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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 18

 Chapter 18: The hero had to
exhaust his tears because of the Hu-Han gratitude and rancor.
(T/n: TLBB’s 50 chapter names form 5 poems but I can only express their meanings in simple English. If someone has a better translation, feel free to tell me.)

(T/n: Hu – old name for non-Han ethnic groups in the north and west of ancient China)

Two of them gently controlled the bridles and let the horses run slowly to Wuxi. After going for several li (t/n: 0.5 km) they suddenly saw a corpse hanging on a roadside pine tree. Judging from the clothes, it was a Western Xia warrior. Going for several more zhang’s (t/n: 3.333 m), they saw two corpses of Western Xia warriors lying beside a hillside. The blood on the wounds had not yet been dry. They had died not long ago. Duan Yu said: ‘These Western Xia men had met opponents, Miss Wang, you think who killed them?’ Wang Yuyan said: ‘This man’s martial arts are extremely good, killing people just by raising his hands, and without the slightest effort. He’s really terrific. Yi, who’s there?’

They saw on the wide road there were two horses coming side by side. One of the two people riding the horses was wearing a red gown, and the other was wearing a green gown. They were none other than A’Zhu and A’Bi. Duan Yu was very happy. He shouted: ‘Miss A’Zhu, Miss A’Bi, you have escaped from dangers! Good, extremely good! Wonderful!’

The four people rode their horses and gathered. They all felt very happy. A’Zhu said: ‘Miss Wang, Mr. Duan, why do you return? I and Sister A’Bi were thinking of going to look for ‘you’.’ (T/n: you – plural) Duan Yu said: ‘We were also looking for you.’ As he finished saying he cast a look at Wang Yuyan, thinking that if he could be grouped together with her in ‘we’,
 
that would really be a great honor. Wang Yuyan said: ‘How did you escape? Have you sniffed that stinking bottle?’ A’Zhu smiled and said: ‘It’s really extremely stinking, Miss, you’ve also sniffed it? It was also Chief Qiao who saved you?’ Wang Yuyan said: ‘No. Mr. Duan saved me. You were saved by Chief Qiao?’

Hearing her personally say the sentence ‘Mr. Duan saved me’, Duan Yu felt buoyant as if he was on cloud nine, after that he felt giddy, and almost fell down from horseback.

A’Zhu said: ‘Yes, after I and A’Bi were poisoned, we were in a daze and could not move. Together with the Beggar Society’s people, we were tied up by those Western Xia barbarians then put on horseback. After going for a while, it started to rain heavily so they divided the task of finding a rain shelter among themselves then dispersed. Several Western Xia warriors took me and A’Bi into a summerhouse over there to avoid the rain. Only when the heavy rain had stopped did they go out. At that time, in the back there was someone coming on a horse. He was Chief Qiao. Seeing two of us being tied up by Western Xia men he was very surprised. When he hadn’t asked any question, I and A’Bi already shouted: ‘Chief Qiao, save me!’ As soon as those Western Xia warriors heard the two words ‘Chief Qiao’, they one after another drew their weapons to kill him. As a result, some were hung on a pine tree, some rolled down a hillside, and some fell into a brook.’

Wang Yuyan smiled and said: ‘That’s what happened just now, right?’

A’Zhu said: ‘Yes. I said: ‘Chief Qiao, I and my sister are poisoned, sorry to trouble you, but could you search for the antidote on the Western Xia barbarians’ bodies please?’ Chief Qiao ferreted out a small porcelain bottle on the corpse of a Western Xia warrior. Whether it was sweet or stinking, there’s no need to talk much about that.’

Wang Yuyan asked: ‘Where’s Chief Qiao?’ A’Zhu said: ‘Hearing that the Beggar Society’s people had all been poisoned and captured he said he wanted to go save them and hurriedly left. He also asked about Mr Duan, looking very concerned.’ Duan Yu sighed and said: ‘This sworn big brother of mine really has a deep and serious sense of personal loyalty.’ A’Zhu said:
 
‘The Beggar Society’s people couldn’t tell good and bad apart and drove away a good Chief. Now they’re suffering from their own actions, serves them right. In my opinion, Chief Qiao doesn’t need to save them at all. Just let them taste some misfortunes. See if they’ll still rashly expel people?’ Duan Yu said: ‘My sword big brother is a faithful man. He’d rather have other people turn their backs on him but he himself won’t agree to turn his back on them.’

A’Bi said: ‘Miss Wang, where are we going now?’ Wang Yuyan said: ‘At first I and Mr Duan discussed that we had to go save you two. Now all the four of us are safe. This really can’t be better. The Beggar Society’s affairs aren’t related to us at all. In my opinion, let’s to Shaolin Monastery to look for your young master, is that okay?’ What the two pretty girls A’Zhu and A’Bi cared for the most was also Mr Murong, hearing her say so they clapped their hands and cheered at the same time. Duan Yu felt very grieved but he calmly said: ‘This young master of yours, I really admire him very much, and must meet him by all means. Anyway there’s nothing to do so I’ll follow you to Shaolin Monastery one time.’

Immediately the four people turned their horses and went towards the north. Wang Yuyan and the two pretty girls A’Zhu and A’Bi continuously smiled and talked about things like how dangerous it had been in the mill, how Duan Yu had dealt with the enemies, and how Li Yanzong, a Western Xia warrior, had spared their lives and given them the antidote in detail. A’Zhu and A’Bi were surprised ceaselessly.

Whenever the three young girls talked to an interesting part, they chuckled and often turned their heads and looked at Duan Yu. They used their sleeves to cover up their mouths but also did not dare to laugh freely. Duan Yu knew they were talking about his own foolish actions, but thinking that even though he had acted like a clown, in the end he had protected Wang Yuyan carefully, he could not help feeling both ashamed and somewhat proud; seeing that the three young girls were very close to each other and were treating him as a complete outsider, he thought that at this moment it was already like this, wait until they met Mr Murong, he himself would naturally have no place to take shelter, Murong Fu would probably be like
 
Bao Butong and would drive himself away without any courtesy. The more he thought the more bored and apathetic he felt.

After going for several li’s (t/n: 1 li = 0.5 km) and passing through a big wood of mulberry trees, they suddenly heard the sounds of two boys crying at the edge of the wood. The four people urged their horses forward and saw that they were two fourteen or fifteen year old little Buddhist novices. Their Buddhist robes were full of bloodstains. One of them was even injured in the forehead. A’Bi softly asked: ‘Little monks, who bullied you? Why are you injured?’

The Buddhist novice who was not injured in the forehead cried and said: ‘There were lots and lots of foreign villains coming to the temple. They killed our master and chased the two of us away.’ When the four people heard the two words ‘foreign villains’, they all looked at each other and thought: ‘Are they those Western Xia men?’ A’Zhu asked: ‘Where’s your temple? Who are the foreign villains?’ That little Buddhist novice said: ‘We’re from Tianning Temple, over there…’ As he finished saying he pointed to the northeast and said again: ‘Those foreigners had captured more than one hundred beggars and went into the temple to avoid the rain. They demanded wine and meat and also wanted to kill fowls and cattle. Our master said that was a sin and did not let them kill the cattle in the temple. They then killed our master and more than ten apprentice brothers in the temple, boohoo, boohoo.’ A’Zhu asked: ‘Have they gone?’ The little Buddhist novice pointed to the wisp of kitchen smoke that was rising and waving in the wind behind the mulberry wood and said: ‘They’re cooking cattle meat. What a sin. Bodhisattva bless, please throw these foreigners into the Avici Hell.’ A’Zhu said: ‘You should quickly run a little far away from here. If you two get caught by those foreigners, they’ll butcher and eat you.’ Frightened, the two little Buddhist novices staggered away.

Duan Yu disapproved of that and said: ‘The two of them already have no way out. Sister A’Zhu, why did you need to threaten them?’ A’Zhu smiled and said: ‘This wasn’t threatening. What I said was the truth.’ A’Bi said: ‘The Beggar Society’s people have already been kept prisoners in that Tianning Temple but Chief Qiao has pursued in the direction of Wuxi city. He’s certainly rushed for nothing.’
 
A’Zhu suddenly had an odd idea and said: ‘Miss Wang, I wanna disguise myself as Chief Qiao and sneak in the temple, then throw that stinking bottle for the beggars to sniff. After they’ve escaped from danger, they’ll sure feel very grateful to Chief Qiao.’ Wang Yuyan smiled and said: ‘Chief Qiao is big in stature and is a tall muscular man. How can you disguise yourself as him?’ A’Zhu smiled and said: ‘The harder it gets, the more obvious A’Zhu’s skills are.’ Wang Yuyan smiled and said: ‘You can make yourself look like Chief Qiao, but you can’t immitate his unmatched extraordinary skills. There’re full of Western Xia’s First-class Hall’s experts in Tianning Temple, how can you come and go freely? In my opinion, disguishing yourself as a cook or an old peasant woman who sells vegetables would make it a bit easier to sneak in.’ A’Zhu said: ‘You want me to disguise as an old peasant woman. There’s nothing interesting about it. I’m not going.’

Wang Yuyan looked at Duan Yu, wanting to say something but not being able to say it. Duan Yu asked: ‘Miss, what do you wanna say?’ Wang Yuyan said: ‘I just wanted to ask you to disguise as a person, and go with A’Zhu to Tianning Temple, but after considering I find it inappropriate.’ Duan Yu said: ‘Who do you want me to disguise as?’ Wang Yuyan said: ‘The brave men of the Beggar Society have a very suspicious mind. They’ve wrongly accused my biaoge and Chief Qiao of colluding with each other and killing their Vice-Chief Ma. If… if… my biaoge and Chief Qiao free them from difficult situations, then they won’t blindly suspect anymore.’ Duan Yu felt very sad and said: ‘You want me to disguise as your biaoge?’ The white face of Wang Yuyan reddened. She said: ‘The enemies in Tianning Temple are very strong so it’ll be very dangerous for you two to go like this. Not going is still better.’

Duan Yu thought: ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Even if my body is ground to dust I won’t hesitate.’ Suddenly he also thought: ‘When I’ve disguised as her biaoge, maybe her manner towards me will be a bit different. It’ll also be good to conveniently enjoy her tenderness in a short while.’ Thinking to here, he could not help feeling very excited and said: ‘What’s so dangerous about it? Running away is exactly my speciality.’
 
Wang Yuyan said: ‘I already said it was inappropriate. My biaoge kills the enemies as easily as turning his hand over, and has never run away.’ As soon as Duan Yu heard that, he felt a stream of cold air running straight down from the top of his head. He thought: ‘Your biaoge is a great hero and a great person of exceptional abilities. I’m just not suitable to disguise as him. If I imitate him and make a fool of myself in front of other people, that’ll certainly desecrate his reputation.’ Seeing that he was being in low spirits, A’Bi said to console him: ‘The enemies outnumber us so it’s urgent that we temporarily step aside. We only wanna save people, and not to become well-known by competing in martial arts.’

A’Zhu’s pair of clever eyes looked at Duan Yu from the head to the feet to size him up. After quite a while she nodded and said: ‘Mr Duan, it’s really quite hard for you to disguise as our young master. Luckily, the Beggar Society’s people have never known our young master, so we only need a person that generally looks and sounds like him.’ Duan Yu said: ‘Your skills are great, it’s suitable for you to disguise as Chief Qiao. Otherwise, because Chief Qiao was the man that the Beggar Society’s people met daily, if there’s a little bit of flaw, our true identities will immediately be exposed.’ A’Zhu smiled and said: ‘Chief Qiao is a stately man but it’s easy for me to disguise as him. Our young master is almost the same as you in stature, his age is also not older than yours too much, both of you are young masters of influential families and like to study, but if we want you to give up your true appearance and change into a Mr Murong, that’s really very hard.’

Duan Yu sighed and said: ‘Mr Murong is a phoenix or dragon among people, how can other people imitate him perfectly (Duan Yu’s words are 邯郸学步 – learn to walk the Handan style – taken from ‘Zhuangzi –
Autumn Water’)? I think it’d still be better if in disguise I don’t look very
similar to him, otherwise when I run away, wouldn’t that damage Mr Murong’s distinct and good reputation?’

Wang Yuyan blushed and said in a low voice: ‘Mr Duan, I made a slip of the tongue, are you still angry with me?’ Duan Yu hastily said: ‘No, no, how do I dare to be angry with you?’
 
Wang Yuyan gave a charming smile and said: ‘Sister A’Zhu, where’re you two going to disguise?’ A’Zhu said: ‘To able to buy the things for application we gotta go to a small town.’

The four people turned their horses and went westward. After going for seven or eight li’s, they arrived in a small town called Ma Lang Qiao. That town was very small and did not have any inn. A’Zhu came up with an idea. She hired a boat and anchored it in the middle of a river. After that she went buy clothes and necessary things, and disguised on the boat. In Jiangnan, there were small rivers everywhere, and there were a lot of boats, no less than the livestock of the North.

She helped Duan Yu change clothes and made up for him first, letting him hold a folding fan in his right hand, wear a blue robe and wear a ring on his right finger. A’Zhu said: ‘Our young master wears a Han-dynasty jade ring, but where to buy it here? Use Qingtian stone to imitate is also okay.’ Duan Yu could only force a smile and thought: ‘Murong Fu is a precious jade item. I’m a lowly stone. In the viewpoints of these three young girls, the respective positions of the two of us are also like that.’ A’Zhu spread flour on his face, made his nose look higher, and made his cheeks look rather fuller. Then she took a pen and altered his eyebrows and the edge of his eyes. After disguising Duan Yu, she smiled to Wang Yuyan: ‘Miss Wang, do you think there’s still any dissimilarity?’

Wang Yuyan did not answer and only looked at him in a trance. Her eyes were filled with affectionate feelings. Obviously she was smitten and her mind was wandering high in the air.

As soon as seeing this infatuated look of hers, Duan Yu could not help feeling as if he was floating. But he immediately thought: ‘She’s looking at Murong Fu and not looking at Duan Yu at all.’ He also thought: ‘I wonder how handsome that Murong Fu guy is. How can he be one hundred times better-looking than me? It’s a pity I can’t see myself.’ For a while he felt happy, then for another while he felt sad.

The two people looked at each other, thoughts surging in their respective minds. They did not know that A’Zhu and A’Bi had already gone to the back of the cabin to disguise themselves.
 
After a good while, they suddenly heard the husky voice of a man: ‘Ah, so you’re here, it was so painful for your big brother to find you.’ Frightened, Duan Yu raised his head and saw the person who had just said was Qiao Feng. He could not help feeling very happy and said: ‘Big brother, it’s you, this’s very good. We’re about to disguise as you to go save people, now you’ve personally come here, sister A’Zhu doesn’t need to disguise anymore.’

Qiao Feng said: ‘The Beggar Society’s people have expelled me from the Society, whether they’re dead or alive, I don’t care. Good brother, come here, come here, let’s disembark and go for a drink. We’ll drink twenty bowls of wine.’ Duan Yu hastily said: ‘Big brother, the Beggar Society’s brave men are all your former good brothers, can you please still go save them?’ Qiao Feng angrily said: ‘What does a bookworm like you know? Come here. Go for a drink with me!’ As he finished saying he grabbed Duan Yu’s hand. Duan Yu had no choice but to say: ‘Okay, I’ll go for a drink with you first. After drinking wine we’ll save people!’

Qiao Feng suddenly giggled in a lovely manner, his laughs sounded clear and graceful. It was really suprising that a big and tall man could be uttering this kind of girlish laugh. Duan Yu was startled but he immediately understood, smiled and said: ‘Sister A’Zhu, your disguising skills are really extremely fantastic. Even the voice and words are imitated so well like this.’

A’Zhu changed to Qiao Feng’s voice and said: ‘Good brother, let’s go. Make sure you bring that stinking bottle.’ She turned towards Wang Yuyan and A’Bi and said: ‘The two ladies had better wait here.’ As she finished saying she held Duan Yu’s hand and strode onshore. No one knew what she had applied to her hand. It was a delicate small white hand, yet when held out, it unexpectedly looked swarthy. Even though it was smaller than Qiao Feng’s hand, in short periods of time it was still hard for other people to distinguish.

Wang Yuyan looked at the back of Duan Yu. She only thought: ‘If he really was biaoge, that’d be so good. Biaoge, at this moment are you also thinking about me?’
 
A’Zhu and Duan Yu rode their horses towards Tianning Temple. When they were about five li’s away from the temple, fearing that the Western Xia warriors in the temple could hear the hoofbeats, they tied the horses in the cattle stall of a farmhouse and went forwards on foot.

A’Zhu said: ‘Brother Murong, after arriving at the temple, I’ll talk big, brag and terrify them, you’ll seize the opportunity to remove the poison in the Beggar Society’s people with the stinking bottle.’ She said these few sentences in a deep gruff voice, just like the way Qiao Feng spoke. Duan Yu smiled and replied.

The two people strode to the outside of Tianning Temple. They only saw more than ten Western Xia warriors standing at the gate of the temple, holding long sabers in their hands and looking very fierce. When A’Zhu and Duan Yu saw that, they got nervous and could not help feeling terrified. A’Zhu said in a low voice: ‘Mr Duan, after a while you must pull me and run away at high speed, otherwise if they wanna find and challenge me in martial arts, that can be hard to handle.’ Duan Yu said: ‘Okay.’ But he said this word in a trembling voice. In fact, he also felt extremely scared.

While the two people were discussing in a low voice and sticking their heads out and looking around, a Western Xia warrior at the gate already saw them and shouted loudly: ‘Two bastards standing over there, it’s not nice to be sneaky, are you spies?’ As he was shouting, four other warriors rushed out.

A’Zhu had no alternative but to hold forth her chest and stride forwards. She said in a rough voice: ‘Quickly inform your General that Qiao Feng of the Beggar Society and Murong Fu of Jiangnan come to pay General He Lian of Western Xia a visit.’

The head warrior was astonished when he heard that. He hastily cupped his fist in his hand, bowed and said: ‘So it’s Chief Qiao of the Beggar Society visiting. Please pardon us for being disrespectful. I will report right away.’ He immediately turned around and quickly stepped inside the temple. The rest respectfully dangled their hands and stood to the sides.
 
Before long, sounds of bugles were heard, the gate of was opened wide. The Hall Master of First-class Hall of Western Xia He Lian Tie Shu led the experts like Nu Erhai out to welcome. Ye Erniang, South Sea Divine Alligator and Yun Zhonghe were also among them. Duan Yu lowered his head and did not dare to look directly at them, his heart pounding.

He Lian Tie Shu said: ‘I have long admired the great reputation of ‘Murong of Gusu’ with the ‘Paying Him Back Using His Own Methods’ technique. Today, being able to meet the worthy, I felt honored, ah, really honored.’ As he finished saying he cupped his fist in his hand to Duan Yu in salute. Because ‘First-class Hall’ of Western Xia and the Beggar Society had become the enemies of each other, he thought there was no need to act polite towards Qiao Feng.

Duan Yu hastily returned the salute and said: ‘General He Lian’s reputation has reached the edges of the seas so I have long been looking forward to meeting the heroes and great men of First-class Hall. Today our arrival is very sudden, hopefully you’ll be magnanimous enough to forgive this.’ He was already very good at saying these fanciful polite words therefore they sounded grandiose and did not have any flaw.

He Lian Tie Shu said: ‘I’ve often heard people in wulin say: ‘North Qiao Feng, South Murong’, and when talking about heroes of the Central Plains, they choose the two of you as the leading figures. Today the two of you visit here at the same time, how fortunate! Please, please.’ He then bent his body and invited the two people to enter the main hall of the temple.

A’Zhu and Duan Yu put on a bold face and went side by side with He Lian Tie Shu. Duan Yu thought: ‘Judging from the words and manner of this Western Xia general, it seems he respects Mr Murong more than he respects my big brother Qiao. Could it be that this Murong Fu guy’s martial arts and personality are one level above big brother Qiao’s? As I see, this’s improbable, improbable.’

Suddenly there was a strange voice: ‘Improbable, improbable.’ Startled, Duan Yu turned his head and looked at that person. It was South Sea Divine Alligator. He was squinting at Duan Yu at a slant with a pair of eyes which were as small as beans, and only shook his head. Duan Yu’s heart
 
palpitated. He thought: ‘Terrible, terrible! Perhaps I was recognized by him.’ He heard South Sea Divine Alligator say: ‘Looks like you have less than three taels of bones (t/n: in ancient China, 1 tael ~ 38 g), what the heck are you capable of? Hey, I ask you. They say you can ‘Pay Him Back Using His Own Methods’, I, Yue Laoer (t/n: Yue the Second), certainly don’t believe so.’ Duan Yu immediately felt relieved: ‘So he doesn’t recognize me at all.’ He heard South Sea Divine Alligator say again: ‘I don’t need you to show your skills either. I only ask you, do you know what Yue Laoer’s special skills are? What fvcking skills you’ll use to deal with me to be regarded as fvcking ‘Paying Your Father Back Using Your Father’s Own Methods’?’ Saying to here he stood with arms akimbo, looking arrogant.

He Lian Tie Shu at first had wanted to talk to stop him, but he changed his mind. Murong Fu had a great reputation, but whether the name matched the reality, there was no harm in checking it out through this crazy South Sea Divine Alligator. Therefore at that moment he did not interrupt him at all.

While talking, they had already entered the main hall. He Lian Tie Shu invited Duan Yu to sit at the top but Duan Yu gave the top position up to A’Zhu.

South Sea Divine Alligator said loudly: ‘Hey, Mr Murong, you say, what’s my best skill?’ Duan Yu smiled and thought: ‘If other people ask me, I really won’t be able answer. But you asked me, that’s a lucky coincidence.’ He instantly opened his folding fan, flapped it gently several times and said: ‘South Sea Divine Alligator Yue Laosan (t/n: Yue the Third), originally your best skill was twisting off other people’s necks in a clack sound. In recent years your skills have improved. At the moment the martial arts that you’re most pleased with are the Alligator-Tailed Whip and the Alligator- Mouthed Scissors. To deal with you, naturally I’ll use the Alligator-Tailed Whip and the Alligator-Mouthed Scissors.’

He mentioned the names of the Alligator-Tailed Whip and the Alligator- Mouthed Scissors in one go. Certainly South Sea Divine Alligator was so surprised that his jaw dropped. Even Ye Erniang and Yun Zhonghe were also extremely surprised. South Sea Divine Alligator had just practiced these two weapons recently and had never put them to use in front of other people. He had only used them once when fighting Yun Zhonghe atop Mt.
 
Wuliang in Dali. At that time, no one else besides Mu Wanqing had seen the weapons. But they could never have thought Mu Wanqing had already told this fake Mr Murong of the present about that from beginning to end.

South Sea Divine Alligator tilted his head and looked carefully at Duan Yu. Even though he was ferocious and ruthless, he admired heroes and brave men. After a while, he gave a thumb up and said: ‘Good skill!’ Duan Yu laughed and said: ‘That’s a laugh.’ South Sea Divine Alligator thought: ‘He could mention even the weapons I’ve mastered recently, there’s no need to ask him about my remaining martial arts. Too bad big brother is not here, otherwise he’d put him to the test. Ah, I got it!’ He said loudly: ‘Mr Murong, you can use my martial arts, there’s nothing strange and rare about that, but if my master comes here, you sure won’t know his martial arts.’ Duan Yu smiled and said: ‘Who’s your master? What extraordinary skills does he have?’ South Sea Divine Alligator laughed and said boastfully: ‘Needless to say, the master who first taught me martial arts passed away long ago. But the skills of my newly recognized master are no small matter. Let’s not talk about the other things, just the ‘Wave Treading Exquisite Steps’ alone, I believe no second person in the world knows.’

Duan Yu muttered: ‘The ‘Wave Treading Exquisite Steps’, hum, that’s truly an amazing technique. Who would have expected Mr Duan of Dali to accept you as his disciple? But I somewhat don’t believe this.’ South Sea Divine Alligator hastily said: ‘Why do I need to fool you? A lot of people here personally heard Mr Duan call me disciple.’ Duan Yu laughed up his sleeve: ‘At first you’d rather die than agree to call me master, but now you fear that I don’t recognize you as disciple.’ He then said: ‘Hum, if so, you most probably have already acquired your master’s unique skill? Congrats! Congrats!’

South Sea Divine Alligator shook his head continuously and said: ‘I haven’t, I haven’t! You claim that you know every martial arts technique in the world. If you can walk three steps of the ‘Wave Treading Exquisite Steps’, Yue Laoer will be convinced.’

Duan Yu smiled and said: ‘Though the Wave Treading Exquisite Steps is hard, I’ve also already learned several steps. Master Yue, come here and try
 
to catch me.’ As he finished saying, his robe fluttered, he went to and stood in the middle of the main hall.

The Western Xia people had never heard of the ‘Wave Treading Exquisite Steps’ technique, hearing South Sea Divine Alligator say that it was extremely mysterious and fantastic like this, they all hoped to increase their knowledge. They immediately split up and stood in the four corners of the main hall to see how Duan Yu would perform.

South Sea Divine Alligator let out a fierce roar and reached out his left hand. His right hand passed below his left palm to grab Duan Yu. Duan Yu took two steps obliquely then backed off by half a step. His body was like the wind stirring lotus leaves, gently dodging it. A ‘pu’ sound was heard, South Sea Divine Alligator had been too late to withdraw his force and his five right fingers had stuck into a column in the main hall by several cun’s (1 cun = 3.333 cm). Seeing that his internal energy was this good, all the bystanders went pale. Because the first attack had missed, South Sea Divine Alligator roared more fiercely and jumped up then struck down from the air. Duan Yu did not pay any attention to that, and only concerned himself with the Eight Diagrams-based footwork that he was using to walk freely and comfortably. South Sea Divine Alligator sped up his attacks and roared more and more loudly, looking totally like a ferocious beast.

When Duan Yu caught a glimpse of that ferocious face, his heart skipped a beat. He hastily turned his head away, took out from his sleeve a towel, blindfolded himself and said: ‘Even if I’m blindfolded, you still won’t be able to catch me.’

South Sea Divine Alligator’s palms danced in the air and fiercely attacked Duan Yu, but they always missed his body by small distances. The bystanders all felt scared for Duan Yu, their palms excreting cold sweats. A’Zhu cared about Duan Yu therefore she was filled with even more apprehension. Suddenly she shouted loudly in a rough voice: ‘South Sea Divine Alligator, how is Mr Murong’s Wave Treading Exquisite Steps compared to your master’s?’

South Sea Divine Alligator was startled. All the energy in his chest was instantly discharged. He stopped moving and said: ‘Excellent, excellent!
 
You can walk this strange footwork while having your eyes encased. I’m afraid even my master couldn’t do so. Okay! Murong of Gusu deserves his reputation. I, South Sea Divine Alligator, have respect for you.’

Duan Yu pulled off the towel on his eyes and returned to his seat. Immediately there was a round of thunderous applause in the main hall.

Waiting until the two people had settled into their seats, He Lian Tie Shu raised his teacup and said: ‘Please have some tea. As the two heroes are visiting us, I’m wondering what you have to instruct us.’

A’Zhu said: ‘Some brothers of my Society somehow offended General. I heard that General sent experts to use high-level martial arts to capture and take them here. May I be bold to request that General release them?’ She specially stressed the words ‘sent experts to use high-level martial arts to capture and take them here’ to ridicule the Western Xia people for using the despicable method of poisoning to capture people.

He Lian Tie Shu smiled and said: ‘That’s not wrong. Just now Mr Murong displayed his abilities. Sure enough, he deserves his reputation. Chief Qiao and Mr Murong are equally famous, so you too need to show off your skills to everyone and make us Western Xia people sincerely admire. Only then will we release every brave man of your Society.’

A’Zhu was very worried and thought: ‘If I imitate Chief Qiao’s skills, wouldn’t this immediately be exposed?’ While trying to find a pretext to decline suddenly she felt achy and weak in her limbs, which was the same as when she had been poisoned with the poisonous gas in the evening of the previous day. She could not help feeling very frightened: ‘How terrible, who would’ve expected these Western Xia villains to use the old trick again even at this moment? What should I do?’

Duan Yu was immune to harmful substances therefore he did not felt anything. Seeing that A’Zhu was weak and being paralyzed on her chair, he knew that she was being affected by the poisonous gas again. He hastily took out from his bosom that stinking bottle, removed its stopper and placed it at the tip of her nose. A’Zhu took some deep sniffs. Because she was not seriously poisoned, the numbness in her limbs quickly disappeared. She
 
stretched out her hand to hold the bottle and kept sniffing nonstop. She found it strange as to why the enemies had not yet started to interfere. When looking at those Western Xia warriors, she only saw that every one of them was weak and being paralyzed on their chair. They were not budging at all and were only moving their eyeballs around chaotically.

Duan Yu said: ‘How strange, these people get caught in their own trap. Could it be that they poisoned then were poisoned by themselves?’ A’Zhu went to He Lian Tie Shu and pushed him.

The body of the general was immediately bent and he sat on the chair in a sloping posture. He was really poisoned. But he could still say, therefore he shouted: ‘Hey, who used the ‘Sad Weak Clear Wind’ without permission? Quickly take the antidote here, quickly take the antidote here!’ He shouted several times, but because all of his subordinates were being weak, they only said: ‘Sir, subordinate can’t move.’ Nu Erhai said: ‘There must be an infiltrator, if not, how can they know the complicated using method of this ‘Sad Weak Clear Wind’?’ He Lian Tie Shu angrily said: ‘Correct! Who? You quickly investigate to clear this up then smash him to ten thousand pieces for me.’ Nu Erhai said: ‘Yes, sir! But in the current situation, we must get the antidote first.’ He Lian Tie Shu said: ‘That’s right. You go and take the antidote here.’

Nu Erhai wrinkled his eyebrows, looked askance at the porcelain bottle in A’Zhu’s hand and said: ‘Chief Qiao, sorry to trouble you, but could you please let us sniff the antidote in this bottle? Our General will definitely reward you generously.’

A’Zhu laughed and said: ‘Who comes here to get your General’s generous rewards? I wanna urgently go rescue our Society’s brothers.’

Nu Erhai said again: ‘Mr Murong, there’s also a vial on my body. Could you please take it out, remove the stopper and let me sniff it a bit?’

Duan Yu reached into his bosom and fished out a vial. It really was the antidote. He laughed and said: ‘I’ve taken out the antidote but I won’t let you sniff.’ Then he went alongside A’Zhu to the back hall. When they pushed open the door of the west room they saw that it was crammed with
 
people, all of whom were the Beggar Society’s members who had been captured.

As soon as A’Zhu went in, Elder Wu called out: ‘Chief Qiao, it’s you. Thank heavens.’ A’Zhu took the antidote for him to sniff and said: ‘This is the antidote. You go remove the poison in the bodies of all brothers one by one.’ Elder Wu was very happy. He waited until his limbs could move to detoxify Elder Song. Duan Yu then used the antidote of Nu Erhai to detoxify Elder Xu.

A’Zhu said: ‘The Beggar Society has a lot of people. If detoxifying one by one like this, when will it finish? Elder Wu, you go search the bodies of those Western Xia people to see if they still have the antidote.’

Elder Wu said: ‘Yes!’ then trotted towards the main hall. Swear words, yells, and pops of beating suddenly could be heard from the main hall. Obviously on the one hand Elder Wu was searching for the antidote, and on the other hand he was beating them to vent his anger. Before long he returned, carrying six small porcelain bottles with both hands, smiled and said: ‘I focused on searching the barbarians with flashy expensive clothes. As expected, the ones with nice clothes had the antidote on their bodies. Ha-ha, those dudes have been miserable.’ Duan Yu laughed and said: ‘Why?’ Elder Wu laughed and said: ‘I gave each of them two slaps in the mouth. With those who had the antidote, I specially used some more force.’

Suddenly he remembered that he had never seen Duan Yu, therefore he asked: ‘Brother, what, may I ask, is your name? Thank you very much for helping us.’ Duan Yu said: ‘My compound surname is Murong. I came to help too late, putting everybody to great inconvenience for a short while. This is my fault, my fault.’

Hearing that this man in front of them is the famous ‘Murong of Gusu’, the Beggar Society’s people all were extremely astonished.

Elder Song said: ‘We’ve been blinded and wrongly accused Mr Murong of killing Vice-Chief Ma. Today, if he and Chief Qiao hadn’t saved us, everybody would have fallen into the hands of these Western Xia bastards. If that happened, would we still be able to have a good end?’ Elder Wu also
 
said: ‘Chief Qiao, a senior doesn’t mind juniors’ faults, it’d be better if you return to be our Chief.’

Quan Guanqing said coldly: ‘Master Qiao and Mr Murong really are intimate friends.’ Calling Qiao Feng as ‘Master Qiao’ instead of ‘Chief Qiao’, certainly he no longer recognized him as the Chief. Moreover he had said that he and Mr Murong really were intimate friends, which was a very dangerous sentence. The Beggar Society’s people had been suspecting Qiao Feng of making use of Murong Fu to eliminate Ma Dayuan but Qiao Feng had always denied that he and Murong Fu knew each other. Today the two of them had gone to Tianning Temple together. They had also spoken to and laughed with each other, looking fairly close. Obviously this was not the first time they had met.

A’Zhu thought that these people all were old acquaintances of Qiao Feng, if she dragged this situation out a little longer, they would surely recognize her flaws. Therefore she said: ‘It won’t be late to slowly discuss the important affairs of the Society. I go see those Western Xia bastards.’ As she finished saying she walked towards the main hall. Soon afterward Duan Yu followed her.

When the two people had arrived at the main hall, they heard He Lian Tie Shu shouting abuse: ‘Quickly find out the name of this Western Xia bastard. After returning, search and confiscate his house, kill all the males and females, old people and young people in his family, not sparing even a single fowl or dog. Fvck him, he’s a Western Xia man, why did he help strangers by stealing my ‘Sad Weak Clear Wind’ and spreading it carelessly?’ Duan Yu was surprised and thought: ‘Who’s the Western Xia man he was cursing?’ He noticed that after He Lian Tie Shu let out a cursing sentence, Nu Erhai would reply with a sentence. He Lian said again: ‘He wrote these eight characters on the wall, isn’t it obvious that he wanna ridicule us?’

Duan Yu and A’Zhu raised their heads and saw four rows of words which looked like flying dragons and dancing snakes written on the whitewashed wall:
 
‘Paying Him Back, Using His Own Methods, Narcotic Poisonous Wind, I Fully Return To You.’ [以彼之道,还施彼⾝,迷⼈毒⻛,原璧归君]
The ink strokes were still dripping wet. Obviously the writer of these words had left not long ago.

Duan Yu uttered an ‘Ah’ sound and said: ‘This… Ah… Was it Mr Murong who wrote this?’ A’Zhu said in a low voice: ‘Don’t forget you’re Mr Murong. Our young master can write different styles of calligraphy, I can’t recognize if these words were written by him.’

Duan Yu turned towards Nu Erhai and asked: ‘Who wrote this?’

Nu Erhai did not answer and secretly felt anxious, not knowing how the Beggar Society’s people would handle them. After capturing the Beggar Society’s people, they themselves had done just about everything, including beating and insulting, therefore they only needed to ‘Pay Him Back, Using His Own Methods’, that would already be very hard to bear.

Seeing that the Beggar Society’s people were coming to the main hall in succession, A’Zhu said in a low voice: ‘The important business has been done, let’s go!’ She then said loudly: ‘I have another important business and must go handle it with Mr Murong. See you later.’ As she finished saying she trotted out of the hall. The people like Elder Wu screamed out: ‘Chief, please wait, Chief, please wait.’ A’Zhu did not dare to stay there anymore. She and Duan Yu went faster and faster. The Beggar Society’s people had always revered Qiao Feng therefore no one dared to go forwards to stop them.

After the two people had gone for about a li (0.5 km), A’Zhu laughed and said: ‘Mr Duan, it was really a lucky coincidence. That hideous disciple of yours by chance wanted you to perform the Wave Treading Exquisite Steps technique. He also said that you were even better than his master.’ Duan Yu let out an ‘Um’ sound. A’Zhu continued: ‘I wonder who released the narcotic drug? That Western Xia general kept saying that there was an infiltrator. I think it was probably Western Xia men themselves who did that.’
 
Duan Yu suddenly recalled a person and said: ‘Could it be Li Yanzong, the Western Xia warrior we met in the mill?’ A’Zhu had never seen Li Yanzong therefore she was unable to reply. She only said: ‘Let’s go and talk to Miss Wang, asking her to consider it in detail.’

While they were going, they heard hoofbeats. On the main road a person was galloping towards them. From afar Duan Yu saw that it was no one other than Qiao Feng. He happily said: ‘He’s big brother Qiao!’ When he was about to call out, A’Zhu hastily pulled his sleeve and said: ‘Don’t shout. The real person has arrived!’ then turned her body away. Duan Yu immediately understood: ‘A’Zhu is disguising as big brother Qiao, it wouldn’t be very nice if she’s seen by him.’ Before long, Qiao Feng had already come close. Duan Yu did not dare to face him directly and thought: ‘When big brother Qiao meets the brave men of the Beggar Society, the truth will immediately come out. I wonder if he will blame A’Zhu for playing a trick like this or not.’

After saving A’Zhu and A’Bi, Qiao Feng had known that the Beggar Society’s brothers had been captured by Western Xia men. Feeling very anxious, he had been searched for them all over the place. But unlike in the North where there were only roads, in Jiangnan, there were paddy fields and mulberry groves everywhere, and waterways and land routes also intersected each other. Qiao Feng had searched for a very long time, and with great difficulty he had run into the two little Buddhist novices of Tianning Temple. He had asked them clearly about the direction, only then had he rushed for Tianning Temple. When he saw the vigorous expression and the handsome appearance of Duan Yu he thought: ‘This young nobleman and my brother Duan Yu look equally bright.’ As A’Zhu had already turned her body away he did not pay attention to her. Worrying about the Beggar Society’s brothers, he spurred the horse on to full speed and swept past them.

When he arrived at Tianning Temple, he saw more than ten disciples of the Beggar Society binding the Western Xia warriors and leading them out from the inside of the temple. Qiao Feng was very happy and thought: ‘So the Beggar Society’s brothers have turned the losing situation around and won instead.’
 
Seeing that Qiao Feng had gone then returned, the beggars one after another moved forwards to welcome him and said: ‘Chief, how to deal with these barbarians? Please give us instructions.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘I’m already no longer a member of the Beggar Society, don’t mention the word ‘Chief’ again. Was anyone injured?’

After the people like Elder Xu were informed, they all quickly ran out to welcome him. When they saw Qiao Feng, their faces either had an ashamed expression or lit up with happiness. Elder Song said loudly: ‘Chief, yesterday in the apricot forest, our Society’s spy in Western Xia sent back an urgent piece of military information. Elder Xu himself decided not to let you see, do you know what it was? Elder Xu, quickly take it out for Chief to see.’ His words sounded rather rude.

With an ashamed look on his face, Elder Xu took out a small paper ball that originally had been concealed in a wax ball and sighed: ‘I was wrong.’ Then he held it out to Qiao Feng.

Qiao Feng shook his head and did not receive it. Elder Song forced his way forwards, grabbed and opened that thin crinkled paper then read loudly:

‘Report to Chief: Subordinate has found out that General He Lian Tie Shu of Western Xia has led the experts of First-class Hall to the Central Plains to deal with our Society. They have a dangerous type of poisonous gas. When released it totally odorless and make people involuntarily unable to move. When we meet them, make sure we plug up our nostrils first, or defeat their leader first to snatch the awfully stinking antidote. Otherwise it’d be extremely unsafe. Urgent! Urgent! Subordinate Yi Dabiao of the Great Faith branch urgently reports.’

As Elder Song finished reading, he and such people as Elder Wu and Elder Xi glowered at Elder Xu simultaneously. Bai Shijing said: ‘This urgent report by Brother Yi Dabiao arrived in time. Too bad we didn’t open and read it in time. Fortunately all brothers only suffered a terror and no one was injured. Chief, we all apologize. Alas, really, needless to say, you’re very noble and righteous.’
 
Elder Wu said: ‘Chief, when you just left, everyone was instantly caught in this situation. If you and Mr Murong hadn’t come and rescued us in time, the whole Beggar Society would’ve been wiped out. If you don’t return to take charge of important matters and to be our Chief, that won’t work.’ Qiao Feng said in surprise: ‘What Mr Murong?’ Elder Wu said: ‘People like Quan Guanqing talk nonsense, please don’t listen to him. What’s wrong with making friends? I believe that you and Mr Murong have only known each other since today.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Mr Murong? Do you mean Murong Fu? I’ve never seen him.’

Elder Xu and the four Elders Song, Xi, Chen and Wu looked blankly at each other. All of them were nonplussed and thought: ‘Just a moment ago you and Mr Murong hand in hand came in and detoxified everyone. Why at this moment do you suddenly say you don’t know Mr Murong?’ After thinking for a short while Elder Xi suddenly understood and said: ‘Ah, that’s right, just now that young master claimed that his compound surname was Murong, but he didn’t say that he was Murong Fu at all. There’re countless people with the compound surname ‘Murong’ in the world, what’s so strange about that?’ Elder Chen said: ‘But he himself wrote ‘Paying Him Back, Using His Own Methods’ on the wall. If he wasn’t Murong Fu then who was he?’

All of a sudden there was a strange voice: ‘That bratty young master could use all kinds of martial arts, moreover his skills were even better than those of the original owners, how come he wasn’t Murong Fu? Of course it was him! It was definitely him!’ Everyone looked at the speaker and saw that he had eyes which looked like those of a rat, a short beard and a sallow face. He was South Sea Divine Alligator. After being poisoned he had been tied up, but he could not help interrupting and putting in his opinion.

Qiao Feng asked in surprise: ‘So Murong Fu came here?’ South Sea Divine Alligator said furiously: ‘You're talking your mother's stinking farts! Just now you and Murong Fu came here hand in hand then played some goddamn stealthy trick, using anesthetic to make your father go numb. You quickly let me go, otherwise, humph! Humph humph…’ He uttered several ‘humph humph’ sounds in succession, but as for what would happen
 
‘otherwise’, he could not say it. After pondering, he merely uttered ‘humph humph’ sounds.

Qiao Feng said: ‘I see that you’re also an expert in wulin, why are you talking nonsense like this? When did I ever come here? Stuff like I and Murong Fu came here hand in hand is extremely ridiculous.’

South Sea Divine Alligator gasped with anger and shouted: ‘Qiao Feng, fvck you Qiao Feng. What a shame that despite being a Chief of the Beggar Society you dare to tell this brazen lie! My big and little fellows, Qiao Feng came here just now, didn’t him? Didn’t our General invite him to sit at the top and to drink tea?’ The Western Xia people all said: ‘Yes, Murong Fu performed the ‘Wave Treading Exquisite Steps’, Qiao Feng stood on a side and applauded, how come this was fake?’

Elder Wu pulled Qiao Feng’s sleeve and said in a low voice: ‘Chief, straightforward men don’t do sneaky things. What happened just now can’t be denied.’ Qiao Feng forced a smile and said: ‘Fourth brother Wu, don’t tell me that just a moment ago you also saw me coming here?’ Elder Wu passed the small porcelain bottle containing the antidote to him and said: ‘Chief, I return the bottle to you, maybe it’ll still be useful in the future.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Return to me? Why return it to me?’ Elder Wu said: ‘You gave me this antidote just a moment ago, have you forgotten?’ Qiao Feng said: ‘What? Fourth brother Wu, you really saw me just now?’ Seeing him continuously denying, Elder Wu felt both unhappy and uneasy.

Even though Qiao Feng was smart and capable, how could he guess that someone had disguised as himself and just a short while ago had come to Tianning Temple and rescued everybody? He thought that there was certainly an important conspiracy concealed in this matter. As straightforward people, both Elder Wu and Elder Song definitely could not do anything that was despicable, but the schemer who had been toying with him had dangerous plots. They could have set things up appropriately to make his own conduct and deeds appeared to be absurd and wicked in all respects in everyone’s eyes.

Being saved by him, at first everyone in the Beggar Society had felt grateful for that, but now hearing him absolutely deny doing so, they were greatly
 
amazed. Some people thought that for the past several days he had encountered a lot of unforeseen events, as a result his mind was in confusion; some thought that he had really made use of Murong Fu and killed Ma Dayuan, now fearing his evil scheme would be exposed, he bluntly insistently denied that he knew that man with the Murong surname; some thought that he had been conspiring to be the Chief of the Beggar Society again and was setting up some stratagem; there were even more people resolutely believing that he was exerting himself for Khitan by both opposing Western Xia and causing trouble to Great Song. Everyone had a different guess therefore there were all kinds of expressions on the faces of the beggars such as sorry, respectful, grieved, scornful and hostile.

Qiao Feng let out a deep sigh and said: ‘Everybody has escaped from dangers so Qiao Feng is leaving now.’ As he finished saying he cupped his fist in his hand, turned around and got on the horse. Raising the whip, he galloped away.

Suddenly he heard Elder Xu shout: ‘Qiao Feng, leave the Dog Beating Stick behind.’ Qiao Feng abruptly reined the horse and said: ‘The Dog Beating Stick? In the apricot forest didn’t I already hand it over?’ Elder Xu said: ‘We slipped up and was captured so the Dog Beating Stick fell into the hands of the Western Xia bastards. Now we have ransacked everywhere but still can’t find it. Most prolly you’ve taken it.’

Qiao Feng turned his face skywards and let out a stream of laughs, which sounded sorrowful and disappointed, then said loudly: ‘I, Qiao Feng, and the Beggar Society no longer have any connection with each other, what do I take the Dog Beating Stick for? Elder Xu, you’ve overly undervalued me.’ He gave the horse a nip with his legs. It immediately galloped towards the north with its four hooves looking like flying.

When Qiao Feng had been a child he had been loved and raised by his parents. Later, he had been taught martial arts by a Shaolin monk Xuan Ku dashi (dashi = great monk, an honorific title for monks), then he had acknowledged Chief Wang of the Beggar Society as his master. When going in jianghu, even though he had experienced a lot of hardships and dangers, his masters and friends had invariably treated him with genuine sincerity. But for the past two days, a storm had suddenly taken place in the world. A
 
Chief who had all along been renowned, illustrious, sincere, benevolent and righteous was unexpectedly regarded as a traitor to the country who harmed the people, and as a shameless untrustworthy scoundrel. He let the horse go aimlessly as it pleased. His mind was extremely confused: ‘If I’m really a Khitan, for the past ten years I’ve killed not just a few Khitan people and ruined not just a few Khitan schemes, how come I’m not a greatly disloyal man? If my parents were really killed by Han people outside of Yanmen Pass, as I’ve regarded the murder of my parents as master and for the past thirty years called other people father and mother, how come I’m not a greatly unfilial son? Qiao Feng ah Qiao Feng, you’re this disloyal and unfilial, how do you dare to live in the world? If Sir Sanhuai isn’t my father then I’m certainly not Qiao Feng either? What’s my surname? What’s the first name that my natural father gave me? Ha-ha, not only am I disloyal and unfilial, but I also don’t have first name and surname.’

He also had another thought: ‘However, maybe all of these are due to a very treacherous arch-villain framing me. I, Qiao Feng, am confidently a dazhangfu (t/n: basically means a man of resolve or success), but I’ve been manipulated by others to the point that my reputation has totally been lost and can’t be redeemed. If I packed up and left my responsibilities at this point because of the temporary indignation and from now on became indifferent to the Beggar Society, wouldn’t that make the villain’s scheme successful? Hum, all in all, I must investigate and make things clear.’

In his mind he planned, the first step was returning to Mt Shaoshi in Henan and asking Sir Sanhuai about my own life and origin, the second step would be entering Shaolin Monastery, visiting my first martial arts enshi (kind master) Xuan Ku dashi and begging him to reveal the truth, these two people had always cherished me very much so they definitely would not hold back anything.

After planning like that he did not feel worried anymore. In the past, as the Chief of the Beggar Society, he had been able to consider the whole country his home when travelling in jianghu. Now, not only could he not go to the branches everywhere for accommodation, in order to avoid causing troubles, wherever he went he did not use roads so that he would not meet former subordinates in the Beggar Society. After going for just two days,
 
the money on his body had been used up therefore he had to sell the horse that he had seized from the Western Xia people for travelling expenses.

One day, he arrived at the foot of Mt Song then went towards Mt Shaoshi. This was the place where he had been staying during his boyhood therefore he was already familiar with the scenery everywhere. Because the Beggar Society was the biggest society in jianghu and Shaolin School was the biggest school in wulin, if the Beggar Society’s Chief came to Shaolin, this would bring about all kinds of formalities and extravagances and disturb a great deal of people. Hence ever since he had taken up the post of the Beggar Society’s Chief, he had never returned here. Every year he had only sent people to respectfully give his parents and enshi food and clothing, and to inquire after them. At this moment, when he was returning to his old land, thinking that his own origin was very enigmatic and that in two or four hours it would be made clear, even though he was a calm and stable man, he could not refrain from getting anxious.

His old home was located beside a mountain slope on the south side of Mt Shaoshi. Qiao Feng quickly went around the mountain slope. He only saw that there were a straw hat and a teapot put under the big jujube tree beside the vegetable garden. The handle of the teapot had already been broken. Qiao Feng knew that it belonged to his father Qiao Sanhuai. He suddenly felt a burst of warm thoughts in his heart: ‘Dad is diligent and thrifty, this broken teapot has been used for several decades but he’s still unwilling to throw it away.’

As he looked at the big jujube tree he also recalled that in his childhood every time jujubes had been ripe father had always held his small hand then knocked jujubes from the tree together with him. The red ripe jujubes had been so plump that their skin had been cracked. They had been both sweet and juicy. Ever since he had left his old land, he had never tasted such delicious jujubes again. Qiao Feng thought: ‘Even if they aren’t my real parents, in this life, it’s hard for me to repay this kindness of nurturing. No matter what my real origin is, I definitely won’t change what I’ve addressed them as.’

He went to and stopped before the three-room earthen house, only seeing a bamboo mat on which there were full of vegetables spread for sunning
 
outside of it and a mother hen which was leading a flock of chicks pecking food in the grass. He could not help beaming: ‘Tonight mom will surely kill chicken and prepare a meal to treat the son that she hasn’t seen for a long time.’ He called out: ‘Dad! Mom! This son has returned.’

He called a few times but did not hear any reply. He thought: ‘Ah, that’s right, the two oldsters’ ears have been deaf and can’t hear.’ He pushed the door open and strode into the house. Inside the main room, such things as wooden table, wooden bench, plow, harrow and hoe did not look very different than they had been when he had left home, but he saw no one.

Qiao Feng called several more times: ‘Dad! Mom!’, but still, he did not hear any reply. He felt a bit surprised and talked to himself: ‘Where have they gone?’ When he stuck his head in the bedroom, he could not help jumping out of his skin because he saw Qiao Sanhuai and his wife lying motionlessly on the ground.

Qiao Feng hurriedly jumped into the room. First he helped his mother sit up only to find that her breathing had already stopped, but her body was still a little bit warm, obviously she had been dead for less than two hours. Next, when he carried his father, he noticed the same things. Being both panicky and grieved, Qiao Feng carried the corpse of his father and ran out of the house. After examining it carefully in the sunshine, he discovered that all the ribs in his chest had been broken. It was clear that he had been stricken dead by the palm force of a martial arts expert. He looked at the corpse of his mother again and found that she had died in the same way. Qiao Feng was confused: ‘My dad and mom are faithful generous honest peasants. Why could some martial arts expert use such a cruel means to murder them? Certainly it was because of me.’

He examined carefully the three rooms inside the house, as well as the area in front of it, the area behind it, and the roof to know what kind of man the murderer was. But the murderer did not leave behind even a single footprint. Qiao Feng’s face was covered with tears. The more he thought, the sadder he became. He could not help bursting out crying.

When he had cried for just a short while, suddenly he heard someone say at his back: ‘What a pity, what a pity. We’ve come late by a step.’ Qiao Feng
 
immediately turned around and saw four middle-aged monks dressed in clothes of Shaolin Monastery. Even though Qiao Feng had learned martial arts of Shaolin School, Xuan Ku dashi, the person who had taught him martial arts, had come to his house directly every night to teach him, therefore he did not know any monk of Shaolin Monastery. Now he was feeling miserable, hence even though he had seen the strangers, for the moment it was hard for him to hold back his tears.

A rather tall monk with a completely furious look loudly said: ‘Qiao Feng, you’re really lower than pigs and dogs. Even if Qiao Sanhuai and his wife aren’t your real parents, the kindness of bringing you up for more than ten years is no trivial matter. How could you have the heart to murder them?’ Qiao Feng sobbed: ‘I returned home just a moment ago. Seeing that my parents have been murdered I only wanna find out who the killer is to revenge my parents. Dashi, how could you say so?’ That monk said furiously: ‘The cruel heart of Khitan people is hard to change. You’ve really acted like an animal! You killed your foster parents with your own hands, what a pity we came to help too late. Surnamed Qiao, if you wanna go to Mt Shaoshi to act wildly, you’re still this far short of that.’ As he finished saying, he threw a palm attack towards Qiao Feng’s chest, creating a ‘hu’ sound.

When Qiao Feng was about to dodge, he heard the sound of wind gently moving at his back. He knew that someone was launching a sneak attack at the back. Unwilling to fight these Shaolin monks without clear reasons like this, he made a pressing with his left foot and gently leaped out for one zhang (3.333 m). As expected, a kick of another Shaolin monk missed him and hit the air.

Seeing that he had dodged so easily like this, the four Shaolin monks all had an astonished look on their faces. That tall and big monk scolded: ‘Your martial arts are good. So what? You think that having killed your foster parents you can hide your origin? Too bad you’re a descendant of the evil Khitan race. This has spread in wulin for a long time. Who in jianghu doesn’t know about it? Committing this severe betrayal, you’ve only increased the amount of your sins.’ Another monk scolded: ‘First you killed
 
Ma Dayuan, next you killed Qiao Sanhuai and his wife, humph humph, how can these scandals be hidden?’

Even though Qiao Feng heard the two monks revile him so, he was only grieved and did not have the slightest feeling of anger. All his life he had faced important matters, decided important doubtful cases and met not just a few difficult affairs, therefore at this moment he was very capable of repressing his anger. He cupped his fist in his hand in salute and said: ‘May I ask, what are the religious names of the four dashi’s’? Are you eminent monks of Shaolin Monastery?’

A monk with a medium height who had the most pleasant temperament said: ‘We all are Shaolin disciples. Alas, your foster father and mother were faithful and generous all their lives, but they ended up being repaid this miserably. Qiao Feng, you Khitan people have acted too savagely.’

Qiao Feng thought: ‘They’re already unwilling to reveal their religious names. It’s no use asking them more. That tall monk said they had come to help too late so they must have come here to help after receiving a message. But who secretly let them know? Who predicted that my parents were going to encounter dangers?’ He then said: ‘The four of you are charitable and descended from the mountain to save my parents. What a pity you were a tad late…’

That tall monk had a fiery temper. He raised the fist which was as big as an alms bowl (t/n: rice bowls that monks used in old times) and threw a punch at Qiao Feng, making a ‘hu’ sound. He shouted loudly: ‘We let you commit this unfilial thing only because we were a tad late, yet you’re still showing your complacency and saying mocking words?’

Qiao Feng knew obviously that the four of them had good intentions because they had immediately come to save his own parents after receiving the message. Hence he was unwilling to fight them, but if he did not subdue them, he would not ever be able to make the truth become clear. He said: ‘I appreciate the kindness of the four of you. Today I have no choice but to offend you!’ As he finished saying he turned around like the wind and stretched his hand to attack the shoulder of the third monk. That monk shouted: ‘You really wanna fight?’ When this sentence was still unfinished,
 
his shoulder had already been hit by Qiao Feng. His body immediately became weak. He flopped down on the ground.

Qiao Feng had learned martial arts of Shaolin School therefore he was totally familiar with the martial arts stances of the four monks. He continuously used palm attacks to knock them down one by one and said: ‘Sorry for offending! May I ask the four masters, you said that you had come to help too late, how did you know that my parents were gonna suffer misfortune? Who informed you four masters of this information?’

That tall monk said furiously: ‘You only wanna know about the informer to go murder him. How can Shaolin disciples yield to the oppressive interrogation of you lowly Khitan dog? Even if you use cruel torture, don’t imagine that you’ll be able to wring half a word outta my mouth.’

Qiao Feng thought: ‘The misunderstanding has become deeper and deeper. No matter what I’ll ask them about, they’ll all think that I’ll be interrogating them.’ He stretched out his hand and gave each of them a few rubs on the back, releasing the blocked acupuncture points of the four monks, and said: ‘If I wanna kill witnesses, at this moment I would’ve taken the lives of the four of you. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What’s the truth? I always hope there’ll be a day when everything will come to light.’

Suddenly, he heard a man sneer and say beside the mountain slope: ‘Wanna kill witnesses? That wouldn’t have necessarily been so easy!’

Qiao Feng raised his head and saw more than ten Shaolin monks standing next to the mountain slope, holding weapons in their hands. The two leading monks both were about fifty years old. Each of them was holding a convenient shovel (fang bian chan - ⽅ 便 铲 ) whose one head was a
crescent blade made of refined steel which radiated a gloomy blue cold
light. Those two monks had shining eyes which looked like shooting at other people. At first sight, it could be known that their internal energies were very profound. Even though Qiao Feng did not fear them, he knew the martial arts of the people who had just arrived were not bad and if he had to fight them, unless he killed and wounded some people, it would be difficult to retreat unharmed. He cupped his fist in his hand and said: ‘Qiao Feng has
 
to be rude. Dashi’s, I beg for your forgiveness.’ Suddenly his body flew backwards. His back hit and broke the door. He entered the earthen house.

This incident happened extremely fast. All the monks exclaimed in unison. Five or six people rushed forwards at the same time but when they just reached the edge of the door, a stream of internal energy was shot out from the inside. These five or six people raised their left palms and hastily used their internal energies to resist. A loud ‘peng’ sound was heard. Dust flew upwards. All of them were forced to take four or five steps back by the power of the palm attack sent out from the inside. After standing stably, they all felt their blood and internal energies tumbling up and down in their chests. They looked at each other blankly and in their heart they totally understood: ‘Though this palm attack of Qiao Feng’s was ferocious, he still has spare power. If he sends out the second palm attack, I may not be able to ward it off.’ They all firmly believed that he was extremely ruthless and malicious, and hence they only thought that he was gathering up his power to strike again, but they could never have expected that he had actually showed mercy with that palm attack and had not wanted to harm other people.

The monks collected power and put on their guards. After a long while, the two leading monks lifted their convenient shovels and executed the ‘Two Dragons Entering the Cave’ stance simultaneously. The movement of the shovels produced powerful winds. Along with the shovels, the two monks entered the earthen house side by side. Clang clang clang, the two shovels clashed, creating a glittering net to protect their bodies. But they saw that the inside of the house was empty. Where was Qiao Feng? Even stranger was that the corpses of Qiao Sanhuai and his wife had also disappeared without a trace.

The two monks who used convenient shovels were the ‘Precept Maintaining monk’ and the ‘Rule Protecting monk’ of the ‘Institute of Precepts’ of Shaolin Monastery whose duty was supervising the conduct of the disciples of their school. They normally traveled in jianghu to examine the achievements and mistakes of the disciples of the school therefore their martial arts were no doubt very good, and they had vast knowledge which could be matched by even fewer people. Seeing that in an instant Qiao Feng
 
had gone in a direction unbeknown to them, the two already knew that it had been extremely hard. But who could have expected that he would be able to take along the the corpses of Qiao Sanhuai and his wife? This was even more unimaginable. All the monks ransacked the areas in front of and behind the house, the head of the earthen bed (t/n: in Northern China, it was common for people to use beds made of clay or brick which were connected to kitchen stoves for warmth) and the kitchen one time. The two monks from the Institute of Precepts then rapidly chased down the mountain, but after chasing for more than twenty li’s (1 li = 0.5 km), there was still no trace of Qiao Feng at all.

No one could have expected Qiao Feng to clasp the corpses of his parents and rush up Mt Shaoshi. He fled to a steep slope which was dense with forest trees and hard for people to reach. After burying his parents, he knelt down and respectfully kowtowed eight times, praying in his mind: ‘Dad, mom, who carried out this murderous scheme and took your lives? I’ll definitely capture the killer, take them to your graves and cut their heart out alive as a sacrifice to you.’

He thought this time returning home he had been late by just a step, thus not being able to meet his parents again, otherwise seeing that he himself had already grown up to be this vigorous and imposing they would have surely been very joyful. Had the three of them been able to meet for one day or half a day, then at least they would have had a short-lived happiness. Thinking to here, he could not help crying without being able to make any noise. Since childhood he had been resilient and wept very little, but today he was extremely grieved and indignant therefore he could not prevent his tears from streaming down.

All of a sudden a thought appeared in his mind. Inwardly, he called: ‘A’yo, no good, perhaps my first enshi (kind master) Xuan Ku dashi (great monk) is gonna meet with serious dangers too.’

He suddenly understood several matters: ‘It really wasn’t by coincidence that the murderer of my parents did the killing within one hour before I returned home like this. He already had premeditated plots. After the killing he immediately told the monks of Shaolin Monastery that I was going up Mt Shaoshi to kill my parents to eliminate witnesses. Those Shaolin monks
 
cherish heroism and righteousness and wholeheartedly wanted to save my parents, but they have bumped into me. In this world there’s still one person who knows my origin, that is, master Xuan Ku. I must beware of that thug laying his murderous hands on him again and framing me for that.’

Thinking that Xuan Ku dashi might be in danger because of himself, he could not help feeling extremely anxious and immediately dashed towards Shaolin Monastery. He knew clearly that the monastery was filled with experts and each of the few elderly monks of the Damo Hall had significant skills, if he himself showed up, the monks would attack together right away and it would not be easy to escape, and hence he only chose unfrequented trails to rush on. Caught on thorns and weeds, his trouser legs became ragged and his calves were dripping with blood, but he had to follow this way. Using these trails to go up the mountain, the distance was increased by a half. Only after running quickly for two hours had he arrived at the back of Shaolin Monastery. At that moment, it was already at dusk. He felt both happy and worried. Feeling happy because in the dark it would be easy to hide, and feeling worried because if the murderer took advantage of the dark to attack sneakily, it would be difficult to detect traces of him.

When traveling in jianghu for the past recent years he had rarely met a match, but he had never met an enemy who undoubtedly had excellent martial arts, elaborate plans and cruel calculations like this time. Even though Shaolin Monastery was an extremely dangerous place, they did not guard against someone going to the monastery to attack Xuan Ku dashi, therefore if someone launched a surprise attack, it would be hard to escape their sneaky scheme. How come Qiao Feng did not know that he himself was being under very serious suspicion? If at this moment Xuan Ku dashi had been murdered without anyone seeing the appearance of the killer and he himself was seen sneakily entering the monastery then even with one hundred mouths he would not be able to explain it away. If at this moment he only cared about himself and disregarded other people, the farther he got away from Shaolin the better it would be for him. But firstly, he thought about the safety of enshi Xuan Ku dashi, and secondly, he wanted to seize the opportunity to catch the real muderer and take revenge for the deaths of his parents, hence he did not pay attention to great risks and dangers.
 
He had lived at Mt Shaoshi for more than ten years, but he had never entered Shaolin Monastery, therefore he did not know anything about the directions, halls and institutes inside the monastery, and certainly he did not know where Xuan Ku dashi lived. He thought: ‘I only hope enshi is totally safe. Upon seeing him I’ll report the course of events to him and beg laorenjia (⽼⼈家 - polite term to address old people) to take care, after that
I’ll ask about my origin, maybe enshi would be able to guess who the real
murderer is.’

There were far more than several tens of halls and compounds in Shaolin Monastery which were located scattered on mountain slopes from the east to the west. Xuan Ku dashi did not hold any position in the monastery and there were at least more than twenty monks with the generation name ‘Xuan’ who wore similar clothes to each other, where to find him in the dark? Qiao Feng secretly planned: ‘The only way is catching a Shaolin monk then forcing him to take me to see Xuan Ku dashi. After that, I’ll explain that I had no choice and seriously apologize to him. But Shaolin monks generally respect their masters and treasure righteousness, if he thinks that I wanna harm Xuan Ku dashi, probably he’d rather die than submit and definitely be unwilling to reveal his whereabouts. Hum, I might as well find a cook and ask him to lead me, but these people may not know the place of my master.’

For the moment he hesitated and had no plan. Every time he passed by a hall or a wing-room he stooped down beside a window to listen, hoping that he would be able to have a clue. Even though he was tall and big in stature, his movements were quick, leaping up and drooping down like a lynx without being noticed by anyone.

He kept going and listening like this. When he reached the side of a small house, suddenly he heard someone say inside: ‘Abbot has important matters to discuss, shishu (apprentice uncle who is younger than one’s master) please go to the ‘Institute of Faith Attestation’ immediately.’ Another aged voice said: ‘Yes! I’m going right now.’ Qiao Feng thought: ‘Abbot’s gathering people to discuss important matters, maybe my master will go as well. I’d better follow these people to the ‘Institute of Faith Attestation’.’ A ‘ya’ sound was heard, the door was pushed open and two monks came out,
 
the aged one going westwards, and the junior one hurriedly going eastwards, perhaps he was going to notify other people.

Qiao Feng thought because the Abbot had invited this elderly monk to go discuss important matters, the rank or status of this person had to be high, and because Shaolin Monastery was different than other cloisters, it was certain that all the people with high ranks or status here also possessed profound martial arts. Not daring to follow closely behind the monk, Qiao Feng only looked at his back and followed him from a distance. He saw him go straight toward the west and walk into a westernmost house. Qiao Feng waited until the monk had entered the house, only then did he go around to the back of it. After listening out and knowing clearly that there was no one around, he bent down beside a window.

He felt both grieved and indignant, thinking to himself: ‘Since I started to travel in jianghu, when treating fellow orthodox people in wulin, has there ever been even a single matter in which I wasn’t straightforward and didn’t have superiority? Yet today I’ve been forced to be this sneaky. If by any chance I’m discovered, though I’ve always have an illustrious name, where will I be able to hide my face then?’ But he immediately had another thought: ‘In those years, master went down from the mountain every night to teach me martial arts, even if there were strong winds and heavy rain, he never skipped a night. I must repay such a serious kindness even if my body would be ground to dust, much less this tiny humiliation.’

He heard footsteps outside the house then four people successively came in. Before long, two other people came in. Their shadows fell on the paper of the window. There were more than ten people gathering in total. Qiao Feng thought: ‘If they discuss important secret matters of Shaolin and are overheard by me, then even if it’s unintentional, it’d still be improper. I’d better get away from this place. If master is inside the house, there’re lots of experts here like this, no matter how dangerous the murderer is they’d not be able to harm him. After the monks finish discussing and disperse I’ll think of a way to meet master.’

When he was about to go away quietly, he heard more than ten monks inside the house start to chant at the same time. Qiao Feng did not know what Buddhist sutra they were chanting, but he felt their voices were stately
 
and solemn, and the chanting tones of some people also had an air of considerable sorrow and distress. This passage of sutra kept being chanted for a very long time. He gradually felt uneasy and thought: ‘It seems they’re performing some kind of Buddhist memorial service, or meditating or studying sutras, perhaps my master isn’t here.’ He tilted his ear to listen carefully, and as expected, he did not hear the composed thick voice of Xuan Ku dashi in the chorus of the monks chanting sutra.

When he still could not decide whether or not he should wait for a while, the sound of chanting stopped and a dignified voice was heard: ‘Xuan Ku shidi (younger apprentice brother), would you still like to say something?’ Qiao Feng was very happy: ‘Master really is here, laorenjia (term to call old people politely) is safe and sound too. So, just now he didn’t chant sutra together with other people.’

A person started to say in a deep and powerful voice. Hearing the voice, Qiao Feng knew that he was no one other than his first master Xuan Ku dashi, who said: ‘The day xiaodi (I, this little brother) was initiated into monkhood, my late master named me Xuan Ku. The seven sufferings (Ku) that the Buddha mentioned are birth, aging, illness, death, contact with the hated ones, separation from the loved ones, and frustrated desires. Xiaodi has made great efforts to escape from these seven sufferings, but I could only assist myself, and not other people. I feel ashamed of this. The suffering of contact with the hated ones is a state that the human life is bound to have. I deserve to get this retribution for the causes I sowed before. Shixiong’s (older apprentice brother) and shidi’s, seeing me repay my former karma like this, you should feel happy for me.’ Qiao Feng noticed that his voice was calm, but what he said was the language of Buddhism, therefore he himself did not understand what he meant.

That dignified voice continued: ‘Xuan Bei shidi lost his life at the hands of a villain several months ago. Having been chasing down the murderer with all our power, we seem to have violated the precept of not being angry. But taming demon and punishing villain are deeds that help the people everywhere. As martial arts learners, our real intentions are spreading Buddhist teachings and following the infinitely compassionate merciful heart of the Buddha to free all living creatures from sufferings…’ Qiao
 
Feng thought: ‘The person with the dignified voice is most prolly the Abbot of Shaolin Monastery Xuan Ci dashi.’ He heard him continue: ‘… Eliminating a villain is equal to saving countless people. Shidi, is that person Murong of Gusu?’

Qiao Feng thought: ‘This matter involves the Murong clan of Gusu again. I’ve heard that Xuan Bei dashi of Shaolin School was sneakily killed in Dali. Could it be that they're suspecting Mr Murong of committing the murder?’

He heard Xuan Ku Dashi say: ‘Abbot Shixiong, xiaodi is unwilling to make you and other shixiong’s and shidi’s worry about me because that would increase the retribution for my sins. If that person can put down the butcher knife, naturally it won’t be too late for him to repent of his sins and find a way out. But if he persists in his wrongdoings, alas, he’ll only make himself suffer for nothing. There’s also no need to talk about how that person looks like.’

Abbot Xuan Ci dashi said: ‘That’s right! Shidi has great understanding and wise opinions. Being an overly intolerant shixiong, my level has fallen behind to some extent.’ Xuan Ku said: ‘Xiaodi wants to meditate for a while to ruminate and repent.’ Xuan Ci said: ‘Alright! You take good care.’

A ‘ya’ sound of the door opening was heard. A tall and skinny elderly monk slowly walked out first. After he had gone out for one zhang (3.333 m), there were seventeen other monks in total continuously following behind him. All of the eighteen monks were having their palms put together and their heads lowered in meditation, looking stately.

After the monks had gone far away, the inside of the house was totally quiet. Intimidated by the situation around, for the moment Qiao Feng did not dare to appear to knock the door. Suddenly he heard Xuan Ku Dashi say: ‘Good visitor coming from afar, why are you hesitant about entering?’

Qiao Feng was frightened and thought: ‘I’ve been holding my breath, even if other people were very close to me, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to notice that I’ve been hiding here. To have such hearing, master’s internal energy cultivation is really outstanding.’ Without delay he respectfully
 
walked to the door and said: ‘How are you, master? Disciple Qiao Feng pays his respects to you.’

Xuan Ku softly uttered an ‘Ah’ sound and said: ‘Feng’er? I’m thinking about you and only hoping that I can meet you one time. Quickly come in.’ His voice was filled with happiness.

Qiao Feng was very happy. He hurriedly came in then immediately knelt down, kowtowed and said: ‘Master, normally I’ve rarely been at your service, making you miss me a lot. Seeing that you are healthy, this child is extremely happy.’ As he finished saying, he raised his head and looked at Xuan Ku.

Xuan Ku dashi at first was having a smiling expression on his face. When he saw Qiao Feng’s face in the light of the oil lamp, all of a sudden his expression changed greatly. He stood up and said in a trembling voice: ‘You… You… so it was you. So you’re Qiao Feng. I… I developed such a good disciple with my own hands?’ But his facial expression was both horrified and painful, and was also mixed with deep pity and regret.

Seeing that in the blink of an eye his master was already having a very strange expression, Qiao Feng was extremely astonished. He said: ‘Master, I’m Qiao Feng.’

Xuan Ku dashi said: ‘Good, good, good!’ After uttering the three ‘Good’ words continuously, he did not say anything else.

Qiao Feng did not dare to ask more and quietly waited to see if he had something to teach or instruct. He waited for a good while, but Xuan Ku dashi remained silent all along. Qiao Feng looked at his master’s face again, only seeing that his facial muscles were stiff and motionless, and his expression was exactly the same as it had been a moment ago. He could not refrain from jumping up in fright. When Qiao Feng reached out his hand to touch his master’s palm, he felt that it was rather cold. He hastily checked his master’s breathing, but it turned out to have already stopped for quite a while. This made Qiao Feng so frightened that he was dumbstruck. His mind was in chaos: ‘As soon as master saw me he was frightened to death
 
like this? Definitely improbable, what’s so frightful about me? Prolly he was already injured.’ But he did not dare to inspect his master’s body.

After regaining composure, he decided in his mind: ‘If I quietly left at this moment, how could it be considered the action of a tough brave man like Qiao Feng? Even if today’s incidents are extremely dangerous, I should investigate and clear up everything.’ He walked out of the house and shouted loudly and clearly: ‘Abbot Dashi, Xuan Ku dashi has passed away. Xuan Ku dashi has passed away.’ The sound of these two sentences went very far and echoed through the valley. Hence the entire monastery could hear them. Even though the shouting voice was powerful, it was extremely sad.

Abbot Xuan Ci and the other people had not got back to their respective rooms yet. Suddenly hearing the shouting of Qiao Feng, they turned around at the same time and quickly came back to the ‘Institute of Faith Attestation.’ They only saw a tall and big man standing beside the door and wiping tears from his face with his sleeves. All the monks found this strange. Xuan Ci put his palms together and asked: ‘Shizhu (施主 – literally
almsgiver/benefactor – a term that Buddhist monks/Taoists call normal
people with), who are you?’ Concerned about Xuan Ku’s safety, he rushed into the house without waiting for Qiao Feng to reply. Seeing that Xuan Ku was still standing upright motionlessly without falling, he was even more startled. The other monks came in together. They then lowered their heads and chanted sutra.

Qiao Feng was the last to enter the house. He knelt down and secretly prayed: ‘Master, I came to inform you too late so you were already murdered by someone. The animosity between me and that villain has become deeper by one level. Even if I’d have to go through all difficulties, I’d find this villain and smash them into ten thousand pieces to avenge you, enshi.’

Abbot Xuan Ci had finished chanting sutra. He sized up Qiao Feng and asked: ‘Shizhu, who are you? Are you the person who shouted just now?’
 
Qiao Feng said: ‘This disciple is Qiao Feng. Seeing that my master had passed away I couldn’t bear the grief so I disturbed Abbot.’

When Xuan Ci heard Qiao Feng’s name, he was frightened and his body trembled. A strange expression appeared on his face. After gazing at Qiao Feng for a long time, he said: ‘Shizhu, you… you… are you the Beggar Society’s… former Chief?’

Hearing he said the five words ‘the Beggar Society’s former Chief’, Qiao Feng thought: ‘Messages in jianghu spread very fast. He already knows that I’m no longer the Beggar Society’s Chief. He must know the reasons why I was expelled from the Beggar Society as well.’ He then said: ‘Yes.’

Xuan Ci said: ‘Shizhu, why do you trespass on our Monastery late at night? How could you see Xuan Ku shidi pass away?’

Qiao Feng was having thousands and thousands of words that he wanted to say but for the moment he did not know what he should say. He had no alternative but to reply: ‘Xuan Ku dashi was the first enshi of this disciple. But what are the injuries that my enshi suffered? And who murdered him?’

With tears welling up in his eyes, Abbot Xuan Ci said: ‘Xuan Ku shidi was taken by surprise by someone. His chest took a serious palm attack. All his ribs were broken and his five internal organs were crushed. He could endure until now only thanks to having profound internal energy. We asked him who the enemy was but he said he didn’t know him. We also asked him how the murderer looked like and how old he was. But he said the suffering of contact with the hated ones was one of the seven sufferings of Buddhists, and meeting the enemy was the opportunity to free himself, so he resolutely didn’t say anything about the appearance of the murderer.’

Qiao Feng suddenly understood: ‘So just now the monks already knew that master had been seriously injured. They chanted sutra to see him off to the Western Pure Land.’ Tears welled up in his eyes. He said: ‘You’re eminent monks so you think of mercy and forget hatred. Being an ordinary man, I’ll catch this murderer and make him suffer the death of thousands of cuts to avenge my master, that’s for sure. Your monastery is strictly guarded, how could that murderer penetrate into here?’
 
While Xuan Ci was pondering and had not replied, all of a sudden, an elderly monk who was short and small in stature coldly said: ‘When shizhu penetrated into Shaolin, we couldn’t stop or detect you. That murderer of course could also come and go as he pleased, as if entering a deserted place.’

Qiao Feng bent down, cupped his fist in his hand and said: ‘Because the matter was urgent, I didn’t have time to inform and make an appointment at the main entrance. I was being too disrespectful. Masters, I sincerely beg for your forgiveness. Having deep roots in Shaolin School, by no means do I dare to have the slightest intention of looking down on or offending it.’ His last sentence hinted that if Shaolin School lost face, he would also be humiliated as a result. In his mind, he knew that after sneaking in Shaolin’s backyard, only when he himself had shouted had someone been aware of it. If this incident became known about by outsiders, it would really inflict huge damage on Shaolin School’s prestige.

Right at this moment, a little Buddhist novice, who was holding a bowl of steaming hot medicine in both hands, entered the house and said to the corpse of Xuan Ku: ‘Master, please take medicine.’ He was the Buddhist novice who served Xuan Ku. He had just decocted a dose of a medicine that cured injuries effectively called the ‘Nine Changes Rejuvenation Mixture’ at the ‘Institute of Medical King’ and was bringing it to his master for him to take. Because he saw that Xuan Ku was standing upright without falling, he did not know that his master had died. Feeling grieved, Qiao Feng said in a voice choked with emotion: ‘Master has…’

That little Buddhist novice turned his head and looked at him. Suddenly he cried out loudly: ‘It’s you! You’ve… come again!’ A ‘qiang’ sound was heard, the bowl of medicine had been accidentally dropped on the ground. Porcelain fragments and medical liquid flew on all sides. That little Buddhist novice jumped backward two steps, leaned against the wall and squealed: ‘It’s him. It’s him who injured master!’

As soon as he screamed so, everyone, without exception, was very frightened. Qiao Feng was even more terrified. He said loudly: ‘What did you say?’ That little Buddhist novice was only twelve or thirteen years old. Seeing Qiao Feng, he was extremely scared and hid behind Abbot Xuan Ci.
 
He pulled the Abbot’s sleeve and shouted: ‘Abbot, Abbot!’ Xuan Ci said: ‘Qing Song, there’s no need to be scared. Just tell us. You say it’s him who injured master?’ The little Buddhist novice Qing Song said: ‘Yes, when he hit master in the chest using his palm I was watching from the window. Master, Master, why don’t you strike back at him?’ Until this moment, he still did not know that Xuan Ku had died.

Abbot Xuan Ci said: ‘You should watch carefully. Don’t mistake other people for him.’ Qing Song said: ‘I saw very clearly, he was wearing gray clothes made directly of cotton and had a square face, his eyebrows were slanted like this, his mouth and ears were big, it’s exactly him. Master, beat him, beat him.’

Qiao Feng felt a chill run down his spine. He thought: ‘That’s right. The murderer disguised as me to shift the blame onto me. Hearing me return, at first master was extremely joyful, but as soon as he saw my face, seeing me and his murderer look exactly alike, he then said: ‘So it was you. So you’re Qiao Feng. I developed such a good disciple with my own hands.’ Master and I haven’t met for more than ten years. From a child I already became an adult. My appearance wasn’t the same long ago.’ Recalling that Xuan Ku dashi had continuously said three ‘Good’ words before dying, he felt as if a knife was piercing his heart: ‘Master took serious attacks, but he didn’t know who the enemy was. When he saw me, realizing that I and the murderer have similar appearances, he was very sad and died because of grief. Having suffered serious injuries, master was already on the brink of death so certainly he couldn’t think carefully that: if I had really harmed him, why would I come to meet him the second time?’

Suddenly, a hubbub of human voices could be heard then a group of people trotted towards the ‘Institute of Faith Attestation’ before stopping outside it. Two monks bent forward and respectfully came in. They were the Precept Maintaining monk and the Rule Protecting monk who had fought against Qiao Feng at the foot of Mt Shaoshi. When that Precept Maintaining monk had just said: ‘Abbot…’ he saw Qiao Feng. An amazed and angry expression appeared on his face, showing that he did not know when Qiao Feng had come here. The other monks also frowned and fiercely goggled at Qiao Feng with glaring eyes.
 
With a stately expression, Abbot Xuan Ci slowly said: ‘Shizhu, you no longer belong to the Beggar Society, but you’re a famous figure in wulin. Today arriving at our monastery why did you strike dead Xuan Ku shidi? I hope to be counseled by you about that.’

Qiao Feng let out a deep sigh, knelt and bowed down to the corpse of Xuan Ku and said: ‘Master, at your dying moment you still said that this disciple harmed you so that you died with a grievance. I never dare to offend you, but the villain attacked you only because of me. Even if I died today to apologize to you I really wouldn’t resent it, but from now on the great wrong you suffered may not be avenged. I’ve violated the sanctity of Shaolin, please forgive me, master.’ All of a sudden, two ‘hu-hu’ sounds were heard, he had blown out two long gusts of air. The two oil lamps in the hall were immediately extinguished. In an instant, the hall went pitch dark.

When praying, Qiao Feng had already devised a plan to escape. Right after blowing out the oil lamps, he swung at the Rule Protecting monk with his left palm and hit his back. This palm attack only used Yin soft power therefore it did not injure his internal organs, but it sent his corpulent body flying out, breaking open the door of the hall in the process.

Hearing the sound of wind in the dark, all the monks thought that Qiao Feng was running away through the door. Each of them grasped at the body of the Rule Protecting monk using a grasping hand technique. They all thought the same, not wanting to use severe attacks to kill Qiao Feng, and only wanting to capture him to interrogate more about why he had killed Xuan Ku dashi. These more than ten high-level monks were first-class experts of Shaolin Monastery. First-class experts of Shaolin Monastery were naturally also first-class experts in wulin. The respective grasping hand techniques they used were different from each other, each of which had its own uniqueness. In a short period of time, the best grasping hand techniques of Shaolin School such as the Dragon Capturing technique, the Eagle-Clawed technique, the Tiger Catching technique, the Diamond Finger technique, the Stone Holding Palm technique… all were executed on the body of the Rule Protecting monk. The monks really had excellent martial arts, in the dark they could only hear the sound of wind, yet their stances did not miss even by a hair’s breadth. This time, that Rule Protecting monk
 
tasted all kinds of sufferings. In a very short time, the important acupuncture points on his whole body were hit by various grasping hand techniques, his body was held up in the air and he was unable to talk. Perhaps no one had ever undergone this kind of experience before.

These high-level monks were very experienced therefore their improvisation methods were also remarkable. Some people immediately jumped onto the roof to guard there. And in a short while, the important places in the passages and at the front door and back door of the Institute of Faith Attestation were also occupied by experts. Needless to say, Qiao Feng was a tall and big man. Even if he morphed into a wild cat or a mouse, he would possibly not be able to escape either.

The little Buddhist novice Qing Song used a fire-striking knife and a flint to light the oil lamps in the hall. The monks then immediately discovered that they had wrongly caught the Rule Protecting monk.

The head of the Damo Institute (in an earlier paragraph JY called this building the Damo Hall) Xuan Ku ordered that every monk in the monastery keep watch on his own position and not act chaotically. The monks all thought that even if Qiao Feng had been bolder he would never dare to penetrate into an extremely dangerous place like Shaolin Monastery alone to commit murder, he definitely had strong aid, it was likely that he had other schemes to take advantage of the confusion, and they themselves were not allowed to fall victim to the tactic of luring the tiger out of the mountain.

More than 10 high-level monks in the Institute of Faith Attestation and the monks who were led by the Precept Maintaining monk then searched carefully everywhere in the vicinity of the Institute of Faith Attestation. Almost every stone was turned over, and every thicket was hit with stick. This time, even though the monks were lenient and cherished the lives of all living creatures, many toads, shrews, grasshoppers and ants were still accidentally injured.

After busying themselves for more than 2 hours, the only thing they had not done was digging up the ground, but where could they find Qiao Feng? All the monks constantly clicked their tongues saying that this was strange, and
 
sometimes they unavoidably said a few insulting sentences. Even though the 10 precepts of Buddhism warned against using ‘Evil Words’, they were unable to pay attention to it. Right after that, they moved the corpse of Xuan Ku dashi into the ‘Sarira Institute’ for cremation and carried the Rule Protecting monk to the ‘Institute of Medical King’ to cure the injuries. They were all in very low spirits and rather silent, feeling that this time they had really lost face. Shaolin Monastery was packed with experts, and in terms of martial arts and reputation, each of these more than 10 high-level monks had a resounding name in wulin, yet they had let Qiao Feng, with bare hands and being alone, come and go as he pleased. They could not have even the least idea how he had escaped, much less killing or capturing him.

It turned out that Qiao Feng had anticipated that as soon as an unforeseen event happened, the monks would certainly search everywhere all around, but they would definitely not care about the room in which they had just gathered a moment ago. Therefore, after sending the Rule Protecting monk flying out with a palm attack, he had immediately bent his body and got into the space underneath the bed on which Xuan Ku dashi had usually slept before his death. With his 10 fingers inserted into the bed base, he had been pressing his body close to it. Even though someone had already glanced at the space under the bed, he had not seen him. After the body of Xuan Ku dashi had been moved out, the execution monk shut the door of the Institute of Faith Attestation, hence no one came in anymore.

Lying horizontally underneath the bed, Qiao Feng heard the monks cause a commotion for a long time then the sounds of human voice gradually disappear. He thought: ‘Waiting until dawn, it won’t be easy to escape. If I don’t leave here now, then when should I?’ He then quietly came out from under the bed, gently pushed open the door, jinked and hid behind a tree.

He thought, even though by now the human voices had stopped, how could it be that the high-level monks of Shaolin had given up and loosened their guard at this point? The Institute of Faith Attestation was located at the western extremity of Shaolin Monastery so he only had to go westward to enter a cluster of mountains. As soon as they came out of Shaolin Monastery, the monks would have to spread out, so even if he met them, they would definitely not be able to intercept him. But he did not want to
 
fight Shaolin monks at all and only hoped that someday he would be able to capture the real murderer, take them to the monastery and explain the whole thing. If today he fought and defeated one more monk, he would make another enemy for nothing. If he accidentally wounded or killed someone, the consequence of it would be even more unthinkable. He thought he himself had vanished from the western part of the monastery so the monks would certainly guard the paths in the west most tightly, therefore he should go through the monastery and leave from its eastern part.

He immediately stooped and quietly went under the cover of the trees. After going past four buildings, he hid behind a sacred fig tree. Suddenly he saw two monks waiting in ambush behind a tree right in front of him. Those 2 monks were not moving a bit therefore it was hard to detect them in the dark, but with his sharp eyesight he had seen the flashes of the precept knife ( 戒⼑ – jie dao – a Buddhist’s knife that, according to the precepts of
Buddhism, must not be used to harm living creatures) that a monk was
holding in his hand. He thought: ‘How dangerous! Had I gone a little bit too fast just now, I would definitely have been spotted.’ He waited behind the tree for a while, but those 2 monks remained motionless all along. This ‘Waiting for windfalls’ method was unexpectedly very dangerous. If he made a move, he would be seen by those 2 monks instantly, but he also could not afford to be locked in a long stalemate and stay motionless all the while.

He slightly considered then picked up a small stone and flicked it out. He used his power very skillfully, making the stone go slowly at first but go fast afterward. When the stone started to fly out, there was no sound at all, but after it had gone for 7 or 8 zhang’s (1 zhang = 3.333m), the sound of the air being pierced through became intense. The stone hit a big tree, making a strange sound. Those 2 monks stooped down and rushed towards that big tree.

Qiao Feng waited until the 2 monks went past him then he jumped up and climbed into a compound at his side. In the moonlight he saw clearly a horizontally inscribed board which read ‘Bodhi Institute’. He knew when those 2 monks saw nothing unusual, they would definitely return, therefore he did not stop and walked fast straight towards the backyard, passed
 
through the front hall of the Bodhi Institute, then leaned his body and entered the rear sanctum.

In the blink of an eye, he saw the shape of a man, who was exceptionally fast, flashing by from behind him. He had rarely seen a lightness skill this fast.

‘What a skill! Who’s this man?’ Startled, Qiao Feng withdrew his palms to protect his body and turned around. He could not help but burst out laughing as what he saw before him was only a man whose one palm was being placed in an obliquely upward position to protect his front, his chest being drawn in and his back being stretched. It turned out that there was a screen placed in front of the Buddha statues in the rear sanctum, and a very big copper mirror was installed on the screen. The mirror had been polished to a high gloss and Qiao Feng’s own image was reflected in it. The copper mirror was engraved with 4 Buddhist metrical lines. As there were several oil lamps in front of the Buddha statues, in the dim light, he could vaguely see them: ‘All the elements that have a form; Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows; like dew and also like lightning; Like this should they be
contemplated.’ [⼀切有为法,如梦 幻泡影,如露亦如电,当作如是观.] (These 4 lines were taken from the Diamond Sutra)

Qiao Feng smiled and turned around. When he was about to take a step, suddenly his mind felt as if being heavily hit by something. He was dumbstruck. He only knew that at this moment he had just thought of an abnormal important matter. But he was confused and could not ascertain what that matter was.

After standing there in a trance for a short while, he unconsciously turned around again and looked at the copper mirror. Seeing his own back, he came to realize all of a sudden: ‘A little while ago I had a view of my own back, where did that happen? I’ve never seen such a big copper mirror, how could I see my own back clearly like this?’ When he was still entranced, suddenly he heard footsteps outside the institute. Some people were walking towards the sanctum.
 
At that pressing moment, having nowhere to hide, he saw 3 Buddha statues standing side by side in the sanctum. Without delay he leaped on the altar and hid behind the third statue. He heard the footsteps of 6 people in total who came in the rear sanctum abreast in 2 rows. Each of them sat down on a bulrush mat. From behind the Buddha statue Qiao Feng peeped out and saw that all the 6 people were middle-aged monks. He thought: ‘If I run away from the rear sanctum now, if these 6 monks’ martial arts are mediocre, they won’t be able to detect me, but if just one of them has profound internal energy, and keen eyes and ears, he’ll notice me right away. For the moment I’d better quietly wait and see here for a while.’ Suddenly he heard a monk on the right-hand side say: ‘Shixiong (older apprentice bro), this Bodhi Institute is an empty place, what sutra does it have? Why did master tell us to guard here, saying something like to prevent the enemy from stealing?’ A monk on the right-hand side smiled and said: ‘This is the secret of the Bodhi Institute. It’s no use talking much about it.’ The monk on the right-hand side said: ‘Humph, I see that you may not know either.’ The monk on the left-hand side could not bear the
incitement. He said: ‘How come I don’t know? ‘Yi Meng Ru Shi’…’ (⼀梦如是 – literally ‘A Dream like This’, I use the pinyin for the sake of faithfulness) When he had just said half of the sentence, he suddenly
became cautious and stopped talking. The monk on the right-hand side said: ‘What’s ‘Yi Meng Ru Shi’?’ The monk who was sitting on the second bulrush mat said: ‘Zhi Qing shidi (younger apprentice bro), normally you’re not gossipy and meddlesome, why do you keep asking nonstop today? If you wanna know about the secret of the Bodhi Institute, then just go ask your own master.’

The monk named Zhi Qing did not ask anymore. After a while, he said: ‘I’m going to the back to pass water.’ As he finished saying he stood up. From the right-hand side he went to the side door on the left. When he passed by the back of the monk who was number 5 counting from the left, suddenly he raised his right foot and kicked that monk in the ‘Xuanshu acupuncture point’ on the back. The Xuanshu acupuncture point was located beneath the 13th vertebra. That monk was sitting cross-legged on a bulrush mat therefore his Xuanshu acupuncture point was right on the edge of the mat. After he was hit by Zhi Qing’s tiptoe, his body slowly fell rightwards. Zhi Qing had kicked very fast without making any sound. Next
 
he kicked the 4th monk in the ‘Xuanshu acupuncture point’ then kicked the 3rd monk. In a very short time he had continuously downed 3 monks with his kicks.

From behind the Buddha statue Qiao Feng saw that clearly. He was very surprised because he did not understand why infighting suddenly arose among these Shaolin monks. He saw Zhi Qing raise his foot and kick the 2nd monk on the left-hand side. When the tiptoe just touched his acupuncture point, 2 of the 3 monks whose acupuncture points had been hit by him fell down from the bulrush mats. Their heads hit the brick floor of the sanctum, creating peng peng sounds. The monk on the left-hand side was startled and jumped to his feet to look carefully. Catching a glimpse of Zhi Qing knocking down the monk behind him with a kick, he was even more frightened and asked: ‘Zhi Qing, what are you doing?’ Zhi Qing pointed outside and said: ‘You see. Who’s coming?’ That monk turned around and looked outside. Zhi Qing then raised the right foot and quickly threw a kick at his back.

As this kick was executed very fast, it should be impossible to miss. But this sneak attack was reflected clearly in the copper mirror in front of them therefore that monk slanted his body and dodged it. He struck back with his palm and asked: ‘Are you crazy?’ Zhi Qing executed his stances like the wind. When they exchanged the 8th stances, that monk’s lower abdomen took a punch then he received a kick. Seeing Zhi Qing use Yin, soft and ruthless stances, which were absolutely not techniques of Shaolin School, Qiao Feng felt even more surprised.

That monk knew that he was no match for Zhi Qing, therefore he shouted loudly: ‘Spy. Spy…’ Zhi Qing strode forwards and hit him in the chest with his left fist. That monk immediately fell down and lost consciousness.

Zhi Qing quickly ran to the copper mirror. He extended his right forefinger and gave the word ‘Yi’ ( ⼀ - A) in the first line of the Buddhist verse a push. Through the mirror Qiao Feng saw him follow that by pushing the
word ‘Meng’ (梦 – Dream) in the 2nd line. He thought: ‘That monk said the secret was ‘Yi Meng Ru Shi’. There’re 4 ‘Ru’ words ( 如 – Like) on the mirror, which one should be pushed?’
 
He only saw Zhi Qing extend his finger and push the 1st ‘Ru’ word in the 3rd line, then push the word ‘Shi’ ( 是 - This) in the 4th line. When his finger had not yet left the surface of the mirror, chugging sounds were heard. The copper mirror already slowly turned over.

This was a good chance for Qiao Feng if he wanted to run away at this moment, but he got curious and wanted to see exactly why this Shaolin monk wanted to harm his fellow disciples and what there was behind the copper mirror. He thought maybe they had something to do with the murder of Xuan Ku dashi.

Before being hit by Zhi Qing, the first monk on the left-hand side had shouted loudly. There were more than 100 monks being on patrol all around in Shaolin Monastery, hence as soon as they heard the shouting, they rushed to where it had started. Not just a few footsteps were heard on all sides east, south, west, and north of the Bodhi Institute.

Qiao Feng hesitated: ‘I mustn’t let them spot any trail of me.’ But he thought after the monks arrived, they would focus their eyes on Zhi Qing, he would have a great chance to extricate himself therefore there was no need to hurriedly escape. He saw Zhi Qing reach into a small hole behind the copper mirror to search but find nothing. At this moment, the footsteps from the north had already drawn near the outside of the Bodhi Institute.

Zhi Qing stamped his foot. Obviously he was totally disappointed. When he was about to turn around and leave, suddenly he lowered his body to look at the back of the mirror then cried out happily in a low voice: ‘It is here!’ He stretched out his hand to take out from the back of the copper mirror a small package and put it into his bosom. He then wanted to find a way to flee, but at this moment there were a lot of monks gathering all around and there was no way out already. Zhi Qing swept around then immediately rushed out through the front door of the Bodhi Institute.

Qiao Feng thought: ‘Going out like this, it’s impossible for this man not to be captured instantly.’ At this moment, he suddenly felt the sound of wind. Someone was rushing into the place where he was hiding. Qiao Feng located this person by hearing the wind. Stretching out his left hand, he
 
grabbed the left wrist of the enemy. He then raised his right hand and exerted pressure on the Shendao acupuncture point on his back, sending out his internal energy. The whole body of that man immediately went numb, felt exhausted and became unable to move. After catching the enemy, Qiao Feng looked carefully at his face and saw that this man was unexpectedly Zhi Qing. He was startled but immediately understood: ‘That’s right! This man is just like me, also wanting to hide behind the Buddha statues. Luckily he also chooses the 3rd statue, perhaps because this statue has the portliest body. Why did he rush out of the front door first then quietly come in through the back door? Ah, there’re 5 monks lying on the floor, when outsiders enter and ask, those 5 monks will all say that he has escaped through the front door, everyone will then be unlikely to search in this Bodhi Institute. Oh dear, this man is really good at scheming.’

Qiao Feng considered, his hand still holding Zhi Qing. He then put his lips next to Zhi Qing’s ear and said in a low voice: ‘If you make a noise, I’ll take your life in a palm attack, get it?’ Zhi Qing nodded.

At this moment, 7 or 8 monks rushed in through the main entrance, 3 of whom were holding torches. The sanctum immediately lit up. Seeing that there were 5 monks lying on the floor of the sanctum, they immediately clamored: ‘That villain Qiao Feng’s carried out a murderous scheme again!’ ‘Hum, they’re Zhi Zhan and Zhi Yuan shixiong’s!’ ‘A’yo! No good! Why was this copper mirror lifted up? Qiao Feng has stolen the sutra of the Bodhi Institute!’ ‘Hurry up and report to Abbot.’ Hearing these people commenting noisily, Qiao Feng could not refrain from smiling bitterly: ‘This debt is again passed on to me.’ In a short period of time, there were more and more monks gathering in the sanctum.

Qiao Feng felt Zhi Qing struggling, wanting to pull free. He understood his intention: ‘The monks are gathering in the sanctum. Zhi Zhan, Zhi Yuan and the others haven’t regained consciousness. If this Zhi Qing guy wants to escape, this moment is a good chance. Even if he arrogantly appears in the sanctum, no one would have a doubt as they all think that I’m the culprit.’ He immediately had another thought: ‘It seems this Zhi Qing guy isn’t clever enough. A little while ago, why did he need to hide here? Had
 
he come out from the sanctum, why would someone possibly have had interrogated him?’

Suddenly, the human voices in the sanctum stopped, no one said a word anymore. After that all the monks said in unison: 'Paying my respects to Abbot. Paying my respects to the Damo Institute's Chairman. Paying my respects to the Nagarjuna Institute's Chairman.' (Lol, this sounds so weird! Could someone please help me find an English equivalent of 参⻅ that is
officially used in face-to-face formal meetings?)

Soft pai-pai sounds were heard. Someone had used his palm to wake Zhi Zhan, Zhi Yuan and the other 3 monks up. Then someone asked: ‘Is it Qiao Feng who did this? How could he know about the secret of the copper mirror?’ Zhi Zhan said: ‘It’s not Qiao Feng. It’s Zhi Qing…’ All of a sudden, he jumped up and scolded: ‘Good, good! Why did you sneakily attack your fellow disciples?’

From behind the Buddha statue Qiao Feng was unable to see who he was scolding.

He only heard one man cry out in fear: ‘Zhi Zhan shixiong, why do you pull me?!’ Zhi Zhan angrily said: ‘You kicked the 5 of us down and stole the hidden sutra. How daring! Abbot, the traitor Zhi Qing illegally opened the copper mirror of the Bodhi Institute and stole the sutra!’ That man cried out: ‘What? What? I’ve always been with Abbot, how could I come here to steal that hidden sutra thing?’

An aged hoarse voice sternly said: ‘Close the copper mirror first then relate what happened.’

Zhi Yuan went put the copper mirror back to its original position. This time, Qiao Feng saw clearly in the mirror the situation of the monks in the sanctum. He saw a monk gesticulating, looking very agitated. When Qiao Feng looked at him, he could not help feeling startled as it turned out this man was Zhi Qing. Surprised, Qiao Feng involuntarily turned his head and looked at the monk at his side who had been captured by himself. He saw that this man’s appearance was completely the same as that of the Zhi Qing in the sanctum. If looking at them carefully, he might notice some tiny
 
differences, but in a glance, it was really impossible to tell them apart. Qiao Feng considered: ‘In the world, people with similar appearances like this are extremely rare. That’s right, perhaps they are twin brothers. This plan is unexpectedly pretty clever. One became a monk at Shaolin Monastery and one waited outside. When there was an opportunity, the other one disguised as a monk and came in the monastery to steal sutra. That real Zhi Qing didn’t get away from the Abbot even by a single step so of course nobody would suspect him.’

Qiao Feng only heard Zhi Zhan successively related things like how Zhi Qing had asked about the secret of the copper mirror, how he himself should not have blurted out the 4 words, how Zhi Qing had pretended to go outside to pass water then sneakily kicked down 4 monks, and how Zhi Qing had fought against and flattened himself. While Zhi Zhan was recounting, Zhi Yuan and the other 3 monks repeatedly chimed in and confirmed that there was nothing false in his words.

Abbot Xuan Ci had all along had a disapproving expression on his face. Waiting until Zhi Zhan had finished relating, he slowly asked: ‘Did you see clearly? Was it really Zhi Qing without a doubt?’ Zhi Zhan, Zhi Yuan and the other monks said in unison: ‘Abbot, there’s no enmity between us and Zhi Qing, why should we frame him?’ Xuan Ci sighed and said: ‘There’s definitely something strange about this. A short while ago Zhi Qing was always at my side without leaving. The Chairman of the Damo Institute was also with us.’

As soon as the Abbot said so, none of the monks in the sanctum dared to make any sound. The Chairman of the Damo Institute Xuan Nan dashi said: ‘Correct. I also saw Zhi Qing accompany Abbot Shixiong. How come he could go to the Bodhi Institute to steal sutra?’ The Chairman of the Nagarjuna Institute Xuan Ji asked: ‘Zhi Zhan, when that Zhi Qing fought you, was there anything unusual about his stances?’ He was the person with the aged hoarse voice.

Zhi Zhan uttered a loud cry and said: ‘A’yo! Why haven’t I thought about this? When that Zhi Qing fought this disciple, what he was using weren’t the martial arts of our school.’ Xuan Ji said: ‘Then can you recognize what school those martial arts belong to?’ Seeing that Zhi Zhan was having a
 
blank expression and was unable to answer, Xuan Ji asked again: ‘Was it Long Fist or a close-quarters technique? A Grasping hand technique? Ditang (Ground Tumbling Fist), Liuhe (Six Harmonies Fist), Tongbi (Full Arm Fist)?’ Zhi Zhan said: ‘He… He used very vicious martial arts. I was unaccountably hit by him several times.’

The Abbot and the elderly monks with the highest rank such as Xuan Ji and Xuan Nan looked at each other. They thought that today opponents of extremely good abilities had come to the monastery and used deceitful tricks to make everyone feel as if being in a thick fog, therefore the immediate plan was, on the one hand, speeding up inspection, and on the other hand, dealing with everything calmly and facing the fearful with no fear, otherwise turbulence would arise in the monastery and the disaster would perhaps become even harder to put in order.

Xuan Ci put his palms together and said: ‘The sutra hidden in the Bodhi Institute is a Mahayana sutra written by an eminent monk of an older generation in our monastery to promulgate Buddhism and assist human beings. If a Buddhist disciple acquires it and studies it intensively, he would naturally gain quite a few marvelous benefits. But if an ordinary person acquires it and doesn’t value it, the sin really wouldn’t be trivial. Shidi’s and shizhi’s (apprentice nephews), please return to your own institutes to rest. The ones who have duties carry them out as usual.’

Following his order, the monks dispersed. Only the people such as Zhi Zhan and Zhi Yuan were still nagging nonstop at Zhi Qing. Xuan Ji gave them a stare. Scared, Zhi Zhan and other people did not dare to talk anymore and went out side by side together with Zhi Qing.

After those monks had left, there were only three monks Xuan Ci, Xuan Nan and Xuan Ji in the sanctum. They were sitting on the bulrush mats in front of the Buddha statues. Xuan Ci suddenly said: ‘Amitabha, how sinful, how sinful!’ As he finished saying these 8 words, all of a sudden the 3 monks jumped up and went around to the back of the Buddha statue. From 3 different directions they sent their palm attacks towards Qiao Feng at the same time.
 
It was unexpected to Qiao Feng that these 3 monks had already discovered his own place by looking in the copper mirror. It was even more unexpected to him that these 3 senile elderly monks struck as soon as they finished saying and their palm attacks were fast and fierce like this. In an instant, he already felt his breathing had become heavy and the air in his chest was blocked. The joint attack of the 3 high-level monks of Shaolin Monastery was really no small matter. When he tried to tell the directions of the palm attacks apart at that urgent moment, he only felt that the 5 directions above him, below him, on his left, on his right, and at his back were already enveloped by the palm force of the 3 monks, if he was determined to break through, it would be impossible not to use hard techniques, if he did not injure the opponents, he himself would be injured. At that moment, not having time to think carefully, he channeled internal energy into his 2 palms and pushed out forwards. With loud ka-la-la sounds, the Buddha statue in front of him was pushed down. Qiao Feng conveniently lifted Zhi Qing up and leaped forwards. He suddenly felt a swift and fierce palm wind at his back. The palm force had not yet arrived but the wind force had already reached him.

Qiao Feng was unwilling to clash palms with or try his power against high- level Shaolin monks therefore his right hand grabbed the screen in front of him on which the copper mirror was installed, then he turned his wrist and moved his arm backwards, using the screen to cover his back like a shield. Only a loud ‘deng’ sound was heard, a palm attack of Xuan Nan had hit the copper mirror, causing a shock that made Qiao Feng feel a little pain and numbness in his right arm. The screen around the mirror was broken into several pieces.

Qiao Feng made use of the force of this palm attack of Xuan Nan and jumped forwards more than 1 zhang (3.333 m). Suddenly he heard someone at his back taking a deep breath. The sound of the breath was louder than usual. Qiao Feng knew instantly that a high-level Shaolin monk was going to use a type of martial arts akin to the ‘Air Splitting Divine Fist.’ Despite not fearing him, he himself did not want to waste internal energy together with him either, hence, without delay, he blocked his back with the copper mirror and also channeled internal energy into his right arm.
 
At that moment, he only felt the palm wind of the opponent coming at a slanting angle, the direction of the palm attack was really bizarre. Qiao Feng was very surprised but he immediately understood. That elderly monk’s palm force was not for hitting his back, but instead, was aimed at Zhi Qing’s back. As Qiao Feng and Zhi Qing did not know each other, he at first had no intention of saving him, but because he was already carrying him in his hand, the idea of taking care of him involuntarily appeared in his mind. Therefore, he pushed the copper mirror to shield Zhi Qing with it. Only a low unclear ‘pai’ sound was heard then the sound from the copper mirror disappeared. It turned out this mirror had already been cracked by the palm force of Xuan Nan before, therefore, at this moment, when it was again hit by the Air Splitting Palm of Abbot Xuan Ci, it sounded like a gong getting broken.

When moving the mirror backwards to block the attack, Qiao Feng had already lifted Zhi Qing and jumped up towards the roof. He felt that his body was very light, really being out of proportion with his tall and big stature. But when that sound, which was rather like the sound of a gong getting broken, was heard, unexpectedly he could not stand firmly on the eaves, his knees became weak and he fell back. Ever since he had started to travel in jianghu he had never met such a formidable opponent, therefore he could not help being startled. He immediately turned around and stood on the ground like a lofty mountain, showing a mighty bearing and paying absolutely no attention to the fact that he was being surrounded by strong enemies.

Xian Ci said: ‘Amitabha, Qiao shizhu (almsgiver), besides coming to Shaolin Monastery and committing murder, you’ve also destroyed Buddha statues.’

Xuan Ji shouted loudly: ‘Take one palm attack of mine!’ He moved his 2 palms inwards from the sides in circles then slowly pushed them out towards Qiao Feng. When his palm force had not yet arrived, Qiao Feng already felt his breathing had become difficult in his chest. In an instant, Xuan Ji’s palm force came fiercely like a raging tidal wave.

Qiao Feng threw the copper mirror away and struck back with an ‘Arrogant Dragon Having Remorse’ stance in the ’18 Dragon Subduing Palms’. When
 
the 2 streams of palm force met each other, they produced chi-chi sounds. Both Xuan Nan and Qiao Feng had to move back 3 steps. For a very short time, Qiao Feng felt his whole body had no strength and he also let Zhi Qing slip out of his hand. But as soon as he channeled his internal energy, he felt vigorous again. Without waiting for Xuan Ji to send out the 2nd palm attack, he shouted: ‘I must take my leave!’ He then lifted Zhi Qing up and leaped onto the roof.

The 2 monks Xuan Nan and Xuan Ji both uttered a ‘yi’ sound simultaneously and felt extremely astonished. The palm attack sent out by Xuan Ji just now had really gathered all of his power and was called ‘One Hit Two Disperse’. The words ‘Two Disperse’ (两散) indicated that if using
it to hit a rock, the rock would be broken into pieces which would then
disperse, and if using it to hit a person, that person would become so frightened that their soul would leave their body and disperse. This palm technique only had 1 stance because the palm force was too powerful, and hence when facing the enemy, there would be no need to use the 2nd stance as the enemy would already be killed by the 1st stance. But because this one palm stance used such an extremely powerful internal energy as the basis, if a user of it wanted to change the stance or switch to a different one, they would not be able to do so. Unexpectedly, after Qiao Feng had taken this stance, not only had he not dropped dead on the spot, he had also recovered in a very short period of time then jumped onto the roof while carrying a person and run away.

Xuan Nan sighed and said: ‘This man’s martial arts are really outstanding!’ Xuan Ji said: ‘We must eliminate him as soon as possible to prevent him from becoming an extremely great danger.’ Xuan Nan continuously nodded. But Abbot Xuan Ci looked at the horizon in the path in which Qiao Feng had just left, entranced.

Just before running away, Qiao Feng had turned his head around and cast a glance, only seeing that the copper mirror had been broken into dozens of pieces, which had scattered on the ground, by that punch of Abbot Xuan Ci. His back had been reflected in every piece. Qiao Feng had again been startled without a reason: ‘Why do I always feel uneasy every time I have a view of my own back? In the end what’s unusual about this?’ In that
 
moment, he had been eager to get away from Shaolin, and hence even though this suspicion had appeared in his mind, when hurriedly rushing away, he had also forgotten it.

As he was extremely familiar with the paths at Mt Shaoshi, he fled to the back of the mountain and chose precipitous narrow tracks to go along. After running away quickly for several li’s (0.5 km), hearing no Shaolin monk chasing him, he felt a little bit calm. He then put Zhi Qing down on the ground and shouted loudly: ‘Walk by yourself! But don’t think about escaping.’ Unexpectedly, when Zhi Qing’s feet touched the ground, he immediately became weak, paralyzed and exhausted. He then curled up into a heap, looking as if he was already dead. Startled, Qiao Feng stretched out his hand to check Zhi Qing’s breathing, only feeling that his breathing was unclear and extremely weak. When he checked his pulse next, he also found that it was beating extremely slowly. It seemed he was going to die very soon.

Qiao Feng thought: ‘There’re countless doubts and suspicions in my mind that I’m going to ask you about. I mustn’t let you die so easily like this. After falling into my hands, this monk fears that his schemes would be exposed so he has prolly taken a fierce poison to kill himself.’ He then held out his hand to touch Zhi Qing’s chest and check the monk’s heartbeat, only to feel that his hand was touching something pliant. This monk was unexpectedly a female!

Qiao Feng hastily withdrew his hand. He felt more and more strange: ‘He… He’s a female in disguise?’ In the dark it was unable to examine carefully the appearance of this person. Unlike Duan Yu, who liked to read books, was familiar with decencies and had a lot of scruples, he was an open- minded tolerant man and did not stick to trivial matters, therefore he held Zhi Qing’s back, lifted him up and shouted: ‘Are you male or female? If you don’t tell the truth, I’m gonna undress you to find out about it!’ Zhi Qing’s lips made a few movements. He wanted to say but was unable to utter any sound at all. Obviously he was at his last gasp and his life was hanging by a thread.

Qiao Feng thought: ‘Regardless of whether this person is male or female, good or bad, I mustn’t let him die at this point.’ He held out his right palm,
 
putting it on Zhi Qing’s back. He then circulated his internal energy in his dantian (the point which is located ~ 5 cm below the navel), channeled it from his abdomen into his arm, from his arm into his palm and transferred it into Zhi Qing’s body. Even if he was unable to save his life, at least he also needed to ask and get some clues from him. Before long, Zhi Qing’s pulse gradually became stronger, and his breathing was also getting smoother. Seeing that he was unable to die at the moment, Qiao Feng was somewhat relieved and thought: ‘This place isn’t far from Shaolin. I can’t stay here for too long.’ He immediately bent his arms to carry Zhi Qing horizontally in them and strode westwards.

At this moment, he again felt that Zhi Qing’s body was very light, which was out of proportion to his tall and big stature. He thought: ‘It’s not proper for me to remove your clothes, but don’t tell me that I can’t take off your footwear?’ He then stretched out his hand and pulled the Buddhist shoe off his right foot. When he pinched his sole, he only felt that his hand was touching something solid. Obviously it was not human flesh. He slightly pulled it with force. Following his hand, an object fell away, which turned out to be a wooden false foot. Only when he touched Zhi Qing’s foot once more was it a soft delicate sole. Qiao Feng uttered a ‘humph’ sound and murmured: ‘This person’s really a female.’

He immediately used his lightness skill and went faster and faster. Running quickly until dawn, estimating that he was already more than 50 li’s (0.5 km) away from Shaolin Monastery, he carried Zhi Qing into a grove on the right-hand side. Seeing a clear brook, which ran through the grove, he went to the side of it, scooped up some clear water and splashed it on Zhi Qing’s face. Then he used the sleeve of her Buddhist robe to give her face a few wipes. All of a sudden, the flesh on her face fell down piece after piece. Qiao Feng was frightened and jumped to his feet: ‘Why is her skin rotten like this?’ Looking carefully with his doubtful eyes, he saw that under the rotten flesh on her face the smooth translucent skin was exposed.

Being carried in Qiao Feng’s arms while he had been running, Zhi Qing had always been in a daze. At this moment, after her face had been wet by clear water, she opened her eyes, looked at Qiao Feng, forced a smile and softly
 
said: ‘Chief Qiao!’ But because she was too weak, after uttering these words, she closed her eyes again.

Seeing that her face had different colors and was uneven, making it unable for him to see her real face clearly, Qiao Feng soaked the sleeve of her Buddhist robe in the brook until it was drenching then used force to swab her face several times with it. The gray dust continuously fell down under his hand, exposing the dainty face of a young girl. Qiao Feng could not refrain from shouting out: ‘It’s Ms A’Zhu!’

The person who had disguised as Zhi Qing and blended in with the monks at the Bodhi Institute was no one other than Murong Fu’s maid A’Zhu. Her disguising and making-up skills were really unmatched. She had walked on wooden feet to make her body look taller, used cotton to make her shoulders look higher and her abdomen curve outwards, used flour to make her cheeks look puffy, worn a Buddhist hat, and put on a Buddhist robe. Even the people who met Zhi Qing daily such as Zhi Zhan and Zhi Yuan had not been able to discover that she had been the fake one.

When feeling confused and not being able to think clearly, she heard Qiao Feng call her ‘Ms A’Zhu’. She wanted to reply and explain why she had sneaked in Shaolin Monastery, but she had no strength at all. Her tongue did not obey her orders either, therefore she could not even reply with a ‘yes’ sound.

Qiao Feng at first had firmly believed that Zhi Qing had been treacherous and vicious, and that the deaths of his father and mother must have had an enormous connection with him, hence he had not hesitated to spend his internal energy to save his life, wanting to investigate him and bring to light all the true facts. He had resolved that if Zhi Qing had not said, he would use all kinds of cruel unendurable tortures to force him to say the truth. Who could have expected that this person’s true identity was the young girl A’Zhu, who was dainty, clever, lovely and delightful? Really, no one could have expected this, even in a dream. Even though Qiao Feng had met A’Zhu and A’Bi a few times, and had saved the 2 of them from the hands of Western Xia warriors, he did not know that A’Zhu was very proficient at making-up. If Duan Yu had switched with Qiao Feng, he would have already guessed correctly.
 
At this moment Qiao Feng already knew clearly that she was not poisoned, but was injured by palm force. After considering a little, he already knew the reason. Before Abbot Xuan Ci had sent out an Air Splitting Palm attack, he had used the copper mirror to cover his back. Even though the attack had not hit A’Zhu, because he had been carrying her in his left hand, the extremely swift and fierce palm force had transferred to her body as a result. After understanding this matter, he could not help feeling sorry inwardly: ‘If I hadn’t meddled in other people’s affairs, letting her come and go as her pleased, she would’ve already escaped and definitely wouldn’t have met with this disaster.’ He had a very high opinion of Murong Fu, and as they said, if a person liked someone they would like even his house and the crow on the roof of his house (the English equivalent of this proverb is ‘Love me, love my dog’, but ‘dog’ gives a negative connotation in a Chinese context, so I don’t use it here), therefore it was unavoidable that Qiao Feng also respected Murong Fu’s maid. He thought: ‘She suffered this serious injury all because of me. My sense of honor doesn’t allow me not to cure her. I must go to a town and ask a doctor to treat her.’ He then said: ‘Ms A’Zhu, I’m gonna carry you to a town to treat your injury.’ A’Zhu said: ‘There’s vulnerary in my bosom.’ As she finished saying she moved her right hand, but did not have any strength to reach into her bosom.

Qiao Feng stretched out his hand and took out all the things in her bosom. Besides some pieces of silver, he saw a gold lock which was very finely crafted. On the lock, two lines of small characters were engraved: ‘Stars in the sky, which are twinkling, will glitter forever, and forever well will you be.’ (天上星, 亮晶晶, 永灿烂, ⻓安宁 – There’s a hidden message in this
poem, I’ll explain in a later chapter) In addition, there was a small case
made of white jade, which had been given to her by Grandpa Tan in the apricot forest. Qiao Feng felt happy as he knew this vulnerary was highly effective. He said: ‘Saving your life is important, please forgive me.’ Holding out his hands, he unfastened her gown then repeatedly applied all the Cold Jade Icy Toad Ointment in the case onto her chest. A’Zhu could not refrain from getting embarrassed. She felt a sharp pain in the injury again and passed out immediately.
 
Qiao Feng fastened her gown and put the white jade case and the gold lock back into her bosom, but he took the silver pieces. He then stretched out his hand to grab her body and walked quickly towards the north.

After going for more than 20 li’s (0.5 km) he arrived in a densely populated big town called Xu Jia Ji. Qiao Feng went to the biggest inn and booked 2 rooms. He then helped A’Zhu settle down and invited a doctor to come and examine the condition of her injury.

That doctor felt A’Zhu’s pulse then continuously shook his head and said: ‘The lady’s illness is incurable. This prescription is merely the best I can do. That’s all.’ Qiao Feng saw that the prescription had some licorice, peppermint, Chinese bellflower, pinellia ternata, all of which were mild medicines which might not necessarily be able to cure even a common stomach ache.

He did not go buy medicines either and thought: ‘If even the effective medicine of Grandpa Tan of Chongxiao Cave can’t cure her then what’s the use of the medicines of a quack in this town?’ He then channeled his internal energy and transferred it into her body. In an instant, A’Zhu’s face became ruddy. She said: ‘Chief Qiao, luckily you saved me. Had I fallen into the hands of those bald thieves, my life would’ve been threatened.’ Hearing she talk with abundant energy, Qiao Feng was very happy and said: ‘Ms A’Zhu, I was really worried that you wouldn’t be able to get well.’ A’Zhu said: ‘Don’t call me Ms or something. Calling me A’Zhu straight out is okay. Chief Qiao, why did you come to Shaolin Monastery?’ Qiao Feng said: ‘I’m no longer a chief already. Later on don’t call me Chief…’ A’Zhu said: ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’m gonna call you great master Qiao.’

Qiao Feng said: ‘Let me ask you first. Why did you come to Shaolin Monastery?’ A’Zhu laughed and said: ‘Oh, speaking of that, please don’t laugh at me for playing the goat. I heard that our young master had come to Shaolin Monastery so I wanted to find him and talked to him about Ms Wang. Who would’ve known that when I just entered the monastery, that monk Zhi Qing, who was on guard at the main entrance, aggressively said that women couldn’t enter Shaolin Monastery? I had a quarrel with him. He instead scolded me. But I wanted to come in, besides I also disguised as him, to see what he could do.’
 
Qiao Feng smiled and said: ‘You disguised, made up, and in the end entered Shaolin Monastery. Those monks couldn’t discover that you’re female at all. It’d have been better if after entering you had let them see your true appearance. They would’ve exploded in the bellies with anger without being able to do anything to you.’ At first he had greatly respected Shaolin Monastery, but he could not help feeling angry because, firstly, Xuan Ku were already dead, and secondly, the monks had wrongly accused him of the 3 most serious crimes under heaven, which were patricide, matricide and killing his master, without asking about the rights and wrongs of him.

A’Zhu sat up, clapped her hands, laughed and said: ‘Great master Qiao, that’s a good idea. After I get well, I’ll disguise as a man to enter the monastery then change to female clothes, swagger to the middle of the Great Mighty Sanctum and sit there, making all the monks so angry that they would roll on the floor. How interesting would that be! Ah…’ Suddenly, she could not take even a breath. Her body then loosened and collapsed. She lay motionless on the bed.

Qiao Feng was startled. He put his forefinger next to her nostrils and felt that her breathing seemed to have completely stopped. Feeling anxious, he hastily put his palm on the ‘Lingtai acupuncture point’ on her back and sent his internal energy into her body. Within the time to finish a cup of tea, A’Zhu slowly turned her body over, laughed apologetically and said: ‘A’yo, why did I fall asleep during conversation? Great master Qiao, I’m really sorry.’ Qiao Feng knew that her condition was far from good. He said: ‘You haven’t recovered yet. You’d better sleep for a while to rest.’ A'Zhu said: ‘I’m not tired, but you’ve been busy for half a night, so please rest for a while.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Okay, I’ll see you after a while.’

He went to the parlor to order 5 Jin’s of wine and 2 Jin’s of beef (1 Jin = 0.6 kg) then ate and drank alone. Because at this moment he felt very sad, it was easy for him to get drunk. After drinking up 5 Jin’s of wine, he unexpectedly felt slightly intoxicated. He then took 2 steamed buns to A'Zhu’s room for her to eat. After he entered the room, he called several times but did not hear any reply. He went to the bed and saw that her eyes were slightly closed and her cheeks were sunken. It looked like she was already dead. He stretched out his hand and touched her forehead.
 
Fortunately it was still warm. He then hastily used his internal energy to save her. A’Zhu slowly woke up. She received the buns and happily ate them.

This time, Qiao Feng knew that she was now totally depending on his internal energy to stay alive, if he did not transfer internal energy into her body, she would be exhausted within 2 hours and die. He did not know what he should do.

Seeing that he was having a thoughtful and worried look, A’Zhu said: ‘Great master Qiao, am I so seriously injured that even the effective medicine of Sir Tan can’t cure me?’ Qiao Feng hastily said: ‘No, no! It’s nothing, after several days, you’ll get well.’ A'Zhu said: ‘Please don’t deceive me. I myself know it. I only feel empty, not having even the least bit of strength.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Set your mind at rest and recover. I’ll surely have a way to cure you.’ Hearing his tone, A'Zhu knew that her injury was really serious therefore she could not help but get scared and her hand started to tremble. The bun half of which she had eaten then fell on the floor. Qiao Feng only thought that her internal energy had run out again, hence he immediately put his palm on her Lingtai acupuncture point.

At this moment, A'Zhu was still in full possession of all her faculties, she felt a warm stream of internal energy being channeled into her body from his palm and her whole body instantly felt comfortable. After thinking a little, she already understood that actually she had almost died for several times and every time Qiao Feng had used his internal energy to bring her back to life, hence she felt both grateful to him and frightened. Even though she was clever, after all she was still very young. With tears streaming down, she said: ‘Great master Qiao, I don’t wanna die, please don’t ignore and leave me behind in here.’

Finding her words pitiable, Qiao Feng consoled her: ‘That’s definitely impossible. Don’t worry. What kind of man is Qiao Feng? How can I abandon a friend who’s in jeopardy?’ A'Zhu said: ‘I don’t deserve to be your friend. Great master Qiao, am I gonna die? After a person die will they become a ghost?’ Qiao Feng said: ‘You don’t need to think too much. You’re so young like this, suffering a bit of minor injury, how could you die?’ A'Zhu said: ‘You’re not fobbing me off, are you?’ Qiao Feng said:
 
‘No, I’m not.’ A'Zhu said: ‘You’re a well-known hero in wulin. They all say: ‘North Qiao Feng, South Murong’, you and my young master, one in the north, one in the south, are equally famous. In your life, have you ever failed to keep your words?’ Qiao Feng smiled and said: ‘When I was little I often lied, but afterward, when traveling in jianghu, I no longer deceived other people.’ A'Zhu said: ‘You said the condition of my injury wasn’t serious. It’s deceiving me, isn’t it?’

Qiao Feng thought: ‘If you know that the condition of your injury is serious, you’ll be anxious, making it harder to save you. Because of you I have no choice but to deceive you.’ He then said: ‘I can’t deceive you.’ A'Zhu let out a sigh and said: ‘Okay, I feel at ease then. Great master Qiao, I have one matter to beg you.’ Qiao Feng asked: ‘What’s the matter?’ A'Zhu said: ‘Tonight you stay in my room with me, and don’t leave me.’ She thought if Qiao Feng went away this time, she herself would possibly not be able to endure till dawn. Qiao Feng said: ‘Very good. Even if you hadn’t said that, I’d still sit here with you. Don’t say anymore, just sleep quietly for a while.’

A'Zhu closed her eyes, but after a while, she opened them again and said: ‘Great master Qiao, I can’t sleep. I beg you one thing, is that okay?’ Qiao Feng asked: ‘What is it?’ A'Zhu said: ‘When I was little, every time I couldn’t sleep my mother would sing for me to hear at the side of my bed. She would only need to sing 3 songs, I’d then sleep soundly.’ Qiao Feng smiled and said: ‘It’s not easy to find your mother now.’ A'Zhu let out a sigh and said quietly: ‘I don’t know where my father and mother are. I don’t know if they still live in this world either. Great master Qiao, you sing a few songs for me to hear, is that okay?’

Qiao Feng could not help but smile bitterly. He was such a mighty man therefore if he sang to coax a young girl to sleep, this would really be outrageous. He then said: ‘I really can’t sing.’ A'Zhu said: ‘When you were little, your mother sang songs to you, didn’t she?’ Scratching his head, Qiao Feng said: ‘That seems to have happened, but I already forgot everything. Even if I remembered I wouldn’t be able to sing.’ A'Zhu sighed and said: ‘If you’re unwilling to sing then I can’t do anything about it.’ Qiao Feng said apologetically: ‘It’s not that I’m unwilling to sing, but I really can’t sing.’
 
A'Zhu suddenly came up with another idea. She clapped her hands, laughed and said: ‘Ah, I got it, great master Qiao, I beg you another matter, this time you can’t say no.’

Qiao Feng felt this young girl was innocent and simple, but her words and behavior were often beyond people’s expectations. After she had said she would ask him for another thing, he had no idea what whimsical thing it would be. Hence, he said: ‘You say it first. If I can promise then I’ll promise. If I can’t promise then I won’t promise.’ A'Zhu said: ‘This matter, everyone in the world can do, as long as they are at least 4 or 5 years old. You think it’s easy or not?’ Not wanting to be fooled, Qiao Feng said: ‘In the end, what is it? You gotta say it clearly first.’ A'Zhu gave a charming smile and said: ‘Alright! Please tell several tales to me, it doesn’t matter if they’re about a rabbit gege (elder bro) or a wolf popo (husband’s mother/grandmother), I’ll always be able to fall asleep.’

Qiao Feng frowned. An awkward expression appeared on his face. Not long ago, he had still been the Chief of the number one large society in jianghu who had had great might and been in charge of extraordinary people. But during the past few days, he had been dismissed from the Chief post and expelled from the Society. The 3 dearest people to him, who were his parents and master, had passed away in one day. In addition, he did not know if he was a Hu man or a Han man, his origin was unclear, and yet he was bearing the 3 heinous crimes which were betrayal and murdering his parents. After receiving such blows one after another, of course he had no one to share his worries, but who could have expected that, at this inn, he would have to keep a young girl company and would be asked to sing and tell tales by her like this? In the past, had he heard only half a sentence regarding these kinds of mushy trivialities, he would have covered his ears and run away quickly. In his life, he had only liked drinking wine and betting with his brothers and speaking loudly and openly. Besides engaging in carousals, he had only talked about serious national affairs and military affairs, and about heroes in the world. Those things such as telling a tale, a rabbit gege and a wolf popo were really jokes and absurdities to him.

However, in a glance, seeing that there was an earnest expectant look in A'Zhu’s eyes and that her face was haggard, he thought: ‘Suffering such a
 
serious injury, it’s perhaps already hard for her to recover. If she couldn’t take a breath, she would die at any moment. She wants to hear a tale then I’ll conveniently tell her one.’ He then said: ‘Okay, I’m gonna tell you a tale. But I’m afraid you’ll think that it’s not good.’

A'Zhu was very happy. She said: ‘It’ll definitely be interesting. Please tell me quickly.’

Even though Qiao Feng had agreed to tell a tale, he really did not know what to tell. Only after a while did he say: ‘Hum, I’m gonna tell a tale of a wolf. Once upon a time, there was an old man. While walking in the mountains, he saw a wolf which had been tied up by men and put into a cloth bag. That wolf begged him to set it free. The old man then untied the cloth bag and released the wolf. The wolf…’ A'Zhu continued: ‘The wolf said it was hungry and wanted to eat the old man, right?’ Qiao Feng: ‘Oh, so you’ve already heard this tale?’ A'Zhu said: ‘This is the tale of a wolf in the mountains. I don’t like to hear the stories in books. I want you to talk about the countryside, and not the stories written in books.’

Qiao Feng considered and said: ‘Not a story written in books but a story in the countryside. Okay, I’m gonna tell you a story of a country kid.’

‘A long long time ago, there was a poor family in the mountains. The father and the mother had only 1 child. When that child turned 7, his body was very tall and big, and he could already help his father chop firewood in the mountains. One day, the father got sick, but because their family was very poor, they couldn’t afford to invite a doctor or buy medicine. But the father’s illness got more serious with each passing day. Not using medicine was out of the question. So, the mother took the only 6 hens and a basket of eggs of the family to the market and sold them.’

‘The hens and the eggs were sold for 4 silver qian (1 qian = 1/10 tael = ~ 4 g). But the doctor said it was too far to go into the mountains and he didn’t want to see the patient. The mother made every effort to beg him, but that doctor always shook his head and refused. The mother then knelt down and begged him sincerely. The doctor said: ‘Going to your house in the mountains to see the patient isn’t worth the trouble of being affected by the miasma and the poverty. What illness can your 4 silver qian cure?’ The
 
mother then pulled a corner of his gown. The doctor used his strength to pull free. Unexpectedly, the mother was grabbing too tight, therefore, with a ‘chi’ sound, a long seam was torn in the gown. The doctor was very angry so he pushed the mother down on the floor then threw a heavy kick at her. He also pulled her and demanded that she paid for the damage to the gown, saying that this gown was newly made and that it was worth 2 silver taels.’

Hearing him say to here, A'Zhu softly said: ‘This doctor really was too despicable.’

Qiao Feng raised his head, looking at the twilight, which was gradually getting dark, through the window, and slowly said: ‘That child was at the mother’s side. Seeing the mother being bullied, he rushed forwards then both hit and bit the doctor. But he was just a little child, what strength did he have? So, he was lifted up by the doctor and thrown out through the main door. The mother hastily went outside to take care of the child. The doctor was afraid that the woman would pester him again so he shut the door. The child’s forehead hit a stone and bled a lot. The mother was afraid of having problems so she didn’t dare to stay in front of the doctor’s house. She only wept and pulled the child’s hand to go home.’

‘When that child went by an ironware shop, he saw several sharp knives which were used for killing pigs and cattle being put on the stall. The blacksmith was very busy inviting customers to buy plows, rakes and hoes so the child stole a knife and hid it in his body. Even the mother didn’t see that.’

‘After they got home, the mother didn’t tell the father about what had happened as she was afraid that the father would get angry and his illness would become more serious. She wanted to take out the 4 silver qian to hand over to the father, but to her surprise, when she reached into her bosom, she didn’t find any silver.’

‘The mother both panicked and found this strange. When she went outside to ask the child, she saw that he was holding a shining new knife and sharpening it by rubbing it against a stone. The mother asked him: ‘Where did you get the knife from?’ The child didn’t dare to say that he’d stolen it so he lied: ‘Other people gave me.’ The mother of course didn’t believe it.
 
At the market, a new sharp knife like this had to be sold for 1.5 qian or 2 qian of silver, how could someone casually give it to a child? She asked who gave it to him, but that child couldn’t answer. The mother sighed and said: ‘Son, dad and mom are poor so normally we can’t buy you any toy. We’ve really wronged you. You’ve bought the knife to play, to boys, there’s nothing wrong with this. But you give mom the remaining money. Dad is sick, so we’ll buy a Jin (~ 600 g) of meat and simmer a soup for him to eat.’ As soon as the child heard that, he goggled and asked: ‘What remaining money?’ The mother said: ‘Our 4 Qian (~ 4 g) of silver, you took them and bought the knife, didn’t you?’ The child was anxious and cried out: ‘I didn’t take the money, I didn’t take the money.’ The father and the mother had never smacked or scolded him. Even though he was just a several year old child, they’d treated him like a guest and always been polite to him…’

Telling to here, Qiao Feng suddenly shivered with fear: ‘Why was it like this? Parents in the world never treat their children like this. Even if they spoil or take a pity on their children, they definitely can’t respect them and be polite like this.’ He talked to himself: ‘Why was it so strange like this?’

A'Zhu asked: ‘What was strange?’ When she said the last 2 words, her breath was already feeble like a silk thread. Qiao Feng knew the internal energy in her body had exhausted. He immediately pressed his palm on her back and sent internal energy into her body.

A'Zhu gradually regained her energy. She sighed and said: ‘Great master Qiao, every time you transfer energy to me, your internal energy decreases. To martial arts users, internal energy is the most important thing. You treat me like this, how can A'Zhu… repay you?’ Qiao Feng laughed and said: ‘So, I only need to breathe in meditation for several shichen (1 shichen = 2 hours) then not only will my internal energy be restored but I’ll also be able to talk about repaying? I and your master Mr Murong have a deep telepathic friendship despite being thousands of li (0.5 km) apart. Even though we’ve never met, I always regard him as a friend. You’re a member of his family, why do you need to regard me as an outsider?’ A'Zhu said sadly: ‘My energy will gradually disappear in every 2 hours. You can’t… you can’t forever…’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Don’t worry. We can always find a doctor with brilliant medical knowledge to treat your injury.’
 
A'Zhu smiled and said: ‘I’m afraid that doctor would hate me for being poor and fear that he would be affected by miasma and poverty so that he wouldn’t treat me. Great master Qiao, you haven’t finished telling your story yet. What was so strange?’

Qiao Feng said: ‘Oh, it was just a slip of the tongue. Seeing that the child didn’t admit, the mother didn’t say either. She went back into the house. After a while, when the child finished sharpening the knife, he came into the house. He heard the mother talking in a low voice to the father that he himself had stolen money and bought a knife but was unwilling to admit. His father said: ‘Ever since staying with us, this child hasn’t got any toy. If he wants something then let him be. We’ve rather wronged him all along.’ When the 2 of them talked to here they saw the child enter the house and stopped talking. With a kind and pleasant expression, the father patted his head and said: ‘Poppet, later on watch your step, how could you fall and have your head so badly injured?’ As for the missing 4 qian of silver and the matter of him buying a new knife, the father didn’t mention a single sentence. He didn’t even have the least bit of an unhappy expression.’

‘Even though the child was only 7, he was already very sensible. He thought: ‘Dad and mom suspect me of stealing money to buy the knife, if they gave me a good beating or a good scolding, I wouldn’t mind at all. But unluckily they still treat me this well.’ He felt uneasy so he said to his father: ‘Dad, I didn’t steal money. I didn’t buy this knife either.’ The father said: ‘Your mom is meddlesome. What’s so urgent about the missing money? Why questioned and made a fuss? Women are just small-minded. Good child, does your head hurt?’ The child had no choice but to answer: ‘I’m still fine!’ He wanted to offer an explanation but had no way to argue. He was sulky and skipped the dinner to go to bed.’

‘He tossed and turned in bed and couldn’t fall asleep. He heard the mother softly crying. He thought it was because she was worried that the father’s illness was serious and also felt angry about being insulted and beaten by the doctor during the day. The child quietly got up then climbed out through the window. During the night, he rushed to the town and went to the outside of the doctor’s house. The front door and back door of that house were tightly shut so there was no way to go inside. But the child’s body was
 
small, so he crept into the house through the dog hole. He saw lamplight passing through the paper of a room’s window. The doctor hadn’t gone to bed yet and was decocting medicine. The child pushed the door of the room open…’

Feeling worried about that child, A'Zhu said: ‘This child entered other people’s house at night. Perhaps he was gonna be in big trouble.’

Qiao Feng shook his head and said: ‘No. Hearing the sound of the door opening, the doctor raised his head and asked: ‘Who?’ The child didn’t say anything. He came near him, drew the sharp knife and gave a thrust. His body was short so this thrust pierced the doctor’s belly. That doctor could only groan with several ‘hum’ sounds then fell down.’

A'Zhu uttered an ‘Ah’ sound and said in a shocked voice: ‘This child stabbed dead the doctor?’

Qiao Feng nodded and said: ‘Correct. The child then crawled out through the dog hole again and returned home. In the night he made a round trip of several tens of li (0.5 km) so he was terribly tired. Only in the early morning of the next day did the family of the doctor find out that he was dead with his belly broken and his gut sticking out, looking very nasty. But all the front and back doors were still being locked tightly and were bolted from the inside, how could an outside murderer enter the house? Everyone suspected that people in the doctor’s family had done this. The district chief (zhixian – Song dynasty’s district-level top-ranking official) then tortured and investigated the doctor’s brothers, wife and children, causing a disturbance for a few years, so the doctor’s family was broken up. Since then, this incident has become a doubtful case in Xu Jia Ji.’

A'Zhu asked: ‘You said Xu Jia Ji? Did that doctor… live in this town?’

Qiao Feng said: ‘Yes. This doctor was surnamed Deng. At first he was the most famous doctor in this town. Even the several districts around knew about his reputation. His house was located to the west of the town. Originally it was surrounded by tall and big white walls, but now everything has been ruined. Just a moment ago, when I was going to invite
 
the doctor to see your illness, I also went to the front of that house to have a look.’

A'Zhu asked: ‘How about the sick father? Did he recover from the illness?’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Afterward, a monk from Shaolin Monastery brought medicine to their house and cured his illness.’ A'Zhu said: ‘It turns out there’re still good monks in Shaolin Monastery.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Of course there are. Shaolin Monastery has several high monks that are benevolent and knightly. They really make other people revere them.’ As he finished saying, he felt sad because he thought of his first enshi (kind master) Xuan Ku dashi.

A'Zhu let out an ‘En’ sound and muttered to herself: ‘That doctor looked down on the poor and thought nothing of their lives. He was of course despicable, but his fault didn’t deserve death. This child was also too barbaric. I really can’t believe this, how could a 7 year old child dare to kill a person? Ah, great master Qiao, you said this was a tale and not true, right?’ Qiao Feng said: ‘It’s a real incident.’ A'Zhu let out a sigh and said softly: ‘This kind of cruel child seems like a Khitan villain!’

Qiao Feng suddenly trembled all over. He jumped to his feet and said: ‘You…. What did you say?’

Seeing that his face had changed color, A'Zhu was scared and suddenly understood everything. She said: ‘Great master Qiao, great master Qiao, I’m sorry, I… I didn’t mean to hurt you with words. I really didn’t say it on purpose…’ Qiao Feng stood in a state of shock for a short while then sat down dispiritedly and said: ‘You already guessed it?’ A'Zhu nodded. Qiao Feng said: ‘Words that are said unconsciously are often sincere words. I acted without mercy like this, was it really because of the Khitan origin?’ A'Zhu gently said: ‘Great master Qiao, A'Zhu talked nonsense. You don’t need to think about it. That doctor kicked your mother and you’ve been heroic and righteous since childhood so there’s nothing odd about you killing him.’

Qiao Feng hugged his head with his hands and said: ‘It wasn’t merely because of him kicking my mother. It was also because he made me face a false accusation. My mother’s 4 silver qian must’ve fallen on the floor
 
during the struggle in the doctor’s house. I… In my life, what I can’t stand the most is being wrongly accused by other people.’

However, within this day he had suffered 3 great injustices. It was unable to know if he himself was a Khitan, but Qiao Sanhuai and wife and Xuan Ku dashi obviously were not murdered by him, yet the 3 heinous crimes which were patricide, matricide and killing his master all had been put on his head. In the end, who was the murderer? Who shifted the blame onto him like this?

At this moment, Qiao Feng thought about another matter: ‘Why did dad and mom both say that I was treated unfairly by staying with them? If the parents are poor, the child naturally will be poor, why is there anything fair or unfair about that? Perhaps I’m not their real son, but someone entrusted me to them. Most prolly the person who put me into their fosterage has a very high status, that’s why dad and mom were very polite to me. Not only being polite, they also respected me deeply. Who was the person that entrusted me to them? Prolly he was Chief Wong.’ His parents had treated him completely differently than how normal parents treated their children. As he was astute, he should have been aware of this long ago, but because it had been like that since childhood, he was accustomed to it. Even a more astute person would not have been able to figure them out as they would only think that his parents had been particularly benign. At this moment, when considering, he felt that everything confirmed that he himself was a Khitan barbarian.

A'Zhu consoled him: ‘Great master Qiao, they say you’re Khitan but in my opinion they’re definitely slandering and starting a rumor. Needless to say, you’re kind-hearted, righteous and well-known in the whole world. To just a negligible little maid like me, you’ve also watched over with all your heart. Khitan people are cruel like tigers and wolves. You’re like the sky and they’re like the earth, how can they compare with you?’

Qiao Feng said: ‘A'Zhu, if I’m really a Khitan, will you still let me watch over you?’

At that time Han people in the Central Plains detested Khitan people and regarded them as poisonous serpents and ferocious beasts, hence A'Zhu was
 
startled. She then said: ‘Don’t let your imagination run away with you. That’s definitely impossible. If the Khitan ethnic group can produce such a good person like you then we won’t detest Khitan people.’

Qiao Feng did not say anything and thought: ‘If I’m really a Khitan then even such a little maid like A'Zhu won’t pay attention to me.’ In an instant, he felt that even though the world was big, he himself had nowhere to take shelter. His thoughts surged up like tidewater and his chest burned with righteous indignation. He knew that because he had transferred energy to A'Zhu repeatedly, his internal energy had been spent quite a lot. Without delay, he sat cross-legged on a chair beside the bed then slowly breathed and channeled his internal energy.

A'Zhu also closed her eyes.

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