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The Legend of the Condor Heroes Chapter 14


Chapter 14 – The Master of Peach Blossom Island
The power of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ was not light. However, Mei Chaofeng always knew in advance where his attack would go and was able to evade quickly. Several moves later the strange man flicked three pebbles in succession. Mei Chaofeng followed the sound and launched three deadly attacks one after another.

What he saw was six people, five men and one woman, entering the hall. They were the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. They had been wandering around the north and south and on this particular day had arrived at Lake Tai, where they met some Jianghu people on a boat who received them attentively.

They had been away from their hometown for such a long time that they did not know the current affairs of the martial arts world. They weren’t sure who these people were, so Zhu Cong exchanged some pleasantries with them. It turned out these people were Manager Zhang [zhai zhu] and his men from ‘Cloud Manor’ [gui yun zhuang].

They had received orders from Lu Guanying to guard the lake and to report any unusual activities. They did not know who these six people were, and since these six wielded weapons, they were inclined to regard the six as the enemies of the Old Manor Master. Therefore, Manager Zhang acted with utmost prudence and received the six cordially then invited them to enter the manor while at the same time sending a report to the Manor Master.

Guo Jing, however, was ecstatic to see his six masters. Quickly he knelt and greeted them one by one, “First Master, Second Master, Third Master, Fourth Master, Sixth Master, and Seventh Master! You are all here! This truly is wonderful!” He was overly exuberant, but because of his spontaneity everyone could see his sincerity and genuine delight.

Although the Six Freaks were angry with him over the Huang Rong affair, in all honesty they loved him dearly. They were pleasantly surprised to see him and all anger simply vanished into thin air.

“Child, where is that female demon of yours?” Han Baoju could not help scolding him.

Han Xiaoying, however, had a pair of sharp eyes. She saw Huang Rong wearing men’s clothing sitting amongst the group. She tugged Han Baoju’s sleeve and whispered, “Calm down. We will talk this over later.”

Initially Master Lu also suspected that his enemies had arrived, but then he saw that these six were total strangers to him. Moreover, Guo Jing had addressed them as his masters. He was relieved. Cupping his fists in respect he apologized, “I have crippled legs; please forgive me for not standing up to welcome you,” and immediately gave the order to prepare another banquet table for the guests.

Without wasting another second Guo Jing introduced his Masters. Master Lu was delighted and said, “I have heard of your illustrious names and admired you for a long time. It is very fortunate to finally meet you in person today.” His manner was very cordial.

Qiu Qianren, on the other hand, did not show any interest in the six guests. He simply smiled faintly and kept eating and drinking.

Han Baoju was irritated and could not hold his temper. “And who is this gentleman?” he asked.

“I am pleased to introduce him to you, Six Masters,” Master Lu proudly said. “He is the highly respected Senior of Wulin, the Taishan (Mount Tai) and the Big Dipper Constellation [meaning – the ultimate] of this present age.”

The Six Freaks were startled. “Is he the Peach Blossom Island Master Huang Yaoshi?” asked Han Xiaoying. “Could he be the ‘Nine-Fingered Divine Beggar’ [jiu zhi shen gai] Hong Qigong?” asked Han Baoju.

Master Lu smiled and explained, “No, he is neither. He is the ‘Iron Palm Floating on the Water’ [tie zhang shui shang piao], Senior Qiu.”

“He is Senior Qiu Qianren?” Ke Zhen’E asked, surprised by the revelation.

Qiu Qianren laughed heartily with a smug face

By that time the manor staff had finished preparing a new banquet table and the Six Freaks took their seats. Guo Jing wanted to sit with his masters. He tugged Huang Rong’s hand for them  to go together, but Huang Rong simply smiled and shook her head. She was not willing to sit with the Six Freaks.

Master Lu laughed and said, “I thought Brother Guo did not know martial arts. Who would have known that you are the disciple of these well-known Masters? Truly my eyes are blind and could not see the hidden treasure right in front of me …”

Guo Jing stood up. “My skill is mediocre,” he said, “I was indeed taught by these Masters. I do not dare to show off in front of the Manor Master. I beg your forgiveness.”

Ke Zhen’E was delighted listening to their conversation. He was proud that Guo Jing was well-behaved.

Qiu Qianren suddenly said, “The Six Freaks of the South [Jiangnan] are prominent characters in the Jianghu world. This old man has a very important matter to deal with. It would be wonderful if I could acquire your valuable assistance.”

“Senior Qiu was just about to explain the matter when the six guests arrived,” explained the Manor Master. “Now would Senior please enlighten us?”

Qiu Qianren complied and said, “For we who live in the Jianghu world, the ultimate purpose of our existence is chivalry and helping the suffering people. Right now we see with our own eyes the Jin army moving south. If our Song Dynasty cannot discern good from bad and is not willing to surrender, when the war breaks out, I wonder how many lives will perish? As the saying goes, ‘shun tian zhe chang, ni tian zhe wang’ [following Heaven’s will means prosperity, opposing Heaven’s will means death]. Therefore, this old man is going to make contact with the valiant people of the south and to take up arms alongside the Jin army and attack the Song Dynasty from both sides. This will render it helpless and thus it will not have any choice but surrender. If we succeed, not only will we gain riches and honor, but the gratitude of the common people as well. That way our martial arts skills are not useless and we do not taint the two characters ‘xia yi’ (chivalry) with dishonor.”

Hearing this, the Six Freaks’ countenances flushed and the Han siblings were ready to open their mouths. Luckily Quan Jinfa – who sat between them, quickly pulled their sleeves and signaled with his eyes towards the Manor Master, hinting that they should wait to see how he responded.

So far Master Lu had showed great admiration for Qiu Qianren; but listening to his speech he was unable to restrain his great surprise. He forced a smile and said, “Even though Junior is unworthy and my body is as worthless as grass, I have never dared to forget ‘zhong yi’ [loyalty and brotherhood]. The Jin army is going south to attack my country and they mean harm to the people. Junior will certainly join other Jiangnan heroes to fight the invaders to my death. Senior, what you just said, was that to test me?”

“Brother Lu, how can you be so short sighted?” Qiu Qianren asked. “What good is it to help the Song fight the Jin? Most likely you will end up like Yue Wu Mu [General Yue Fei], who suffered a tragic death at the ‘Crisis Pavilion’ [Feng Bo Ting].”

Hearing this, Master Lu was shocked and angered at the same time. Initially he thought he could count on Qiu to help him deal with the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ [hei feng shuang sha]. Who would have thought that he had decided to betray his own country? It was useless to possess a high martial arts skill if the person had such a low character and was this shameless. He flicked his sleeve and said, “Junior is facing a formidable enemy tonight. I was going to ask Senior to help me uphold justice; but since we do not hold to the same values, I do not dare to entertain your honorable presence even if blood should splash from my neck. Please!” He cupped his fists. His intention was clear; he did not want the guest to stay any longer.

The Six Freaks of Jiangnan – along with Guo Jing and Huang Rong, were delighted and secretly admired their host.

Qiu Qianren smiled but did not say anything. As his left hand gripped the wine cup, his right hand moved towards the cup’s mouth, revolving the cup around in his hand. Suddenly he flipped his right hand and flicked the cup away. To everyone’s amazement the cup was cut smoothly into two parts: the cup bottom and about half an inch of porcelain ring. To crush a cup is not difficult, but to cut the cup smoothly was a demonstration of profound energy worthy of respect.

Master Lu realized he was being threatened. While he was still hesitating, the ‘Horse God’ [ma wang shen] Han Baoju had already leaped out of his seat. Angrily he called out, “Shameless scoundrel, let us see who is superior, you or I!”

Qiu Qianren did not falter. “I have heard for a long time of the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’s stellar reputation. Today I want to see whether what I heard is true or not. All six of you, come!”

Master Lu knew Han Baoju was no match for the old man. He was delighted to hear the old man challenge all six of them. He quickly said, “The Six Freaks of Jiangnan always move forward and backward together. Facing a single enemy or fighting an army, the six go together, not a single one of them willing to be left behind.”

Zhu Cong understood very well the Manor Master’s intention. “Very well,” he said, “let us five brothers and our sister fight this famous Wulin character!” He waved his hand and his five brothers and sister immediately left their seats.

Qiu Qianren also stood up, picked his chair up, strolled to the center of the hall, set the chair down, and sat with his right foot above his left. He calmly said, “This old man will fight you sitting down.”
Ke Zhen’E and the others were startled. He knew that the old man would not dare to act so arrogantly if he did not have a very high level of martial arts.

While his six masters had not made any moves yet, Guo Jing quickly moved forward. He had heard amazing stories about this old man’s kungfu and knew his masters were not this old man’s match. He had received his masters’ kindness and even though he knew the risk, he stepped in front of his masters and boldly said, “Junior is asking for some lessons from the Senior.”

Qiu Qianren was surprised; then exploded in laughter. “It wasn’t easy for your parents to raise you. Why would you waste your unworthy life for nothing in this place?”

Almost in unison Ke Zhen’E and the others called out, “Jing’er, move back!”

But Guo Jing was determined. He was afraid his masters would hold him back, so without saying anything he bent his left leg a little bit, moved his right palm in a circular motion, then thrust it forward, hard. It was the ‘The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’ [kang long you hui] from the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’, which he had unceasingly trained hard up to this day. It could not be compared to what it was when Hong Qigong first taught it to him.

Qiu Qianren had judged Han Baoju’s skill when he leaped out of his seat. It wasn’t extraordinary so it was natural that he thought Han’s disciple would not be good either. It was beyond his comprehension that Guo Jing’s attack would be so fierce. He was shocked and hastily leaped up from his chair, only to hear a loud cracking sound. His chair had been destroyed by Guo Jing’s palm.

“Confounded kid!” he shouted angrily when he landed back on the floor.

Guo Jing was a bit wary; he did not dare to advance. “Senior, please give me some pointers,” he said politely.

Huang Rong wanted to disturb Qiu Qianren’s mind so she called out, “Jing ge ge, don’t be so polite to this old scoundrel!”

The old man was livid! As long as he had roamed Jianghu, who would dare call him ‘old scoundrel’ to his face? He was about to thrust his palm to attack her, but suddenly remembered his own reputation. He sneered and lifted his right hand and positioned his left hand on his eyebrows. Then, just when Guo Jing darted sideways to fend, redirected his hand to make a claw then retracted it. The hand on his eyebrows moved forward in circular motion. His right hand followed, changing from a fist to a palm.

Huang Rong called out, “What’s so special about that move? That is the ‘Lone Goose Leaves the Flock’ [gu yan chu qun] from the ‘Open Arm Six Palms Technique’ [tong bi liu he zhang]!”

Qiu Qianren was surprised that she recognized his move. It was indeed the ‘Open Arm Six Palms Technique’, which was created based on the ‘Open Arm Five Elements Technique’ [tong bi wu xing zhang]. It was not an extraordinary move, but he had perfected this move for decades. The word ‘open’ here actually meant that his right and left arms were interchangeable. Guo Jing saw his right hand coming fast, while his left hand moving to the right, then the right hand went back and supported the left hand. Both hands were supporting each other, increasing the strength of both hands and was very fierce.

Guo Jing had seen his amazing strength and he lacked experience in combat. He was a little bit nervous and did not dare to counterattack. He kept stepping back.

Qiu Qianren thought, “This kid could destroy a chair because of his strength, but actually his martial arts are only average.” He immediately launched several stances: ‘Penetrating Palm Hacking Down in a Flash’ [chuan zhang shan pi], ‘Lifting the Cloud Palm Technique’ [liao yin zhang], ‘Step Across the Tiger to Climb a Mountain’ [kua hu deng shan], getting stronger with each stance.

Huang Rong was anxious seeing that Guo Jing was losing. She approached the two with the intention of stepping in if Guo Jing was in danger.

When Guo Jing saw her coming, he turned his head to see her anxious face and could not help but feel nervous. Qiu Qianren saw this and, wasting no time, he attacked with the ‘White Snake Spitting Sign’ [bai she tu zhi]; his palm hit Guo Jing squarely on the chest.

Huang Rong and the Six Freaks – as well as Master Lu and his son, all called out in alarm. They thought that with Qiu’s strength hitting such a vital part, Guo Jing must be dead or at least severely injured.

Guo Jing was also shocked, so he immediately circulated his chi and lifted both arms. Strangely he did not feel too much pain, which puzzled him no end. Huang Rong saw him staring blankly and thought that he was internally injured and was about to pass out. She immediately jumped forward to support him and asked anxiously, “Jing ge ge, are you all right?” Her heart was so shaken that tears flowed involuntarily from her eyes.

Guo Jing’s response was unexpected, “I am all right! Let me try again.” He stuck his chest out, walked toward Qiu Qianren and boldly said, “You are the senior ‘Iron Palm Who Floats on Water’, hit me again!”

Qiu Qianren was furious; he immediately struck another palm at Guo Jing’s chest with all his strength. But instead of collapsing, Guo Jing laughed loudly and shouted, “Masters! Rong’er! This old scoundrel’s skill is only ordinary. As long as he did not hit me, his secret was safe; but as soon as he hit me, his secret is revealed!” His words were followed by a sweep of his left arm, forcing Qiu Qianren to step back. “Now you can feel my palm!” he shouted.

Qiu Qianren saw his movement and thought, “You said ‘palm’ but your hand forms a fist, do you think I am blind?” He underestimated Guo Jing’s attack and simply blocked the fist with both hands in front of his chest. Who would have known that Guo Jing was using the ‘Dragon Battling in the Wilderness’ [long zhan yu ye] which was the most mysterious stance of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. Both left and right arms could be either solid or void without any specific rules.

Qiu Qianren saw Guo Jing’s left arm move while his right arm hung loose; suddenly the right arm thrust forward and hit Qiu Qianren on the right shoulder, followed by a punch to his chest. Qiu Qianren’s body flew out of the hall through the main entrance like a kite with broken string!

Just as everyone uttered a startled cry, somebody suddenly appeared in the entrance. She held Qiu Qianren by his collar while entering the main hall with big strides. She put Qiu Qianren down on the floor and stood coolly at the center of the hall. Her face was cold and expressionless and her long hair lay scattered about her shoulders. She looked up. It was none other than ‘Iron Corpse’, Mei Chaofeng. Every heart skipped a beat.

Behind her was another person no less peculiar than ‘Iron Corpse’. That person was tall and rather thin and wearing a dark green robe. His countenance was pale and expressionless. Other than his eyes, the rest of his face seemed frozen like a wooden statue. He stood still and stiff like a standing corpse. As soon as everyone saw this person, a chill crept down their spines. They immediately turned their gaze away from this person, not daring to look at his face any longer with their hearts thumping.

Master Lu was perplexed. He would never have thought that the world famous Qiu Qianren would collapse unexpectedly from the first blow of his opponent. He was about to smile but, seeing Mei Chaofeng’s arrival, his smile froze.

Wanyan Kang saw his master and was very excited. He immediately stepped forward to pay his respects. Everybody could see that these two, master and disciple, were actually similar in appearance and could not help but be astonished.

Master Lu raised his cupped fists and said, “Martial Sister Mei, it’s been twenty long years and we finally meet here. How is Martial Brother Chen?”

The Six Freaks exchanged glances with Guo Jing. They clearly heard Master Lu calling her ‘Martial Sister’ and could not help but feel dismayed. Ke Zhen’E was upset. “We fall into a trap today,” he said. “Mei Chaofeng alone is not easy to deal with, now she has her martial brother at hand.”

Huang Rong on the other hand secretly nodded her head. “This Master’s martial arts and literary knowledge, as well as his general conduct and manner of speaking, resemble those of my father. I suspected he must have a martial relationship with us. But who would have thought he’s my father’s disciple.”

Mei Chaofeng replied coldly, “Is the speaker my martial brother Lu Chengfeng?”

“Yes,” Master Lu answered. “Has Martial Sister been well since our last meeting?”

“Why do you ask?” Mei Chaofeng answered. “Both of my eyes are blind. Can’t you see it? Your Martial Brother Xuanfeng was murdered a long time ago. That was your expectation, was it not?”

Master Lu was both pleasantly surprised and shocked. The ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ had roamed Jianghu and turned it upside-down…how could ‘Copper Corpse’ have been murdered? But he was also relieved because he had one less formidable enemy and moreover, the one left behind was blind. However, he recalled their apprenticeship together on Peach Blossom Island and could not help but feel sad. “Who killed Martial Brother Chen?” he sighed and asked. “Has Martial Sister sought revenge?”

“I have wandered everywhere looking for them,” Mei Chaofeng answered.

“Let Little Brother help you,” Master Lu said. “Afterward we can sort out our own business.”

“Humph!” Mei Chaofeng sneered.

“Mei Chaofeng!” Han Baoju could not hold himself. He slapped the table and shouted, “Your sworn enemies are here!”

He was going to pounce on her, but Quan Jinfa quickly pulled him back. Mei Chaofeng, on the other hand, was taken aback. “You … you …” she stammered.

At that time Qiu Qianren, who had been silent because of the chest pain from Guo Jing’s punch, felt the pain subsiding. He opened his mouth to say, “What is it you were talking about…revenge? Why, your own master was killed and you don’t know it? What kind of hero are you?”

“What did you say?” Mei Chaofeng almost screamed. She tightly crushed Qiu Qianren’s hand so that he cried out in pain, “Let go…let go!”

Mei Chaofeng ignored him, “What did you say?” she repeated.

“The Master of Peach Blossom Island has been killed!” Qiu Qianren answered.

Lu Chengfeng was stunned. “Is that true?” he asked anxiously.

“Why would it not be true?” Qiu Qianren answered. “He was surrounded and killed by the Quanzhen Seven Masters, Wang Chongyang’s disciples.”

Before he finished speaking Mei Chaofeng and Lu Chengfeng had called out loudly. With a loud thud Huang Rong fell backwards from her chair…unconscious. The others initially did not believe that with his expertise, Huang Yaoshi would easily be killed by anyone; but since it was the Quanzhen Seven Masters, they had to believe it. They knew very well the combined power of Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji, Wang Chuyi and the others would be difficult for Huang Yaoshi to defeat.

Guo Jing, frantic, hugged Huang Rong and called out, “Rong’er, wake up!” He saw Huang Rong’s face was deathly pale and her breathing uneven; he was even more anxious and called his masters, “Master…Master…help!”

Zhu Cong immediately came over and held his hand beneath her nose. “Don’t worry,” he said. “She was only shocked…she is not going to die.” Then he rubbed her ‘Fatigue Palace acupoint’ [lao gong xue] while slowly transferring internal energy.

Huang Rong slowly recovered. “Father…Father! I want my Father!” she cried.

Lu Chengfeng was surprised, but immediately realized, “She is Master’s daughter. No wonder she knew about the ‘Nine Flower Jade Dew Pill’.” He shed some tears and loudly called out, “Little Martial Sister, let us go after those scoundrel Quanzhen priests to seek revenge. Mei Chaofeng…are you coming or not? If you don’t come, let me fight you to the death right now! It … it was because of you that Master met his fate.”

Lu Guanying knew his father was too deep in sorrow to speak coherently. He quickly supported him and urged, “Father, please don’t be so sad. We need to consider it further.”

Lu Chengfeng ignored his son and cried louder. “Mei Chaofeng! You bitch! You have caused me much harm! You are shameless! You ran away with your man, which was all right with me, but why did you have to steal Master’s ‘Nine Yin Manual’ as well? In his anger he smashed the ligaments in the legs of us four martial brothers. Not only that, he expelled us from Peach Blossom Island. I was hoping Master would change his mind and have compassion on us who hadn’t done anything to deserve such punishment. Now that he’s passed away, my hope is shattered …”

“I always thought you were spineless,” Mei Chaofeng scolded, “and you are still spineless. Three…four times you lead other people to deal with us, forcing us – husband and wife to be without shelter; we had to run for our lives and ended up suffering on the Mongolian Steppe. Now you don’t have guts enough to seek revenge for our Master, but keep nagging about settling your own old debts with me. I say we go and find those seven scoundrels and deal with them. If you can’t walk, I’ll carry you!”

All this time Huang Rong was still weeping, “Father! I want my Father!”

Zhu Cong intervened, “Let us ask about this more directly,” he said, walking towards Qiu Qianren. He brushed some dust from Qiu Qianren’s clothes and apologetically said, “My young disciple was ignorant and has offended you; he has no regard for seniority.”

Qiu Qianren was angry, “I am old, my eyes are not clear, I let it slip by. Come, let us fight again!”

Zhu Cong patted his shoulder and pulled his left hand gently, then persuasively smiled, “Senior is an expert; there is no need to fight with him.” As soon as they got to the table, Zhu Cong picked a wine cup up with his left hand, while his right hand covered the cup’s mouth. Then he revolved it around, just like Qiu had done, and flicked the cup to the table. With a clanking sound the wine cup landed on the table, broken into two parts: the cup bottom and about half an inch of porcelain ring. Exactly like Qiu Qianren demonstrated earlier. Everyone was amazed!

Zhu Cong smiled and said, “Senior’s skill is extraordinary. Junior has stolen it from you. Please forgive my offense and many thanks to you.”

Qiu Qianren’s face changed color immediately. Now everybody knew there must be some kind of trick, but nobody really knew what was going on.

“Jing’er, come here!” Zhu Cong called, “Let me teach you a trick and later on you can use it to deceive other people.”

Guo Jing came near and Zhu Cong showed him a ring on his left middle finger. “This is Senior Qiu’s; I borrowed it from him a moment ago. Go ahead and put it on,” he said while taking the ring off his own finger.

Qiu Qianren was startled, then fuming mad. He did not understand how the ring on his finger had moved to Zhu’s finger. In the meantime Guo Jing had already taken the ring. Zhu Cong explained, “This ring has a diamond chip on it, the hardest material on earth. Put the diamond’s tip on the wine cup and rotate the cup with your right hand.”

Guo Jing did so. Now Lu Guanying and the others began to understand. They were unable to restrain a smile and softly murmured amongst themselves. Guo Jing turned the cup in his right hand and sure enough, the cup was smoothly broken into two parts. If one looked carefully, the diamond had left a deep mark on the porcelain pieces; it wasn’t profound internal energy at all.

Huang Rong was amused and she was smiling through her tears; then the memory of her father came flooding back and she cried again.

“Don’t cry, Miss,” Zhu Cong comforted her, “This Senior Qiu loves to deceive people and his words may not be necessarily true.” Huang Rong was puzzled and she looked at him with a questioning look.

“Your father’s martial arts are so profound; how could he be killed by other people easily?” Zhu Cong said with a smile. “Also, the Quanzhen Seven Masters are respectable people and they have no enmity towards your father. Why would they kill him without a reason?”

“Perhaps it was because of Qiu Chuji and the other ox-noses [derogatory term for Taoist priests] Martial Uncle Zhou Botong,” Huang Rong said, expressing a guess.

“What about him?” Zhu Cong asked.

“You wouldn’t know about it,” Huang Rong said, crying again. Even with her intelligence, she was not really sure what really happened. First of all, it had something to do with her mother and Huang Yaoshi did not want to talk too much about it. Second, the business between her father and Zhou Botong was more complicated than her young mind could grasp. She did not want to believe the Quanzhen Seven Masters would attack her father, but the fact was….she was not sure.

“Whatever it was, I’d say this old man’s word is a little bit smelly,” Zhu Cong said.

“You mean he was only … only …,” Huang Rong stuttered.

“Yes, he was just farting!” Zhu Cong laughed. “He has so many tricks stored in his pocket and guess what he would do with them.” Then he groped into his pocket and produced some things which he placed on the table. Among those things were two bricks, some dry grass, a piece of cloth to light a fire, a knife for the same purpose and a piece of flint.

Huang Rong took a brick and as soon as she tightened her grip she could feel the brick was soft. She gripped it harder and, without too much effort, the brick crumbled into powder. After listening to Zhu Cong’s words her sadness was greatly reduced. Her face broke into a smile, showing her two dimples. “This brick is made from bread flour. He used it to demonstrate his profound internal energy earlier.”

Qiu Qianren’s face turned from pale to red and back to pale. He was greatly ashamed. He thought that with the news of Huang Yaoshi’s death, everyone’s attention could be diverted and he would find an opportunity to escape. Who would have thought that his scheme would be revealed by Zhu Cong? He flicked his sleeve and turned around to walk out. But Mei Chaofeng reached backwards, snatched him, and then threw him on the floor.

“You said my Master passed away, did you tell the truth?” she asked menacingly. Qiu Qianren was in too much pain to say anything, he only whimpered.

Huang Rong noticed that the grass was half burnt and immediately realized what had happened earlier. “Second Master, light the grass, put it inside your sleeve, then inhale and exhale.”

The Six Freaks of Jiangnan initially had some problems with Huang Rong, but Qiu Qianren’s trickery had united them in facing a common enemy. Zhu Cong happily complied. Actually he liked Huang Rong’s cunning mind and her eccentricity. Now that Huang Rong called him ‘Second Master’ he liked her even more. He did what was asked and while doing that, he even closed his eyes and swayed his head solemnly.

Huang Rong clapped her hands in delight. “Jing ge ge,” she said laughing happily, “Didn’t we see this old man practicing his internal strength a while ago exactly like this?” She walked to Qiu Qianren’s side and said, “Stand up!” As she pulled him up, she suddenly struck his ‘Holy Way’ [shen dao] acupoint under the fifth rib on his back with her left hand, using the ‘Orchid’ acupoint sealing technique [lan hua fu xue shou]. She shouted loudly, “Tell me, did my father die? If you say he did, I will take your life away!” With a flip of her hand she placed a shiny butterfly shaped steel piece on his chest.

Everybody was amused hearing her threat. She asked him for the truth but she didn’t want him to say Huang Yaoshi was dead.

Qiu Qianren was writhing in pain and also suffering from an itch. “I am afraid he is not dead yet. I don’t know …” he said, trembling.

Huang Rong beamed from ear to ear. “Very good!” she said, “I will spare you.” She struck his ‘Open Basin’ [que pen] acupoint to ease his suffering.

Lu Chengfeng thought, “Little Martial Sister’s question was one-sided and really missed the point.” So he asked, “You said my Master had been killed by the Quanzhen Seven Masters, did you see it with your own eyes, or did you just hear it from somebody else?”

“I heard it from somebody else,” Qiu Qianren replied.

“Who was it?” Lu Chengfeng pursued.

Qiu Qianren hesitated, but finally said, “It was Hong Qigong.”

“When did he tell you that?” asked Huang Rong.

“About a month ago,” Qiu Qianren answered.

“Where did you two meet?” Huang Rong asked again.

“At the summit of Mount Tai [Taishan],” Qiu Qianren answered. “We were having a match and he lost to me. He unintentionally mentioned it.”

Huang Rong was ecstatic. She hopped around like a little kid. Her left hand grabbed his chest, her right hand pulled away some of his beard. Giggling she said, “Hong Qigong lost to this old scoundrel? Martial Sister Mei, Martial Brother Lu, don’t listen to him, he was just … just …” Being a girl, she didn’t have the heart to use vulgar language.

Zhu Cong continued for her, “He was just farting!” then he covered his mouth, laughing.

Huang Rong continued, “A month ago Hong Qigong was with Jing ge ge and I. Jing ge ge, give him another blow!”

“Right!” Guo Jing said, moving towards Qiu Qianren.

Qiu Qianren was frightened and he turned around to escape, but Mei Chaofeng was standing in the middle of the doorway. He turned around again, but this time Lu Guanying blocked his way. He quickly pushed until Guanying staggered and fell. Even though he had gained his fame by deceiving people, Qiu Qianren still possessed some real martial arts skill. If he did not, he would not recklessly dare to challenge the Six Freaks and Guo Jing. Lu Guanying was certainly not his match.

Huang Rong jumped to block him. “You carried an iron cauldron over your head and walked on water, how did you do it?” she asked.

“That was my special skill,” Qiu Qianren answered. “My title is ‘Iron Palm Floating on Water’; that was the ‘Floating on Water’.”

“You are still boasting,” Huang Rong said with a smile. “Aren’t you going to tell me the truth?”

“I am old, my martial arts are not as they used to be,” Qiu Qianren answered. “But my lightness kungfu has been trained to perfection.”

“Very well,” Huang Rong said, “There is a large cistern containing gold fish outside in the courtyard. Why don’t you demonstrate your ‘Floating on Water’ so that everybody can see your skill? Just go out of the hall, turn left beneath the sweet-smelling ‘osmanthus’ [gui hua] tree.” [Note: A fragrant evergreen tree/shrub native to China.]

“How can someone train in a cistern …?” Qiu Qianren had not finished speaking when something flashed brightly in front of his eyes and, without him realizing it, his foot had been grabbed and he was hanging upside down.

“Your death is imminent, yet you still open your big mouth!” Mei Chaofeng shouted. Her ‘Poisonous Silver Dragon Whip’ [du long yin bian] curled in midair and hurled him toward the cistern, following Huang Rong’s directions.

Huang Rong quickly moved to the cistern, waving her butterfly shaped steel piece menacingly. “I won’t let you out of the cistern unless you explain to me your ‘Floating on Water’!”

Qiu Qianren kicked the cistern’s bottom, trying to leap up, but Huang Rong’s steel punctured his shoulder. He fell back into the cistern, soaking wet. With face showing much pain he said, “In that cauldron was laid a thin sheet of iron which was sealed; above it I put three inches of water. In that creek I hid some wooden poles about five to six inches below the surface to make them invisible.”

Huang Rong laughed, then re-entered the hall, not paying Qiu Qianren any more attention. He quickly leaped up from the cistern and hastily ran out of the manor without looking back.

Mei Chaofeng and Lu Chengfeng smiled in embarrassment. They had fought and cried over nothing. Their master had not been killed. Now that this matter was made clear, they felt uneasy towards each other. Mei Chaofeng hesitated for a moment, then clearing her throat she said, “Lu Chengfeng, let my disciple go. For the sake of our Master I won’t remember our past differences any longer. As for the fact that both husband and wife had to flee to Mongolia … oh well, that was our fate.”

Lu Chengfeng heaved a deep sigh. He said in his heart, “Her husband has died, her eyes blinded and she is alone and forsaken in this world. Both my legs are crippled, but I have a wife and a son. I have a family and I have a business. Actually my condition is a hundred times better than hers. Both of us are decades older than we were then, why would I keep holding resentment towards her?” Therefore, he answered, “You can take your disciple away. Mei Shijie [older martial sister], your younger brother will leave for Peach Blossom Island to visit our benevolent master tomorrow. Will you come with me?”

“Do you dare?” Mei Chaofeng asked with a trembling voice.

“To visit Peach Blossom Island without Master’s permission is a big violation of our banishment, but after listening to that old man Qiu talking nonsense, my heart was troubled. I want to make sure he is all right. If I don’t go, I will be haunted with uncertainty for the rest of my life.”

Before Mei Chaofeng could answer Huang Rong had already said, “Let us all go together. I will ask his forgiveness on your behalf.”

Mei Chaofeng was silent for a moment. Two lines of tears flowed down her cheeks. “I don’t have face to see him,” she sadly said. “Our benevolent master had compassion on a wretched child like me. He took me as his disciple and raised me. But because of wild ambition I have betrayed him…” Suddenly she lifted her head and shouted, “I only want to seek revenge for my husband. Afterwards, I know what to do. Seven Freaks of Jiangnan…let us sort out our business now. Martial Brother Lu, Little Martial Sister, you stand aside; don’t even think of interfering. No matter who lives or who dies, I don’t want you to help either side. Do you hear?”

Ke Zhen’E walked in big strides to the main hall, his iron staff striking the brick floor. Then he said clearly with his hoarse voice, “Mei Chaofeng, you can’t see me, neither can I see you. That night when we fought on that barren hill, your husband died a violent death, but our fifth brother also died at your hands. Did you know that?”

“Oh…there’s only six of you left?” Mei Chaofeng asked.

“We promised Taoist Priest Ma Yu to no longer seek vengeance towards you, but it is actually you that looked for us. Good! Even though the world is wide, we always meet each other. It seems like the heavens won’t allow the six of us to co-exist with you in this world. Come!” Ke Zhen’E coldly said.

Mei Chaofeng snorted. “The six of you can attack together,” she said icily.

Zhu Cong and the other Freaks quickly arranged themselves near their elder brother, guarding against Mei Chaofeng’s sudden attack. Everybody unsheathed their weapons.

Suddenly Guo Jing moved forward. “Let your disciple fight her first,” he said.

Lu Chengfeng was in an awkward situation. He heard Mei Chaofeng’s challenge and the six accepted. He did not know how to be the mediator and he hated himself for not having authority or influence over these people. But hearing Guo Jing’s words an idea suddenly came to his mind. He quickly said, “Both sides please stay your hands for a moment. Please listen to Little Brother’s words. Although Mei Shijie and the Jiangnan Six have deep enmity between you, each side has suffered an unfortunate loss. In Little Brother’s opinion, no more blood needs to be shed. Let today’s match only decide victory or defeat, please don’t deepen the enmity. The Six Freaks, although they always face the enemy together, it is still six against one; that, in my opinion, is not fair. Why doesn’t Mei Shijie teach several moves to young Brother Guo?”

Mei Chaofeng snorted and coldly said, “How could I fight an unknown junior?”

“Your husband died at my hands. What does it have to do with my Masters?” Guo Jing called out.

Mei Chaofeng was furious. She jumped up and shouted, “Precisely! I will kill you first, little scoundrel!” By listening to voices she knew her enemy’s position. Her five fingers stretched towards Guo Jing’s skull.

Guo Jing leaped to avoid the attack. “Senior Mei!” he called out. “I was very young and ignorant and I accidentally killed your husband. But one has to be responsible for one’s actions. Today you want to kill me and I won’t run away. But will you still look for my Masters in the future?” He realized he was no match for Mei Chaofeng and was ready to die under her fingers; but he was determined to protect his Masters in any way he could.

“You really aren’t going to run away?” Mei Chaofeng asked.

“No!” Guo Jing asserted.

“Good!” Mei Chaofeng shouted. “I am willing to write off the Six Freaks’ debt. Good boy, come, follow me!”

“Mei Shijie, he is a real man. You on the other hand, will be the laughingstock of the heroes of Jianghu!” Huang Rong suddenly called out.

“How?” Mei Chaofeng was angry.

“He is the only heir to the Jiangnan’s Six Freaks’ skills,” Huang Rong explained. “The Six Freaks martial arts of today cannot be compared to theirs of the past. It would be quite easy if they really wanted to take your life. But they have actually forgiven you. Not only that, they also gave you face. It was you who didn’t know the good from the bad…yet you are still boasting.”

“Did I want them to forgive me? Bah! ” Mei Chaofeng was furious. “Six Freaks, have your martial arts improved greatly? Want to try me?”

“Why would they want to fight you personally? Even their disciple won’t necessarily lose to you,” Huang Rong said.

Mei Chaofeng was so angry she almost screamed, “If I can’t kill him in three stances, I will kill myself right here right now.” She had fought Guo Jing in the Zhao palace and thought she knew his level of martial arts. What she didn’t know was that in the past few months Guo Jing had received the tutelage of the ‘Nine-Fingered Divine Beggar’. His skill now couldn’t be compared to his skill then.

“Good!” Huang Rong said, “Let all the people here bear witness. Three stances are too few, let’s give you ten.”

“I will match Senior Mei for fifteen stances,” Guo Jing said. He’d only learned fifteen out of the eighteen moves of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’, hence he thought he could at least survive fifteen stances.

“Ask Martial Brother Lu and the guest who accompanied you to be the witnesses,” Huang Rong added.

“Who accompanies me?” Mei Chaofeng was taken aback. “I rushed to this manor alone…who came with me?”

“Who is that behind you then?” Huang Rong asked.

Mei Chaofeng threw a sudden backward punch, quick as lightning. Nobody saw the man move, but her attack hit empty space. That person moved like he was a ghost or spirit; the amazing part was that he moved without making a sound.

After she arrived in the Jiangnan region Mei Chaofeng always had the feeling that somebody was following her, but no matter how she spoke or attacked, she could never hear anything. She thought she was losing her mind, or it was a ghost haunting her. And then she heard the flute driving away the snakes and she was certain someone with a very high level of martial arts was shadowing her. She had tried to express her gratitude to the air, but nobody answered. She waited among the trees, but was not sure if that person had left or not. Now she heard Huang Rong speak and she was unable to hide her feeling.

“Who are you?” she asked, trembling, “What do you want from me?”

That person did not answer. Nobody knew if he even heard the question. Mei Chaofeng thrust herself forward. That person did not seem to move but again she did not touch anything. Everybody was stunned. They had never seen someone with this person’s immeasurable skill.

Lu Chengfeng boldly asked, “The Honorable Guest has come from a long way and I have not had the opportunity to welcome you. Would you please sit down and have a drink with me?”

That person turned around, seemingly floating on air as he went outside.

Mei Chaofeng gathered her courage and asked, “Is Honorable Senior the one who played the flute to help me? Mei Chaofeng is deeply grateful.”

Nobody was able to restrain their amazement. Being a blind woman, Mei Chaofeng had very sharp ears, but she could not hear that person leaving the hall.

“Mei Shijie, that person has already left,” Huang Rong said.

Mei Chaofeng was startled. “He did? I … How could I not hear him?”

“Go after him quickly; don’t boast about yourself in here,” Huang Rong said.

Mei Chaofeng was dumbfounded. Her face showed sadness, yet there was a tinge of anger. Suddenly she shouted, “Guo Kid, take this!” She lifted both hands with all ten fingers out-stretched, emanating a spooky bluish green aura in the candlelight; but she did not attack.

“I am here,” Guo Jing said.

As soon as Mei Chaofeng heard the word ‘I’ her right hand moved, followed by her left hand’s five fingers, towards Guo Jing’s face.

Guo Jing saw her fast movement; he slightly leaned his body sideways and sent his left palm toward her. Mei Chaofeng heard the sound of the palm and was about to evade, but she was not fast enough for the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ exquisite move and her shoulder was struck. She was shaken and forced to retreat three steps. But her martial arts were not weak. While stepping backwards she sent her fingernails to counterattack. Guo Jing was taken by surprise and his right wrist was caught by Mei Chaofeng on three acupoints: ‘Inner Gate’ [nei guan], ‘Outer Gate’ [wai guan], and ‘Ancestor Meeting’ [hui zong]. Guo Jing had carefully heeded his masters warning, that Mei Chaofeng’s ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ [jiu yin bai gu zhua] was very lethal; hence he guarded himself carefully. But now he could not avoid being grasped by those deadly fingers. “Not good!” he screamed. His whole body felt weak. In that critical moment he managed to bend two fingers, and with his hand forming a half-palm-half-fist he hit her chest. That was the ‘Hidden Dragon is Forbidden’ [qian long wu yong]. It was supposed to be followed by his left hook – a brilliant stance difficult to fend; but since his left wrist was in the enemy’s hand, he could only launch a half stance. But the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ was amazing and even a half stance was no small matter.

Mei Chaofeng heard the incredible wind generated by this half-palm-half-fist move; she did not dare to parry but tried to elude it. Still her shoulder was hit very hard and she was forced to let Guo Jing go.

As Guo Jing was struggling to free himself, he pulled hard, so when his hand was suddenly free both people were thrown backwards and each hit a pillar. The roof shook and bricks, stones and dust fell down into the hall. Many manor people cried out and ran to escape.

The Six Freaks of Jiangnan looked at each other with amazement but were also pleasantly surprised. “Where did Jing’er learn this kungfu?” they asked in their hearts. Han Baoju looked at Huang Rong suspiciously; he thought she was the one who taught Guo Jing and secretly felt admiration, “Peach Blossom Island’s martial arts are amazing.”

By now Guo Jing and Mei Chaofeng were engaged in a fierce battle. Palms, fists, and claws were exchanged. Mei Chaofeng was furious and she fought with gusto. Guo Jing was calm but agile. Both had exerted their full strength and the hall was filled with the sound of their blows.

Suddenly Mei Chaofeng jumped vertically; her attacks seemed to come from every direction, one after another, ever changing. Guo Jing knew this attack was fierce and he would suffer defeat if he left any openings in his defense. He recalled Hong Qigong’s lesson on how to deal with Huang Rong’s ‘Peach Blossom Divine Sword Palm [tao hua shen jian zhang]; no matter how many changes his opponent executed he steadily used fifteen moves out of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’.

By repeating these fifteen moves he was able to defend himself for forty to fifty moves; without giving Mei Chaofeng even half a step advantage.

Huang Rong was keeping her eyes on her ‘Jing ge ge’ with a smile on her pretty face. The Six Freaks stood still in amazement, sometimes clucking their tongues in praise. Lu Chengfeng and his son could only look on in dismay.

“Mei Shijie has improved so much,” Lu Chengfeng thought. “If I had to fight her, I would certainly lose my life in only ten moves … This young Brother Guo, how could he master such a profound kungfu at his young age? I was really blind … Luckily I was not careless or indiscreet, but treated him with politeness and respect.”

Wanyan Kang was also upset, “I was supposed to compete with this boy; with his kungfu, how could I win?”

“Mei Shijie, you have been fighting for more than eighty moves. Why don’t you admit defeat?” Huang Rong loudly called out. Actually they had only fought for about sixty moves, but she exaggerated by adding twenty more.

Mei Chaofeng was fuming. “I have trained hard for dozens of years but cannot cope with this kid?” she thought. She ignored Huang Rong’s remark and increased the speed of her attacks. Her kungfu was actually many times better than Guo Jing’s; but first, she was at a disadvantage because of her blindness, and second, she could not think straight because her heart was filled with rage in her efforts to seek revenge for her husband. Anger is a big taboo in a battle between two martial arts experts. Thirdly, Guo Jing had the advantage of a youth’s strength, plus he had mastered most of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. Therefore, the battle between these two was extremely fierce.

After about a hundred moves, Mei Chaofeng started to recognize and become more familiar with Guo Jing’s fifteen moves. She knew Guo Jing’s line of defense was formidable; she could feel the wind from more than ten feet away. But she also knew that performing the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ took a lot of energy, and her internal energy was stronger than Guo Jing’s. Therefore, Mei Chaofeng changed her tactics and was trying to tire him. She used the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ and ‘Heart Destroying Palm Technique’ [cui xin zhang] interchangeably.

Huang Rong knew if this fight was further prolonged, Guo Jing would suffer defeat. “Mei Shijie, it’s more than a hundred moves and quickly will reach the two-hundredth move. You still don’t want to admit defeat?” she called. But Mei Chaofeng turned a deaf ear and increased the intensity of her attacks.

Suddenly Huang Rong had an idea; she leaped to a nearby pillar and called out, “Jing ge ge, look at me!” Guo Jing launched two moves in succession: ‘Wading a Wide Creek’ [li she da chuan] and the ‘Phoenix Slowly Arises from the Land’ [hong jian yu lu], and managed to push Mei Chaofeng back far enough so that he could turn his eyes to Huang Rong. He saw her running around the pillar and making some hand signals, but did not understand what she wanted. So she called out again, “Fight here!”

Guo Jing finally understood; he turned around and leaped toward a nearby pillar. Mei Chaofeng followed with her five fingers to grab him, but her claw ended up penetrating the pillar. As a blind woman, she used sounds to know the whereabouts of her opponent; but the pillar was fixed in place and did not make any sounds at all. When Guo Jing hid behind one, how would she know?

As soon as Guo Jing overcame his surprise he immediately launched a palm which Mei Chaofeng parried. Two forces collided and both were pushed back several steps while Mei Chaofeng’s fingers were freed from the pillar. Mei Chaofeng was very angry and she did not waste another second. Before Guo Jing could steady himself she sent another attack his way.

Guo Jing was able to elude it, but his clothes were ripped and his arm was scratched by her fingernails. Luckily he was not injured, but Mei Chaofeng had scared the hell out of him. Guo Jing quickly counterattacked by launching three successive moves combined with hiding behind the pillar. Mei Chaofeng shouted angrily as once again her fingers pierced the pillar.

Actually Guo Jing did not want to take advantage of her blindness, so he loudly called out, “Senior Mei, my kungfu is far inferior to yours; please show me mercy!”

Everybody could see that Guo Jing had gained the upper hand albeit with the help of the pillar. They knew he was giving Mei Chaofeng face by asking her to stop. Lu Chengfeng also thought that this was a good time to stop the fight.

But Mei Chaofeng coldly said, “If we were competing in martial arts and when I could not defeat you in three moves I should have admitted defeat. But today’s fight is not a martial arts competition; I am seeking revenge for my husband. I have already lost to you, but I still want to kill you!” As soon as she finished speaking both arms launched successive attacks: three times with her right hand and another three with her left. Each attack hit the pillar squarely on. Finally both her hands hit the pillar at the same time. With a loud crack the pillar broke and the roof collapsed.

The people in the hall were martial artists; even though they were shocked they could still jump out to escape. Lu Guanying grabbed his father and rushed outside just in time before half the hall was filled with debris. Unfortunately the Jin officer was not able to escape and his legs were pinned beneath a beam. He was screaming for help. Wanyan Kang rushed to his rescue. He lifted the beam up, pulled him up, grabbed his hands and took him out of the hall. As soon as they turned their backs they suddenly felt numbness; without knowing who, someone had sealed their acupoints.

Mei Chaofeng had always concentrated her attention on Guo Jing. As soon as she heard Guo Jing move she followed. By now, under heavy cloud, the outside was dark. As soon as everybody was able to calm him or herself, they could see Guo Jing’s and Mei Chaofeng’s fight had become fiercer than ever. They fought in the dim light; both parties exchanged swift blows one after another, creating gusts of wind everywhere. Compared to the fight inside the hall this fight was more intense.

The darkness was a disadvantage for Guo Jing and he started to fall under Mei Chaofeng’s attacks. Mei Chaofeng’s left leg made a sweeping move, followed by her right leg kicking toward his legs. If he was hit, his leg would break for sure. But this kick was a trick move. Mei Chaofeng unexpectedly held her leg half way and her left arm grabbed Guo Jing’s leg. Lu Guanying was looking from the sidelines. “Watch out!” he cried. He had experienced defeat from Wanyan Kang with this exact same move.

In this dangerous situation Guo Jing tried hard to overcome his fear and used his left hand to parry Mei Chaofeng’s hand. He was fast enough, but his strength was waning. As soon as their hands collided, Mei Chaofeng understood his situation. She immediately turned her hand over and used three fingers: middle, ring, and little finger to scratch the back of Guo Jing’s hand. Guo Jing also realized the danger he was in as his right palm thrust toward her. It was a fierce attack; if Mei Chaofeng did not back off, both of them would be injured. Mei Chaofeng avoided the attack by leaping sideways and then uttered a sinister laugh.

Guo Jing felt his left hand become numb and itchy, then felt a burning sensation. Lowering his head he saw three scratch marks on the back of his left hand. The scratches were bleeding only a little but the blood slowly turned black. He suddenly remembered the time he climbed that hill on the Mongolian Steppe and saw nine skulls Mei Chaofeng left behind. Priest Ma Yu had told him that Mei’s fingernails contained lethal poison and he knew immediately that his life was in grave danger.

“Rong’er, I have been poisoned!” he called out. Without waiting for Huang Rong’s response he immediately jumped forward and threw both palms at Mei Chaofeng. His intention was to seize her and force her to hand over the antidote. It was his only chance of survival.

Mei Chaofeng recognized the fierceness of his attack and jumped back to elude. Huang Rong and the others were greatly shocked by Guo Jing’s revelation. Almost together Ke Zhen’E with his iron staff followed by Huang Rong and the rest of the Six Freaks jumped forward and surrounded Mei Chaofeng.

“Mei Shijie!” Huang Rong shouted, “You have already lost! How could you keep fighting? Quickly, bring out the antidote and save him!”

Mei Chaofeng felt Guo Jing’s attack was both swift and fierce; she did not dare to lose her concentration by replying to Huang Rong’s remark. In her heart she was delighted, “The more you exert your energy, the quicker the poison will attack your system. Should I die here and now, I still have succeeded in gaining revenge for my husband.”

Guo Jing noticed his vision blurring, his head felt dizzy and his whole body felt weak. As he gradually lost control of his left arm, he decided to stop fighting. The poison had begun to enter his system. Had he not drunk the snake’s blood he would have died by now.

Huang Rong saw his dazed condition and loudly called, “Jing ge ge, get back!” Taking out a butterfly steel needle she jumped toward Mei Chaofeng.

Guo Jing heard her call and it raised his spirits. He thrust his left palm using the eleventh stance of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’, ‘Sudden Advent’ [tu ru qi lai] only his arm moved slower than it was supposed to.

Huang Rong, Han Baoju, Nan Xiren and Quan Jinfa moved together to attack Mei Chaofeng but saw Guo Jing’s palm squarely hit Mei Chaofeng’s shoulder. She fell down without even having tried to fend against the attack. Mei Chaofeng relied on her ears to locate her opponent’s movement and Guo Jing’s attack was so slow it did not make any noise. That was the reason she was easily hit.

Huang Rong was startled, but Han, Nan and Quan had simultaneously thrown themselves on Mei Chaofeng’s body to seize her. But she struggled and was able to send Han Baoju and Quan Jinfa flying backward, while at the same time striking backward to grasp Nan Xiren’s arm. Nan Xiren saw this attack coming and rolled out of the way.

Mei Chaofeng took advantage of this chaotic situation to leap up, but Guo Jing’s palm unexpectedly arrived on her back and she tumbled down one more time. Guo Jing’s palm was swift and silent, but it was weak. Even though she was hit on a vital place, she was not injured.

After attacking twice Guo Jing’s energy was depleted; he staggered and fell down right next to Mei Chaofeng. Huang Rong immediately threw herself toward him to protect him.

Mei Chaofeng heard someone falling at her side and without wasting a single moment she sent five fingers to grab, but to her surprise she felt pricking pain. She realized she had hit the thorns on Huang Rong’s ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ [ruan wei jia]. Hastily she used ‘To Leap Like a Carp’ [li yu da ting] to get away.

Suddenly somebody shouted, “Take this!” and something was thrown her way. Mei Chaofeng did not know what was being thrown so she just lifted her right arm to parry. That thing fell down broken to pieces. It turned out it was a chair.

That chair was followed by another thing, bigger than the first. This time ‘Iron Corpse’ stretched her left hand to grab it. It was a tabletop; wide and slippery, so she could not get a good grasp. Who threw all these things at her? It was Zhu Cong. He immediately threw a couple of table legs her way. Mei Chaofeng lifted her leg and kicked them away. Zhu Cong eluded them but at the same time stretched out his right hand and suddenly Mei Chaofeng felt three things slip down her collar. They were cold and slippery, and kept wiggling inside her clothes. She was frightened, “What are these things? Is it some witchcraft or secret weapons?” Hastily she groped around inside her clothes and caught three goldfish.

She was relieved, but suddenly she froze! Her porcelain antidote bottle had disappeared, along with her dagger and the scroll of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ which was wrapped around the dagger.

The three goldfish were from the cistern that was crushed when the roof collapsed. Zhu Cong knew Mei Chaofeng was careful and could not be easily deceived, unlike Peng Lianhu or Qiu Qianren; so he used the goldfish to divert her attention while at the same time executed his quick hand to take Mei Chaofeng’s pocket’s contents. He took the porcelain bottle out, pulled its stopper and took it to Ke Zhen’E to smell while whispering softly, “Well?”

Ke Zhen’E was an expert at using poison. As soon as he smelled the antidote he said, “To be taken orally and also applied to the wound. This is the antidote.”

Mei Chaofeng heard their conversation and immediately realized what happened. Furiously she leaped toward them. Ke Zhen’E swung his iron staff to block her, assisted by Han Baoju’s ‘Golden Dragon Whip’ [jin long bian], Quan Jinfa’s ‘Weighing Scale’ [cheng gan], and Nan Xiren’s ‘Steel Carrying Pole’ [chun gang bian dan]. Mei Chaofeng quickly put her hand to her waist to retrieve her own ‘Poison Silver Dragon Whip’ but suddenly heard a gust of wind from a sword coming her way. It was Han Xiaoying. She was forced to parry this attack first.

Meanwhile Zhu Cong gave the antidote to Huang Rong. “Have him swallow some, then spread some on his wound,” he said. Then he put the dagger he took from Mei Chaofeng into Guo Jing’s pocket. “This dagger was yours,” he said. Joining his brothers and sister he raised his iron fan to attack Mei Chaofeng. The six had trained hard these past ten years and had improved their martial arts considerably. Therefore, this battle was many times fiercer than the one on that barren Mongolian hill.

Lu Chengfeng and his son were amazed witnessing this fierce battle. “Mei Chaofeng’s martial arts are no doubt swift, fierce and ruthless, but these Six Freaks of Jiangnan certainly live up to their names,” they thought. “Ladies and gentlemen, please stop! Please listen to what I have to say!” Lu Chengfeng shouted loudly. But both parties were fighting fiercely, who would actually have time to listen to him?

Not long after he took the antidote, Guo Jing was slowly regaining his sense. The poison had attacked his system quickly, but the antidote also neutralized it fast. His wound was still hurting, but he was able to move his left arm. After putting the dagger away he immediately jumped up and re-joined the battle. Learning from before, he started slowly and when his palm was almost touching Mei Chaofeng’s body, he added more strength. It was the stance ‘A Hundred Li Shock’ [zhen jing bai li]. Mei Chaofeng was busy fending off her attackers and could not hear Guo Jing’s palm. She was hit suddenly and fell down immediately right at the moment when Han Baoju’s whip and Nan Xiren’s pole were coming down on her.

Guo Jing leaned and parried those two weapons. “Masters! Please show mercy!” he shouted. The Six Freaks complied. They withdrew their weapons and leaped back.

Mei Chaofeng stood up and got ready to fight again. Knowing that Guo Jing was fierce and she could not see, she took her ‘Poison Silver Dragon Whip’ [du long yin bian] and readied it in front of her. Guo Jing did not move, “We are not going to fight you anymore. You are free to go!” he shouted.

Mei Chaofeng put her whip back and said, “Please return my manual.” Zhu Cong was puzzled. “I did not take your manual,” he said. “You know the Seven Freaks have never lied.” He did not realize that the skin wrapped around the dagger was the ‘Nine Yin Manual’.

Mei Chaofeng knew that even though the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan had deep enmity toward her, they always meant what they said and never deceived anybody. She thought the manual must have fallen when she was fighting Guo Jing a moment ago. So she bent down and groped around on the ground looking for the manual. Where could that manual be?

A blind lady groping around the ground made a pitiful scene. Lu Chengfeng told his son, “Guanying, help your Martial Uncle Mei to look.” But in his heart he was thinking that the manual belonged to his Master, therefore, it must be returned to the Master. He faked a cough to signal his son and Lu Guanying understood. He nodded. Guo Jing was also looking around, but where did that manual go?

“Mei Shijie,” Lu Chengfeng said, “Your manual is not here; perhaps you dropped it on your way here.”

Mei Chaofeng did not answer; she kept groping around. Suddenly everybody’s eyes were blurred as that green-robed man reappeared beside her. His movement was so swift that nobody saw anything as Mei Chaofeng’s body was lifted off the ground and an instant later they were gone, vanishing among the trees outside the hall. Mei Chaofeng was very skilled, yet that man had captured her without any struggle. They looked at each other in blank dismay. This person’s skill was unbelievable.

The hall was quiet; only the distant sound of the waves of the lake lapping the shore could be heard. A long while later Ke Zhen’E broke the silence. “My young disciple fought that wicked woman and damaged your mansion. I feel deep regret.”

“I do not dare complain,” Lu Chengfeng answered. “The Six Freaks and Hero Guo visiting our place today was an honor to us all. No need to mention that you have helped my family escape a disaster. What Hero Ke just said, wouldn’t that make us seem like strangers?”

“I invite the honorable guests to take a rest inside the hall,” Lu Guanying added. “Brother Guo, are you still in pain?”

“I am all right,” answered Guo Jing. At that moment the green-robed man came back along with Mei Chaofeng. They stood in front of the hall. Mei Chaofeng put her hands on her waist and shouted, “Guo Kid! You used Hong Qigong’s ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ to fight me. I am blind and could not see your moves. Mei Chaofeng does not care about life or death, victory or defeat; but if this matter were spread in the Jianghu world, wouldn’t the reputation of my Benevolent Master of Peach Blossom Island be ruined? Come! Let us fight again!”

“I am not your match,” Guo Jing answered honestly. “I took advantage of your blindness to protect my own life. I admitted defeat a while ago.”

“The ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ have eighteen moves,” Mei Chaofeng asked, “Why did you only use part of it?”

“Because I am not smart …” Guo Jing answered; Huang Rong signaled him not to reveal his secret, but Guo Jing continued, “… Senior Hong only taught me fifteen moves.”

“Very good!” Mei Chaofeng said. “You only know fifteen moves yet you defeated Mei Chaofeng. Is that old man Hong Qigong really that good? No! I can’t accept it. We must fight again!”

Everybody felt this was strange; apparently Mei Chaofeng had not come back to avenge her husband, but to dispute Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong’s reputations.

Guo Jing was still calm. “Miss Huang is younger than I am, yet I’m still not her match; how could I be your match?” he said. “I have always admired Peach Blossom Island’s martial arts.”

“Mei Shijie,” Huang Rong interrupted. “What are you talking about? Who in the world can surpass Father’s martial arts skill?

“Still, I must fight him again!” Mei Chaofeng insisted. Without waiting for Guo Jing to answer she stretched her claw towards him. Guo Jing could not hold himself back much longer and so eluded the attack. He said, “If that’s the case, I will ask Senior Mei to give me some lessons.” Then he launched a strong counterattack.

Mei Chaofeng parried it by turning her hand. “Use your silent moves!” she said, “You are not my match if you are using loud moves.”

Guo Jing leaped back several steps and said, “My First Master Ke’s eyes are not perfect. I hate when others bully him with silent moves. How could I use silent moves to bully you? I was injured by your poison and at that critical moment I inadvertently use a silent move. If we fight fair and square, frankly I am not your match.”

Mei Chaofeng could hear the sincerity in his voice, her heart was stirred. “This kid is kind hearted,” she thought. But she shouted, “I told you to use your silent moves. I have a way to counter it, why do you keep nattering like an old woman?”

Guo Jing looked at that strange green-robed man. “Could it be that he taught her how to cope with silent moves just now?” he thought. But because Mei Chaofeng insisted, he did not have any choice but to comply. “Very well,” he finally said. “I will fight you another fifteen moves.” He thought that by using the fifteen out of ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ he might not win, but at least he could defend himself.

Guo Jing jumped to get closer to her, then continued by tiptoeing forward, slowly sending his palm to strike. But before his palm hit its target he heard a light sound and Mei Chaofeng turned her wrist to grab his hand. It was like her eyes were not blind at all. Guo Jing was surprised; he immediately pulled his left palm and slid his body to the left to launch the ‘Skillfully Crossing a Vast River’ slowly.

His palm had only moved several inches when again he heard a light sound and Mei Chaofeng blocked his attack. Guo Jing retracted his palm a little bit too slow and Mei Chaofeng’s fingernails swept very close to his face. He hastily leaped back and thought, “How could she know where my next attack would be?”

His third attack was his fiercest stance, the ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’ [kang long you hui] but again, following a light sound, Mei Chaofeng’s steel-like fingernails moved to grab his wrist. Guo Jing knew the secret must be in that light sound, so with his fourth move he stole a glance at that strange man. This time he was able to see that man flick something into the air and that thing created a light sound.

“Ah, it really is him!” Guo Jing understood. “But how could he know where my next move will be? Hmmm … it was like the time when Huang Rong fought that old man Liang Ziwong; Hong Qigong had deduced his attacks in advance. Now this man is using the same method to defeat me. All right, I’ll fight for the full fifteen moves, and then I will admit defeat.”

Even though the stances of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ did not change and Guo Jing had not learned the whole set, his attacks were not light. However, Mei Chaofeng always knew in advance where his attack would go and sometimes she would move ahead of Guo Jing so that instead of being defensive, she was actually on the offensive.

Several moves later that strange man flicked three pebbles in succession. Mei Chaofeng was following the sound and launched three attacks one after another. Guo Jing was forced to elude one and barely managed to parry the other two.

The fight was getting fiercer and the winds generated by their hands were getting stronger. Periodically the light sound of a pebble was heard. Huang Rong understood the situation was not favorable. She silently picked some debris from the floor and flicked them away. Some were just aimed at nothing in particular, trying to confuse Mei Chaofeng, while some were aimed to knock the strange man’s pebbles down. But, unexpectedly, the man’s pebbles were not knocked down by Huang Rong’s debris; on the contrary, Huang Rong’s debris was knocked down while his pebbles kept flying. His clues to Mei Chaofeng were not hindered.

Lu Chengfeng, his son, along with the Six Freaks, were greatly amazed. “The strength of this man’s fingers is amazing; how is he capable of giving the pebble this kind of force? Even an arrow would not create such a strong noise. If this pebble hit someone, wouldn’t that someone’s bones be shattered by it?” they thought.

By now Huang Rong had stopped her intervention. She stood and stared blankly at that strange man. In the meantime Guo Jing was starting to lose; Mei Chaofeng’s attacks became swifter and fiercer.

Suddenly two loud hums were heard as two pebbles flew from the strange man’s hand. The first one was slower than the latter one. The latter hit the first and two pebbles broke into pieces and flew in all directions. Mei Chaofeng took that opportunity to pounce on Guo Jing. He stumbled trying to avoid the attack. Remembering Nan Xiren’s advice, ‘If you can’t win, run!’  [da bu guo, tao!] He turned around and ran away.

Out of the blue Huang Rong called out, “Father!” And she rushed toward the strange man, threw herself into his arms and loudly cried, “Father! Your face … what happened to your face …?” Nobody expected this and the strange man stood still without saying anything.

Guo Jing turned around and saw Mei Chaofeng standing very close to him. She was trying to listen to the sound of the pebble. Guo Jing saw a very good opportunity and sent his right palm slowly toward her shoulder using only about ten percent of his strength. But as soon as his palm hit, his left palm followed at full strength. Mei Chaofeng was squarely hit by both palms and fell down; she was not able to stand back up.

Lu Chengfeng heard Huang Rong call that strange man her father; he was overwhelmed with joy and sorrow at the same time. He forgot his legs were lame and jumped toward the man, but fell face down on the floor.

The strange man’s left arm was in Huang Rong’s embrace and lifted his right hand to slowly take off a thin mask from his face. He was wearing a genuine skin mask; no wonder his face was emotionless like that of a corpse. His true appearance was clear and good-looking, with a hint of sadness. Yet an aura of dignity surrounded him; resembling the image of deity.

Huang Rong’s tears had not dried yet she shouted with joy. She snatched the mask from her father’s hand and placed it on her own face while bouncing up and down and hugging the man’s neck, giggling continuously. The man was indeed the Master of Peach Blossom Island, Huang Yaoshi.

“Father, why did you come here?” she asked, grinning from ear to ear. “That old man Qiu said bad things about you. Why didn’t you teach him a lesson?”

“Why did I come?” Huang Yaoshi sternly asked. “I came looking for you!” Huang Rong was ecstatic; she clapped her hands and shouted, “Father! You were looking for me? Wonderful…that’s just wonderful!”

“What do you mean ‘wonderful’?” Huang Yaoshi asked. “Do you think it was wonderful finding a useless girl like you?”

Huang Rong felt bad. She knew after losing the second half of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ to his own disciples, Chen Xuanfeng and Mei Chaofeng, her father was determined to master the skill with his own intelligence. He once said that the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ was created by a human being. If a man could create it, why wouldn’t he be able to re-create it? He then made a vow not to leave Peach Blossom Island until he had mastered the skill. Unexpectedly his prodigal daughter had run away so that he was forced to break his own vow and come looking for her.

“Father, I promise to be a good daughter and will listen to you from now on until the day I die,” Huang Rong solemnly promised.

Huang Yaoshi was very happy to find his daughter well and listening to her promise put him in an excellent mood. “Help your Shijie get up,” he said.

Huang Rong immediately complied. Lu Guanying helped his father to kneel down in front of his Master. Huang Yaoshi sighed and said, “Chengfeng, you are a good disciple. I was wrong to lose my temper and act so rashly as to falsely accuse you.”

Lu Chengfeng was sobbing. “Master, are you well?” To which Huang Yaoshi replied, “Luckily I’ve not been irritated to death.” Huang Rong looked at her father with a mischievous look, “Father, you’re not talking about me are you?” Huang Yaoshi snorted and said, “You are part of it.”

Huang Rong stuck out her tongue and diverted his attention. “Father, let me introduce you to my friends. These are the well-known heroes of Jianghu, the Six Freaks of Jiangnan; Jing ge ge’s Masters.”

Huang Yaoshi did not even look at them. “I don’t want to meet outsiders,” he said coldly. The Six Freaks were irritated by his arrogance, but since the man practiced god-like martial arts, they kept their peace.

“Do you have anything you’d like to take home with you?” Huang Yaoshi asked his daughter. “Get them and we’ll go home together.”

“Nothing,” Huang Rong answered with a smile. “But I do have something I need to give back to Martial Brother Lu.” She took out the ‘Nine Flower Jade Dew’ pills from her pocket and gave them back to Lu Chengfeng. “Lu Shige (Elder Martial Brother Lu), these pills are not easy to make. We have two pills from you and that’s enough.”

Lu Chengfeng waved his hand and said to Huang Yaoshi, “The disciple has seen the Benevolent Master today. I am extremely joyful. I want to present those pills to you. I wonder if you could stay for a while in my humble abode. I will be …”

“Is he your son?” Huang Yaoshi interrupted him, pointing toward Lu Guanying. “He is,” answered the disciple.

Lu Guanying did not wait for his father’s prompting. He immediately kneeled and kowtowed several times and said, “Disciple pays his respects to Grand Martial Master.”

“It’s all right!” Huang Yaoshi said. Without bending his body he extended his left hand as if he was going to help Guanying to stand up; but unexpectedly his right hand struck Guanying’s shoulder.

Lu Chengfeng was shocked! “Master, he is my only son …” Huang Yaoshi’s palm was not light. Lu Guanying was thrown back seven or eight steps then fell face down on the floor.

“You are a very good disciple,” Huang Yaoshi told Lu Chengfeng. “You have not passed your skills to him. Is he a disciple of the ‘Immortal Red Cloud Sect’ [xian xia pai]?”

Lu Chengfeng was relieved to know his master was only testing his son’s martial arts. “Your disciple did not dare to disobey our school’s rule. I did not dare to teach my skills to others without Benevolent Master’s permission. This child is indeed the disciple of ‘Great Teacher Kumu’ [ku mu da shi] of the ‘Immortal Red Cloud Sect’.”

Huang Yaoshi sneered, “Kumu dares to call himself ‘Great Teacher’ [da shi can also mean ‘great master’] with his skills? Your skills exceed his a hundred fold. Starting tomorrow you will teach your son. The ‘Immortal Red Cloud Sect’s’ martial arts do not hold a candle to ours.”

Lu Chengfeng was ecstatic and hastily told his son, “Quick! Express your gratitude to the Grand Martial Master!” Lu Guanying immediately kowtowed again to Huang Yaoshi. Huang Yaoshi lifted his head, completely ignoring Guanying.

Lu Chengfeng had learned martial arts on Peach Blossom Island; even though both his legs were lame he did not lose any skills pertaining to his upper body. He realized very well the superiority of his own school. He had seen with his own eyes how hard Lu Guanying trained, yet his achievements were limited. This upset him, but since he did not dare to violate his school’s rule, he had to restrain himself. In order not to disappoint his son, he pretended he did not know martial arts at all. Now that his master had given him permission he knew his son’s martial arts skills would improve by leaps and bounds; how could he be not happy? He wanted to say some grateful words, but he was choked up.

Huang Yaoshi saw this and he simply said, “Take this!” He waved his right hand and two sheets of paper gently flew toward Chengfeng. The distance between them was actually more than ten feet, but the papers flew gently like they were hand delivered to Lu Chengfeng. This demonstration of internal energy was even more impressive than flicking pebbles, since the paper was flimsy and more difficult to throw. No one could help but feel very impressed.

Huang Rong was very happy, she quietly approached Guo Jing and asked, “Jing ge ge, what do you think of my Father’s martial arts?”

“Your Father’s martial arts are superb,” Guo Jing answered. “Rong’er, as soon as you are home, you have to train diligently, don’t waste your time playing.”

“You are coming with us, aren’t you?” Huang Rong asked.

“I have to follow my Masters,” Guo Jing said. “I will look for you later.”

Huang Rong was anxious. “No! I don’t want to leave you.” Guo Jing grinned; he did not want to be separated from her either, but he knew they did not have much choice and was sad too.

Lu Chengfeng took the papers and examined them. He saw the papers were full of characters. Lu Guanying took a torch from a manorr; he came close to his father and held the light for his father to read. Lu Chengfeng could see the papers were full of characters and symbols. They were instructions for training martial arts in Huang Yaoshi’s own handwriting. He had not seen his master’s handwriting for twenty years, yet he recognized it. The Master’s handwriting was tall and straight, as elegant as he remembered it. On the right hand was the title, ‘Sweeping Leaves Whirlwind Leg’ technique [xuan feng sao ye tui fa], six characters. Lu Chengfeng knew that the ‘Sweeping Leaves Whirlwind Leg’ and the ‘Peach Blossom Island Divine Sword Palms’ [luo ying shen jian zhang] were his Master’s own ingenious martial arts creations. None of his master’s six disciples had ever learned this leg technique. He imagined how delighted he would have been if he’d learned this technique. But still, due to his master’s mercy, he could still teach this technique to his son. He was grateful. He put the papers into his pocket and bent down to express his gratitude.

“This set of leg techniques is entirely different from the ones you knew,” Huang Yaoshi said. “The external techniques remain, but the energy to drive the technique must be developed internally. If you practice and meditate daily, and if your progress is good, you will be able to walk without a cane within five or six years.”

Lu Chengfeng was emotional with all kinds of feelings flowing in his heart.

“Your disability is permanent,” Huang Yaoshi added. “You won’t be able to fight relying on your leg techniques; but if you diligently train, you won’t have any problem walking like normal people. Oh …” He regretted that consumed with anger he had punished his four innocent disciples severely. In recent years he’d racked his brain to create the new ‘Sweeping Leaves Whirlwind Leg’ technique with improved internal energy training methods. His plan was to find his four disciples and bestow this new technique so that they would be able to walk again. He was too arrogant, so even when his heart was full of regret, his mouth was not willing to admit it. Therefore, although this leg technique was entirely a new creation of his, he still used the irrelevant old name; pretending he had not done anything wrong. After a while he continued, “Look for your three other brothers and teach them this new technique.”

“Yes,” Lu Chengfeng answered. Then he added, “Qu shige (older martial brother) and Feng shidi’s whereabouts are unknown to me, but Wu shidi passed away many years ago.”

Huang Yaoshi felt a stab of pain in his heart and his eyes glistened. Then his penetrating gaze turned toward Mei Chaofeng. Luckily she was blind and could not see it, but the other people around her shuddered just looking at his gaze.

“Chaofeng,” he said icily. “You have been extremely wicked, but you also have suffered greatly. When that old man Qiu said I was dead, you shed tears and even wanted to seek revenge for me. Because of those tears I am willing to let you live a few more years.”

Not in a million years did Mei Chaofeng expect her master to forgive her that easily. She was delighted and quickly kowtowed. “All right, all right!” Huang Yaoshi said. Then he stretched his hand toward her back and tapped gently three times.

Mei Chaofeng suddenly felt a stabbing pain, which gradually became more intense and she almost passed out. With a trembling voice she begged, “Benevolent Master, your disciple deserves to die ten thousand times. I ask for your mercy to kill me quickly, but please spare me from the ‘Bone-Penetrating Needle’ [fu gu zhen].” She had heard for a long time from her husband that once their master’s ‘fu gu zhen’ entered their bodies, it would attach itself to the bone and slowly dispense poison. Six times a day, following the circulation of the blood, the poison would cause excruciating pain, but it would not kill immediately. It could take as long as a year or two for that person to die slowly from the pain. A highly skilled martial artist would channel his internal energy to counter the pain, but the more he does so the greater the pain. A normal person would only grit their teeth when in pain.  Using internal energy to suppress the pain would be like drinking poison to satisfy a thirst, because the next attack would be more intense than the previous one. As far as they knew, there was no antidote for this poison.

Mei Chaofeng was desperate; she had entered a living hell, why would she want to live much longer? She frantically thrashed her whip fiercely trying to take her own life. Huang Yaoshi quickly stretched his hand and snatched the whip away. “Why are you so anxious to die? It’s not that easy!” he said coldly.

Mei Chaofeng did not give up easily. “Master must want to torture me, that’s why he won’t allow me to die,” she thought. Unable to restrain her grief she turned toward Guo Jing and smiled sadly, “I have to thank you for killing my husband; at least that way my bastard husband died an easy death.”

Huang Yaoshi ignored her remark and said, “The ‘Bone-Penetrating Needle’ will work after a year. I’ll give you three assignments to do within this one-year period. Once you complete your assignments, come and see me at Peach Blossom Island. I have a way to neutralize the poison.”

Mei Chaofeng’s hope was rekindled. “Your disciple will go through fire or water to accomplish whatever Master cares to assign to me.” But Huang Yaoshi coldly answered, “You haven’t heard what I have to say, yet you comply that quickly?” Mei Chaofeng did not dare to answer, she only kowtowed.

“First, you have lost the ‘Nine Yin Manual’,” Huang Yaoshi continued. “You have to find it and give it back to me. If somebody else laid their eyes on it, you must kill that person. If there are a hundred people who have seen it, kill the hundred people. If you only kill ninety-nine, don’t even think of coming to see me.”

All who listened shuddered involuntarily. The Six Freaks of Jiangnan thought, “Huang Yaoshi is known as the Eastern Heretic; his character is very evil.”

They heard him continue, “Qu, Lu, Wu and Feng, your four martial brothers have endured suffering and hardships because of you. You are to find your brothers Lingfeng and Mofeng, and find out if Mianfeng left behind any family. You are to bring them all to ‘Returning Cloud Manor’ [gui yun zhuang] and let your martial brother Chengfeng take care of them. This is your second assignment.”

Mei Chaofeng nodded her head repeatedly. Lu Chengfeng thought, “I could manage this.” But knowing his master’s temperament he did not dare to say anything.

Huang Yaoshi raised his head, looking at the starry sky above and slowly said, “You stole the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. I did not teach you nor did I tell you to practice it. You know what to do.” He paused for a moment then said, “This is the third.”

Mei Chaofeng was silent for a moment; she did not fully grasp her master’s intention. After pondering in her heart she suddenly understood. With a trembling voice she said, “After I have completed the first two assignments, your disciple knows how to get rid of the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ and ‘Heart Destroying Palm’ I have learned.”

Guo Jing did not understand; he pulled Huang Rong’s sleeve and, signaling her with his eyes, asked for an explanation. Huang Rong’s countenance was sad; she lifted her right hand and made a chopping action toward her left arm. Guo Jing finally understood, “Oh, she is going to chop off her own arms.” His mind kept wandering, “This Mei Chaofeng is really wicked, but she repented. Why is the punishment so harsh? I need to talk to Rong’er; perhaps we can ask her father to show mercy.”

While he was still thinking, Huang Yaoshi beckoned him to come over and asked, “Your name is Guo Jing?” Guo Jing stepped forward and made an obeisance. “Disciple Guo Jing is at Senior Huang’s service.”

“You are the one who killed my disciple Chen Xuanfeng, aren’t you? Your skill must be extraordinary, eh?” Huang Yaoshi said.

Guo Jing understood his sarcasm; his heart turned cold. “I was very young and ignorant. Senior Chen seized me; I was scared and panicked. I injured him inadvertently.”

Huang Yaoshi snorted and coldly said, “Chen Xuanfeng was indeed my rebellious disciple; but it was our right to punish him. How could a disciple of Peach Blossom Island be punished by an outsider?” Guo Jing was dumbstruck.

Huang Rong quickly came to his rescue. “Father, he was only six, what did he know?” Huang Yaoshi did not like what he heard; he continued, “The old man Hong usually does not take disciples and he is very proud of his ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’; but he taught you fifteen moves, so you must have something good in you. If not, you must have sweet-talked him into teaching you. You have defeated my disciple with his skill; next time he sees me, I bet he will boast to no end.”

“Father, the sweet talk part was indeed true,” Huang Rong said with a smile. “But it was not him, it was I. He is just a simple honest kid. Your words were too harsh, you have frightened him.”

After he lost his wife, Huang Yaoshi was very fond of his daughter. In fact, he was too lenient with her so that she became spoilt. That day he scolded her she immediately ran away from home. He thought that being a spoilt kid and after wandering Jianghu for a while Huang Rong would be destitute and in bad condition. Who would have thought that she was not thin and pale, but as tender and beautiful as ever? Then he saw her affection towards Guo Jing and how she was always trying to protect him. Secretly he was jealous because she had never shown the same affection to him. His jealousy turned to anger. He ignored his daughter and said to Guo Jing, “By teaching you the old Beggar obviously does not hold me in high regard. He let you defeat Mei Chaofeng; he thinks my disciples are a bunch of nobodies …”

Huang Rong understood that her father was upset because Mei Chaofeng was defeated by the ‘Eighteen-Dragon Subduing Palms’. She hurriedly said, “Who says Peach Blossom Island disciples are nobodies? He was lucky because Mei Shijie’s eyes are blind, what’s so special about that? If they were fighting fair and square, he would have been defeated a long time ago. Let your daughter prove it to you.” She jumped out and called to Guo Jing, “Come! Let me use the skills my Father taught me to fight Hong Qigong’s special skill.”

She knew that by this time both Guo Jing and she had improved tremendously. They were more or less equally matched. She thought that as long as they could fight fairly for about a hundred moves her father would be satisfied. Guo Jing understood her intention; besides, Huang Yaoshi did not say anything, so he agreed and said, “You are always superior to me. All right, I will let you beat me a couple more times.” And he immediately walked to Huang Rong.

“Watch out!” Huang Rong called out. Her hand swept horizontally with a gust of wind, it was the ‘Heavy Rain Fierce Wind’ stance [yu ji feng kuang] from the ‘Peach Blossom Divine Sword Palm [tao hua shen jian zhang]. Guo Jing immediately countered using the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. However, he was very fond of Huang Rong so did not use his full strength. Unfortunately, the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ relied heavily on strong internal energy; in terms of palm techniques, it could not be compared to the exquisite moves of ‘Peach Blossom Divine Sword Palm’. After several moves he was hit several times by Huang Rong’s fist. Huang Rong, on the other hand, knew that Guo Jing was strong and resilient, so to appease her father she used her full strength. “Aren’t you going to admit defeat?” she called out loudly. Her mouth said those words, but her hands did not stop hitting him.

Huang Yaoshi sneered, “What kind of acrobatic show are you demonstrating?” Nobody saw him move, but suddenly he was near the two, stretching both hands to grab and throw them away. Although the movements were similar, he only flung his daughter to the side, while his right arm threw Guo Jing at full strength. His intention was obvious; he wanted Guo Jing to hit the ground hard. However, although Guo Jing was not able to resist the throw, but he was able to turn his body in midair; when he landed, he did not fall down, but stood firmly on the ground. His face was pale and he looked about ready to throw up.

Instead of praising his skill, Huang Yaoshi’s anger flared. “I don’t have any disciples to fight you. Come! Let me test your few stances.”

Guo Jing hastily bowed and said, “Even if I had courage as high as the sky I still would not dare to fight Senior.”

Huang Yaoshi sneered. “Humph, fight me?” He coldly said. “You are not my match, boy! Tell you what, I will stand here while you attack me with your ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’; if I even move or raise my hand to parry, you win.”

“Junior still does not dare,” Guo Jing said.

“I don’t care! Dare or not, you have to fight me!” Huang Yaoshi said.

Guo Jing did not know what to do. “I don’t have any choice; I’d better hit him several times, but I think he is going to borrow my own strength to shake me up. So what if I have to fall a few more times?” he thought.

Huang Yaoshi saw him hesitating, but his face showed his willingness to try. So he urged him, “Quickly hit me! If not, I am going to hit you!”

“Since Senior commanded it, I would not dare to disobey,” Guo Jing said. He bent his body and moved his hand in a circling motion, launching the ‘The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’. He was afraid he might injure Huang Yaoshi; also, he worried that if he used his full strength the counterattack would be fierce. Therefore, he used only sixty percent of his strength. His palm struck Huang Yaoshi’s chest; but to his surprise his palm slid like the chest was slick with oil. “Why, you didn’t even want to hit me,” Huang Yaoshi mocked. “Do you think I cannot take the overwhelming power of the ’Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’? Is that it?”

“Junior does not dare,” Guo Jing answered. Then he launched his second move, the ‘Leaping the Abyss’ [huo yue zai yuan]. This time he did not hold back. Exhaling, his left palm lunged toward Huang Yaoshi’s throat, his right palm swiftly moved in front of the left, going straight to Huang Yaoshi’s lower abdomen.

“Now you are fighting,” Huang Yaoshi said. Hong Qigong had Guo Jing train this stance against a pine tree. The tree needed to be still, then Guo Jing was supposed to hit it with a sudden movement. Only then did he manage to break the tree. He had practiced this stance thousands of times. But as soon as his palm touched Huang Yaoshi’s clothes he felt Huang Yaoshi’s abdomen shrink and his palm was sucked in; he felt pain because his wrist joint was dislocated. He immediately leaped back several feet. His hand hung limp.

The Six Freaks of Jiangnan saw that Huang Yaoshi’s body did not move, nor did he lift a hand to parry; yet he was capable of dislocating Guo Jing’s wrist. They were amazed but also worried.

“You have to receive my palm also!” Huang Yaoshi suddenly shouted, “I want to let you know which one is superior, the Old Beggar’s ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ or my Peach Blossom Island’s martial arts.” Before he finished speaking a gust of wind had already blown toward Guo Jing. He endured his pain and jumped to avoid the attack. Unexpectedly Huang Yaoshi did not continue his palm but swept his legs instead. Guo Jing went tumbling down.

Huang Rong was alarmed. “Father, no!” she cried, and quickly jumped forward and bent down to protect him.

Huang Yaoshi did not stop; he simply changed his fist to an open palm. He grabbed his daughter’s vest and lifter her up, while his left fist went straight toward Guo Jing.

The Six Freaks of Jiangnan realized that if Guo Jing got hit, he would certainly die or at least suffer a very heavy injury. They moved at once. Quan Jinfa was the first. He struck Huang Yaoshi’s left arm with his steel balance arm. Huang Yaoshi calmly put his daughter aside; waved both hands casually and that steel balance arm changed direction; striking the long sword in the hands of Han Xiaoying. Both the balance arm and the sword broke into four pieces.

“Master … !” Lu Chengfeng called out. He wanted to ask his master to stop, but knowing his master’s temperament well, he did not dare to continue.

Huang Rong cried. “Father, if you kill him,” she shouted. “You will never see me again!” Without further ado she ran out towards Lake Tai and leaped into the water.

Huang Yaoshi was surprised, then angry. He knew his daughter was very good in water. She used to swim and dive in the East China Sea [dong hai]; playing with fish and turtles. Sometimes she went swimming for a whole day. But this time he was not sure when he would be able to see her again. So he ran toward the lake to try to grab her, but he was too late. Huang Rong had already vanished in the dark water. Huang Yaoshi stared blankly from the lakeshore.

After a long while he turned his head and saw Zhu Cong mending Guo Jing’s wrist. His anger flared and he wanted to vent his frustration towards these people. “You six people! Quickly kill yourselves and save me the trouble,” he said coldly.

Ke Zhen’E wielded his iron staff in front of his chest and proudly said, “Real men do not fear death. Do you think we are afraid of suffering?” Zhu Cong also said, “The Six Freaks of Jiangnan have returned to our hometown. If our bones can be buried here by Lake Tai, what more could we want?” The six unsheathed weapons or readied their bare hands and assumed a battle formation.

Guo Jing thought hard. “My six masters do not have enmity with this man. They will give up their lives in vain. How can I let them go in harm’s way?” he said in his heart. He quickly jumped forward. “Chen Xuanfeng died at my hand! It has nothing to do with my masters! I will pay for his life with mine!” But then he had another thought, “The First Master, Third Master and Seventh Master are hot-tempered. If they see me losing my life, they will surely fight to their deaths. I have to stall. I must deal with him later, alone.” He boldly positioned himself between Huang Yaoshi and the Six.

“My only regret is that my father’s death has not yet been avenged. I beseech Senior to give me a month’s grace. After thirty days I will personally come to Peach Blossom Island to give up my life,” he said fearlessly.

Huang Yaoshi’s anger had subsided by now; plus, he was worried about his daughter. He’d lost his appetite for fighting. So he waved his hand casually and walked away.

Everybody was surprised; how did Guo Jing’s simple speech send him off just like that? They were suspicious that he was playing a trick; so they kept their eyes open at full alert. But after waiting a time, Huang Yaoshi still did not come back.

After a while Lu Chengfeng regained his composure and invited everybody to go back to the hall for some rest.

Mei Chaofeng laughed suddenly, waved her sleeves, then turned around and leaped outside. Before long she had vanished in the dark.

“Mei Shijie!” Lu Chengfeng called out, “Take your disciple with you!”

But the darkness swallowed his voice. Mei Chaofeng had already gone far.

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