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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 16

 Chapter 16: Old gratitudes, past grievances - friends in morning, becomes foes at midday
Everyone turned their heads and looked behind the apricot trees. A square faced, big eared monk, dignified in appearance wearing an ash colored robe, stepped out. Elder Xu cried, “Reverend Zhiguang from Mt. Tiantai has arrived! 30 years since we last met, reverend still look as healthy as ever.”

Reverend Zhiguang’s reputation was not well known in recent years so many of the latter generations of the Beggar Clan do not know his name. But Qiao Feng and the six clan elders all stood up and paid him respect, having known of his reputation from before. In the past, the Reverend had sailed the seas to deserted lands and islands looking for medicinal herbs to treat malaria and other illnesses for the common people in the Zhejiang, Fujian Guangdong and Guangxi area. Because of this, the Reverend had caught an illness himself and lost his martial arts, thus the gratitudes of the common people for his deeds are not small. Many people came up to salute him.

Reverend Zhiguang turned to Zhao Qiansun, smiled and said, “Wugong that is inferior to the opponent when attacked, wanting to retaliate is already hard. Wugong that is superior to the opponent when attacked, and choose not retaliate is even harder.” Zhao Qiansun lowered his head as if pondering what was said.

Elder Xu said, “Reverend Zhiguang’s brilliant wisdom and benevolent grace are so widespread that no one dares to disrespect. In the past ten years Reverend had not involved yourself with any business in Jianghu, but today you grace us with your presence and bringing the Beggar Clan great honor. I am deeply grateful.”
 
Reverend Zhiguang replied, “Elder Xu of the Beggar Clan and Iron Faced Judge Shan of Mt. Taishan both asked me to come, so how can I refuse? The distance between Mt. Tiantai and Wuxi is not great, moreover this matter deals with the peace and prosperity of the common people thus I came when summoned.”

Qiao Feng thought to himself, “So it turns out he was asked here by Elder Xu and Shan Zheng. Reverend Zhiguang has a reputation of high prestige and a noble character. There’s no way he would be involved with the plot to harm me. Maybe with him here is a good thing.”

Zhao Qiansun suddenly spoke up, “The battle at Quarry Stone Valley outside of Yanmen Guan Pass, Reverend Zhiguang also participated in it. You can speak about it first.”

Reverend Zhiguang hearing the mentioned of Quarry Stone Valley caused his facial complexion to became distorted, showing an uncomfortable restlessness and a hint of fear, like a person who saw a horrible sight and can’t bear to look. His face then switched to a melancholic look full of pity, let out a long sigh, and said, “The sin is really heavy, to speak of this matter brings up feelings of great shame. Everyone, the battle at Quarry Stone Valley took place 30 years ago, so why today bring up this matter?”

Elder Xu replied, “Only because our clan is facing a impending crisis involving the matter in this letter.” After speaking he brought out the letter and handed it over.

Reverend Zhiguang read the letter from beginning to end, shook his head and said, “Grievances of the past should not be reopened, why bring up this old matter? According to my opinion, this letter should be destroyed so it will bring this matter to an end. That is the best solution.”

Elder Xu retorted, “Vice Chief Ma of our clan died a tragic death. If this matter is not investigated carefully then this injustice suffered by Vice Chief Ma will never be washed away and it will lead to a disintegration of our clan.”
 
Reverend Zhiguang could only nod his in in agreement, “What you said is true.” The reverend looked up at late afternoon sky showing the new moon shining a thin ray of light onto the apricot trees for a long time, then turned to Zhao Qiansun and said, “Okay, the mistake that I committed many years back, I won’t conceal it anymore. I will be straightforward about what happened back then.”

Zhao Qiansun shook his head, “A mistake is a mistake. Why continue to deceive ourselves and others.”

The Reverend turned to the people gathered and spoke, “30 years ago, heroes of realm of rivers and lakes received news that a group of Khitan warriors planned to launch a sneak attack on the Shaolin Temple to steal martial art manuals developed over the past hundreds of years…”

Everyone gasped softly thinking to themselves, “The ambitions of these Khitan warriors are not small.” The unique martial art secrets of Shaolin Temple are the treasures of Great Song. Liao and Great Song had been at war with each other for many years, if these Khitan succeeded in stealing the martial art secrets of Shaolin and train their military in them, the armies of Great Song will not be able to repel their invasions.

Reverend Zhiguang continued, “This matter was a matter of great crisis. If the Khitans succeeded then Great Song would be facing a calamity with the threat of losing the country, the entire family of the Emperor will be put to the sword. The matter was urgent so our group of heroes did not have time to investigate this matter carefully. We heard that the group of Khitans will travel through Yanmen Guan Pass so beside from sending message to Shaolin to be on full alert, the group all immediately headed out to Yanmen Guan Pass to meet the enemy. If we couldn’t annihilate that group then at least we can foil their plans.”

Hearing of the impending battle with the Khitans, everyone’s blood started to boiled. Great Song over the years have been humiliated by the armies of Liao, having lost many battles, land was invaded, and the common people suffered greatly.
 
Reverend Zhiguang slowly turned his head, stared at Qiao Feng and asked, “Qiao Bangzhu, if Bangzhu had known of this news then what would you have done?”

Qiao Feng dignifiedly replied, “Reverend Zhiguang! My wisdom is limited, my abilities too lacking for people to praise, even brothers in the clan suspect of them that to even speak of it brings shame. But even though I am incompetent, I still am a man, and regarding these matters of principal one know what is right, what is wrong. Our Great Song has constantly been terrorized by armies of Liao, this dishonor upon our country, who here has never thought of cleansing? If I had heard of news such as those, I will immediately lead brothers in our clan to travel day and night to help stop them.”

Those words of his were very heroic and proud, everyone who heard was touched inside and thought to themselves, “Now that is how a true man should act.”

Reverend Zhiguang nodded and said, “Since Qiao Bangzhu said that, when I headed out to Yanmen Guan Pass to ambush the Khitans, there is nothing wrong with that right?”

Qiao Feng angrily thought to himself, “Who does this old man think he is? Saying that, isn’t it just like looking down on me?” However he betrayed no emotions and just calmly said, “The heroic spirit of all seniors here are fierce, I greatly admire them. I regret that I was not born 30 years earlier so that I could follow the heroes to fight the Khitans.”

Reverend Zhiguang looked at him carefully once more, his facial expressions were strange, and slowly said, “At that time we split up into small groups heading to Yanmen Guan Pass. I and this brother here…” he pointed to Zhao Qiansun and continued, “were in the first group. Our group consisted of 21 people. Brother Leader was younger than I by a few years, however his martial arts were outstanding, and many people revered his status in the martial arts world, thus we all nominated him to be our Leader. Everyone listened to him and carried out his orders. In our group there were Wang Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan, Ten Thousand Wins Saber the hero Wang Laoying, the Great Sword God Priest Yun of Mt. Huashan, they were
 
all first class martial art masters. At that time I have yet to become a monk, and to be grouped together with such heroes I felt very unworthy. Only that my desire to serve my country to kill enemies did not allow for me to be polite and stand in the rear of that group. When it comes to killing enemies and protecting the country, every little strength that can be contributed should be contributed. The martial arts of these brothers were much greater than my own, as for nowadays, as you may know there is no need to compare anymore.”

Zhao Qiansun added, “That’s correct! At that time my martial arts were much greater than yours. As much as this..” As he said that he spread both his arms out wide to show the difference. But seeing that the distance was still not enough, he tried spreading out his finger tips to add a few inches.

Reverend Zhiguang just continued with his story, “Our group reached Yanmen Guan Pass and waited until near dusk, then went out beyond the Great Wall 10 more miles. We were on guard and very careful the whole time. Suddenly in the northwest direction we heard sounds of horses running, listening to the sound there were at least 10 riders. Brother Leader raised his right hand up and all of us halted. Everyone in the group were both excited and worried, no one dared to say a word. Excited because the news were not false, and the group arrived in time to stop the enemies. However also worried because everyone knows that these Khitans must be very fierce and capable to even dare attack Shaolin, who is the Mount Tai of martial art studies. If they were friendly then they wouldn’t have came, but since they came they couldn’t be friendly at all. These warriors must have been chosen very carefully, 1 chosen out of 10,000 so they must not be ordinary. Great Song had fought many battles with the Khitans, defeats were many but victories few, the outcome of the battle would be hard to imagine.”

“Brother Leader waved his hands and all 21 of us spread out around the mountain road and hid among the boulders. The left side of the mountain was a deep valley where the bottom could not even be seen.”

“The sound of hoofbeats start getting nearer and nearer, there was a sound of 7-8 people together singing a song native to the the people of Liao. The singing was gracefully long, both grand and herioc, but none of us could
 
understand its meaning. I tightened the grip on my saber, my palms were so drenched in cold sweat that I had to dry them on my pants but it soon became wet again. Brother Leader was bending down to the side of me. Knowing that I was nervous, he patted my shoulder, looked at me, and gave a smile. He made a chopping motion with his hand as if to say we will kill all of the Khitan soldiers today. I smiled back at him. Inside I felt much calmer than before.”

“When the person in the lead of the Khitan group were about 50 meters away from us, I peeked out from behind of a boulder. The Khitan warriors were all wearing fur, some holding spears, some with short sabers, others with bows and arrows, and a few have large hawks perched on their shoulders. The whole group was singing as they walked, unbeknown of the ambush up ahead. In a brief second I had took in the appearances of the Khitans in front, they had short hair and thick beards, all looked fierce. As they got closer, my heart was beating so furiously that it felt like it was closed to jumping out of my mouth and out my body…”

The people hearing Reverend Zhiguang telling the story, though all knew this story took place 30 years ago, they couldn’t help but felt suspenseful. Reverend Zhiguang turned again to Qiao Feng and said, “Qiao Bangzhu, the success or failure of this mission will influence the safety of Great Song along with the lives of millions of people. And we still do not have a grasp on whether we will be successful. The only advantage we had was that the enemies were in the light, while we in the dark. According to Bangzhu, what should we have done?”

Qiao Feng replied, “There is an old saying ‘All’s fair in war.” This matter is involving two countries at war, there’s no way we can follow the heroic moral ethics code of Jianghu. The distant dogs had always slaughtered the people of Great Song, have they ever held back? In my opinion we must use concealed projectiles coated with deadly poison.”

Reverend Zhiguang clapped his hand against his thigh and said, “Good! The suggestion of Qiao Bangzhu is exactly like the thinking of our group. Brother Leader seeing the Khitans had came close enough, cried out a sound, and everyone let loose their concealed weapons and projectiles. Flying out there was an abundance of steel darts, steel arrows, flying
 
daggers, iron awls… each and everyone were all coated with deadly poison. The Liao dogs screamed out in confusion, then fell over and screamed no more…”

In the group of beggars listening, some clapped their hands and cheered.

Reverend Zhiguang continued, “At that point I had counted clearly. The group of Khitans warriors had 19 people. Our concealed weapons had slain 12, leaving 7 still standing. Our group all to a man jumped out, raising our sabers and swords cut down all remaining in a flash. None was able to escape.”

Some listening in the Beggar Clan group cheered once more. However both Qiao Feng and Duan Yu pondered in their head, “The reverend had said that these Khitans were all chosen carefully among the best of the best warriors, so how can their skills be so mediocre to die in such a short time?”

Their was a sound of Reverend Zhiguang heaving a long sigh, “Our group just barely raised our arms and had easily killed 19 Khitan warriors, all were ecstatic but also felt uneasy. This group was too ordinary, not a single person lasted more than one move, definitely are not skilled warriors. Was the news that we heard inaccurate? Or did the Khitans planned this so that they could trap us? We exchanged only a few words with each other before we heard the sound of a horse. In the northwest direction there were 2 riders coming this way.”

“This time our group did not bother to ambush anymore, all headed straight to meet the enemy without consulting with anybody. Immediately we saw that the enemy included a man and a woman. The man’s body was powerfully built, his facial expression was solemn. His clothing was more expensive and better looking than all those other 19 Khitans. The woman was young looking, and in her hands was a little baby. The two people were shoulder to shoulder, smiling and talking very intimately, obviously they are husband and wife. The two upon seeing us were greatly surprised and looked around saw the corpse of those 19 warriors all lying on the ground. The man immediately changed his countenance to a fierce and aggressive look, loudly shouting questions at us in a Khitan language that none of us understood what he was trying to say.”
 
“Shanxi Datong government office’s Iron Tower third brother Fang Daxiong raised his iron rod up and shouted loudly: ‘You Khitan dog there, surrender and accept your fate!’ He shouted and at the same time wielded his iron rod to strike down the Khitan man. Brother Leader in his stomach felt uneasy and was about to yelled out, ‘Brother Fang, don’t be reckless! Do not kill him. We must capture him alive to question him.’

“Brother Leader had not finish his sentence before the Khitan’s right hand had moved forward, snatching the iron rod away from Fang Daxiong. A sound of bones breaking emitted from Fang Daxiong’s hands. Seeing that person was about to strike with the rod from midair down, our group started yelling out, knowing that we won’t be fast enough to charge forward to save Fang Daxiong’s life, thus we started shooting our hidden projectiles at the enemy. The Khitan man only needed to wave his left arm once, and a powerful wind forced all the projectiles to harmlessly land on the side. Looks like Fang Daxiong’s life can no longer be saved, however unexpectedly, he threw the iron rod forward, sending both it and third Brother Fang crashing out to the side of the road. His mouth mumbling did not know what to say.

“In just 1 move, it caused our whole group to stand in shock, witnessing that the level of this person’s martial arts are so high, that it is rare to see one of such caliber in the world. So the news that we received are not false, and fearing that following him there will be more first class masters approaching, thus we must use our large numbers to immediately overwhelm him. 6-7 people charged forward to attack him and 4-5 others moved to take on the female.”

“Unexpected the young married female did not know martial arts. She was slashed just once and lost her arm causing the baby in her hand to fall to the ground. Another person then hacked with a saber cutting off half of her head. The Khitan man’s martial arts although high, but he was also surrounded by six-seven other skilled fighters, so it was impossible for him to rush over to protect his wife and child. The first few moves he just snatched away our weapons and swords, carefully trying not to injure anybody, however when seeing his wife being killed, his eye turned blood
 
red, his face looked fearsome. When I saw his sight then, my hands and feet felt like lead and dared not go forward.”

Zhao Qiansun added, “Can’t blame you for feeling such! Can’t blame you for feeling such!” Ever since he talked to Granny Tan earlier, whoever talked to him were met with either crankiness or rudeness, however the sentences that he just let out seemed like its meaning was partly painful and partly regretful.

Reverend Zhiguang continued, “The fierce battle then already took place 30 years ago. Over the past 30 years I don’t know how many nightmares I had regarding that sight I saw, every image imprinted deeply in my head. The Khitan man brought both his palms forward, I don’t know what palm techniques he used, but he snatched the weapons right out of the hands of two of our brothers, same time using it to both slash and stab killing those two. He at times fought on the ground, then leaped back to continue on the saddle of his horse, bold and fast like a bird pecking a worm. He moved like a ghost or demon. That’s right, he was no different than a demon, finished killing a person to his west, he turned in a blink and killed a person to his east. In just a moment, out of 21 people in our group, 9 people had already been killed.”

“Now everyone was furious, all eyes were red. Brother Leader with Wang Bangzhu and the rest of us all jumped into the fray, willing to trade our lives for his. Shockingly his martial arts was so strange that one could not even imagine, nor could one even predict from which direction his attacks would be coming from. The setting sun in the sky was shining red like blood. There outside of Yanmen Guan Pass the northern wind blowing furiously mixed with the crying sounds of past heroes right before their death. Limbs -arms and feet, heads, weapons, blood were flying and falling all over the place. Whoever was skilled was only able to protect themselves, no one was able to help anyone other.

“Seeing the circumstances, I was truly frightened. But seeing that my brothers were falling one by one, that sight can not help but caused one’s blood to boiled. I gathered all my courage, got on a horse and charge directly at him. Both my hands holding a saber aimed for his head and slashed down, knowing that if this move does not connect, then my life will
 
be handed over to him. When the edge of the saber was barely a meter away from him, the Khitan man suddenly grabbed hold of another person and held him up to block. I shockingly looked and saw that the person being held up was the second senior from the Band of 3 Heroes of Jiangxi Du. I hurriedly pulled back my saber but the edge of the saber went right into the head of the horse I was riding, hitting it with a clang. The animal was in such pain that it neigh a loud sound and it jumped up. At that moment the Khitan man sent out a palm strike right at the moment the horse jumped up so that the horse took the full brunt of that strike for me. If not for that my bones would have all been smashed and how could I have survived to this day?”

“The force of his palm strike was truly terrifying. It sent both horse and rider flying out to the back. My body flying in midair smashed right on top of some tree branches. I was stunned and fazed, not knowing where am I nor did I knew whether I was alive. It was a long time before I was able to look down and saw my brothers still surrounding and fighting the Khitan man. Only 5-6 people were still standing. At that time I also saw this brother here…” Reverend Zhiguang pointed to Zhao Qiansun and continued, “… his body shook once, then fell into a pool of his own blood. I thought he must be dead.”

Zhao Qiansun shook his head and said, “To speak of this story I am very ashamed, but why bother hiding it anymore. It wasn’t because I was injured but because I was so scared that my heart stopped beating. I saw that person holding brother Du’s two legs and tearing his whole body in half. I was so dizzy that I fell unconscious only because of that reason. That’s right I am a coward. Seeing that person killed so many people that I became unconscious.”

Reverend Zhiguang spoke again, “The Khitan man was deadly like a devil while killing numerous brothers. Whoever says that they did not feel fear are being deceitful.” He then looked up and stared at the moon hanging the the sky for a time then continued, “At that point our side only still had 4 people still fighting the Khitan man. Brother Leader knowing that the end was near, knowing that all will die, opened his mouth asking: Who are you? Who are you? The other person did not reply. In just a few moment he
 
killed two more people. He then drew out his right foot and it hit Wang Bangzhu right on the vital pressure points on his back, while his left foot went out to finish the move move Twin Ducks Linking Together (not sure if this is the correct name for it. Helppp??) hitting Brother Leader’s vital pressure point on his ribs. He used his legs to hit the pressure points precisely and powerfully knocking them out. His footwork was so impressive it was unthinkable. If I was not almost on death’s door then, seeing the two people I respect most being seriously wounded, a scream would have escaped my mouth.”

“The Khitan man finished taking care of all his enemies then rushed over to the side of his dead wife’s body, holding it while crying, and let out a loud mournful cry for a long time. Hearing his weeping sounds I could barely withstand the sadness. Surprised to see the Khitan dog who was as cruel as a devil could also show a sorrowful sentiment resembling a human, no different from the sound of those of our Han people.”

Zhao Qiansun coldly said, “If that is so then what is so strange about it? Even wild animals have parent-child, husband-wife sentimental relationships, how is that any different than a human’s? The Khitans are still humans, how are they any different than Hans?”

In the group of beggar clan, someone screamed out, “Liao dogs are evil and cruel, even worse than poisonous snakes and wild beasts. Our Han people are entirely different!” Zhao Qiansun could only smile bitterly and did not answer those words.

Reverend Zhiguang went on with his story, “The Khitan man sat there and cried, both holding tight and looking at his son for a long time. Then he placed his son into the bosom of his dead wife and walked over to where Brother Leader’s body lied. He let loose his anger by screaming and scolding at Brother Leader. Brother Leader did not submit but just glowered at him. His pressure points were hit, his movements and speech were sealed. He could not even muttered a word. The Khitan man suddenly raised his head and let loose a long scream. He picked up a saber from the ground and started carving words on the face of the mountain. At that time it was dark and I was lying far away so I could not see what was written.”
 
Zhao Qiansun said, “He was carving words in Khitan. Even if you could see it you still wouldn’t be able to read it.”

Reverend Zhiguang replied, “That is right. Even if I saw it I could not read it. On the cliff it was silent on all sides, the only sounds heard were that of the saber carving into the stone. Listening to the sound of stone chips falling down, I dared not to even breath hard. I did not know how long it was before he finally threw down the saber. He bent down to pick up his wife’s corpse and son, then walked to the edge of the cliff and jumped to the bottom of the canyon.”

Everyone hearing that couldn’t help but let out a sound “Ah.” It was unexpected that the story would turn out so.

Reverend Zhiguang continued, “Everyone hearing this retelling must be surprised. At that time with my own eyes witnessing that, I was even more shocked. A person with a high level of martial arts as him living in the Kingdom of Liao must have a high rank. This time when the group of Khitan warriors coming south of the Yellow River to attack Shaolin Temple, if he is not their Leader then at least he must be one of their important characters. He had captured our group’s Leader along with Wang Bangzhu, and the rest were all killed. It seems like he had won. Who would have thought that he would jump down the cliff to commit suicide instead of taking advantage of his victory and moving forward with his mission.”

“I looked downward and all I could see was clouds and fog. The bottom could not be seen. He is still made of flesh and blood. No matter how powerful his martial arts are, to jump from such height there’s no way one could survive. I startled myself and could not bear but called out a cry. Turns out in this weird event there’s another even weirder. I had just finished yelling when there was a sound of a baby crying. From the bottom of the cliff a black bundle flew up and landed right on top of the body of Wang Bangzhu. The sound of a baby crying did not stop but continued. It seems the bundle that landed on Wang Bangzhu was the little baby from earlier. At that point I had stopped being scared, and jumped down from the tree. I ran up to Wang Bangzhu and saw that the Khitan baby was lying on top of him still crying.
 
“I thought to myself for a bit before I understood fully what happened. When the Khitan woman was killed, the baby she was holding fell to the ground causing the baby to fall unconscious and stopped breathing, but not entirely dead yet. The Khitan man when he was crying sorrowfully, touched his son’s nose and saw that he was not breathing so thought that the son had died. Thus he carried the two corpse and jumped down the cliff to die together. The sudden shocked jolted the baby back to life and started crying. The Khitan’s man skills were shockingly scary. He doesn’t want his son to be buried with him at the bottom of the valley, so he immediately used his strength and threw the baby up. He remembered the exact distance and location to throw the baby to land exactly on top of Wang Bangzhu without harming the it. That Khitan man when falling in midair, found out his baby was alive. He was quick witted enough to react and throw the baby up. His skills to be able to throw something that far and that accurate and calculate the exact distance, is formidably fearsome.

“I looked around at the brothers that died a tragic death, inside was sorrowful and angry, grabbed the baby and planned to throw it against the mountain wall for it to die. Just as I raised my hands to throw, the baby started crying, the face was pulsing red, the bright black eyes were wide staring back at me. If I hadn’t looked into the baby’s eyes I would have threw him already, and that would be the end of the story. However I had saw the eyes of that small child. The child seemed so lovable and innocent that I could no longer follow through. I thought to myself: if I had bullied and kill the baby not yet a year old then that would be a disgraceful deed, not the act of an upright and respectable gentleman.”

In the group of the Beggar Clan, a beggar shouted out, “Reverend Zhiguang! The Liao dogs killed and murder our Han people countless of times. With my own eyes I saw Han babies being speared, and carried around upon a lance on top of a horse to parade around town showing off. If they can kill babies, so why can’t we?”

Reverend Zhiguang let out a long sigh and replied, “That is right. But as the saying goes the darkness in the hearts of man, who here does not have it. That day I saw that the dead were already too many. I couldn’t bring myself to add more to it by killing a little baby. Everyone can say what I did was
 
wrong, everyone can say what I did was cowardly. But in the end I still let the baby live.

“After that I went to release the blocked pressure points of Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu, but my skills were mediocre and plus the pressure point hitting techniques of the Khitan man were top notch, no matter how much strength I exerted, how much I pressed, how much I rubbed or squeezed, I only succeeded in drowning myself in my own sweat. No matter what I did Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu still could not move nor speak. I did not know what else to do and fearing the Khitans will soon come to help so I threw both Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu onto two horses. I myself rode a horse holding the Khitan baby in one arm while the reins of the other two horses in the other and ran all night away from Yanmen Guan Pass to look for a doctor specializing in releasing blocked pressure points, but that was useless. The next night after 12 hours have passed, the pressure points released voluntarily.

“Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu were still worried about the Khitan warriors coming to attack Shaolin, so they immediately returned to Yanmen Guan Pass to scout out the situation. However they only saw flesh and blood left all over from the fight before. The sight was no different from how I left it. I looked down the cliff at the Quarry Stone Valley and still could not find any clues. We all planned to prepare the corpse of our brothers for burial, but when we counted, there were only 17 dead bodies. The number of people that should have died should be 18 so why is it that we are now missing one?” He stopped talking then looked directly at Zhao Qiansun questioningly.

Zhao Qiansun remembering smiled and said, “In that bunch there was one corpse that had the ability to come back from dead and able able to walk around to this day. That living corpse is I, Zhao Qian Sun Li Zhou Wu Zheng Wang. (a joke… see Ren Wo Xing's explanation below)

Reverend Zhiguang said, “At that time the three of us thought nothing of it, thinking to ourselves that during that fight, this brother here might have died and fallen down the cliff. So not seeing his corpse we did not linger too much on this. After we had properly buried all the brothers, we were all furious inside, so we threw all the Khitan corpse over the side of the cliff
 
down into the Stone Quarry Valley. Brother Leader said to Wang Bangzhu: ‘Brother Jiantong, that Khitan man if he wanted to kill the two of us it would be as easy as turning his hand, so why did he just kicked us in our pressure points and allow us to live to now?’ Wang Banzhu replied: ‘I have been thinking of that but still can not figure it out. The two of us were part of the people responsible for killing his wife and son, it is only right that he should have ruthlessly killed both of us.’”

“The three of us discussed back and forth but could not think of a logical reason for what happened. Brother Leader then spoke up: ‘He must have carved those letters into the stone with some hidden intent. What a shame that none of us three knows the Khitan language.’ Brother Leader went down to the river and gathered some water to mix with the blood on the ground making ink. Then he colored it all over the stone. After that he imprinted the cliff writing onto a piece of white cloth torn from a gown. The Khitan used only a small saber but were able to carve letters two inches deep into the stone. With this kind of internal power his skills must have been unparalleled in the world, unmatched by anyone. Looking at the writing the three of us were secretly amazed. The memory of the day before still left a lingering fear in all of us. Returning back inside the Great Wall, Wang Bangzhu went to find a peddler who travels between there and Liao. Since that person knew the Khitan language we gave him the white cloth to read. He translated it out for us on paper.” Zhiguang stopped speaking, looked up at the sky. He sighed and then continued, “After the three of us read the paper, all we could do was look wide-eyed back and forth at each other. We couldn’t believe it. The Khitan man had at that time made up his mind to kill himself, so why would he intentionally lie? We then went to find another person who reads Khitan and had him translate it by mouth one line at a time. What he said was exactly like the previous translation. God! If that was the truth then seventeen of our brothers had died a meaningless death. Those Khitan warriors had committed no crimes and were wrongfully implicated. As for that pair of husband and wife, towards them we had committed a great sin that could never be undone.”

Everyone was eagerly waiting to hear the words that were written on the mountain face, but Zhiguang was silent and had stopped talking. People’s impatience caused their tempers to flare and they irritably asked: “What did
 
those words say?” “What sins had you committed towards them?” “Why do you feel regret towards the husband and wife?”

Zhiguang replied, “My good friends, it is not because I want to keep the meaning of those Khitan words a secret, but it is because if those words that were written were true, then all the actions of Brother Leader, Wang Bangzhu, and even mine were greatly in the wrong. We are too ashamed to face anybody. I am only a lowly common person in Jianghu, even if I did wrong it will not impact anything in the grand scheme of things. However regarding Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu, they are different from me, what kind of rank and status do they hold? Moreover Wang Bangzhu had passed away. I do not dare to say anything that might ruin the reputation and prestige of these two people. I beg you all for forgiveness. I cannot say it.”

The previous bangzhu of the Beggar Clan was Wang Jiantong whose reputation and prestige were widespread. From Qiao Feng to clan elders to various disciples, all held deep gratitudes toward him . The members of the Beggar Clan were extremely curious about the story but upon hearing that this matter has implications toward the reputation and prestige of Wang Bangzhu not a single person dared to inquire further.

Zhiguang continued talking, “The three of us thought for a time, at first not wanting to believe it, but were forced to accept it so we decided to temporarily spare the life of the Khitan baby. We decided that we first off should head to Shaolin to see if there were any new developments. If the Khitan warriors actually did attack Shaolin then we could still kill the baby then. We rushed day and night toward Shaolin without stopping. Arriving there we saw that the number of heroes that had gathered at Shaolin to lend a hand was not small. The news involved the life and death of millions of common citizens, so all it needed was for the news to spread and numerous people came to help.”

Reverend Zhiguang turned his face from left to right looking at each person listening and then continued, “There were many heroes and revered seniors that came to the gathering at Shaolin that year. I need not to go into detail about that. Everyone was on full alert and ready, guarding the temple very tightly. More and more heroes from all corners of the land gathered as time
 
passed. From September at the time of Mid Autumn Moon Festival all the way to December, three months passed without a single enemy movement. To further investigate the matter, we planned to look for the person who originally spread these news, however we could no longer find any traces of this person. Only then did we conclude that the news were actually false and that we all had been tricked. Both sides had suffered tragic and unnecessary deaths in the battle outside of Yanmen Guan Pass.”

“However not long after, Khitan calvary started invading Hebei so the matter about the Khitan warriors coming to attack Shaolin was soon forgotten. It did not matter whether they did or didn’t come, after all no matter what, the Khitans were still the mortal enemies of our Great Song.”

“Brother Leader, Wang Bangzhu, and I all felt ashamed and regretful about the situation outside Yanmen Guan Pass. The only people we told about it to was the Abbot of Shaolin and the families of the people who had died. We did not tell another soul except for those people. As for the Khitan baby, he was given into the care of a family of farmers living at the base of Mount Song. The matter had already passed and deciding what deal with the baby was quite difficult. We felt a lot of guilt for how we treated his parents, so we could not bear to take the baby’s life. However if we foster the Khitan baby till he grows up, and he seeks us out for revenge, then isn’t that like raising a tiger and sowing the seeds for disaster. In the end Brother Leader handed to that peasant family 100 Liang of silver and asked them raised the Khitan baby as their own, and not divulge to the baby any information about his heritage. That husband and wife did not have any children so they were overjoyed and accepted immediately. The couple also did not have any idea that this baby was of Khitan descent, because on the way to Mount Song we had changed the baby’s clothes to fit that of a Han baby. The people of Great Song held great enmity towards people of Liao that ran deep all the way to their bone marrow. So if they saw a baby wearing Khitan clothes then they would cause him harm…”

Qiao Feng hearing this had grasped about nine tenths of the intent, shakily asked “Reverend Zhiguang, that family… that family at the base of Mount Song… what… what… are their names?”
 
Zhiguang replied, “Bangzhu must have already figured it out. I don’t have any more reason to hide it. That person’s surname is Qiao, named Sanhuai.”

A stunned Qiao Feng yelled out, “No! No! Reverend please stop talking nonsense. Stop fabricating these stories to cause me harm. I am a definitely a Han so how can I be a Khitan savage? Sanhuai is… is… the person that is my biological father. Reverend stop talking nonsense…” Suddenly he jumped in front of Zhiguang, the left hand snatched the monk’s chest.

Shan Zheng and the 4 Elders called out, “Don’t!” and immediately rushed forward to rescue the monk. But Qiao Feng’s lightness skills were great. He jumped and dodged to one side while still maintaining hold of the Reverend with his left hand.

The sons of Shan Zheng - Shan Zhongshan, Shan Shushan, Shan Jishan - all three at the same time charged at the back of Qiao Feng. Qiao Feng, using only his right hand, caught both Shan Shushan and Shan Zhongshan then threw them far away. He next grabbed Shan Jishan, threw him to the ground, and placed his foot keeping pressure on Jishan’s throat.

Shan Family’s Five Tigers’ reputation and prestige were renown throughout the whole Shandong region. The five brothers had already been famous for a long time based on their own deeds, definitely not ones who rely on the fortune and fame of their parents. Even then, Qiao Feng easily dispatched the brothers like it was nothing. With his left hand holding Zhiguang, his right hand lashed out to grab, he threw the three Shan brothers around like pieces of straw, not one was able to put up any resistance. People saw this were shocked. Their jaws dropped in disbelief.

Shan Zheng, Shan Boshan, and Shan Xiaoshan felt anxious seeing their own flesh and blood in danger, wanted to jump in to help. But Qiao Feng had a foot on Shan Jishan’s throat. Knowing that his strength was something worth fearing, and all it needed was a press of the foot and Jishan will lose his life. Because of that, the three father and sons dared not to come any closer. Shan Zhen yelled out, “Qiao Bangzhu, if there is any misunderstanding then let us discuss it, don’t be heavy handed. Our Shan family does not have any enmity with you. Please spare my son.” Even the famous Iron Faced Judge were powerless and had to beg Qiao Feng.
 
Elder Xu called out, “Qiao Bangzhu, Reverend Zhiguang is a person who everyone in Jianghu respects. You must not harm his life!”

Qiao Feng’s hot blood had boiled, and he said in a loud voice, “Correct! The Shan family and I have no enmities with each other. I also had always respected Reverend Zhiguang. You people… if you people want to take away my Bangzhu position, then I will surrender it to you with both hands, but why do you have to create lies to slander me? I… what sins have I committed that would cause you people to accuse me as such?” The last few sentences his voice was choked by tears. People who heard were unable to restrain their feelings and started to sympathize with him.

The bones on Zhiguang’s skeleton let out a creaking sound. Everyone knew that his life was tethering on a needle. Whether he lived or died all were in the hands of Qiao Feng. It was so quiet that one could hear the sounds of the wind beating against the trees, the sound of the insects in the grass, and even the sounds of people breathing. No one dared to make a noise.

A short time passed before Zhao Qiansun suddenly started laughing, “So laughable! So laughable! Han people are not necessarily a cut above other peoples and aren’t Khitan people also are not pigs or dogs? Obviously you are a Khitan so why pretend to be a Han? What is there to be ashamed of? You even denied your birth parents and heritage, and here you call yourself a real man.”

Qiao Feng opened his eyes wide in anger, angrily asked, “Is senior actually calling me a Khitan?”

Zhao Qiansun replied, “How can I be sure? But in that battle outside Yanmen Guan Pass, that Khitan man we fought, his appearance and face is exactly like yours. That time I was so frightened. I fell unconscious immediately from terror. That man’s face I will never forget even in a hundred years. Also with my own eyes I saw Reverend Zhiguang carrying that Khitan baby back. I am a good for nothing corpse that came back to life, in this world outside of Xiaojuan (Granny Tan), I don’t involved myself in the business of anybody, nor do I have any involvement in other matters. If you are or if you are not the Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan, what does that trifling thing have to do with me? Why would I bring false
 
charges against you? What advantage is there for me to make up a story about helping to kill your parents years ago? Qiao Bangzhu, my martial arts when compare to yours is very lacking. If I don’t want to live anymore, wouldn’t just killing myself be a better option?”

Qiao Feng slowly put Reverend Zhiguang down. He then flicked his foot and the large body of Shan Jishan flew out and fell to the ground with a thud. Shan Jishan stood up immediately. He was not in the slightest injured.

Qiao Feng looked at Zhiguang, seeing his face had a confident aura without the slightest hint of falseness, then asked, “So what happened afterwards?”

Reverend Zhiguang replied, “What happens afterwards, you should already know. At age seven you went to pick chestnuts in the forest, got chased by a wolf, and was rescued by a monk from Shaolin. The monk killed the wolf and treated your injuries. Then day after day the monk returned to teach you martial arts. Is this correct?”

Qiao Feng replied, “Correct. It seems the Reverend also knew of this matter.” Years ago when Reverend Xuanku passed his martial arts to Qiao Feng, he had ordered him not to tell anyone about it. So in Jianghu everyone had always thought that Qiao Feng was the direct disciple of Wang Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan. Who knew that he and Shaolin Temple had such an old and deep relationship.

Zhiguang said, “That monk from Shaolin was asked by Brother Leader to teach you martial arts and guide you since childhood to keep you from walking down the wrong path. Regarding this matter, Brother Leader, Wang Bangzhu, and I had many disputes. I wanted you to live the life of a common person, as farmer, and did not want you to learn martial arts to keep you away from being involved with the grudges and enmities of Jianghu. Brother Leader said that if we do that then we will be doing another wrong to your parents. So to make amends we must take care of you and develop you into a great hero.”

Qiao Feng said, “All you… all you seniors, why do you feel you will be doing wrong to my parents? People of Han and people of Khitan have been
 
fighting and harming each other for a long time. It is a common thing. There is nothing to be regretful about.”

Zhiguang sighed and said, “The stone writing outside of Yanmen Guan Pass to this day still has not faded. Why don’t you go and see it. Brother Leader had already made up his mind and Wang Bangzhu went along with it. There was no way I by myself can win the argument. Only when you were sixteen years old did Wang Bangzhu received you as his disciple. After that there were many chances to get along together. Your natural talent is outstanding and progressed furiously. There was no way an average person can keep up with you. Of course if Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu were not behind the scenes helping out, you would not be where you are today.”

Qiao Feng lowered his head to ponder. Thinking back on his life, he had faced numerous difficulties but each and every time his bad luck had turned into good. He had not faced much pain or hardships. He had met with many lucky opportunities in life. It came even without asking for it. For a long time he had thought that it was all due to his luck. But after listening to Reverend Zhiguang he realized he had a secret benefactor helping him all those years and he was ignorant of it. In his head he was stunned and asked himself, “If what the Reverend said was true then I am a Khitan and not a Han? Wang Bangzhu is not my kind teacher but the culprit who killed my father, killed my mother. The senior who helped me out in secret, he did not do it with pure intentions but probably only wanted to make reprimands to relief him of his guilty conscience. No! No! That can’t be right! Khitan people are evil and ruthless dogs. They are the mortal enemies of our Han people. How can I be one of those savages?”

Zhiguang continued: ‘Chief Wang was very wary of you at first, but later, seeing you make fast progress in learning martial arts, behave generously and chivalrously, treat people with clemency, treat him with great respect and prudence, and act to his liking in every aspect, he gradually became really fond of you. Afterward, as you made more contributions and gained more prestige, from the people at the top to the people at the bottom of the Beggar Society, each and every one honored and submitted to you, even outsiders also knew that the upcoming Chief of the Beggar Society would be no one but you. However Chief Wang had still been undecided about you
 
all along because you’re a Khitan. He tested you with three difficult problems, you got them done one by one, but only after you’d achieved seven feats did he entrust the Dog Beating Stick to you. In the Taishan convention that year, after you defeated nine strong enemies of the Beggar Society in succession, he then all the more resolutely installed you as the Chief of the Beggar Society. As far as laona (⽼衲 – old kasaya, a term a
Buddhist monk calls himself with) know, for the past several hundred years,
there has never been another Chief of the Beggar Society who had to go through so many hardships like you did.’

Qiao Feng lowered his head and said: ‘I only thought that enshi ( 恩师 – kind master) Chief Wang intended to train me, making me undergo many hardships so that I’d be able to take on important missions, but it turns out… but it turns out…’ Saying to here, in his heart he already almost believed that it was true.

Zhiguang said: ‘I only know as far as here. After you had started to serve as the Chief of the Beggar Society, seeing rumors in jianghu all having it that you acted heroically and valued justice, benefited the common people, behaved without partiality, reorganized the Beggar Society and made it thrive, inwardly I felt happy for you. Also, hearing that you’d several times ruined vicious schemes of Khitan people and killed some of their notable figures, I thought that, in that way, our previous fear of nourishing a viper in our own bosoms had become almost as groundless as the fear of the Qi people ( 杞⼈之忧 – the fear [of the sky collapsing] of the Qi people –
referring to groundless fears). This incident should never have been
mentioned, but somehow someone uncovered it? This is unlikely to be any good to the Beggar Society or Chief Qiao yourself.’ Saying to here, he let out a deep sigh. There was a sorrowful expression on his face.

Elder Xu said: ‘Zhiguang dashi (⼤师 – great monk), thank you very much for relating past events making everyone feel as if they were personally on
the scene. This letter…’ He raised that letter with his hand and continued: ‘was written by that leading hero to Chief Wang. In the letter he made every effort to dissuade Chief Wang from handing over the Chief of the Beggar
 
Society position to Chief Qiao. Chief Qiao, you may as well have a look at it.’ When he finished saying, he held out the letter.

Zhiguang said: ‘Let me take a look first, to see if it’s truly the original letter.’ When he finished saying, he received and held the letter in his hands, read it one time and said: ‘Correct, this is really the leading big brother’s original handwriting.’ Once finishing saying, he slightly transferred power into his left-hand fingers to torn off the foot of the letter where there was the sender’s name then put it in his mouth. With a bending of his tongue it was already swallowed into his stomach.

When Zhiguang torn the letter he had taken several steps towards the bonfire, thus he was a bit further apart from Qiao Feng. Moreover, he was putting the letter paper close to his eyes as if there was insufficient light and he could not see clearly, therefore when he torn off and put the bottom part of the letter in his mouth, the letter paper were just several cun ( ⼨ –
Chinese inch ~ 3.33 cm) away from his lips. Qiao Feng could never have
expected this old monk of noble character and high prestige to use this cunning trick. With a roar of anger, he struck out with his left palm hitting the monk’s acupuncture points from a distance. His right hand immediately grabbed the letter, but it was still a bit too late, as the signature at the foot of the letter had already been swallowed by the monk down his throat. Qiao Feng struck out another palm to unblock his acupuncture points and angrily asked: ‘You… What are you doing?’

Zhiguang smiled and said: ‘Chief Qiao, once you have become aware of who you are, perhaps you will want to seek revenge for the murders of your parents. Chief Wang already passed away so there’s no need to mention him. But laona don’t want to let you know the name of this leading big brother. Laona also participated in the ambush against your father and mother that year, laona shall expiate all the crimes by myself, if you want to kill me or cut me to pieces, please do not hesitate to do so.’

Seeing Zhiguang lower his eyes and droop his eyebrows, looking merciful and stately, even though Qiao Feng was very sad and angry, he could not help having a feeling of respect for the monk. He then said: ‘Whether this matter is true or fake, at the moment I still don’t know. Even if I wanna kill
 
you, there’s no hurry to do so now.’ When he finished saying, he gave Zhao Qiansun a sidelong look.

Zhao Qiansun shrugged his shoulders as if he was totally unconcerned about it and said: ‘That’s right, me included as well, you must give me my share of this debt. Just kill me whenever you like.’

Grandpa Tan loudly said: ‘Chief Qiao, everything should be considered carefully. Don’t act recklessly. If you incited the Hu Han conflict (Hu - 胡 – referring to minority people in northern and western China in feudal times),
every person of exceptional ability in the Central Plains would become your
enemy.’ Even though Zhao Qiansun was Grandpa Tan’s love rival, at that time he still raised his voice in support of him.

Qiao Feng let out a cold laugh, feeling utterly confused and not knowing how to reply. He then had a look at the letter in the firelight, only seeing it read: ‘My elder brother Jianran ( 剑髯 – sword beard/whiskers – Wang
Jiantong’s nickname), after several nights of discussion, your idea of
handing over your position has always been unchanged. However, after thinking about it carefully for several days, I still believe that it is inadvisable. Brother Qiao is a man of extraordinary talents. He has made many great contributions and behaved himself courageously and righteously. Not only is he the outstanding figure in the Begger Society, but
in the whole of wulin in the Divine Land (神州 – China’s old name) there are only a very few people who can come close to him. If this talent inherits your position, it is only natural to expect that the prestige of the Beggar Society will expand at some time in the future.’

Reading up to here, Qiao Feng felt that this senior held himself in extremely high esteem, so in his heart he was very grateful to him for that. He continued reading:

‘But there’s not a day that I don’t think about the bloody battle at Yanmen pass and the shocking situations at that time. This child doesn’t belong to our ethnic group, his father and mother died because of both of us. In the future if he doesn’t know about his origin then there’d be no problem. Otherwise, not only will the Beggar Society be destroyed in his hands,
 
wulin in the Central Plains will also have to face a massive catastrophe. At the present time, the people whose wits and martial arts can rival those of that child are extremely rare. It’s not an outsider’s job to interfere in the Beggar Society’s important internal affairs, but our friendship is far beyond what is usual, moreover, the involvement of this matter is too huge, please give it careful consideration.’ The signature at the foot of it had already been torn off by Zhiguang.

After reading the letter, Qiao Feng stood in stunned silence. Seeing that, Elder Xu held out another letter paper and said: ‘This is Chief Wang’s personal letter, you should recognize his handwriting.’

Qiao Feng received it. He only saw the letter paper read:

‘Instructions to Vice-Chief Ma of the Beggar Society, the Elder of Merit Propagation, the Elder of Rule Enforcement, and the other Elders: If Qiao Feng has any deed that is pro-Liao (辽 – a rival empire of Song) and anti-
Han, and helps Khitan fight against Great Song (宋 – a Chinese dynasty), the whole Society must join forces to kill him, and make no mistake.
Poisoning and assassination can both be applied. The killer will get credit for and not be guilty of doing so. Wang Jiantong personally penned.’

The date written at the end of the letter was: ‘Great Song, the 6th Yuanfeng year, the seventh day of the fifth month.’ Qiao Feng remembered clearly that it had been the day he had taken over the Chief of the Beggar Society position.

Qiao Feng knew without doubt that these several rows of words were really enshi Wang Jiantong’s handwriting, thus, he was no longer uncertain about his origin. However, recalling that enshi had always acted like a kind father, being strict in teaching but also very affectionate, Qiao Feng found it hard to believe that he had secretly written and left behind this order on the day he (Qiao Feng) had taken over the Chief of the Begger Society position. He felt heartbroken. Tears streamed down his face, drop by drop falling on the instructions of Chief Wang.
 
Elder Xu slowly said: ‘Chief Qiao, please don’t blame us for being disrespectful. Originally only Vice-Chief Ma knew about these instructions of Chief Wang. He kept them very carefully and never told anyone about them. In the past several years you behaved straightforwardly, and didn’t have any action that was pro-Liao and anti-Song and helped Khitan to oppress Han people, so Chief Wang’s instructions were naturally of no use. It wasn’t until the tragic death of Vice-Chief Ma that Madam Ma found out about this order. At first, everyone suspected that Vice-Chief Ma was killed by Murong gongzi ( 公⼦ – young nobleman) of Gusu, if you settled this
score for brother Dayuan then there’d be no need to expose your origin.
Laoxiu (⽼朽 – old senile – a term that old men call themselves modestly) thought about this again and again, because of the big picture I wanted to
destroy the letter and Chief Wang’s order, but… but…’ Saying to here, he looked at Madam Ma, and said: ‘Firstly, because Madam Ma earnestly wants to avenge her husband’s death, it’s impossible to just let the wrongs that brother Dayuan suffered remain unsolved or let him die with an eternal grievance. Secondly, Chief Qiao supported Hu people, a conduct that has really endangered our Society…’

Qiao Feng asked: ‘I supported Hu people? Where did you get this from?’

Elder Xu said: ‘The two words ‘Murong’ are a Hu surname. The Murong clan is the descendant of Xianbei people. Just like Khitan, they are an uncivilized ethnic group.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Huh, so it was because of that, but I didn’t know anything about it.’ Elder Xu continued: ‘Thirdly, a lot of people in the Society already know that you’re a Khitan, it’s no good concealing it.’

Qiao Feng looked into the sky and and let out a sigh. It was not until now that the depressing doubts and suspicions that had been in his mind for quite a while were cleared up. He asked Quan Guanqing: ‘Quan Guanqing, you knew that I’m a Khitan descendant so you opposed me, didn’t you?’ Quan Guanqing said: ‘Yes.’ Qiao Feng asked again: ‘The Four Elders Song, Xi, Chen, Wu listened to you and tried to kill me also because of this reason?’ Quan Guanqing said: ‘Correct, but they only half believed me and couldn’t make a decision. When the situation became critical they also chickened out.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘The clue about my origin, where did you get it
 
from?’ Quan Guanqing said: ‘This matter involves outsiders, so excuse me for not being able to tell you. You should know that paper cannot wrap fire. No matter how you conceal your origin, someone would eventually find out about it. The Elder of Rule Enforcement has also already known about it for a long time.’

In a twinkling, thoughts in Qiao Feng’s mind surged up like tidal waves, for a moment he thought: ‘They’ve gotten jealous, making up all kinds of lies to frame me. Even if I, Qiao Feng, am all by myself, I won’t surrender and will fight bravely to the death.’ But immediately he also thought: ‘Enshi’s order is absolutely genuine. Zhiguang dashi is a person of high virtue and good reputation, and doesn’t bear any resentment towards me, why should he set up this dirty plan? Elder Xu is an important senior figure of our Society, how can it be that he has the intention of overthrowing the Society? Impartial Judge Shan Zheng, Grandpa Tan, Granny Tan all are renowned seniors in wulin. This Zhao Qiansun guy is screwy but he’s also not a zilch. How can this matter be false when they all tell the same thing?’

After listening to the words of the people like Zhiguang and Elder Xu, the mood of the beggar crowd was totally confused. Some people had already heard that he was a Khitan descendant, but they only half believed it, the other were only made aware of it at that moment. They found the evidences authentic, as it seemed even Qiao Feng himself believed so already. Qiao Feng had always been kind and fair to his subordinates, his abilities, virtue and martial arts were admired by everyone, hence no one could have thought he was a Khitan descendant. But the enmity between Liao and Great Song was extremely deep and countless Beggar Society disciples had died at the hands of Liao people over the years, therefore letting a Khitan serve as the Chief of the Beggar Society was really out of the question. However, no one dared to speak out to demand his expulsion from the Society. For a short time, the apricot forest became quiet, only the sounds of everyone’s heavy breaths could be heard.

Suddenly there was a clear voice of a woman: ‘Uncles and brothers, my late husband unfortunately passed away. At the moment I can’t say for sure who murdered him. Thinking that my late husband was always sincere and steady, and though he wasn’t well-spoken he didn’t have any enemy in
 
jianghu, I really can’t imagine why someone had to take his life. But they say that: ‘Tardily hiding valuable things induces thieves’ ( 慢藏诲盗 – a phrase in The Book of Changes), was it because my late husband had
something important in his hands that until somebody else had they
wouldn’t be satisfied? Was that they murdered him as a witness because they feared he would let out the secret damaging important affairs?’ It was Ma Dayuan’s widow, Madam Ma, who said these words. The purpose of these several sentences was very clear, directly suggesting that the murderer of Ma Dayuan was Qiao Feng and the purpose of his deed was to cover up the evidences of him being a Khitan.

Qiao Feng slowly turned his head, looked directly at this timid-looking, dainty elegant woman who was wearing a full-length white mourning dress, and asked: ‘You suspect that I murdered Vice-Chief Ma?’

All the time Madam Ma had been turning her back to Qiao Feng and looking down at the ground, at this moment she suddenly raised her head and looked at him. Seeing her eyes shining like gems and sparkling in the darkness, Qiao Feng was slightly afraid. He heard her say: ‘I’m an ignorant woman, showing my face in public is already unwise, how dare I randomly accuse someone else? But my late husband died with a grievance, uncles, I beg of you think about an old friendship, investigate and discover the truth to avenge my late husband.’ As she finished saying she gracefully bent down and unexpectedly kowtowed to Qiao Feng.

She didn’t state that Qiao Feng was the murderer, but every word she said pointed towards him. Seeing her kowtowing to him, even though Qiao Feng was angry, it was inappropriate for him to have an outburst, he had no alternative but to kneel down to return the salute, and said: ‘Saozi (嫂⼦ – a
term to call a wife of one’s older brother), please stand up.’

Suddenly, on the left-hand side of the apricot forest the voice of a girl could be heard: ‘Madam Ma, there’s a doubt in my mind, may I ask you a question?’ Everyone turned in the direction of the voice and saw a young girl wearing a reddish gown. She was A’Zhu.
 
Madam Ma asked: ‘What do you want to interrogate me about?’ A’Zhu said: ‘I dare not interrogate you. I heard you say that senior Ma had tightly sealed these letters with sealing wax, and when Elder Xu opened it, the painted imprint was still intact. Does that mean before Elder Xu opened the letters no one had seen their contents?’ Madam Ma said: ‘That’s correct.’ A’Zhu said: ‘Then, besides senior Ma, originally nobody else knew about the letter of that Leading Big Brother and Chief Wang’s order. So, words like tardily hiding valuable things induces thieves, murdered a witness just shouldn’t have been said.’

Hearing these words of A'Zhu, everyone found them very reasonable.

Madam Ma said: ‘Who are you? Why do you meddle in our Society’s important affairs?’ A’Zhu said: ‘I’m just a little girl, how dare I meddle in your Society’s important affairs? But since you all want to frame my young master, I can’t help but to discern based on reasons.’ Madam Ma asked again: ‘Who is your young master? Is he Chief Qiao?’ A’Zhu shook her head, smiled and said: ‘No. He is Murong gongzi.’

Madam Ma said: ‘Huh, I see.’ She stopped paying attention to A’Zhu, turned towards the Elder of Rule Enforcement and said: ‘Elder Bai, the rules of our Society are as firm as a rock, if you violate them, how shall you be punished?’ The muscles on the face of the Elder of Rule Enforcement Bai Shijing slightly twitched, he said solemnly: ‘Deliberately breaking the rules, the seriousness of illegal deeds shall be increased by one level.’ Madam Ma said: ‘Then how about a person who has a higher rank than even you?’ Bai Shijing knew who she was pointing towards so he could not help casting a glance at Qiao Feng and said: ‘The rules of our Society were created by our ancestors. Everyone must comply with them irrespective of rank or position. The same contributions will be rewarded the same, the same offenses will be punished the same.’

Madam Ma said: ‘The young lady is quite right to be suspicious of this. At first I thought so too. But in the evening of the immediate day before I received the sad news about my late husband’s death, someone suddenly sneaked in our house to steal.’
 
Everyone was surprised. Someone asked: ‘Steal? What was stolen? Did anyone get injured?’

Madam Ma said: ‘No one was harmed. The thief used three sedative- imbued incense sticks to make me and two maids faint and fall to the floor. He then rummaged through everything in my house and stole around ten taels of silver. The next day I received the sad news that my late husband had unluckily been murdered, how could I have the mind to care about the matter of a thief stealing silver? Fortunately, my husband kept these letters in a very secret place so it wasn’t stolen and destroyed by that thief.’

These several sentences were even clearer, obviously indicating that Qiao Feng either himself went to or sent a person to Ma Dayuan’s house to steal these letters. Since he had wanted to steal the letters, he must have already known about their contents, thus it could be said that the matter of murdering the witness had been made clear. As for how he knew about the contents of the letters, that Leading Hero, Chief Wang, or Vice-Chief Ma accidentally giving some information away was also not something impossible to have happened.

A’Zhu wholeheartedly wanted to vindicate Murong Fu but also did not want Qiao Feng to be embroiled in this, she said: ‘A thief stealing several tens of silver taels isn’t unusual. It’s just that the timing of it was coincidental. That’s all.’

Madam Ma said: ‘What you just said is very true, at first I thought so as well, but later at the window where the thief entered and left the house I picked up an object at the foot of the wall. It was dropped by the thief in his hurry. When I just saw it I got panic and knew that this was no small matter.’

Elder Song said: ‘What was the object? Why is this no small matter?’ Madam Ma slowly took an object, which was eight or nine cun long, out of the cloth bag on her back, passed it to Elder Xu and said: ‘Uncles, please be the judge.’ After Elder Xu received that object, she dropped onto the ground and burst into tears.
 
Everyone turned to Elder Xu, only seeing him spreading out that object which turned out to be a folding fan. Elder Xu lowered his voice and read aloud a poem written on one side of the fan:

‘The snow of the North is floating at Yanmen Pass, On the sandy plain, grass roots are being blown chaotically in the air; I’ll feel ashamed if my feats are judged by the number of enemies I’ve captured, I only wish I can personally destroy the enemy country to repay the motherland.’
(朔雪飘飘开雁门,平沙历乱卷蓬根;功名耻计擒⽣数,直斩楼兰报国恩.)

When Qiao Feng heard that poem he was really shocked. As he focused his eyes on the fan, he saw a picture named The Hero Comes out of the Frontier Fortress to Fight the Enemy drawn on the other side of it. This fan really belonged to him. That poem had been written on it by enshi Wang Jiantong and that picture had been drawn on it by Elder Xu. Even though the penmanship was not very refined, it had an air of heroism and righteousness, and when combined with the north wind and heavy snow depicted in the picture, it looked even more heroic and intense. This fan had been given to him on his twenty-fifth birthday as a present by enshi. He had always treasured it and kept it carefully, how come it had been lost at Ma Dayuan’s house? Moreover, as he had a liberal character he never brought such things as folding fan with him.

Elder Xu turned the fan over, looked carefully at the picture which had been drawn with his own hands, let out a deep sigh, and mumbled: ‘Not belonging to our ethnic group, his heart must be different. Chief Wang, ah, Chief Wang, you made a big big mistake about this matter.’

When Qiao Feng suddenly learned about his origin unexpectedly being a Khitan descendant, all sorts of feelings welled up in his hearts. For the past ten years he had tried his best everyday to devise plans to defeat Liao and kill more Khitan aggressors, therefore when all of a sudden he was confronted with this shocking matter, even though he had weathered many great storms, he could not help feeling at a loss. But after Madam Ma had again and again accused him of plotting the murder of Ma Dayuan and his
 
folding fan had also appeared, he calmed down. In an instant several thoughts ran through his mind: ‘Someone stole my folding fan to shift the blame onto me. This kind of trick can’t cause Qiao Feng difficulties.’ He turned to Elder Xu and said: ‘Elder Xu, this folding fan is mine.’

When the people who had relatively high ranks or important positions in the Beggar Society heard Elder Xu reading aloud those verses they immediately knew that it was Qiao Feng’s, but the rest of the Society did not know about that. When they heard the confirmation from Qiao Feng himself, they were all stunned.

Elder Xu also became very emotional, he mumbled: ‘On the whole, Chief Wang considered me a trusted subordinate, yet this important matter of leaving behind an order, he didn’t let me know about it.’

Madam Ma stood up and said: ‘Elder Xu, it was good for you that Chief Wang didn’t tell you.’ Elder Xu did not understand, he asked: ‘What?’ Madam Ma mournfully said: ‘In the Beggar Society, only Dayuan knew about this matter, he then suffered a grievous death, you… you… had you known about the matter before, you may not have escaped this disaster.’

Qiao Feng said loudly and clearly: ‘Does anyone have something else to say?’ His eyes looked at Madam Ma then turned to Elder Xu, to Bai Shijing, to the Elder of Merit Propagation, then to everyone. No one said anything.

Qiao Feng waited for a moment, seeing that no one said anything, he said: ‘My origin, I’m really ashamed that I myself can’t confirm it. But because so many seniors have affirmed it, I must do my best to find out the truth about it. This Chief of the Beggar Society position, I’m leaving it to a worthy person.’ Saying to here, he reached into a long bag on his right foot and took out a glossy dark-green bamboo stick, which was the Dog Beating Stick, the symbol of the Chief of the Beggar Society, and said: ‘This stick was given to me by Chief Wang. When I was in charge of the Beggar Society, even though I didn’t have any contribution, luckily I didn’t commit any serious offense either. Today I give up my position, if any heroic worthy person wants to take on this post, please come to receive this stick.’
 
According to the rules of the Beggar Society that had been passed down from generation to generation, when a new Chief assumed their post, the post had to be handed over by the former Chief using the Dog Beating Stick, and before the stick was handed over, the Dog Beating Stick technique had to be passed on. Hence, even if the former Chief suddenly passed away, the successor had already been confirmed and the Dog Beating Stick technique had also already been passed on. Therefore there had never been any dispute over the Chief position. Qiao Feng was in the prime of his life, he had estimated that, in every case, twenty years later he would select a heroic worthy person in the Society to pass on the Dog Beating Stick technique. At this moment, seeing him holding the bamboo stick in his hand and standing fearlessly in front of everybody, who in the beggar crowd dared to come out and receive the stick?

Qiao Feng successively asked three times, but no one in the Beggar Society said anything. He said: ‘Qiao Feng’s origin is unclear, so, no matter what, I dare not be in charge of this Chief position anymore. Elder Xu and the two Elders of Merit Propagation and Rule Enforcement, this Society-stabilizing treasure, the Dog Beating Stick, you three please take care of it together. Later, once you’ve decided on another Chief, it won’t be late for the three of you to hand it over.’

Elder Xu said: ‘It’s sensible to say so. As for the Dog Beating Stick technique, we’re gonna discuss it in the future.’ He went forwards to receive the bamboo stick.

Suddenly Elder Song loudly said: ‘Wait!’ Elder Xu stopped in surprise and asked: ‘Brother Song, what do you wanna say?’ Elder Song said: ‘As far as I can tell Chief Qiao isn’t a Khitan.’ Elder Xu said: ‘How do you do that?’ Elder Song said: ‘I find him different than a Khitan.’ Elder Xu said: ‘How different?’ Elder Song said: ‘Khitan people are very vicious, ruthless, and cruel. But Chief Qiao is a righteous noble hero. Only a moment ago we opposed him, but he still willingly suffered stabs and shed blood for us, and pardoned us for the serious offense of revolt. How can a Khitan be like this?’

Elder Xu said: ‘From his childhood he was taught by eminent Shaolin monks and Chief Wang, so his ferocious Khitan character has already
 
changed.’

Elder Song said: ‘As his character has changed, he’s longer an evil man, what’s improper with him being our Chief? I see that in our Society there’s no one else as heroic as him. If anybody else wants to be the Chief, I’m afraid I myself won’t be content.’

Many people in the Beggar Society had the same thought as Elder Song’s. Qiao Feng’s kindness had always been in the mind of everyone, merely based on verbal statements and written evidences of some people to remove him from the Chief position certainly made many people who were loyal to him feel discontent. After Elder Song had taken the lead in speaking his mind, several tens of people in the beggar crowd also shouted out: ‘Someone’s plotting to frame Chief Qiao. We can’t recklessly believe their words.’ ‘Things that happened tens of years ago, just based on the bull of some of you, who can find out if they’re true or fake?’ ‘The Chief position can’t be changed so rashly like this!’ ‘I wholeheartedly follow Chief Qiao! If they forcefully change the Chief post, even if my head is cut off I’ll still be discontent.’

Elder Xi loudly said: ‘Those who are willing to follow Chief Qiao go with me to this side.’ He pulled Elder Song with his left hand, pulled Elder Wu with his right hand, and walked to the east. After that the three heads of the Great Kindness branch, the Great Faith branch and the Great Righteousness branch also walked to the east. After the heads of these three branches had gone to the east, their subordinates one by one went after them. Quan Guanqing, Elder Chen, the Elder of Merit Propagation, and the heads of the Great Wisdom branch and the Great Courage branch however stood still. Therefore, in a moment, the Beggar Society’s members were divided into two groups, the one in the east consisted of five tenths and the one who stood still consisted of three tenths. The rest of the Society’s members were hesitant, not knowing which group they should follow. The Elder of Rule Enforcement Bai Shijing had always been resolute and decisive in his actions and stood by his word, but at this moment he felt very awkward and hesitant too.

Quan Guanqing said: ‘Brothers, Chief Qiao is outstandingly capable and heroic, who doesn’t admire him? But being the common people of Great
 
Song, how can we listen to and obey the orders of a Khitan? The greater Qiao Feng’s abilities are, the more dangerous he is to everyone.’

Elder Xi shouted: ‘Bullsh!t! Bullsh!t! Fvck you! As far as I can see, you look almost like a Khitan.’

Quan Guanqing loudly said: ‘Everyone here is a good Han who dedicates himself to the service of the motherland, how could we willingly serve as slaves and lackeys of another ethnicity?’ These few sentences of his were really effective, in the group of beggars who had walked to the east, there were more than ten people returning to the west. The beggars in the east then swore and pulled, creating a confusing situation. In an instant, several tens of people engaged in a melee, some using unarmed martial arts and some using weapons. The Elders said loudly to hold back the situation, but each of them had his own bias. Elder Wu and Elder Chen even fiercely pointed at and swore at each other like they would start a fight any moment.

Qiao Feng shouted: ‘Brothers, please stop fighting and hear me.’ His voice was imposing, the wrangle in the beggar crowd immediately stopped. All turned their heads and looked at him.

Qiao Feng said in a loud and clear voice: ‘This Chief of the Beggar Society post, I definitely can no longer hold it…’ Elder Song interrupted: ‘Chief, you mustn’t lose heart…’ Qiao Feng shook his head and said: ‘It’s not that I’ve lost heart. If the evidence was something else then there might be a plot to frame me, but this is my enshi Chief Wang’s handwriting, other people can’t fake it in any case.’ He raised his voice, saying: ‘The Beggar Society is the greatest society in jianghu and has an illustrious prestige, who in wulin doesn’t revere it? If we kill each other, wouldn’t that make outsiders laugh their heads off? Before I go I have one thing to tell you, that is, whoever lands another punch or kick on our Society’s brothers will become an offender of the highest level of our Society.’

The Beggar Society had always had a high opinion of courage and righteousness, hence hearing him say so everyone secretly felt ashamed.

Suddenly the voice of a woman was heard: ‘Then what if someone kills our Society’s brothers?’ The person who said that was Madam Ma. Qiao Feng
 
said: ‘An eye for an eye. For harming or murdering his brothers, he’ll be detested by the whole world.’ Madam Ma said: ‘That’s right.’

Qiao Feng said: ‘Who murdered Vice-Chief Ma? Who stole this folding fan of mine to frame me? Eventually, everything will be able to be cleared up by investigation. Madam Ma, with my abilities, if I wanna go to your house to get something I wouldn’t return empty-handed, it’d be even more improbable for me to lose something I bring with me. Needless to say, there were only two or three women in your house. Even if it was the imperial palace, the mansion of a general, or a place guarded by a strong army with thousands of horses, if I wanted to take something I wouldn’t necessarily be unable to get it done.’

These few sentences sounded very imposing. The beggar crowd had always known about his abilities therefore they all found his words reasonable. No one thought that he had just talked big. Madam Ma lowered her head and said nothing.

Qiao Feng cupped his hand around his fist in salute to everyone all around and said: ‘The verdant hills will never change, the green waters will flow forever, farewell, my good brothers. It’s alright if I’m a Han, it’s also alright if I’m a Khitan, from now on I won’t ever endanger the life of any Han. If I break this vow I shall be like this saber.’ As he finished saying, he leaped towards Shan Zheng and made a grab at the same time.

Shan Zheng only felt a jerk at his wrist, the saber in his hand could no longer be held firmly. His fingers loosened, the saber had already been snatched by Qiao Feng. Qiao Feng bent his right middle finger with his right thumb and gave the back of the saber a finger flick, a clang was heard, the saber had been broken into two pieces, the top of it had been sent flying away for several chi (尺 ~ 33.33 cm), the handle was still being held in his
hand. He turned towards Shan Zheng, said: ‘Excuse me!’, then threw the
handle on the ground and walked away proudly.

Everyone was astounded, someone shouted after him: ‘Chief, don’t go!’ ‘The Beggar Society totally relies on your direction!’ ‘Chief, please return quickly!’
 
All of a sudden a whizzing sound could be heard. A bamboo stick went down from midair. It was none other than Qiao Feng who had thrown the Dog Beating Stick backwards.

Elder Xu held out his hand to receive it. As soon as his right hand got hold of the bamboo stick he experienced a shaking which spread from his palm up to his arm, from his arm through his whole body, and made he felt as if he being hit by a thunderbolt. He quickly let go of it. As the leftover force of the throw in the stick was still strong, it passed straight into the ground.

The beggar crowd exclaimed in unison. Looking at this very important ‘seeing the stick is like seeing the Chief’ symbol of their Society, all kinds of thoughts ran through their minds.

The sun had risen. Through spaces between branches and leaves of apricot trees, rays of golden light came down and illuminated the ‘Dog Beating Stick’, making it shine like glossy jade.

Duan Yu called out: ‘Big brother, big brother, I’ll go with you!’ He set out to chase after Qiao Feng but after just three steps, feeling unable to leave Wang Yuyan at this moment, he turned his head and cast a look at her. This one look made he feel even more unable to pull away. Thousands of soft silk threads seemed to have appeared in his heart pulling him back. He turned around, went to and stood before Wang Yuyan, then said: ‘Miss Wang, where are the three of you going now?’

Wang Yuyan said: ‘Biaoge ( 表哥 – maternal aunt’s, paternal aunt’s or maternal uncle’s son) has been given a false accusation, perhaps he himself hasn’t known about it, I need to inform him.’

Duan Yu felt his heart ache with sadness, he said: ‘Hum, you are young ladies, there’ll be inconveniences to you on the way, please allow me to escort the three of you?’ He also added another sentence, trying to explain himself away: ‘Having heard a lot about Murong gongzi’s illustrious reputation, I also want to meet him once.’

Elder Xu said loudly and clearly: ‘How to avenge Vice-Chief Ma, we should consider the matter carefully. But our Society cannot be without a
 
leader for even one day, Chief… Qiao Feng has already left, deciding who will take over this Chief of the Society post is an urgent important matter that cannot be delayed. Quite incidentally, everyone is here, so we must carry out negotiations immediately.’

Elder Song said: ‘In my opinion, everyone should go find Chief Qiao back, ask him to change his views and not to quit his post…’ When he had not finished saying, someone in the west shouted: ‘Qiao Feng is a Khitan barbarian, how can he be our Chief? Today everyone still thought of the old friendship, but the next time we meet he’ll be our enemy, it won’t be possible not to go all-out to the death.’ Elder Wu sneered: ‘You’ll fight Chief Qiao all-out to the death? Do you deserve?’ That man said furiously: ‘I certainly can’t fight him by myself; but how about ten people? If ten people won’t do; how about one hundred people? Righteous men of the Beggar Society are loyal and devote themselves to the country, don’t tell me that we would shy away from the enemies?’ These few sentences of his were full of strong feelings and emotions. Many people in the beggar group in the west applauded.

When the applause had not ended, suddenly in the northwest there was a sinister sorrowful voice of a man: ‘The Beggar Society had agreed to meet us at Huishan then broke the promise and didn’t show up, it turns out all of you have been sneakily hiding here, ha ha ha, this is so laughable.’ This voice was piercing, the words were pronounced incorrectly as if his mouth was full of tongue and his nose was stuffy, therefore it was very uncomfortable to hear.

Captain Jiang of the Great Righteousness branch and Captain Fang of the Great Courage branch cried out at the same time: ‘A’yo’, and said: ‘Elder Xu, we missed the meeting, the enemies have gotten to here to find us!’

Duan Yu also remembered that on the day when he had first met Qiao Feng at a restaurant he had heard someone reporting to Qiao Feng that they had arranged to meet people of Western Xia’s ‘First-class Hall’ in the morning of the following day. At that time Qiao Feng had felt that it would be too pressing, but he had still said yes to the arrangement. It was already past 7 a.m., most of the people in the Beggar Society did not know about this meeting. Even the people who had known about it only focused their minds
 
on important internal affairs of their Society and ignored it. At the moment, hearing their enemies’ mocking words, they suddenly woke up.

Elder Xu continuously asked: ‘What meeting is this? Who are the enemies?’ He had not been taking part in any affair in jianghu or of the Beggar Society for a long time therefore he knew absolutely nothing. The Elder of Rule Enforcement asked Captain Jiang in a low voice: ‘Was it Chief Qiao who agreed to meet them?’ Captain Jiang said: ‘Yes, but I already followed Chief Qiao’s order, sending one man to Huishan to ask the enemies to postpone the meeting until seven days later.’

The owner of that sinister sorrowful voice had a really keen sense of hearing, Captain Jiang said these two sentences in a low voice yet he actually heard them, he said: ‘This meeting was already decided, how can it possibly be put back to seven or eight days later? Even one hour later is still impossible.’

Bai Shijing said furiously: ‘The Beggar Society is a grand society of Great Song, how could we fear you Western Xia barbarians? We haven’t dealt with you despicable scoundrels properly only because we’re having important affairs. It’s usual to change a date, what do you moan about?’

Suddenly a whizzing sound was heard. A man flew out of the apricot forest, fell stiffly on the ground and did not make a move. His face had been crushed and was covered with blood. His throat had been slit. He had already been dead for a long time. People in the Beggar Society identified him as Vice-Captain Xie of the Great Righteousness branch.

Captain Jiang was both shocked and angry, he said: ‘Brother Xie was sent by me to change the date.’

The Elder of Rule Enforcement said: ‘Elder Xu, Chief isn’t here, please temporarily act as Chief.’ He did not want to let out the truth that the Beggar Society was leaderless to avoid showing the impression of weakness to the enemies. Elder Xu understood, he thought that at this moment if he himself did not run the show then no one would, he then said loudly and clearly: ‘They say two countries which fight each other don’t kill
 
messengers. Why did you kill the messenger that our humble Society sent to change the date of the meeting?’

That sinister sorrowful voice replied: ‘This man looked arrogant, expressed himself insolently, and did not kowtow when he saw our General. How could I let him live?’ When the people of the Beggar Society heard that, they immediately boiled over with anger, many people shouted out swear words.

Until now Elder Xu still did not know who the enemies were, he heard Bai Shijing call them ‘Western Xia barbarians’, but that man had also mentioned something like ‘our General’, this really made him find it difficult to get a clue. He said: ‘Why don’t you show your face instead of hiding sneakily? Why just talk nonsense and brag foolishly?’

That man cackled and said: ‘Who are hiding sneakily in the apricot forest?’

Suddenly there were boo-hoo sounds of bugles coming from afar, after that hoofbeats of a troop of horses coming from several li (⾥ – 0.5 km) away could be vaguely heard.

Elder Xu put his mouth close to Bai Shijing’s ear and asked quietly: ‘Who are they? What’s the matter?’ Bai Shijing also replied quietly: ‘Western Xia has a martial arts hall called ‘First-class Hall’ which was set up by the king of that country to recruit people who excel in martial arts and uses special treatments and gifts to temp them to teach martial arts to Western Xia’s officers and troops.’

Elder Xu nodded and said: ‘Hasn’t Western Xia been strengthening its army and practising martial arts because it’s planned to seize our Great Song’s territories?’ Bai Shijing quietly said: ‘Absolutely. The people who have entered ‘First-class Hall’ all are known for their first-class martial arts. The
boss of First-class Hall is a wangye ( 王爷 – a very high rank of nobility usually held by a king’s/an emperor’s/an empress’ brothers or uncles). He was appointed as the East Conquering General. His name is He Lian Tie Shu or something like that. According to what brother Yi Dabiao, sent to Western Xia by our Society, has reported, recently He Lian Tie Shu has led
 
the warriors of the Hall to Bianliang (the capital of Song) to have an audience with the Empress Dowager and the Emperor of our Great Song. In fact, having an audience was just a sham. Their true motive was to spy upon our country’s actual conditions. Knowing that our Society is one of the great pillars of Great Song’s wulin they wanna destroy our Society, firstly, in order to build their prestige. Later, if they again lead their army to violate the boundary of our country, it’d be easy to push deep into our land.’ Elder Xu was secretly frightened, he whispered: ‘This scheme is really cruel and dangerous.’

Bai Shijing said: ‘After this He Lian Tie Shu guy left Bianliang, he went to our nerve center in Luoyang. Incidentally, at that time Chief Qiao had led us to Jiangnan to avenge Vice-Chief Ma so the Western Xia people only attacked an empty place. But they didn’t give up and chased after us to Jiangnan. Eventually they and Chief Qiao decided to have a meeting.’

Elder Xu thought deeply and whispered: ‘So according to what they have planned, they’ll destroy our Beggar Society first, maybe they’ll attack Shaolin Monastery next, then crush the big martial arts schools and societies of the Central Plains.’ Bai Shijing said: ‘That’s the plan. But can these Western Xia warriors carry it out so easily? What do they have to be this arrogant? Chief Qiao somewhat knows about the truth, but too bad at this urgent moment he…’ Saying to here, feeling inappropriate, he suddenly stopped.

At this moment, the horse hoofbeats had drawn near, all of a sudden three bugle sounds were heard, eight horses split into two rows and burst into the forest. Each of the people riding on the horses was holding a lance. A small flag was tied to the head of each lance. The heads of the lances glinted. It could vaguely be noticed that the four small flags on the left-hand side all were embroidered with two white words ‘Western Xia’ and the four on the right-hand side were embroidered with two white words ‘He Lian’, the flags also had other Western Xia characters embroidered on them. After that, there were eight other horses which split into two rows and ran quickly into the forest. Four of the people riding on these horses were blowing bugles and the other four were beating drums.
 
Everyone in the beggar crowd scowled: ‘This disposition of troops is totally like a march in a war. Where is the meeting between brave men in jianghu?’

There were eight Western Xia warriors arriving after the buglers and drummers. Seeing the expressions on their faces Elder Xu knew obviously that they all have top-class martial arts, he thought: ‘It seems these are people of First-class Hall.’ Those eight warriors split up and stood on both sides. Then a horse slowly walked into the forest. The man on the horse was wearing a scarlet brocade robe. He was around thirty four or thirty five years old, had an aquiline nose and a splay moustache. Following him closely was a very tall man who shouted as soon as he entered the forest: ‘East Conquering General of Western Xia has arrived; the Chief of the Beggar Society goes forward to pay respects.’ This voice which sounded very unusual belonged to no one other than the man who had talked to the beggar crowd a moment ago.

Elder Xu said: ‘The Chief of our Society is not here. Laoxiu will take care of the Society’s affairs on his behalf. The Beggar Society’s brothers are all normal people in jianghu. If you, as a General of Western Xia, use guest ceremony for meeting, then we won’t dare to make friends with a man of such a high position. Please go have audiences with the princes, dukes or officers of our Great Song; you don’t need to meet us beggars who have to beg for food. But if you use the status of a man in wulin for meeting us, then as you are a guest coming from afar, please get off your horse and behave according to common courtesies for guests and hosts.’ These several sentences showed neither inferiority nor superiority. They did not offend the opponents, but also took into consideration the status of the Beggar Society. The beggar crowd thought: ‘Sure enough, the older ginger is hotter, Elder Xu is awesome.’

The big-nosed man said: ‘If the Chief of your Society is not here our General can’t treat you with courtesies.’ He cast a glance and saw the Dog Beating Stick driven into the ground. Knowing that it was an important object of the Beggar Society, he said: ‘Huh, taking this glossy dark green bamboo stick to make a broom handle is not bad.’ He made a swing with his arm, the horsewhip in his hand shot out to wind around the Dog Beating Stick.
 
The beggars shouted in unison: ‘Fvck off!’; ‘Fvck you!’; ‘You Tartar dog!’ When the tip of his horsewhip was about to wind around the Dog Beating Stick, suddenly there was a silhouette moving very quickly, a person leapt out at an oblique angle and stood in front of the Dog Beating Stick. He extended his arm, let the horsewhip wind around it then bent it. The big- nosed man could no longer sit steadily on the saddle and had to jump off his horse to stand on the ground. Both of them exerted their strength at the same time. A snap was heard, the horsewhip was broken into two pieces. That person moved his hand backwards and grabbed the Dog Beating Stick. Without saying a word he returned to where he had come from.

Everyone looked at him and saw a withered old man with a bent back. He was no one other than the Elder of Merit Propagation. His martial arts were very good. He usually did not like to talk much, but when the important symbol of the Society had been in danger he had protected it bravely. A moment ago, in just one move, the big-nosed man had already been dismounted and his horsewhip had also been broken. It could be said that the big-nosed man had lost.

Even though this big-nosed man had just suffered a small defeat, he did not bat an eyelid and said: ‘You beggars really are too stingy, hating to give away even a bamboo stick.’

Elder Xu said: ‘Brave men of Western Xia, why did you and our poor Society decide to meet?’

That man said: ‘Our General has heard that the Beggar Society of the Central Plains has two great techniques, one being the Cat Beating Stick, the other being the Snake Subduing Eighteen Palms, so he wanna widen his knowledge a bit.’

As soon as the beggars heard that, they all flew into a rage. This man deliberately called the Dog Beating Stick technique the Cat Beating Stick technique and called the Dragon Subduing Eighteen Palms technique the Snake Subduing Eighteen Palms technique, his intention of insulting was extremely obvious. It seemed in the meeting today a fierce battle of life or death was already unavoidable.
 
While the beggar crowd was cursing, the people such as Elder Xu, the Elder of Merit Propagation, and the Elder of Rule Enforcement secretly felt anxious: ‘All along, only the Chief of our Society is able to use the Dog Beating Stick technique and the Dragon Subduing Eighteen Palms. The enemies already knew about the reputation of these two great techniques yet they still brashly come to challenge, perhaps they’re not easy to deal with.’ Elder Xu said: ‘You want to see our Society’s Cat Beating Stick technique and Snake Subduing Eighteen Palms to widen your knowledge, there’s not the slightest problem. As long as there are cowardly cats and snakes with scabies showing up here, we beggars will have our way of dealing with them. You mimic cats or mimic snakes?’ Elder Wu ha-ha laughed and said: ‘If the opponents are dragons, we will subdue dragons, if they’re snake, then we beggars can’t be better at catching snakes.’

The big-nosed man was again defeated in arguing. While he was thinking about what to say, there was a deep gruff voice from behind him: ‘Cat Beating is also fine, Snake Subduing is also fine, come, come, come, who’s gonna have a fight with me first?’ As that man finished saying he walked out from the crowd and stood with his arms akimbo.

The beggars could see that this man looked ugly and ferocious. All of a sudden Duan Yu loudly said: ‘Hey, my disciple, you came here as well? Why haven’t you kowtowed after seeing master?’ The ferocious-looking man turned out to be none other than South Sea Divine Alligator Yue Laosan (T/Note: this is prolly not Yue’s real name, it literally means Yue, the third man).

He was astonished when he saw Duan Yu and immediately looked very awkward. He said: ‘You… You…’ Duan Yu said: ‘Good disciple, the Beggar Society’s Chief is my sworn big brother so these people are your apprentice uncles, you mustn’t disrespect them. Go home quickly!’ South Sea Divine Alligator let out a roar making the leaves of the apricot trees around rustle and cursed: ‘Turtle egg! Bastard!’ (T/Note: turtle egg - 王⼋蛋 – basically an equivalent of 'son of a b!tch')

Duan Yu said: ‘Who did you curse as turtle egg and bastard?’ South Sea Divine Alligator was extremely vicious, however when he himself said
 
something he never broke his words. He had already recognized Duan Yu as his master, but he did not deny that and said: ‘I like cursing. How can you control me? I didn’t curse you.’ Duan Yu said: ‘Hum, you already saw master, why haven’t you kowtowed to pay respects to me?’ South Sea Divine Alligator repressed his anger, went forwards, kowtowed and said: ‘Master, are you all right?’ The more he thought about this the angrier he got. Suddenly he leaped to his feet and ran away while howling furiously.

Everyone found that howl sounded like retreating tidewater, burst after burst rushing away yet big waves still surging up fiercely. Just hearing this howl they knew that this man’s martial arts were not something to disregard. Probably in the Beggar Society only several people like Elder Xu and the Elder of Merit Propagation could rival him. It was extremely strange that Duan Yu, a gentle and weak student, was unexpectedly his master. Wang Yuyan, A’Zhu and A’Bi knew that Duan Yu did not know martial arts so they were much more surprised.

Suddenly a man leaped out from the group of the Western Xia warriors. Despite being tall like a bamboo pole, his movements were exceptionally fast. Each of his hands was holding a strange weapon whose handle was about three chi (T/Note: 1 chi ~ 33.33 cm) long and one head was a steel claw with five fingers. Duan Yu recognized him as the fourth member of ‘The Four Evils under Heaven’ ‘Extreme Ferocity Utmost Evil’ Yun Zhonghe, he thought: ‘Could it be that these four evildoers have all joined Western Xia?’ He looked carefully at the Western Xia people and saw ‘Not to Stop at Any Crime’ Ye Erniang standing there embracing a child and smiling. But he did not see the leader ‘Be Guilty of the Worst Crimes’ Duan Yanqing. Duan Yu thought: ‘As long as Prince Yanqing is not here the Beggar Society can handle the second evil and the fourth evil.’

It turned out after being defeated in Dali ‘The Four Evils under Heaven’ had fled northwards and run into envoys of Western Xia’s First-class Hall who had been out to recruit high-level martial arts users. Unwilling to be by themselves, they had all offered their service immediately. These four people had so excellent martial arts that after showing their skills a little they had been recruited right away. This time going eastwards to Bianliang, He Lian Tie Shu brought all of them with him and regarded them quite
 
highly. Thinking that he himself had a high status, even though Duan Yanqing was dependent on First-class Hall he acted freely. He did not accept any restrictive order and go with the others.

Yun Zhonghe shouted: ‘Our General wants to see the Beggar Society’s two great techniques. In the end you beggars have true skills or are just boasting? Quickly come here to fight for real!’

Elder Xi said: ‘I’m fighting him.’ Elder Xu said: ‘Okay! This man’s lightness skill is very unusual, brother Xi must be careful.’ Elder Xi said: ‘Yes!’ Carrying his steel pole he walked towards Yun Zhonghe, stood facing him from a distance of more than one zhang (T/Note: 1 zhang ~
3.333 m), and said: ‘The use of our Society’s great techniques is dependent on who the opponent is. Why should the Dog Beating Stick technique be used to handle a shrimp like you? Watch out!’ He raised the steel pole, creating a whirring sound, and swung it down at Yun Zhonghe’s left shoulder at an angle. Elder Xi was stubby but the steel pole in his hands were longer than one zhang, once it was brandished, even if the opponent was very tall like Yun Zhonghe, it was still possible for him to strike down from the air. Yun Zhonghe leaned sideways and dodged. A bang was heard, dirt flew on all sides, the steel pole had hit the ground and its head had gone one chi into the ground. Yun Zhonghe knew that his true abilities were far inferior to Elder Xi’s so he applied a hit-and-run tactic using his lightness skill, for a moment he had been in the east, the next moment he already flashed to the west. Elder Xi’s steel pole had been brandished into a white sphere but all the while it had not been able to touch Yun Zhonghe’s clothes.

While Duan Yu was being absorbed in the fight, suddenly he heard a lovely gentle voice next to him: ‘Mr. Duan, who should we help?’ Duan Yu leaned his head to one side and saw that it was Wang Yuyan. He could not help feeling elated and hurriedly asked: ‘What… who should what help?’ Wang Yuyan said: ‘This lanky man is your disciple’s friend while this stubby beggar is your sworn brother’s subordinate. The more these two have been fighting the fiercer they’ve become, who we should help?’ Duan Yu said: ‘My disciple is a villain and this lanky guy’s character is even worse, don’t help him.’
 
Wang Yuyan muttered: ‘Hum, but the whole Beggar Society have driven your sworn brother away and don’t let him be the Chief. They’ve also falsely accused my biaoge, I hate them.’ In the heart of a young girl like her, whoever treated her biaoge badly was the worst person under heaven. She continued: ‘This stubby geezer is using the twenty four Demon Taming Pole stances of Mt. Wutai, but because he’s too short the two stances ‘The King of Qin Whips Rock’ and 'The Roc Spreads the Wings’ can’t be executed well. If the right-hand side of his lower body is attacked he won’t be able to defend himself. But this lanky man doesn’t realize that, he thinks the lower body of short people must be stable but in fact that’s not true.’

Even though her voice was very low, all the high-level martial arts users with fine internal energy at the scene had already heard what she said. The majority of these people knew about Elder Xi’s martial arts and skills but they might not necessarily realize where his stances were flawed. Once Wang Yuyan pointed out, they immediately felt that she was correct because whenever Elder Xi had used the two stances ‘The King of Qin Whips Rock’ and ‘A Roc Spreads the Wings’, his power had really been excessive but his stability had been deficient, his lower body had been rather vulnerable.

Yun Zhonghe cast a sidelong glance at Wang Yuyan and praised: ‘You little girl are very beautiful. It’s rarer that you have such great insight. Following me and becoming my wife are even more okay.’ While saying he used the steel claws in his hands to attack Elder Xi’s lower body with three swift stances. Elder Xi was too late to ward off the third stance. A sound of tearing was heard, his thigh had just suffered a long cut by Yun Zhonghe’s steel claws and immediately dripped blood.

Hearing Yun Zhonghe praise herself for being beautiful Wang Yuyan was quite happy, therefore she did not think his flirty and frivolous words were offensive. She smiled and said: ‘How shameless. What’s good about you? I’m not marrying you.’ Yun Zhonghe was very pleased, he said: ‘Why not? You’re already in love with that pretty boy, right? I’ll kill your love interest first, to see if you’ll marry me?’ These sentences had seriously violated Wang Yuyan’s taboos. She frowned and no longer paid attention to him.

Yun Zhonghe still wanted to say a few more words to gain advantage but Elder Wu of the Beggar Society leaped out, lifted his demon-headed saber
 
and slashed four times on the left hand side, four times on the right hand side, four times high, four times low, totaling sixteen slashes. The momentum of the saber was extremely fierce. Yun Zhonghe was not familiar with the stances of his saber technique therefore he could only dodge around, jerk his head back and jump up. For the moment he was totally perplexed.

Wang Yuyan smiled and said: ‘This Four Forms Six Harmonies Saber technique of Elder Wu contains the generation principles, the restraint principles and the changes of the Eight Diagrams. That lanky man just doesn’t know that. I wonder if he can use the ‘Crane Snake Eight Attacks’. If he can, the Four Forms Six Harmonies Saber technique will be defeated
easily.’ (T/Note: Four Forms - 四象 – include Tai Yang, Tai Yin, Shao Yang, Shao Yin; Six Harmonies - 六合– include East, West, South, North, Up and Down, referring to the universe) Hearing her say those words to
help Yun Zhonghe again, the people of the Beggar Society all had an angry expression on their faces. They saw that Yun Zhonghe immediately changed his fighting style, spreading wide his legs and whipping horizontally with the steel claws, looking like a white crane. Wang Yuyan put her mouth close to Duan Yu’s ear and whispered: ‘This lanky man has walked into my trap. Perhaps his left hand would be chopped off.’ Duan Yu was surprised, he asked: ‘Really?’

Everyone only saw that the saber technique of Elder Wu was strict and heavy, chopping sidelong and slashing horizontally as if there was no arrangement of stances. He fought more and more slowly, but all of a sudden he swiftly chopped three times. White light flashed. Yun Zhonghe shouted ‘Ah’, the back of his left hand had already been cut by the blade, the steel claw in his left hand could not be hold firmly anymore, a clang was heard, it had already fallen on the ground. However because his lightness skill was very fast, he hurriedly moved backwards and was able to dodge the three later chops of Elder Wu.

Elder Wu walked towards Wang Yuyan, stood in front of her, held his saber in a straight upright position and said: ‘Thanks a lot, Miss!’ Wang Yuyan smiled and said: ‘Elder Wu, your ‘Wonderful Door Three Powers Saber’ is very refined and subtle!’ Elder Wu was surprised, he thought: ‘I didn’t
 
expect you to know this saber technique of mine.’ It turned out Wang Yuyan had deliberately called the saber technique of Elder Wu the ‘Four Forms Six Harmonies Saber’ and judging from the stances of Yun Zhonghe she had anticipated that he would surely use the ‘Crane Snake Eight Attacks’ to make him involuntarily get into a dominated situation. As expected, his left hand had nearly been chopped off. (T/Note: Three Powers - 三才 – Heaven,
Earth, Man).

The name of the big-nosed man who had the queer voice and was standing next to He Lian Tie Shu was Nu Erhai. Seeing Wang Yuyan help Yun Zhonghe injure Elder Xi with just several sentences, then enable Elder Wu to injure Yun Zhonghe with a few sentences again, he turned towards He Lian Tie Shu and said: ‘General, this young Han girl is very strange, if we capture and take her back to First-class Hall then force her to tell everything she knows, it’ll prolly be extremely useful.’ He Lian Tie Shu said: ‘Very good, you go capture her.’ Nu Erhai scratched his head and thought: ‘This character of General is certainly not very nice. Whenever I suggested a ploy to him he always said: ‘Very good, you go handle it.’ Making suggestions is easy but handling them is hard. This young girl’s martial arts seem to be fathomless. I don’t wanna make a fool of myself in front of her. Anyway, today is for rounding up and annihilating these beggars, it’d be better to strike first and prevail.’ He made a gesture with his left hand, four of his subordinates immediately walked out.

Nu Erhai took several steps forwards and said: ‘Elder Xu, our General wanna see the Dog Beating Stick technique and the Dragon Subduing Eighteen Palms, if you have something interesting then show it, but if you really don’t, we can’t afford to wait any longer, we must go now, farewell.’ Elder Xu sneered and said: ‘High-level martial arts users of your country’s First-class Hall have boasted that you all have topnotch martial arts but it turns out you’re just mediocre, I’m afraid you don’t deserve to see the Dog Beating Stick technique and the Dragon Subduing Eighteen Palms.’ Nu Erhai said: ‘How to deserve to see them?’

Elder Xu said: ‘First you must beat us good-for-nothing beggars, then the head of the Beggar Society will show up…’ Saying to here, he suddenly coughed loudly then his eyes hurt intensely and could not open, his tears
 
dripped down continuously. Feeling very frightened, he jumped up, held his breath and quickly kicked three times. Nu Erhai had not expected that this old man whose beard was snow-white would attack as soon as he finished saying and that his movements were so fast like this, he hastily dodged but could only avoid getting hit at the crucial points on his chest, the head of his shoulder had still been kicked. He staggered a few steps then made use of the momentum to leap backwards. Elder Xu jumped up the second time, while still being in the air, he felt weary and numb in his arms and legs and fell down heavily.

The people of the Beggar Society shouted in succession: ‘Not good, the Tartars play dirty!’ ‘What’s in my eyes?’ ‘I can’t open my eyes.’ Everyone felt a sharp pain in the eyes. Tears streamed out of their eyes. Wang Yuyan, A’Zhu and A’Bi could not open their eyes similarly.

It turned out that in an instant the Western Xia people had already dispersed the ‘Sad Weak Clear Wind’ in the apricot forest. The ‘Sad Weak Clear Wind’ was a type of colorless odorless poisonous gas. Its liquid form was made from the poisonous animals gathered from Huanxi valley in Mt. Daxue of Western Xia. Most of the time, it was kept in bottles. When it was used, the user had already had the antidote put into their nose. As soon as the stopper of the bottle was removed, the poisonous liquid would evaporate and spread into the air gently like a breeze. Therefore, no matter how careful and precise a person was they would still be unable to detect it. When their eyes hurt sharply, the poison had already entered the brain. After being poisoned the victim’s eyes would drip with tears, hence ‘Sad’, their whole body would be unable to move, hence ‘Weak’, the poisonous gas was colorless and odorless, hence ‘Clear Wind’.

Thuds and ‘A’yo’ sounds could be heard continuously, the people of the Beggar Society fell down one after another.

Duan Yu had eaten the Manggu Cinnabar Frog (T/Note: 莽牯朱蛤 – the cinnabar frog which bellows like a bull) therefore he was immune to poison. Even though he had breathed the ‘Sad Weak Clear Wind’ in, he was neither ‘Sad’ nor ‘Weak’. Seeing that the beggars, Wang Yuyan, A’Zhu and
 
A’Bi all were having a painful expression on their faces he could not understand why and felt very frightened.

Nu Erhai cried out loudly and commanded the warriors to tie the people of the Beggar Society up. He himself went towards Wang Yuyan and stretched out his hand to grab her wrist.

Duan Yu shouted: ‘What are you doing?’ At that urgent moment he quickly extended his right forefinger, a beam of internal energy was shot out from the finger tip creating chi-chi sounds. It was none other than the ‘Six Meridians Divine Swords’ of the Duan clan in Dali. Nu Erhai did not know about its powers therefore he paid no attention to it and kept approaching Wang Yuyan to grab her wrist. Suddenly a crack was heard, the bone of his right arm had unaccountably been broken into two pieces. His arm hung down loosely. Nu Erhai cried out painfully and stopped walking.

Duan Yu bent down, gripped the delicate waist of Wang Yuyan then started to use the ‘Wave Treading Exquisite Steps’. Taking three steps forwards at an oblique angle and two strides over to one side, he rushed out of the crowd.

Ye Erniang made a wave with her right hand. A poisonous needle was fired towards the middle of his back. This poisonous needle was very well-aimed and went with a lot of force. In any case Duan Yu should have many difficulties in dodging it. However, he suddenly moved sideways then suddenly went backwards, therefore when the poisonous needle arrived he had already moved to the right side three chi. Three skilled warriors in the group of Western Xia warriors immediately jumped off their horseback, shouted and chased after him. Duan Yu ran to a horse, put Wang Yuyan lying across the saddle, then jumped onto the horse and spurred it to run away.

Western Xia warriors had already guarded the key posts all around the apricot forest. Suddenly seeing Duan Yu running out on a horse they immediately fired arrows. Trees in the apricot forest covered him, more than ten wolf-toothed arrows all stuck into the trees.
 
Duan Yu cried out: ‘Good horse ah good horse, the faster you run the better! When we return, I’ll let you eat chicken, eat meat, eat fish, eat goat.’ He forgot that horses did not eat meat or fish.

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