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The Legend of the Condor Heroes Chapter 16


Chapter 16 – The Nine Yin Manual


The coffin’s lid opened; it turned out it had not been nailed down. There was no zombie inside; only a good-looking young girl with a pair of big eyes. It was none other than Mu Nianci. Yang Kang was pleasantly surprised and quickly he held out his hand to help her out.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong left the Cheng’s residence and were very tired since they have not had any sleep that night. They had wanted to go back to the inn to rest, but suddenly heard the sound of hoof beats galloping fast from the south heading north. The sound was coming nearer but suddenly it stopped. Huang Rong’s curiosity was piqued, “There must be something unusual happening. It sounds interesting.” Utilizing her lightness kungfu she immediately went to take a look. Guo Jing followed closely.

To their surprise, what they saw was Yang Kang standing at the roadside, holding a horse’s reins and talking to Ouyang Ke. Guo and Huang did not want to come any closer because they did not want to be detected. They hid themselves quite a distance away. Those two spoke in low voices so all Huang Rong could hear was bits and pieces. Ouyang Ke mentioned ‘Yue Fei’ and ‘Lin’an government office’, while Yang Kang did say ‘my father’. Huang Rong was curious, she wanted to go nearer, but at that moment Ouyang Ke cupped his fists and headed east along with all of his female disciples/concubines.

Yang Kang stayed behind. He stared blankly for a while; then let out a long sigh and mounted his horse. “Xian Di [Worthy Brother], I am here,” Guo Jing called. Yang Kang heard his voice and was startled but stopped his horse anyway. “Elder Brother, you are here as well?” he replied.

“I ran into Miss Huang and we fought Ouyang Ke, that’s why we were delayed,” Guo Jing explained. Yang Kang’s face turned red; he felt uneasy since he wasn’t sure if Guo Jing heard his conversation with Ouyang Ke. Guo Jing’s face remained calm; so Yang Kang felt better. “This man does not know how to deceive,” he thought, “He wouldn’t be this calm if he had heard me.”

“Elder Brother,” he said, “shall we hurry up and continue our trip tonight, or shall we spend the night here? Will Miss Huang go to Beijing with us?”

“It’s not I who goes with you, it is you who follows us,” Huang Rong said.

“What’s the difference?” Guo Jing smiled. “Let us go back to the ancestral temple and have some rest. Tomorrow evening we will enjoy the Beggar Clan’s banquet and then we can continue our trip.”

Then the three walked back to the temple. Huang Rong lit a candle. As she carried the candle she picked up the needles she shot out minutes ago. At this time of the year the weather was got hotter, so they took down the doors and took them outside. They intended to sleep in the courtyard.

Just before they fell asleep, the sound of horses’ hoof beats could be faintly heard from the distance. They tilted their heads to listen. The sound was coming fast and sounded like it was more than one horse.

“Three horses in front, pursued by more than ten people,” Huang Rong guessed. Guo Jing literally grew up on horseback; he knew exactly the number of the horses.

“There are sixteen pursuers altogether,” he said. ”Well, well, well … what do you know?”

“What?” Huang Rong asked.

“The three at the front are on Mongolian horses, but the pursuers are not,” Guo Jing answered. “What in the world are Mongolian horses doing in this area?” he wondered.

Huang Rong tugged Guo Jing’s hand and they walked outside the temple gate. Suddenly a swishing sound was heard as an arrow flew above their heads. The three riders rushed towards the temple. An arrow flew from the pursuers and hit the last horse’s thigh. The horse uttered a sad neigh as its leg buckled. The rider’s equestrian skill was superb; he managed to leap clear just before the horse hit the ground. It seemed the rider did not know any lightness kungfu and his steps were heavy. The other two riders stopped their horses and turned back.

“I am all right,” shouted the one now on foot. “Quickly, go! I’ll try to slow the enemy!”

“I will help you with the enemy. Fourth Prince, you go ahead,” shouted one of the other two.

“How can you do that?” asked the Fourth Prince.

Those three were speaking Mongolian. Guo Jing, as he listened, thought he knew those voices. They sounded like Tolui, Jebeh, and Borchu. He was really surprised. “What are they doing here?” he thought. He wanted to go nearer, but the pursuers had already surrounded the three riders. The three Mongolians were experts at shooting arrows, so the pursuers did not dare to come too close and shot their own arrows from a distance.

“Let’s go up!” one of the Mongolians shouted, his hand pointing to a flagpole. The three scurried to the flagpole and climbed up. They were trying to gain a better position.

The pursuers dismounted and surrounded the flagpole on all sides. Somebody shouted an order and four soldiers lifted high their shields, came near the flagpole and tried to chop it down with their swords.

“You are wrong,” Huang Rong whispered, “There are only fifteen pursuers.”

“No, I can’t be wrong,” Guo Jing countered. “Maybe one of them was killed.” He’d just closed his mouth when a horse came wandering in. There was a rider with it but he was dead with an arrow sticking out from his chest; his foot was stuck in the stirrup so the horse was dragging him along.

Guo Jing crawled towards the corpse and pulled the arrow out. As soon as he felt the arrow with his fingers he could feel that it was made of wrought iron and had the engraving of a leopard’s head. It was an arrow used by the Master Archer Jebeh and was heavier than average arrows. His suspicion was gone; he called out, “You on the flagpole, are you Master Jebeh, Brother Tolui and Master Borchu? This is Guo Jing!”

The three were delighted. “How can you be here?” they asked.

“Who pursues you?” Guo Jing asked.

“Jin soldiers!” Tolui answered.

Guo Jing grabbed the dead Jin soldier’s body, lifted it up, and rushed forward. He threw the corpse toward the soldiers at the foot of the flagpole. The corpse did knock down two soldiers and the other two were frightened and ran away.

Out of the blue two white shadows swooped down to Guo Jing. He recognized his two eagles, which he and Hua Zheng raised back in Mongolia. The two birds recognized their master even in the dark night; they uttered a loud cry and came down on Guo Jing’s shoulders.

Huang Rong had heard Guo Jing’s story of how he had shot two eagles and how he raised a pair of eagles as his playmates. Now, suddenly seeing the white eagles, she ignored the surrounding soldiers. She came running towards Guo Jing and called out, “Let me play with them!” She held out her hand to stroke one eagle’s feathers. But the eagle did not know Huang Rong, so it moved its head to hit Huang Rong’s hand with its beak. Luckily Huang Rong was quick; if not, the back of her hand would’ve been injured.

Guo Jing hurriedly pulled the birds away. Huang Rong sulked, “Your pet birds are bad!” But actually she was happy, she bent her head to take a closer look at them.

“Rong’er, watch out!” Guo Jing shouted suddenly. Two fast arrows flew toward Huang Rong’s chest. She ignored the arrows and nonchalantly reached towards the dead soldier’s pocket. The arrows were right on target, but they hit the soft hedgehog armor and simply fell down near her foot. Huang Rong continued groping in the pocket until she found some dried meat and fed it to the birds.

“Rong’er, play with the eagles, I am going to kill some Jin soldiers!” Guo Jing said. He jumped to strike an arrow flying towards him, stretched his left palm and with a cracking sound broke a nearby Jin soldier’s arm.

“Where did the dog that creates trouble come from?” a voice called out suddenly in the dark. Surprisingly, he was speaking Chinese. Guo Jing was startled, “That voice sounds familiar,” he thought. At that time a couple of metal weapons came flashing his way as two short hatchets came chopping down at him, one slashing at his chest, the other slashing towards his lower abdomen.

Guo Jing saw the incoming force was fierce and he knew the attacker was not an ordinary officer. He immediately shot out his palm using the ‘Divine Dragon Swings its Tail’. His palm hit the man on the shoulder shattering the shoulder blade into pieces and sent the man flying backwards a few feet. The man cried out pitifully. Suddenly Guo Jing remembered, “This is one of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ [Huang He si gui], the ‘Axe Buries Family’ [sang men fu] Qian Qingjian.”

Guo Jing knew that his martial arts skill had improved tremendously these past several months and of course he was in an entirely different league compared to when he fought the Four Demons of the Yellow River in Mongolia a while back. But to be able to knock the enemy back more than ten feet with only one palm? He was amazed. While he was still thinking about it, more metal objects came flashing toward him. This time it was a saber and a spear.

Guo Jing guessed they must be ‘Saber Breaks Down the Soul’ [duan hu dao] Shen Qinggang and ‘Lance Seizes Life’ [zhui ming qiang] Wu Qinglie. With his right hand forming a hook he caught the spear near its head and pulled it hard. Wu Qinglie tried to resist, but he was pulled along and fell face down in front of Guo Jing. Right at that moment as Guo Jing was stepping back to elude the chopping saber, Shen Qinggang’s blade was hacking toward his martial brother’s skull. Guo Jing’s leg flew up and kicked Shen Qinggang’s right wrist. A streak of blue light flashed in the dark night as his saber flew from his hand; Wu Qinglie’s life was saved. Guo Jing then picked up Wu Qinglie and whirled him at his martial brother. With a ‘bang’, two brothers collided and both passed out immediately.

Of the Four Demons of the Yellow River, only three were left, since ‘Whip Capture Spirit’ [duo po bian] Ma Qingxiong was killed by Lu Guanying when he was trying to infiltrate the pirate gang of Lake Tai. These three people were the elite fighters of the Jin soldiers who pursued Tolui and his companions. The rest of the Jin soldiers were not aware that their leaders had fallen due to the darkness. They were still engaging Tolui, Jebeh and Borchu in a shooting battle.

“You are not running away, do all of you want to die here?” Guo Jing roared. He rushed towards the enemy soldiers, hitting here and grabbing there, throwing bodies everywhere. Very soon the soldiers panicked and scattered in all directions. Shen Qinggang and Wu Qinglie slowly came to their senses, each with a splitting headache. Their vision was still fuzzy, but they realized that their company had scattered so they also ran away without hesitation. They accidentally stumbled upon Qian Qingjian and woke him up. He mumbled indistinctly, but seeing the rest of the soldiers had run away, he ignored his pain and they ran in different directions.

Jebeh and Borchu were skilled archers; they kept shooting arrows and managed to kill three more Jin soldiers. Tolui looked down and saw that his sworn brother had scattered the enemy. He was delighted and called out, “Anda [Mongolian term for sworn brother]! How are you?” He slid down the flagpole to the ground.

Guo Jing and Tolui held each other’s hands; they were so happy that they were speechless for a while. A moment later Jebeh and Borchu joined them. “Those three Han holding shields blocked our arrows, preventing us from shooting them,” Jebeh said. “If Jing’er had not come to rescue us, we wouldn’t be able to drink the Onon River’s clear water anymore.”

Guo Jing pulled Huang Rong’s hand to let her meet Tolui and company. “This is my sworn sister,” he introduced her.

“Will you give me these two white eagles?” Huang Rong asked, smiling. Tolui did not understand Chinese and his translator had run away when they were being attacked by the Jin soldiers. He’d noticed that Huang Rong’s voice was clear and sounded pleasant to his ears, but he actually had no idea what she was saying.

Guo Jing ignored Huang Rong’s request. “Anda, why did you bring the eagles here?” he asked.

“Father sent me to see the Song Emperor; we want to make an agreement between the north and south, so that we can dispatch troops together and attack the Jin from both directions,” Tolui explained. “My sister thought I might meet you here, so she sent these eagles to you. She guessed right, I did meet you here.”

When Guo Jing heard him mentioning Hua Zheng, he was speechless. He knew he was in love with Huang Rong; when he sometimes thought of Hua Zheng he felt it wasn’t right. However, he did not know how to resolve the matter, and tried not to think too much about it. But now, hearing what Tolui said, he was at a loss. His only thought was, “Within a month I am going to Peach Blossom Island where Rong’er’s father might kill me. There’s no point thinking about it now.” Therefore, he turned toward Huang Rong and told her, “These two birds are mine. You can have them to play with.”

Huang Rong was delighted; she found more dried meat to feed the eagles.

Tolui proceeded by telling how his father, Genghis Khan, had gained victory over the Jin on several fronts; but the Jin army was strong in numbers. They’d consolidated themselves and for many years strengthened their forts so that, for a while, they’ve managed to defend their borders. Therefore Genghis Khan had sent Tolui to make contact with the south to form an alliance with the Song to attack the Jin. Unfortunately they ran into a brigade of the Jin army and could not avoid a battle. Their company perished and only the three of them managed to escape and run here.

Guo Jing remembered that day at Cloud Manor he heard Yang Kang asking Mu Nianci to go to Lin’an and see the Prime Minister Shi Miyuan, to ask him to kill the Mongolian messengers. At that time he did not know anything specific, but now he knew that the Jin had discovered the conspiracy and had sent Yang Kang to prevent the Song and Mongols from forming an alliance.

Tolui continued, “Looks like the Jin have determined to kill me to avoid Mongolia and the Song Dynasty from successfully forming an alliance; the Sixth Prince himself personally led the troops to capture me.”

“Wanyan Honglie?” Guo Jing asked in surprise.

“That’s right!” Tolui answered. “He was wearing a golden helmet; I saw him clearly and even shot three arrows at him. Too bad they were blocked by his bodyguards’ shields.”

Guo Jing was ecstatic, “Rong’er, Brother Kang! Wanyan Honglie is here. Let us quickly find him.” Huang Rong quickly agreed, but Yang Kang was nowhere to be seen. Guo Jing was impatient, he shouted, “Rong’er, you go to the east, I will search to the west.” The two people used their lightness kungfu and ran very fast in opposite directions.

After several li Guo Jing managed to catch up with several runaway Jin soldiers. He captured one of them and found out that it was indeed the Sixth Prince Wanyan Honglie who personally led the pursuers; but the soldier did not know his whereabouts.

“We have deserted the Prince without any regard for his safety; if we go back, we will be executed. Therefore we are throwing away our uniforms and trying to hide among the common people,” the soldier said.

Guo Jing turned and resumed his chase. It was almost dawn, but where was Wanyan Honglie? He knew the enemy who killed his father was near but seemed to be unreachable. He was anxious.

He rushed forward a little bit further and arrived at a small wooded area where he saw a white shadow flashing by. It was Huang Rong. The two met, looked at each other and knew they had not found him. Dejectedly they decided to go back to the temple.

“Wanyan Honglie led quite a number of troops pursuing us; he was riding a fast horse. I think by now he must be going back to fetch reinforcements to capture us,” Tolui reasoned. “Anda, I am bearing my father’s decree; I can’t stay for long. Let us part here. My little sister asked me to deliver this message to you: Please come back home to Mongolia as soon as possible.”

Guo Jing agreed to what he said, but feared that it would be difficult for them to meet again in the future. His heart was heavy. He hugged Tolui, Jebeh and Borchu and bade them farewell, saying very little. They mounted their horses and galloped away. The sound of hoof beats gradually vanished; men and horses hidden behind a cloud of yellow dust.

“Let us hide and wait for Wanyan Honglie to come back,” Huang Rong proposed. “If the troops are numerous, we will simply follow them and try to assassinate him in the evening. Don’t you think it’s a good idea?”

Guo Jing was delighted. He praised Huang Rong endlessly. Huang Rong was very happy too, she smiled and said, “It was nothing, I was just using the common tactic of ‘leaving the shore to move to a ship’ [yi an jiu chuan].”

“I’ll go to the woods to hide our horses,” Guo Jing said. He walked towards the backyard of the temple and suddenly saw something gleaming in the grass in the morning sun. He bent down to take a closer look and found that thing was a golden helmet, inlaid with three big jewels. Guo Jing picked it up and walked back to Huang Rong. “What do you think this is?” he quietly asked.

“Wanyan Honglie’s golden helmet?” Huang Rong guessed.

“Exactly!” whispered Guo Jing. “I believe he is still hiding somewhere close to this temple. Let’s spread out and find him.”

Huang Rong turned, her hands pressed down on the wall and she floated atop the wall in no time. “I’ll search from above, you from below,” she called out. Guo Jing entered the temple.

“Was my lightness kungfu good?” Huang Rong called.

Guo Jing was taken aback, he stopped in his tracks. “It was very good! Why?” he asked.

“Then why didn’t you praise me?” Huang Rong said with a laugh.

Guo Jing stomped his feet. “You’re a mischievous kid! You still want to joke at a time like this,” he said.

Huang Rong simply laughed; raising her hands, she flew to the rear courtyard.

When Guo Jing was fighting the Jin soldiers, Yang Kang had observed from one side. Despite the darkness he could recognize the Sixth Prince Wanyan Honglie. Although Yang Kang knew by now he was not his father, he nonetheless had raised Yang Kang for more than eighteen years. He had been a father figure to Yang Kang all this time. Yang Kang saw how Guo Jing dispersed the Jin soldiers; if Wanyan Honglie was seen by Guo Jing, he would surely lose his life. It was a critical moment and Yang Kang did not have too much time to think; so he jumped onto the battleground. At that time Guo Jing was hurling a Jin soldier’s body into the air. Wanyan Honglie’s horse got frightened, so he was busy holding the reins. Yang Kang grabbed him from behind and pulled him to safety.

“Fu Wang [Father King], it’s me, Kang’er. Don’t make a sound!” Yang Kang whispered urgently. Guo Jing was still fighting and Huang Rong’s attention was occupied by the eagles. The night was dark, so nobody saw him with Wanyan Honglie moving towards the rear courtyard of the temple.

Yang Kang quietly pushed open the door to the west wing and, equally quietly, the two hid themselves there. Their ears could still hear the battle cries outside, followed by the sounds of Jin soldiers scampering away; finally they heard the mumbled sounds of the three Mongolians talking to Guo Jing.

Wanyan Honglie thought he was dreaming, “Kang’er,” he whispered, “What brought you here?”

“It was a fortunate coincidence,” Yang Kang replied. “Ah … but that man surnamed Guo means you harm.”

By then Wanyan Honglie heard Guo Jing and Huang Rong were going to go separate ways to look for him. He also saw how Guo Jing had defeated the ‘Three Ghosts of the Yellow River’ and how fiercely and swiftly he had beaten and killed numerous Jin soldiers. If he were discovered by those two, what would happen? He shuddered involuntarily.

“Fu Wang, if we go now, I am afraid we’ll run into them. Let’s just hide here; they will leave eventually. We’ll wait until they are far away, then we can carefully leave,” Yang Kang said.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Wanyan Honglie said. He paused, then said, “Kang’er, why did you call me Fu Wang and not dad [die]?”

Yang Kang was silent. He remembered his late mother’s fate and his heart was filled with turbulent emotions.

Wanyan Honglie said slowly, “You were thinking of your mother, were you not?” He stretched his arm to hold Yang Kang’s hand and that hand was icy cold with Yang Kang’s sweat.

Yang Kang gently pulled his hand away. He changed the subject, “Guo Jing’s martial arts are high. He is seeking vengeance for his father; he is determined to find and kill you. He also has befriended many, many experts in martial arts; it will be impossible for you to guard against him. I think it will be to your benefit if you do not go back to Beijing for the next six months or so.”

Wanyan Honglie recalled what happened at Ox Village near Lin’an nineteen years ago; he was saddened. Yet there was a tinge of guilty feelings in him, so he was silent for quite a while. “Very well,” he finally said, “I’ll avoid Beijing for a while. Have you gone to Lin’an yet? What did Prime Minister Shi say?”

“I haven’t been there,” Yang Kang coldly replied.

Wanyan Honglie heard the tone of his voice and guessed that Yang Kang had probably found out about his own life story; but why did Yang Kang save him? Could he have another plan in mind?

Those two men had lived together for eighteen years as father and son; they loved each other dearly. But now that they were together in that small room, Yang Kang suddenly thought there was a deep hatred between them. There was a raging battle inside his heart: “With just a whack of my palm I will avenge my father and mother; but how can I do that? Yang Tiexin was my biological father, but what did he give me? Mama normally treated Fu Wang well and if I kill him now, would Mama like it? Besides, if I really forsake being a prince, will I end up wandering around in the wilderness, destitute like Guo Jing?”

He was still having these disquieting thoughts when Wanyan Honglie said, “Kang’er, we have had a father-son relationship. No matter what, you are my son and I love you. Within ten years our great Jin will conquer the Song. At that time I will have enormous power and authority in my hands, with unlimited riches and honor. This beautiful country, this mortal world, will eventually fall into your hands.”

Yang Kang understood the implications of his speech; Wanyan Honglie aimed to be the emperor. Thinking about ‘unlimited riches and honor’, his heart was thumping loudly and he secretly thought, “With the power of the Great Jin, it will not be difficult to crush the Song. Mongolia will pose another problem, but it will be temporary. They are just a bunch of barbarians with excellent riding and archery skills; nothing refined. Fu Wang’s management skill is superb. Which other Great Jin prince can be compared to him? When all’s said and done, I will definitely become the crown prince of this world.” Thinking thus, his blood boiled. He stretched his hand to grab Wanyan Honglie’s. “Dad, your child will certainly help you in this great undertaking.”

Wanyan Honglie noticed Yang Kang’s hand had become warm; he was delighted. “I am Li Yuan, you are Li Shi Min.” [Translator note: Li Yuan and Li Shi Min were the father and son founders of the Tang Dynasty]

Yang Kang was about to reply when they suddenly heard a noise behind them. The two men froze. Quickly they turned their heads. It was already morning and bright sunlight came through the window. They saw seven or eight coffins scattered throughout the room. It turns out that this west wing was the temporary place for the dead before burial. They listened carefully; the noise sounded like it came from one of the coffins.

“What was that?” Wanyan Honglie asked.

“Probably a mouse,” Yang Kang replied. At that moment they heard Guo Jing and Huang Rong talking outside about the golden helmet; then joking around as they looked for them.

“Confound it!” Yang Kang thought, “Father’s golden helmet was left outside! This could be bad.” With a low voice he said, “I am going to lead them away.” Quietly he opened the door and jumped outside, towards the roof.

Huang Rong was on the roof when she suddenly saw a shadow flash by on the roof’s peak. “Good! He is here!” She dashed toward that shadow, but the shadow quickly jumped down and disappeared around a corner.

Guo Jing heard her voice and came. “He can’t run far and must be hiding in the woods,” Huang Rong said.

The two were about to run into the woods when suddenly there was a noise from the bush and out came Yang Kang. Guo Jing was pleasantly surprised. “Xian di, where did you come from?” he asked. “Did you see Wanyan Honglie?”

“Wanyan Honglie is here?” Yang Kang feigned surprise.

“He was the commander of those troops. Look, his golden helmet is here,” Guo Jing said.

“So that’s how it is,” Yang Kang said.

Huang Rong noticed his expression was unusual; she also remembered he was speaking with Ouyang Ke earlier so she was suspicious. “We were looking for you everywhere just a moment ago. Where were you?” she asked.

“I ate too many strange foods yesterday, I think I suffered food poisoning, so I relieved myself over there,” Yang Kang said, pointing to a small wooded area.

Huang Rong did not believe him, but she was too uncomfortable to challenge him. “Xian di,” Guo Jing said, “Let’s look together.”

Yang Kang was worried; he was not sure if Wanyan Honglie had run away or was still here; but his face did not show anything. “He came here to die! We could not have asked for anything better,” he said, “Why don’t you two search to the east, I’ll go to the west.”

“Very well.” Guo Jing said, immediately walking to the east and pushing open the door to the ‘Clemency and Filial Hall’ [jie xiao tang].

“Brother Yang,” Huang Rong said, “I think that man is hiding in the west wing; let me come with you.”

Yang Kang groaned inwardly, but his face feigned happiness. “Let us go, quickly!” he said, “Don’t let him run away.” Immediately the two searched from room to room.

The Liu family of Baoying was originally an important family during the Song Dynasty; naturally their ancestral temple was huge. Because of the war with the Jin, this temple was partially burned and some of the Liu family killed. Therefore parts of temple were left in ruins without any effort to rebuild it.

With a cold look Huang Rong watched Yang Kang open dust-laden and spider-webbed doors one by one. He searched each and every room. Finally they arrived at the west wing. Huang Rong saw thick dust on the floor and in that dust there were several footprints, which – from the look of them, were recently made. There were a couple of handprints on the closed door too. “In here!” she shouted excitedly.

Guo Jing and Yang Kang both heard her shout; Guo Jing was delighted, while Yang Kang was anxious; both rushed towards her.

Huang Rong kicked the door open, but to her surprise, all she saw were several coffins with no sign of Wanyan Honglie.

Yang Kang was greatly relieved, he knew Wanyan Honglie must have escaped; but he entered the room and loudly shouted, “Wanyan Honglie, traitor! Where do you hide? Come out!”

“Brother Yang, he must have heard us a long time ago. You don’t have to be so kind as to let him know we are here,” Huang Rong snickered.

Yang Kang was embarrassed, his face flushed, “Miss Huang, why do you joke with me?” His embarrassment turned to anger.

“Never mind her, Xian di; Rong’er likes to joke,” Guo Jing smiled. He lowered his head and said, “Look here, someone must have left all these footprints. Indeed he was here.”

“Quick, we must pursue him!” Huang Rong urged. Just as she turned her head, there came a noise from behind her. All three were frightened. They saw a coffin move slightly.

Huang Rong had always been afraid of coffins and ever since she entered this room, she had been feeling queasy; now a coffin suddenly moved by itself, she uttered a cry and tightly held Guo Jing’s arm. But even though her heart was scared, her brain was still working. “That traitor … that traitor hides in the coffin,” she said with a trembling voice.

Yang Kang suddenly pointed his finger outside, “Hey! He is over there!” Without waiting for a reply he readied to run outside. But Huang Rong was quick, she reached backward and grabbed Yang Kang’s main artery. “You have seen a ghost?” she sneered.

Half of Yang Kang’s body was numb; he could not move. “You … what are you doing?” he asked anxiously.

Guo Jing was delighted. “Right…that traitor must be hiding in the coffin.” With big strides he walked towards the coffin and lifted his hands, ready should Wanyan Honglie came out.

“Elder Brother, be careful!” Yang Kang called out. “There could be a zombie inside.”

Huang Rong twisted Yang Kang’s hand so that he fell to the floor. “You still want to scare me?” she asked angrily. She was certain that it was Wanyan Honglie hiding inside the coffin, but still, she was scared. What if it really was a zombie inside? You never know, do you?

“Jing ge ge, not so fast!” she tremblingly said.

Guo Jing halted and turned his head, “What is it?”

“Just hold the lid down,” Huang Rong said. “Don’t let … don’t let that thing come out.”

Guo Jing smiled, “How can it be a zombie?” But he saw that Huang Rong was really afraid, so he jumped toward the coffin and comforted her, “He won’t be able to crawl out!”

Huang Rong was still anxious, she hesitated a little bit, and then said, “Jing ge ge, let me hit the coffin using the ‘Empty Splitting Palm’ [pi kong zhang] while you keep your eyes open. Whether it is a zombie or Wanyan Honglie, I will split the coffin. Then we’ll see whether it is a person crying or a zombie wailing!”

As soon as she finished speaking she exerted energy to her palms, took two steps and sent the palms at the coffin. Her ‘Empty Splitting Palm’ was not as strong as Lu Chengfeng’s; therefore, she needed to hit the coffin directly. Actually it could be launched from a distance with empty air between her and the target.

“That’s not right!” Yang Kang said anxiously, “You hit the coffin’s lid and a zombie might poke his head out and bite your hand, that won’t be good!”

He was successful in making Huang Rong more frightened than ever. She was shivering and halted her movement. Suddenly a cry came out from the coffin; it was a woman’s voice. Huang Rong jumped. She was extremely terrified. “A female ghost!” she cried. Flailing her hands she ran outside and cried, “Quick! Get out of here!”

Guo Jing was brave, “Brother Yang, let us lift the coffin lid and take a look,” he said.

Yang Kang was drenched in a cold sweat, but how could he refuse Guo Jing’s request? Surely he could not make himself an enemy of this Guo-Huang couple. But then he heard that woman’s voice again, so he rushed ahead to raise the coffin lid. They used a knife to jack the lid up and together they opened the lid, which actually had not been nailed to the coffin.

Guo Jing had directed his strength to his arms, ready to strike the zombie’s head; but when he looked down, he was stunned. There was no zombie; it was a good-looking young girl, with a pair of big eyes looking up at them. It was none other than Mu Nianci.

Yang Kang was pleasantly surprised and quickly he held out his hand to help her out.

“Rong’er, come here, quick!” Guo Jing called out. “Look who’s here?”

Huang Rong turned her head with her eyes closed. “I don’t want to see!” she shouted back.

“But it’s Elder Sister Mu!” Guo Jing urged.

With her left eye still closed, Huang Rong took a peek with her right eye. She saw Yang Kang embracing a woman who looked like Mu Nianci. She felt relieved and timidly entered the room again. Who was that woman if not Mu Nianci?

Huang Rong saw Mu Nianci’s face looked haggard and two streams of tears flowed down her cheeks. She was unable to move. Huang Rong unsealed her acupoint and asked, “Elder Sister, why are you here?”

Mu Nianci’s acupoint had been sealed for quite a while; her whole body was stiff and her breathing was uneven. Huang Rong helped by rubbing her back. After a while [about the time needed to drink a cup of tea] Mu Nianci told her, “I was captured and held prisoner.”

Huang Rong noticed that the sealed acupoint was located at the center of the sole of the foot; the ‘Bursting Fountain’ [yong quan] acupoint. This was rarely used by the wulin characters of the Central Plains. So with eighty to ninety percent certainty she guessed, “Was it that bastard Ouyang Ke?” Mu Nianci did not answer, but she nodded.

That day when she was trying to contact Mei Chaofeng for Yang Kang’s sake she was captured by Ouyang Ke near the pile of skulls and her acupoint was sealed. After Huang Yaoshi played his jade flute to disperse the snakes and help Mei Chaofeng; Ouyang Ke’s concubines and his three snake herders were left unconscious by the flute’s sound and Ouyang Ke ran away in distress. At daybreak the concubines and the snake herders woke up and found Mu Nianci lying on her side, unable to move. They took her to their master. Ouyang Ke tried to rape her, but she was determined to fight to her death. Although Ouyang Ke was conceited and lecherous, he always prided himself as being an elegant and cultured man; his martial arts skill was high, so he could easily melt women’s hearts. If he resorted to violence and brute force, he would certainly succeed in raping her; but then he would mar the name of the White Camel Mountain. Because of this pride, Mu Nianci was fortunate and able to keep her purity.

Afterwards they arrived at Baoying and Ouyang Ke hid her inside one of the Liu ancestral temple’s coffins. He then sent his concubines to ‘invite’ several beautiful young women from rich families, including Miss Cheng. It was then that the Beggar Clan intervened which resulted in a battle. Ouyang Ke left in a hurry. He’d had several women these past few days, so he did not remember Mu Nianci was still inside one of the coffins. If Guo Jing and the others had not been looking for Wanyan Honglie, she would have starved to death inside the coffin.

Yang Kang was unexpectedly happy to see his beloved here. With a compassionate face he said, “Little sister, just rest here, I am going to boil some water for you to drink.”

“How can you boil some water?” Huang Rong smiled, “I’ll go. Jing ge ge, come with me.” She had thought to leave those two alone to alleviate their lovesickness, but Mu Nianci sat straight up, “Hold a moment!” she said without a smile, “Mister Yang, I congratulate you on your unlimited riches and honor in the future.”

Yang Kang felt a flush creeping onto his whole face, but his heart turned cold. “She must have heard my conversation with Fu Wang in here.” He stood still not knowing what to do.

Mu Nianci saw he was distressed and her heart melted; she did not have the heart to reveal the secret that he was the one who let Wanyan Honglie go, for fear that Guo Jing and Huang Rong would kill him out of anger.

“You called him ‘Dad’, wasn’t that better? It is much more intimate than if you call him ‘Fu Wang’, isn’t it?” she coldly said. Yang Kang felt so ashamed; he hung his head and did not say anything.

Huang Rong did not know what was going on; she thought this young woman was upset and blamed Yang Kang for not coming earlier to rescue her. She pulled Guo Jing’s sleeve and whispered, “Let’s go out, I am sure those two will make up immediately.” Guo Jing smiled and went along with her.

“Let’s eavesdrop on what they’re saying,” Huang Rong said as soon as they reached the courtyard.

Guo Jing smiled, “Don’t intentionally create trouble. I don’t want to listen.”

“Very well!” Huang Rong sulked. “Just don’t be disappointed if I hear something interesting and I don’t tell you about it.” She leaped to the roof and walked quietly back to the west wing only to hear Mu Nianci speaking harshly.

“You called an enemy your father. I can understand that considering your past relationship; you will get over it. But who would have thought you also have delusional thoughts; you want to destroy the country of your own parents, this … this …” Reaching this point she was so furious that she could not continue.

Yang Kang smiled nervously. “Little sister, I …” he said softly, but Mu Nianci cut him short. “Who’s your little sister? Don’t touch me!” she screamed. ‘Slap!’ her hand left a red imprint on Yang Kang’s face.

Huang Rong was surprised. “They’re fighting, I must stop them,” she thought. Entering through a window she laughed and said, “Aiyo! Even if you don’t agree with each other, please don’t resort to violence.” But she stopped dead in her track at seeing Mu Nianci’s fiery red cheeks while Yang Kang was very pale. She was about to open her mouth again when Yang Kang suddenly shouted, “Good! You have met the new one and abandoned the old. Your heart is already occupied by another and so you treat me like this.”

“You … what did you say?” Mu Nianci stammered. Yang Kang snickered, “You and that fellow named Ouyang. His martial arts are ten times better than mine; of course you would immediately brush me from your heart.”

Mu Nianci was so angry that her hands and feet went icy-cold; she nearly passed out.

Huang Rong interrupted, “Brother Yang, you must not speak nonsense; if Sister Mu liked him, why would that bastard seal her acupoint and leave her starving inside the coffin?”

Out of shame Yang Kang became indignant. “The truth is good, yet hypocrisy is also good. She was held by that bastard for quite some time and she has lost her innocence. How could she and I be together again?”

Mu Nianci was outraged, “I … I … What innocence have I lost?”

“You were in that man’s possession for many days; he must have cuddled you, you must have embraced him. How could you keep your crystal clear purity?” Yang Kang mocked.

Mu Nianci really could not hold herself back any longer. She was tired and angry. This last attack was too vicious for her to bear. With a ‘wah’ sound she spit some blood and fell backwards.

Yang Kang realized his words were too vicious; seeing her like that he felt remorse and wanted to embrace and comfort her. Then he remembered she knew his secret. Huang Rong had voiced her suspicions earlier; if Mu Nianci should open her mouth, his life would be in danger. Moreover, he was worried about his father; so without saying anything he turned around, rushed outside and leaped over the wall.

Huang Rong had to massage Mu Nianci’s chest for quite a while before she finally came to. She was unusually composed and did not even cry. “Little Sister,” she calmly said, “Let me borrow the dagger I gave you earlier.”

“Jing ge ge!” Huang Rong called out loudly, “Can you come here, please?” Guo Jing quickly came. “Please give the dagger that belongs to Brother Yang to Elder Sister Mu,” Huang Rong said.

“Certainly,” Guo Jing complied. He pulled the dagger out of his pocket; it was the dagger taken by Zhu Cong from Mei Chaofeng. It was wrapped in, what would appear to the casual observer, a thin sheet of leather. The leather was full of characters tattooed with a needle. Guo Jing was not aware that the characters were actually the second part of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He casually unrolled the leather sheet and gave the dagger to Mu Nianci.

Huang Rong also took a dagger out from her pocket; she softly said, “Jing ge ge’s dagger is in my possession; Brother Yang’s dagger is now in yours. Elder Sister, this is a destiny that will bring you two together. You have had a disagreement, but for the moment, please don’t be sad. My father and I are also having some disagreements. Jing ge ge and I are going to Beijing to look for Wanyan Honglie. Elder Sister, please don’t let your heart be troubled. Why don’t you come with us? We can walk leisurely together. I am sure Brother Yang will come back to you.”

Guo Jing was puzzled, “Brother Yang?” Huang Rong stuck out her tongue. “He provoked Elder Sister; Elder Sister slapped him hard. Elder Sister Mu, if Brother Yang did not like you, how come he did not retaliate when you slapped him? His martial arts are stronger than yours. The fight between you …” She wanted to say ‘the fight between you two must be a habit’ (she was referring to the ‘Joust to Find a Spouse), but she saw Mu Nianci was grieving and she did not have the heart to make a joke.

“I am not going to Beijing,” Mu Nianci said, “You also don’t have to go. For the next half a year that traitor Wanyan Honglie won’t be in Beijing. He is afraid of you. Brother Guo, Little Sister, you are good people, your life must also be good …” She choked up; covered her face and rushed towards the door. With a leap she was gone.

Huang Rong looked down and saw the blood Mu Nianci spit up earlier. She hesitated for a moment, and in the end did not feel comfortable doing nothing, so she also leaped over the wall and chased after her, only to see Mu Nianci under a big willow tree in the distance. The sunlight reflected on the dagger’s naked blade. Mu Nianci lifted the dagger high above her head. Huang Rong was anxious; she thought Mu Nianci was going to kill herself. She shouted loudly, “Elder Sister! Please don’t …” But the distance between them was too great; she would not be able to stop her. Luckily Mu Nianci only raised her left hand holding up her hair. With a slash of the dagger in her right hand she sheared off a big clump of hair, threw it to the ground and ran away.

“Elder Sister! Elder Sister … !” Huang Rong called out. Mu Nianci turned a deaf ear and kept going.

Huang Rong stared blankly in the distance, she was lost in thought. She saw the clump of soft hair dancing in the morning breeze. A short time later some of the hair was scattered to a rice field, some went into a creek, some flew up into the trees lining the pathway and some followed the blowing dust, going who knows where. Huang Rong had always been tender, carefree and mischievous since her childhood. She laughed when happy, cried or sulked when not; the word ‘anxiety’ was never in her vocabulary. But now that she saw what had just happened, she could not keep sadness from creeping into her heart. Now, she found out about the world of anxiety.

She slowly walked back to the temple and told Guo Jing what had happened to Mu Nianci. Guo Jing did not know why those two people were having a disagreement; he simply said, “I don’t understand why Elder Sister Mu made such a big deal out of it. I think her character is just too rigid.”

“How could a woman hugged by a stranger lose her innocence? Even her loved one did not respect her anymore or care about her any longer.” Huang Rong thought. She did not have a clue as to the reasoning behind all it, so she brushed it off as ‘that was the way it was’ and left it at that. She slowly walked to the rear courtyard and sat against a pillar. Her mind was heavy with thoughts. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.

That very evening Li Sheng and other Beggar Clan members threw a banquet in honor of their leader, Hong Qigong, and also to congratulate Guo Jing and Huang Rong. They waited until around midnight but Hong Qigong still had not shown up. Li Sheng knew his Leader’s unusual habits so he did not give it any thought; he kept serving wine to Guo Jing and Huang Rong and they drank to their hearts’ content. The people of the Beggar Clan had high respect for these two people, so their conversations were congenial. Miss Cheng had personally prepared some food, provided four big pots of good quality wine, and delivered everything via her servants.

After the banquet was over Guo Jing and Huang Rong discussed what to do next. Wanyan Honglie would not be in Beijing, so it would be difficult to find him in a short period of time. The Peach Blossom Island appointment was drawing near. Guo Jing needed to go back to Jiaxing immediately and consult with his six masters on what action they would take.

Huang Rong nodded her head in agreement. “I think it is best for your six masters not to go to Peach Blossom Island,” she added. “You fought with father and received quite a beating; for him to hit a few more heads is no big deal, is it? If you don’t agree with me, let me hit you a few more times on the head. If your six masters meet my father again, what good will it bring?”

“You’re right,” Guo Jing said. “But you don’t need to hit my head.”

Early the next morning the two rode south. It was the beginning of the sixth month and the weather was burning hot. Natives of Jiangnan had a saying, ‘the sixth day of the sixth month, a duck egg was cooked by the sun.’ Traveling under the hot sun they were very miserable. So they would hurry along early in the mornings and later in the evenings and rested at noon.

A few days later they arrived at Jiaxing. Since it was earlier than the appointed time, the Six Freaks were not there yet. Guo Jing wrote a letter and left it with the innkeeper of the Pavilion of the Drunken Immortal, asking him to deliver the letter in person to the Six Freaks of Jiangnan when they arrived at the beginning of the seventh month.

In the letter he explained that he had met Huang Rong and was going to Peach Blossom Island to fulfill his promise and that with Huang Yaoshi’s beloved daughter’s company, he should not come across any problems. He asked his six masters to not be anxious and that they need not accompany him, and so on.

Even though he said that, he was actually afraid since Huang Yaoshi was very peculiar. He thought he would more likely meet misfortune than good fortune. He was afraid Huang Rong would feel anxious for him, so he did not tell her anything. Knowing that his six masters did not have to go into harm’s way was his only consolation.

The couple headed east. After Zhoushan, they hired a boat and continued by sea. Huang Rong knew that local sailors were afraid of Peach Blossom Island, like some people are afraid of vipers or scorpions. Nobody dared to sail within forty li of the island. If she mentioned the name of Peach Blossom Island, no matter how much money she offered, nobody would be willing to take them. So she said they were going shrimp fishing at a nearby island. It was only after they were quite a distance from shore did she tell the boatman to change course to the north. The boatman was terrified, but Huang Rong wielded a dagger in front of his chest; a cold and bright sparkle emanated from the blade so he had no choice but to comply with their request.

As the boat was nearing the island, Guo Jing smelled a flowery fragrance amidst the salty smell of the sea. He turned his gaze towards the island. It was green and lush with colorful trees and shrubs. Some were green, some red, some yellow, and some purple. The island looked like a massive flower garden.

Huang Rong smiled. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked.

Guo Jing sighed, “I have never seen so many beautiful flowers in my whole life,” he answered.

Huang Rong was very pleased; she smiled and explained, “Come the third month, the peach blossoms are in full bloom. That is really beautiful. Shifu did not want to admit that my father’s martial arts are number one in the world, but he cannot deny the fact that my father’s gardening skill is unrivaled. Too bad he is only interested in food and drink; he doesn’t even know what a good flower or plant is. He’s such an uncouth person.”

“You are talking about Shifu behind his back,” Guo Jing scolded, “Not a good habit.” Huang Rong stuck her tongue out and made a face.

They waited until the boat was closer before they leaped ashore. Guo Jing’s red horse also jumped to the shore. The boatman had heard many horror stories about the island; it was said that the Master of Peach Blossom Island would kill without batting an eye, that he liked to dig out people’s hearts, lungs, livers and intestines. As soon as his passengers disembarked, he turned the rudder, wanting to leave the island as soon as possible.

Huang Rong took out a silver ingot of ten ‘liang’ [ounces] and tossed it to the boat. With a clanking noise it landed on the bow. The boatman did not expect such a generous recompense; he looked ashore delighted, but still did not dare to stay near that island much longer.

Being home again, Huang Rong’s was ecstatic. “Father! Father! Rong’er is back!” she shouted loudly. Beckoning Guo Jing to come, she then dashed forward.

Guo Jing saw her turning east and dodging west amongst the flowers and very soon disappeared from his sight. He hastily chased her, but after several ‘zhang’ he had already lost track of her. He saw there were trails heading east, south, west and north; but did not know which one he should take.

When he arbitrarily took a path and walked for while and he seemed to be returning to where he’d started. He recalled the pathways of Cloud Manor Manor; Huang Rong had said that although that manor’s layout was wonderfully arranged it still paled in comparison with Peach Blossom Island, whose design was based on yin-yang and open-closed elements. If he forced himself to walk in this wonderful, almost magical place he would end up wasting his strength in vain. So he decided to just sit underneath a peach tree and wait for Huang Rong to fetch him. Who would have thought that after waiting for half a day Huang Rong still had not come. He looked around in all directions but did not see even the shadow of a human being; not even a single sound was heard. He was lost!

Anxiously he stood up and climbed atop a nearby tree. Again he looked everywhere; to the south of him was the sea, to the west was a barren rock hill, to the north and east were forests of flowers of all kinds and colors; he could not even see the end of it. His head became dizzy. He did not see anything that resembled a wall or a chimney; he did not even hear a dog’s bark. It was so extremely quiet and lonely that it scared him.

Quickly he slid down the tree and ran in panic towards the dark forest. He suddenly stopped in his tracks and anxiously cried, “Not good! I am running around aimlessly! If Rong’er comes looking for me, she won’t find me!” Having had this thought he turned around and ran back; but he was lost again! He couldn’t even find the place where he started.

The little red horse was following him closely, but when he ran among the bushes and climbed trees and soon the horse was also lost. The sky was growing dark and Guo Jing did not know what to do; so he simply sat on the ground and waited for Huang Rong. It was a good thing that that place was covered with thick green grass, so he was quite comfortable sitting down.

He started to get hungry and thirsty too. His mind wandered to the delicious food Huang Rong used to prepare for Hong Qigong and he was getting hungrier. Suddenly a thought came into his mind. “What if Rong’er’s father locked her up? She won’t be able to rescue me. How can I let myself starve to death in this forest?”

He recalled he still had to sort out the enmity with Huang Rong’s father; he also remembered he had not paid back his masters’ kindness. Then his mind wandered to his mother in far away Mongolia; if he died here, who would take care of her? With these heavy thoughts he became tired and fell asleep.

It was deep into the night when he dreamt he was on a trip with Huang Rong. They visited a lake near Beijing. They got to a beautiful spot and Huang Rong was singing a tune in a soft voice. Out of the blue there came another sound singing along; it was a bamboo flute. He woke up, startled. The flute sound still lingered in the air. Guo Jing got up and looked around. The moon shone brightly in the sky, and the sweet fragrance of the flowers was thickened by the dark night. The flute sound came from a distance; he was not dreaming!

Guo Jing was delighted. He walked towards the flute sound following the path in front of him. It was a winding path, and sometimes there was no path in front of him, but the flute sound was still coming from the front. He remembered the pathways of the Cloud Manor; so he ignored the winding path and just went straight to the sound. If a tree or shrubs were in front of him, he simply climbed or jumped over them.

The flute sound was getting clearer. Guo Jing walked faster. Rounding a bend, he arrived at an area of white flowering shrubs. Layer upon layer of flowers glistened in the bright moonlight; so many they looked like a small white lake. In the middle of these white flowers he saw something big and tall, looking massive. Here the sound of the flute suddenly changed. Sometimes high, sometimes low; sometimes the sound came from his front, sometimes it moved to his back. He thought the sound was coming from the east, but when he rushed to the east, the sound moved to the west; when he chased to the north, the sound swiftly moved to the south. It sounded like more than ten people were playing flutes all around him. This flute sound really drove him crazy.

After running around like that for a while Guo Jing’s head was spinning, so he decided to quit running and walked directly towards that massive thing in the middle of white flower lake. It turned out it was a grave site. There was a stone in front of the tomb with this inscription: ‘The Fragrant Burial Ground of Mistress Feng of Peach Blossom Island’ [tao hua dao nu zhu feng shi mai xiang zhi zhong], in eleven large characters.

“This must be Rong’er’s mother’s tomb,” Guo Jing thought. “Rong’er lost her when she was very small, it was really sad.” He knelt down in front of the tomb and kowtowed four times to pay his respects.

The flute sound suddenly stopped when Guo Jing was kneeling. Everything around him was very quiet; but as soon as he stood up, the flute sound resumed in front of him. “I don’t care if it brings luck or misfortune, I will follow the sound,” Guo Jing thought.

Again he walked amongst the vegetation following the flute. And again sound of the flute changed its personality. First it sounded like laughter, but suddenly changed into anger; it affected his feelings no end. Guo Jing’s pulse quickened, “How come this tune is so pleasant to my ears?” he was fascinated.

The tune increased its tempo, urging him to get up and dance. Guo Jing felt the urge, his face flushed and he felt his blood flowing ever faster through his hundreds of arteries. He immediately sat on the ground and meditated as Ma Yu had taught him: circulating his internal energy.

At first his heart was shaken, several times he felt the urge to stand up and dance to the tune. After breathing in and out several times, his heart calmed down, his mind became clear. No matter how the flute song changed, he heard it like the sound of the waves of the sea, or like a breeze in the tree tops. He felt his ‘dan tian’ bursting with energy; his whole body felt comfortable. No longer did he feel hunger or thirst. He knew that as he reached this state, external elements would not be able to affect him any longer;  he slowly opened his eyes only to see in the darkness, about two ‘zhang’s away, a pair of bright eyes looking straight at him.

He was startled, “What kind of beast is that?” he thought while leaping back several steps. But suddenly those eyes disappeared. “This Peach Blossom Island is really strange,” he thought, “even a fast leopard or a swift fox won’t be able to move that fast.” He hesitated for a moment and then heard fast breathing; it was a human’s breathing. Then he realized, “It was a human being! Those sparkling eyes were his. I didn’t see them anymore because he shut his eyes, but he is actually still here.”  Having this thought he laughed at his own foolishness; but it was unclear to him whether that person was a friend or a foe, so he did not dare to make a sound and just opened his eyes wide to observe quietly.

At this time the floating flute song carried a passionate, seducing feeling resembling a woman sighing and groaning, then murmuring softly; then at other times it raged wildly with desire.

Guo Jing was still young and although he had trained in martial arts since his childhood he did not know much about sexual relationships. He felt the flute affecting his emotions and the melody was enchanting to the soul, but he did not it give too much thought. But it was not so with the other man; he was gasping for breath and groaning softly. It sounded like he was struggling with all his strength just to resist the enticement coming from the flute.

Guo Jing’s heart was moved with compassion towards this man and slowly he went to him. The trees in this place were dense and the moon was bright, but the moonlight could not penetrate the thick branches and leaves. Guo Jing walked closer and only then he could vaguely see the man’s appearance. He was sitting cross-legged. His hair was long, almost touching the ground and his eyebrows, moustache and beard were long also, covering his mouth and nose. His left hand was on his chest, his right hand on his back.

Guo Jing knew that it was one of the positions for cultivating internal energy that ‘Scarlet Sun [dan yang zi], Ma Yu had taught him atop that barren hill on the Mongolian steppes. It was the technique for closing one’s heart and mind. Whenever someone masters it to perfection, even if thunder rumbles and lighting flashes, or water gushes and creates landslides, it would not bother him at all. This man looked like he knew this advanced skill of internal energy cultivation; but why couldn’t he control himself and feared the sound of the flute?

The flute music quickened and that man’s body was swaying and twitching. Several times he jumped a few feet off the ground and after struggling with all his might he was finally able to sit down again. Guo Jing saw this cycle happen several times: he would be calm for a moment, then agitated, before calming down again, but the cycle was getting shorter and shorter. Guo Jing knew that man was fighting a losing battle, so he started to worry for him.

The flute played two more intricate melodies softly. Suddenly the man shouted, “All right! All right!” and was about to jump up. Guo Jing realized the time was critical; without thinking he rushed forward and stretched out his hands pushing down on that man’s shoulder. His right hand tapped the ‘Big Spine’ [da zhui xue] acupoint on his neck. He remembered when he was training on that Mongolian cliff; whenever his mind was troubled and could not achieve tranquility, Ma Yu would gently stroke him on his ‘Big Spine’ acupoint and that helped calm him. His internal strength was not as strong as Ma Yu’s so he could not help this man to overcome the flute’s sound; but because he struck the right spot the long-haired old man was able to calm himself. He closed his eyes and seemed like he was in control.

Guo Jing was happy inside; then someone scolded him. “Little beast! You ruined my great effort!” The flute had suddenly stopped. Guo Jing turned his head and did not see anyone, but that voice sounded like Huang Yaoshi. He became anxious and regretted his actions. “I don’t know if this long-haired old man is good or bad and I thoughtlessly helped him. I’ve surely increased Rong’er’s father’s anger. If this old man is a monster or evil witch, then I just committed a big mistake?”

He heard the old man’s breathing slowing down to steady breathing. Guo Jing refrained himself from asking the old man questions. He simply sat quietly opposite him, closed his eyes and used that time to meditate. Soon he was able to calm himself and achieve a state of emptiness. He lost track of time and opened his eyes when the morning stars began to dim in the dawn light.

The morning sun shone through the trees and flowers, illuminating the old man’s face. Guo Jing could see him clearly now; his hair and beard were not entirely white and God only knows how many years a shaving knife had not touched his head. He looked like a cave man.

Suddenly the old man’s eyes opened. His eyes were bright and twinkling. He smiled faintly and asked, “Which one of the Quanzhen Seven Masters is your master?”

Guo Jing saw his kindly countenance and was put at ease. He stood up and bowed respectfully, “Disciple Guo Jing pays his respect to Senior. I am the disciple of the Seven Heroes of Jiangnan.”

The old man seemed surprised. “The Seven Heroes of Jiangnan; is that Ke Zhen’E and the others? How could they teach you the internal energy cultivation of the Quanzhen Sect?” he asked.

“Actually, Ma Dao Zhang [Taoist Priest Ma] spent two years teaching this disciple, but he did not permit me inside the Quanzhen Sect’s gate and wall,” Guo Jing answered. [Guo Jing meant that he was not taken as Ma Yu’s official disciple.]

That old man laughed heartily and then made faces. He looked so funny, like a child playing jokes. “So that’s how it is” he said, “How did you come to Peach Blossom Island?”

“Master Huang told me to come,” replied Guo Jing.

The old man’s face suddenly changed, “What for?” he asked.

“This disciple offended Master Huang,” Guo Jing answered. “I come here to accept my fate.”

“Are you telling the truth?” the old man asked.

“Disciple does not dare to lie,” answered Guo Jing.

The old man nodded, “Very good! Sit down!” he commanded.

Guo Jing sat on a big rock and he could see clearly that the old man was sitting inside a cave in a rock wall.

“Other than your Masters who else taught you martial arts?” the old man asked again.

“The Nine-fingered Divine Beggar, Benevolent Master Hong …” Guo Jing said.

The old man’s face changed again, it was strange, like he was going to smile but restrained himself. “Hong Qigong also taught you martial arts?” he interrupted.

“Yes,” replied Guo Jing. “Benevolent Master Hong taught me the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’.”

The old man’s face showed happiness and envy at the same time, “You know the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’? That martial art is so amazing. How about teaching it to me? I will take you as my master.” But then he shook his head and said, “Won’t do! Won’t do! As the Old Hong’s disciple your energy must not be that strong. Did Old Beggar Hong teach you internal energy?”

“He did not,” Guo Jing answered truthfully.

The old man looked up and thought aloud, “He looks so young. Even if he cultivated his internal energy inside his mother’s womb, it would be at most eighteen or nineteen year’s worth of internal energy. How could he resist the flute sound, while I could not?” He was deep in thought for a moment; then he looked at Guo Jing from top to bottom and again from bottom to top. He stretched out his right palm and said, “Push my palm; I want to test your martial arts.”

Guo Jing complied; he extended his right palm and pushed. The old man said, “Qi’ [internal energy] in your ‘dan tian’ [lower stomach region] and push hard!” Guo Jing exerted his strength. The old man pulled back his palm slightly then pushed hard while calling out, “Be careful!”

Guo Jing sensed a powerful force pushing him. He could not resist it, so he used his left hand to reinforce his right palm. Surprisingly, old man flipped his palm and pushed Guo Jing’s wrist with four fingers. The power of these fingers was enough to send Guo Jing flying backwards seven or eight steps until his back hit a tree. Only then did Guo Jing manage to stand steady.

“His martial arts are not bad, but nothing extraordinary either,” the old man muttered, “But how could he resist the Old Heretic Huang’s ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave song’ [bi hai chao sheng qu]?”

Guo Jing felt his chest tighten; he was astonished, “This man’s martial arts are about the same level as Shifu’s and Master Huang’s. How could there be an expert of his caliber on Peach Blossom Island? Could it be he is the Western Poison or the Southern Emperor?” As soon as he remembered ‘Western Poison’ his heart turned cold, “Did I fall for his trickery?” Quickly he lifted his palm in the sunlight and checked it. He did not see any inflammation or black marks and was relieved; at least he wasn’t being poisoned.

“Can you guess who I am?” the old man laughed.

“Disciple heard people say that in the martial arts realm there are five experts. The Quanzhen’s founder Venerable Wang has passed away; the disciples have met the ‘Nine-fingered Divine Beggar’ Benevolent Master Hong and the Master of Peach Blossom Island. Could you be the Senior Ouyang or the Emperor Duan?”

“You thought my martial arts are comparable to the Eastern Heretic and Northern Beggar didn’t you?” the old man smiled.

“This disciple’s martial arts are mediocre and my experience modest, I do not dare to speak nonsense. But when Senior pushed me a moment ago, I can say with confidence that other than Benevolent Master Hong and Master Huang, I have never experienced such force,” Guo Jing said.

The old man was delighted with Guo Jing’s praise; his face looked like a child’s happy face. “I am neither the Western Poison Ouyang Feng, nor the Emperor Duan,” he smiled broadly. “Guess again.”

Guo Jing hesitated. “This disciple has met somebody whose name was as well known as Benevolent Master Hong, Qiu Qianren. But that person’s martial arts are just ordinary. Disciple is really not smart, I cannot guess Senior’s honored name,” he said.

That old man laughed heartily, “My surname is Zhou; can you guess now?” he asked.

“Ah, you are Zhou Botong?” Guo Jing blurted. As the words came out of his mouth Guo Jing froze. Mentioning someone’s name, especially a Senior, could be considered disrespectful. He quickly bowed and apologized, “Disciple has shown disrespect, will Senior Zhou please forgive me.”

he old man laughed, “You are right! I am Zhou Botong. My name is Zhou Botong, and you called me Zhou Botong; when did you show me disrespect? The Quanzhen Sect’s founder, Wang Chongyang, was my martial brother; Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others are my martial nephews. You are not a Quanzhen disciple, you don’t have to call me Senior this or Senior that; just call me Zhou Botong.”

“How would disciple dare?” Guo Jing asked.

Zhou Botong had lived on Peach Blossom Island for a long time; he was bored and now Guo Jing suddenly came along. Talking with him he found relief; he was thrilled. Suddenly a strange thought came into his mind. “Little friend, what do you say you and I become sworn brothers?” he asked.

No matter how strange his words were, this was the strangest of all. Guo Jing’s jaw dropped and he looked at Zhou Botong in disbelief; he thought Zhou was joking. After a while he opened his mouth, “This disciple is Priest Ma and Priest Qiu’s junior; I should address you as my grand martial master.”

Zhou Botong waved his hands. “My martial arts skill came from my martial brother. Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others do not consider me their senior; they also did not respect me as a senior. You are not my son, I am not yours; we do not have older-younger generation difference.” As he spoke he heard footsteps approaching; an old servant appeared carrying a food basket. Zhou Botong beamed, “Our food is here!”

The servant opened the basket and took out four dishes of food, two pots of wine and a woven basket full of rice. He placed the food in front of Zhou Botong on top of a big rock, poured out two cups of wine and stood silently to one side.

“Where is Miss Huang? Why doesn’t she come looking for me?” Guo Jing asked. That servant shook his head, pointing to his ear and his mouth, signaling that he was deaf and mute.

“Huang Yaoshi punctured his ear drums. You can ask him to open his mouth wide and take a look,” Zhou Botong chuckled.

Guo Jing made a signal, asking that servant to open his mouth. Guo Jing was startled and frightened; that servant’s tongue had been cut in half.

“The servants of Peach Blossom Island are all like that,” Zhou Botong said. “You have come here and if you don’t die, you will end up like them.”

Guo Jing heard what he said and he was silent for a long time. “How could Rong’er’s father be so cruel?” he thought.

“That Old Heretic Huang tortures me every night,” Zhou Botong continued, “I don’t want to admit defeat to him. Last night I almost fell into his hands; if not for you, little brother, my more than ten plus years of effort resisting him might have crumbled in one evening. Come little brother, we have wine and food. Today we will take an oath to be sworn brothers; in the future we will share fortune and bear difficult times together. The year when Wang Chongyang and I became sworn brothers he also resisted in every way … Why? Do you really not know? My sworn brother Wang Chongyang’s martial arts were much higher than mine; that was why he was not willing to swear brotherhood with me. Are your martial arts also much higher than mine? I don’t think so.”

“Junior’s martial arts are way below yours,” Guo Jing answered. “I don’t deserve to swear brotherhood with you.”

“If you say to swear brotherhood you have to have the same level of martial arts, then I have to swear brotherhood with Old Heretic Huang, or Old Poison,” Zhou Botong said. “That’s ridiculous! I only like to fight with them! Do you want me to swear brotherhood with this deaf and mute fellow?” He pointed to that old servant and jumped up and down in a fit of rage.

Guo Jing saw his red face and he quickly said, “Disciple and Senior are two generations apart. If I follow Senior’s directions, people will laugh at us and ridicule me. When I meet Priest Ma and Priest Qiu, how can I not be ashamed?”

“You have these many considerations. You certainly don’t want to swear brotherhood with me because I am too old”, he sputtered. Zhou Botong covered his face and cried while unconsciously pulling his beard.

Guo Jing nervously waved his hands, “Disciple will do whatever Senior instructs.”

Zhou Botong cried even harder. “You said that because of my coercion, you reluctantly agreed; that doesn’t count. When someone asks in the future, you will say that it was entirely my fault. I know you are not willing to call me your sworn brother.”

Guo Jing was secretly amused. How could such an old man not act his age? He saw him pick up a dish and toss it outside; he did not want to eat any longer. The old servant promptly picked it up; he didn’t know what was going on and he was terrified.

Guo Jing had no choice; suppressing a laugh he said, “Since Elder Brother had shown kindness, how could Little Brother not accept? Let us use earth in place of incense and become sworn brothers.”

Zhou Botong smiled through his tears. “I have sworn to Old Heretic Huang that as long as I cannot defeat him, I will never leave this hole except for bowel movements or urinating. I will kowtow inside, you kowtow outside,” he said.

“If you can’t defeat Master Huang, then you will live in this hole all your life?” Guo Jing thought; but he did not say anything and simply knelt down on the ground.

Zhou Botong knelt alongside; with a clear voice he said, “Today the Old Urchin Zhou Botong and Guo Jing are swearing a brotherhood [lit. ‘jin lan’ – golden orchid]. We will share good fortune together and will face difficulty together. If I break this oath, may my martial arts perish so that I can’t even fight a puppy or a kitten.”

Guo Jing heard him call himself ‘Old Urchin’, and his oath was sort of peculiar; he could not restrain a smile. Zhou Botong stared at him. “What are you smiling at? Quickly say your oath.” Guo Jing quickly recited his oath; then two people poured wine on the ground. Guo Jing then paid his respects to his elder brother.

Zhou Botong laughed heartily and loudly shouted, “That’s enough! That’s enough!” He poured some more wine and drank. “The Old Heretic Huang is very stingy; he serves me insipid wine only. One day a little miss came and brought me some good wine; it’s a pity she never came back.”

Guo Jing remembered Huang Rong had told him how she stole some wine and brought it to Zhou Botong; because of that she was scolded by her father. This caused her to leave the island in anger. It seemed like Zhou Botong was not aware of it. Guo Jing had been hungry for the whole day; he did not want to drink any wine but he ate five big bowls of rice. Now at least he was full. As soon as the two finished eating, the old servant cleaned up and took the leftovers back.

“Brother,” Zhou Botong asked, “How did you offend the Old Heretic Huang? Tell your big brother.”

Guo Jing then narrated how he accidentally killed Chen Xuanfeng in his childhood; how at the Cloud Manor he had fought and defeated Mei Chaofeng; how Huang Yaoshi made things difficult for the Six Freaks of Jiangnan; how because of that he had made a promise to come to Peach Blossom Island within a month to die; he told Zhou everything.

Zhou Botong loved to listen to stories; he bent his head, squinted, and listened with enthusiasm. When Guo Jing only recounted something briefly he would ask for every detail of it. Every time Guo Jing paused even for the slightest time he urged him, “Then what happened?”

“Then I arrived here,” Guo Jing finally said.

Zhou Botong hesitated a moment. “Hmm…so turns out that pretty little girl is the Old Heretic Huang’s daughter. She is good to you. Why did she disappear soon after arriving on the island? There must be a reason, maybe Old Heretic Huang locked her up.”

Guo Jing’s anxiety showed on his face, “This disciple also had this thought …”

“What did you say?” Zhou Botong snapped as his face changed color.

Guo Jing knew he made a mistake and quickly said, “Little brother made an indiscreet remark, please don’t mind me, Big Brother.”

Zhou Botong smiled. “The way you address me cannot be wrong. If you call me any name, then you’d better call me ‘wifey’, or ‘mommy’, or ‘daughter’. No, don’t make a mistake,” he said. Guo Jing agreed.

Zhou Botong leaned his head and asked, “Can you guess how I ended up here?”

“Brother is just about to ask,” Guo Jing said.

“It’s a long story, I will tell to you completely,” Zhou Botong said. “Do you know when the five experts, the Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor, Northern Beggar and the Central Divinity, were having a sword meet on Mount Hua?”

Guo Jing nodded, “I’ve heard people talk of it.”

“It was in the dead of winter at Mount Hua,” Zhou Botong continued. “The peak was covered with a heavy snow. Five people were having a meet there; their hands contended in martial arts for seven straight days and nights. In the end the Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor, and the Northern Beggar admitted that my martial brother, Wang Chongyang’s martial arts was number one in the world. Do you know why those five people were having that sword meet at Mount Hua?”

“This, brother has not heard,” Guo Jing replied.

“It was because of a scripture …” Zhou Botong said.

“The ‘Nine Yin Manual’!” Guo Jing exclaimed.

“That’s right!” Zhou Botong said. “Brother, you are young, but your knowledge of Wulin matters is not shallow. Do you know the origin of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, then?”

“That I actually do not know,” Guo Jing replied.

Zhou Botong playfully pulled his ears and long hair and his face showed that he was very pleased with himself. “A moment ago you told me a very interesting story, now …”

“What I told you was not a story; that really happened to me,” Guo Jing interrupted.

“What is the difference? As long as it is good to listen to,” Zhou Botong said. “Some people spend their lives eating, sleeping, urinating and defecating. If those people tell me every single detail of their life, the Old Urchin will die of suffocation.”

Guo Jing nodded his head. “That’s true,” he said. “Then why doesn’t Big Brother tell the story of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ for little brother to hear.”

“The Emperor Hui Zong in the year of Zheng He wanted to compile Taoist books and scriptures from all over the world. He wanted to publish the work, which consisted of 5481 Chapters altogether. They were called the ‘Taoist Canon of Everlasting Life’ [wan shou dao zang]. The Emperor commissioned someone to do the work; he was called Huang Shang …”

“He was also surnamed Huang?” Guo Jing asked.

“Bah! What’s so special about the family name Huang?” Zhou Botong spat. “This person had nothing to do with the Old Heretic Huang Yaoshi; don’t get any wrong ideas. There are numerous people surnamed Huang in this world; the ‘yellow’ [huang] dog or yellow cat are also surnamed Huang.”

Guo Jing thought that a yellow dog and a yellow cat did not necessarily have ‘huang’ as their surnames, but he did not want to debate him; so he let him continue with his story.

“This Old Heretic Huang is not as smart as that Huang Shang. He was extremely intelligent …” Zhou Botong continued. Guo Jing wanted to say, “It turns out he was also an extremely intelligent person,” but that thought stopped at his mouth.

“This Huang Shang was very afraid he might make a mistake in the writing of the canon; because if the Emperor found out later, he would surely lose his head. Therefore, he read and re-read each volume to make sure his work was error-free. Unexpectedly, after several years of studying the scriptures, he became very proficient in the Taoist doctrines; he had found the profound truths of martial arts. He did not have a master, so he trained himself in internal and external energy cultivation and became a grand master of martial arts. Brother, this Huang Shang was many times smarter than you are. I don’t have his kind of intelligence and I don’t think you do either.”

“Naturally,” Guo Jing said. “If I were to study more than five thousand chapters of scripture, it will take me a life time just to read them from beginning to the end. How would I comprehend the martial arts inside them as well?”

Zhou Botong sighed. “These kinds of intelligent people still exist in the world today,” he said, “But if you meet this kind of people, chances are, you will face unfortunate events.”

Guo Jing did not agree with his view and secretly thought, “Rong’er is very intelligent; but since I met her I have always found good luck. How can he say ‘unfortunate’?” But he was not the kind who liked to argue, so he kept his thoughts to himself.

“Huang Shang had mastered the martial arts, yet he still held an office in the government,” Zhou Botong continued. “There came a time when there suddenly arose a religious movement in the kingdom; they called themselves the ‘Ming Cult’ [ming jiao]. It was said that this movement originated in central Asia; a place called Persia. The followers of this Ming Cult: first – did not worship the ‘Supreme Master Lao’ [tai shang lao jun translator note: I think he was a Taoist Deity]; second – did not worship ancestor spirits; third – did not worship Buddha. They only worshipped an old foreign devil. They did not eat meat or drink wine; they were vegetarians. The Emperor Hui Zong only believed in Taoism; so as soon as he found out about this devil cult he issued an imperial decree assigning Huang Shang to eradicate it. Unexpectedly, there were many martial arts masters among the members of the cult. They were fearless of death and fought Huang Shang and his troops, rendering them useless. After several battles Huang Shang and his troops suffered heavy losses. Huang Shang was indignant. He went out and challenged the Devil Cult’s martial arts masters to a one-to-one combat. He personally killed several ‘imperial priests’ [fa wang] and some envoys. How could he know that the people he killed were disciples of well-known Wulin characters; some were their martial uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters or their immediate families. Of course those people were enraged and they came together to face him. They scolded him for not handling the affairs according to Wulin customs, to which Huang Shang replied, ‘I am a government officer and not part of the Wulin world. What do I know about your Wulin customs?’ Those whose family or relatives were killed argued, ‘If you are not part of the Wulin world, then how do you know martial arts? Are you saying that your master only taught you martial arts but did not tell you anything about the Wulin customs?’ Huang Shang replied, ‘I didn’t have a master.’ Of course they did not believe him; so they became involved in a heated argument. What do you think happened?”

“They began to fight each other,” Guo Jing said.

“Obvious, wasn’t it?” Zhou Botong said. “Huang Shang’s martial arts were strange and none of his enemies had seen it before. Because of this he could kill some of them quite easily. However, his enemies were numerous and he was also injured in the fight, so in desperation he ran away. Those enemies then wiped out his parents, wife and children completely.”

Listening to this part Guo Jing heaved a sigh. He thought that people who practiced martial arts would inevitably kill others. This Huang Shang was no different; had he not practiced martial arts, he would not have experienced such tragedy.

“That Huang Shang fellow ran away to a deserted place and hid himself there,” Zhou Botong continued. “There he tried to recall his enemies’ martial arts one by one. He painstakingly pondered as to how to defeat each and every one of them. He decided that as soon as he succeeded in developing the countering martial arts, he would go back and seek his revenge. A long time passed before he finally was able to master the new martial arts. He was very happy and expected that very soon he would be able to avenge his family. Thereupon he left the mountain to seek his enemies. Unexpectedly, the people he was looking for had disappeared. Can you guess what happened to them?”

“Perhaps his enemies found out his intentions and they knew his martial arts were very good, so they were frightened and hid from him,” Guo Jing guessed.

Zhou Botong shook his head, “No, no. When my martial brother told me this story he also asked me to guess what happened and I also said the same thing. I even made seven or eight other guesses but none of them was right.”

“Well, if Big Brother guessed seven or eight times yet did not hit the target then I don’t have to make any other guesses at all. Even if I guess seventy or eighty times I will certainly guess incorrectly,” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong roared with laughter, “No chance, you have no chance at all! All right, since you admit defeat I won’t ask you to guess anymore. Actually several dozens of his enemies had died.”

Guo Jing uttered a cry of disbelief. “That’s strange! Could it be that his friends or maybe his disciples avenged him and killed all his enemies?” he asked.

Again Zhou Botong shook his head, “No, no. You missed by a hundred and eight thousand li. He did not have any disciples. He was a government official and his friends were scholars, not martial artists; how could they avenge him?”

Guo Jing scratched his head. “Could it be that they were plagued by some disease and died in some kind of epidemic?”

“Also incorrect. His enemies were scattered; some lived in Shandong, some came from Huguang, several were from Hebei and Liangzhe. How could they die in the same epidemic?” Zhou Botong asked; but then he exclaimed. “Ah! Yes, yes! That’s right! Some epidemics could kill you no matter where you are, even if you ran to the ends of the earth. Can you guess what kind of epidemic was it?”

Guo Jing mentioned typhus, smallpox, dysentery and six or seven other types of diseases; but Zhou Botong shook his head every time. Finally Guo Jing exclaimed, “Foot-and-mouth disease!” Then he faked surprise, covered his mouth, stood up and tapped his head with his left hand and burst into laughter. “I was kidding! Foot-and-mouth disease is the plague of cattle on the Mongolian steppe; it won’t attack humans.”

Zhou Botong also burst out in laughter. “The more you guess the weirder you become. Huang Shang looked everywhere before he finally found one of his enemies. It was a woman. When they fought originally, she was only a sixteen or seventeen year old girl, but when Huang Shang found her, she was a sixty-year old granny …”

Guo Jing’s jaw dropped. “This is really weird! Ah, right, she must have disguised herself as an old lady so Huang Shang wouldn’t recognize her.”

“She did not disguise herself,” Zhou Botong answered. “Just think: Huang Shang had several dozen enemies and each one of them was a martial arts expert; each came from a respectable martial arts school or family. Can you imagine how profound and complicated each of their skills were? He wanted to defeat each person’s unique skill; just how much time did he painstakingly spend to achieve such a result? He was hiding in a remote mountain area and diligently trained. Day and night only martial arts occupied his mind, he did not care about anything else; without him realizing it, it had taken more than forty years altogether.”

“More than forty years?” Guo Jing was astonished.

“That’s right,” Zhou Botong asserted. “When you are totally absorbed in learning martial arts, forty years will pass quite quickly. I have been here for fifteen years yet it did not feel like it was that long. When Huang Shang saw that young girl had turned into an old granny, his heart was heavy with emotions. That old lady was sick, bedridden and was dying. Without him raising a hand she would die in a few days. The heartache and hatred of dozens of years just vanished without a trace. Brother, everybody has to die. The epidemic I was asking you about earlier was death. When your time comes, you cannot run away.”

Guo Jing silently nodded. Zhou Botong continued, “My martial brother and his seven disciples’, day in and day out, dedicate themselves to achieving the perfection of life. But tell me: is it really possible to cultivate a divine body that won’t see death? That was the reason I did not want to follow the ox-nosed way of living.”

Guo Jing was lost in thought. Zhou Botong continued, “Some of Huang Shang’s enemies had been about forty or fifty years of age; add another forty years plus, how could they not die? Ha … ha … ha … Actually he did not have to trouble himself by training his martial arts and developing new techniques; all he had to do was outlive his enemies. Forty plus years and Heaven would take care of his personal enemies for him.”

Guo Jing nodded. “Well then, should I look for Wanyan Honglie to avenge my father or not?” he wondered in his heart.

Zhou Botong again said, “However, learning martial arts diligently could bring endless pleasure to one’s life. If one did not practice martial arts, what other interesting thing is worth doing? There are endless toys and gadgets in the world, but after playing with them for a while you will get bored eventually. With martial arts, the more you play, the more interesting it becomes. Brother, don’t you agree?”

Guo Jing only made an ‘hmm’ sound noncommittally, showing neither his approval nor disapproval. He admitted that knowing martial arts could be fun; but it was also hard work. He had trained in martial arts since he was very young and he could not say the training was ‘fun’. He had to work hard and suffer, without a single day of leisure.

Zhou Botong saw he was not showing much enthusiasm, “Why didn’t you ask me what happened next?” he asked.

Guo Jing hastily said, “Right! What happened next?”

Zhou Botong was sulking, “If you don’t prompt me every now and then I will lose my eagerness for telling you the story.”

“Yes, yes, Big Brother, what happened next?” Guo Jing prompted.

“Huang Shang thought, ‘I realize I am old now and do not have too many years for good works.’ He had taken those several dozens of years of pain to master the martial arts techniques of almost every martial arts school in the world. But after all those years, who would enjoy his work? How could he let his life-long work be wasted just like that? Therefore, he decided to compile the techniques he had mastered into a two-volume book. What would that be?”

“What is it?” Guo Jing asked.

“Ay! Don’t tell me you cannot guess this one,” Zhou Botong said.

Guo Jing thought for a moment, then asked, “Is it the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?”

“We have talked for half a day about the origin of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’; why do you still ask?” Zhou Botong scolded.

Guo Jing smiled, “Well, Little Brother was afraid to make another incorrect guess.”

Zhou Botong continued, “After compiling the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, Huang Shang wrote it as a disguised literary book; my martial brother later found out about it. Huang Shang had hidden the book in a very secret place so that for dozens of years nobody knew of its existence. For some reason this book appeared later and the Wulin world was troubled. Everybody wanted to get hold of it. It was a dog-eat-dog situation. My martial brother said that the heroes who fought over this book and lost their lives came from all parts of the Wulin world; the number was over a hundred people. Every time someone got hold of it and practiced for half-a-year or a year, somebody else would find that person and snatch the book. Who knows how many times the cycle repeated or how many lives it cost. The one who got it would try to avoid others, but the pursuers were so numerous and in the end they would always find that person. Sometimes they used force, sometimes trickery and I don’t know how many times the book changed hands.”

“If that’s the case, then this book is actually the most damned thing for mankind,” Guo Jing said. “If Chen Xuanfeng did not have this book he would have been able to live peacefully with Mei Chaofeng in some remote village and Island Master Huang would not have looked for him. If Mei Chaofeng did not have this book, she would not be in her wretched condition today.”

“Brother, why do you have such a negative feeling towards the book?” Zhou Botong asked. “The martial arts contained inside the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ are very profound and divinely wonderful. If someone is able to learn even a little bit of it, how could that someone’s life not be changed? Even though it has created disasters, what does that have to do with it? Didn’t I say that not everybody was dead because of it?”

“Big Brother,” Guo Jing said, “That is because you are so fascinated with martial arts.”

“That goes without saying,” Zhou Botong smiled. “Those who practice martial arts have endless pleasure. Common people are so foolish; some love to study to become government officials; some love gold or exquisite jewels; some love beautiful women; but those who find pleasure in martial arts, won’t those people be able to do much more in times of emergency?”

“Little Brother has practiced a little bit of shallow martial arts, but I have not yet learned to have any endless pleasure from it,” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong sighed. “Silly kid, silly kid; then why did you practice martial arts?” he asked.

“Masters wanted me to practice, I practiced,” Guo Jing replied.

Zhou Botong shook his head. “You are really dumb,” he said. “I am telling you: a man may not like the food he eats; he may not love his own life, but he cannot not practice martial arts.”

Guo Jing replied while thinking, “This Brother of mine is really addicted to martial arts and that’s why he acts so crazy.” He said, “I noticed that the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ practiced the martial arts of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’; it was completely evil. Those absolutely cannot be practiced.”

Zhou Botong shook his head. “Those ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ did not train correctly. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is upright and honest, how could it be evil?”

Guo Jing had seen Mei Chaofeng’s martial arts with his own eyes, so he did not believe what he heard.

Zhou Botong asked, “Where were we in the story?”

“You talked about the heroes of the world fighting over the ‘Nine Yin Manual’,” replied Guo Jing.

“That’s right!” Zhou Botong said. “Afterwards, the troubles kept getting bigger and more complicated so that the likes of the Quanzhen Sect’s Leader, Peach Blossom Island Master Old Heretic Huang and Beggar  Clan Leader Hong had to intervene. Those five people agreed to meet at Mount Hua and have a contest. Whoever possessed the highest martial arts skill would get the book.”

“And the book fell into your martial brother’s hand,” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong’s eyes lit up. “That’s right! My martial brother Wang and I were good friends; he had not yet become a priest when we became good friends. Later on he taught me martial arts. He said I practiced martial arts like crazy and was too determined; it did not fit well with the Taoist way of seeking peace and perfection. That is the reason why, though  my martial arts are from Quanzhen, my martial brother did not let me become a Taoist priest. That, precisely, was what I expected. Amongst my martial brother’s disciples, Qiu Chuji was the one with the highest martial arts skill. My martial brother did not like it and said Qiu devoted too much time practicing martial arts and neglected to cultivate his Taoist faith. He said that whoever wanted to practice martial arts must do so diligently; while those who entered the Taoist way must do so with a simple heart. Those two did not go together very well. Ma Yu inherited my martial brother’s Taoist faith, but his martial arts are actually inferior to Qiu Chuji and Wang Chuyi.”

“The Quanzhen Sect Master Wang, how did he become both a Taoist saint and a martial arts master?” Guo Jing asked.

“His natural talent was that incredible. He was able to master martial arts quite easily, while I had to practice hard and diligently.” Zhou Botong answered. “Where were we in the story? Why did you divert my attention with your question?”

Guo Jing smiled. “You were talking about your martial brother obtaining the ‘Nine Yin Manual’.”

“That’s right,” Zhou Botong said. “After he had the book in his possession, he did not learn anything from it. He put the book inside a stone box and buried it underneath the flagstone where he sat meditating daily. It seemed strange and I asked him what was going on. He smiled but did not say anything. I became anxious, but he simply told me to go and think about it. Go ahead and try to guess… why did he do that?”

“Was he afraid somebody might come and steal it from him?” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong repeatedly shook his head, “No, no! Who would dare to steal a Quanzhen Sect Master’s belongings unless that person was bored of his own life?”

Guo Jing pondered for a long time. Suddenly he jumped up and exclaimed, “That’s right! That book should be hidden away really well; better yet, it should have been burned.”

Zhou Botong was astonished; he stared hard at Guo Jing. “My martial brother at that time said the same thing; but every time he was going to do it, he hesitated at the last moment. Brother, you are not that smart, how did you guess correctly?” he asked.

Guo Jing blushed. “I thought that Venerable Wang’s martial arts were already number one in the world; even if he trained from the manual himself, he would still be number one. I also thought that his intentions at the sword meet on Mount Hua were not to be the number one but to obtain this ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He wanted it, not to benefit from it, but rather to avoid further bloodshed amongst the heroes of Wulin.”

Zhou Botong raised his head and looked up to the sky; he looked like one whose spirit had left him. He was silent for a long time. Guo Jing became anxious, he was afraid he had said something wrong and had offended this new brother of his with the strange temperament. Finally Zhou Botong sighed and asked, “How could you think of this truth?”

“I don’t know,” said Guo Jing, scratching his head. “I just thought that because this book had caused numerous deaths; even if it was a precious book, it would still be better if it were destroyed.”

“I know his reasoning, but I have never understood it,” Zhou Botong said. “My martial brother often times said that I am smart and have a natural talent for learning martial arts; also I have the determination to achieve success; but, he said, first of all I am too fascinated with it, and second, I do not have a caring heart towards other people. Even if I had a lifetime to train myself hard; I will never achieve perfection. At that time I listened to him, but did not believe him and thought, ‘What does training myself to move my fist or kick or use a blade have to do with the state of my heart?’ These past ten years or so I have been pondering over it and I can no longer believe it. Brother, your heart is upright, your mind is broad. It’s a pity that my martial brother is dead, otherwise I am sure he would have liked what he saw in you and I am sure he would have bestowed his unparalleled martial arts on you. If only he hadn’t died …” Remembering his late brother, he suddenly bent over a rock and wept bitterly.

Guo Jing did not really understand what he was saying, but seeing his brother crying miserably could not help but feel grief in his own heart. After a while, Zhou Botong suddenly raised his head and said, “Ah! Our story is not finished yet; let us finish it, then we can cry some more. Where were we? Why didn’t you persuade me not to cry?”

Guo Jing smiled and said; “You were telling me about how Venerable Wang hid the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ underneath a flagstone.”

Zhou Botong slapped his thigh and said, “That’s right! He had hidden the book underneath a flagstone. I asked him if I could take look at it, but he scolded me; afterwards I did not dare to ask him again. The Wulin world again enjoyed peace and quiet for some time. Then martial brother died; and at the time of his death there was quite a disturbance in the martial arts world.”

When Guo Jing heard the tone of his voice he became anxious, knowing that the disturbance must not be small. He opened his ears and listened attentively. Zhou Botong continued, “Martial Brother was aware that he could not avoid his imminent death; therefore, he arranged for us to take care of his unfinished business. He even asked me to take the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ out and bring it to him. He prepared a fire and was about to burn the book. But after stroking the book for a long time he heaved a deep sigh and said, ‘This book is a Senior’s lifelong effort; how can it be destroyed by my hand? Water can float a boat, yet it can also sink a boat; we’ll have to see if the future generations make good use of it. However, I forbid our Sect’s disciples from practicing what is in this book, so that people cannot accuse me of having wanted to own this book for personal gain.’ After saying those words he closed his eyes and died. That very evening, it was not even the third hour yet, something happened in the temple.”

“Ah!” Guo Jing uttered a cry; Zhou Botong continued, “That night I stayed up with the Quanzhen’s seven first generation disciples and kept a vigil at the side of the coffin. Around midnight enemies came. They were all skilled pugilists. The Quanzhen Seven Masters immediately went out and engaged the enemies in battle. They were afraid the enemies would desecrate their master’s remains. I was the only one left guarding the coffin. I heard someone outside shouting, ‘Hand over the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ quickly, otherwise your temple will be burned to the ground.’ I looked outside and could not help feeling cold fear in my stomach. I saw a man standing on a tree branch and his body was swaying following the branch movements. It was an extraordinary demonstration of lightness kungfu. At that time I thought, ‘This lightness kungfu is superior to mine; if he is willing, I’d like to take him as my master.’ But then I changed my mind, ‘It’s wrong! It’s wrong! This man must have come here to steal the ‘Nine Yin Manual’; not only can I not bow to him to become his disciple, but I must fight him.’ I did not know him, but whether I wanted it or not, I had to fight him. So I jumped outside and fought with him on the tree. I fought him for thirty or forty moves and I was getting frightened; the enemy was a few years younger than I was, but his martial arts were so fierce that I had a hard time keeping up with him. Finally I got hit on my shoulder by his palm and fell down from the tree.”

“You have such high martial arts skills, yet you lost to him. Who was that?” Guo Jing wondered.

Zhou Botong answered his question with another question, “Can you guess?”

Guo Jing thought for a while then exclaimed, “Western Poison!”

“Ah!” Zhou Botong was amazed. “How did you guess?”

Guo Jing replied, “Little Brother thought that the people whose martial arts were higher than yours must be the people who were involved in the sword meet at Mount Hua. Benevolent Master Hong is straightforward and honest. The Emperor Duan is an Emperor, he would not stoop so low to steal someone else’s possession. Little Brother does not know Island Master Huang’s real character very well, but he is a proud man and not the kind of person who would take advantage of someone else’s precarious condition and make a thief of himself!”

From the flower shrubs outside a shout suddenly came, clear and loud, “The little animal has good judgment!”

Guo Jing leaped towards that voice, but that person’s movements were too swift. Guo Jing could not even see his shadow; only the trees were still swaying and flower petals fell down to the ground in abundance.

“Brother, come back!” Zhou Botong called out. “That was the Old Heretic Huang. He’s already far away.”

Guo Jing returned to the front of the cave, while Zhou Botong commented, “Old Heretic Huang is proficient in the amazing and weird five-element techniques; he arranged this vegetation according to Zhuge Liang’s maze-laying arts of the past.” [For those interested in more background on the eight trigrams (ba gua) one source on the net is the Feng Shui Institute.]

“Zhuge Liang’s laws?” Guo Jing was amazed.

Zhou Botong sighed, “That’s right. Old Heretic Huang is well versed in music, chess, calligraphy and painting, medicine, divination and astronomy; as well as farming and irrigation; economics and military strategy. Nothing is hidden from him, nothing that he is not proficient at. It’s too bad he likes to give the Old Urchin a hard time and when we fight, I will not necessarily win. Once he flies east and west amongst this vegetation nobody will be able to catch him.”

Guo Jing was silent for a long time. He was thinking about how amazing Huang Yaoshi was and was unable to restrain feeling captivated. After a while he remembered the story and asked, “Big Brother, you were hit by the Western Poison and fell down from the tree. What happened next?”

Zhou Botong slapped his thigh. “Right! This time you did not forget to remind me about the story,” he exclaimed. “I was hit by Ouyang Feng’s palm; the pain entered my heart and lungs and I wasn’t able to move for half a day. I saw him rushing into the mourning hall, but I couldn’t do anything; I was badly injured. Then I gritted my teeth and, risking my own life, I chased him. I saw him standing in front of my martial brother’s coffin. He stretched his hand to take the book from the table in front of the coffin. I was groaning inwardly; I was not his match and my martial nephews had not come back from fighting the other enemies outside. At this critical moment there was a loud cracking sound; the coffin’s wooden lid burst open and flew away, leaving a gaping hole in the coffin.”

“Did Ouyang Feng use his palm to destroy Venerable Wang’s coffin?” Guo Jing asked.

“No, no!” Zhou Botong replied. “It was my own martial brother who used his palm strength to break open the lid.”

After listening to this strange and absurd tale Guo Jing’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. He was speechless.

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