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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 22

CSI
 Chapter 22: A pair of starry eyes.
The big fellow had a thick beard and a very powerful appearance, but the look in his eyes was chaotic and he was behaving like crazy. Obviously this was a madman. Xiao Feng saw that the pair of broad axes in his hands seemed to be made of pure steel and very heavy. When the man separated them, brought them together, attacked and defended with them, his movements were rather disciplined, and the defense at his front was excellent and strict, just like the style of a master. Xiao Feng was acquainted with very many people of wulin in the Central Plains but he did not know this big fellow. He thought: ‘This big fellow’s skill in using axes is very outstanding. How come I’ve never heard of such a man?’

That man brandished his broad axes faster and faster, and repeatedly roared loudly: ‘Quick, quick, quickly go and report to our Lord that the enemy has come.’

He was standing at a place where there were roads on all sides and was chopping horizontally and hacking vertically with his 2 shining axes so passersby certainly stayed away from him. Who dared come near him? Xiao Feng saw that he was having a hysterical expression and kept executing move after move with the axes. Gradually, he no longer had enough strength, but he desperately continued and only shouted: ‘Brother Fu, quickly retreat! Don’t care about me. It’s important to report to our Lord.’

Xiao Feng thought: ‘This man loyally protects his Lord. He’s a brave man. But losing energy like this, he’ll certainly suffer very serious internal injuries.’ He walked up to that big fellow at once and said: ‘Old chap, can I treat you to a cup of wine?’

The big fellow glowered at Xiao Feng then all of a sudden he shouted: ‘Prime villain, don’t harm my Lord!’ As he finished, he raised the axes and brought them down towards Xiao Feng’s head. Seeing that Xiao Feng was in an extremely dangerous situation, all the bystanders cried ‘A’yo.’
 
Hearing the words ‘prime villain’ Xiao Feng was also startled: ‘I and A'Zhu are looking for the prime villain to get revenge. So the enemy of this man is also a prime villain. Even though he calls him the prime villain, that man may not necessarily be the one that I and A'Zhu call the prime villain. Anyway, I’m gonna save him first then talk later.’ He immediately moved straight forward and stretched out his hand to block an acupuncture point on the part of the ribs around his waist.

Unexpectedly, even though this man had lost sanity, his martial arts remained intact, so he turned the axe in his right hand around and tried to hit Xiao Feng directly in the lower abdomen with the handle. This move was very effective and clever. Were Xiao Feng not very many times better than the man in martial arts, he would be hit by him. He immediately stretched out his left hand, grabbed the handle of the axe and snatched it. Already very weary, how could that big fellow withstand that? His whole body shook, and at once he threw himself on Xiao Feng. Who would have expected that he would disregard his own life and want to perish together with his adversary?

Xiao Feng moved his right arm over and gripped that man. He slightly exerted his power and rendered him immobile. All of the idle men who were watching for fun on the street applauded when they saw Xiao Feng subdue the madman. Half dragging, half carrying, Xiao Feng took that big fellow in the main hall of the inn. He pushed him down on a seat and said: ‘Old chap, drink first and talk later!’ Then he ordered the bartender to fetch wine.

That big fellow fixed his eyes on Xiao Feng. Only after a good while did he ask: ‘You… Are you a good person or a villain?’

Xiao Feng was startled, not knowing what to reply.

A'Zhu laughed and said: ‘Of course he’s a good person. I’m a good person too. And you’re also a good person. We’re friends. We’ll go fight the prime villain together.’ The big fellow stared at her for a while then stared at Xiao Feng for a while. It seemed he both believed and did not believe them. After a short while, he said: ‘That… That prime villain?’ A'Zhu continued: ‘We’re friends, let’s fight the prime villain together!’
 
That big fellow suddenly rose and said loudly: ‘No, no! The prime villain is very formidable. Quick, quickly go report to the Lord and ask him to think of a way to hide. I’m gonna hold back the prime villain and you’re gonna report.’ As he finished speaking, he rose and grabbed the broad axes.

Xiao Feng stretched out his hand and pressed down on the man’s shoulder, saying: ‘Old chap, the prime villain hasn’t come. Who’s your Lord? Where is he?’

The big fellow shouted loudly: ‘Prime villain, come here, come here, come here, your father’s gonna fight you 300 bouts. Don’t you dare harm our Lord?!’

Xiao Feng and A'Zhu exchanged a look, both being at the end of their wits. A'Zhu suddenly said loudly: ‘A’yo, no good. Let’s quickly go report to our Lord. Where is the Lord? Where has he gone to? We mustn’t let the prime villain find him.’

The big fellow said: ‘Yes, yes, you go report. He’s gone to the Square Bamboo Forest by the Little Mirror Lake. You… You quickly go the Square Bamboo Forest by the Little Mirror Lake to report to the Lord. Go, go!’ As he finished, he urged continuously, looking very anxious.

While Xiao Feng and A'Zhu were still uncertain about their plan, suddenly the bartender said: ‘Go to the Little Mirror Lake? It’s not gonna be a short journey.’ Hearing that there was really a place with the name ‘Little Mirror Lake’, Xiao Feng hurriedly asked: ‘Where is it? How far is it from here?’ That bartender replied: ‘If you ask other people, they may not necessarily know. Luckily for you, you’ve asked me, the very right person. I’m a man from the area around the Little Mirror Lake. This is really as coincidental as you can get. You’re totally lucky!’

Hearing him babbling on about irrelevant subjects, Xiao Feng stretched out his hand, gave the table a hit and said loudly: ‘Quickly say, quickly say!’ The bartender at first wanted to mooch a tip before saying, but after being thus frightened by Xiao Feng, he no longer dared keep other people guessing, saying: ‘This master is so impatient, ha-ha, if it were not for you meeting me by chance, even if you were more impatient, it’d still be
 
useless, right?’ He wanted to make some complaints, but seeing that Xiao Feng was not having a nice expression, he said: ‘The Little Mirror Lake is to the northwest of here. First you go straight west. After going 7 and a half li (0.5 km), you’ll see around 10 big willow trees. 4 trees each row. There’re 4 rows in total. One times 4 equals 4. Two times 4 equals 8. Three
times 4 equals 12. Four times 4 equals 16. There’re 16 willow trees altogether. Then you quickly go north. After going 9 and a half li, you’ll see a big bluestone bridge. You mustn’t cross the bridge. It’ll be a mistake if you cross it. I say you can’t cross the bridge but you’ll need to cross a bridge. But you can’t cross that big bluestone bridge on the left-hand side. You must cross the small wooden bridge on the right-hand side. After crossing the small bridge, you go west for a while then go north for a while then go northwest for a while. In short, it won’t go wrong if you follow that footpath. Going like this for 21 and a half li, you’ll see a big lake that looks like a mirror. It’s the Little Mirror Lake. To get there from here, everyone says that it’s 40 li, but in fact it’s only 38 and a half li. It’s less than 40 li.’

Xiao Feng was able to repress his temper to hear the bartender say till the end. A'Zhu said: ‘This big brother said so clearly and plainly. One li is one coin. At first I wanted to give you 40 coins, but it’d be a little bit wrong. How about not giving you? But I must give you. One times 8 equals 8. Two times 8 equals 16. Three times 8 equals 24. Four times 8 equals 32. Five times 8 equals 40. 40 li of road minus 1.5 li should be 38.5 li,’ then she counted out 39 coins and ground the last coin on the blade of an axe, creating an imprint. Next she pressed it with 2 of her fingers. With a snap, the coin was broken in half. Then she gave the bartender 38.5 coins.

Xiao Feng could not help laughing, thinking: ‘This young girl is always up to mischief whenever she's got a chance.’

The big fellow was still glaring at them and repeatedly urged: ‘Go report, quick. There’s no time for delay. The prime villain is very formidable.’ Xiao Feng asked: ‘Who’s your Lord?’ The big fellow mumbled: ‘My Lord… my Lord… he…. I mustn’t tell other people where he is. You’d better not go.’ Xiao Feng said loudly: ‘What’s your surname?’ The big fellow replied thoughtlessly: ‘My surname is Gu. A’yo, My surname isn’t Gu.’
 
Xiao Feng became suspicious: ‘Could it be that this man is playing some trick and deliberately lures me into going to the Little Mirror Lake? Why is he both surnamed Gu and not surnamed Gu?’ He had another thought: ‘If the enemy sends him to trick me into going, I’ll most welcome it. I’m about to go find him. Even if the Little Mirror Lake is as dangerous as a dragon’s pool or a tiger’s den, what’s there for me to fear?’ He turned to A'Zhu and said: ‘Let’s go to the Little Mirror Lake to have a look and see if something happens. If this brother’s Lord is there, I think we’ll find him.’

That bartender cut in: ‘There’s only a wilderness around the Little Mirror Lake, nothing to see. If you two want to go sightseeing and widen your knowledge, I guarantee that the pavilions, terraces and towers in the gardens of the rich families here will greatly expand your horizons…’ Xiao Feng waved his hand and told him to stop blabbering on. Then he turned to the big fellow and said: ‘Old chap, you’re very tired, just rest here a little. I’m gonna report to your honored Lord on your behalf that the prime villain will come in no time.’

That big fellow said: ‘Thanks a lot, thanks a lot! I, Gu, sincerely appreciate it. I’ll stop the prime villain. I mustn’t let him pass.’ As he finished, he stood up and stretched out his hands to lift the broad axes, but his strength had been used up and his 2 arms were numb and aching, so after taking fast hold of the handles, he was unable to lift the axes up.

‘Have a rest, old chap,’ said Xiao Feng. After paying for the wine and the rent, he and A'Zhu went out of the door. Following the words of the bartender, they went westward along the main road. After going 7 or 8 li, as expected, they saw 4 rows of trees on the roadside. There were 16 big willow trees in total. A'Zhu laughed and said: ‘That bartender is talkative, but there’re good things in his garrulousness. Like this, we definitely won’t go wrong, right? Oh, who’s there?’

She extended her finger and pointed to a willow tree. A peasant was sitting under the tree by leaning against it. His feet were being immersed in the muddy water in the ditch beside the tree. This should be just a common scene in the countryside, but one side of the peasant’s face was being covered with blood, and on his shoulder was resting a glittering staff which was made of refined copper and did not seem to be light.
 
Xiao Feng walked up to that peasant and noticed that he was breathing heavily. Obviously he had suffered serious internal injuries. Xiao Feng came straight to the point, asking: ‘Big brother, a broad-axe wielding friend entrusted us with the mission of going to the Little Mirror Lake and delivering a message. May I ask if the Little Mirror Lake is on this side?’ That peasant raised his head, asking: ‘Is the broad-axe wielding friend dead or alive?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘He only exhausted his power. There’s no big problem.’ The peasant let out a sigh of relief and said: ‘Thank Heavens and Earth. You two please go north. I’ll definitely never forget this kindness of delivering the message.’ Judging from the way the peasant talked, Xiao Feng knew that he was no common peasant in the countryside, so he asked: ‘May I ask you respected surname? What is the broad-axe wielding friend to you?’ That peasant replied: ‘My surname is Fu. Sir, please go quickly to the Little Mirror Lake. That prime villain already rushed past here. It’s a shame that I couldn’t hold him back.’

Xiao Feng thought: ‘This man’s serious injury really isn’t false. If this is the enemy’s plan to trick me, he must’ve spent a big amount of money.’ Seeing the honest appearance of the man, Xiao Feng took a liking to him. He said: ‘Big brother Fu, your injury is serious. What weapon did the prime villain use to harm you?’ That man replied: ‘It’s an iron staff.’

Seeing fresh blood oozing unceasingly from his chest, Xiao Feng unfastened his clothes to take a look. He saw a hole in the man’s chest. Even though the hole was not bigger than a fingertip, it was very deep. Xiao Feng extended his finger and blocked several important acupuncture points around the wound to help the peasant stop bleeding and reduce his pain. A'Zhu torn the front of his robe and bandage his wound.

That man with the surname Fu said: ‘I can’t repay you two for this great debt of gratitude with words. I only hope you would go to the Little Mirror Lake as quickly as possible and report to my humble Lord.’ Xiao Feng asked: ‘What’s the name of your honored Lord? How does he look like?’

That man said: ‘Sir, when you reach the side of the Little Mirror Lake, you’ll see a bamboo forest to the west of it. All the bamboo trees are square. There’re several bamboo houses in the forest. Please call out some words from the outside of the houses: ‘The number 1 villain under Heaven has
 
come. Hide quickly!’ That’ll be okay. It’d be best if you don’t enter the houses. As for the name of my humble Lord, someday in the future I, Fu, will certainly inform you.’

Xiao Feng thought: ‘Who’s the number 1 villain under Heaven? Could it be that he’s Duan Yanqing of the ‘4 Arch-Villains’? Judging from the words of this man, obviously he’s unwilling to say so there’s no need to ask him more.’ However, this time he was no longer on the alert. He thought: ‘If the enemies want to trick me into advancing, of course every sentence would sound reasonable. They definitely wouldn’t make me suspect. This man hesitates in speech and is unwilling to say the truth so he doesn’t have any ill will.’ He then said: ‘Alright. I’m gonna follow your instructions.’ That big fellow struggled to crawl up then knelt down to express his gratitude.

Xiao Feng said: ‘You and I feel like old friends at the 1st meeting. Brother Fu doesn’t need to be excessively courteous.’ He raised the man up with his right hand. Then he gave his own face a wipe with his left hand, removing the make-up, and met him with his true face, saying: ‘I’m Xiao Feng, a Khitan. We’ll meet again some day.’ Without waiting for the man to say anything, he held A'Zhu’s hand and went with quick steps.

A'Zhu asked: ‘So we don’t need to disguise and make up anymore?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘I don’t know why, but I like this straightforward big fellow very much. I wanted to make friend with him, so I couldn’t meet him with a false face.’

A'Zhu said: ‘Alright, I’m gonna revert to wearing female clothes as well.’ She went to the side of a brook and hurriedly washed the make-up off her face. Then she took off her hat, revealing her black hair, and removed her baggy robe, showing the original female clothes inside.

The 2 of them went 9.5 li without taking a break. They saw a lofty bluestone bridge in the distance. When they came near the bridge, they only saw a scholar bending down on the surface of it. This man had spread a large sheet of white paper on the bridge, and using the bluestone of the bridge as inkstone he had prepared a big puddle of ink. The scholar was holding the brush in his hand and was writing on the paper. Xiao Feng and
 
A'Zhu found it strange. Who could have expected that someone would take paper, ink, brush and inkstone to a bridge in the wilderness to write?

Only when they got near him did they see that he really was not writing, but drawing. What he was drawing was the scenery around. The small bridge, the running water, the old trees and the distant mountains all could be found in the picture. He was bending down on the bridge and was not facing Xiao Feng and A'Zhu, but what strange was that the scenery in the picture was obviously directed towards the 2 of them. They saw that every stroke of his was executed in the opposite way to normal and he was drawing contrariwise.

Xiao Feng did not understand painting and calligraphy at all but A'Zhu had lived in Mister Murong’s home for a long time and had seen a great many excellent works of painting and calligraphy. She saw that even though the ‘inverse drawing technique’ of that scholar could not be considered superb, it was really hard to draw in reverse like this. When she was about to go forwards to ask him several sentences, Xiao Feng lightly pulled a corner of her gown, shook his head and walk towards the small bridge on the left- hand side.

That scholar asked: ‘Why didn’t you two pay any attention when seeing me drawing in reverse? Could it be that this trifling skill of mine has defiled the eyes of you two?’ A'Zhu replied: ‘Confucius did not take a seat on an askew mat and did not eat irregular meat. An upright gentleman doesn’t see ‘inverse drawing’.’ ‘Ha-ha!’ That man loudly laughed and withdrew the sheet of white paper, saying: ‘Right on, please cross the bridge.’

Xiao Feng had already guessed what the scholar’s intentions were. He had spread the sheet of white paper on the bridge to catch other people’s eyes. Firstly, he wanted to delay them. And secondly, he wanted to make what was false look like the true one, deliberately tricking other people into crossing the bluestone bridge. So Xiao Feng said: ‘We want to go to the Little Mirror Lake. If we stepped on the bluestone bridge, we would go the wrong way.’ That scholar said: ‘If you follow the bluestone bridge, it’ll merely be going around in a circle. After going an extra 50 or 60 li, you’ll still arrive. The 2 of you had better go up the bluestone bridge.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘When everything is all right, why go an extra 50 or 60 li?’ That
 
scholar laughed and said: ‘More haste and less speed. Could it be that you don’t understand the reason behind this sentence?’

A'Zhu also realized that this scholar was intentionally delaying them. She stopped bothering herself with him and immediately stepped on the wooden bridge. Xiao Feng followed her. When the 2 of them got to the middle of the bridge, suddenly they felt that the board of the bridge under their feet was rather weak, with ka-la-la sounds it snapped, and their bodies fell downwards the river. Xiao Feng stretched out his left hand and gripped A'Zhu’s body by the waist. His right foot slightly pressed on the board. Thus making use of it, he leaped forward and arrived at the other shore. After that, he sent a palm attack backwards in case the enemy sneakily attacked from behind.

‘Ha-ha,’ the scholar laughed loudly and said: ‘Good skill, good skill! Why are you two quickly going to the Little Mirror Lake?’

Noticing that there was panic in his laughter, Xiao Feng thought: ‘This man looks handsome and refined, yet he’s on the prime villain’s side.’ He paid no attention to him and went forwards with A'Zhu without delay.

After going several zhang (1 zhang = 3.333 m), he heard footsteps at his back and turned his head around to take a look. It was none other than the scholar who was catching up from behind. Xiao Feng turned around and asked with a darkened face: ‘Sir, what do you want to instruct me?’ That scholar replied: ‘I also want to go to the Little Mirror Lake. It just so happens that I and you two have the same journey.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘This can’t be better,’ then put his left hand on A'Zhu’s waist. Raising his internal energy, he took her along and went as if floating. His movements were really smooth and noiseless and did not stir up even light dust. The scholar quickly rushed after Xiao Feng but the distance between them became farther and farther. Seeing that his martial arts were mediocre, Xiao Feng did not care about him anymore. He continued raising his internal energy and going as if floating. Even though he was taking A'Zhu along, he was still much faster than the scholar. Within the time to finish a meal, Xiao Feng already left the scholar far behind himself and did not see any trace of him anymore.
 
After crossing the small wooden bridge, the path became very narrow. Sometimes the grass was as high as the waist and it was very hard to recognize the path. If the bartender had not said clearly, Xiao Feng would really have had a hard time finding this path. After going for less than 1 hour, he saw a clear lake. Xiao Feng slowed down and went up to the lake. He saw that its water was blue like jade and its surface was calm like a mirror. It was really worthy of the 3 words the ‘Little Mirror Lake.’

When Xiao Feng was about to look for the Square Bamboo Forest, suddenly he heard 2 sounds of chuckling in a thicket of flowers on the left of the lake, then a stone flew out. Looking in the flying direction of the stone, Xiao Feng saw a fisherman who was wearing a large bamboo hat and was fishing beside the lake. His fishing rod had just lifted up a black carp when that stone arrived. Without the least bit of inaccuracy, the stone hit the fishing line squarely. A ‘chi’ sound was heard, the fishing line was broken in two and the black carp fell back into the lake.

Xiao Feng was secretly startled: ‘The power of this person’s hand is very strange. The fishing line is soft and isn’t affected by blunt force. There’s nothing unusual if missiles such as flying knife and sleeve-hidden arrow are used to cut it off. But obviously it was a round stone. Who could have expected that the fishing line would be broken? This person’s Yin soft skill in using missiles definitely doesn’t belong to the Central Plains.’ The person who had thrown the stone did not seem to possess high-level martial arts, but they had an air of intense evil. It was simply an unorthodox technique. Xiao Feng thought: ‘This is probably a subordinate of that prime villain. Judging from the laughter, this person seems to be a young girl.’

That fisherman was also startled when his fishing line was broken. He said loudly and clearly: ‘Who played a trick on surnamed Chu me? Please show yourself.’

With several se-se sounds, the thicket of flowers was split apart and a young girl came out. She was dressed in all-purple clothes and was only 15 or 16 years old. Compared to A'Zhu, she was still younger by a few years. She had a pair of big shiny black eyes and her face was full of mischievousness. As soon as she saw A'Zhu, she ignored the fisherman, skipped up to her, pulled her hand, laughed and said: ‘This zizi (older sister) will be very
 
pretty when grown-up. I like you very much!’ She sounded somewhat tongue-tied when saying, and her pronunciation was not correct, just like a foreigner who had just started to learn the language of the Central Plains.

Seeing that the young girl was lively and innocent, A'Zhu laughed and said: ‘It’s just you who’ll be pretty when grown-up. I like you even more.’ A'Zhu had lived in Gusu for a long time, and now she was saying in Mandarin of the Middle Land (Henan). Therefore, even though she sounded gentle and lovely, her pronunciation was also not very accurate.

The fisherman at first was about to get mad. But seeing that the young girl was so lively and lovely, the anger that was filling his bosom disappeared. He said: ‘This girl is so naughty. But the technique that you used to break the fishing line is very good.’

That young girl said: ‘What’s so interesting about angling? It’s boring to death. If you wanna eat fish, wouldn’t using this fishing rod to jab at the fish be better?’ As she finished, she received the fishing rod in the hand of the fisherman and conveniently gave the water a poke. The tip of the fishing rod pierced through the abdomen of a fish. When the fishing rod was lifted up, the fish was still writhing and twisting. From the wound, fresh blood fell into the green water drop after drop. The red and the green served as foils to each other, looking bright and beautiful, but there was also cruelty in the beauty of the colors.

Xiao Feng saw that when she executed this convenient poke, first her right hand slightly bent to the left, then drew a small arc and thrust out from the right side. This move was rather clever and undoubtedly pleasing to the eye. However, if she used it to attack and defend when facing an enemy, she would be a little late. Xiao Feng was really unable to guess what school or family possessed this martial arts technique.

That young girl continuously lifted the rod up and thrust it down. She pierced through 6 black carps and white fish in a row, creating a chain of fish on the rod. Then she gave it a shake, flinging all the fish into the lake. With a displeased expression on his face, the fisherman said: ‘You’re a very young girl, yet you act so cruelly. If you want to catch fish, then that’s fine.
 
But you stabbed dead the fish not for food. Why did you kill them for no reason?’

The young girl clapped her hands, laughed and said: ‘I like killing for no reason. What do you wanna do?’ Then she exerted herself to break the fishing rod in two with both hands. Unexpectedly, this fishing rod was very tough and firm, and the young girl was unable to bend it. That fisherman sneered: ‘You want to snap my fishing rod? It’s not so easy.’ That young girl pointed to the back of the fisherman, saying: ‘Who’s coming?’

The fisherman turned his head around to have a look, but he saw no one. Knowing that he had been fooled, he hastily turned his head back, but he was already a little late. He only saw his fishing rod fly off more than 10 zhang (3.333 m) then, with a ‘chi’ sound, pass into the center of the lake and disappear without a trace at once. Furious, the fisherman shouted loudly: ‘Where are you from, brat?’ and stretched out his hand and to grab her shoulder.

The young girl laughed and said: ‘Help me! Help me!’ and hid at the back of Xiao Feng. The fisherman jinked sideways to come and catch her. His movements were light and neat. In a glance, Xiao Feng saw that there was an object in the hand of the young girl’s. It seemed to be a transparent cloth and was indistinct. Xiao Feng did not know what it was. The fisherman rushed at her, but somehow he suddenly slipped and threw himself on the ground. After that, his body became a heap. Only now was Xiao Feng able to see clearly that what the young girl was having in her hand was a sheet of exceedingly thin silk fishing net. The silk threads were as thin as hair, and they were also transparent, yet they were exceptionally tough and pliable. Moreover, when they came into contact with something, they immediately contracted. In the fishing net, the more the fisherman struggled, the tighter it became. In a short while, he become a cylindrical glutinous rice cake and was wrapped around by the net to the point of being immovable.

The fisherman cursed loudly and severely: ‘Brat, what dirty trick are you playing? What are you plotting by using evil techniques to capture me like this?’
 
Inwardly, Xiao Feng was astonished. He knew that the girl really was not using any evil technique, but this fishing net was rather evil indeed.

The fisherman kept cursing loudly. That young girl laughed and said: ‘If you curse another sentence, I’ll hit you in the buttocks.’ The fisherman was startled and stopped talking at once. His face has swollen to a deep red.

At that time, in the west of the lake, someone said from a distance: ‘Brother Chu, what happened?’ Then a person went out along the lakeside path with quick steps. Xiao Feng saw that this man had a rectangular face and was between 40 and 50 years old. He was mighty in appearance, but was wearing rather rakish and informal attire consisting of a light robe and a loose belt.

This man came near. Seeing the fisherman being bound, he was very surprised, so he asked: ‘What happened?’ The fisherman replied: ‘This little girl used evil techniques…’ The middle-aged man turned his head and looked at A'Zhu. That young girl laughed and said: ‘Not her. It’s me!’ The middle-aged man uttered an exclamation of doubt then stooped down, lifted the huge body of the fisherman up and stretched out his hand to pull at the fishing net. Who would have known that the threads of the net had a very strange nature? The more force he used to pull, the tighter the fishing net became. And so, no matter what the middle-aged man did, he was unable to untie it.

That young girl laughed and said: ‘If you say to me ‘Miss, I’ve lost to you!’ 3 times in a row, I’ll set him free.’ The middle-aged man said: ‘You have offended my brother Chu. This won’t have any good result.’ The young girl said laughingly: ‘Really? I just don’t want any good result. The worse the result is, the more interesting it will be.’

The middle-aged man held out his left hand to grab her shoulder. The young girl suddenly slightly fell back and jinked towards one side to dodge. Unexpectedly, even though her movements were fast, that man was even faster. He slightly lowered his hand and caught her shoulder.

The young girl tilted her shoulder to get rid of his power, but the left palm of this middle-aged man seemed to have been firmly fixed to her shoulder.
 
The young girl scolded in a sulky voice: ‘Let go of me!’ She waved her fist to hit him, but before the fist had gone 1 chi (33.33 cm), her arm became powerless and drooped down weakly. Very astonished, the girl cried: ‘What evil technique are you using? Quickly let go of me.’ The middle-aged man smiled, saying: ‘If you say ‘Master, I’ve lost to you’ 3 times in a row then untie the fishing net around my brother’s body, I’ll let you go.’ The young girl said angrily: ‘You’ve offended me. This won’t have any good result.’ The middle-aged man smiled, saying: ‘The worse the result it, the more interesting it will be.’

The young girl again exerted all her strength to struggle, but she was unable to get free, and contrary to her expectations, her whole body ached and became weak. Even her feet did not have any strength. She laughed and said: ‘How shameless. You can only copy other people’s words. Alright, I’m gonna say to you. ‘Master, I’ve lost to you! Master, I’ve lost to you! Master, I’ve lost to you!’’ She did not pronounce the syllable ‘mæs’ of the word ‘master’ clearly and pronounced it as ‘bæs’ instead, therefore it sounded like she said ‘Bastard, I’ve lost to you (The 2 words in the original are 先⽣ - xian1sheng5 - master, and 畜⽣ - chu4sheng5 - beast).’ The
middle-aged man did not notice it. He raised his palm and let go of her
shoulder, saying: ‘Untie the fishing net, quick.’

The young girl laughed and said: ‘This can’t be easier.’ Then she went to the side of the fisherman and bent down to untie the fishing net around him. She slightly raised her left hand at the opening of the sleeve and a dark green flash was fired at the middle-aged man.

‘Ah,’ A'Zhu cried in fear because she saw that the missile firing technique of the young girl was very vicious. Moreover, the girl and the middle-aged man were just a small distance apart so it appeared that it was impossible for the missiles to miss him. But Xiao Feng only smiled slightly. Seeing that this middle-aged man tamed the young girl as soon as he showed his skill, Xiao Feng knew clearly that his internal energy was profound and his martial arts were excellent, therefore these petty missiles naturally would not be able to harm him. Sure enough, the middle-aged man swung the sleeve of his robe and sent out a stream of internal energy which pushed all
 
the cluster of green thin needles aside. The needles then stuck in the mud beside the lake, one after another.

Seeing the color of the thin needles, the middle-aged man knew at once that they had been suffused with an extremely fierce poison. As soon as this poison got into the blood of a victim, their throat would be blocked and they would die instantly. This was the 1st time he and she had met each other, and there was no enmity between them, why did she use such a vicious move? The man got angry and wanted to teach this kid a lesson. He waved his right sleeve. The force of the sleeve contained his palm force. With a ‘hu’ sound, the body of that young girl was lifted up, and with a ‘pu’ sound, she fell into the lake. Following that, the man slightly pressed the tips of his feet on the ground and jumped onto a rowboat under a willow tree. Holding the oars and pushing it several times, he reached the place where that young girl had just fallen down. Now, he only waited for her to emerge to grab her hair and lift her up.

But when that young girl fell into the water, she only uttered an ‘A’yo!’ sound. After she had fallen into the lake, no trace of her could be seen at this point. Naturally, when a person is drowning, they will definitely emerge and submerge a few times, and only after drinking water to the full will they no longer resurface. However, that young girl was like a big piece of stone, and thus she sank without rising. The middle-aged man waited for a short while, but all along the girl did not rise to the surface.

The more the man waited, the more worried he became. In fact he had no intention of harming her. It was just that seeing that she was very young yet her actions were so malicious, he wanted to discipline her once. If she was drowned, he would feel deeply sorry for her. That fisherman had excellent skills in swimming, so he should have been able to get into the water and save her. Unfortunately, he was being wrapped around by the fishing net and thus being unable to move. Both Xiao Feng and A'Zhu did not know how to swim so they did not know what to do either. They heard the middle-aged man call loudly: ‘A’Xing, A’Xing! Come out, quick!’

From a distant bamboo thicket, the calls of a woman were heard: ‘What happened? I won’t come out!’
 
Xiao Feng thought: ‘This woman’s voice sounds flirtatious. But it has 3/10s of stubbornness. I’m afraid she’s the naughty type. She, A'Zhu and the young girl that fell into the lake would be like the legs of a tripod cauldron.’

That middle-aged man called: ‘There’s a drowning person. Quickly come to the rescue.’ That woman called: ‘Were you drowned?’ The middle-aged man called: ‘Don’t joke. If I were drowned, how can I be talking to you? Quickly come to the rescue!’ That woman called: ‘If you were drowned, I’d come to save you instantly. But if someone else is drowned, I’d love to see and have a jolly time!’ The middle-aged man asked: ‘Will you come or not?’ and repeatedly stamped his feet at the prow of the boat, looking exceedingly anxious. That woman said: ‘If that’s a man, I’ll save him at once. But if that’s a woman, even if 100 women died, I’d only clap my hands and cheer. I definitely won’t save her.’ The voice sounded closer and closer. In a short while, she already got to the side of the lake.

Xiao Feng and A'Zhu looked at her and saw that she was wearing a greenish swimsuit which clung to her body, making her delicate waist become more obvious. She had a pair of big shiny black eyes which were brilliant and sparkling like stars. The look in her eyes was very lively and nimble. It seemed as if with a pair of eyes alone she was already capable of speech. The woman was beautiful, and the corners of her mouth resembled a smile without smiling. She was around 35 or 36 years old. When Xiao Feng had heard her voice and tone before, he had only thought that she had been 21 or 22 years old at most. He could never have expected that she would be a woman who was not very young at all. The swimsuit on her body was worn neatly. Perhaps when hearing that middle-aged man call her to the rescue, she had at once changed clothes. And while she had been teasing him, making him worried, she had changed clothes very fast.

Seeing that she had come, the middle-aged man was totally happy, saying: ‘A’Xing, quick, quick, I accidentally threw her into the lake. I could never have expected that she wouldn’t resurface.’ That beautiful woman said: ‘I’m gonna ask clearly first. If that’s a man, I’ll save him right away. But if that’s a woman, then you’d better not say anything.’

Both Xiao Feng and A'Zhu found this very strange, thinking: ‘There’re women who are unwilling to get into the water to save men to avoid
 
embracing or getting entangled with them underwater, thus losing their own dignity. Why is this woman the exact opposite, only saving men and not women?’

The middle-aged man stamped his feet, saying: ‘Oh dear! She’s just a 14 or 15 year old little girl. Don’t be suspicious.’ The beautiful woman said: ‘Humph, a little girl, so what? To a man like you, a 14 or 15 year old little girl and a 70 or 80 year old aged woman both will be…’ She at first wanted to say ‘both will be accepted’, but in a glance, she saw Xiao Feng and A'Zhu, so she slightly blushed and stretched out her hand and covered her own mouth, and the word ‘accepted’ was withdrawn at once, but her eyes were filled with amusement.

The middle-aged man took a deep bow at the prow of the boat, saying: ‘A’Xing, please save her quickly. I’ll follow everything that you say.’ That beautiful woman asked: ‘You’ll really follow me in everything?’ The middle-aged man hastily replied: ‘Yes. Oh, this little girl hasn’t resurfaced. Could it be that she has really died…?’ The beautiful woman said: ‘If I ask you to stay here forever, will you also follow me?’ An awkward expression appeared on the face of the middle-aged man. He said: ‘This… this…’ The beautiful woman said: ‘Even if you said without keeping your words and only sweet talked to make me happy for a short while, it’d be good enough for me. Yet you’re unwilling to do even such a thing.’ When she said to here, her eyes reddened and her voice was somewhat choked with emotion.

Xiao Feng and A'Zhu looked at each other. Both of them found this strange. This man and this woman were no longer young, but their words and actions were the same as those of passionate young lovers. Also, they did not look like a husband and a wife, especially that woman, for in front of strangers she was still showing no restraint in conversation, and while the life of a stranger was hanging by a thread, she was still talking about these matters of no urgency.

The middle-aged man let out a sigh and rowed the rowboat back, saying: ‘Forget it, forget it. There’s no need to save her. This little girl used poisonous missiles to sneakily attack me. She deserves to die. Let’s go back!’
 
That woman tilted her head, saying: ‘Why no need to save her? I’ll still save her. She shot missiles at you, right? That’s very good. Why didn’t she shoot you dead? What a pity, what a pity!’ She giggled then suddenly jumped up and plunged into the lake. Her skills in swimming were really outstanding. With a soft ‘chi’ sound, and without causing water to fly up into the air, she got to the bottom of the lake. After that, a ‘ka-la’ sound was heard when the surface of the lake disintegrated. The beautiful woman was already holding that purple-gowned young girl in her hands and her head emerged from the water. The middle-aged man exulted. He hastily rowed the rowboat back to pick them up.

After the middle-aged man had come near the beautiful woman, he stretched out his hands to receive the purple-gowned young girl. Seeing that her eyes were closing tightly and that she did not seem to be breathing, he could not help having a concerned expression. The beautiful woman shouted: ‘Don’t touch her. You’re a lady-killer, very unreliable.’ The middle-aged man feigned anger, saying: ‘Nonsense. In my life, I’ve never been a lady-killer.’

The beautiful woman uttered a sound of sneering, then holding the young girl in her hands, she jumped in the boat. She laughed and said: ‘Right, right. You’ve never been a lady-killer, and you’re only fond of very ugly women like Wuyan, Mo Mu (2 very ugly women according to legend). A’yo…’ She touched that young girl’s chest, and to her surprise, she immediately noticed that the girl’s heart had already stopped beating. Needless to say, her breathing had ceased for a long time. But her belly was not bulging so obviously she had not drunk much water.

Familiar with swimming, the beautiful woman at first had thought that being under water for such a little while would not kill the girl. Never could she have expected that this young girl was physically delicate and would die. She could not help looking rather apologetic. She carried the young girl in her arms and disembarked, saying: ‘Quick, quick! We must find a way to save her!’ Then, carrying the young girl, she ran very quickly towards the bamboo forest.

The middle-aged man bent down, lifted the fisherman up then turned to Xiao Feng and said: ‘Brother, may I ask your exalted name, and the noble
 
purpose of your arrival at this place?’

Seeing that he had a natural and graceful bearing and that despite the young girl’s tragic death, he was still so imperturbable, Xiao Feng secretly admired him. He replied: ‘I am Xiao Feng, a Khitan. I was entrusted by 2 friends with the task of going to here to pass on a message.’

Of course there was no one in Jianghu who did not know the name Qiao Feng, but he already knew his real surname so at this moment he called himself Xiao Feng, and adding the 2 words ‘a Khitan’, he had stated his own origin straight out. The middle-aged man was undoubtedly very unfamiliar with the name Xiao Feng. Hearing the words ‘a Khitan’, he was not surprised in the least either. He asked: ‘Who are the 2 friends that requested brother Xiao to do this? And what is the message that you are delivering?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘One wields a pair of broad axes. The other wields a copper staff and calls himself surnamed Fu. Both of them are injured…’

Frightened, the middle-aged man asked: ‘How are the injuries of these two? Where are they now? Brother Xiao, these 2 people are my close brothers. Sorry to trouble you, but could you give me directions? I… I… must go save them at once.’ The fisherman said: ‘Please take me with you.’ Seeing that they valued righteousness, Xiao Feng admired them in his heart, saying: ‘The injuries of these 2 people are serious but their lives ain’t in danger. They’re being in the town over there…’ That middle-aged man took a deep bow, saying: ‘Thank you very much! Thank you very much!’ Then, without saying anymore, he lifted the fisherman up and started to go towards the path along which Xiao Feng had come.

Right at this moment, they heard the calls of that beautiful woman coming from the inside of the bamboo forest: ‘Quickly come here, quickly come here. You come and see… see what this is!’ Her voice sounded exceptionally panic-stricken.

The middle-aged man stopped going. While he was hesitating, suddenly he saw a man quickly running towards them on the path and calling: ‘My Lord, did someone come to make trouble?’ He was none other than the scholar who had drawn in reverse on the bluestone bridge. Xiao Feng
 
thought: ‘I thought he was trying to stop me from passing on the message. But it turns out he and those broad axe user and copper staff user are on the same side. The person that they call ‘the Lord’ is this middle-aged man, then.’

At this moment, the scholar had already noticed Xiao Feng and A'Zhu. Seeing the 2 of them standing beside the middle-aged man, he could not refrain from being startled. When he came near them, seeing that the fisherman was being bound, he was both shocked and angry. He asked: ‘What… what happened?’

They heard the voice of the beautiful woman inside the bamboo forest become more panic-stricken: ‘Why haven’t you come? A’yo, I… I…’

That middle-aged man said: ‘I go have a look.’ Then he lifted the fisherman up and walked quickly towards the bamboo forest. As soon as he moved, anyone could see at once that he had an extraordinary internal energy. His steps were light and long, yet they were exceptionally fast. Xiao Feng put one hand on A'Zhu’s waist then he went alongside him at an appropriate speed. The middle-aged man cast a look at Xiao Feng. An admiring expression was visible on his face.

They arrived at the bamboo forest in an instant. Sure enough, each of the bamboo trees was square. After going several zhang (3.333 m) into the bamboo forest, they saw 3 small houses with bamboo roofs. The structure of the houses was very delicate.

Hearing footsteps, the beautiful woman rushed out, crying: ‘You… you quickly come and see. What is this?’ She was holding a gold lock in her hand.

Xiao Feng saw that this gold lock was a common piece of jewelry for women and there was nothing special or unusual about it. That day, when A'Zhu was injured, Xiao Feng took vulnerary out from her bosom and saw a gold lock which looked almost the same as this lock. Unexpectedly, when the middle-aged man looked at the gold lock several times, his face changed colors greatly at once. He asked in a quavering voice: ‘Where… where did you get this?’
 
The beautiful woman replied: ‘I took it from her neck. I once drew a mark on their left shoulders. You… you go and see yourself…’ As she finished, she wept without being able to make any sound.

The middle-aged man quickly rushed into the house. A'Zhu also slightly shook her body and rushed in. She was even a step ahead of the beautiful woman. Xiao Feng followed behind that woman to go straight to the inner room. He saw that it was the bedchamber of a woman with delicate and elegant furnishings. Xiao Feng had no time to scan but he saw that purple- gowned young girl lying flat on the bed, stiff and motionless. She was already dead.

The middle-aged man pulled the sleeve of the young girl up and looked carefully at her shoulder. After taking a look, he immediately pulled the sleeve down. Xiao Feng was standing at his back so he did not see what the mark on the shoulder of the young girl was. He only saw that the back of the middle-aged man was continuously trembling. Obviously his mind was in a state of extreme discomposure.

The beautiful woman grabbed the middle-aged man’s robe and wept, saying: ‘She’s your own daughter, yet you killed her with your own hands. You didn’t bring her up yet you killed her… You… you’re such a heartless father…’

Xiao Feng was very astonished: ‘What? This young girl is their daughter? Ah, that’s right. Probably not long after giving birth to this young girl, they put her under a fosterage elsewhere. Both this gold lock and the mark on the left shoulder are the marks of identification that her parents left her.’ Suddenly he saw tears streaming down A'Zhu’s face and her body shaking slightly and leaning towards the bed.

Xiao Feng was frightened. He hurriedly held out his hand to support her. When he stooped down, he saw the eyeballs of the young girl lying on the bed slightly move. She already closed her eyes but the movements of her eyeballs could still be seen behind the eyelids. Caring about A'Zhu, Xiao Feng only asked: ‘What’s wrong?’ A'Zhu stood up straight, wiped the tears and said with a forced laugh: ‘I saw that this… this girl had an unfortunate tragic death so I feel sorry for her.’
 
Xiao Feng stretched out his hand and felt the pulse of the young girl. That beautiful woman wept, saying: ‘The heart already stopped. The breathing has already gone too. You can’t save her life.’ Xiao Feng slightly channeled his internal energy, pushed it on the wrist of the young girl then immediately loosened his grip. He felt an opposing stream of internal energy emerge in the body of that young girl. Obviously she was channeling her internal energy to resist.

‘Ha-ha,’ Xiao Feng laughed loudly and said: ‘It’s really rare to see such a naughty girl in the world.’ That beautiful woman said angrily: ‘Who are you? Quickly get out of here! My daughter has died. What nonsense are you talking here?’ Xiao Feng laughed and said: ‘What if I can bring your dead daughter back to life?’ Then he stretched out his hand and thrust at an acupuncture point on the waist of the young girl.

This finger attack hit the ‘Jingmen acupuncture point’ on the waist of the young girl. This point is at the end of the last rib of the human body. Xiao Feng passed his internal energy into the acupuncture point, immediately making the girl feel unbearably tingly and itchy. Unable to endure that, the young girl jumped up on the bed, giggled in a lovely manner and reached for Xiao Feng’s shoulder with her left hand to support herself.

Seeing the girl come back to life from death, all the people in the room were both surprised and happy. The middle-aged man laughed and said: ‘So you scared me…’ The beautiful woman smiled though tears and cried: ‘My miserable daughter!’ and expanded her arms to embrace her.

Unexpectedly, Xiao Feng hit the young girl with the back of his hand, sending her falling. After that, he held out his hand, grabbed her left wrist, sneered and said: ‘So young, yet so vicious!’

The beautiful woman cried: ‘Why did you hit my daughter?’ If she had not had regard for Xiao Feng’s status as the person who had ‘revived’ her daughter, she would have fought him at once.

After grabbing her wrist, Xiao Feng turned her palm over, saying: ‘Please see.’
 
Everyone saw that the young girl was holding a glistening green thin needle in a space between her fingers. At first sight, they already knew that the needle had been suffused with an intense poison. Pretending to reach for Xiao Feng’s shoulder to support herself, she wanted to stick this thin needle in his body. Fortunately, he had sharp eyes and was nimble, therefore he was not caught in her snare, but it was really an extremely dangerous situation.

This palm attack only made one cheek of the young girl’s swell up considerably. Xiao Feng certainly did not use all his power. Otherwise her skull would have been shattered into small pieces easily. With her wrist being gripped, it was already too late for her to hide the poisonous needle even if she wanted to. Moreover, the left side of her body was being powerless, aching and tingling. Suddenly, her small mouth twitched slightly and she wept loudly, crying: ‘You bully me! You bully me!’

The middle-aged man said: ‘Alright, alright! Don’t cry! He just gave you a gentle hit. What’s the big deal? Frequently using intensely poisonous missiles to harm other people, you should be taught a lesson.’

The young girl wept, saying: ‘This Green Phosphorous Needle of mine isn’t the scariest. I still have very many unused missiles.’

Xiao Feng said coldly: ‘Why didn’t you use the Invisible Dust, the Carefree Powder, the Blissful Thorn, or the Heart Piercing Nail?’

The young girl stopped crying. There was an extremely surprised expression on her face. She asked in a quavering voice: ‘You… How do you know?’

Xiao Feng replied: ‘I know your master is the Old Fiend of Xingxiu (Xingxiu = Constellation. This is a school name and a place name so I use the pinyin) so I know you have lots of evil poisonous missiles.’

As soon as he said so, everyone was shocked. The ‘Old Fiend of Xingxiu’ Ding Chunqiu was an unorthodox expert that everyone in wulin would frown when they heard his name. This man stopped at nothing in doing evil and killed people like flies. His ‘Energy Dissolving Great Technique’ was
 
specially developed for destroying other people’s internal energies so it was an even greater taboo to martial arts learners under Heaven. Unfortunately, his martial arts were extremely good therefore no one had been able to do anything about him. All in all, it was only because he had seldom come to the Central Plains that he had not yet become a catastrophe.

The expression of the middle-aged man’s was both sympathetic and worried. He asked in a warm voice: ‘A’Zi, why did you accept the Old Fiend of Xingxiu as your master?’

With her big round shiny black eyes wide open, the young girl sized up that middle-aged man, asking: ‘How do you know my name?’ The middle-aged man sighed and said: ‘Could it be that you didn’t hear what we talked just now?’ The young girl shook her head and smiled, saying: ‘When I play possum, my heart and breathing are stopped, and my eyes and ears are closed, so I can’t see or hear anything.’

Xiao Feng let go of her wrist and said: ‘Humph, it’s the ‘Chelonian Breathing Skill’ of the Old Fiend of Xingxiu.’ The young girl A'Zi goggled at him, saying: ‘Bah! It seems you know everything.’ Then she stuck out her tongue and made a face.

The beautiful woman pulled A'Zi and looked her up and down. Her face was being radiant with ineffable happiness. The middle-aged man smiled, saying: ‘Why did you play possum? You really made us jump out of our skin.’ A'Zi was very pleased with herself, saying: ‘Who told you to throw me into the lake? You’re not a good guy.’ The middle-aged man looked at Xiao Feng then, with an awkward expression, he forced a smile and said: ‘So stubborn, so stubborn.’

Xiao Feng knew that when he and his daughter met each other for the 1st time, they would certainly have many things to say–things that they could not let strangers hear. Therefore he pulled a corner of A'Zhu’s gown and walked outside into the bamboo forest. He saw that A'Zhu’s eyes had become reddish and her body was shaking continuously. So he asked: ‘A'Zhu, are you sick?’ and stretched out his hand and felt her pulse, only to find that it was beating very fast. Obviously her mind was being in great turmoil. A'Zhu shook her head, saying: ‘It’s nothing.’ Presently, she said:
 
‘Big brother, please go out first, I… I need to go to the toilet.’ Xiao Feng nodded and walked far away.

Xiao Feng walked to the side of the lake and waited here for quite a while, but all along he did not see A'Zhu come out from the bamboo forest. Suddenly he heard footsteps. 3 people were coming at a trotting speed. A thought emerged in his mind: ‘Could it be it’s the prime villain coming?’ From a distance he only saw 3 people rushing along the path beside the lake. 2 of them were carrying someone on each of their backs, and a short and small fellow was going as if flying. When rushing, it seemed as if his feet did not touch the ground. After rushing away for a distance, he stopped to wait for his companions at the back. Those 2 people had solid steps. It was obvious that their martial arts were rather remarkable. When the 3 people had drawn near, Xiao Feng saw that the 2 fellows being carried on the back of others’ were none other than the people they had met on the way–the mad axe user and the big fellow with the surname Fu. He heard the short and small fellow shout: ‘My Lord, my Lord, the prime villain has caught up. We should run quickly!’

Leading the beautiful woman with 1 hand, and leading A'Zi with the other hand, the middle-aged man walked out from the bamboo forest. There were tear stains on the face of the middle-aged man and the beautiful woman, but A'Zi was grinning complacently as if nothing had happened. After that, A'Zhu also walked out from the bamboo forest then went to the side of Xiao Feng.

That middle-aged man let go of the 2 females he was leading, rushed to the side of the 2 wounded fellows and checked their pulses. Seeing that their lives were definitely not in danger, he had a joyful look on his face at once, saying: ‘You 3 have gone through hardships. I’m just feeling at ease that both brother GU and brother Fu have no big problem.’ The 3 people bowed in salute in an exceedingly respectful and cautious manner.

Xiao Feng was inwardly surprised: ‘These 3 people’s martial arts and bearing are really out of the ordinary. Even if they aren’t lords who wield absolute power in a region, they can easily be the heads of some schools, but why are they so respectful when seeing this middle-aged man? What is his background?’
 
That short fellow said: ‘My Lord, this subject has set up a diversion beside the bluestone bridge to hold back the prime villain. But I’m afraid he will see through the stratagem at once. Please set off forthwith, my Lord.’ The middle-aged man said: ‘It’s unfortunate for my family to have produced such an evil rebel. Since you and he have met each other here, I’m afraid even if I want to avoid him I won’t be able to. Perhaps I’ll have no choice but to try to deal with him once.’ A fellow with thick eyebrows and big eyes said: ‘Your subjects are going to share the task of resisting the enemy and eliminating evil among ourselves. Please attach most importance to the country and quickly return to Dali so as not to make His Majesty concerned about your welfare, my Lord.’ A fellow of middling size said: ‘My Lord, you should not display your temporary valor in dealing with today’s matter. If you make any slight slip, my Lord, how shall we have the face to return to Dali and meet His Majesty? We shall have no choice but to commit suicide together.’

Hearing up to here, Xiao Feng was slightly scared: ‘What is with all these subjects, His Majesty, and return-to-Dali things? Could it be that they’re from the House of Duan in Dali?’ His heart pounding chaotically, he thought: ‘Could it be that the net of Heaven are vast and today that villain Duan Zhengchun will fall into my hands by chance?’

While he was being doubtful, suddenly he heard a long roar in the distance. After that, there were shouts which sounded like metals being ground against each other: ‘The son of a turtle (~ s.o.b) surnamed Duan, you can’t escape. Be obedient and be tied, quick. Maybe your father here will have some consideration for your son and spare your life.’

The voice of a woman was heard: ‘But Yue the Third you won’t have the chance to decide if his life will be spared or not. Don’t tell me that big bro won’t be able to handle him?’ A sinister-sounding voice said: ‘If this surnamed Duan fellow knows right and wrong, that’ll always be more convenient than not.’ This man was trying hard to send his words far away. He obviously did not have enough energy in his stomach. It seemed he had been injured and had not yet healed.

Hearing these people say ‘surnamed Duan’ again and again, Xiao Feng felt even more suspicious. Suddenly, a small hand was stretched over, and held
 
his hand. Xiao Feng cast a sideways look at A'Zhu who was standing at his side. He saw that her face was pale, and the center of her palm was full of ice-cold sweat, so he asked in a low voice: ‘How are you?’ A'Zhu replied in a quavering voice: ‘I’m very afraid.’ Xiao Feng smiled, saying: ‘Beside your big brother, what are you still afraid of?’ With his mouth slightly protruding in the direction of the middle-aged man, he said softly into her ear: ‘It seems this man is from the House of Duan in Dali.’ A'Zhu made no comment, her lips moving slightly.

The middle-aged man was Duan Zhengchun, the Crown Brother (No idea what the English equivalent of 皇太弟 is) of the State of Dali. In his youth he traveled the Central Plains and enjoyed the pursuit of romance so it was
unavoidable that he had relationships everywhere. In fact, it was common
for the rich and the people of high social status to have 3 or 4 wives. Duan Zhengchun was a prince, so it was also normal for him to have romantic relationships with many people. But the House of Duan originated from a well-known family in the Central Plains. Even though they had become the sovereign power in Dali, they had always followed the teachings of their ancestors in all daily life matters and in eating and drinking. Never had they dared forget their origin and be overly lavish. Duan Zhengchun’s first wife, Lady Dao Baifeng, was the daughter of a powerful Baiyi headman in Yunnan. The House of Duan married one of their sons to her in order to win over the Baiyi, thus strengthening their imperial throne. There were not many Han people in Yunnan at that time, therefore, without the support of the Baiyi the throne of the Duan clan would not be stable. The Baiyi had always practiced monogamy. Being held in high regard since childhood, Dao Baifeng was even more unwilling to let Duan Zhengchun marry the 2nd wife. Because of his never-ending romantic relationships everywhere, she was so angry that she entered into religion and became a Taoist priestess. In the past, Duan Zhengchun had a love story with each of the 3 women Qin Hongmian–Mu Wanqing’s mother, Gan Baobao–Zhong Wanchou’s wife, and Ruan Xingzhu–A'Zi’s mother.

This time, Duan Zhengchun complied with an order of his brother Emperor to go to Shenjie Temple in Luliangzhou to investigate the circumstances of the murder of Venerable Xuan Bei of Shaolin Monastery. He discovered very many doubtful points, and thought that it might not be the murderous
 
work of the Murong Clan of Gusu. But no high-level Shaolin came there for more than half a month, so he took the 3 Dukes Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Ba Tianshi, as well as the 4 Grand Bodyguards, to the Central Plains to find out about the truth. Making use of the opportunity, he paid Ruan Xingzhu, who was living in seclusion beside the Little Mirror Lake, a visit. And in these days, they were always in each other’s company and were happy like immortals.

When Duan Zhengchun and his old flame rekindled their love, the 3 Dukes and the 4 Bodyguards, who came along to protect him, scattered all around to guard. They could never have thought that their archenemy would successfully find and come to this place.

Duan Yanqing’s martial arts were formidable hence GU Ducheng and Fu Sigui of the 4 Grand Bodyguards were successively injured. Zhu Danchen mistook Xiao Feng for their enemy and failed to stop him at the bluestone bridge. As for Chu Wanli, he was being caught in A'Zi’s Flexible Silk Net. After rescuing the 2 people GU and Fu, the Minister of War Fan Hua, the Minister of Education Hua Hegen and the Minister of Works Ba Tianshi quickly went to Duan Zhengchun to protect him and ward off the strong enemy together.

Zhu Danchen continuously tried to unloose the fishing net that was wrapping around Chu Wanli. This net, however, could not be untied with hands and nor could its threads be damaged by knives. Zhu Danchen had been so busy with it that he had sweated all over, yet he still had no way that worked. Duan Zhengchun turned to A'Zi, saying: ‘Release uncle Chu, quick. The archenemy is coming. Don’t be naughty anymore.’ A'Zi laughed and said: ‘What will you reward me with, Dad?’ Duan Zhengchun frowned, saying: ‘If you don’t listen to me, I’ll ask your mother to beat your palms. You’ve offended uncle Chu. Why haven’t you made amends?’ A'Zi said: ‘You threw me into the lake, making me play possum for a long time. Why haven’t you made amends to me? I’ll ask Mom to beat your palms, too!’

Seeing that South-Stabilizing Prince suddenly had another daughter who not only was arrogant and naughty but also was not in the least well- behaved towards her father, the people such as Fan Hua and Ba Tianshi were secretly on the alert, thinking: ‘This girl isn’t a legitimate child at all,
 
but she’s still South-Stabilizing Prince’s daughter. Even if she offends me, I shouldn’t take her seriously and should only think that it’s bad luck. Being tied by her in this way, brother Chu must find it very hard to endure.’

Duan Zhengchun said angrily: ‘If you don’t listen to Dad, see if later I’ll be fond of you or not?’ A'Zi twitched her small mouth and said: ‘Of course you’re not fond of me. Otherwise, how could you abandon me for 10-odd years and ignore me all along?’ For a short period of time, Duan Zhengchun was unable to say anything and only sighed sadly. Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘A'Zi, my precious, Mom has something for you. You quickly release uncle Chu.’ A'Zi held out her hand, saying: ‘You give me first. Let me see if it’s good or not.’

Seeing that this little girl was cunning, discourteous and insolent, Xiao Feng was very angry. In his heart, he respected Chu Wanli for being a brave fellow, thinking: ‘You’re a servant of their family so you don’t dare express your emotions. But I don’t need to show respect for them.’ Then he bent down and lifted Chu Wanli up, saying: ‘Brother Chu, it seems these flexible threads will loosen at once when touching water. I’m gonna immerse you in water.’

A'Zi was furious, crying: ‘Bad egg, who told you to be meddlesome again!?’ But having been given a slap in the face by Xiao Feng, she was rather afraid of him and did not dare stretch out her hands to stop him.

After lifting Chu Wanli up, with several steps, Xiao Feng rushed to the side of the lake and immersed him in the water. As expected, the Flexible Silk Net loosened up when coming into contact with the water. Xiao Feng held out his hand and untied the fishing net. Chu Wanli said in a low voice: ‘Thanks a lot for helping me, brother Xiao.’ Xiao Feng smiled, saying: ‘This naughty little girl is very hard to deal with. I already gave her a heavy slap in the face to vent your anger for you.’ Chu Wanli shook his head, looking very dispirited.

Xiao Feng crumpled the Flexible Silk Net up into a piece which was not bigger than a fist. The net was really an unusual thing. A'Zi came near him, held out her hand and said: ‘Give it back to me!’ Xiao Feng slightly waved his hand, assuming a posture which looked as if he wanted to hit her. A'Zi
 
was so frightened that she retreated several steps. But Xiao Feng only wanted to scare her. He then took the opportunity to put the Flexible Silk Net in his bosom. He thought that the middle-aged man in front of him was probably his own archenemy, and that A'Zi was the man’s daughter and this Flexible Silk Net was a useful thing so he certainly should not return it to her.

A'Zi went to Duan Zhengchun and pulled a corner of his robe, saying: ‘Dad, he stole my fishing net! He stole my fishing net!’ Duan Zhengchun saw that Xiao Feng had acted unusually, but he thought that he probably wanted to discipline A'Zi a little, and that he had such outstanding martial arts so it was very unlikely that he coveted an object of a child’s.

Suddenly, Ba Tianshi said loudly and clearly: ‘Brother Yun, I trust that you’ve been well since we parted? Other people’s martial arts become stronger and stronger through practice, why have brother Yun’s become worse and worse? Get down!’ As he finished saying, he brandished his hand and hit a tree. With a crack, a branch fell down following his palm attack. And at the same time, a man fell down. This man was both thin and tall. He was none other than ‘Extreme Ferocity Utmost Evil’ Yun Zhonghe. After being hit by a palm attack of Xiao Feng at Juxian Manor, he had been seriously injured and almost lost his life. With great difficulty, he had recuperated, but his martial arts had become much worse than before. That day in Dali, he and Ba Tianshi had had a lightness skill contest and they had not been far apart. However, today, as soon as Ba Tianshi heard the footsteps of Yun Zhonghe when he went up the tree, he knew that his lightness skill was not as good as it had been in the past.

As soon as Yun Zhonghe saw Xiao Feng, he was frightened, so he turned around and ran to meet 3 people who were coming along the path beside the lake. Among those 3 people, the one on the left-hand side had disheveled hair and short clothes–he was the ‘Fiendish Devil’ South Sea Divine Alligator. The one on the right-hand side was a woman who was embracing a child–she was ‘Stop at No Evil’ Ye Erniang. The one in the middle was wearing a green robe and was supporting himself on 2 thin iron canes and his face looked like a corpse’s–he was none other than the leader of the 4 Evils, known as ‘Full of the Worst Evils’ Duan Yanqing.
 
Duan Yanqing had seldom showed his face in the Central Plains so Xiao Feng and the ‘Number 1 Arch-Villain under Heaven’ were not at all acquainted with each other. However, Duan Zhengchun had experienced his artifice in Dali, so he knew that even though the ones such as Ye Erniang and Yue the Third were powerful, they were not hard to handle, but Duan Yanqing was really no small matter. He had strong techniques of both the orthodox system and the heterodox system of martial arts. Without doubt he was proficient at the Purely Yang Finger of the Duan family, and he had also mastered unorthodox skills from head to toe, orthodoxy and heterodoxy boosting each other. Not even such an expert as Yellow- Eyebrowed Monk was a match for him, so Duan Zhengchun certainly knew that he himself was not his equal in martial arts.

Fan Hua said loudly: ‘My Lord, this Duan Yanqing is up to no good. You should attach most importance to the country, my Lord. Please quickly go and request high-level monks of Tianlong Monastery to come here.’ Tianlong Monastery was far way in Dali, how was it possible to request them to come? At present, the Lord and the servants of Dali were being faced with a deadly great danger, so those words were meant to request Duan Zhengchun to quickly flee back to Dali at once. At the same time, they were a false show of strength and might make Duan Yanqing think that high-level monks of Tianlong Monastery were nearby, thus becoming somewhat afraid of them. Duan Yanqing was of the direct line of descent of the Duan Clan so he certainly knew very well that the monks of Tianlong Monastery were redoubtable.

Duan Zhengchun knew clearly that the situation was extremely dangerous, but among the people of Dali here he had the best martial arts, if he abandoned the others and retreated, how would he still have the face to see the heroes under Heaven? Moreover, his lover and daughter were around, how could he lose face like that? So, he smiled, saying: ‘A matter of the Duan Clan in Dali, yet we have to go to Great Song to settle, ha-ha, so laughable, so laughable.’

Ye Erniang laughed and said: ‘Duan Zhengchun, every time I see you, you’re always together with some loose and attractive women, both old and
 
young. Your bliss ain’t bad, eh?’ Duan Zhengchun smiled, saying: ‘YE Erniang, you’re also very loose and attractive!’

South Sea Divine Alligator said angrily: ‘This son of a turtle has enjoyed enough happiness. He has a son, but the dude’s unwilling to accept me as master. He can’t be a father. Let this father here cut him down at 1 stroke!’ Then he drew out from his side the Alligator-Mouthed Scissors and rushed at Duan Zhengchun.

Hearing Ye Erniang call the middle-aged man Duan Zhengchun and him admit it without concealing anything, Xiao Feng was sure that he had guessed correctly. He turned to A'Zhu and said in a low voice: ‘It’s really him!’ A'Zhu said in a trembling voice: ‘You want to… launch a joint attack from the side, taking advantage of his precarious situation?’ Xiao Feng’s mind had been fired up. He was both angry and pleased, saying coldly: ‘My parents’ wrongs, my benevolent master’s wrong, my adopted father and mother’s wrongs, and the wrongs I’ve suffered, humph, such knots of intense and deep-seated hatred. Humph, could it be that we’ll still be paying attention to virtue, morality and jianghu customs?’ He said these few sentences very softly but his face was full of enmity, looking resolute and decisive as if chopping nails and cutting iron.

Seeing South Sea Divine Alligator charge up, Fan Hua said in a low voice: ‘Big brother Hua, dear brother Zhu, you two attack this lout jointly! Hit him fast and hard. The faster you beat him the better. Eliminate the accomplices first then everyone will cooperate to handle the boss.’ Hua Hegen and Zhu Danchen replied in agreement and came out. They felt that there was a loss of dignity in using 2 people to fight 1 enemy. Furthermore, Hua Hegen’s martial arts were not inferior to South Sea Divine Alligator’s, so it was unnecessary for someone to help him. But hearing Fan Hua say so, both of them also felt that his words were reasonable. Duan Yanqing was really too formidable. In one-on-one combat, no one could be a match for him, so there was no alternative for them but to rush at him at the same time. Perhaps only then would they be able to defend themselves. Without delay, Hua Hegen grasped his steel shovel and Zhu Danchen brandished his iron brushes and attacked South Sea Divine Alligator from the left and the right in a pincer movement.
 
Fan Hua continued: ‘Brother Ba, you go fight your old friend. I and brother Chu handle that woman.’ Ba Tianshi replied in agreement, came out and rushed at Yun Zhonghe. Fan Hua and Zhu Wanli also jumped forward in pairs at once. The original weapon of Chu Wanli’s was an iron fishing rod, but it had been thrown into the lake by A'Zi, so in this moment he was raising Fu Sigui’s copper staff. He shouted loudly and rushed up.

Fan Hua went straight at Ye Erniang. Ye Erniang gave a charming smile. Seeing Fan Hua’s movements, she knew that he was a strong opponent, so she did not dare to be careless in dealing with him. She threw the baby she was embracing on the ground. When she turned around, there was already a saber which was both broad and thin in her hand. But no one could have known where she had hidden it previously.

Chu Wanli, however, rushed at Duan Yanqing, shouting like crazy. Fan Hua was very frightened, calling: ‘Brother Chu, brother Chu, come to this side!’ It seemed Chu Wanli did not hear anything. He raised the copper staff and ferociously swung it horizontally at Duan Yanqing.

Duan Yanqing sneered slightly. Unexpectedly, he did not dodge, but thrust at Chu Wanli’s face with the iron cane in his left hand. This stance is mentioned lightly on paper, but it was executed without the least bit of inaccuracy in timing and position. Compared to the move of the staff of Chu Wanli’s, it arrived just a little faster. Coming out later but arriving earlier, it was no doubt swift and fierce. Besides its neutralizing purpose, this stance was also for attacking, so it should be impossible for Chu Wanli not to dodge. In 1 stance, Duan Yanqing had reversed the positions of the host and the guest. However, who would have thought that Chu Wanli would not seem to see the coming iron staff? He put more power in his hands and kept swinging the copper staff at Duan Yanqing’s waist swiftly. Duan Yanqing was scared, thinking: ‘Could it be that this fellow is mad?’ He was unwilling to become entangled with Chu Wanli in a situation that would see both sides injured. Even if he could poke him to death on the spot with this stance, his own waist would be hit by the staff and he would certainly be injured. So he hastily pushed his right cane against the ground, jumped up and dodged.
 
Chu Wanli quickly put the copper staff up and thrust at his lower abdomen. This copper staff of Fu Sigui’s was thick, long and heavy, so steadiness was the criterion for judging the martial arts of a user of it. But speed and lightness were the strong points of Chu Wanli’s martial arts, so he had difficulties in using this copper staff. However, he brandished it in a disorderly manner with every move aimed for a vital part of Duan Yanqing’s and gave absolutely no thought to his own life and death. ‘A desperado bests 10,000 fellows,’ as the saying goes. Even though Duan Yanqing had powerful martial arts, when facing this madman who fought recklessly with no regard for his life, he was forced to retreat again and again.

In a very short time, the green lawn beside the Little Mirror Lake was already splattered all over with fresh blood. It turned out while retreating Duan Yanqing had executed his stances continuously. Each of his stances had hit Chu Wanli’s body and pierced a hole in the place where it had hit. However, Chu Wanli did not seem to be in pain and kept brandishing the copper staff faster.

Duan Zhengchun called: ‘Brother Chu, fall back. I’m gonna fight this villain!’ He moved his hand backwards and received a long sword from Ruan Xingzhu’s hand. Then he rushed up, wanting to fight Duan Yanqing in a two-on-one. Chu Wanli cried: ‘Fall back, my Lord.’ But Duan Zhengchun would be unwilling to listen. He put the sword up then thrust at Duan Yanqing. Duan Yanqing, propping his right cane on the ground, first blocked Chu Wanli’s copper staff with his left cane, then taking advantage of the opportunity he thrust at the place between Duan Zhengchun’s eyebrows. Duan Zhengchun retreated 1 step in a sloping direction.

Chu Wanli, sounding like a wounded beast, suddenly changed his offence. He grasped 1 end of the copper staff with both hands, brandished it at high speed, creating a circle of yellow light which looked like a huge copper tray, and whirled it towards the iron cane that Duan Yanqing was propping on the ground. Such a way of fighting was not any martial arts technique.

The people such as Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Zhu Danchen all shouted loudly: ‘Brother Chu, big brother Chu, quickly fall back to have a rest.’ Chu Wanli, screaming out, suddenly jumped up and thrust and whipped at Duan
 
Yanqing chaotically with the staff. At this moment, seeing that his actions were bizarre, everyone, from Fan Hua to Ye Erniang and South Sea Divine Alligator, stopped fighting. Zhu Danchen called: ‘Big brother Chu, move back!’ and rushed forwards to pull him. But he was hit right in the face by a backward elbow attack from Chu Wanli. At once, his nose turned black and his mouth swelled up.

Meeting such an opponent was not what Duan Yanqing wished for. By now, he and Chu Wanli had exchanged 30 stances or so, and he had pierced more than 10 deep holes in Chu Wanli’s body. Chu Wanli, however, was still shouting and fighting violently. Duan Yanqing and the bystanders all were astounded and felt that this matter was very far from what was usual. Zhu Danchen knew that if Chu Wanli kept fighting, he would certainly die. Tears rolled down his face. He wanted to rushed forwards to help him, but when he had just taken a step, suddenly he heard a ‘hu’ sound. Chu Wanli had thrown the copper staff at the enemy with all his might. And it went with great force. Duan Yanqing thrust out with his iron cane and hit the copper staff right in the middle, then, with a light upward movement of the iron cane, the copper staff flew to his back. When the copper staff had not yet fallen on the ground, Chu Wanli spread his 10 fingers and rushed at Duan Yanqing.

Duan Yanqing, sneering slightly, made a thrust of the cane at chest high. The 4 people Duan Zhengchun, Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Zhu Danchen exclaimed in unison and went forwards to help him at the same time. But this thrust of the cane by Duan Yanqing was too swift. With a ‘pu’ sound, the cane stuck in Chu Wanli’s chest squarely then pierced from the chest through to the back. After his right cane had pierced through Chu Wanli, he pressed his left cane on the ground and floated away several zhang (3.333 m).

Blood spurted out wildly from the wounds on Chu Wanli’s chest and back but he still wanted to chase after Duan Yanqing. However, after taking 1 step, he had no strength to lift his foot, so he turned around and talked to Duan Zhengchun: ‘My Lord, Chu Wanli prefers death to dishonor. All my life I’ve never let the House of Duan of Dali down.’
 
Duan Zhengchun fell on his right knee and said tearfully: ‘Brother Chu, it’s because I fathered my daughter but didn’t teach her that she offended you. Zhengchun is extremely ashamed of that.’

Chu Wanli turned to Zhu Danchen and smiled, saying: ‘Good brother, this elder brother must go first. You… you…’ When he had just said 2 ‘you’ words, his breathing stopped, and he died. But his body still stood upright without falling.

Hearing he say the words ‘prefers death to dishonor’ in his dying moment, everyone knew that he disregarded his life and recklessly attacked Duan Yanqing like that because the intention of dying had geminated in him long ago as a result of the humiliation of being caught in A'Zi’s fishing net. People in wulin all knew the principle of ‘There are still people stronger than strong people and there are still mountains higher than high mountains.’ It was not a burning shame when a person was bested in martial arts, because if they practiced intensely for 10 years, it was not like there would not be a day when they would have their revenge. However, because Chu Wanli was a servant of the Duan Clan and A'Zi was Duan Zhengchun’s daughter, there was no way for Chu Wanli to get rid of this humiliation in his life, thus he was willing to lose his life in battle. Zhu Danchen wept loudly. Even though Fu Sigui and GU Ducheng had not yet recovered from their serious injuries, they both rose and wanted to fight Duan Yanqing to the death.

Suddenly, there was the clear voice of a girl: ‘This man’s martial arts were too bad. Bringing about his own death like that for nothing, wasn’t he a big fool?’ It was none other than A'Zi who said that.

The people such as Duan Zhengchun were being sorrowful, so hearing these cold and unkind mocking words of her they could not help getting furious. The people such as Fan Hua glowered at her, but because she was their Lord’s daughter, it was inconvenient for them to express their emotions. Duan Zhengchun’s anger surged up. He turned his hand and swung it at her face in a heavy slap.

Ruan Xingzhu raised her hand to block it, saying sulkily: “You abandoned your own daughter to other people for 10-odd years, not knowing if she was
 
dead or alive. Today you’ve met her again, yet you still have the heart to beat her?”

Duan Zhengchun had always felt ashamed that he had not treated Ruan Xingzhu well. Moreover, he had always been obedient to her, and was unwilling to dispute with her in front of other people. Hence when this palm attack was about to hit her arm, he hurriedly drew it back. He said angrily to A'Zi: ‘Uncle Chu was harmed to death by you, do you know that?’

A'Zi slightly twitched her small mouth and said: ‘They call you ‘Lord’ so I’m his little master. Killing 1 vassal or 2–What’s so serious about it?’ Her expression was very disdainful.

At that time, the dividing line between rulers and subjects were very strict, so as much that ‘when a ruler wanted a subject to die, the subject was not allowed not to die.’ The people such as Chu Wanli were officials in the imperial court of the State of Dali, so they certainly deeply revered the Duan Clan. However, the House of Duan had its origin in the wulin of the Central Plains and had always complied with jianghu customs, therefore even though the people such as Hua Hegen and Chu Wanli were subjects, Duan Zhengming and Duan Zhengchun had always treated them like brothers. In his youth, Duan Zhengchun had frequently travelled jianghu in the Central Plains. Chu Wanli had followed him to go through life-or-death situations and experience not a few dangers. How could he be the same as an ordinary vassal? Hearing those words of A'Zi, the people such as Fan Hua was even unhappier. So long as it was not at a court or a temple, even Emperor Baoding always added the word ‘brother’ when he addressed them, much less Duan Zhengchun, who had not yet been enthroned, and A'Zi, who was merely an illegitimate daughter with no proper status of his?

Not only was Duan Zhengchun distressed at the death of Chu Wanli, he also felt ashamed to have such a daughter. Putting up his sword, he floated out and pointed at Duan Yanqing, saying: ‘If you want to kill me–then just come to take my life. The Duan Clan uses ‘benevolance and righteousness’ to manage state affairs. If you kill innocent people excessively, even if you get the country, it won’t last long.’
 
From the bottom of his heart, Xiao Feng secretly sneered: ‘The words from your mouth are so pleasant to hear. At this moment you’re still acting the gentleman.’

With a press of his iron cane, Duan Yanqing was already in front of Duan Zhengchun. He asked: ‘You wanna fight me one-on-one with no outsider involved, right?’ Duan Zhengchun replied: ‘Yes! You only want to kill me then go to Dali and kill my Emperor elder brother. Whether you can achieve your goals–depends on your fortune. My subordinates and family members have nothing to do with the matter between you and me.’ He knew Duan Yanqing’s martial arts were really too formidable so today he himself would probably lose his life here. But he hoped that Duan Yanqing would not make things difficult for Ruan Xingzhu, A'Zi and the people such as Fan Hua. Duan Yanqing said: ‘Kill your family, but spare your subordinates. It was because my Emperor father was benevolent and didn’t kill your brother and you in the past that there is this disaster of usurpation and rebellion of today.’

Duan Zhengchun thought: ‘I, Duan Zhengchun, will die with honor and won’t leave behind anything for other people to sneer at.’ He folded his hands in salute to Chu Wanli’s corpse, saying: ‘Brother Chu, today Duan Zhengchun is going to fight the enemy with you side by side.’ Then he turned to Fan Hua and said: ‘Minister of War Fan, after I have died, my tomb and brother Chu’s will be side by side, and with no master-vassal separation.’

Duan Yanqing said: ‘Ha-ha, hypocrite, you’re still trying to win the hearts of other people. You think they’d help you with all their strength?’

Duan Zhengchun did not say anything. With his left hand forming a sword, he thrust out with the long sword in his right hand. This ‘That Sharpness Cuts Metal’ stance was the starting stance of the ‘Duan Family Sword.’ Duan Yanqing certainly knew its variations profoundly. He reacted calmly at once with a stance of his cane. As soon as the two fought, they both used the martial arts of the Duan family that had been handed down from generation to generation. Duan Yanqing used his canes like swords. His purpose was to kill Duan Zhengchun with the ‘Duan Family Sword’ swordsmanship. He and Duan Zhengchun became the enemies of each other
 
not because of any personal enmity, but because they both contended for the throne of Dali. Now, all the 3 Dukes of Dali were here, if he used heterodox martial arts to kill Duan Zhengchun, the court officials of Dali would certainly disapprove of him. But if he used the orthodox ‘Duan Family Sword’ of his family to defeat the enemy and win the battle, his actions would be perfectly justifiable, and no one would be able to have a word of dissent. The fight for the throne between the brothers of the Duan Clan had nothing to do with the officials, so in the future if he ascended the throne and became the Emperor, it would be very convenient for him.

Seeing Duan Yanqing using their family’s skills with the canes, Duan Zhengchun was somewhat calm. Holding his breath and concentrating his mind, he did his best to execute his sword stances properly. His footwork stable, his sword movements were light and quick, and there was no stance that was not up to standard in offence and defence. Duan Yanqing used the ‘Duan Family Sword’ with the canes. His swordsmanship had big and liberal movements, and looked dignified. Even though its stances were extremely light, swift and elegant, those qualities came at no cost to its kingly air.

Xiao Feng thought: ‘This good chance today is hard to come by. I’ve always worried about the Purely Yang Finger and the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ of the Duan Clan. Luckily this thief Duan Zhengchun has been found by a tough enemy, and his enemy is exactly a member of his clan. In the blink of an eye I’ll be able to see clearly how powerful these 2 elite skills of the Duan family are.’

After watching more than 20 stances, he saw that the iron canes in Duan Yanqing’s hands seemed to have become heavier gradually. His movements were more sluggish and less smooth than before. But when Duan Zhengchun’s long sword clashed with a cane, it rebounded off farther and farther. Xiao Feng secretly approved, thinking: ‘Real skills have been put into play. Using these thin light iron canes just like a 60 or 70 Jin (0.6 kg) Buddhist staff made of refined iron–this achievement is very outstanding.’ The people with good martial arts were often capable of ‘lifting heavy objects as if they were light’ and using heavy weapons like nothing, but ‘lifting light objects as if they were heavy’ was a skill of the next level.
 
Even though it seemed ‘as if they were heavy’, they were not ‘really heavy.’ They had to have the fierceness of heavy weapons and the intrinsic deftness of light weapons. Seeing Duan Yanqing using the thin iron canes like steel staves, moreover they were getting heavier and heavier with apparently no end, inwardly Xiao Feng praised him for possessing an exceptional internal energy.

Duan Zhengchun did his best to receive the enemy’s stances but he gradually felt that the canes were becoming heavier, which pressed him so much that he was unable to channel his inner breath as he pleased. The martial arts of the House of Duan paid particular attention to internal energy. Therefore, having an unsmooth inner breathing was an indication of inferiority and defeat. But Duan Zhengchun did not panic in the least. Actually, he did not hope that he would be able to win this match of mortal combat by luck. He thought that he had enjoyed a very happy life, so if he lost his life beside the Little Mirror Lake today, there would not be any wrong. Morever, with Ruan Xingzhu watching him with her affectionate eyes by his side, if he died he would be a romantically successful ghost.

All his life, he had had romantic relationships everywhere. In fact, the affection he had for Ruan Xingzhu was not greater than the affection he had for his wife Dao Baifeng or for any other woman of his. But whenever he was together with a lover, he always treated her wholeheartedly, and even if he had to lose his life for her, he would not hesitate. As for having a new happiness after parting from her, that was a different matter.

The internal energy in the iron canes of Duan Yanqing’s became heavier constantly. After exchanging 60 stances or so, the Duan Family Sword technique had been used completely. Seeing that there were several beads of sweat on Duan Zhengchun’s nose, but the sound of his breathing was still gentle, long and steady, Xiao Feng thought: ‘I’ve heard that this fellow is amorous and has quite a few lovers. Who’d have thought that he’d have such a lasting internal energy? I mustn’t regard him lightly.’ By now, the internal energy in Duan Yanqing’s canes had been brought into play to the max. When the iron canes were sent out in attacks, chi-chi sounds could be heard. When Duan Zhengchun warded off a sword stance, his body would
 
shake. And when he warded off another sword stance, his body would shake again.

All the stances that the 2 of them used were the ones that they had learned and achived mastery of since the age of 13 or 14. Even the people such as Fan Hua and Ba Tianshi had also seen and been used to these stances for the past several decades. Hence this sword fight was not a battle of stances, but a battle of internal energy. Watching to this point, the people such as Fan Hua knew that Duan Zhengchun could not endure this. They gave each other hints with the eyes and grasped their weapons, wanting to go into action together to help him.

Suddenly a girl giggled and said: ‘So laughable, so laughable! Every one of the people known as heroes and exceptional men of Dali now wants to charge forwards together and rely on number to win. Wouldn’t it turn them into shameless pigmies?’

Everyone was startled. Seeing that those few sentences were obviously the work of A'Zi, they all were extremely puzzled. The person who was facing danger was her father, and she was not ignorant of it, but why could she say those mocking words?

Ruan Xingzhu said angrily: ‘A'Zi, what do you know? Your father is the South-Stabilizing Prince of the State of Dali. The fellow who’s fighting him is the traitor of the Duan family. These friends all were subjects of the State of Dali. Eliminating the cruel ones and suppressing the rebels are everyone’s duties.’ Her swimming skills were masterful, but her martial arts were mediocre. Seeing that her beau had been in danger repeatedly, she was anxious, calling: ‘Let’s charge side by side, everyone. The enemy is an evil traitor. Why still care about jianghu customs?’

A'Zi laughed and said: ‘Mom, your words are very funny. They’re just an unreasonable sophism. It’s because my Dad is such a hero and brave man that I accepted him. If he was a shameless fellow who wants to rely on other people’s help in fighting, why would I accept a fellow of this sort as father?’
 
These few sentences went into everyone’s ears clearly. Fan Hua and the people such as Ba Tianshi and Hua Hegen looked at each other in blank dismay. They all felt that it was undoubtedly improper to go forwards to help, but it would be no good if they did not go into action.

Even though Duan Zhengchun was a man who fond of pursuing romance, he cherish the reputation of being ‘a hero and brave man’ very much. He often made fun of himself, saying: ‘‘It’s hard for a hero to pass the beauty pass,’ even if I can’t pass the beauty pass, I’m still a hero. How can’t I see that the Conqueror of Chu (Xiang Yu) had Yu Ji, the Supreme Ancestor of Han (Liu Bang) had Lady Qi, and Li Shimin had Wu Zetian?’ So he simply disdained to do mean and cowardly things. Even though he was being in an intense fight, hearing A'Zi’s words, he said loudly at once: ‘What’s so important about life and death, victory and defeat? Whoever goes forward to help will make things difficult for Duan Zhengchun.’

Opening his mouth to say, it was unavoidable that his internal energy became impure. But Duan Yanqing did not seize the opportunity to press forward. Instead, he retreated 1 step, propped his canes on the ground and waited for Duan Zhengchun to finish saying before resuming fighting. The people such as Fan Hua were secretly frightened when they saw Duan Yanqing had such leisurely and refined behavior and that he did not try to gain any unfair advantage. Obviously he was secure in the knowledge that he had strong backing, so he did not need to take advantage of this situation.

Duan Zhengchun smiled, saying: ‘Let’s continue!’ He made a swing of the left sleeve and, making use of the wind created by the sleeve, sent out the long sword.

Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘A'Zi, you see, your father’s swordsmanship is so swift and fierce. If he really wants to finish this zombie off, he’ll be more than good enough. But he’s got the status of a prince, so in fact he can still leave it to his subordinates. He doesn’t need to do it himself.’ A'Zi said: ‘If Dad could finish him off, then nothing would be better. I’m only afraid that you’re talking tough, but feeble inside, Mom. Your words sound completely impressive, but in your heart, you’re extremely scared.’ These few sentences described exactly her mother’s state of mind. Ruan Xingzhu
 
glowered at her daughter, thinking: ‘This brat really doesn’t know what’s good or bad, and talks inconsiderately.’

They saw Duan Zhengchun execute 3 swift stances continuously with his long sword. The internal energy in Duan Yanqing’s iron canes became stronger, forcing the enemy’s sword back one stance after another. In the 4th stance, ‘Golden Horse Rises into the Air’, Duan Zhengchun swung his sword out horizontally. Duan Yanqing replied with the ‘Green Jade Rooster Heralds Dawn’ stance by thrusting out with the iron cane in his left hand. When the cane and the sword came into contact with each other, they immediately stuck together. Making ‘gu-gu’ sounds in his throat, Duan Yanqing suddenly pushed his right cane against the ground and his body rose into the air. The head of the cane in his left hand was still sticking together with the tip of Duan Zhengchun’s sword.

In an instant, 1 man stood on the ground with both his feet, absolutely still like a deep abyss or a lofty mountain, and the other was in mid-air with his whole body, floating freely like a willow branch in the wind.

‘Oh,’ all the bystanders exclaimed. They knew that the 2 of them had reached the important moment–fighting with internal energy. Standing on the ground, Duan Zhengchun was able to borrow force through his feet, which was to his advantage. However, Duan Yanqing was pressing down from a higher position, so the weight of his whole body was put on the enemy’s long sword, also adding to his internal energy.

After a short while, everyone saw that the long sword gradually bent and slowly turned into an arc. The thin iron cane, however, was still as straight as an arrow.

Xiao Feng saw that the long sword in Duan Zhengchun’s hand became more and more curved, and if it was bent a little more, perhaps it would be broken into two. He thought: ‘All along, the 2 haven’t used their most profound technique ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword.’ Could it be Duan Zhengchun knows he isn’t as good at this technique as his enemy, so he thinks it’d be better to hide his clumsiness? But judging from his expression when using internal energy, it seems he has used up all his reserve of power. It doesn’t look like he still has some unused special skill at all.’
 
Duan Zhengchun, seeing that the long sword in his hand could snap at any moment, took a deep breath and quickly pushed out with his right finger. It was none other than the Purely Yang Finger technique. His accomplishment in finger force was still rather inferior to that of his elder brother Duan Zhengming, and the finger force was unable to go farther than 3 Chi (33.33 cm). The cane and the sword were sticking together, and the total length of 2 weapons was as great as 8 Chi, so this finger attack was certainly unable to injure the enemy. Hence the finger force was totally not aimed at Duan Yanqing, but was aimed at his iron cane.

Xiao Feng slightly frowned, thinking: ‘It seems this fellow can’t use the 6 Meridians Divine Sword. He’s still not good as my sworn brother. This finger attack is merely a very good acupuncture point blocking skill, nothing more. What’s so fantastic about it?’ But he saw that whenever Duan Zhengchun’s finger hit Duan Yanqing’s iron cane, it slightly shook and Duan Zhengchun’s long sword became somewhat straighter. He continuously poked 3 times so the long sword in his hand became less bent 3 times, gradually reverting to its original state.

A'Zi, however, said again: ‘Mom, you see, Dad is using both his finger and the sword, but he can only match a thin cane of that fellow’s. If the enemy attacks with the other cane, could it be that Dad has 3 hands to handle it? If he doesn’t, then crawling on the ground and raising his feet will also be good. Even though he’ll look ugly, it’ll still be better than getting stabbed to death by that fellow.’

Ruan Xingzhu was already laden with sorrow watching the fight, yet her daughter, at her side, had always said words that were unpleasant to hear. Before she had replied, she saw Duan Yanqing raised the iron cane in his right hand, and sure enough, with a ‘chi’ sound, he thrust at Duan Zhengchun’s left forefinger with it.

The technique and internal energy of this cane attack of Duan Yanqing were the same as those of the Purely Yang Finger. But using the cane like a finger, he could reach farther thanks to its length. Still, Duan Zhengchun did not dodge it. His finger force and Duan Yanqing’s cane force clashed. He felt a burst of ache and tingle in his arm at once. He retracted his finger. When he was about to channel his internal energy again to send out the 2nd
 
finger stance, unexpectedly, the black cane before him moved very quickly. The 2nd cane stance of Duan Yanqing was already coming. Duan Zhengchun was shocked: ‘He channels his inner breath so quick. It seems it goes as he pleases. This achievement in the Purely Yang Finger is much profounder than mine.’ He returned it at once with a finger stance. But he was still late by the blink of an eye, so his body slightly shook.

Seeing that he himself had fought Duan Zhengchun for a long time, Duan Yanqing was very afraid that a long delay might cause trouble. If Duan Zhengchun’s subordinates charged at him at the same time, it would eventually require plenty of action. So, he brandished his cane like the wind at once and sent out 9 stances in an instant. Duan Zhengchun did all he could to fend them off, but when the 9th cane stance came, his internal energy was no longer constant. And so, with a soft ‘pu’ sound, the tip of the iron cane pierced his shoulder. His body slightly shook, and with a ‘pai’ sound, the long sword in his right hand snapped.

Duan Yanqing suddenly uttered a strange sound from his throat and thrust the iron cane in his right hand at the enemy’s head. Determined to take Duan Zhengchun’s life immediately with this stance of the cane, he put all his power into the hand, so when the cane went out, it made loud noises.

The 3 people Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Ba Tianshi leaped out at the same time and attacked Duan Yanqing from both sides. The 3 Dukes of Dali saw that the situation was extremely dangerous, and it was definitely too late to save Duan Zhengchun, so they all attacked Duan Yanqing’s vital parts directly to force him to retract the cane to save himself. Having already expected this move, Duan Yanqing pressed the iron cane in his left hand on the ground to support his body then channelled enough internal energy into the iron cane in his right hand and swung it out horizontally. In just a shock, he repelled all the 3 weapons. Then he aimed directly at Duan Zhengchun’s head again.

‘Ah,’ Ruan Xingzhu uttered a sharp cry and quickly rushed over. Seeing that her beau was about to die a gruesome death, she also had no intention of living.
 
When Duan Yanqing’s iron cane was just 3 cun (3.333 cm) away from Duan Zhengchun’s ‘Baihui acupuncture point’, suddenly Duan Zhengchun’s body flew away to one side, and so the cane hit empty air. By now, the 3 people Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Ba Tianshi had been forced to retreat simultaneously by Duan Yanqing’s iron cane. Ba Tianshi was fast in his reaction. He turned his hand over and grabbed Ruan Xingzhu’s wrist so that she would not die in vain at the hands of Duan Yanqing. All of them looked towards Duan Zhengchun at the same time.

This cane stance of Duan Yanqing missed the enemy, but he saw a big fellow stretch out his hand, grab the back side of Duan Zhengchun’s neck then forcefully pull him away in the blink of an eye at the very moment when his life was hanging by a thread. This extraordinary hand technique was really beyond imagination. Duan Yanqing had powerful martial arts, but he thought to himself that he was unable to do so. Because his facial muscles were stiff, even though he was amazed, his face did not change colors. He only let out a ‘humph’ sound from his nostrils.

The person who went into action and saved Duan Zhengchun was, of course, Xiao Feng. While the 2 Duans were battling each other, he stood to one side and fixed his eyes on the fight. As he saw that Duan Zhengchun was about to be killed by the opponent, he suddenly thought that if Duan Yanqing thrust that cane down, his own intense and deep-seated grievances would become impossible to redress. For the past several days, he had made many vows and taken many oaths, that, in any case, it was impossible for him not to get his revenge. Seeing the enemy before him, how could he let him die at the hands of a stranger? Hence he leaped forward and pulled Duan Zhengchun away.

Duan Yanqing’s mind was astute. Not waiting for Xiao Feng to put Duan Zhengchun down, he swung the iron cane in his right hand out like fierce winds and rainstorms, one stance after another. All of the thrusts were aimed at Duan Zhengchun’s vital parts. He was determined to remove this obstacle that was standing before his imperial throne first. How to deal with Xiao Feng would be a matter of the next step.

Flashing left, ducking right, Xiao Feng dodged through the spaces between the stances of the cane while still lifting Duan Zhengchun. Duan Yanqing
 
executed 27 stances continuously with his cane, but all along he had not touched a corner of Duan Zhengchun’s robe. He was very astonished in his heart and knew that he himself was no match for Xiao Feng. Letting out a strange howl, he suddenly floated out several zhang and asked: ‘Who are you, sir? Why do you interfere with this?’

When Xiao Feng had not yet replied, Yun Zhonghe called: ‘Big bro, he’s the former Chief of the Beggar Society Qiao Feng. Your good disciple Soul Chasing Staff Tan Qing died at the hands of this villain.’

After these words were said, not only was Duan Yanqing shocked, but even the extraordinary people of Dali were also shocked, and their expressions changed. The name Qiao Feng resounded in the world. There was no one in wulin who had never heard of ‘North Qiao Feng, South Murong.’ But when he introduced himself to Fu Sigui and Duan Zhengchun, he only claimed to be ‘Xiao Feng, a Khitan.’ So, everyone did not know that he was the famous Qiao Feng. Now, after hearing these words of Yun Zhonghe, they all thought to themselves: ‘So it is him. Chivalrous and brave, he really deserves his reputation.’

Duan Yanqing had already heard Yun Zhonghe relate in details how not only had his satisfying disciple Tan Qing failed to harm other people at Juxian Manor but he had also been killed by Qiao Feng. At this moment, hearing that the big fellow before him was the killer of his disciple, he was both angry and anxious. He held out an iron cane and wrote on a bluestone flagstone: ‘Sir, what’s the enmity between us? Having killed my disciple, now you’ve spoiled my important business again.’

‘Chi-chi’ sounds were heard continuously, as if he was writing on sand. Every stroke of the 17 words went deep into the stone. When combined with high-level internal energy, his ventriloquism technique could capture the hearts of other people and mix up their minds. It was an extremely formidable heterodox technique. But this technique simply used mental force to control the enemy, if the enemy’s internal energy cultivation was better than his, he would be harm by them. He already knew how Tan Qing had died, and now he saw the skills that Xiao Feng used to save Duan Zhengchun, so he dared not rashly use his ventriloquism technique to talk to Xiao Feng.
 
Seeing that Duan Yanqing had finished writing, Xiao Feng, without saying anything, walked forward, pressed his foot against the ground and made several sweeps, immediately erasing completely all the 17 words on the flagstone. It was already very hard for one man to use an iron cane to write on a flagstone, but the other man used his foot to remove the words. This skill with the sole of the foot was much more difficult than concentrating internal energy in the tip of the cane. With 1 person writing and the other erasing, a bluestone flagstone on the lakeside path unexpectedly seemed just like a beach.

Seeing Xiao Feng erase those words, Duan Yanqing knew that, first, he wanted to display his skills, and second, he wanted to say that there was no enmity between them, and that if he himself could ignore the antipathy that he had unintentionally caused in the past, then both of them should stop. Knowing that he himself was no match for Xiao Feng, Duan Yanqing thought it would be better to get away as soon as possible, to avoid tasting the present deficiencies. Using the iron cane in his right hand, he drew a stroke from the top down at once, followed by an upward stroke, expressing the intention of ‘writing off at one stroke.’ Then he immediately gave the ground a poke with an iron cane, leaped backward, turned around and went away as if floating.

South Sea Divine Alligator looked Xiao Feng up and down with his strange eyes wide open. His heart full of disrespect, he cursed: ‘Fvck, what’s so amazing about this dog bastard…’ Before he had finished saying, his body suddenly rose into the air and flew towards the center of the lake. A plop was heard when water was splashed on all sides as a result of him falling into the lake.

Xiao Feng exceedingly hated being called ‘bastard’ by other people. While still carrying Duan Zhengchun with his left hand, he rushed over and threw South Sea Divine Alligator into the lake with his right hand. This action of his was extremely fast and did not allow South Sea Divine Alligator the smallest room for resisting.

South Sea Divine Alligator had lived at the South China Sea for a long time, and called himself ‘Divine Alligator’, so his swimming skills were certainly excellent. Pushing his feet against the bottom of the lake, he
 
jumped up to the surface and cried: ‘How did you pull that?’ As he finished this sentence, his body sunk to the bottom again. He pushed his feet against the bottom of the lake once more, jumped up to the surface and cried: ‘You sneakily attacked your father!’ Finishing this sentence, he sunk again. In the 3rd time of jumping up, he cried: ‘Your father won’t let you get away!’ His temper was extremely irascible so he could not wait until he had come ashore to start cursing Xiao Feng. He kept jumping up, letting out a sentence of abuse and sinking.

A'Zi laughed and said: ‘Everyone sees, this fellow emerges from the water and submerges. Doesn’t he look like a big black turtle (Play on words: black turtle = cuckold)?’ It happened that South Sea Divine Alligator jumped up to the surface right in this moment. Hearing she said so, he cursed: ‘It’s just you who are a black turtle…’ A'Zi raised her hand. A ‘chi’ sound was heard as she fired a flying awl at him. When the flying awl came, South Sea Divine Alligator had already sunk to the bottom of the lake.

South Sea Divine Alligator swam to the shore and climbed up, dripping wet. Unexpectedly, he was not afraid in the slightest. He walked up to Xiao Feng brazenly, tilted his head and glowered at him, saying: ‘What’s the technique you threw me into the lake with? Your father doesn’t know this technique.’ Ye Erniang, standing at a place 7 or 8 zhang away, called: ‘Third, go quickly. Don’t make a fool of yourself here.’ South Sea Divine Alligator said angrily: ‘I was thrown into the lake by him and don’t even know the technique he used. How can this not be a burning shame? Of course I must ask clearly.’

A'Zi said very solemnly: ‘Alright, I’m telling you. This technique of his is called the ‘Turtle Throwing Skill’.’

South Sea Divine Alligator said: ‘Oh, so it’s called the ‘Turtle Throwing Skill’. As I already know the name of this skill, I’ll beg other people to teach it to me and train hard so that later I won’t be at this disadvantage.’ As he finished saying, he left with quick steps. By now, Ye Erniang and Yun Zhonghe had already gone far.

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