I ... am called Gouzazhong," answered the boy.
"What?" asked Xie Yanke in surprise. " Gouzazhong?" "Yes," the boy replied. "My mother calls me Gouzazhong."
Xie Yanke was a man who hardly laughed, doing so only a few times a year. Yet, the little beggar's answers tickled him so much that he could not help but hold his stomach and laughed out loud. He thought: It is common for people to give their children humble and lowly names in the hope that these
 
children would be protected from jealous evil spirits and grow up big and tall. So it is no surprise to hear names like A'Gou (Dog), A'Niu (Cow), Zhushi (Pig Excrement) and Choumao (Smelly Cat), but who would actually name their son Gouzazhong (Bastard)? It is even stranger that the name was given by his mother.

Xie Yanke's laughter caused the little beggar to giggle and smile.

By and by, Xie Yanke reined in his laughter and asked, "What is your father's name?"

"My father?" asked the boy in return with a shake of his head. "I ...I do not have a father."

"Who else is there in your family?" asked Xie Yanke again. "Me, my mother and A'Huang," answered the boy.
"Who is A'Huang?" asked Xie Yanke.

"A'Huang is a yellow dog," said the boy. "My mother is missing. I came out to look for her and A'Huang followed. After a while, it became hungry and went to look for something to eat. Then, it went missing too. I looked here and there, but I cannot find it."

At this, Xie Yanke thought: So he is a retarded boy. He must have obtained the Black Steel Symbol absolutely by chance. I will ask him to beg me for a small favour. Once I fulfil the oath that I made years ago, the matter will be settled. Hence, he began: "You can beg me..."

Then, he stopped and thought: If this retarded boy wants me to help him find his mother or even that dog A'Huang, where am I going to start looking? His mother must have run away with a man. A'Huang has probably been killed and eaten by someone. I had better not take on such difficult problems, for it is much easier for me to kill eight or ten highly- skilled pugilists than to find his A'Huang.
 
He muttered to himself for a while and soon came up with a plan. "All right," he said. "Let me tell you something. You must not convey any messages to me regardless of the person who asks you to do so, or I will chop your head off immediately. Do you know that?"   The fact that the little beggar had returned the Black Steel Symbol to its owner would be known all over the martial arts circle within a short period of time, so Xie Yanke was concerned that someone would deceive the boy into making a request of him. He would not be able to decline the request because of the oath that he had made.

"Yes," said the little beggar with a nod.

Unsatisfied, Xie Yanke asked, "Do you remember what I said?"

"You said that I must not open my mouth if someone asks me to convey a message to you," answered the boy.   "If I say a word, you will chop my head off."

"That is right," said Xie Yanke. "So the silly boy is not a moron after all. Your memory is good. If you were really retarded, things would be difficult. Come with me."

He led the little beggar away from the secluded area and back on to the main road. Soon, they came upon a small shop selling flour-based foods.

Xie Yanke picked two mantou(1) and began to eat. Throwing side-way glances at the little beggar, he chewed one of the mantou slowly and lavished it with praise: "This is really delicious.   It tastes wonderful!" At the same time, he waved the other mantou in front the little beggar: He is used to begging for food, so would he not drool greedily when he sees me eating the 'mantou'? As soon as he opens his mouth and begs me for a bite, I will give him the 'mantou' and fulfil the promise of the Black Steel Symbol. Henceforth, I will be free and unfettered, for this matter will never weigh on my mind again. Although it seemed rather farcical to close the great issue of the Black Steel Symbol with a mere mantou, Xie Yanke felt that dealing with the little beggar was essentially a matter of a fried cake and a steamed bun.
 
Hence, little did he expect the boy to stare at the mantou and drool, without begging for a bite at all.

Xie Yanke soon grew tired of waiting. He had already finished one mantou and the other was by his mouth, ready to be bitten into.   Just as he was about to reach into the steamer for a third bun, the little beggar suddenly said to the shopkeeper: "I want to eat two mantou too." He stretched his hand out towards the steamer and helped himself.

The shopkeeper looked at Xie Yanke to see if the latter agreed. Xie Yanke nodded in delight: When the shopkeeper wants you to pay up, I will see if you are going to beg me or not!

The little beggar ate one mantou after another. When he had eaten four of them, he said, "I am full. I am not eating anymore."

Xie Yanke did not eat more mantou after finishing the two that he had taken, so he said to the shopkeeper: "How much?"

"Two wen (2 copper-cash; approximately 0.02 liang or 1 gram of silver) each," answered the shopkeeper. "Six mantou makes twelve wen (12 copper-cash; approximately 0.12 liang or 6 grams of silver) altogether."

"No," said Xie Yanke. "Each will pay for what he eats. I have eaten two mantou, so I will give you four wen (4 copper-cash; approximately 0.04 liang or 2 grams of silver)." He put his hand into his shirt and began rummaging for the copper-cash required.

To his dismay, there was nothing there! As it turned out, he had used up all his silver and copper-cash drinking in Bianliang City. Furthermore, he had forgotten to exchange the gold-leaf that he had for smaller pieces of silver while he was there. Now, there was no way that the keeper of this tiny way-side shop would give him change for the gold-leaf.

As Xie Yanke was struggled in embarrassment, the little beggar suddenly brought out a piece of silver. Handing it to the shopkeeper, he said, "Twelve wen altogether! I will pay for it all."
 
"What?" asked Xie Yanke in surprise. "Do I need you to give me a treat?"

"Well, you have no money," answered the boy with a laugh, "but I do. What is the big deal about treating you to a few mantou?"

The shopkeeper was very amazed too, as he brought out a few small pieces of silver and several strings of copper-cash as change.

The little beggar put the money into his shirt and looked at Xie Yanke, waiting for his instructions.

Xie Yanke could not help but laugh bitterly to himself: I am an upright and incorruptible man by nature. I have never been willing to receive the favour of another when it comes to food and drink. Yet, I have ended up being treated to 'mantou' by a little beggar. Hence, he asked: "How did you know that I did not have any money?"

The little beggar smiled and replied: "I have been in the city for a few days. Every time I see someone putting his hand into his pocket to take some money and rummaging around with a strange expression on his face, it means that he has no money. The people in the shops say that all those who want to eat for free act like this."

Xie Yanke laughed bitterly again: You actually regard me as a man who eats for free. Then, he asked, "Where did you steal the silver from?"

"What 'steal'?" asked the little beggar in return. "That Mrs Lady Guanyin who is dressed in white gave it to me just now."

"Mrs Lady Guanyin who is dressed in white?" asked Xie Yanke. Almost immediately, he realised that the boy was talking about Min Rou. This woman's sentimentalism has spoilt my plans, he thought.

The two continued walking side by side.

After several dozen zhang (1 zhang = 10/3 metres), Xie Yanke raised Min Rou's White Sword and said, "This sword is terribly sharp. One light stroke and the branch of the tree was broken. Do you like it? Beg me, and I will
 
give it to you." He was really unwilling to be entangled with this dirty little fellow any longer, so he hoped that the boy would quickly make a request and put an end to the entire matter.

The little beggar shook his head and said, "I do not want it. The sword belongs to that Mrs Lady Guanyin. She is a good person. I cannot take her things."

Xie Yanke pulled out the Black Sword. With a nonchalant sweep of the sword, he cut right through the trunk of a big tree by the road. "All right," he said, "I will give this Black Sword to you."

The little beggar shook his head again.   "It belongs to the gentleman in black clothes," he said. "The gentleman in black clothes and Lady Guanyin are together, so I cannot take his things too."

Xie Yanke spat in disgust. "Gouzazhong," he said, "you have turned out to be quite loyal."

"What is 'quite loyal'?" asked the little beggar, not understanding the old man's words.

Xie Yanke snorted and paid no further attention to him. He thought: Since you do not understand what it is, there is no point in my telling you.

"So you do not like to be quite loyal," said the little beggar. "You ... you are not quite loyal."

Xie Yanke was so furious that his face turned green. Almost at once, he lifted his hand and prepared to bring it down on the top of the little beggar's skull (Tian1 Ling2 Gai4). Then, on seeing the boy's simplicity and innocence, he withdrew his hand: How could I put a finger on him? He really does not understand what loyalty is, so he is not ridiculing me on purpose. Thus, he said, "Why am I not quite loyal? I am certainly quite loyal."

"Is being quite loyal good or bad?" asked the little beggar.
 
"It is very good," answered Xie Yanke. "Being loyal is naturally a good thing."

"Now I know!" said the little beggar. "Those who do good are good men; those who do bad are bad men. You do good, so you are a Big Good Man."

If these words had been uttered by others, Xie Yanke would have been certain that they were ridiculing him. Hence, he would have lifted his hand and strike them dead without a thought. All his life, no one had ever called him a 'good man'. Although he had done good deeds once in a while, these were mostly carried out because of mere convenience. They were simply too few and trivial compared to the bad things that he had done. Hence, he did not know whether to laugh or to cry upon hearing the sincerity in the little beggar's voice. He thought: This little fellow is silly and incoherent. He says that I am not loyal, but he also says that I am a Big Good Man. If my enemies hear this, would I not become the laughing stock of the martial arts circle? Where will I put my face then? I had better settle this matter as soon as possible, for I cannot go on being entangled in this confusion.

Since the little beggar did not want the Twin Swords of Black and White, Xie Yanke took out a piece of green cloth and had the weapons wrapped. Slinging the bundle across his back, he thought: What should I lead him to beg me for?

As he muttered to himself, he suddenly noticed three heavily-laden jujube (zao3, or Chinese date) trees by the road.   Pointing to the big red fruit on the trees, he said, "The jujubes here are very good." He had also seen that the trees were very tall; so long as the little beggar begged him to pluck the fruit, his oath would be fulfilled.

Hence, he did not expect the boy to say, "Big Good Man, you want to eat some jujubes, do you not?"

"What 'Big Good Man'?" asked Xie Yanke in surprise.

"You are a big good man," answered the little beggar, "so I am calling you Big Good Man."
 
Xie Yanke's face became stern. "Who said that I am a good man?" he asked.

"If you are not a good man, you are a bad man," said the little beggar. "Then, I will call you Big Bad Man."

"I am not a Big Bad Man," said Xie Yanke.

"Now, that is strange," said the little beggar. "You are not a good man, but you are also not a bad man. Ah, that is it! You are not a man!"

"What did you say?" roared Xie Yanke in anger.

"You are very capable," said the little beggar. "Are you a supernatural being?"

"No!" answered Xie Yanke, his tone softening a little. "Sheer nonsense!"

The little beggar shook his head and began talking aloud to himself: "He is not this; he is not that. I do not know what he is."

Suddenly, he ran to the bottom of one of the jujube tree and wrapped his arms around its trunk. Then, he pushed himself up a few times with his feet and began climbing the tree.

Although the boy did not know any martial arts, Xie Yanke could see that he was very agile as he made the ascent. By and by, the little beggar began choosing the largest jujubes, plucking them and stuffing them into his shirt. Within moments, his chest became swollen with fruit.

He slid down the tree and offered the fruit to Xie Yanke with both his hands. "Eat some jujubes!" he said. "You are not a man; you are also not a ghost. Could you be the Bodhisattva? You do not look the part to me."

Xie Yanke ignored him. Eating the sweet and juicy jujubes, he thought: He has not begged me for anything, but I am about to beg him instead. Turning to the boy, he asked, "Do you want to know who I am? All you have to do is to beg me and say: 'Please tell me who you really are. Are you the supernatural Bodhisattva?' I will tell you the answer then."
 
The little beggar shook his head and said, "I do not beg."

A chill entered Xie Yanke's heart. "Why do you not beg?" he asked at once.

The little beggar replied: "My mother often tells me: 'Gouzazhong, you had better not go and beg of others in your life. If they want to give you something, they will do it without your begging.   If they are unwilling, there is no point in begging them. Instead, you will incur their disgust.' Sometimes, when my mother eats something fragrant and sweet and I ask her for a share, she does not give any to me. Then, she beats me badly and scolds me: 'Gouzazhong, why are you begging me? Why do you not go and beg that little sweet and charming slut instead?' So, I will never beg anyone for anything."

"Who is the 'little sweet and charming slut'?" asked Xie Yanke. "I do not know," answered the little beggar.
Xie Yanke was both puzzled and disappointed. He thought: If this little fellow really does not beg me for a single thing, how will I ever fulfil the oath I made years ago? His mother is probably a mad old woman, for what other reason is there for her to beat him when he asks for food to eat?   As for that 'little sweet and charming slut' whom she curses, it is probably the result of her husband loving the new and loathing the old. Since he has left her, she has been venting her anger and wrath on her son. Foolish rural women are usually like this.

Then, he asked: "You are a little beggar, so do you not beg others for food and money?"

The little beggar shook his head again. "I have never begged before," he answered. "I take whatever people give me. Sometimes, when they do not give, I just take and run when their backs are turned."

"So you are not a little beggar," said Xie Yanke with a wan smile. "You are a little thief!"

"What is a 'little thief'?" asked the boy.
 
"Do you really not know?" asked Xie Yanke in return. "Or are you acting dumb?"

"Of course, I do not know," answered the little beggar. "That is why I asked. What is 'acting dumb'?"

Xie Yanke looked at the boy. Although his face was stained with dirt, his eyes shone as brightly as black lacquer. There was no foolishness or stupidity in them at all. So he said, "You are not a three-year-old child. Why do you not know anything despite having lived for more than ten years?"

"My mother does not like to talk with me," the little beggar replied. "She says that she feels disgusted when she sees me, so she often ignores me for eight or ten days. So I talk to A'Huang, who only listens without saying anything. It cannot talk to me about 'little thief' and 'acting dumb'."

Noticing the absolute absence of craftiness in the boy's eyes, Xie Yanke thought: He is not talking in a roundabout way to curse me, is he? Then, he asked, "Do you not go and talk with your neighbours?"

"What are 'neighbours'?" asked the little beggar.

"Those who live near your house are your neighbours," answered Xie Yanke in exasperation.

"Those who live near my house?" repeated the little beggar.   "Ah, eleven big pine trees and the squirrels on them, pheasants and hares in the grass -- are these neighbours? All of them can only chirp and squeak, for they cannot talk."

"How is it that you have never talked to anyone except your mother?" asked Xie Yanke.

"I have always lived in the mountains," said the little beggar. "I cannot come down, so besides my mother, there is no one else to talk to. Several days ago, my mother went missing. I tumbled down the moutains when I went to look for her. Then, A'Huang went missing too. I asked people
 
where my mother went, where A'Huang went. They said they did not know. Does that count as talking?"

So you have lived in the barren mountains all your life, thought Xie Yanke. Your mother does not pay attention to you, so you cannot be blamed for not knowing one thing or another. Hence, he said, "That counts as talking too. So how did you know that silver can be used to buy mantou?"

"I have seen people buying," answered the little beggar. "You do not have silver, but I do. You want it, do you not?" He put his hand into his shirt, brought out the small silver pieces and handed them to Xie Yanke.

The old man shook his head. "I do not want them," he said. Then, he thought: This little fellow may be muddle-headed, but he is not stingy. By then, he felt quite relieved, for the conversation had convinced him that the boy was not a ploy planted by an opponent.

The little beggar spoke again: "You said a moment ago that I am not a little beggar, but a little thief. Am I really a little beggar or a little thief?"

Xie Yanke smiled. "You beg others for food and silver," he replied. "When they give to you willingly, you become a little beggar. If you take stealthily without considering whether people are willing to give or not, you are a little thief."

The boy cocked his head and thought about the explanation for a while. Then, he said, "I have never begged anyone for anything. I took food without considering whether people were willing to give or not, so I am a little thief. Yes, you are an old thief."

"What?" roared Xie Yanke in shock and anger. "What did you call me?"

"Are you not an old thief?" asked the little beggar. "It is clear that those people were not willing to give you these two swords, but you snatched them away. You are not a child, so you are naturally an old thief."

This time, Xie Yanke was not upset. Instead, he laughed and said, "'Little Thief' are words used in scolding others; so are 'Old Thief'. You cannot
 
scold me as you wish."

"Why then are you scolding me?" asked the little beggar.

"All right, I will not scold you," said Xie Yanke with a smile. "You are not a little beggar or a little thief.   I will call you 'Little Boy' and you can call me 'Elderly Uncle'."

"I am not called 'Little Boy'," said the little beggar with a shake of his head. "I am called Gouzazhong."

"'Gouzazhong' is not a good name," said Xie Yanke. "Your mother can call you by that name, but no one else should. Your mother is really strange. Why does she call her own son 'Gouzazhong'?"

"Why is 'Gouzazhong' bad?" asked the little beggar.   "My A'Huang is a 'gou' (dog). I am happy when it accompanies me, just like you are accompanying me right now. When I talk to A'Huang, it can only bark. But you can talk." As he spoke, he placed a hand on Xie Yanke's back and stroked it several times.   His movements were gentle and his expression was kind, as if he was stroking the fur on the back of a dog.

Xie Yanke sent a burst of internal energy to his back and gave the little beggar such a shock that the boy felt as if he had just touched a red-hot piece of coal. As he pulled his hand quickly away, an indescribable feeling of nausea filled his chest and abdomen, so much so that he wanted to throw up several times.

Smiling yet not seemingly so, Xie Yanke looked at the boy and thought: So who asked you to be rude to me? That should be enough for you!

The little beggar stroked his own chest and said, "Elderly Uncle, you are having a fever. You had better go quickly to the tree over there and rest under it for a while. I will go and look for some water so that you can have a drink. Where do you feel unwell? Your fever is very high, so I am afraid your illness is not light." Concern was written all over his face as he spoke. Then, he took the old man by the arm with the intention of helping him into the shade of the tree.
 
Consequently, the eccentric Xie Yanke found the boy so sincere that he did not use his internal energy to hurt him again. "I am perfectly well," he said. "What illness do I have? Look, has my fever not subsided already?" He took the little beggar's hand and put it on his own forehead.

The little beggar found the old man's forehead so cold that he reacted with even greater anxiety: "Ah, Elderly Uncle, you are about to die soon!"

"Rubbish!" roared Xie Yanke in anger. "Why am I dying soon?"

The little beggar replied: "Once, when my mother fell ill, she felt hot like you did and felt cold again. She cried repeatedly, 'I am dying, dying soon! Heartless One, it is still better for me to die!' And she nearly did, lying in bed more than two months before getting better."

"I will not die," said Xie Yanke with a smile.

The little beggar shook his head, as if he was unconvinced.

The duo walked in a south-easterly direction for a while. Then, suddenly noticing how hot the sun was in the sky, the little beggar went off and plucked seven or eight large leaves from a tree. Xie Yanke thought he was just being playful, so he did not pay him any attention. Hence, he did not expect the boy to present him with a hat that had been fashioned from the leaves.

"The sun is very hot," said the little beggar. "You are ill, so put this hat on."

Xie Yanke did not know whether he should laugh or cry. Since he could not bear to brush the boy's good intentions aside, he put the tree-leaf hat on his head ... and found it cool and comfortable beneath the scorching sun. He had always had people either fearing or hating him, for no one had ever shown him such kindness and care before.   Hence, he could not help but feel a burst of warmth in his heart.

By and by, they arrived at a small town. "You do not have any money," said the little beggar, "so you may have fallen ill because of starvation.   Let us go to a restaurant and eat until we are full." He pulled Xie Yanke's hand
 
and entered a restaurant, but since he had never been to one, he did not know how to order food. Therefore, he took out the small silver pieces and copper-cash in his shirt, set them on the table and said to the waiter: "The Elderly Uncle and I want to eat rice, meat and fish. Take this money."

The silver was worth more than three liang (150 grams), sufficient for a table full of banquet-class dishes.

Delighted, the waiter quickly instructed the kitchen to prepare dishes with chicken, meat, fish and duck. Shortly after that, the food was served. Xie Yanke then ordered two jin (1 kg; approximately 1 litre) of baijiu(2).

The little beggar took a mouthful of the drink and spat it out. "How pungent!" he said. "It is not tasty at all."

As the boy turned his attention to the meat and rice, Xie Yanke thought: Although he is quite naïve, he seems to be innately bold and uninhibited. He does not appear to be stupid, so if he is taught carefully, he can become a skilled member of the martial arts circle. Then, he had another thought: Sigh, there are many people who are neither grateful nor faithful in this world. That beast of a disciple of mine is a rare example of natural talent, but has he not harmed me enough? Why am I thinking of taking another disciple?

The thought of his evil disciple made him so angry that he gulped the two jin of baijiu dry, ate some of the food and said, "Let us go!"

"Elderly Uncle, are you feeling better already?" asked the little beggar.

"Yes!" answered Xie Yanke. Then, he thought: Now, all your silver has been spent. If you want to eat again, you will have to beg me. We must find a bigger town and have the gold-leaf changed.

The duo left the small town and headed towards the east.

By and by, Xie Yanke asked, "Little Boy, what is your mother's surname? Did she ever mention it before?"
 
"My mother is simply 'Mother'," answered the little beggar. "Do mothers have surnames too?"

"Of course," said Xie Yanke. "Everyone has a surname." "What is my surname then?" asked the little beggar.
"I do not know," answered Xie Yanke. "'Gouzazhong' sounds very unpleasant, so do you want me to give you a surname and name?" If the little beggar said 'Please give me a surname and name', he would have considered to have begged the old man.   Thus, Xie Yanke would simply find him a surname and name, and fulfil his oath.

To his surprise, the little beggar said, "It is good if you want to give me a name. But I am afraid my mother will not like it. She is used to calling me 'Gouzazhong'. If I change my name, she will be unhappy. Why is 'Gouzazhong' unpleasant?"

Xie Yanke frowned: It is really not easy to explain the meaning of 'Gouzazhong' and the reason for its unpleasantness in a way that this boy can understand.

Just then, the sounds of weapons clashing were heard coming from the forest towards their left. A chill entered Xie Yanke's heart: Is there a fight over there? The people involved are moving very quickly, so their pugilistic skills are not poor. He turned to the little beggar and said in a low voice: "We will go over there for a look. You must not make any sound." Putting a hand against the boy's arm, Xie Yanke exercised his qinggong abilities and headed towards the clashing sounds.

A few leaps and bounds later, the duo found themselves behind a large tree.

Feeling as if he had just ridden the clouds and mounted the mist, the little beggar nearly laughed out loud in delight. Then, he remembered the Xie Yanke's instructions and quickly clamped a hand over his own mouth.

When the duo looked out from their hiding place, they saw four men leaping up and down in a furious fight. Three of them were attacking the
 
fourth, an unarmed ruddy-faced old man with white hair that came down to his chest. A sabre lay on the ground some distance away. Its blade was bent, indicating that it had been knocked out of the way by one of the attackers. Xie Yanke recognised the old man as the Benevolent Elder (Dabei Laoren) from the Isle of the White Whale. The latter had lost to him by one stroke years ago, so his martial arts skills were really very good.

Of the three who were attacking him, the first was a tall and skinny man. The second was a sallow-faced Taoist, while the third was a strange- looking fellow with a large cross-shaped scar on his face. The skinny man used a long sword, while the Taoist and the ugly man used a chained hammer (lian4 zi3 chui2) and a sabre with a demon's head on the hilt (gui3 tou2 dao1). Although Xie Yanke did not know any of these men, he could see that they were generally not poor in terms of martial arts abilities. The skinny man was particularly skilled, his sword moving continuously with swift and nimble strokes as well as heavy and powerful ones.

Xie Yanke saw that the Benevolent Elder was already injured. Yet, despite the drops of blood spurting continuously from the wounds on his body, his palms continued to move up and down as if they were in flight. Still bold and powerful, he circled a large tree and dodged towards the east and the west, as he used the tree to fend off the weapons of the three attackers. Then, with seizing techniques in his left hand and either a fist or a palm technique in his right, he led his opponents along until the three weapons collided among themselves.

Xie Yanke could not help but gloat: Old Benevolent has flaunted his superiority in vain. Today, the tiger has fallen upon the open plains and found itself bullied by the dogs. The strong has fallen prey to the weak, so I think it will be difficult for you to escape this time.

The Taoist sent his chained hammer around the tree again and again so as to hit the Benevolent Elder on his side, while the ugly man had such muscular strength that his sabre could cut audibly through the air. Xie Yanke was shocked: I have not set foot in the jianghu for a long time. When did these people appear in the martial arts circle of the Central Region? Why can I not identify their techniques and clan-origins at all? If not for them, the Benevolent Elder would not have been reduced to such a battered state.
 
Just then, the Taoist spoke in a hoarse voice: "Master of the Isle of the White Whale, our Clan of Eternal Happiness does not have any conflicts and grudges with you.   Our Clan-Master Situ finds you admirable; hence, he has contacted you with good intentions and invited you to join our clan. Why must you speak words of abuse and curse our Clan-Master? All you have to do is accept our invitation, and we will immediately become good brothers and friends. All issues prior to this will no longer be pursued. So why must you put up such a strong resistance and lose your life in vain, when we can join hands and stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the 'Commands of Rewards and Punishments' from the Isle of Heroes. Would it not be good to face this difficult problem together?"

The last two sentences struck Xie Yanke with a great shock: Have the 'Commands of Rewards and Punishments' from the Isle of Heroes reappeared in the jianghu?

Then, he heard the Benevolent Elder reply: "I am a dignified man, so how can I be willing to associate with shameless people like you? I would rather receive the 'Commands of Rewards and Punishments' and die on the Isle of Heroes. I will never join a group of evil men in an unorthodox clan that commits all sorts of crimes." Suddenly, his left hand shot out and grabbed the ugly man on the shoulder.

What a good 'Tiger's Claw' (Hu3 Zhao3 Shou3)! said Xie Yanke to himself.

The stroke was executed with such speed that the ugly man could not avoid it, although he had tried to do so by letting his shoulder drop. The slight difference in speed was all the Benevolent Elder needed to sink five fingers into his opponent's shoulder.

A moment later, a *rip* was heard. A huge piece of clothing on the ugly man's right shoulder had been torn off. In its place was a bloody wound, for a piece of his flesh had been clawed off as well.

Furious, the three men stepped up their attacks.

Meanwhile, Xie Yanke was stumped: What sort of organisation is the Clan of Eternal Happiness? Why have I not heard about it since it boasts of such
 
highly skilled pugilists? It is probably new, having just been founded recently. What sort of person is Clan-Master Situ? Could he be the 'Eastern Tyrant of the Skies' Situ Heng? Besides Situ Heng, there is no other highly skilled pugilist by the surname of Situ.

The fight intensified.

Roaring like a madman, the ugly fellow sent a horizontal sweep towards the Benevolent Elder, who turned sideways to avoid it. At the same time, the latter struck out at the Taoist with his fist.   The sabre of the ugly man missed its target and ended up being embedded deeply in the trunk of the tree. It could not be removed despite the strength of its user. The Benevolent Elder quickly sank his right elbow into the ugly man's waist.

By then, the Benevolent Elder knew that there was no hope left for him in spite of the resistance that he had put up against his three attackers. Yet, he had been watching the surroundings and had noticed that someone was hiding behind one of the trees -- probably another opponent.   He already had no means to get rid of the attackers before him, so what else could he do when the latter's reinforcements arrive? The weakest among the three attackers was the ugly man. He had to be removed before there was any opportunity for escape, so the Benevolent Elder used nine-tenths of his strength when he sank his elbow into him.

*Peng* The elbow hit its target. Delighted, the Benevolent Elder hurried around the tree. Just then, the Taoist's chained hammer flew out towards him. As the Benevolent Elder struck the chain with his left palm, a white light flashed before him.   He moved quickly to the right, only to find that his stamina during drawn-out fights was no longer comparable to that of his prime.   Before, he could move three chi (1 metre) by simply sliding his foot, but now, he had moved only two chi and seven or eight cun (0.91-0.92 metres). A soft *zip* sounded. The sword of the skinny man pierced his left shoulder and nailed him firmly to the trunk of the tree.

This development was so unexpected that the little beggar could not help but gasp in shock. He had already considered the three men's attack on the old man very unjust, so he became even more angry when the old man was finally cornered.
 
The skinny man spoke in a cold voice: "Master of the Isle of the White Whale, the toast that you refuse to drink has become a forfeit. Would you not throw in your lot with our Clan of Eternal Happiness now?"

The Benevolent Elder responded by opening his eyes wide. "You know full well that I am the master of the Isle of the White Whale," he bellowed in anger. "Do you think that there are weaklings on the Isle of the White Whale who will bend their knees in surrender?" He threw himself forward in an attempt to break free, for he would rather lose his left shoulder than miss the opportunity to fight the skinny man to death.

With a sweep of his right hand, the Taoist sent the chained hammer out. The steel chain wrapped itself around the Benevolent Elder's body several times before the hammer struck him heavily on the chest. The Benevolent Elder howled before turning his head to the side and throwing up mouthfuls of blood.

That was all the little beggar could take. Dashing out of his hiding place, he shouted: "Hey, you three bad men, why are you beating up a good man?"

At this, Xie Yanke frowned: The little boy has gone to stir up trouble. A moment later, delight filled his heart: Well, that is good too. Let the three men kill him. I will not be breaking my oath if I do not rescue him. On the other hand, if he begs me for help, I will deal with the three men on his behalf.

By then, the little beggar had run to the tree and positioned himself like a shield in front of the Benevolent Elder. "You cannot continue to trouble this elderly uncle," he shouted.

The skinny man, who had realised that there was someone hiding behind him, was certain that the child had acted on an instigation. After all, he could see from the boy's gait that he was not trained in martial arts, yet he was terribly bold. Hence, he thought: Let me frighten the little imp and the man behind him will come out. Pulling his sabre out of tree trunk, he roared: "Little Imp, who asked you to get involved in your old man's matters? I am going to kill the old fellow, so are you getting out of the way or not?" He raised the sabre and slashed horizontally through the air.
 
"This elderly uncle is a good man," said the little beggar. "You are all bad men, so I will certainly help the good one. Chop all you want, but I will not get out of the way." When his mother was in a good mood, she would sometimes tell him stories of good and bad men. Thus, in his heart, helping a good man to beat up a bad one was the right and proper thing to do.

"Do you know him?" asked the skinny man in anger. "How do you know that he is good?"

"He said that you are evil men from an unorthodox clan," answered the little beggar. "Since he would rather die than join you, you are naturally the bad men." Then, he turned around and reached for the chained hammer with the intention of undoing it.

At that moment, the Taoist lifted his palm and slapped the boy so hard that his head became dizzy and his vision blurred. His left cheek swelled up immediately with a red five-fingered imprint that looked like a bloody palm.

As it turned out, the little beggar simply did not know the height of the heavens and the depth of the earth. Neither did he understand the complexity of the things that were happening around him.   In Hou Jian Ji the day before, he had seen the men of the Golden Sabre Stockade attack Wu Daotong, but he did not know whether Wu Daotong was good or bad. The men had been fighting on the roof, and when Wu Daotong fell off, he was stabbed immediately in the abdomen by the tall fellow with the pair of silver hooks. If that had not happened, the little beggar might have intervened without understanding the danger it posed to his life.

Since the little beggar appeared very confident and totally unafraid, the skinny man became suspicious: Just who is the little imp relying on that he would dare utter nonsense before an incense-master(3) of the Clan of Eternal Happiness? Turning sideways, he caught a glimpse of a thin figure among the trees. Someone came to mind at once: That man fits the description of the Master of the Black Steel Symbol, the Skyscraping Resident Xie Yanke. Could it be him? Hence, he lifted his sabre and roared: "I do not know what your origins are, or the organisation from which your teacher comes. Since you have come to stir up trouble, I will
 
have to assume that you are merely an ignorant little beggar. So there is nothing wrong if I have you killed with a stroke of the sabre, is there?"

Almost immediately, the sabre came rushing through the air, right at the little beggar's neck.

The little beggar did not move at all! Not only was he unaware of the danger that he was in, he was also resolute and unyielding.

The skinny man allowed the sabre to come within several cun (1 cun = 1/30 metres) of the boy's neck before taking it away. "Good! Your courage is not insignificant!" he said in praise.

His companion, the Taoist, was not as patient. Raising his right palm, he slapped the little beggar harder than he had done earlier. The boy yelled in pain and started to wail.

"Go away quickly if you are afraid of being hit," said the skinny man.

"You go away first," sobbed the little beggar in retort. "I will stop crying if you stop troubling this elderly uncle."

The skinny man broke into laughter, while the Taoist kicked the boy to the ground.

His nose bruised and eye swollen, the little beggar got to his feet and positioned himself once more before the Benevolent Elder. The latter was an unsociable and eccentric old man, so he had very few friends who knew him well. When he saw how the little beggar endangered his young life for his sake without even knowing who he was, he was filled with gratitude. "Little Brother, you will lose your life for no reason if you fight with them," he said.   "That I, Cheng, can befriend you in my twilight years shows that my life was not lived in vain. You had better leave quickly."

The little beggar did not understand what 'twilight years' and 'my life was not lived in vain' were. All he knew was that the old man urged him to leave. Hence, he responded in a loud voice: "You are a good man. You cannot let the bad men kill you."
 
At this, the skinny man thought: The child's appearance is very strange. I also do not know whether the man behind the tree is Xie Yanke. It is not worth our while to make more enemies, but if we leave just because of a few words from the child, does it not show that our Clan of Eternal Happiness is afraid of others? Thus, he raised his sabre and said, "All right, Little Boy. I want to give you a test. I will slash you with thirty-six consecutive strokes. If you do not move at all, I will rest my case. So are you afraid?"

"Of course I am, if you want to slash me with thirty-six consecutive strokes," answered the little beggar.

"It is good that you are afraid," said the skinny man, "for you can hurry up and go away."

"I am frightened," said the little beggar, "but I am not going away."

The skinny man raised his thumb and said, "Good, you have backbone. Watch out!" The sabre cut across the top of the boy's head with a loud whoosh.

Xie Yanke could see the goings-on clearly from behind the tree. The horizontal stroke that the skinny man executed a moment ago was light and nimble, and done entirely with the power of the wrist according to a swordplay technique. Although he did not know the name of the stroke, he saw the skinny man moving the heavy sabre as if it was weightless. The blade slid across the little beggar's scalp and cut off a shock of hair.

The boy remained absolutely unyielding, straightening his body and standing totally still.

The sabre continued to flash this way and that, as if it was a slithering snake. The strokes, regardless of whether they came from the left or from the right, stayed close to the top of the little beggar's head, sending shock after shock of hair to the ground. After the thirty-second stroke, the skinny man roared and brought the sabre down vertically on the little beggar, slicing off the latter's right sleeve. He repeated it on the left sleeve before slashing off part of the left and right trouser-legs.
 
As the skinny man put the sabre away, he took the opportunity to strike the Benevolent Elder heavily on the Shan Zhong acupoint with the hilt of the sabre. Then, he laughed loudly and said, "Little Boy, you are really something, really great!"

Xie Yanke could not help but admire the skinny man's skills quietly in his heart, for the latter had used his sabre according to a swordplay technique that resulted in thirty-six full and continuous strokes without even half a flaw. When he saw the man hitting the Death Acupoint(4) of the Benevolent Elder, he thought: This fellow is very ruthless!

As for the little beggar, the thick and tousled mop of hair on his head went from bad to worse after the thirty-two indiscriminate slashes. When the sabre slid thirty-two times across the top of his head earlier, half of him had stood firm and unyielding in aid of the Benevolent Elder.   The other half had actually been frightened out of its wits, so the boy had not really been unwilling to move. Instead, he had been scared totally stiff. When the skinny man was done, the boy reached out and touched his head. Finding it intact, he heaved a long sigh of relief.

The Taoist and the ugly man cheered: "Good swordplay, Incense-Master Mi!"

"Due to the courage of this young friend here today, we will step aside," said the skinny man with a smile. "Brothers, let us go!"

The Taoist and the ugly man noticed that the Benevolent Elder's breathing had become very weak after being struck by the hilt of the sabre. Since the latter would die in a twinkling of the eye, the duo picked their weapons up and began to walk away. The ugly man was particularly slow in his steps, a sign that his injuries were not insignificant.

Meanwhile, the skinny man lifted his right palm and pushed it against the tree on which the Benevolent Elder was pinned. The sword that had been embedded about a chi (1/3 metres) into the trunk, flew out upon contact with the force of the palm, bringing along a gush of fresh blood from the old man's shoulder. The skinny man caught the sword with his left hand,
 
laughed and strode away without so much as a glance in the direction of Xie Yanke.

Xie Yanke thought: So, this skinny fellow is surnamed Mi, an incense- master in the Clan of Eternal Happiness. It is obvious that he had put on the display of skills just for me. His swordplay techniques are nimble, fast and ruthless, but he is still not equal to Shi Qing of Xuansu Manor and his wife. Does he really think that he can impress me with such skills? Ha ha! Going by his usual temperament, he would have gone up and taught Mi a lesson for showing off his abilities. If the latter showed the slightest sign of disrespect, he would have had him killed at once. However, since the oath of the Black Steel Symbol had not been fulfilled, Xie Yanke was unwilling to get himself into unnecessary trouble. Hence, he had constrained himself to watching the proceedings from the side.

The little beggar turned to the Benevolent Elder and said, "Elderly Uncle, let me bandage your wounds." He picked up the sleeve that the skinny man had sliced off earlier and began bandaging the wound on the old man's shoulder.

His eyes tightly closed, the Benevolent Elder said, "No ... no need! In my pocket ... there are clay figurines ... for you ... You ... " Before he could finish, his head suddenly fell forward. He was dead. A moment later, his tall and big-sized body slid slowly down to the roots of the tree.

"Elderly Uncle, Elderly Uncle!" cried the little beggar in shock as he reached out to support the man. Then, he realised that the latter had already curled up into a still and unmoving mass.

Xie Yanke walked into scene and asked: "What did he say before dying?"

"He said ... he said ... in his pocket are clay figurines for me," replied the little beggar.

Xie Yanke said to himself: The Benevolent Elder was a strange but outstanding man of the martial arts circle. He was not much different from me in terms of martial arts knowledge, practice and cultivation, so perhaps he really had some important items with him. Since Xie Yanke thought
 
highly of himself, he was unwilling to take anything from a dead man. Even if he knew that there was something extremely rare and valuable in the dead man's pocket, he would have turned and left as well. So he said, "Since he has given them to you, take them."

"He gave me to me, so if I take them, will I be a little thief?" asked the little beggar.

"No," answered Xie Yanke with a smile.

The little beggar reached into the Benevolent Elder's pocket and groped around. Then, he brought out a wooden box, several silver ingots, seven or eight thorn-covered projectiles, a few letters and something that looked like a map. Xie Yanke wanted to look at the contents of the letters and the map, but he knew that as soon as he touched the objects, his reputation as a man of noble character in the martial arts circle would be gone. Hence, he kept his hands to himself.

By then, the little beggar had already opened the wooden box. Beneath a layer of cotton were three rows of figurines made from clay. Each row had six individual figurines, making a total of eighteen. Exquisitely made, each figurine was an unclothed male with a body that was dusted with white chalk and decorated with red lines and black dots. These lines and dots represented the arteries and veins (mai4 luo4) and the acupuncture points of the body respectively.

Xie Yanke took one look and knew immediately that the lines and dots on the figurines were actually a set of techniques for cultivating internal strength. He thought: Old Benevolent did an empty favour before he died. Even if you did not give them to him, would a child not take the items that he finds on your body and play with them?

As for the little beggar, he was delighted with the gift. "The clay people are really interesting," he said. "Why are they not wearing clothes? They are fun to play with. If Mother is willing to sew them some clothes, it would be even better."
 
Xie Yanke thought: Although I never got along well with Old Benevolent, he was still a man worthy of his name. His bones cannot be left exposed in the wilderness! So he turned to the little beggar and said, "You old friend is dead. Are you not going to bury him?"

"Yes, yes," answered the little beggar. "But how should I do it?"

"If you have the strength, dig him a hole," said Xie Yanke wanly.   "If you do not, just pile some earth and rocks on his body."

"There is no hoe here, so I cannot dig a hole," said the little beggar. Thus, he began piling earth, rocks, branches and leaves on the corpse of the Benevolent Elder until it was completely covered. Being young, he was not as strong as an adult, so by the time he was done, he was drenched with perspiration.

Meanwhile, Xie Yanke stood by the side and watched without offering any help. When the job was finished, he said, "Let us go!"

"Where?" asked the little beggar. "I am very tired; I will not go with you!" "Why will you not come with me?" asked Xie Yanke.
"I want to look for my mother," answered the little beggar. "And A'Huang too."

Xie Yanke was startled: The child has not begged me for anything from the beginning until the end. If he is unwilling to come with me, things will become difficult. Yet, I cannot use force and pull him along.   I know! Years ago, I swore not to use force on the person who hands me the Black Steel Symbol, but I did not say that I could not use deceit. I have no choice but to deceive him. So, he said, "Come with me; I will help you look for your mother and A'Huang."

The little beggar was delighted. "All right," he said, "I will go with you. You are very capable, so you can definitely find my mother and A'Huang."
 
There is no point in talking further, thought Xie Yanke. I am fortunate that he has not opened his mouth to beg me, or I would not know where to look for his mother and that dog. This is a terribly difficult matter indeed. He reached for the boy's right hand and said, "We must go faster."

No sooner had the little beggar answered "Yes!", he felt his body rising involuntarily and moving as if in flight. "How interesting, how interesting!" he said again and again. As the cold wind blew in his face and the trees swept by, he could not stop cheering: "Elderly Uncle, you are pulling me along and running so fast!"

+ + +

Night fell. The little beggar did not know how far they had travelled. Yet, he could see that they were in a remote and mountainous area. Then, Xie Yanke released his hand. The little beggar found his legs weak and aching. He shook twice, before sitting heavily on the ground. A moment later, the soles of his feet began to hurt badly. He soon realised that his feet were red and swollen. "Elderly Uncle," he gasped in shock. "My feet have swelled up."

"If you beg me to heal you," said Xie Yanke, "I will remove the pain and swelling at once."

"If you are willing to heal me, I will naturally be grateful," said the little beggar in return.

Xie Yanke frowned. "Is it true that you have never opened your mouth to beg anyone for anything?" he asked.

"If you are willing to heal me, I do not have to beg you," answered the little beggar. "If not, there is no point in begging anyway."

"Why not?" asked Xie Yanke.

The little beggar replied: "If you are unwilling to heal me, I will feel sad. Since my feet hurt, I may cry. If you do not know how to heal me, trying to help will just make you feel sad."
 
"Hmmph! I have never felt sad!" declared Xie Yanke. "Little Beggar, we will sleep here tonight!" Then, he thought: Since this child does not open his mouth to beg others, I cannot call him 'Little Beggar' anymore.

Although his feet hurt, the boy was so tired out by the day's running that he leaned against the trunk of a tree and promptly feel into a deep sleep. He even forgot about his hunger pangs. As for Xie Yanke, he leapt to the top of a tree to sleep. He hoped that a wild beast would come in the middle of the night and have the boy mauled and eaten. Then, his difficulties would be over. Yet, to his surprise, not even a hare passed by that night.

The next morning, Xie Yanke said to himself: I had better take him to the Skyscraping Cliff. If he opens his mouth and begs me for a simple favour, he is a fortunate boy.   If not, I would have to find a way to take his life. Who is the Skyscraping Resident anyway, being unable to deal with even a child? Taking the boy by the hand, he resumed the journey.

To the boy, the first few steps felt like ten thousand tiny needles piercing the soles of his feet. They hurt so much that he could not help but yell out in pain.

"What is wrong?" asked Xie Yanke, hoping that the reply would be 'Let us rest for a while'.

But the boy answered: "Nothing. The soles of my feet hurt a little. Let us go."

Furious and exasperated, Xie Yanke dragged him and hurried on.

The duo travelled south without stopping. Whenever they passed through a town, Xie Yanke would simply grab some cooked meat or wheat cakes from a restaurant or a cake-shop. Then, he would eat on the run. If he gave the boy some food, the latter would eat.   If he did not, the boy would not ask for it either.

This went on for days. By the sixth day, the duo entered the high mountain ridges. The boy was not trained in martial arts, yet with the help of Xie Yanke, he was able to hold out against the rigours of travel. During this
 
time, Xie Yanke hoped that the boy would beg him for a rest, but the wish never materialised. Eventually, the old man could not help but admire the unyielding spirit of the boy.

After travelling for yet another day, the terrain became increasingly steep and dangerous. When the boy could no longer climb, Xie Yanke had no alternative but to carry him on his back as he leapt from cliff to cliff. This manner of travel terrified the boy so much that he had to close his eyes time and again, especially when the leap was genuinely alarming.

+ + +

It was around noon when Xie Yanke arrived at a cliff that stood as straight as writing brush. Grabbing the iron chain that hung down from the top of the cliff, he began to climb. The face of the cliff was bare, without any handholds or footholds to assist anyone who was going up or down. If not for that iron chain, Xie Yanke would not have been able to ascend it, no matter how great his martial arts skills were.

When Xie Yanke arrived at the peak, he let the boy off his back and said, "This is the Skyscraping Cliff. My nickname, 'The Skyscraping Resident', comes from this place. You had better settle down here as well!"

The boy looked around him. The peak was quite spacious, but the sight of the curling clouds and mists as well as the thought of being so high up in the air filled his heart with fear. "You said that you would help me find my mother and A'Huang," he said.

"The world is so vast," answered Xie Yanke in a cold voice. "How would I know where your mother is? We will just wait here. Perhaps one day, your mother will come and see you with A'Huang in tow."

Although the boy was young and ignorant, he could tell that Xie Yanke was lying. How could his mother find this dangerously steep and isolated place, much less climb all the way up? As for A'Huang making the ascent, it was an even greater impossibility. Thus, the boy was dumbfounded.
 
Xie Yanke went on: "Just beg me when you want to descend the peak, and I will take you down at once." Then, he said to himself: I will not give you anything to eat. Since you are unable to go down by yourself, you will have to open your mouth and beg me eventually.

The boy had always been treated with coldness and detachment by his mother, but he had never been deceived by her before. Thus, this was the first time in his entire life that he had been lied to. He was so upset that his eyes brimmed over with tears, yet he forced himself to hold the tears back.

Xie Yanke strode into a cave nearby. After a while, black smoke came out of the cave, a sign that some cooking was going on inside. More time passed, and a fragrant aroma came floating out. The boy was very hungry, so he walked into the cave.

The cave was rather spacious, but Xie Yanke had deliberately set the stove and the pot up at its mouth, so that the boy would ask him for some of the food that he had been cooking.   He did not know that the boy and his mother had depended on each other for a living, so he never knew the meaning of 'yours' and 'mine'. When there was food, he would eat, for where was the need to ask?

Since there was a plate of cured meat (la4 rou4, or smoked/preserved meat) and a big pot of rice on the stone table, the boy simply picked up a bowl and a pair of chopsticks. Then, he scooped himself some rice, took some meat and began to eat.

Xie Yanke's heart skipped a beat: He treated me to 'mantou', jujubes, alcohol and rice. If I do not allow him to eat my food, I would obviously be breaking the code of friendship. So, he ignored the boy.

But the boy was used to such a way of life, where two people living together had no words to share. Meals were simply eaten with heads bowed in silence.   Hence, after he had finished eating, he went off to wash the bowl and chopsticks and scrub the pot.   He also chopped some firewood. All these were chores that he did when he lived with his mother not too long ago.
 
As he was about to return to the cave with a bundle of firewood that he had chopped, a rustle was heard among the trees. A river deer (zhang1 zi3) appeared from the undergrowth. The boy lifted his axe and brought it down on the head of the deer, killing it at once. Then, he had it skinned and cleaned by a mountain stream before heading back to the cave, where he had more than half the meat hung up in a windy spot for air-drying(5). Finally, he chopped two of the legs up into small pieces and cooked them in a pot.

Xie Yanke found the thick broth of river deer very fragrant, so he used a wooden ladle to help himself to a mouthful. As a result, he was both delighted and worried at the same time. The broth was so delicious that it exceeded his own cooking abilities more than ten times over, so he thought: Since the child has such a skill, I will no longer be wanting when it comes to good food. Then, he had another thought: He can hunt and cook, so if he does not beg me to take him down the cliff, there is really nothing that I can do.

+ + +

The days passed quickly on the Skyscraping Cliff. The boy's ability at organising and preparing traps for sparrows and other animals were really not poor, so he had plenty of fresh game to cook and share with Xie Yanke. He also had any meat that was left over air-dried or pickled. There was something distinctive about the way he cooked; although the style was rustic, there was often a certain touch of craftsmanship about it.

Amidst compliments and praises, Xie Yanke would ask about the origins of the various dishes. The boy would always reply that they were taught to him by his mother. After close questioning, Xie Yanke discovered that the boy's mother was actually a skilled and knowledgeable cook, despite her frequent displays of irritability and carelessness.   She would ask him to cook nine meals out of ten, and if a particular meal did not suit her tastes, she would point his mistakes out when she was in good spirits. However, if she was in a foul mood, she would simply hit and curse the boy.

Xie Yanke thought: Since both woman and child can cook so well, they must be very intelligent people. So it follows that the woman became
 
unsociable, eccentric and perverse after her husband left her. Then again, it could be because of her unreasonable temper that her husband left.

He was also somewhat concerned about the boy's lack of conversation with him: If this matter is not resolved quickly, it will remain a pain in the neck. What will I do if the boy is misled by my enemies one day and ends up begging me to destroy my martial arts or limbs? Or, what if he begs me never to take a step away from the Skyscraping Cliff? Would Xie Yanke then not end up being imprisoned alive on this barren peak? And if he simply begs me to look for his mother and that yellow dog, it would be a terrible headache for me as well.

Despite his intelligence and resourcefulness, Xie Yanke could not think of a good solution.

One afternoon, as he was taking a leisurely stroll in the woods, Xie Yanke found the boy leaning against a rock and smiling at a pile of objects on it. When he took a closer look, he discovered that the objects were the eighteen clay figurines that the Benevolent Elder had given the boy. The boy placed a figurine here and another there, before arranging them in a row and having them fight one another in a mock battle. He seemed quite happy playing with them.

Xie Yanke thought: Years ago, the Benevolent Elder and I had a duel in northern Mount Mang. His palm techniques wer strong and powerful, while his seizing techniques were swift and varied. After spending the larger half of a 'shichen'(6) (i.e. more than an hour) in battle, he finaly lost by a stroke to my 'Crane Controlling Skill' (Kong4 He4 Gong1). Then, he realised the difficult position that he was in and eventually retreated. Although he was a highly-accomplished pugilists, his strengths were only found in external techniques(7). So, the internal strength cultivation techniques shown on the bodies of these clay figurines are probably very superficial and laughable in the face of martial experts.

Picking up a figurine without much thought, he noticed that it was marked with the Yong Quan, Ran Gu, Zhao Hai, Tai Xi, Shui Quan, Tai Zhong, Fu Liu and Jiao Xin acupoints that ran along the leg up to the abdomen. From there, the marks continued along the Heng Gu, Tai He, Qi Xue, Si Man,
 
Zhong Zhu, Mang Yu and Shang Qu acupoints all the way to the Lian Quan acupoint on the tongue. The line thus formed between the sole of the foot and the throat was the 'Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney' (zu2 shao4 yin1 shen4 jing1).

He thought: This is indeed the correct way of cultivating internal strength. Since the entry-level practices of the various well-known pugilistic clans and schools do not differ much between one and the other, how could these figurines be of value? Yes! The Benevolent Elder focused on external techniques all his life. Roaming the length and the breadth of the jianghu during his prime, he eventually realised that his skills could not be compared to that of others. So he must have obtained these eighteen clay figurines from some unknown place, with the intention of practising the internal and external techniques concurrently. Perhaps, this desire arose after he lost to me.   But the best internal strength techniques cannot be learnt in a day and a night. The Benevolent Elder was already more than seventy years old, so he could only work on his internal strength in the netherworld. Ha ha ha ha ha!

After such a train of thought, he could not help but laugh out loud.

The boy smiled and said, "Uncle, look, these clay people have beards, so they are not children. Yet, they are not wearing any clothes. How funny!"

"Yes!" answered Xie Yanke. "How very funny indeed!" Picking up each figurine in turn, he saw that twelve of them were marked individually with one of the Twelve Regular Channels (zheng4 jing1 shi2 er4 mai4): the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung, the Hand Yangming Channel of the Colon, the Foot Yangming Channel of the Stomach, the Foot Taiyin Channel of the Spleen, the Hand Shaoyin Channel of the Heart, the Hand Taiyang Channel of the Small Intestine, the Foot Taiyang Channel of the Urinary Bladder, the Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney, the Hand Jueyin Channel of the Pericardium, the Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities, the Foot Shaoyang Channel of the Gall Bladder and the Foot Jueyin Channel of the Liver. The other six figurines were marked with six of the Eight Extraordinary Channels (qi2 jing1 ba1 mai4): Ren, Du, Yinwei, Yangwei, Yinjiao and Yangjiao. However, the two remaining and most complicated channels of Chong and Dai were missing.
 
Xie Yanke thought: These look like the entry-level practices for internal strength cultivation from the Shaolin School. Yet, this set of figurines that the Benevolent Elder treasured enough to carry around is incomplete. Come to think of it, if he really wanted to learn some internal strength techniques, all he had to do was to find an ordinary disciple from a school of internal techniques and have him act as an instructor for several months. Then, Old Benevolent would have understood these simple and shallow techniques. Sigh, he was a senior hero with an established name, so how could he have humbled himself and begged others for instruction?

At this point, Xie Yanke began to feel slightly miserable. He remembered the duel he had with the Benevolent Elder on northern Mount Mang. Although he had won by a stroke, it had really been a dangerous undertaking that gave him victory by sheer luck. He thought: It was a good thing that he did not have any foundations in internal strength cultivation. If he had trained up on it during his youth, he would have thrown me into the ravine within three hundred strokes. *Hei hei*, he has died well, died well indeed!

Xie Yanke walked away with a smile on his face. After a few steps, a thought occurred to him: The child is happy playing with the clay figurines. Why do I not seize the opportunity and teach him the internal strength techniques shown on them? I can deliberately lead him into over-practising and a subsequent infatuation with power(8). Then, the energy thus accummulated would burst through his heart and have him killed. In my oath years ago, I swore not to lay a finger on the boy, but since he would die from his own cultivation of internal strength, I would not be considered his murderer. Even if I am the one who has decided to harm his life, I will not be doing it by 'laying a finger on his him'.   So, I will still not be breaking the oath. Yes, this is what I will do.

He had always acted according to his own likes and dislikes. Although he would keep his word in accordance to the high value that he placed on "trust", he did not find humanity, justice and virtue worthy of a single wen (a copper-cash). Hence, he picked up the clay figurine with the markings of the 'Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney' and said, "Little Boy, do you know what these black dots and red lines are?"
 
The boy thought for a few moments; then, he answered: "The clay people are ill."

"How is it that they are ill?" asked Xie Yanke in surprise.

"When I fell ill last year, my entire body had red spots," said the boy.

Xie Yanke could not help but burst into laughter: "That was measles! The markings on these clay people are not measles, but a secret code for learning martial arts. Look at how I flew up here with you on my back. Were my martial arts skills good?"

Suddenly, he pushed himself straight with his feet and shot all the way up to the top of a pine tree nearby. Then, using his left foot as a lever against a branch, he bounced upwards in a delicate curl and came gently down. Almost at once, he bounced up again, eventually repeating the up-and- down routine three times. At the end of it, two sparrows happened to fly by, so Xie Yanke -- who had deliberately put on the show to strengthen the boy's desire in learning martial arts -- caught the birds in his palm before landing gracefully on the ground.

"What good abilities! What good abilities!" said the boy, smiling and clapping his hands in appreciation.

Xie Yanke opened his palms, and displayed the two sparrows that were flapping their wings as if in preparation for flight.   But just as the birds were about to take off, a burst of internal strength went forth from Xie Yanke's each of palms and diffused the energy that the birds had worked up.

The boy was very impressed. "How fun, how fun!" he exclaimed. After all, the old man's palms were completely open, yet the sparrows could not fly away despite the amount of urgent flapping that they did with their wings.

"You try!" said Xie Yanke with a smile, putting both sparrows into the palms of the boy. The boy grabbed the birds and did not dare to loosen his grip.
 
Xie Yanke went on: "The markings on the clay figurines are the techniques for learning this skill. You risked your life to help that elderly man, and he gave the figurines to you in gratitude. They are not toys, but very valuable objects. So long as you master the techniques shown by the red lines and black dots on the bodies of the clay figurines, you can open your palms and the sparrows will not fly away."

"This is so fun," said the boy. "I will certainly want learn it, but how should it be done?" As he spoke, he opened his palms. The two sparrows spread their wings and flew away.

Xie Yanke laughed, prompting the boy to laugh foolishly along as well.

"I will teach you this skill if you beg me," said the old man.   "After you have learnt it, you will have a lot of fun. You can go up and down this peak all by yourself, for you will no longer need me to carry you."

The boy seemed very interested, so Xie Yanke looked closely at him, hoping that the words 'I beg you to teach me' would come out of his mouth. He was so anxious for the response that he began to breathe heavily.

After quite a while, the boy said, "If I beg you, you will beat me. So I will not beg."

"Go ahead and beg," said Xie Yanke. "I have told you that I will not beat you. You have followed me for quite some time; have I ever beaten you?"

"No," answered the boy, shaking his head. "But I will not beg you to teach me." As it turned out, the boy had been deeply scarred by the abuse that he had suffered since young in the hands of his mother. Regardless of what the matter was, he would be beaten as soon as he opened his mouth and made a request. In addition, his mother would often burst into tears after beating him and remain upset for several days. During this time, she would talk constantly to herself: "The One Without a Conscience, I have been waiting for you to come and beg me. But I have waited day and night for several years, yet you have not come. Instead, you have gone to beg that little slut who cannot even hold a candle to me. Why then would you come and beg me?"
 
The boy did not understand his mother's ramblings, but he remembered the words: "You have come to beg me? It is already too late. Why did you not beg me earlier?" Then, a thick stick would come down mercilessly on his head. The beatings that ensued were quite unbearable, so after several such occurrences, he stopped begging his mother altogether. He was about eight or nine years old then.

The days that the boy spent with Xie Yanke in the barren and remote mountains were no different from the life he led with his mother. Hence, in his heart, he had come to regard the "Elderly Uncle" as his mother, a transition that occurred quite unconsciously for him.

A flash of green passed over Xie Yanke's face: If you had opened your mouth and begged a moment ago, and allowed me to fulfil my oath, I would have taught you enough skills to stand proud in the martial arts circle. But now, you have chosen the route of death yourself, so I cannot be blamed. Then, nodding of his head, he said, "All right. You do not want to beg me but I will still teach you."   Picking up the clay figurine that was marked with the 'Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney', he explained the names of the individual acupoints shown and pointed out their positions on the human body.

The boy was not innately dull, so he made an effort to remember what he had heard. If there was anything that he did not understand, he would raise questions in clarification. Xie Yanke instructed him without with-holding any information, before moving on to the techniques of exercising and circulating the internal energy in the body. Finally, he ordered the boy to practise the techniques by himself.

More than half a year later, the boy had made enough progress to circulate his energy through the 'Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney'. The speed at which he had made this achievement caused Xie Yanke to think: I did not realise that you, the 'gouzazhong' (bastard), has turned out to be an excellent candidate for learning martial arts. But the faster you learn, the earlier you will die. Then, the old man taught the boy the acupoints along the 'Hand Shaoyin Channel of the Heart'.
 
The techniques shown on the other clay figurines soon followed, with the boy learning them one after the other. More than two years later, he had mastered all the six yin channels. Besides the 'Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney', these were the 'Foot Jueyin Channel of the Liver', the 'Hand Jueyin Channel of the Pericardium', the 'Foot Taiyin Channel of the Spleen' and the 'Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung'. Then, he began practising the techniques associated with the Channels of 'Yinwei' and 'Yinjiao'.

In addition to training diligently three times a day -- in the morning, afternoon and evening -- the boy continued to trap and hunt animals, as well as cook meat and rice, like he usually did. He did not have the slightest suspicion that each time Xie Yanke taught him a technique, it took him a step closer to the netherworld. Yet, as he neared the completion of the yin series, he often experienced shivers that were unbearably cold. When Xie Yanke told him that these shivers were the expected products of practising the internal strength techniques, he paid no further attention to them. He simply never guessed that Xie Yanke would have a wicked motive: although the techniques taught were not wrong, the sequence in which the teaching was carried out was completely reversed.

The cultivation of internal strength had always emphasised the complement of the yin and the yang, regardless of whether it was for strengthening the body and healing illnesses, or setting a foundation prior to the learning of top-notch martial arts techniques. Fire and water -- in an allusion to two things that are diametrically opposed to each other -- had to work hand-in- hand with each other, so after learning the 'Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney', the 'Foot Shaoyang Channel of the Gall Bladder' should be learnt next. When the Shaoyin and the Shaoyang were blended in harmony, the strength of the body would increase.

However, Xie Yanke had told him to practise only the channels of Shaoyin, Jueyin, Taiyin, Yinwei and Yinjiao, without teaching him any of the complementary channels of Shaoyang, Yangming and the others. Consequently, the yin energy in the boy's body increased immensely over the years, while his yang energy declined. In fact, the accummulated yin energy had reached such dangerous levels that the slightest misstep would immediately be fatal.
 
Yet, although Xie Yanke could see the invasion of the yin energy in his body, the boy had strangely remained very much alive. Almost at once, he understood. The boy was simple and ignorant all along, without any knowledge of the affairs around him or any thoughts that might have distracted him from his training. Hence, he had not reached the point of over-practising and infatuation with power. If it were someone else, he would have been interrupted by the unavoidable emotions and desires of life, and died a long time ago from the slightest flight of fancy that arose.

Xie Yanke thought: This 'gouzazhong' (bastard) is now stuck on this cliff with me, and I am afraid that he has to suffer for a number of years to come. If I allow him to leave, he would probably die within days of contact with the dazzling temptations of the human world. So long as this 'gouzazhong' is alive, people can use him to threaten me, so I cannot take such a dangerous risk. After some thought, he had an idea: I will teach him the techniques associated with the 'yang' channels, without telling him how to harmonise the 'yin' and the 'yang'. When the 'yang' energy in his body has reached a certain level of accummulation, it will begin to collide with the 'yin' energy. A dragon and a tiger in battle will not stop until one of them is dead. So even if there are no distracting thoughts in his heart and mind, he would still die as a result of the disharmony of energies. Yes, this plan is wonderful indeed.

Thus, he started teaching the boy the techniques associated with the Yangjiao Channel(9). He did not follow the sequence of imparting the techniques of the Shaoyang, Yangming and Taiyang Channels first; instead, he had begun with the second most difficult Channel of Yangjiao. As for the Ren and Du Channels that allowed the connection of the yin and yang energies, he ignored them not because the boy had not attained a suitable level of internal energy, but because learning the techniques associated with them did not fit into his plan.

As for the boy, he simply practised as he had been instructed. Although progress was considerably slow, he had a naturally high level of persistence that pushed him along. More than a year later, he finally mastered the Yangjiao Channel. The channels that ensued were increasingly easier to learn.
 
During this time, Xie Yanke would leave the cliff with the boy and go shopping whenever the salt, rice, wine and sauces in his abode ran out. He was uncomfortable about leaving the boy alone on the cliff because he was afraid that someone would seize the opportunity and abduct the boy in his absence. This was equivalent to handing his own life over to someone else. Leaving the cliff several times a year, they would return immediately after buying all the groceries needed at the nearest town. They had never stayed longer than necessary.

The boy grew taller by the day. The clothes, shoes and socks that were bought for him became increasingly bigger as well.

+ + +

The boy was already a young man of eighteen or nineteen years old. Well- built and sturdy, he stood more than half a head taller than Xie Yanke.

Xie Yanke hardly talked to him beyond what was necessary for teaching him the techniques of internal energy cultivation. Fortunately, the young man was accustomed to such a way of life, for he had lived with his mother
-- who also treated him in coldness and detachment - since he was a child. In addition, his mother often indulged in hitting and scolding, but Xie Yanke did not. Not only was the old man neither pleased nor angry, he never laid a single finger on the young man.

There were no distractions on the cliff. So besides trapping and hunting animals for food, the young man had nothing but the practise of martial arts to while away the time. This, in a few fast years, he had almost reached the point of mastery in his practice of the techniques associated with the various yang channels.

As for Xie Yanke, he had chosen to live in seclusion on the Skyscraping Cliff after encountering a terribly disappointing incident at the age of thirty. Hence, he was seldom found roaming the realm of the rivers and lakes. This lack of presence in the jianghu increased in recent years, as he did not dare to leave the company of the young man. Thus, besides practising the martial arts techniques of his clan in a diligent manner, he had found time to develop new sets of techniques for the fist and the palm.
 
One day, Xie Yanke woke up early and found the young man sitting cross- legged on a round boulder in the eastern side of the cliff. With his face towards the first rays of the morning sun, the young man practised his internal strength. Xie Yanke saw a thin whitish wisp of steam rising from the right side of the young man's head, a sign that he had accomplished a significant level of cultivation in internal strength. Xie Yanke found himself nodding his head and saying, "Young man, you already have one foot inside the gates of hell."   He knew that it would be another shichen (two hours) before the young man was finished with the exercise, so he used his qinggong and sped to a pine forest at the far end of the cliff.

The morning dew had not evaporated, so the forest was filled with a refreshing fragrance. Xie Yanke took a deep breath before exhaling slowly. Suddenly, his left palm reached forward, followed by a strike with his right. His body moved according to his palms, weaving in and out among a patch of more than ten enormous pines. Increasing his speed, his palms swept around and struck out repeatedly at the trunks of the trees as a series of soft *ca-ca-ca* sounds were heard. Then, his footsteps became even more accelerated, but his palm movements began to slow down. This contrast in movement -- where speed did not belie urgency and leisure did not reduce ruthlessness -- was among the top accomplishments in the study of martial arts.

Xie Yanke soon became so excited that he suddenly let out a clear whistle and struck the trunk of a pine twice with his palms. A rustling sound followed and pine needles began falling around him like rain. Using his palm techniques, Xie Yanke sent the tens of thousands of pine needles back up towards the sky. Although the needles continued to fall from the trees, the energy that he had worked up with his palms kept these needles from reaching the ground.

The pine needles were sharp, thin and heavy, unlike ordinary leaves that could be carried by the wind with ease. Yet, Xie Yanke, through the strength of his palms, was able to make tens of thousands of pine needles dance in the wind. Although a person's internal strength was quite invisible, Xie Yanke's had developed a vague sense of coagulation.
 
The tens of thousands of pine needles soon became a green shadowy mass, enveloping the spiralling figure of Xie Yanke within it.




Definitions and/or words left (mostly) in their original form:

1.Mantou (man2 tou2) = a type of steamed bread that is often sold as white-coloured fist-sized lumps/buns.   Usually plain or unflavoured, but may occasionally be slightly sweetened.

2.Baijiu (bai2 jiu3) = a clear/colourless spirit (alcohol) that is usually distilled from sorghum or maize.

3.Incense-master (xiang1 zhu3) = a low- to mid-level position of leadership in a clan or sect. Title originates from one of the responsibilities of the position, i.e. to offer incense to deities, ancestors and/or other foci of worship.

4.Death Acupoint (si3 xue2) = see "Shan Zhong acupoint" in Facts and Figures.

5.Air-drying = a way of preserving meat for later consumption, usually carried out where outdoor temperatures are low enough to prevent decomposition.

6.Shichen (shi2 chen2) = a method of calculating time with two-hour slots; where one shichen is two hours.

7.External techniques (wai4 jia1 gong1 fu1) = see "Martial Arts Snippets" in Facts and Figures.

8.Over-practising and a subsequent infatuation with power (zou2 huo3 ru4 mo2) = see "Martial Arts Snippets" in Facts and Figures.

9.Yangjiao Channel = one of the Eight Extraordinary Channels. See "Medicines, Medical Treatments and Bodily Matters" in Facts and Figures.

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