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Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 50 (End)

CSI
Chapter 50: Getting Ruler to break an arrow
Back at the Khan residence, Yelu Hongji refused to grant an audience to Xiao Feng; instead he instructed Imperial Encampment Commander Du to lock Xiao Feng up. The Commander knew that Khan Xiao Feng is blessed with amazing strength and vigor, how could an ordinary jail cell restrain him? After some analyzing, he ordered his men to procure the thickest and heaviest iron chains and iron shackles to secure the hands and feet of Xiao Feng. Additionally, he imprisoned Xiao Feng in a large steel cage. This particular steel cage is the same one Ah Zi used to keep her ferocious lions. Each of the cage’s steel bars is as thick as a person’s limb.

Outside the steel cage, a hundred Imperial Encampment troops are deployed. Each of them armed with a long pike, they formed four circles around the cage. If Xiao Feng tries to pull any stunts from inside the steel cage, the troops can use their pikes and thrust it into the cage. Regardless of Xiao Feng's strength, it would be impossible for him to remove the iron chains and iron shackles, and break out of the cage in a short time. Outside the residence, another battalion of soldiers are putting the property under strict surveillance. Fearing the generals and soldiers previously under the command of Xiao Feng are still loyal to him and may break him out of prison, Yelu Hongji transferred all of them away from Southern Capital.

Leaning on a railing inside the steel cage, Xiao Feng gritted his teeth and endured the excruciating pain from his abdomen. He could not be bothered with anything else. A full day later, on the night of the second day, the effects of the poison gradually subsided and the pain diminished accordingly. Bit by bit, Xiao Feng recovered his strength, but given his present predicament, how could he possibly escape? He realized that worrying is meaningless; after all, he has experienced many situations which are much more life-threatening than this. Still he wondered if he, Xiao Feng, who had led a heroic life, would die as a captive in this steel cage. Lucky for him, the Imperial troops regarded him as a worthy hero.
 
Although he was closely supervised, there were no lack of excellent manners, food and wine. Xiao Feng drank to his heart's content. Days later, a pile of earthen wine jars started piling up beside the steel cage.

Yelu Hongji still refused to visit him. Instead, he dispatched a few eloquent influencers to come and persuade him into changing his mind. They advised: The Emperor is magnanimous and treasures their relationship. Therefore, no additional punishment is meted out. Xiao Feng should express regret for his offence and plead for forgiveness.

Xiao Feng did not even bother to cast a glance at these influencers. Minding his own business, he joyfully poured and drank his wine.

With this exact scenario repeating every day, soon, more than a month has passed. The four influencers did not exhibit the slightest display of frustration and simply repeat their tiresome advice again and again, making statements such as 'The Emperor has treated Xiao Feng well; if Xiao Feng wants to preserve his life, he must listen to the Emperor', 'The Emperor is divine and far sighted. Even a hundred generations later, no one would surpass him. The judgment of the holy Son of Heaven cannot be wrong. It is your duty to follow his directed path', etc. These influencers apparently knew that their persuasion is hopeless against Xiao Feng, nevertheless, they continue to jabber on and on relentlessly.

One day, Xiao Feng's suspicions were aroused. He thought: The Emperor is not a fool; why would he engage these nagging idi0ts to try and persuade me? There must be something amiss!

After some silent contemplation, he had an epiphany: I got it. The Emperor has already deployed his forces and is ready to launch his southern military campaign. However, he sent these irrelevant personnel to keep me engaged in this place. I am obviously at his mercy and he could kill me anytime. Why is he going to such lengths?

Xiao Feng evaluated the circumstances more deeply and finally comprehended everything: The Emperor is a self-proclaimed hero. In order to prove me wrong, he would personally field an army and attack the south. When he has conquered the territories of Great Song, he would then come
 
to me and brag about it. He is fearful of my strong character and believes that if I learnt about his invasion, I would starve myself to death in a fit of anger. Therefore, he sent these vulgar rascals to occupy my attention with nonsensical ramblings.

A long time ago, Xiao Feng has already cast aside his sense of life, death, safety or danger. Since he is trapped within the cage without any possibility of escape, he is even less concerned about his own fate than before. Although he is reluctant to lead an army for a Southern invasion, he is not a saint who is constantly worried about humanity and world peace. Assuming that Yelu Hongji has launched his assault and that a disastrous calamity is inevitable, except for letting out a long sigh and indulging in another ten bowls of wine, he decided to stop dwelling on this issue.

Hearing the four influencers still chattering non-stop, Xiao Feng abruptly interrogated: “Has our Khitan main army crossed the Yellow River?” The four influencers were stunned and glanced at one another in silence. Seconds later, one of the influencers affirmed: “Khan Xiao’s prediction is accurate. Our main army is ready to set off anytime. Although we have not crossed the Yellow River, it will be a matter of time.” Xiao Feng nodded: “So, our main forces have yet to set off. I wonder when is the auspicious day?” The four influencers winked at one another. One of them declared: “We are only low ranking bureaucrats and are not aware of military affairs.” Another one reminded: “Once Khan Xiao has changed your mind, the Emperor will personally come and discuss military and national issues with Khan.”

Xiao Feng snorted once and did not continue with his questioning. He thought: If the Emperor managed to conquer Great Song like a hot knife through butter, he would definitely escort me to Bianliang for a reunion. If he failed and retreat in disgrace, he would be ashamed to see me and would order my execution. At the end of the day, do I wish for him to vanquish Great Song or do I wish for him fail miserably? Hey Hey, Xiao Feng ah Xiao Feng, this is a question that cannot be easily answered!

It is the evening of another day and the four influencers swaggered into the holding chamber again. The soldiers guarding Xiao Feng have been listening to their pointless ranting and are absolutely sick of it. The minute
 
they saw the four men, they would frown their eyebrows and step away from the cage. For more than a month, Xiao Feng did not display any signs of struggle or escape; therefore, the soldiers monitoring him are not as vigilant as before.

The first influencer coughed once and remarked: “Khan Xiao, the Emperor has a decree for your acknowledgement. If you still choose to disobey, your crime would be inexcusable.” Xiao Feng has heard these words being repeated a few hundred times. However, this time, he felt something peculiar about this person’s voice; it is as if this person is afflicted with some throat disease. He cannot help but take a look at him. Once he saw the influencer, he was astounded.

The influencer was winking and making funny faces at him. Xiao Feng inspected him closely and realised that this influencer is different from the one before. Scrutinizing this person carefully, he was both thrilled and surprised. This person has sparse and misplaced pieces of beard hair sticking all over his face. A layer of light ink has been smeared over the face as well, causing it to be shadowy and dreadful looking. By focusing underneath the yellow beard, Xiao Feng could distinguish a small mouth, a sharp nose and several pretty features. It is Ah Zi in disguise. The influencer lowered his voice pitch and vaguely instructed: “The Emperor’s words will never be wrong. By following the Emperor’s command, it will be beneficial to you. Here, this is the Imperial Decree by our Great Liao Emperor. You should respectfully go through it a few times.” As he spoke, he produced a piece of paper from his large sleeve and turned it to face Xiao Feng.

By now, the sky is gradually darkening and a few Imperial soldiers are lighting up the lanterns and candles situated all over the main hall. Using the illumination of the candlelight, Xiang Feng peered at the piece of paper. Eight tiny words were written: Major reinforcements have arrived; tonight, you will be freed.

Xiao Feng snorted once and shook his head. Ah Zi reassured: "This time round, our forces are truly significant. With excellent fighters and sturdy horses, this battle is as good as won. Victory is within our grasp and you need not worry about anything at all." Xiao Feng reminded: "It is precisely
 
that I wanted to avoid bloodshed that the Emperor has imprisoned me here." Ah Zi disputed: "To win a battle, it is the strategy that counts, not the number of deaths and injuries."

Xiao Feng turned his eyes towards the other three influencers. Either by using a folded fan or their large sleeves, the three of them are trying their best to cover their faces and are unwilling to exchange glances with anyone. They are naturally the accomplices of Ah Zi. Xiao Feng sighed once and remarked: "I deeply appreciate your kind gestures. However, the enemy has mounted a strong defense of the city. To attack it by force, the chances of victory are slim…"

Before he could finish, he was interrupted by some Imperial soldiers yelling: "Venomous snakes! Venomous snakes! Where did these countless snakes come from?" From the door frame and window frame, numerous venomous snakes are slithering into the compound. Raising their heads and flicking their tongues, the snakes wriggled into the hall, throwing everyone into chaos. Xiao Feng was inspired: Observing the formations of the venomous snakes, they resembled the work of my Beggar's Sect brethren!

Using their long pikes and waist sabres, the Imperial soldiers started smacking the snakes. An Imperial Lieutenant loudly commanded: "The Imperial soldiers guarding Khan Xiao must stay in their respective positions. Those who disobey will be executed!" This Lieutenant is especially alert. Noting the abnormal behavior of these snakes, he is afraid that Xiao Feng would take the opportunity to escape among the confusion. As commanded, the Imperial soldiers surrounding the steel cage remained steadfast in their posts, the tip of their long pikes pointing at Xiao Feng inside the cage. Nevertheless, the soldiers cannot help but glance to their sides, keeping a lookout for the venomous snakes. If any snake came close enough, they would beat it with their pikes.

Amidst the chaos, another din broke out from the back of the Khan residence: "Fire! Fire! Come and put out the fire! Come and put out the fire!"

The Lieutenant barked: "Kai Huer, report to Commander Du and ask him if we should relocate Khan Xiao!" Kai Huer is a 100-men Master Sergeant.
 
Acknowledging the order, he turned around and was about to speed off when he was interrupted by a man roaring fiercely at the hall entrance: "DO NOT BE TRICKED BY SPIES INTO ABANDONING YOUR POSTS! If
anyone tries to break Xiao Feng out of prison, stab him (XF) to death with your pikes!" It was Commander Du himself. Brandishing a long sabre, he stood at the hall entrance with an awe-inspiring aura.

Out of nowhere, someone hurled a tiny green snake towards his face. As Commander Du raised his sabre to intercept the flying snake, sounds of 'chi chi' pierced the air. Hidden projectiles have been fired. In a few seconds, all the lanterns and candles in the main hall have been extinguished and the hall instantly became pitch black. Hit by secret projectiles too, Commander Du shouted 'Ah!' as he collapsed on his back.

Retrieving a superior dagger from her sleeve, Ah Zi reached into the steel cage and with a few 'ka ka ka' sounds, she cut opened the chains binding Xiao Feng's shackles. Xiao Feng thought: This animal cage has steel bars that are solid and thick; even if you have a better dagger, it would take you some time to cut through it.

At this moment, he suddenly felt the ground below his feet caving in. Outside the cage, Ah Zi whispered: "Quickly escape through the underground tunnel!" Next, a pair of hands reached out from the ground and latched onto Xiao Feng's feet; with a downward pull, Xiao Feng's entire body was being dragged into the ground. It is DaLi country's tunneling expert Hua Hegen at work. Using more than 10 days, he constructed a tunnel that leads straight to the bottom of Xiao Feng’s steel cage.

Pulling Xiao Feng, Hua Hegen crawled through the tunnel. His crawling speed is amazing and it felt like they were walking on normal ground. In an instant, they have travelled more than half a kilometre. Helping Xiao Feng on his feet, Hua Hegen led him out of the tunnel. At the entrance of the tunnel, three persons with huge grins on their faces came up and welcomed them. They turned out to be Duan Yu, Fan Hua and Ba Tianshi. Pouncing at Xiao Feng and giving him a bear hug, Duan Yu called out: “Big Brother!”

Xiao Feng laughed loudly and praised: “I have heard rumours about Minister Hua’s divine skill. After experiencing it first hand today, I am full
 
of admiration.”

Hua Hegen merrily acknowledged: “To receive such a tremendous commendation from Khan Xiao’s esteemed mouth, this has got to be the highlight of my career!”

Their present location is not far from the Southern Khan Residence and all around them, they could hear the shouting of Liao soldiers. Blowing a horn, a rider rode past the house they were hiding and hollered in a loud voice: “The East gate is under attack by enemies. The Imperial troops are to stay put and guard your original positions. No departure is permitted!” Fan Hua suggested: “Khan Xiao, let’s break out via the West gate!” Xiao Feng nodded his head in agreement: “Excellent idea! Has Ah Zi and the others made their escape?”

Before Fan Hua could answer, the voice of Ah Zi was heard from the tunnel: “Brother in law, you still care for me after all.” Her voice is filled with feelings of happiness. With a ‘ka la chi’ sound, she popped out of the tunnel. Removing the beard stuck on her chin, her entire head and face is full of mud and dust, giving her a filthy appearance. But in the eyes of Xiao Feng, since the day he met her, she is at her prettiest.

Unsheathing her superior dagger, Ah Zi is prepared to cut the shackles on Xiao Feng. However, the shackles are tight and pressing on his flesh; if she uses too much force, she would undoubtedly wound him. It is a challenging task indeed. Handing the superior dagger to Duan Yu, Ah Zi advised: “Brother, you should do it.” Receiving the superior dagger, Duan Yu activated his internal energy and cut the shackles like he is cutting a piece of wooden board.

At this juncture, another three persons exited the tunnel. They are Zhong Ling, Mu Wanqing and an 8-pouch disciple from Beggar’s Sect. This particular disciple is an expert snake handler. The scattering of snakes in the main hall and the ensuring chaos is a trick devised by him. When this disciple saw that Xiao Feng is safe and unhurt, he wept with happiness, saying: “Chief, you…”
 
It has been a long time since anybody addresses him as ‘Chief’. Appreciating this Beggar’s Sect disciple’s expression, Xiao Feng was swelling with emotions too. He complimented: “It must be hard on you.” With this praise, the 8-pouch disciple is overwhelmed with gratitude and honour, and tears continued streaming down his face.

Fan Hua urged: “The soldiers and riders of DaLi country are already attacking the East gate, let’s make our escape among this pandemonium! Khan Xiao, you should refrain from making any moves or someone might recognize you.” Xiao Feng agreed: “That is right!” The nine of them sped out of the main door of a house. Xiao Feng turned his head back for a look and realised the tunnel entrance is in an abandoned tiled house. On the outside, the house is an ordinary looking building. In Khitan language, Ah Zi yelled: “Fire! Fire!” Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and the others copied her yelling and started shouting too. Perceiving the absence of Liao soldiers in the streets, Fan Hua, Ba Tianshi and the others started setting fire all over the area. In a few minutes, several locations are burning ferociously.

The nine of them continued to flee westwards. Duan Yu and the others have disguised themselves as Khitan people. By now, the city is in complete disarray and no one paid any attention to them. Occasionally, when they detect a large platoon of Khitan riders on their tail, the nine of them would hide in the shadows of nearby structures. Passing through ten odd streets, a horn was heard bellowing from the north and large groups of people started shouting: “Bad news! Bad news! The enemy troops have taken the North gate and the Emperor has been captured by them!”

Xiao Feng was shocked. Halting, he pleaded: “The Emperor of Liao has been captured? Third Brother, the Emperor of Liao is my Foster Elder Brother; although his treatment of me is lacking in humanity, I cannot go against the code of brotherhood. You must not hurt him…” Ah Zi giggled: “Brother in law, you can put your mind at ease. These shoutings are from the thirty-six Cave Chiefs and seventy-two Island Chiefs of Lingjiu Palace. I taught them these few Khitan phrases and got them to practice until they became eloquent. Right now, by shouting these phrases, rumours will start spreading and this will add to the instability of the population. The Southern Capital City is originally fortified with a heavy military presence; in
 
addition, the Emperor is protected by tens of thousands of Imperial troops. How could he be easily captured?” Xiao Feng was delighted and surprised. He quizzed: “The subordinates of Second Brother are here too?”

Ah Zi responded: “It is not only the subordinates of Little Monk; Little Monk is here himself, in fact, even the wife of Little Monk is here too.” Xiao Feng enquired: “Wife of Little Monk?” Ah Zi giggled: “Brother in law, this is something you are ignorant about. The wife of Xu Zhu Zi is the Princess of Xixia. However, her face is constantly shielded by a veil; except for Little Monk, nobody else is allowed see her genuine appearance. I asked Little Monk: Is your wife a beauty? Little Monk always smiled and evaded my question.”

Although Xiao Feng learnt about this unbelievable development while he is on the run, he could not help but feel rather happy for Xu Zhu. In the same context, he glanced towards Duan Yu. Duan Yu chuckled: “Big Brother need not worry too much, Little Brother is completely satisfied with this arrangement. Second Brother did not break his promise either. This matter deserves a lengthy explanation, let us slowly communicate it to you at a later occasion.”

As they spoke, the group of them have covered more distance. In front of them is a parade square with a tall platform. The platform itself is burning like a bonfire. In front of the platform, there are two flag poles and the two giant flags on the poles are burning furiously too. Xiao Feng knows that this parade square is the training ground for Southern Capital City and is used by the Liao army for military training. However, he has never seen the tall platform before and does not know when it was constructed.

Facing Duan Yu, Ba Tianshi reported: “Your Majesty, by burning the Liao Emperor’s inspection platform and commanding flags, it is considered an inauspicious sign for the Liao army. Yelu Hongji’s plan to invade Song is likely to be abolished.” Duan Yu nodded: “That is right.”

Hearing Ba Tianshi addressing Duan Yu as ‘Your Majesty’ and Duan Yu nodding his head, Xiao Feng was stunned once again. He inquired: “Third Brother… Have you become the Emperor?” With a sad tone, Duan Yu revealed: “My Father unfortunately lost his life during his journey home.
 
My Imperial Uncle has forsaken the throne for monkhood and is now a monk at Sky Dragon Monastery. Little Brother was ordered to inherit the throne. Little Brother is talentless and undeserving; by occupying this seat of great importance, I am filled with inadequacy.”

Xiao Feng was thunderstruck: “Ayo! Uncle has passed away? Third Brother! You are the Ruler of DaLi country; how could you put yourself in personal danger and take such a huge risk for me? If anything were to happen to you, how… how… would I be able to account to the people of the entire DaLi country?”

Duan Yu chuckled once and remarked: “DaLi is but a small country at the secluded southern borderlands. The term ‘Emperor’ is just a polite form of address. Little Brother is muddle-headed and barely resembles a proper Ruler, how could I live up to the title of Emperor? When others address me as ‘Your Majesty’, I am filled with awkwardness. The two of us are as intimate as flesh brothers; since a big catastrophe has befallen, wouldn’t it be unreasonable if Little Brother does not come and share the burdens of Big Brother?”

Fan Hua added: “When Khan Xiao strongly dissuaded the Emperor of Liao against the invasion of Song, everyone within our (DaLi) country is full of gratitude. If the Emperor of Liao conquered Great Song, his next step would surely be an invasion of DaLi. Our country has a small army and incompetent generals, how could we withstand the elite Khitan soldiers? When Khan Xiao saved Great Song, it is as good as saving DaLi. DaLi will naturally dedicate our full support to Khan. This is the right protocol.”

Xiao Feng pointed: “I am only an ordinary martial artiste who is unwilling to see a war erupt between two countries, resulting in countless deaths and destruction. I dare not claim any credit for myself.”

As they were speaking, they suddenly discovered a massive fire burning at the Southern gate. Squeezing between the soldiers and riders, many groups of commoners comprising of men, women and children are rushing towards their direction. The displaced population commented: “Along with numerous heroes, Southern dynasty Shaolin Monastery has conquered the Southern gate.” Someone in the crowd uttered: “Southern Khan Xiao Feng
 
has rebelled. Besides pledging allegiance to Song dynasty, he already killed the Emperor of Great Liao.” A few Khitan folks gnashed their teeth and scolded: “This Xiao Feng betrayed his own country and is now working for the enemy. We hate him so much we wish we can chew his meat off and swallow it into our bellies.” A person was frantically asking: “Was Your Majesty really killed by the traitor Xiao Feng?” Another person replied: “How could it be false? With my own eyes, I saw Xiao Feng riding a white steed towards the front of Your Majesty. With a spear thrust, he pierced a hole in the chest of Your Majesty.” Another old folk wondered out loud: “How could this traitor Xiao Feng be so ruthless? Is he a Khitan like us or a Han-race person?” Another guy cursed: “I heard he is a Southern barbarian disguised as a Khitan. This traitor is evil to the max, he is indeed worse than beast!”

Hearing these people insulting Xiao Feng, Ah Zi was critically annoyed. Lifting her horse whip, she lashed it towards the group of Khitan people. Xiao Feng raised his hand to intercept and successfully parried the whip. Shaking his head, he whispered: “Let them say whatever they want.” He then queried: “Are the esteemed monks of Shaolin Monastery here as well?”

The 8-pouch disciple reported: “Update to Chief: When Miss Duan escaped from Southern Capital, she ran into Elder Wu (Changfeng). She told Elder Wu that in order to safeguard the territories of Great Song as well as the lives of tens of thousands of commoners, Chief has clashed with the Emperor of Liao regarding a Song invasion. As a result, Chief was imprisoned in Liao Country. Elder Wu did not believe her, saying that Chief is a Liao descendent and has no reason to defend Great Song. He immediately sneaked into Southern Capital and conducted his own investigations. Finally, he realised that Miss Duan is indeed telling the truth. Elder Wu instantly activated our Sect’s ‘Green Bamboo Decree’ and spread the news about Chief’s selfless sacrifice to all the heroes in the Central Plains. Within the Central Plains, the martial arts world is heartened by Chief’s noble deed. With the esteemed monks of Shaolin Monastery providing leadership, plenty of heroes have come forward to volunteer in this mission to rescue Chief.”
 
Recalling that day in Hero’s Gathering Manor where Xiao Feng is forced to oppose the heroes of Central Plains and even killed a considerable number of them; in a twist of events, today, the heroes of Central Plains are coming to save him instead. Xiao Feng experienced grief and gratitude simultaneously.

Ah Zi joked: “With all the beggars in Beggar’s Sect spreading the news, how can there be a faster way than theirs? Ayo, this is bad, what a waste! What a waste!” Duan Yu wondered: “What has gone to waste?” Ah Zi replied: “My Divine Wood Grand Cauldron. It was placed in the centre of the hall with a burning incense to attract the snakes. In my haste, I forgot to take it along with me.” Duan Yu laughed: “This kind of unorthodox stuff is better lost than found, what is the use of having it?” Ah Zi jeered: “Humph, what do you mean by unorthodox? Without this treasure, it would be tough to summon so many venomous snakes in such a short time; my Brother in law’s escape would be hindered too.”

As they spoke, sounds of ‘ping ping pang pang’ can be heard. It is the sounds made by clashing of weapons. Under the illumination of the fire spots, various Liao soldiers were seen attacking one another. Xiao Feng was puzzled: “Yi, why are they fighting among themselves…” Duan Yu explained: “Big Brother, those with a white cloth tied around their necks on our side.” Ah Zi produced a white cloth and handed it to Xiao Feng, recommending: “You should tie one around your neck too!”

With a quick scan, Xiao Feng realised the Liao soldiers are unable to distinguish between friend and foe. In the midst of the chaotic skirmish, many of the Liao soldiers are killed by their own comrades. On the contrary, for the fake Liao soldiers with a white cloth around their necks, they are able to easily kill a Liao soldier with every sabre chop and every pike thrust. His eyes witnessing the people of Liao being slaughtered and their corpses lining the ground, Xiao Feng held the white cloth with both his hands trembling uncontrollably. In his heart, a loud voice cried out: “I am a Khitan, not a Han! I am a Khitan, not a Han!” He refused to tie the white cloth around his neck.

At this moment, with ‘zha zha’ noises, the two heavy city gates are slowly being pulled open. Hauling Xiao Feng, Duan Yu and Fan Hua dashed out of
 
the city.

Beyond the city gates, the city exterior is well lighted by fire torches. Countless beggars from the Beggar’s Sect are clutching their horses and waiting in anticipation. When they saw Xiao Feng rushing out of the city, they instantly cheered boisterously: “Chief Xiao! Chief Xiao!” With their torches waving and their outrageous welcome, it is truly an earth-shattering occasion.

A line opened up between the fellowship of beggars, forming two fire dragons on the left and right. A rider rode through the line and ended up in front of Xiao Feng. On the horse was an old beggar who is riding with both his hands raised above his head. Grasped in his hands is the Dog-Beating Staff, the token of the Chief of Beggar’s Sect. Rolling off his saddle, he kneeled on the ground and reported: “As requested by the brethren, Wu Changfeng hereby returns the Dog-Beating Staff of Beggar’s Sect to Chief. We deserve death for our stupidity; with lard blinding our hearts, we wronged a good man and caused Chief to undergo countless sufferings. We could not separate the wheat from the chaff. We hope Chief is magnanimous and would not hold it against losers like us; on account that we are a bunch of fatherless and motherless orphans, please resume your post as the Chief of our Sect. The lot of us were badly scammed by villains and we deserve death for saying Chief is a Khitan barbarian dog. The traitorous disciple Quan Guanqing has been killed and dismembered by us to avenge the injustice faced by Chief.” As he spoke, he offered the Dog- Beating Staff to Xiao Feng.

His heart turning sour (with ache), Xiao Feng declared: “Elder Wu, I am indeed a Khitan descendent. I fully appreciate the immense comradeship between each one of you and I; I can never be thankful enough. Regarding the position of Chief, it is impossible for me take it up again.” As he spoke, he reached his hand out and helped Wu Changfeng to his feet.

Wu Changfeng is completely at a loss. Scratching his head and ear, he persuaded: “You… You say you are a Khitan descendent? You… You must be reluctant to be Chief. Chief Xiao, please let go of the old grudges and stop holding them against us!”
 
Before anyone could react further, from within the city, loud sounds of drumming can be heard. It appears that a battalion of Liao soldiers is getting ready to storm out of the city. Duan Yu warned: “Elder Wu, let’s get moving! The Liao soldiers are well-trained; once they get into battle formation, we would be unable to resist them.”

Xiao Feng also knew that the Beggar’s Sect and the Central Plains heroes are gaining the upper hand because they launched a surprise attack on the enemy. If they are engaging the Liao Army in a proper battlefield, how could the thousands of martial artistes withstand the tens of thousands of Liao soldiers with their elite training? Moreover, if such an event were to take place, both sides would suffer heavy casualties and it would be a violation of his original intention. He advised: “Elder Wu, regarding the appointment of the Sect’s Chief, we can slowly discuss it at a later date. You must quickly give the order for our brethren to retreat towards the West.”

Elder Wu acknowledged: “Yes!” Giving the command, the brethren of Beggar’s Sect did an about-turn. The rear section of the fellowship became the leading section as everyone swiftly rode westwards. Soon thereafter, led by Xu Zhu Zi, the females disciples of Lingjiu Palace, as well as the warriors from thirty-six caves and seventy-two islands cut a bloody path and reunited with everybody. After riding for several kilometres, under the command of Fu Sigui and Zhu Danchen, the warriors of DaLi country managed to join them too. However, the monks from Shaolin Monastery and the heroes from Central Plains are still missing in action. Everyone could vaguely hear the sounds of fighting and killing from the Southern Capital City.

Xiao Feng surmised: “Shaolin Sect and the Central Plains heroes must have been entangled in the city warfare. Let us wait for a while more.” After some waiting, the sounds of killing and fighting from the city became louder and louder. Duan Yu volunteered: “Big Brother, please wait here. I shall go and fetch them.” Leading the DaLi warriors, he rode back to the Southern Capital City.

By now, the sky is gradually brightening and Xiao Feng is awfully anxious. He cannot tell if the Central Plains heroes have managed to make their
 
escape, however, the sounds of killing and fighting has increased significantly. Although the warriors of DaLi have rejoined the fighting, a prolonged period has passed without any signs of the heroes escaping the city and reuniting with him.

Riding a swift horse, a scout from Beggar’s Sect approached them and reported: “Thousands of armoured Liao soldiers have besieged the West gate; the warriors of DaLi are unable to break through their encirclement and the heroes of Central Plains are unable to break out either.” With a gesture of his right hand, Xu Zhu decided: “I’ll lead my warriors from Lingjiu Palace to mount a rescue.” Leading two thousand odd warriors from the mountainous tribes and the female fighters from Lingjiu Division, he sped towards the Southern Capital City on horseback.

Sitting on his horse, Xiao Feng glanced towards the east. He could decipher many thick columns of smoke emitting from within the Southern Capital City. With so many outbreaks of fire all over the city, it must be a chaotic environment. An hour later, another scout reported: “The Duan Emperor of DaLi as well as Mister Xu Zhu Zi from Lingjiu Palace have cut a bloody path and breached the city defenses.”

In all his past fights, Xiao Feng is usually the first man in the frontline. This time round, he was inversely far away from all the action. Growing worried and deeply concerned, he could not longer hold back his impatience and declared: “I will take a look for myself!” The three ladies Ah Zi, Mu Wanqing and Zhong Ling advised simultaneously: “The people of Liao are after you; you mustn’t take this risk.” Xiao Feng disregarded: “That’s not an issue!” Urging his horse forward, he rode towards the city with the Beggar’s Sect at his heel.

Arriving at the external site of the Southern Capital City West gate, Xiao Feng could see hundreds of corpses outside the city walls, on the city walls and on both sides of the city moat. Some of the corpses belong to the soldiers and generals from the Liao army but there are plenty from Duan Yu and Xu Zhu’s faction as well. The city gates are neither fully open nor fully close. Grasping giant sabres in their hands, two Island Chiefs are stationed beside the city gates and are ferociously chopping at the waves of Liao
 
soldiers charging at them. No matter what it takes, they will not allow the city gates to be closed.

Xiao Feng abruptly heard loud sounds of hoof beats from the southern and northern directions. Alarmed, he warned: “This is bad, large battalions of Liao soldiers are surrounding us from the south and the north. We would be trapped if we stay in this spot.” Snatching a metal-tip spear, he broke it into half. Flying up, he embedded the spear tip into the city wall. Using the momentum, he flipped himself up again and embedded the spear tip into a higher section of the city wall. With a few flips, he reached the top of the city wall. Scanning the city, he observed that the western sector is scattered with many pockets of Central Plains heroes. These heroes have been divided by the endless supply of Liao soldiers until they could no longer assist one another. The heroes may be highly-skilled but if they have to fight several people concurrently, after a prolonged battle, they would surely be overcome by the staggering numbers.

Standing on the city wall, Xiao Feng shifted his gaze between the city interior and the city exterior. Choosing a particular side is the hardest decision he has to make. The heroes have come to rescue him; surely he cannot simply watch them die one by one under the blades of the Liao soldiers. But if he chooses to enter the city and aid them, he would be publicly acknowledging Liao country as the enemy. He would be a traitor to his country, a renegade helping the enemy. Not only would he be unable to face his ancestors, he would be cursed for ages by his own countrymen. When he escaped from South Capital and sought refuge in another country, at most, people would label him as ‘disloyal’. But if he turn around and attack Liao, he would be labeled as a war criminal.

All along, Xiao Feng has always acted in a clear-cut manner with no loose ends. With the current dilemma, his decisive nature is now muted. With a swift glance, he saw several Khitan warriors embroiled in a bitter fight with two elderly Shaolin monks beside the city wall. The first monk is brandishing a pair of monk’s knives. Blood spouting out of his mouth, he is clearly suffering from heavy injuries. Taking a closer look, Xiao Feng identified him as Xuan Ming. The second monk is flourishing his meditation staff in a style to shield both of them from their attackers. Xiao
 
Feng recognized him as Xuan Shi. Wielding their long sabres, two Liao soldiers chopped towards Xuan Ming. Badly hurt, Xuan Ming lacked the strength to block their attacks. Xuan Shi flicked the meditation staff and the tail of the staff sprung up, parrying the two long sabres backwards. ‘Ah!’ Xuan Ming violently cried out as his left shoulder was stabbed by another assailant. Xuan Shi lashed the staff in a horizontal swipe and delivered a bone-splitting blow to the Liao soldier. However, with this move, his chest is exposed. A Liao warrior plunged his spear at the opening and pierced the abdomen of Xuan Shi. Xuan Shi smashed his meditation staff downwards and the head of the Khitan warrior was shattered into pieces, with the warrior dying before himself. Haphazardly waving his monk’s knives in unqualified strokes and with tears running down his face, Xuan Ming loudly wailed: “Martial Younger Brother! Martial Younger Brother!”

As he watched, Xiao Feng’s blood started to boil. Unable to tolerate it any longer, he roared: “Xiao Feng is right here! If you must kill, kill me. Leave the innocent alone!” Leaping from the top of the city wall, both his legs were raised. Before he landed on the ground, he had already sent two Khitan warriors flying with two kicks. The moment his left foot touched the ground, he pulled Xuan Ming towards himself and his right hand retrieved Xuan Shi’s meditation staff. Xiao Feng pleaded: “My rescue came too late, my sin is heavy indeed.” Flourishing the meditation staff, he forced two Khitan warriors to retreat for several metres.

Xuan Shi bitterly smiled: “We falsely accused you of being a Khitan descendent, our sin is greater. Awesome! Awesome! The truth has come to
…” Before he could say the word ‘light’, his head tilted sideways and his breathing stopped, indicating his death.

Protecting Xuan Ming, Xiao Feng fought the soldiers to his left, clearing a path to a few DaLi warriors who were surrounded by enemies. Dazed by the spectacular appearance of their Southern Khan, the soldiers and generals of Liao could not help but feel a shiver down their spines. With the meditation staff as a weapon, Xiao Feng lashed the soldiers nearer to him and jabbed the soldiers further from him. Although no lives were lost, everyone was injured. The troop of Liao soldiers consecutively retreated. Dashing left and right, Xiao Feng broke through several encirclements.
 
Soon, he has gathered two hundred odd men in one cluster. He loudly commanded: “Do not get separated again!” Leading these two hundred odd men, he combed the entire sector. Once he saw a trapped comrade, he would guide the entire cluster towards the victim and rescue him. Like rolling a snowball, the cluster became bigger and bigger. When he has accumulated more than a thousand warriors, the Liao soldiers cannot hold them back any longer. Shaolin Monastery’s Xuan Du, who is leading the Central Plains heroes, got together with Xiao Feng, Xu Zhu, Duan Yu, and their respective warriors. All at once, they dashed towards the city gates.

Wielding the meditation staff, Xiao Feng stood beside the city gate and allowed the three groups of people from DaLi country, Lingjiu Palace and Central Plains heroes to leave the city first. Standing at a distance away, the soldiers and generals of Liao country were shouting and threatening but nobody dared to step forward and launch an attack.

Xiao Feng waited until everyone has left before becoming the last man to leave the city. Turning his head back for a look, he observed piles of corpses everywhere. This battle has concluded with a high number of casualties and wounded. His eyes caught sight of two female warriors of Lingjiu Palace groaning and rolling on the ground in a pool of blood. Xiao Feng reentered the city, picked up the two ladies by their vests, and brought them out of the city.

The thunderous sounds of drumming pierced the air; the two battalions of Liao cavalry have finally arrived from the north and the south. Xiao Feng's heart sank tremendously. Each battalion of Liao cavalry is made up of at least ten thousand riders. For Xiao Feng and his teammates, after a bout of prolonged fighting, most of them are injured or exhausted. How could they resist the Liao reinforcements?

Xiao Feng called out: "The brethren of Beggar's Sect, stay put and intercept the enemy! Give your horses to the injured and allow them to retreat first!" The fellowship of beggars from Beggar's Sect roared in acknowledgement and swiftly dismounted their steeds. Xiao Feng hollered again: "Execute the Dog-Beating Grand Formation!" Clapping their bamboo clappers, the beggars chanted their formation verse and assembled into rows of human walls. Xiao Feng urged: "Master Xuan Du, Second Brother, Third Brother,
 
quickly lead your followers and retreat towards the west. The Beggar's Sect will safeguard your departure!"

The sun illuminated the sky for the first time that day and shone brightly on the spear tips and sabre blades. With tens of thousands of iron hoof beats pounding the ground, it is truly an earth-shaking occasion.

Assessing the military might of the advancing Liao soldiers, Xu Zhu and Duan Yu instantly realised that the Beggar's Sect's 'Dog-Beating Grand Formation' cannot contain them. The two of them standing on Xiao Feng's left and right, they proclaimed: "Big Brother, we are sworn brothers. We will face difficulty and death together!" Xiao Feng remarked: "In this case, please instruct your followers to retreat first!"

Xu Zhu and Duan Yu separately commanded their subordinates to retreat. However, the disciples of Lingjiu Palace are unwilling to abandon their Owner; the warriors of DaLi will never allow their Emperor to face danger alone. Both groups of followers refused to move an inch. Right before their eyes, the armies of Liao soldiers are getting closer and closer. Even their arrows are striking the ground within metres of Xiao Feng and the others. Leading the Central Plains heroes, Xuan Du had already begun his retreat. Recognising the perilous circumstances, about ten heroes from Xuan Du's group ran back and rejoined the defending forces.

Xiao Feng was secretly lamenting. He thought: These folks are highly skilled in martial arts. Although we are gathered together, at most, we are a disorganised mob. Ignorant of military formations, how could we match the Liao soldiers? My death is inconsequential but if everyone else here is annihilated by the Liao army outside the Southern Capital City, that would… that would…

Still at a loss, Xiao Feng suddenly heard the rapid beating of the Liao Army military gong. It is a signal for the Liao army to retreat. The cavalry speeding towards them heard the gong too and immediately turned their horses around. With the frontline now becoming the rear line, both forces retreated towards their northern or southern origination. Xiao Feng was astounded and cannot comprehend any reason for this development. Next, he heard loud sounds of shouting and commotion from the flank of the Liao
 
army. Spotting an area where plenty of sand is being stirred up, he realised another group of hostile cavalry forces has ambushed the Liao army retreating towards the North. Xiao Feng is even more puzzled than before. He thought: Why is there another cavalry battalion other than those from the Liao army? Is someone trying to rebel? The Emperor is being attacked on both fronts, his situation is detrimental indeed.

Identifying the predicament of the Liao army, Xiao Feng unconsciously became worried about the welfare of Yelu Hongji.

Leaping onto his horse, Xiao Feng scrutinized the rear section of the Liao Army. All he could see was various white flags waving in different spots. With a sudden downpour of arrows, countless Liao soldiers collapsed from their horses. Xiao Feng had an epiphany: “Ah, it must be my comrades from Nuzhen Tribe; I wonder how did they know about my whereabouts?”

The hunters from Nuzhen Tribe are the best archers ever produced. Brimming with courage, in groups of a hundred hunters per (military) company, they were riding Balikun horses and creating a scene wherever they rode. By zipping in and out of the Liao Army, in the blink of an eye, they completely demolished the Liao military formation. Although the Nuzhen hunters are smaller in numbers, every one of them is a fearless and super elite warrior. By ambushing the Liao army and catching them off guard, they gave the Liao Chief Commander an anxiety attack. The Liao Chief Commander recognized the unfavourable circumstances and is fearful that Xiao Feng may lead his warriors and riders for a counterattack. As a result, he hastily sounded a retreat back into the city.

Fan Hua is DaLi country’s Minister of War and is naturally an expert on military strategy. Sensing an opportunity, he hurriedly advised Xiao Feng: “Khan Xiao, we should launch a swift counterattack. This is the best chance to destroy the enemy.” Xiao Feng shook his head once. Fan Hua reasoned: “It is still a long distance to Yanmen Pass; if we do not use this opportunity to obliterate the Liao Army, we are planting the seed for a future calamity. The enemies outnumbered us vastly. We may not be able to retreat without suffering further casualties.” Xiao Feng shook his head again. Unable to comprehend Xiao Feng’s mindset, Fan Hua thought: Khan Xiao is reluctant
 
to eradicate the enemy once and for all; is he trying to preserve some goodwill so that he can reconcile with the Liao Emperor?

Among the thick smoke, several groups of Nuzhen hunters are executing a killing spree on their horses. Bare-chested or clothed in animal skins, their arrows flew incessantly, resulting in a total massacre. At the entrance of the city gate, more than a thousand Liao soldiers were shot dead beneath the city wall as they were trying to retreat into the city.

With the front half of their heads clean-shaven and a small pigtail at the back of the heads, the Nuzhen hunters appear extraordinarily malevolent. Their entire faces stained with fresh blood, they have a habit of beheading their victims after shooting them to death. Afterwards, the heads of their victims would be hung around their waists. For some hunters, a long chain of more than ten heads is hanging around their waists. For the heroes of the martial arts world, they have experienced plenty of killings and violence. Nevertheless, this is the first time they are witnessing these cruel and merciless acts of the barbarians. Every one of them is badly traumatized.

A towering hunter stood on the back of his horse and loudly hailed: “Big Brother Xiao, Big Brother Xiao, Wanyan Ahguda is fighting the army for you!”

Xiao Feng rode forward and the two men clasped their four hands together. Ahguda cheerfully remarked: “Big Brother Xiao, that day, you left without saying goodbye. Brother (I) has been pining for you every day. Subsequently, my scout reported that you became a senior official in Liao country so I stopped trying to contact you. However, the Liao people are treacherous by nature; I fear that your good fortune will be short-lived. True enough, two days ago, my scout reported that you have been imprisoned by that Emperor who was raised by a b*tch. Brother hurriedly gathered my men and mounted a rescue. Fortunately, Elder Brother is alive and well. Brother is truly overjoyed.”

Xiao Feng professed: “Many thanks for Brother’s rescue effort!” He barely ended his sentence when a swarm of arrows flew down from the top of the city wall. The two men were pretty far from the city wall and the arrows failed to reach them.
 
Ahguda furiously cursed: “Khitan dogs! How dare you interrupt my conversation with Elder Brother!” Pulling out his long bow, ‘chi chi chi’, he fired three arrows towards the top of the city wall. Three sounds of tragic cries rang out as three Liao archers were hit. They toppled down from the top of the city wall. The Liao archers failed to hit Ahguda but Ahguda and his superior strong bow is able to reach the archers. With three arrows fired and three killed, the remaining Liao soldiers on the top of the wall sounded the alarm by shouting in unison. Everyone promptly kept their bows and raised their shields. From within the city, sounds of ‘dong dong’ drumbeats can be heard. The Liao army is consolidating their forces again.

Ahguda roared: “My kinsmen, listen up, the Khitan dogs are going to tunnel out of the dog’s hole again. Let us go for another round of merry slaughter.” The Nuzhen tribesmen responded with a loud ruckus; to the Central Plain heroes, it felt as if they are hearing ten of thousands of wild beasts howling in unison.

Xiao Feng knew that if the two forces were to clash again, both sides would suffer heavy losses. He quickly suggested: “Brother, you came here with the intention of rescuing me; now that I am out of danger, why bother fighting them? We have not seen each other for some time, let us find a quiet spot and we brothers can drink until we are drunk.” Wanyan Ahguda agreed: “You are right, let’s go!”

Nonetheless, the city gates started to swing open and a battalion of armoured Liao cavalry started gushing out. Ahguda scolded: “These Khitan dogs; we can never finish killing them.” Positioning an arrow on his bow, with a ‘sou’ sound, the arrow flew out and pierced the face of the very first rider, causing the rider to fall off his horse. The remaining Nuzhen tribesmen released their arrows as well and each of their arrows is aimed at the faces of the Liao soldiers. These Nuzhen hunters are extremely precise with their arrows and each of their arrowheads is smeared with strong venom. Their victims would die on the spot and would not even have time to utter a sound. In a flash, the city gate area has added another hundred odd corpses. The dead soldiers, horses and armour started to form a small mound and completely blockaded the city gate. The surviving Liao soldiers
 
were absolutely horrified. Securely closing the city gates, nobody dared to venture out anymore.

Leading his tribesmen, Wanyan Ahguda gathered near the city wall and taunted the Liao soldiers, cursing them at the top of his voice. Xiao Feng intervened: “Brother, let’s go!” Ahguda replied: “Yes!” His halberd pointing at the top of the city wall, he loudly proclaimed: “Khitan dogs, listen well. You should count your blessings that my Big Brother Xiao did not lose a single strand of hair (injured). Today, I shall spare your lives. Otherwise, I will tear down the city wall and shoot every last Khitan dog to death.”

Following that, he rode side by side with Xiao Feng towards the west. After riding for more than five kilometres, they arrived on a small hill. Ahguda jumped off his horse and from his saddlebag, he retrieved a leather pouch and handed it to Xiao Feng, commenting: “Elder Brother, have some wine.” Xiao Feng accepted the pouch and with a ‘gu du du’ sound, he drank half the pouch and returned it to Ahguda. Ahguda finished the other half of the pouch and recommended: “Elder Brother, why don’t you join me and reside next to Mount Changbai? Every day, we can go hunting and drinking, leading a carefree and delightful existence.”

Xiao Feng is exceedingly familiar with Yelu Hongji’s character. Today, at the Southern Capital City, he has been defeated by Wanyan Ahguda and also suffered a barrage of insults and scoldings. It is a great loss of prestige and Yelu Hongji would not take this lying down. In the near future, he would certainly activate his army for another challenge. The Nuzhen people may be fearless but their numbers are limited. It is hard to determine the eventual victor. By avoiding another confrontation would be the best outcome. Thus, Xiao Feng is trying to think of an exit strategy for them.

Recalling the days he spent below Mount Changbai, except for treating Ah Zi’s injuries and in the absence of greed or power struggle, Xiao Feng was indeed living a carefree life. In the future, if he permanently dwells among the Nuzhen tribe, it would solve his homelessness issue too. As a result, he committed: “Brother, these heroes are from the Central Plains and they are here to rescue me as well. After I escorted them to Yanmen Pass, I will reunite with Brother.”
 
Ahguda was thrilled: “The Central Plains barbarians are full of hot air; most of them have integrity issues. I do not wish to see them either.” As he spoke, he led his tribesmen and rode towards the north.

Witnessing these foreign barbarians swiftly riding their horses in and out of the battlefield, as well as their ferocious nature, the Central Plains heroes thought: These barbarians are even more deadly than the Khitan dogs. Fortunately, they are the associates of Chief Xiao. As enemies, they would be my worst nightmare!

The different groups of warriors gradually gathered together and were chatting non-stop, discussing the horrendous battle that just happened outside the Southern Capital City.

Xiao Feng bowed until his head touched the ground and declared: “Many thanks to everyone for your bravery and kindness; you did not grudge me for my past misdeeds and travelled thousands of kilometres to rescue me. It will take me an entire lifetime to repay this huge debt of gratitude.”

Xuan Du praised: “Chief Xiao is mistaken. The previous events occurred due to severe misunderstanding. As members of the martial arts world, giving assistance to one another is a common practice. Moreover, for the sake of hundreds of thousands of Central Plains lives, Chief Xiao disregarded your personal safety, and abandoned fame and fortune. Your righteousness and benevolence has spread all over the world. Everyone should be grateful to Chief Xiao instead.”

Fan Hua loudly announced: “Dear heroes, after monitoring the Liao soldiers, I predict that they are sore about their losses today. Soon, they would come in pursuit. Does anyone have a good solution?” The various heroes began shouting: “We shall fight the Liao army to our deaths, why should we fear them!” Fan Hua advised: “The enemies outnumber us vastly, by fighting on these open plains, we are at a disadvantage. I have a suggestion: Let us retreat towards the West. First, we will be closer to the Song army and it is possible for them to send reinforcements. Second, after the enemy soldiers have chased us for a distance, their numbers would be limited and it would be easier for us to counterattack.”
 
All the heroes present agreed with Fan Hua and got into action at once. The first convoy would be the Lingjiu Palace subordinates under the leadership of Xu Zhu. Leading the DaLi country soldiers and riders, Duan Yu formed the second convoy. Xuan Du and the Central Plains heroes would take the third convoy. At the rear, Xiao Feng and the Beggar’s Sect’s beggars would safeguard the retreat. With four convoys of warriors and riders travelling, each convoy must stay less than five hundred metres away from one another. Scouts on swift horses will act as messengers between each convoy and if any enemy presents themselves, the convoys can support one another. After wandering for a day, the convoys spent the night in the mountainous wilderness. Without being attacked by the Liao soldiers as the night passes, everybody gradually calmed down.

Early next morning, the convoys started moving again. Xiao Feng questioned Ah Zi: “Is Mister You still at Lingjiu Palace?” Ah Zi’s petite mouth pouted and replied: “How would I know? It is a high chance that he is still up there. Being blind in both eyes, how could he descend the mountain?” In her voice, there is no tone of concern for him.

Today, they have arrived at Baile Fortress at the bottom of Mount Wutai. The men started lighting up fires to prepare meals. Along the way, Fan Hua deployed batches of warriors to guard the chokepoints. By tearing down bridges and laying obstacles on the road, he intended to slow down the pursuit of the Liao army.

During the third day, suddenly, from the east side, the smoke from fire beacons was rising into the sky. It is the signal that the Liao army is in pursuit. All the heroes were distressed. Some of the younger heroes volunteered to turn back and assist the ambushing small teams but were forcefully recalled by Xuan Du, Fan Hua and the others.

That particular night, the heroes are spending the night on a mountain slope. Around midnight, there were loud cries of terror. The heroes woke up in shock and saw that in the northern direction, the sky was brightly lighted up by some substantial burning. Xiao Feng and Fan Hua exchange a glance and both of them felt rather uneasy. Fan Hua whispered: “Khan Xiao, from your experience, is this a pincer attack executed by the Liao army?” Xiao Feng nodded his head. Fan Hua sighed: “I wonder how many households
 
have been destroyed by this firestorm, Ai!” Xiao Feng is unwilling to speak badly of Yelu Hongji but he knew that after Yelu Hongji suffered a defeat at the hands of the Nuzhen Tribe, he would be greatly annoyed. All of his anger would then be vented out on the innocent commoners. As he led his army westwards, he would definitely kill every person and burn every house along his path.

The fire continued burning until daylight without any signs of diminishing. During the afternoon, in the southern direction, signs of fire were detected too. Under the bright glare of the sun, the fire itself is invisible. However, thick columns of smoke were escalating into the atmosphere.

Xuan Du was initially leading his followers in the front. Spotting the southern firestorm, he reined his horse at the side of the route and waited for Xiao Feng to catch up. He probed: “Chief Xiao, the Liao army is pursuing us from three different routes. Do you think Yanmen Pass can withstand the invaders? I already dispatched messengers to make timely reports to Yanmen Pass. However, the Pass Commander is a weakling and the Pass army is low in morale. I am afraid they cannot stand up to the superb Khitan cavalry.” Xiao Feng was speechless. Xuan Du added: “The only worthy adversary for the Liao soldiers is the Nuzhen Tribe. If Great Song and Nuzhen Tribe became allies and execute a pincer attack from the south and the north, it would prevent the Khitan cavalry from thinking of conquering the south.”

Xiao Feng caught his hint. Xuan Du wanted Xiao Feng to make contact with Wanyan Ahguda, the chief of the Nuzhen Tribe. However, Xiao Feng himself is a Khitan descendant, how could he collaborate with a foreign enemy and attack his own country? He abruptly asked: “Master Xuan Du, how is my Father doing in your esteemed monastery?” Xuan Du was momentarily startled and answered: “Your Father has taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, and is currently meditating in the Rear Court of Shaolin. Regarding our trip to the Southern Capital, we did not inform him as we do not wish to stir up his worldly attachments again.”

Xiao Feng state: “I really wanted to see my Father and ask him one question.” Xuan Du made a ‘mm’ sound. Xiao Feng continued: “I wanted to ask him: If the soldiers of Liao attacked Shaolin Monastery, what would
 
he do?” Xuan Du replied: “It is only natural to rise to the occasion and kill the enemies, thereby preserving the monastery and the Dhamma. The answer is pretty straightforward.” Xiao Feng reminded: “However, my Father is a Khitan descendant, why should he side with the Han descendants and kill the Khitans instead?” Xuan Du muttered: “Chief Xiao is a Khitan descendant after all. By abandoning the dark side and joining the light side, you are truly admirable!”

Xiao Feng reasoned: “Master is a Han descendant and naturally regarded Han as the light side and Khitan as the dark side. For our Khitan people, we regard Great Liao as the light side and Great Song as the dark side. In the early days, my Khitan ancestors were massacred by the Jie tribe and bullied by the Xianbei tribe. By running to the east and fleeing to the west, they endured untold hardships. During the Great Tang dynasty, the military strength of your Han people is at its peak. In those days, incalculable numbers of my Khitan young warriors were butchered and immeasurable amounts of my Khitan young ladies were kidnapped. Today, the military strength of your Han people is tottering. My Khitan people are coming to invade and kill you instead. By taking turns to kill each other, when will we ever balance this blood debt?”

Xuan Du became silent. After a short while, he chanted: “Amituofo. Amituofo.”

Guiding his horse, Duan Yu was approaching them and overheard the second part of their conversation. Sighing once, he recited: “The flames of war never ceases; battles are fought without an end; deaths arise from conflicts; the dying horses groan in agony; the birds feed on corpses; and perch on withering trees; soldiers die and dirty the land; the general’s win is meaningless; despite knowing weapons are murder tools; even the saints have to employ them.” Xiao Feng praised: “Despite knowing weapons are murder tools; even the saints have to employ them. My good Brother, your poem is excellent.” Duan Yu corrected: “I am not the author. This is the work of Li Bai, the accomplished poet of Tang dynasty.”

Xiao Feng recalled: “During the time I spent in this region, I often heard my countrymen sing a particular song.” He then raised his voice and sang out loud: “By destroying my Mount Qilian, my livestock cannot reproduce. By
 
destroying my Mount Yanzhi, my women lived in fear.” Xiao Feng is bursting with energy and his song is able to reach a far distance. However, the song is filled with connotations of sorrow and pity.

Duan Yu nodded his head and enlightened: “This is a song composed by the Xiongnu tribe. That year, Emperor Wu of Han launched a massive invasion against the Xiongnu and conquered vast amounts of territory. The people of Xiongnu suffered untold hardships. To think that this song has been passed on until today.” Xiao Feng remarked: “My Khitan ancestors were like the people of Xiongnu back then. Both of them went through indescribable sufferings.”

Xuan Du sighed once and theorized: “When all the Emperors and Generals take up Buddhism and adopt compassion as their guiding principle, there will no longer be tragedies such as war and killings.” Xiao Feng mused: “I wonder when will the world reach this level of maturity and achieve complete peace.”

As everyone travelled westwards, it is clear to them that there are signs of burning from the three directions of East, South and North. As the fires did not subside, it is apparent that the Liao Army is burning every household along its path. Furious, the groups of heroes cursed them relentlessly and could not wait to fight the Liao Army to death.

Fan Hua suggested: “The Liao Army is catching up to us; soon, we would no longer have any room to retreat. Based on Brother’s (my) opinion, why don’t we split into four different routes? This will confuse the Liao Army and they would not know which group to pursue.”

Wu Changfeng loudly protested: “Isn’t that as good as admitting defeat? Minister Fan, you should stop overrating the enemy and belittling ourselves. Whether we win or lose, it must be a fight to the death with the Liao dogs.”

As he spoke, the air was pierced with a ‘sou’ sound as a feathered arrow flew over from the southeast direction. A Beggar’s Sect disciple was struck by the arrow and he collapsed onto the ground. The next moment, a company of Liao soldiers emerged from the back of a hill and charged
 
towards them, shouting at the top of their voices. It turns out that this specific company of Liao riders has been riding non-stop from the back of the mountain range to launch a surprise attack. Therefore, they managed to avoid the ambushing heroes planted by Fan Hua. This surprise attack party of Liao soldiers consists of more than five hundred men. Wu Changfeng roared: “Attack!” and was the first to dash towards the enemies. The heroes have been stifling their frustration for a long time and everybody fought bravely, trying to take down as many enemies as possible. In terms of numbers, there are more heroes than Liao soldiers. In addition, the heroes are far more skillful in terms of martial arts. Amidst the sounds of loud battle cries, the Liao soldiers were surrounded and chopped to death so rapidly it is as if the heroes are chopping fruits and vegetables. Within an hour, more than five hundred Liao soldiers were utterly killed and dismembered. There were ten odd Khitan warriors who turned around and climbed the mountain in order to escape. Nevertheless, they were pursued by the Qing-gong experts from the Central Plains heroes and killed accordingly.

After scoring a victory, the heroes were happily cheering and their morale increased by leaps and bounds. Fan Hua, on the other hand, secretly communicated to Xuan Du, Xu Zhu, Duan Yu and the others, warning: “This encounter is merely a small company of Liao soldiers. Now that the first wave is over, the second batch of Liao soldiers would soon engage us. We must speedily retreat towards the West!”

His sentence barely ended when loud rumbling ‘hong long long hong long long’ can be heard coming from the eastern direction. When the heroes turned their heads towards the east instantaneously, they could see that plenty of dust and soil has been stirred up. Like the gathering of stormy clouds, half the sky has been engulfed by these dust clouds. In a split second, the heroes glanced at one another in complete silence as the ‘hong long long hong long long’ reverberated in the far background like the sounds of muffled thunder. From the noise produced, it is evident that an immense army of Liao soldiers is riding towards them and their numbers must be in the tens of thousands. The heroes are used to violence and bloody fights in the martial arts world, however, this is the first time they are facing a massive army charging at them at full speed. Compared to the
 
army outside the Southern Capital City, this present Liao army is probably several times bigger. Although each hero is a bold and dauntless individual, when faced with this unexpected earth-shattering show of military might, each of them could feel their hearts beating at a faster rate and their palms dripping with cold sweat.

Fan Hua called out: “Fellow Brothers, the enemy is overwhelmingly strong, there is no value in a tragic death. By preserving our lives, we are opening ourselves to endless possibilities. Today, let us temporarily avoid a direct confrontation. When there is an opportunity, we would definitely launch a counterattack.” The heroes instantly mounted their steeds and drove their horses westwards with a strong sense of urgency. Still, from behind them, the rumbling sounds of ‘hong long long’ continue to resonate endlessly.

This particular night, nobody stopped for a rest. Aware that Yanmen Pass is gradually getting closer and closer, the heroes pressed their horses consistently. Once they have crossed Yanmen Pass and took up a defensive position, they would be able to keep danger at bay. The invading army may be great in numbers but the Pass is not easy to overcome. Along the way, horses started to collapse and die of exhaustion. Some heroes activated their Qing-gong to travel while some horses are forced to carry two riders. By dawn the next morning, Yanmen Pass is less than five kilometres away and the heroes are able to heave a sigh of relief. They dismounted their horses and held them by the reins. By slowing down the pace, these beasts of burden are allowed to regain their stamina. However, from their backs, the ‘hong long long hong long long’ rumbling generated by tens of thousands of galloping horses became louder and louder.

Xiao Feng strolled down a ridge and came to a hillside. Out of nowhere, he noticed a giant rock and his heart shuddered once: Years ago, under the leadership of Abbot Xuan Ci, Chief Wang (Beggar’s Sect) and many heroes of the Central Plains ambushed my Father, killed my Mother and many of my Khitan Warriors at this spot.

Taking a sideways glance, he could identify the obvious streaks left by an axe on a cliff wall; it is Xuan Ci’s attempt to deface the inscribed message of Xiao Yuanshan.
 
Xiao Feng slowly turned around and caught sight of a flowering tree. In his ears, he could almost hear the voice of Ah Zhu speaking out from behind the tree where she was hiding: “Master Qiao, if you continue to exert your heavy blows, even this mountain peak will be shattered by you.”

Although Xiao Feng is in a daze, the heartfelt words of Ah Zhu clearly manifested in his brain: “I have been waiting for you right here for five days and five nights. My only fear is you failing to show up (due to death). You… You came after all. I thank the Heavens for their protection. At the end of the day, you are well and unhurt.”

His eyes brimming with hot tears, Xiao Feng walked over to the tree and caressed the trunk with his outstretched hand. Compared to the past occasion when he met Ah Zhu here, the tree has grown much taller. In that moment, Xiao Feng was utterly heart-broken and he completely forgot about his present predicament.

Suddenly, a high-pitched voice screamed out: “Brother in law, quickly retreat! Quickly retreat!” Ah Zi ran towards Xiao Feng and tugged at his sleeve.

Xiao Feng raised his head and scanned the distant environment. From the three directions of East, North and South, the long pikes of the Liao army are pointing to the sky like the branches of a thick forest. They have been surrounded by the Liao soldiers. Xiao Feng nodded his head and acknowledged: “Very well, let us speak further after we have retreated into Yanmen Pass.”

By this time, the heroes have already gathered in front of Yanmen Pass. As Xiao Feng and Ah Zi rode side by side and arrived at the Pass, the doors of the Pass are still tightly shut. Standing at the top of the Pass, a Song Military Captain loudly announced: “By the orders of General Zhang, the Commander responsible for defending Yanmen Pass, please take heed of this notice: Since the group of you are citizens of Central Plains, it is your right to enter the Pass. However, you could be spies who are in cahoots with the Liao army. Therefore, everyone must abandon your weapons and allow our army to conduct a thorough search. For those who are unarmed,
 
General Zhang will grant a special allowance and allow you to enter the Pass.”

The minute he finished his speech, the heroes started rioting loudly at once. Some exclaimed: “We have travelled for thousands of kilometres and are doing our best to fight against the Liao soldiers, how could you suspect us of being spies?” Some explained: “We are armed as we require these weapons to assist General (Zhang) in his fight against the Liao army. If we discard our weapons, how could we fight against the Liao army?” Some of the ill-tempered heroes began to curse: “D@mn it, you are preventing us from entering the pass? Everyone, let’s attack them!”

Xuan Du hastily calmed everyone down. Facing the Captain, he begged: “I have to trouble Captain to report to General Zhang: We are Song commoners who are loyal to our country. The enemy forces will be arriving soon. If we spend time conducting a search, the delay would cause us to miss the ideal timing for entering the Pass. If the doors of the Pass are opened later, it may no longer be safe.”

The Captain already heard the various cursing by several heroes. Furthermore, he noticed that many of the people present are dressed in strange clothing with odd designs; they are definitely not from the Central Plains. He hollered: “Old Monk, you mentioned that everyone of you is a loyal citizen of Central Plains, I bet that many of them are not from Song, right? Fine! I shall compromise. The citizens of Great Song can enter the Pass but the foreigners are not allowed to enter. ”

Exchanging looks with one another, the heroes were infuriated. The followers of Duan Yu are naturally the Officials and warriors of DaLi country. For Xu Zhu, his followers are a melting pot of different tribes and races, with warriors from Xiyu, Xixia, Tubo, Gaoli, etc. If the Pass is only opened to the citizens of Great Song, the majority of the heroes, namely, the convoys of DaLi country and Lingjiu Palace, would be shut out.

Xuan Du pleaded: “General, please judge for yourself. We have many friendly warriors among us; some of them are DaLi citizens, some of them are Xixia citizens. By joining forces with us, we fought the Liao Army as a united team. Why is there a need to differentiate if they are from Song or
 
not?” On this northern expedition, Duan Yu kept his identity confidential. He must never reveal his true status as the Ruler of a country. This is to prevent the officials of Song dynasty from hatching some evil plot, such as kidnapping him as a hostage. Although DaLi is extremely far away from Liao country, it is not wise to publicly declare war on them. Therefore, Xuan Du did not mention that a VVIP from DaLi country is present at the Pass.

The Captain angrily scolded: “Yanmen Pass is a strategic checkpoint for Great Song’s northern border, what else is more important than this? The massive army of Liao soldiers and cavalry is arriving any minute. If I opened the Pass haphazardly and gave the Liao soldiers an opening to break through, it would be a total disaster. Who can answer for this mistake?”

Wu Changfeng cannot tolerate the bickering anymore and loudly roared: “If you had talked less and opened the Pass earlier, wouldn’t all these issues have been avoided?” The Captain furiously berated: “You old beggar, in front of Official (me), how dare you speak up?” With a wave of his right hand, on the battlements, more than a thousand archers appeared with their arrows notched onto their bows and they were aiming at the bottom of the Pass. The Captain barked: “Quickly get lost. If the group of you continue to stay here and spread baseless rumours, causing the soldiers to waver, I shall release the arrows.” Xuan Du let out a long sigh and was at a loss.

Yanmen Pass is wedged between two mountain peaks that are so tall, they seemed to penetrate the clouds. This Pass is named ‘Yanmen’ (Goose Door) because when the migratory geese fly southwards, even they have to fly between the two mountain peaks. It can also be inferred that the area outside Yanmen Pass is a hostile terrain. Within the group of heroes, there are obviously some Qing-gong experts who can easily scale the peaks and make their escape. However, for those who lack this expertise, certain doom awaits them. Without a doubt, they would be annihilated in front of the Pass by the Liao army.

Limited by the mountain terrain, the Liao army is forced to gradually narrow down their frontline from the east and west convoys. Only the northern convoy can approach the Pass in a frontal confrontation. Except for the galloping sounds of hoof beats, the clanking sounds of armour and
 
the fluttering sounds of the flags being blown by the wind, there is not a single sound uttered by the soldiers. Such is the strict military discipline of their elite training. Row by row, the Liao army took up the formation suitable for attacking the Pass. Reaching the line where the arrows from the Pass will not hit them, the army marched to a standstill. From afar, many flags are seen fluttering from the three directions of east, west and north. However, the actual number of Liao soldiers is hard to estimate.

Xiao Feng loudly proclaimed: “Gentlemen, please stay put in your original position and do not move at all. Please wait for me to explain to the Emperor of Liao.” Without giving allowance for Duan Yu, Ah Zi or anyone else to protest, he rode forward as a single rider. Lifting both his hands high above his head to prove that he is not hiding any weapon or bow and arrows, Xiao Feng vociferously bellowed: “Your Majesty, the Emperor of Great Liao country, Xiao Feng has something to tell you. May I invite you to show yourself.” As he hollered these words, he charged them with his profound internal energy, causing the words to ring through the air and travel a considerable distance. Among the tens of thousands of Liao generals and soldiers, no one failed to hear his message clearly. At the same time, the generals and soldiers could not help but turn pale.

After some time, within the Liao army, an outburst of drumming and blaring of horns erupted. Like splitting a wave, tens of thousands of Liao soldiers and riders separated into two sections. Holding eight giant fluttering flags made from golden yellow cloth, eight riders emerged from the gap. Behind the flag bearers, (military) divisions of pike men, axe men, archers and shield bearers swiftly rode out and formed into two rows. Finally, escorted by ten high-ranking generals dressed in armour and brocade, Yelu Hongji made an appearance.

The Liao army loudly roared: “Long live Your Majesty! Long live Your Majesty! Long live Your Majesty!” Their roaring reverberated in all four directions of the wilderness and echoed throughout the mountains and valleys.

From the top of the Pass, the Song soldiers witnessed the impressive military display of the enemy troops and were terrified at what they saw.
 
Using his right hand, Yelu Hongji raised his jeweled sabre high up in the air and the Liao army instantaneously became silent. Except for the occasional neighing sounds from the war horses, no other sound is produced. Lowering his jeweled sabre, Yelu Hongji boisterously laughed: “Khan Xiao, you promised to trick them into opening the Pass doors for the Liao army, why are the Pass doors still closed?”

Once he made this statement, the interpreter at the top of the Pass translated the meaning and informed General Zhang, the Pass Commander for Yanmen Pass. On top of the Pass, the Song soldiers instantly reacted passionately. Pointing to Xiao Feng, they wildly gesticulated and cursed at him.

Xiao Feng knew that Yelu Hongji’s words are aimed at sowing discord, destroying his chances of entering the Pass controlled by Song soldiers. Feeling a slight tinge of sourness in his heart, he jumped off his horse at once. Taking a few steps forward, he pleaded: “Your Majesty, Xiao Feng did not live up to your expectations. Despite your deep acts of kindness, I have let you down. Currently, Your Majesty has to take the trouble to come here personally. I truly deserve death. I truly deserve death.”

His words barely ended when out of nowhere, two human silhouettes flashed past him like two bolts of lightning. Ferociously zooming towards Yelu Hongji, the two silhouettes are actually Xu Zhu and Duan Yu in motion. Once the two brothers deduced that the circumstances are unfavourable, they realised that the only way to resolve the predicament is to kidnap the Emperor of Liao and hold him as a hostage. Moreover, it would guarantee the safety of everybody else. Signalling to each other, they flew towards Yelu Hongji separately from the left and the right.

When Yelu Hongji decided to lead the expedition personally, he took extra precautions against Xiao Feng as he feared that he may repeat the same incredible act of kidnapping and killing the King and Prince of Chu. Therefore, his personal bodyguards are prepared for such contingencies. The Imperial Commander Du shouted a command and the three hundred shield bearers rapidly assembled close to one another, using their three hundred shields to form a wall-like formation, blocking the front of the Liao
 
Emperor. The pike men and axe men clustered tightly together behind the wall of shields.

The Xu Zhu of today has gained the essence of Tianshan Tonglao’s prowess and also fully mastered the intricate martial arts carved in the stone chamber of Lingjiu Palace. His martial arts has developed to an amazing stage of invincibility, with his energy and strength at his beck and call; in short, he is an unstoppable force.

For Duan Yu, after he has absorbed Jiumozhi’s lifetime of cultivated energy, his total accumulated energy is extremely abundant and has surpassed every practitioner since the beginning of time. When he activated his ‘Surfing Nimble Steps’, how could any of the Liao generals or soldiers catch hold of him?

Slithering to the east or sliding to the west like a slippery eel, Duan Yu forcefully squeezed himself through the less-than-one-feet gaps between the pike men and axe men. Many of the Liao soldiers tried to stab him with their long pikes but not only did they fail to hurt him, due to the close proximity with one another, their weapons stabbed their own comrades instead.

Both his hands outstretched, Xu Zhu is busy grabbing Liao soldiers by their vests and tossing them aside, gradually making his way towards Yelu Hongji. Two of the high-ranking generals urged their horses forward for a charge, with both their spears aiming at Xu Zhu’s chest for a combined attack. Xu Zhu abruptly leaped up and used both his legs to divert the two spear tips. The two Liao generals roared in unison and maneuvered their spears, trying to shake Xu Zhu off. Utilizing the kinetic energy from the shaking spears, Xu Zhu jumped up high into the air, plotting his descend on the top of Yelu Hongji’s head.

One slippery like an eel and one swooping down like a flying bird, the two brothers launched such perfect attacks that Yelu Hongji was greatly alarmed. Raising his jeweled sabre, he swiftly chopped at Xu Zhu who is still descending in mid-air.
 
Xu Zhu’s left palm zipped out and latched onto the blunt side of Yelu Hongji’s jeweled sabre. Using the momentum, he slide downwards and with a flip of his palm, he has seized Yelu Hongji’s right wrist. In the same breath, Duan Yu has tunneled out from the mass of soldiers and placed an iron grip on the left shoulder of Yelu Hongji. The two men instantaneously barked: “Move!” Dragging Yelu Hongji’s towering frame off his horse, they turn around and speedily fled.

All around them, the Liao generals and soldiers personally witnessed their own Emperor being captured by the enemy and exclaimed in shock. For a few seconds, they stood there at a loss and in a daze. Dozens of Imperial bodyguards struggled to rescue their Emperor with all their might but were sent flying by Xu Zhu’s and Duan Yu’s powerful kicks.

Having captured the Emperor of Liao, the two men were overjoyed. Abruptly, they saw Xiao Feng flying towards them and both of them called out in unison: “Big Brother!” Unexpectedly, with two sounds of ‘hu hu’, Xiao Feng executed two palms strikes and separately attacked the two of them. Observing the powerful palm attacks approaching them with the impact of a tsunami, the two men had a bad fright and were forced to meet the palms with their own. With two ‘peng peng’ sounds as the four palms collided, the force of the palms split the air around them. Xiao Feng dived forward and took this opportunity to pull Yelu Hongji towards himself.

By now, the Liao army and the heroes from the Central Plains began to charge southwards and northwards respectively. One side wishes to rescue their Emperor while the other side wishes to lend assistance to the three men, Xiao Feng, Xu Zhu and Duan Yu.

Xiao Feng loudly roared: “Nobody is allowed to move. I have some words I wish to say to the Emperor of Great Liao.” The Liao army and the group of heroes stopped advancing at once. Both sides are afraid of hurting their own leaders by accident. Everyone resorted to shouting from afar and dare not charge forward or worse, release any arrows.

Xu Zhu and Duan Yu took a few steps back and remained at the back of Yelu Hongji. This is to prevent him from escaping back to his army and also to intercept any Khitan experts who may try to mount a rescue.
 
By now, the face of Yelu Hongji is completely devoid of colour. He thought: Xiao Feng has a strong character. Since I confined him in a lion cage and tortured him, he must have turned against me. Now that I am at his mercy, he would go all out in his revenge and would no longer spare my life.

To his surprise, Xiao Feng introduced: “Your Majesty, these two gentlemen are my Sworn Brothers. You can rest assured that they will not hurt you.” Yelu Hongji snorted once and turned his head around, scanning Xu Zhu once and Duan Yu once.

Xiao Feng added: “This is my Second Brother Xu Zhu Zi, the owner of Lingjiu Palace. Third Brother is Mister Duan from DaLi. Official has mentioned their existence to Your Majesty before.” Yelu Hongji nodded his head and praised: “Truly phenomenal.”

Xiao Feng pleaded: “We will release Your Majesty back to the army at once. However, we desired a reward from Your Majesty.”

Yelu Hongji almost cannot believe his own ears. He thought: Is there such an excellent bargain under the sky? Ah, I got it, Xiao Feng has changed his mind and wanted me to appoint the three of them as officials.

His face breaking out into smiles, he welcomed: “What is your request? There is nothing I cannot fulfill.” Initially, he was speaking in a trembling voice but when he said these two sentences, he portrayed the dignity of an Emperor.

Xiao Feng reminded: “Your Majesty is the captive of my two Sworn Brothers. According to the tradition of our Khitan race, Your Majesty must redeem yourself with a prized possession.” With a slight frown, Yelu Hongji questioned: “What do you want?” Xiao Feng remarked: “Lowly Official will take the liberty of representing my two Brothers to make the request. All we need is a promise from the golden lips of Your Majesty.” Yelu Hongji laughed once and described: “Under the sky, there are not many things that are beyond my abilities. Go ahead and ask for the moon.”
 
Xiao Feng replied: “We want Your Majesty to promise an immediate withdrawal of the Liao army; during Your Majesty’s entire lifetime, not a single Liao soldier is permitted to violate the border between Song and Liao.”

When Duan Yu heard this request, he was instantly thrilled. In his mind, he thought: Since the Liao army cannot cross the Song-Liao border, they naturally cannot fly over and invade my DaLi.

He quickly agreed: “That is right. Once you agree to these terms, we would release you at once.”

But then he thought: Second Brother contributed more effort than me in the capture of the Liao Emperor. I wonder if he has any requests?

Facing Xu Zhu, he enquired: “Second Brother, do you want anything from the Khitan Emperor to redeem his freedom?” Xu Zhu shook his head and affirmed: “My terms are exactly the same.”

Yelu Hongji’s face turned sinister. In a deep voice, he challenged: “The lot of you actually possess the courage to blackmail me? What if I refuse these terms?”

Xiao Feng clearly declared: “In this case, Official and Your Majesty shall perish together, resulting in an undiscriminating double death. After all, when the two of us swore to become brothers, we also made a vow to die on the same year same month and same day.”

Yelu Hongji shuddered once and contemplated: “This Xiao Feng is a desperado who fears neither the heavens nor the earth. He is someone who sticks to his words and does not make false promises. If I refuse to accept his terms, he would unquestionably offend me. It is definitely not worth my while to die under the hands of this boorish and uncultured fool.” Therefore, he laughed once and clearly indicated: “Using my Yelu Hongji’s life to exchange for decades of peace between the two countries of Song and Liao; my good Brother, you certainly placed an enormous value on my life!”
 
Xiao Feng reasoned: “Your Majesty is the Ruler of Great Liao. Under the sky, how can there be anything more valuable than the life of Your Majesty?”

Yelu Hongji laughed again and reflected: “Going by this logic, in the past, didn’t the Nuzhen Tribe fail to get their money’s worth when they only demanded thirty wagons of gold, three hundred wagons of silver and three thousand fine steeds?” Xiao Feng made a slight bow and did not answer him.

Yelu Hongji turned his head to the back and could see that the troops nearest to him were more than a hundred steps away and there is absolutely no way they can save him from this predicament. After weighing the pros and cons, he concluded that there is nothing more precious to him than his life. Thus, he retrieved a condor-feathered wolf fang arrow from his quiver and bent it with both hands. With a ‘pai’ sound, the arrow broke into two. Discarding the arrow onto the ground, Yelu Hongji swore: “I agreed to your terms.”

Xiao Feng bowed and professed: “Many thanks to Your Majesty.”

Yelu Hongji turned his head around and was about to lift his leg to take a step. However, he noticed that the four eyes of Xu Zhu and Duan Yu are still staring at himself. From their body language, he could tell that they have no intention of making way for him. Turning his head back towards Xiao Feng for a hint, he saw that Xiao Feng was keeping silent too. Yelu Hongji immediately understood their unspoken intention, realizing that the three men are fearful that he would go back on his word. He pulled out his jeweled sabre at once and raised it high above his head. At the top of his voice, he decreed: “The three armies of Great Liao, receive my command!”

Within the Liao army, the drums thundered once and halted instantly.

Yelu Hongji ordered: “The entire force shall return towards the north. The southern invasion is hereby cancelled.” After a pause, he added: “In my lifetime, not a single Liao soldier is permitted to violate the border between Song and Liao.” Ending his speech, he lowered his sabre and the Liao army started beating their drums again.
 
Xiao Feng bowed and remarked: “We honourably invite Your Majesty to return back to the army.”

Xu Zhu and Duan Yu moved sideways to the left and right, gradually making their way to the back of Xiao Feng.

Yelu Hongji was simultaneously feeling surprise, cheer and disgrace. He desperately wanted to get out from this dangerous situation; however, he is reluctant to showcase his weakness in front of Xiao Feng and the Liao army. Forcefully composing himself, he slowly strode back towards his frontline.

From the Liao army, scores of Imperial soldiers raced out on their steeds, rushing to fetch their Ruler. At the beginning, Yelu Hongji’s steps are still sluggish but he unconsciously started to walk faster and faster. He could feel both his legs losing their strength and he nearly fell down. At the same time, both his hands are trembling and sweat is literally dripping from his forehead. By the time the Imperial bodyguards have rode up to him, dismounted and reined the horse for him to climb up, Yelu Hongji’s entire body had turned soft. With his left foot in the stirrup, he simply cannot flip onto the saddle. After two Imperial bodyguards came to support the back of his waist and giving it a strong heave, Yelu Hongji finally mounted the horse.

Witnessing the safe return of their Emperor, the tons of Liao soldiers loudly cheered: “Long live Your Majesty! Long live Your Majesty! Long live Your Majesty!”

By now, the Song soldiers on top of Yanmen Pass and the heroes at the bottom of the Pass have all heard the Liao Emperor giving orders to withdraw his army and never to violate the border in his lifetime. They broke out into thunderous applause and cheering as well. Everybody knew that although the Khitan people are violent and murderous by nature, they are people who keep their promises. In the years of foreign relations between Great Song and Great Liao, breaking of commitments is rare. Furthermore, this decree is personally issued by the Emperor of Liao in front of the two armies. If he chooses to back out on this promise, within the country of Great Liao, he would lose all his standing and respect.
 
Needless to say, his occupation of the Imperial throne would be highly insecure as a result.

Yelu Hongji maintained a gloomy countenance. In his mind, he was feeling upset that he had been held hostage by the scoundrel Xiao Feng and was forced to make such a huge commitment. Although he was granted a safe passage back to his army, it was actually a major loss of prestige and a giant dent on the national pride of Great Liao. However, from the cheering of ‘Long live Your Majesty’ from the Liao generals and soldiers, he could tell that it is a favourable response from them borne out of genuine sincerity. His eyes slowly scanning the expressions of his soldiers, all he could read were faces radiating with happiness and colours of joy.

For the soldiers, since they can immediately return from the battlefield and reunite with their parents, wives and children; on top of being able to avoid the sufferings of war and the possibility of dying in a foreign land, they were naturally overjoyed. Although the Khitan people are brave and adept in warfare, in the chaos and skirmishes of war, there is no guarantee of survival. Today, since this calamity of war has been avoided, except for a few heroic generals who wished to profit from this military expedition, everybody else was in complete ecstasy.

Yelu Hongji’s heart shuddered once as he had a realization: It turns out that these soldiers are reluctant to attack the Southern dynasty too. If I insisted on the southern invasion, there is no guarantee that I can conquer their territories without running into obstacles myself.

But then he thought: These Nuzhen barbarians are mostly evil. With them still active at the back of Khitan, it is a giant thorn in the flesh. I shall send some soldiers to annihilate these barbarians before making other plans.

Thus, he raised his jeweled sabre and loudly announced: “By orders of the Northern Khan, do an about turn and retreat back to the Southern Capital!”

Within the army, leather drums and horns began to play, transmitting the decree to the entire force. In response, from near to far, happy cheers filled the air.
 
Yelu Hongji turned his head back and saw that Xiao Feng is still standing motionlessly at the exact spot. Yelu Hongji coldly laughed once and loudly declared: “Khan Xiao, you have contributed such a tremendous merit on behalf of Great Song. In the near future, a high ranking official position and a generous salary awaits you.”

Xiao Feng replied at the top of his voice: “Your Majesty, Xiao Feng is a Khitan descendant. Today, by intimidating Your Majesty, I have become a great sinner of the Khitan people. In the future, how can I face the Heaven and the Earth?” Picking up the two stalks of broken arrows that were on the ground, he activated his internal energy and thrust his arms towards himself. With a ‘pu’ sound, he stabbed his own heart.

‘Ah!’ Yelu Hongji shouted out in fright. Initially urging his horse a few steps forward, he then reined his horse to come to a stop.

Xu Zhu and Duan Yu were scared out of their wits. Both of them scurrying towards Xiao Feng, they exclaimed in unison: “Big Brother! Big Brother!” However, the two stalks of broken arrows have pierced the centre of his heart. Xiao Feng’s eyes were tightly shut and his breathing has ceased.

Xu Zhu rapidly tore open the clothing covering his chest, wanting to salvage his life. However, with the arrows embedded in his heart, it is an impossible task. On the skin of Xiao Feng’s chest, there is a green tattoo of a wolf’s head baring its teeth and carrying an expression of malevolence. Prostrating on the ground, Xu Zhu and Duan Yu cried their hearts out.

The beggars from Beggar’s Sect unanimously advanced towards them and got onto their knees to kowtow. Beating his chest, Wu Changfeng howled: “Chief Qiao, you may be a Khitan descendant but compared to us, the incompetent Han people, you are ten thousand times more heroic!”

The heroes from Central Plains started to crowd around. Many of them were discussing in hushed tones: “Chief Qiao is really a Khitan descendant? Why did he turn around and lend his assistance to Great Song? It looks like there are heroes even among the Khitan people.”
 
“As a baby, he grew up within our Central Plains Han community and has learnt the values of righteousness and humanity.”

“With both countries avoiding a war, he has accomplished a great merit as a mediator. However, there is no need to commit suicide.”

“Although he has contributed immensely to Great Song, from the perspective of Liao country, he has become a traitor who has betrayed his country and assisted the enemy. He is committing suicide to atone for his mistakes.”

“Fear? What is there to fear? Chief Qiao is such a heroic man; under the sky, there is nothing he feared.”

Witnessing Xiao Feng committing suicide, Yelu Hongji was immediately thrown into disarray. He wondered: At the end of the day, is he doing a service or a disservice to my Great Liao? He kept persuading me not to invade Song, is he doing it for the benefit of the Song people or the Khitan people? He and I are Sworn Brothers and up till the last moment, he has been loyal to me. Today, by taking his own life in front of Yanmen Pass, he is definitely not greedy for fame and fortune. Still… why did he do it?

Shaking his head, Yelu Hongji bitterly smiled to himself. Turning his horse around, he rode into the ranks of the Liao army.

Among the sounds of hoof beats, the tens of thousands of Liao soldiers restarted their northern journey. The generals and soldiers frequently turned their heads back and gazed at the corpse of Xiao Feng.

With the sounds of birds crying ‘wa wa’, a flock of geese flew over the heads of the soldiers and continue flying over Yanmen Pass.

As the Liao army marched further and further away, the sounds of hoof beats became vague. Eventually, it descended into sounds of muffled thunder from the back of the mountains.

Xu Zhu, Duan Yu and the others are still standing by the side of Xiao Feng’s corpse. Some of them are wailing at the top of the voices while some
 
are silently tearing at the occasion.

Out of the blue, the shrill voice of a young girl pierced the air: “Move away! Move away! All of you should move away! After causing the death of my Brother in law, what is the use putting up a fake show with all the fake crying?” As she spoke, she stretched out her arms and forcefully pushed away the crowd. This young girl is Ah Zi. Xu Zhu and the others do not wish to contend with her; after being pushed by her, he simply stepped away.

Scrutinizing the corpse of Xiao Feng, Ah Zi stood in a daze for some time. Finally, she gently coaxed: “Brother in law, all of them are villains. You should ignore them. Only Ah Zi truly cares for you.” As she spoke, she stooped down and lifted Xiao Feng’s corpse. Xiao Feng is of massive build; although the top half of his body is being carried, his two legs are still dangling on the ground. Ah Zi added: “Brother in law, you are finally obedient. Although I am carrying you, you did not push me away. Yes, it is better this way.”

Xu Zhu and Duan Yu exchanged a look and both men thought: She is so deep in grief that she is starting to lose touch with her sense of reality.

Still shedding tears, Duan Yu consoled: “Little Sister, Big Brother Xiao has perished for a worthy cause. The dead cannot be revived, you… you…” Taking a few steps forward, he wanted to carry Xiao Feng’s corpse.

In a stern voice, Ah Zi hissed: “Don’t you dare come and snatch my Brother in law, he is mine, nobody is allowed to touch him.”

Duan Yu returned back to the crowd and winked at Mu Wanqing. Mu Wanqing caught his hint and walked over to Ah Zi’s side. In a soft voice, she comforted: “Little Sister, Big Brother Xiao has passed on, we should discuss how to lay him to rest…”

Ah Zi abruptly screamed at the top of her voice, giving Mu Wanqing a bad scare and causing her to take two steps backwards. Ah Zi shrieked: “Move away! Move away! If you come near me again, I will kill you first with one sword slash.”
 
Mu Wanqing frowned her eyebrows and shook her head at Duan Yu.

Out of nowhere, from the group of mountains on the left side of the Pass, someone called out in a loud voice: “Ah Zi, Ah Zi, I can hear your voice. Where are you? Where are you?” The voice carried a mournful tone and many of the heroes recognized the speaker as the ex-Chief of Beggar’s Sect, You Tanzhi alias Zhuang Juxian.

The heroes individually turned their heads in the direction of the calling voice. Entering their sight is You Tanzhi who is holding a bamboo staff in each of his hands. The left staff is used to test the ground in front of him while the right staff is pressing on the shoulder of a middle-aged fellow. Together, they appeared from a mountain cavity. The middle-aged fellow is Big Brother Wu who was ordered to stay behind and safeguard Lingjiu Palace. From his haggard appearance and shabby attire, coupled with an expression of helplessness on his face, Xu Zhu and the others instantly understood his circumstances. He must have been held hostage by You Tanzhi and was forced to lead him in a search for Ah Zi. Along their journey, Big Brother Wu must have endured numerous sufferings.

Ah Zi was incensed: “What did you come here for? I do not wish to see you. I do not wish to see you.”

You Tanzhi was elated: “Ah, you are here indeed. I can hear your voice. I finally found you!” The bamboo staff on his right hand became charged with internal energy. With a push, Big Brother Wu uncontrollably flew forward. The two men travelled with amazing speed. In the blink of an eye, they have arrived at the side of Ah Zi.

Xu Zhu, Duan Yu and the others have run out of ideas. Noting the arrival of You Tanzhi, they assumed that since this person is willing to present both his eyes to Ah Zi, their relationship must be extremely deep. Maybe he could persuade Ah Zi to change her mind. As a result, they moved a few steps backwards to avoid disturbing the conversation between the two of them.

You Tanzhi questioned: “Miss Ah Zi, how are you? Did anyone bully Miss?” From his deformed face, expressions of delight and concern were
 
being portrayed.

Ah Zi demanded: “If there is someone bullying me, what will you do?” You Tanzhi hurriedly answered: “Who has offended Miss? Miss, tell me quickly, I shall fight him to death.” Ah Zi coldly sniggered once. Pointing to everyone around her, she stated: “All of them have bullied me; you can kill all of them in one shot!”

You Tanzhi acknowledged: “Yes.” To Big Brother Wu, he interrogated: “Old Wu, who are these bullies that have offended Miss?” Big Brother Wu replied: “There are tons of them, you cannot possibly kill all of them.” You Tanzhi insisted: “Even if I cannot kill all of them, I must still do it. It is their fault for offending Miss Ah Zi.”

Ah Zi angrily remarked: “I am now together with my Brother in law. We shall never be apart again. You get as far away from me as possible. I do not wish to see you ever again.”

You Tanzhi was heartbroken. He stuttered: “You… You do not wish to see me ever again…”

Ah Zi loudly declared: “Ah, yes, my eyes are a present from you. My Brother in law says that I owed you a debt of gratitude and I should consistently wait on you. However, this is not to my liking.” Suddenly, her right hand darted out and stabbed towards her own eyes. Ah Zi actually dug out both of her eyeballs and with some force, she threw them in the direction of You Tanzhi, screaming: “I’m giving them back to you! I’m giving them back to you! From today onwards, I no longer owe you anything. This way, my Brother in law will stop forcing me to accompany you.”

Although You Tanzhi cannot see anything; but from the gasps of horror and fearful exclamations of the crowd around him, he could guess that a tragic turn of events has occurred. In a pleading voice, he wailed: “Miss Ah Zi! Miss Ah Zi!”

Carrying the corpse of Xiao Feng, Ah Zi gently remarked: “Brother in law, we no longer owe them anything. In the past, when I shoot you with a
 
poison needle, that is because I wanted to be with you forever. Today, my wish is finally fulfilled.” As she spoke, she carried Xiao Feng and started walking.

Seeing fresh blood seeping out of her empty eye sockets and flitting across her snowy white face, the heroes were horribly traumatized. When she walked near them, they hurriedly stepped away due to fright. She continued walking in a straight line and little by little, she got close to a deep ravine by the mountain side. Everyone shouted in warning: “Stop! Stop! There is a deep ravine in front of you!”

Duan Yu flew towards her in pursuit, calling out: “Little Sister, you…”

However, Ah Zi ran straight towards her front. Suddenly, she stepped into thin air and fell straight down into the bottomless ravine.

Duan Yu stretched out his hand and tried to grab her. With a ‘chi’ sound, he only managed to tear off a corner of her sleeve. Out of nowhere, he could feel a strong and swift gust of wind from his side. It is a sign that someone is zipping towards him. Duan Yu leaned to his left and made way for the newcomer. Unexpectedly, You Tanzhi flew past him and fell into the deep ravine too. Duan Yu exclaimed: “Ayo!” Peering into the ravine, all he could see were clouds enshrouded in mist. It is impossible to gauge the depth of the ravine.

Standing at the edge of the mountainous ravine, the heroes were sighing or gasping. For those with weaker martial arts, they could identify craggy sharp rocks at the sides of the ravine that resembled sharp knives or stinging swords. Needless to say, they were appalled. For Xuan Du and the other elderly members of the martial arts world who knew about Xuan Ci, Chief Wang and the others ambushing the Khitan warriors outside Yanmen Pass, they realised that the corpse of Xiao Feng’s mother lies in the same deep ravine.

Suddenly, from the top of the Pass, sounds of drumming arose. The Captain who relayed orders loudly announced: “On orders from General Zhang, the Pass Commander for Yanmen Pass: Since the lot of you are not spies from Liao country, a special allowance has been granted for everyone to enter the
 
Pass. It is absolutely essential that you behave appropriately and do not create a scene.”

The group of heroes under the Pass let loose a torrent of insults: “We would rather die than enter this Pass that is controlled by you military dogs.” “Because of you muddle-headed military dogs, Great Hero Xiao lost his life!” “Everyone, let’s enter the Pass and kill the military dogs.” Pointing their fingers at the top of the Pass, the heroes were slapping their hands and stomping their feet as they cursed relentlessly.

Facing the direction of the ravine, Xu Zhu, Duan Yu and the others kneeled down and made a few bows before climbing the mountains and leaving the area.

Noticing the heroes turning rowdy and causing a commotion, the Pass Commander of Yanmen Pass hurriedly changed his order and forbade anyone from entering the Pass. After the heroes cursed him for some time, they gradually dispersed and entered the territory by making a detour around the mountain. Relieved, the Pass Commander tabled a victory report at once and dispatched a swift messenger to deliver it to Bianliang. In his report, he stated how he personally led his army of generals and soldiers to engage the Liao army. After countless bloody skirmishes over several days, thanks to His Majesty’s luck and blessing, the wise guidance of the Court Ministers and the subordinates fighting at their best, he managed to defeat the opposing army of more than ten thousand Liao soldiers. In conclusion, Southern Khan Xiao Feng, the notable general of Liao country was killed. Along with him, thousands of Liao soldiers were killed or injured. The Ruler of Liao, Yelu Hongji, failed in his conquest and was forced to retreat.

The Song Emperor Zhao Xu was delighted to receive the report and issued a decree for the border Pass, rewarding the three armies. For those below the rank of Captain, they received additional promotions. Zhao Xu regarded himself as a brilliant and valiant hero, surpassing his ancestors by leaps and bounds. For consecutive days, he hosted banquets to treat the Court Officials. Within the palace, he partied with the concubines. The singing of false praises is overwhelming to one’s ears. In addition, many celebrations for this triumph are being laid out for months to come.
 
Duan Yu, Xu Zhu, Xuan Du, Elder Wu and the other heroes soon parted ways. Leading Mu Wanqing, Zhong Ling, Hua Hegen, Fan Hua, Ba Tianshi, Zhu Danchen and his followers, Duan Yu headed home to DaLi.

Entering the territory of DaLi, Wang Yuyan and the Imperial bodyguards of Dali are ready to welcome them at the border. Duan Yu updated them about the story of Xiao Feng and Ah Zi, causing them to be saddened and depressed. As the group of them travelled southwards, Duan Yu does not wish to alarm the commoners and ordered everyone not to change into their Court attire but remain in their present tradesmen disguise.

On the day they arrived at the Capital, Duan Yu wanted to visit Sky Dragon Monastery and pay his respects to Grandmaster Kurong and Imperial Uncle Duan Zhengming. As the sky is gradually darkening and they are still thirty kilometres away from Sky Dragon Monastery, the group decided to find a resting place and take a break. Out of nowhere, the voice of a child resonated from a nearby forest: “Your Majesty, Your Majesty, I have paid my respects to you, why haven’t you rewarded me with sweets?”

Hearing these words, everyone became confused and wondered: How did someone recognize Your Majesty?

Walking over to the forest to investigate further, someone else spoke out from within the forest: “The lot of you must say: May Your Majesty live a long life! May Your Majesty live a long life! May Your Majesty live a long life! Then I will reward you with sweets.”

This voice is extremely familiar. The speaker is none other than Murong Fu.

Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan were especially shocked. Holding hands, the two of them hid behind some trees and turned their gaze towards the source of the voice. Entering their vision is Murong Fu sitting on a block of clay tombstone. Wearing a tall paper crown on his head, he carried an air of dignity.

Several village kids are kneeling down in front of the tombstone. In a disorderly manner, they chorused: “May Your Majesty live a long life! May Your Majesty live a long life! May Your Majesty live a long life!” As they
 
chanted, they kowtowed to him. Some of the kids are already sticking out their hands and pestering: “I want sweets! I want pastries!”

Murong Fu proclaimed: “My beloved Officials, please rise. Now that Emperor (I) has revived Great Yan and ascended the throne, every one of you will be well rewarded.”

Right beside the tombstone stood a lady and she is turned out to be Ah Bi. Dressed in light green clothing, there are signs of misery and tiredness on her pretty face. As everyone watched, she retrieved some sweets and pastries from a basket and distributed them to the bunch of kids, announcing: “Everyone is very obedient. Come and play with us tomorrow too. There will be more sweets and pastries to eat!” Weeping as she spoke, her tears drip one by one into the bamboo basket.

The children happily clapped their hands and cheered: “See you tomorrow!”

Wang Yuyan realised that her Elder Male Cousin has gone mad due to his obsession with the revival of Great Yan. She cannot help but felt distraught.

Reading Ah Bi’s expression, the feelings of sympathy swelled tremendously in the heart of Duan Yu. Initially, he thought of bringing Murong Fu and her back to DaLi and settling them down in a decent place. However, he noticed Ah Bi staring at Murong Fu with unlimited tenderness in her eyes. In the same context, Murong Fu’s expression is full of contentment. Enlightened, he contemplated: “Each of us has to face our own fate. From our perspective, we may pity Brother Murong, Ah Bi, and their present circumstances. However, in their hearts, they are living a satisfactory life. Why should I disrupt their peaceful existence?” Lightly tugging Wang Yuyan’s sleeve, he made a gesture.

Everybody quietly retreated and left the forest. From their last impression, Murong Fu is still sitting on the clay tombstone. Facing the southern direction, he is murmuring endlessly to himself.

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