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Demi Gods & Semi Devils Book 3
XXI - The distant vague as a dream
Chinese title: 天龍八部 -Original novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha)
Wuxia Novel Fan Translation by forgot password @spcnet
Chapter 21: Thousands of Li Were Hazy Like a Dream
The two of them immediately went southward, bypassed Yanmen Pass via the mountain ridge and came to a small town. They went to an inn. Without waiting for Qiao Feng to say anything, AhZhu told the waiter of the inn to bring them 20 Jin (0.6 kg) of wine. Seeing that the two of them did not look like a married couple or siblings, the waiter already felt surprised. Hearing her tell him to take out 20 Jin of wine, he was even more astonished; hence he only looked at them in a trance without going to fetch wine and also without replying. Qiao Feng gave him a stare; he was not angry yet his look was commanding. That waiter was frightened. Only now did he turn around while mumbling: ’20 Jin of wine? Does he use wine to bathe?’
AhZhu laughed and said: ‘Great Master Qiao, we’re going to find Elder Xu but it looks like in two days we’ll be detected by other people. There’d be lots of fun if we fought and killed all the way but I’m afraid Elder Xu would flee at the mere sight of us coming towards him. Then, we wouldn’t be able to find him.”
“Ha-ha,” Qiao Feng laughed and said: “You don’t need to flatter me, if we fought all the way, there’d be more and more enemies coming, and eventually the two of us wouldn’t be able to avoid getting killed…”
AhZhu said: “There’re unlikely to be dangers. It’s just that if every one of them flees at the sight of us, it may be hard to handle.”
Qiao Feng said: “Then according to you, is there any way for us? How about resting in the inns during daytime and going quickly at nighttime?”
AhZhu smiled and said: “If you wanna make it impossible for them to recognize us, it couldn’t be easier. But I don’t know if Great Hero Qiao who is famous all over the land under Heaven is willing to wear a disguise?” Speaking to the last, it was the word ‘disguise’ yet again.
Qiao Feng laughed and said: “I’m not a Han so basically I don’t wanna wear these Han clothes already. But if I put on Khitan clothes, it’ll be very hard to travel in the Central Plains. AhZhu, who you think should I disguise myself as?”
AhZhu said: ‘You’re imposing in stature, as soon as we stop or go out you’ll make everyone take notice. It’d be best if you disguise yourself as an ordinary-looking man in jianghu who doesn’t have any unusual characteristics. It’s possible to run across several hundred men of this type on roads every day, so no one would keep their eye on you.’
Qiao Feng slapped his leg and said: “Brilliant! Brilliant! After drinking wine we’re gonna get in disguise.”
When he drank up 20 Jin of wine, AhZhu immediately started to disguise him. A great variety of things such as flour, paste and ink glue were combined and the extraordinary features of Qiao Feng’s face disappeared one by one. Next, AhZhu gave him a sparse mustache on the upper lip. When looking in a mirror, even Qiao Feng could not recognize himself. After that, AhZhu disguised herself as a middle-aged man.
AhZhu laughed and said: “Your appearance has been changed completely, but as soon as you talk or drink wine, other people would know who you are.”
Qiao Feng nodded and said: “Um, then I must talk less and drink less wine.”
Going south this time, he really talked very little, he also drank only two or three Jin of wine each meal as a formality.
That day, arriving in Sanjia town in Jinnan, while the two of them were eating noodles in a small noodle shop, they suddenly heard two beggars talking to each other on the outside. One beggar said: “Elder Xu died a really miserable death. All the bones in his chest and his back were broken. That evil traitor Qiao Feng must’ve committed murder again.”
Qiao Feng was slightly shocked and thought: “Elder Xu has died?” He and AhZhu looked at each other.
He heard another beggar say: “The day after tomorrow the session for receiving condolence will start in Weihui, Henan. All the Elders and brothers of the Clan will go to the memorial ceremony. We must discuss a way to capture Qiao Feng.” The first beggar then said a few slangy sentences of the Clan. Qiao Feng certainly understood what he meant. The beggar said that Qiao Feng had a formidable influence hence they were not allowed to talk as they pleased and to be overheard by his subordinates.
After eating noodles, Qiao Feng and AhZhu left Sanjia town and went to the outskirts of town. Qiao Feng said: “We should go to Weihui to have a look. Maybe we’ll see a clue.”
AhZhu said: “Yes, we must go to Weihui. Great Master Qiao, most of the people who’ll go the memorial ceremony are your former subordinates, so don’t give yourself away in your words and behaviors.”
Qiao Feng nodded: “I know.” They immediately turned to the east and went towards Weihui.
On the third day, they arrived in Weihui and entered the city. They only saw that the streets and alleys were full of the Beggars Clan’s disciples. Some occupied tables in restaurants and ate with no manners, some slaughtered dogs and pigs in alleys and some even pestered and stole on streets. Qiao Feng felt unhappy when he saw that the Beggars Clan, which was known as the number one large Clan in jianghu, was slack in rules and no longer had the strict and thriving atmosphere of the days when he had been in charge of it; if this situation continued, soon it would be regarded with contempt by the common people. Even though he and the Beggars Clan were no longer friends and had become the enemies of each other, seeing that his painstaking efforts of many years had been nullified in a very short time, he still felt sorry for it.
Hearing several disciples of the Beggars Clan say some slangy sentences, he knew that the memorial tablet of Elder Xu was placed in an abandoned garden in the west of the city. Qiao Feng and AhZhu bought some incense sticks, candles, joss money, a pig’s head, a bull’s head and a goat’s head then went to the abandoned garden along with other people and kowtowed to Elder Xu’s memorial tablet.
He saw that Elder Xu’s memorial tablet was imbued with fresh blood. That was a custom of the Beggars Clan which meant that the deceased had been killed by someone and the members of the Clan had to avenge him. All the people in the mourning hall inveighed against Qiao Feng, but they did not know that he was beside them. Seeing that all around him were the leading people of the Clan, Qiao Feng feared that his flaws would be noticed by someone. Not wanting to stay here for long, he immediately took his leave and walked out alongside AhZhu. He thought: “Elder Xu’s already dead. The number of people in the world who know that ‘Leading Big Brother’ has been reduced by one.’
Suddenly he caught a glimpse of a person at the end of the alley, who was a woman with a tall and big stature. With his sharp eyes, Qiao Feng recognized her as Granny Tan. He thought: “Very good, she must’ve come here to attend Elder Xu’s memorial ceremony. I’ve wanted to find her.” After that, he saw another person flash by the alley. This person also had a very good qinggong (lightness skill), but he was Zhao Qiansun.
Qiao Feng was surprised: “These two people are sneaky. Is there anything strange?” He knew that these two people had originally been shixiongmei (apprentice brother and apprentice younger sister) of each other and the emotional entanglement between them had not been broken off until now. He thought: ‘Both of them are 60 or 70 years old already. Could it be that they’re still secretly dating and having an affair?” At first he did not like to meddle in other people’s business, but he thought that Zhao Qiansun knew who the ‘Leading Big Brother’ was and that Grandpa Tan and Granny Tan were also likely to know him. If he could find some chinks in their armors, he would be able to seize the opportunity and force them to reveal the truth. Hence he immediately put his
mouth close to AhZhu’s ear and said: “You wait for me in the inn.” AhZhu nodded. Without delay, Qiao Feng chased in the direction that Zhao Qiansun had gone.
Zhao Qiansun only chose secluded places to go along, sometimes hiding in the corners of walls on the eastern side and sometimes shrinking under the edges of roofs on the western side. With this stealthy behavior, he went out of the Eastern gate of the city. Qiao Feng followed Zhao Qiansun from a distance and all along did not let himself be detected. He saw that Zhao Qiansun went to the side of a canal, bent his body and got into a big wooden boat. Qiao Feng circulated his internal energy and ran very quickly. After leaping several times, he had already reached the side of the boat. He gently jumped onto the roof of the boat and put his ear against it to listen.
In the cabin, Granny Tan let out a deep sigh and said: “Shige (elder apprentice bro), you and I are already this old. It’s too late to regret the things of our young years. What’s the point in mentioning past events again?’”
Zhao Qiansun said: “This life of mine has been ruined. It’s already too late to regret. Xiao Juan, I’ve arranged to meet up with you here for no other reason than to beg you to sing those several songs of the past once again.”
Granny Tan said: “Alas, you’re always silly to the point of being laughable. When my hubby came to Weihui and saw you again, he was already very displeased. He’s a suspicious man so you’d better trouble me less.”
Zhao Qiansun said: “What are you afraid of? Us shixiongmei are on the up and up. What’s wrong with talking about past events?”
Granny Tan sighed and softly said: “Those songs of the past, those songs of the past…”
Seeing that her mind had been stirred, Zhao Qiansun pleaded more: “Xiao Juan, today the two of us have met but I don’t know when we’ll meet again. I’m afraid my life is not long, when you want to sing to me again I won’t have the blessing of coming to hear you.”
Granny Tan said: “Shige, don’t say that. If you definitely want to hear me, then I’m gonna gently sing a song.”
Zhao Qiansun said happily: “Good, many thanks, Xiao Juan, thank you very much.”
Granny Tan leisurely sang: “At that time, when you went over on the bridge, I was washing clothes next to it…”
When she had just sung two sentences, with ‘ka-la’ sounds, the door of the cabin was pushed open and a man rushed in. After Qiao Feng had been disguised, both Zhao Qiansun and Granny Tan were not able to recognize him. The two of them jumped out of their skin at first, but when they saw that he was not Grandpa Tan, they immediately calmed down and shouted: “Who?”
Qiao Feng coldly looked at the 2 of them and said: “One is frivolous and immoral, seducing a married woman; the other is slvtty and shameless, secretly meeting the boyfriend without the husband’s knowledge…”
Before he had finished speaking, Granny Tan and Zhao Qiansun split up and attacked simultaneously from the left and right sides. Qiao Feng slightly leaned to one side, turned his hand over and grabbed Granny Tan’s wrist. After that, he struck out with his elbow, aiming at Zhao Qiansun’s left side. His attack was delivered later but came earlier than Zhao Qiansun’s. As experts in wulin, both Zhao Qiansun and Granny Tan only thought that in one stance they would be able to subdue the enemy and never could they have expected that this mediocre-looking man had such extraordinary martial arts that he could go on the offensive from a defensive position in just one stance. The space in the cabin was narrow, hence their limbs could not be used to the fullest, but Qiao Feng was good at both long-range and close-quarters combats. In the cabin which was less than one zhang square, he still executed grasping hand techniques and short-range skills very cleverly. Fighting to the 7th bout, Zhao Qiansun was hit by a finger attack in the waist. Scared, Granny Tan fought a bit more slowly. She was instantly hit by a palm attack in the back and collapsed on the floor.
Qiao Feng coldly said: “The two of you please have a rest here. In the abandoned garden in Weihui city, not just a few heroes and brave men are paying respects to Elder Xu’s memorial tablet, I’ll invite them to here to comment on this matter.”
Zhao Qiansun and Granny Tan were frightened and tried to channel their internal energies, but their acupoints were already blocked, and they were unable to move even the tips of their little fingers. The two of them were already old, they no longer had any sexual desire, they arranged to meet each other here only to talk about the past, and there was nothing unethical between them. But during that time in the Northern Song Dynasty, everyone was very serious about protecting the rules of etiquette, and if any hero or brave man in jianghu violated a taboo about sex, they would be despised by the rest. When there was a man and a woman quietly meeting up in this boat, who was willing to believe that it was only to sing a song and to talk some silly sentences? If everyone came here to see, afterward how would the two of them be able to live? Even Grandpa Tan would no longer have any honor and glory.
Granny Tan hastily said: “Hero, we haven’t done anything that offended you, if you could show some mercy, I… I’ll definitely repay your kindness.”
Qiao Feng said: “There’s no need to repay me. I only ask you one sentence, please answer in three words. If you say the truth, I’ll immediately unblock your acupoints and leave, and I’ll never mention the incident of today to anyone else.”
Granny Tan said: “As long as I know, I’ll certainly inform you.”
Qiao Feng said: “Someone wrote a letter to Chief Wang of the Beggars Clan, talking about the Qiao Feng matter. Many people call the writer of the letter ‘Leading Big Brother’, who’s this man?”
Granny Tan hesitated. When she had not yet replied, Zhao Qiansun shouted loudly: “Xiao Juan, you mustn’t say. No matter what, you mustn’t say.”
Glaring at him, Qiao Feng asked: “You’d rather lose all your reputation than say it?”
Zhao Qiansun said: “Then Laozi (your father here – arrogantly calling oneself) would die, that’s all. I’m indebted to this leading big brother so Laozi definitely won’t say his name.”
Qiao Feng said: “Then if Xiao Juan loses all her reputation, you won’t care either?”
Zhao Qiansun said: “If Grandpa Tan knows about today’s incident, I’ll immediately kill myself in front of him and use death to express my regret, that’s all.”
Qiao Feng turned towards Granny Tan and said: “You may not necessarily be indebted to that man. If you say, everyone will be safe and sound, you’ll save Grandpa Tan’s and your reputations, and you’ll save your shige’s life as well.”
Hearing him threaten to take Zhao Qiansun’s life Granny Tan could not help but shiver and said: “Ok, I’m gonna tell you. That man is…”
Zhao Qiansun hurriedly called out: “Xiao Juan, you mustn’t say. I beg you, beg you. This man is probably Qiao Feng’s subordinate, if you say, that Leading Big Brother’s life is gonna be in danger.”
Qiao Feng said: “I’m Qiao Feng. If you two don’t say, there’ll be endless future problems.”
Frightened, Zhao Qiansun said: “No wonder your martial arts are so good. Xiao Juan, in my life I’ve never begged anything from you. This is the only thing I beg from you, you must agree, no matter what.”
Granny Tan thought that for the past several decades he had been cherishing her, had very deep feelings for her, she herself had let him down many times, and he had never said what he had wanted to beg from her, but this time, in order to cover up for the person who he was indebted to, he was willing to die, hence she herself simply could not ruin his righteous act. She then said: “Chief Qiao, today’s matter, doing good deeds or doing evil with it is totally up to you. I and my shixiong have a clear conscience which can be expressed to Heaven and the Sun. Please forgive me for not being able to tell you what you want to know.” Even though she said these sentences politely, her words showed her determination not to reveal the truth at any cost.
Zhao Qiansun happily said: “Xiao Juan, thank you very much. Thank you very much.”
Qiao Feng knew that it was useless to force them again. He uttered a ‘humph’ sound, pulled out a jade hairpin from Granny Tan’s head then jumped out of the cabin, returned straight to Weihui city and asked about the place where Grandpa Tan was staying at. Because he was in disguise, no one was able to recognize him. Grandpa Tan and Granny Tan were staying at Rugui inn in Weihui city. This was not a secret matter therefore he knew about it immediately after asking.
When he entered the inn, he saw Grandpa Tan putting his hands together at his back and walking back and forth in his room, looking very fretful. Qiao Feng stretched out his hand and right in the middle of his palm was that jade hairpin of Granny Tan.
After seeing that Zhao Qiansun had followed them very closely to Weihui, Grandpa Tan had always felt depressed and worried, and now, because he had not seen his wife for half a day, he was worried about her and was wondering where she had gone to. Suddenly seeing his wife’s jade hairpin, he was both surprised and happy, and asked: “Who are you? Did my wife ask you to come here? What do you want to instruct me?”
As he finished saying he held out his hand and took that jade hairpin. Qiao Feng let him take the hairpin then said: “Your honorable wife has been captured by other people. She is about to be put in danger.”
Grandpa Tan was frightened and said: “My wife’s martial arts are very good. How could she be captured easily by other people?”
Qiao Feng said: “It’s Qiao Feng.”
As Grandpa Tan heard the three words “It’s Qiao Feng”, he was no longer doubtful about this, but he was even more anxious and worried and hastily asked: “Qiao Feng, alas! If it’s him then this’s really troublesome. My… my wife, where’s she?”
Qiao Feng said: “If you want to see your honorable wife alive, it’s very easy, if you want to see her dead, it’s also easy.”
Grandpa Tan was a stable man, even though he was worried, he still maintained his composure and asked: “Please instruct me.”
Qiao Feng said: “Qiao Feng has a matter to ask Grandpa Tan, if you speak the
truth, he will immediately let your honorable wife go and won’t dare to harm a single hair of hers. But if you don’t say, he’ll have no choice but to put her to death and bury her corpse and Zhao Qiansun’s corpse in the same grave.”
Hearing the last sentence, Grandpa Tan could no longer restrain himself. He then let out a furious shout and sent a palm attack towards Qiao Feng’s face. Qiao Feng slanted his body and slightly moved backward, that palm attack hit the air. Grandpa Tan was frightened, thinking that this palm attack of his had been fast like lightning and had not been something trivial but unexpectedly this man had dodged it so easily as if nothing had happened. Immediately he stretched his right palm out obliquely and struck out horizontally with his left palm. Qiao Feng saw that the inside of the room was narrow which made it impossible for him to dodge therefore he immediately held up his right arm to receive the attack. With a ‘pai’ sound, the palm attack hit his arm. Qiao Feng’s body did not shake. He turned his right arm over and pressed down onto Grandpa Tan’s shoulder.
In an instant, Grandpa Tan felt as if there was a rock which weighed several thousand Jin put on his shoulder. He immediately channeled his internal energy in order to stand upright but the weight on his shoulder was like that of a mountain or a mound, pressing him down to the point that his backbone produced ka-ka-ka sounds nonstop and was almost broken, hence he had no choice but to bend his knees and kneel down. Not willing to yield, he exerted himself and made another effort to stand up, but he was unable to take another breath, his knees became weak and he knelt down. He really could not help kneeling down like this, but his knees and joints had already become weak, thus when pressed down by such heavy force, it was impossible for him not to bend his knees.
Qiao Feng intended to defeat Grandpa Tan’s pride hence after he had knelt down the pressure still did not decrease, making Grandpa Tan’s back bend like a bow and his forehead almost touch the floor. The whole face of Grandpa Tan had become very red and he could barely sustain the pressure. He used all his strength to resist and hold his body up. Suddenly Qiao Feng’s arm let go of him. The pressure on the shoulder of Grandpa Tan suddenly disappeared which was unanticipated by him hence it was too late for him to take back his strength. As a result, he immediately jumped up for over a zhang. With a ‘peng’ sound, the top of his head hit a beam heavily and all but broke it.
When Grandpa Tan was falling down from mid air, Qiao Feng did not wait until his feet touch the floor to stretch out his own right hand and grab his chest. Qiao Feng’s arm was very long while Grandpa Tan was short and small in stature hence no matter how he punched or kicked, he was unable to touch Qiao Feng’s body. Moreover, when his feet were in midair, even if his martial arts were much better, he would not be able to use them. As soon as Grandpa Tan was in that critical situation, he understood and shouted: “So you’re Qiao Feng!”
Qiao Feng said: “Of course it’s me!”
Grandpa Tan said furiously: “You… You… Fvck you! Why do you wanna get that brat Zhao Qiansun involved in this?” What Grandpa Tan was angry about the most was Qiao Feng’s words that after killing Granny Tan he would bury her corpse and Zhao Qiansun’s in the same grave.
Qiao Feng said: “Your wife wants to drag him in. Why does it have anything to do with me? Do you wanna know where Granny Tan is now? Do you wanna know who she is saying loving words and singing love songs to?”
Hearing that, Grandpa Tan immediately guessed that his wife and Zhao Qiansun were staying together and could not help but want to go see the whole story. He then said: “Where’s she? Please take me there.”
Qiao Feng laughed coldly and said: “What have you done for me? Why do I gotta take you there?”
Recalling what Qiao Feng had said previously, Grandpa Tan asked: “You said you wanna ask me something. What do you wanna ask?”
Qiao Feng said: “That day in the Apricot Forest outside Wuxi city, Elder Xu brought along a letter which was written to the former Chief of the Beggars Clan Wang Jiantong. Who wrote this letter?”
Grandpa Tan’s limbs slightly trembled. At this moment, he was still being lifted up by Qiao Feng and his body was in the air. If Qiao Feng sent internal energy out from his palm, he would take his life instantly. But unexpectedly he did not fear and said sternly: “This man killed your father so you bear a huge grudge against him. I definitely can’t reveal his name. Otherwise you’d find and take your revenge on him, and then wouldn’t it mean I’ve caused him to get killed?”
Qiao Feng said: “If you don’t say, you’ll get killed first.”
Grandpa Tan laughed and said: “What kind of man do you think I am? How could I be mortally afraid of death and sell off my friends?”
Seeing him take care to preserve personal loyalty, Qiao Feng rather admired him. Had this been a different matter, he would have already stopped questioning him. But how could the grudge involving the deaths of his parents be something ordinary? Therefore he said: “You don’t care about your own life, but do you not cherish even your wife’s life? Grandpa Tan and Granny Tan’s reputation going through the floor, leaving behind a world-scale disgrace, don’t tell me that you ain’t afraid of it either?”
People in wulin cherished reputation the most and it was usual for brave men in jianghu to attach more importance to their names than to their lives. After hearing these two sentences, Grandpa Tan said: “I, Tan, sit firmly and stand upright, all my life I’ve never done anything wrong to my friends, how could you say the words ‘reputation going through the floor, leaving behind a world-scale disgrace’ to me?”
Qiao Feng sternly said: “Granny Tan may not sit firmly and stand upright and Zhao Qiansun may do wrong to his friends.”
In an instant, Grandpa Tan’s face completely reddened then turned livid. He frowned and glared fiercely at Qiao Feng with glaring eyes.
Qiao Feng unloosed his hand and put Grandpa Tan down on the floor then turned around and went out. Silent as the grave, Grandpa Tan followed him. The two of them, one ahead and one behind, went out of Weihui city. On the way, not just a few brave men in jianghu recognized Grandpa Tan and respectfully made way and saluted him. Grandpa Tan only let out a ‘humph’ sound and walked past them. Not long afterward, the two of them arrived at the side of that big wooden boat.
In a flash, Qiao Feng jumped onto the head of the boat. He pointed into the cabin and said: “You come and see by yourself!”
After that, Grandpa Tan got on the boat. When he looked into the cabin, he saw his wife and Zhao Qiansun were leaning on each other affectionately and cuddling up in a corner of the cabin. Boiling with anger, Grandpa Tan sent a fierce palm attack towards Zhao Qiansun’s head. A ‘peng’ sound was heard, Zhao Qiansun did not make a move, nor did he strike back, and he did not dodge the attack either. When Grandpa Tan’s palm touched the top of Zhao Qiansun’s head, he felt something wrong. He hastily stretched out his hand to touch his wife’s cheek and felt that it was ice-cold. It turned out Granny Tan had already been dead for a long time. The whole body of Grandpa Tan trembled but he was unwilling to give up, he held out his hand again to check her breathing, but she no longer breathed. Dumbfounded, he touched Zhao Qiansun’s forehead and also felt that it was ice-cold. Grandpa Tan was extremely grieved and indignant, he turned around and glared fiercely at Qiao Feng, his eyes looked as if spouting fire.
Seeing that Granny Tan and Zhao Qiansun suddenly had died together unnaturally, Qiao Feng was also very astonished. When leaving the boat, he had only blocked some acupoints of the two of them, how could the two experts suddenly die like this? He lifted the corpse of Zhao Qiansun up and took a quick look at it. He saw that there was not any wound caused by weapons on the corpse, nor was there any bloodstain. He then pulled the clothes on Zhao Qiansun’s chest, with a ‘chi’ sound, they were torn off. He saw a big black bruise on the chest of the corpse. Obviously Zhao Qiansun had been hit by a heavy palm attack. What stranger was that unexpectedly it looked like this serious injury had been caused by his own palm attack.
Grandpa Tan carried Granny Tan, turned around and unfastened her clothes to see the bruise on her chest. Her injury and the injury that Zhao Qiansun had suffered were exactly alike. Grandpa Tan wanted to cry but no tear came out. He said in a low voice to Qiao Feng: “You’re a beast in human face, such savagery!
Amazed, Qiao Feng was speechless for a period of time, he only thought: “Who used heavy palm attacks to kill Granny Tand and Zhao Qiansun? The killer’s internal energy is profound and very extraordinary. Could it be that it’s also my adversary who came here? But how could he know that the two of them were in this boat?”
Feeling grieved at the violent death of his beloved wife, Grandpa Tan channeled internal energy into his two arms and struck towards Qiao Feng with all his strength. Qiao Feng dodged to one side, only loud ka-la-la sounds were heard, the palm force of Grandpa Tan had struck down one side of the boat’s hood. Qiao Feng put out his right hand, grabbed Grandpa Tan’s shoulder and said: “Grandpa Tan, I definitely didn’t killed your wife, do you believe me?”
Grandpa Tan said: “If it wasn’t you then who?”
Qiao Feng said: “Now your life is in my hands. If I wanna kill you, it’d be as easy as turning my hand over. What’s the good of deceiving you?”
Grandpa Tan said: “You only wanna find out who killed your father. My martial arts aren’t as good as yours but how can I be fooled by you?”
Qiao Feng said: ‘Okay, you tell me the name of the enemy that killed my father, I’ll bear the responsibility to avenge your wife’s death on behalf of you.”
Grandpa Tan laughed wildly in a sorrowful voice. He tried to use his strength continuously three times to break loose from the enemy’s grasp, however the power of the palm that Qiao Feng was lightly putting on his shoulder varied according to his power. Grandpa Tan struggled with powerful force but the force of the enemy’s palm became stronger accordingly, therefore from beginning to end he was unable to escape from it. Grandpa Tan flew into a rage. He put his tongue between his two sets of teeth and gave it a powerful bite, severing it. With his mouth being filled with fresh blood, he spit it towards Qiao Feng. Qiao Feng hastily dodged to one side. Grandpa Tan quickly ran over, sent the corpse of Zhao Qiansun away in a fierce kick and carried the corpse of Granny Tan tightly in his arms. His neck then loosened up and he died.
Seeing this kind of devastation, Qiao Feng also felt sorrowful and rather sorry for them. Even though he had not killed the Tans and Zhao Qiansun with his own hands, they had died because of him. If he wanted to obliterate the corpses and destroy the evidence, he only needed to stamp his foot to create a hole in the bilge of the boat, and the boat would sink to the bottom of the river. But he thought: ‘If I hid these three corpses, wouldn’t it look like I have a guilty conscience?’ Hence he immediately got out of the cabin and disembarked, wanting to look for a footprint or clue on the river bank, but no trace was found.
He hurriedly returned to the inn. All along, AhZhu had been waiting for him at the gate. Seeing him return unharmed, she was very happy, but seeing that he had a doubtful expression, she knew that his stalking of Zhao Qiansun and Granny Tan had been in vain. She said in a low voice: “How was it?”
Qiao Feng said: “All died!”
AhZhu was slightly shocked. She asked: “Granny Tan and Zhao Qiansun?”
Qiao Feng said: “Grandpa Tan as well. The three of them died altogether.”
AhZhu only thought that he had killed them, even though she felt uneasy, it was inconvenient for her to be critical of him. She said: “Zhao Qiansun is an accomplice in the murders of your parents, there’s… there’s nothing wrong with killing him.”
Qiao Feng shook his head and said: “I didn’t kill them”
AhZhu let out a sigh and said: “If you didn’t kill them then that’s very good. I’ve always thought that Grandpa Tan and Granny Tan didn’t do anything that offended you so they could be spared. But who killed them?”
Qiao Feng shook his head and said: “I don’t know!” He then counted on the fingers and said: “There’re only three people who know that prime villain left in the world. We should act immediately and mustn’t let the enemy go ahead of us all the time. We’ve always been in a disadvantageous position already.”
AhZhu said: “Correct. That Madam Ma hates you to the marrow, she’ll be unwilling to tell you in any case, let alone the fact that forcing and questioning a widow aren’t the deeds of a real man. Reverened Zhiguang’s temple is in Jiangnan, which is far from here. So, let’s go to Tai’an in Shandong to find the Shan family!”
A trace of pity showed up in Qiao Feng’s eyes. He said: “AhZhu, it’s been hard on you for the past few days.”
AhZhu called out loudly: “Innkeeper, innkeeper, quickly bring us the bill.”
Surprised, Qiao Feng said: “It won’t be late to pay the bill tomorrow morning.”
AhZhu said: “No, we must go quickly tonight. Don’t let the enemy be ahead of us at every step.” Qiao Feng felt grateful to her and nodded.
In the dim twilight, they went out of Weihui city. On the way they already heard other people noisily spreading the news that the Khitan demon Qiao Feng somehow had suddenly laid his murderous hands on Grandpa Tan, Granny Tan and Zhao Qiansun. When speaking, these people looked around for fear that Qiao Feng would show up beside them at any time. They really did not know that Qiao Feng was right beside them, if he wanted to harm other people, these people truly would not be able to escape.
On the way they changed horses and went east quickly without stopping. Going to the 2nd day, even though AhZhu had not said any ‘tired’ word, she sat on horseback with a drowsy look, and several times she almost fell down from the horse. Seeing that she was really unable to keep enduring, Qiao Feng abandoned the horses and switched to a carriage. The two of them slept in the big carriage for 6 or 8 hours. After sleeping enough, they abandoned the carriage and used horses again, running at full speed. They kept going nonstop like this, AhZhu happily said: “In any case, this time we’re gonna arrive ahead of that prime villain.” Both she and Qiao Feng did not know who the enemy was, hence when they mentioned that man they always called him the ‘prime villain’.
But Qiao Feng was secretly worried because he felt that the ‘prime villain’ had always arrived earlier than himself at every single step, this man was not below himself in martial arts, his wits and schemes were far superior to those of his own, much less the fact that thus far he had only seen a dense fog before his own eyes, while the enemy could see clearly everything he did. All his life he had never met such a formidable enemy. However, the stronger the enemy was, the higher Qiao Feng’s mettle was, and he was not the least afraid.
Iron Faced Judge Shan Zheng resided outside the Eastern gate of Tai’an city in Shandong. He was widely known within Tai’an. When Qiao Feng and AhZhu arrived in Tai’an, it was already at twilight. After asking clearly where the Shan family was, they immediately went there through the city. After they came out of the Eastern gate and went for 1 li (0.5 km), they saw thick smoke rising in the sky; there was a fire somewhere. After that, they heard ‘dang-dang’ sounds of gongs and the sounds of people shouting from afar: ‘Fire! Fire! Quickly fight fire.’
Qiao Feng did not pay attention to that and urged the horse on, getting closer and closer to the fire. He heard someone shouted: ‘Quickly fight fire, quickly fight fire! It’s the impartial Shan family!’
Qiao Feng and AhZhu were frightened, they reined in and looked at each other. Both of them thought: “Could it be that the prime villain has arrived earlier than us again?’”
AhZhu consoled him: “Shan Zheng has very good martial arts, even if his house was burned, he definitely wouldn’t be burned to death inside.”
Qiao Feng shook his head. After he had killed the Shan Clan’s 2 Tigers, the Shan family had had a deep hatred towards him. Arriving in Tai’an this time, even though he had no intention of killing other people, he thought Shan Zheng and his descendants would definitely not forgive him, therefore originally he had prepared to get into a big battle. Unexpectedly, before he had arrived at the manor, the opponent had already met with a disaster. Therefore he could not help feeling sad and sympathetic to him.
The horses gradually came near the Shan manor. Qiao Feng and AhZhu only felt the broiling heat and saw red flames dancing boisterously. This was really a big fire.
At this time, villagers all around had flocked to here to fight fire, some carrying water and some scattering sand. Fortunately, there were deep trenches around the Shan manor and no one lived in the vicinity of the manor therefore the fire did not spread.
Qiao Feng and AhZhu galloped to the side of the scene and got off the horses. They heard a man sigh: “Old Master Shan was such a good person. He always helped the poor and disaster-stricken people in this region, for the past several decades he had so many meritorious and virtuous acts, why is it that not only was his house burned down but no one in his whole family of thirty something people could escape either?’”
Another man said: “His enemies must’ve set fire to the manor then blocked the doors to prevent them from escaping. Otherwise, as even a five-year-old child in the Shan family knew martial arts, how come they couldn’t escape?”
The first man said: “I’ve heard that Great Master Shan, 2nd master Shan and 5th master Shan were killed in Henan by a villain called Qiao Feng or something. This time someone came here to commit arson, could it be that it is this prime villain as well?”
When mentioning that enemy in their conversations AhZhu and Qiao Feng had called him the ‘prime villain’, at this moment, hearing those two villagers also say ‘prime villain’, they could not refrain from looking at each other.
The man who was rather younger said: “Of course it’s Qiao Feng.” When he said this, he lowered his voice and continued: “He must’ve led a large number of subordinates and broken into the manor then ruthlessly slaughtered the Shan family. Oh, Heaven really doesn’t have eyes.”
The older man said: “This Qiao Feng guy has done many evils. In the future he’ll certainly die 100 times more miserably than the Shan family’s masters did.’
Hearing them cursing Qiao Feng, AhZhu was annoyed. She stretched out her hand and slapped the horse on the side of its neck. Startled, the horse shot out its left hoof, which kicked that man right in his bottom. That man shouted ‘Ah’ and fell flat on his face. AhZhu said: “What nonsense did you say?” After receiving a kick by the horse, that man remembered that the ‘prime villain’ Qiao Feng had very many subordinates, hence he was so frightened that he did not dare to utter a word and hurriedly went away.
Qiao Feng smiled but his smiling expression carried 30% sadness. He and AhZhu went to another side of the fire. They could hear everyone discussing things in quick succession. All of them said the same that, no one among the thirty or so people of the Shan family was able to escape, irrespective of being male, female, old or young. When Qiao Feng smelled the foul-smelling air of burned corpses which was coming out gust after gust from the fire, he knew that what they said was not false; all the men, women, old people and young people in Shan Zheng’s whole family had really been buried in the fire.
AhZhu said in a low voice: “This prime villain is really ruthless. He killed Shan Zheng and his sons; it couldn’t be helped. But why did he gotta kill his whole family? Why did he need to burn down even the house?”
Qiao Feng uttered a ‘humph’ sound and said: “This is called cutting the weeds and digging up the roots. If it had been me, I would’ve burned the house as well.”
AhZhu was startled and asked: ‘”What?”
Qiao Feng said: “That evening in the Apricot Forest Shan Zheng said some sentences, most probably you heard them as well. He said: ‘There’re several letters by that ‘Leading Big Brother’ hidden in my house, I already compared this letter with the handwriting of them. This is really a genuine letter.’”
AhZhu sighed and said: “That’s right. Even though he already killed Shan Zheng, he was afraid that you’d go into the Shan family’s manor and successfully find those letters, and then you’d still be able to know his name. But if he burned the manor to the ground with a handful of kindling, there wouldn’t be any letter left.”
At this moment, there were more and more people gathering to fight the fire, but the fire was intense, when pailfuls of water were splashed on the fire, they instantly changed into steam, but they were not able to hold back the fire. Flames and heat were spurted out gust after gust, making everyone repeatedly go backwards. The crowd on the one hand lamented, and on the other hand they severely cursed Qiao Feng. The offensive language of the peasants was certainly extremely unpleasant to hear.
AhZhu feared that after hearing these irrational words of abuse Qiao Feng would get furious and start another massacre, and then these peasants would really be wretched. She stole a look at him and saw a strange expression on his face; he seemed to be sad and also seemed to be regretful, but above all, he looked sympathetic; it seemed he was thinking that these peasants were very silly and not worth killing. She heard him let out a deep sigh and say dejectedly: “Let’s go to Mt Tiantai!”
He really had no alternative but to mention Mt Tiantai. Even though (Reverened) Zhiguang dashi (great monk) had taken part in the battle that killed his parents that year; afterward, he had developed a strong ambition to go to remote or alien places to gather tree bark to cure people in the region consisting of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi of malaria and illnesses caused by miasma; countless people had been saved, but for that reason he himself had had a serious illness and after recovering he had lost all of his martial arts. There was no one in jianghu who did not respect Zhiguang dashi for this deed of saving the common people; when mentioning him, everyone called him the ‘Living Buddha of 10,000 Families’. Were it not because Qiao Feng had no other choice, he definitely would be unwilling to make things difficult for Zhiguang dashi.
The two of them left Tai’an and chose ways to go south. But this time Qiao Feng did not go quickly as if his life was at risk. He thought that if he himself handled pressing matters leisurely, maybe he would be able to protect Zhiguang dashi’s life; and that if he went at double speed as before, when he arrived at Mt Tiantai, probably he would also see the corpse of Zhiguang dashi, and maybe even the temple where the monk lived would already be burned to the ground. Furthermore, Zhiguang usually roamed everywhere, hence he might not be staying at the temple on Mt. Tiantai.
Mt. Tiantai was in Zhedong. This time, on the way going south from Tai’an, Qiao Feng and AhZhu went slowly as if they went sightseeing and talked about strange things and anecdotes in jianghu. If their minds were not full of worries, this would have been a joyful sightseeing trip.
That day, after arriving in Zhenjiang, the two of them went to Jinshan temple to get a view of the river (this is the Yangzi River). While watching the water of the river rapidly rolling east unceasingly, Qiao Feng suddenly remembered something and said: “Maybe the ‘Leading Big Brother’ and the ‘prime villain’ are the same person.”
AhZhu clapped her hands and said: “That’s right. Why have we never thought of this before?”
Qiao Feng said: “Of course they may be two different people as well, but these two people must have a close relationship, otherwise that ‘prime villain’ wouldn’t go so far as using every possible means to hide that ‘Leading Big Brother’s’ identity. But when even people such as Chief Wang were willing to follow that ‘Leading Big Brother’, he must be an extraordinary person. That ‘prime villain’ must be extraordinary like this too. How come there’re two such extraordinary people in the world without me knowing even one of them? So my guess is that these two people are most likely the same man. If I kill that ‘prime villain’, I’d get revenge for the murders of my parents.”
AhZhu nodded in approval and said: “Great Master Qiao, in the Apricot Forest that evening, those people related what had happened that year, I’m afraid… I’m afraid…” Having said this, her voice could not help getting somewhat shaky.
Qiao Feng continued: “You’re afraid that the prime villain was present in the Apricot Forest?”
AhZhu said in a trembling voice: “Yes. In the Apricot Forest, that Iron Faced Judge Shan Zheng guy said that there were
letters written by the ‘Leading Big Brother’ hidden in his house. His whole family was then burned to the ground… Oh, when thinking about this matter, I’m very scared.” She slightly shivered and leaned on one side of Qiao Feng.
Qiao Feng said: “This man is extremely cruel and merciless. People like him are rare in the world. Zhao Qiansun’d rather lose all reputation than reveal his identity, and Shan Zheng was also on friendly terms with him. Who could’ve expected that he would murder these two people? There wasn’t any such formidable person in the Apricot Forest that evening, was there?” After pondering for a long time, he continued: “There’s another matter that I find strange.”
AhZhu asked: “What is it?”
Qiao Feng looked at a sailboat on the river and said: “This ‘prime villain’s’ intelligence and planning skill are better than mine in all respects. In terms of martial arts, it seems he’s not below me either. If he wants to take my life, I’m afraid he wouldn’t have any difficulties. Why does he need to be afraid that I’ll find out who my enemy is like this?”
AhZhu said: “Great Master Qiao, you’re just too modest. Even though that ‘prime villain’ is formidable, he’s in fact extremely afraid of you. I guess in these days he’s been shaking with the fear that you’ll find out who he is. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have to murder the two old masters Qiao, XuanKu dashi, Zhao Qiansun, Granny Tan and the whole family of Iron Faced Judge.”
Qiao Feng nodded and said: “That may be true as well.” He then smiled at her and said: “As he doesn't dare to come to attack me, he certainly wouldn’t dare to approach you. You don’t need to be afraid.” After a long while, he sighed and said: “This person is really good at scheming. It’s a shame that I, Qiao Feng, am called a hero when I’ve been a toy in other people’s hands without any power to strike back.”
After crossing the Changjiang River (aka Yangzi River), one day they crossed the Qiantang River and arrived in the Tiantai county seat. Qiao Feng and AhZhu rested at an inn for one night. In the morning of the next day, just as they wanted to ask people in the inn about the way to go to Mt Tiantai, the innkeeper hurriedly came in, saying: “Great Master Qiao, a master from Zhiguan Temple on Mt Tiantai comes to pay you a visit.”
Qiao Feng was frightened because when checking in he had conveniently said that his surname had been Guan. So he asked: “Why do you call me Great Master Qiao?”
The innkeeper replied: “The master from Zhiguan Temple told me about Great Master Qiao’s appearance. There’s not the least bit of inaccuracy.”
Qiao Feng and AhZhu looked at each other and both of them were amazed. They had already disguised themselves; moreover, they looked rather different as compared to when they had been in Tai’an, Shandong; yet unexpectedly, as soon as they arrived in Tiantai, they were recognized by other people. Qiao Feng said: “Okay, invite him to come here.”
The innkeeper turned around and went out. Before long, he conducted back a short and stout monk who was around 30 years of age. The monk put his palms together to Qiao Feng in salute, saying: “My master Zhiguang has ordered my little self Pozhe to invite Great Master Qiao and Miss Ruan to visit our humble temple.”
Seeing that the monk even knew AhZhu’s surname was Ruan, Qiao Feng was more astonished, so he asked: “How could you know my surname, master?”
Monk Pozhe said: “My master told me that there are a hero surnamed Qiao and a lady surnamed Ruan staying at Qinggai Inn in Tiantai county seat and ordered my little self to welcome and conduct you up the mountain. This is Great Master Qiao. Where is Miss Ruan then?” AhZhu had disguised herself as a middle-aged man therefore monk Pozhe was unable to recognize her and thought that Miss Ruan was not here.
Qiao Feng asked again: “We arrived here yesterday evening. How could your honorable master know about it? Could it be that he really has divination skill?”
When Pozhe had not yet replied, the innkeeper interposed: “The old divine monk at Zhiguan Temple has great magical powers, just by performing a quick calculation on his fingers, he already knew that Great Master Qiao was gonna come. Needless to say, he can see clearly what are going to happen in a day or two. The old master can predict even the matters of 500 years later with the accuracy as high as 60% or 70% as well.”
Qiao Feng knew that Zhiguang dashi had a resounding reputation and the ordinary and ignorant people worshiped him, hence he did not talk much, saying: “Miss Ruan will come later. Please take the two of us to your honorable master so that we can pay our respects to him.”
Monk Pozhe said: “Yes.” When Qiao Feng wanted to pay the bill for the room and the food, the innkeeper hastily said: “Great master, you’re a guest of Zhiguan Temple, it’s a great honor for us to have you in this small inn. No matter what, we don’t dare to accept these several Qian (~ 0.4 g) of silver for the rent and food.”
Qiao Feng said: “We thank you for your hospitality then.” Inwardly, he thought: “Reverened Zhiguang is kind to the people so I’ve written off the grudge concerning his murders of my parents. I only hope he’ll agree to reveal the identities of the ‘Leading Big Brother’ and the ‘prime villain’. Then I’ll be perfectly satisfied.” Without losing any time, he followed Pozhe to come out of the county seat and go towards Mt Tiantai.
Mt. Tiantai had a beautiful and tranquil landscape but the mountain paths were rather steep, rugged and hard to go along. According to legend, during the Han Dynasty, Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao went into Mt. Tiantai by accident and met celestial maidens. Thus it was clear that the landscape here had to be extremely beautiful; but the mountain paths were winding and tortuous, and very hard to recognize. Going behind monk Pozhe, Qiao Feng saw that his footwork was very good, but he obviously did not know martial arts. However, in spite of that, Qiao Feng did not loosen up his caution at all, thinking: “The opponents already know it’s me, how can they not be on strict guard? Even though Reverened Zhiguang is a person of high virtue, other people may not think the same as him.”
Unexpectedly, he had a pleasant and uneventful journey to Zhiguan Temple. Among the cloisters on Mt. Tiantai, Guoqing Temple was very famous in the world; in the Sui Dynasty, Zhizhe dashi, an eminent monk, used to stay at this temple and made the Tiantai school of Buddhism greatly flourish; hence it had been an important place of Buddhism for the past several hundred years. However, in wulin, Zhiguan Temple had a more resounding name. At first sight, Qiao Feng noticed that it was merely a common small temple, and most of the plaster and the paint on the outside of the temple had already peeled off. Had it not been for monk Pozhe’s leading, had Qiao Feng and AhZhu come here by themselves, they would not have believed that this ordinary temple was the famous Zhiguan Temple.
Monk Pozhe pushed the door of the temple open and said loudly: “Master, Great Master Qiao has arrived.”
There was the voice of Zhiguang, saying: “Honored guests from afar, this old monk is sorry for being late in welcoming you.” As he finished, he walked to the door and put his palms together in salute.
Before seeing Zhiguang, Qiao Feng had always been worried that the ‘prime villain’ would come ahead of him and kill this monk. Now seeing Zhiguang with his own eyes, Qiao Feng was at ease. Without delay, he and AhZhu removed their disguises and met the monk with their real faces. Qiao Feng made a deep bow and said: “Dashi, I’m deeply sorry for disturbing your serene ascetic life.”
Zhiguang said: “That’s fine, that’s fine! Qiao shizhu (almsgiver), originally you’re surnamed Xiao, do you know about it?”
Qiao Feng’s body trembled. Even though he knew that he himself was a Khitan, he had never known the surname of his father. In this moment, hearing Zhiguang say that his surname was ‘Xiao’, he could not help having a cold sweat because he knew that his origin was becoming clear step by step. He immediately bowed, saying: “My humble self is unfilial, so I come here to entreat dashi (great monk) to advise me.”
Zhiguang nodded and said: “Pray be seated.”
After the three of them had sat firmly on the chairs, Pozhe brought tea out. Seeing that the appearances of the two had changed and that AhZhu had turned into a girl, he was exceedingly surprised. However, he did not dare to ask anything due to his master’s presence.
Zhiguang continued: “On the stone wall outside of Yanmen Pass, your father left behind a piece of writing, calling himself Xiao Yuanshan. In the writing he called you ‘Feng’er.’ We retained your name, but because we entrusted you to Qiao Sanhuai for nurture, you had to go with his surname.”
Tears streamed down Qiao Feng’s face. He stood up, saying: “I’ve never known my father’s surname until today. It’s all thanks to dashi’s favor that I know it. Please accept a bow of mine.” As he finished saying, he bowed down. AhZhu also stood up.
Zhiguang put his palms together to return the salute and said: “How can it be called a favor?”
The national surname of the Liao Empire was Yelu, and the surname of the empresses of successive Liao dynasties had always been Xiao. Because the Xiao Clan had been the clan of empresses from generation to generation, it had had a lot of generals and officials in the Imperial Courts, and in the Liao Empire it enjoyed great ascendancy. At times, when a Liao emperor was too young, a Xiao Empress Dowager would assume power and make the clan even more powerful and influential. When Qiao Feng suddenly knew that he himself was from a great Khitan clan, for a period of time all sorts of feelings welled up in his heart, and he was in a trance for a long time. Then he turned to AhZhu, sighed and said: “From now on, I’m Xiao Feng, and not Qiao Feng.”
AhZhu said: “Yes, Great master Xiao.”
Zhiguang said: “Hero Xiao, you’ve most probably seen the words left behind on the stone wall outside of Yanmen Pass, haven’t you?”
Xiao Feng shook his head, saying: “No, I haven’t. When I arrived at the outside of Yanmen Pass, the words on the stone wall had already been scraped off completely by someone. There was no trace left.”
Zhiguang gently let out a sigh and said: “The matter was well in the past, the words on the cliff could be scraped off, but how could these several tens of people be brought back to life?” He took out from his sleeve a very large piece of cloth, saying: “Xiao shizhu, this is a rubbing of the writing left behind on the cliff.”
Xiao Feng trembled with fear, received the large cloth and opened it. He saw that it was made of many rags of clothes stitched together. All the words on the cloth were white hollow ones, the strokes were strange, they looked very similar to Han characters but he did not know a single word. Qiao Feng knew that it was the Khitan language. However, the strokes were powerful and sturdy, looking like saber chops and axe hacks. That day, Zhiguang had said that this piece of writing had been engraved on the rock by his father just before his death. Qiao Feng’s vision could not help getting blurred, and his tears streamed down and fell onto the cloth drop by drop. He said: “Dashi, could you interpret it please?”
Zhiguang dashi said: “At that time, after we had made a rubbing, we asked people who knew the Khitan language inside of Yanmen Pass to explain it. Several people all said the same thing, so most probably they were correct. Xiao shizhu, this line of words says: ‘Feng’er is exactly one year old. I and my wife were going to my mother-in-law’s house to attend a banquet. On the way suddenly we encountered the Southern Dynasty’s bandits’…’’
Hearing this, Xiao Feng felt an ache in his heart. He heard Zhiguang continue: ‘‘’Things happened quickly, my wife was killed by the bandits, making me lose the desire to live on in the world. My master in martial arts is a Han in the Southern Dynasty, I once took a vow in front of him that I would never kill Han people, but today unexpectedly I’ve killed more than ten of them. I’m both ashamed and sorrowful; after my death, I won’t have the face to meet my enshi (kind master). - Xiao Yuanshan’s last words’.’’
After Zhiguang finished, Xiao Feng respectfully received the large cloth which had the rubbing, saying: “These are the last words left behind by my predecessor. Dashi, please bestow it on me.”
Zhiguang said: “I should respectfully give it to you.”
Qiao Feng’s mind was in chaos. Thinking of his father’s sorrow at that time, he understood that his father had jumped off the cliff to commit suicide not only because of being grieved at the miserable death of his mother, but also because he had broken a vow by killing many Han people and felt ashamed of it before his school.
Zhiguang slowly uttered a sigh and said: “At first we only thought that your father was leading Khitan warriors to Shaolin Monastery to rob sutras. Only after we studied the writing on the stone wall did we know that it was a misunderstanding, a huge mistake. Your father was already determined to commit suicide so there was no reason for him to leave false words to deceive other people before his death. If he had been going to Shaolin Monastery to rob sutras, why was he taking along a lady who didn’t know the least bit of martial arts and was embracing a baby of just over 1 year of age? After the incident, we investigated the source of this news about a Shaolin sutra robbery, it turned out that it came from the mouth of an ignorant absurd person. This person deliberately played a trick on the ‘Leading Big Brother’ and wanted him to rush thousands of li (1 li = 0.5 km) about to make fun of him.”
Xiao Feng said: “Oh, so it was only to play a joke. What happened to this absurd person?”
Zhiguang said: “After finding out about the truth, the ‘Leading Big Brother’ was very angry, but that absurd person had already run away. No one knew his whereabouts. From then on, he has disappeared into thin air. It’s been thirty years since that incident, perhaps he is no more in the world.”
Qiao Feng said: “Dashi, thank you very much for letting me know about the cause and the aftermath of this incident, making Xiao Feng become a new man. I only want to ask you about another matter.”
Zhiguang asked: “Xiao shizhu (almsgiver), what do you want to ask?”
Qiao Feng said: “Who is this ‘Leading Big Brother’ after all?”
Zhiguang said: ‘I’ve heard that Xiao shizhu has killed four people, Elder Xu of the Beggars Clan, Grandpa Tan, Granny Tan and Zhao Qiansun, to investigate this matter, and you’ve killed the whole family of Iron Faced Judge Shan Zheng, then burned the Shan family’s manor to the ground as well. I expected that sooner or later you would come to this place. Please wait for a little while; this old monk is going to show you an object.” As he finished saying he stood up.
When Qiao Feng was about to explain that he had not killed Elder Xu and the other people, Zhiguang had already turned around then walked into the rear hall.
After a while, monk Pozhe walked into the parlor and said: “My master invites the two of you to the meditation room to talk.” Following him, Qiao Feng and AhZhu passed through an alley which ran in the shade of dense bamboos to arrive at the front of a small house. Monk Pozhe pushed the door open, saying: “Please!” Qiao Feng and AhZhu walked in.
They saw Zhiguang sitting cross-legged on a bulrush mat. He smiled at Xiao Feng, extended his finger and wrote on the floor. The floor of this small house had not been swept for a long time hence there was a thick layer of dust on it. They saw him write on the dust:
‘All things are the same; all creatures are equal.
Sages and animals are treated evenly.
Han or Khitan is reality and also fantasy.
Kindness, enmity, honor and disgrace all are mere dust.’
As he finished writing, he slightly smiled and closed his eyes.
Looking at the eight sentences on the floor, Qiao Feng was entranced, thinking: “From a Buddhist’s viewpoint, not only are humanitarians and villains the same, but there is also no difference between animals, hungry ghosts, emperors and generals, so whether I’m a Han or a Khitan is really not worth mentioning. But I’m not a Buddhist, how can I be detached like this?” So he said: “Dashi, in the end who is that ‘Leading Big Brother’? Please tell me.” He asked several times but Zhiguang only smiled without replying.
When Qiao Feng fixed his eyes on Zhiguang, he could not help but jump out of his skin because he saw that despite having a smiling expression, the monk seemed to be stiff and motionless.
Qiao Feng called out ‘Zhiguang dashi’ a few times but still the monk did not make any movement, hence he stretched out his hand to check his breathing. It turned out the monk’s breathing had already stopped. He had already passed away. Qiao Feng was so sad that he was speechless. He knelt down and bowed several times. Then he waved to AhZhu, saying: “Let’s go!”
The two of them quietly went out of Zhiguan Temple. Crestfallen, they returned to Tiantai county seat.
When they had gone for more than 10 li, Xiao Feng said: “AhZhu, I had no intention of harming Zhiguang dashi, he… he… why did he hafta make himself suffer like this?”
AhZhu said: “This eminent monk understood the world thoroughly and was greatly enlightened so life and death were the same to him.”
Xiao Feng asked: “Can you guess why he knew that we were going to Zhiguan Temple?”
AhZhu replied: “I think… I think that it’s a deed of that ‘prime villain’ again.”
Xiao Feng said: “I think so too. This ‘prime villain’ told Zhiguang dashi in
advance that we were going to find him to take revenge. Zhiguang dashi thought that he wouldn’t be able to escape from my murderous hands so after that conversation with us he immediately took poison to commit suicide.”
The two of them looked at each other and did not say anything for a long while.
AhZhu suddenly said: “Great master Xiao, there’re some undue words that I would like to say, please don’t take offense at them.”
Xiao Feng said: “Why do you need to stand on this kind of ceremony? Of course I don’t mind them.”
AhZhu said: “I think those words that Zhiguang dashi wrote on the floor are very reasonable. ‘Han or Khitan is reality and also fantasy. Kindness, enmity, honor and disgrace all are mere dust.’ In fact, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Han or a Khitan. Is there any difference between them? Perhaps you’re already tired of living by the tip of the saber in jianghu. It’d be better to go to the outside of Yanmen Pass to go hunting and do pasture, and from now on pay no attention to the kindness, enmity, honor and disgrace in wulin in the Central Plains.”
Xiao Feng let out a sigh and said: “I’m tired of this business which involves struggling for survival on the tips of the sabers already. It’d really be a lot happier to go to the prairies in the North of the Great Wall to gallop on horseback, set free eagles, release dogs, chase rabbits, and from now on have no worry. AhZhu, will you come to see me after I’ve returned to the North of the Great Wall?”
AhZhu blushed and said in a low voice: “I said ‘do pasture’, didn’t I? You’ll gallop on horseback and go hunting, and I’ll put cows and sheep out to pasture.” Having said this, she lowered her head.
Even though Xiao Feng was a straightforward man, he understood
clearly the implication of these several sentences of hers; she meant that she wanted to live together with him in the North of the Great Wall for life and would not return to the Central Plains again. Orginally Xiao Feng saved her merely because of the spirit in the moment; only after she went to the outside of Yanmen Pass in pursuit of him then went together with him to Weihui, Tai’an and Tiantai, rushing about thousands of li, did he feel that she was very tender and amiable. At this moment, hearing her express her feelings, he could not help but be moved, so he put out his bulky palm and held her small hand, saying: “AhZhu, you treat me so well. Don’t you detest and reject me because of my lowly Khitan origin?”
AhZhu replied: “The Han are human, the Khitan are also human. How can one be high and the other be low? I… I like to be a Khitan, this is my heartfelt desire, there’s not the least bit of constraint imposed on me.” As she spoke towards the end, her voice became as low as the buzzing noise of a mosquito and almost inaudible.
Very happy, Xiao Feng suddenly grabbed her waist and threw her up in the air. While she was falling down, he gently caught her and put her on the ground. Then he looked at her with smiling expression and said loudly: “AhZhu, from now on you’ll follow me to ride on horseback and go hunting, and pasture cattle and sheep. You will never regret this?”
AhZhu adopted a stern countenance, saying: “Even if it was following you to commit murder, arson and robbery, I would never regret it. Even if following you meant to experience various sufferings and all kinds of torments, I would still be glad about it.”
Xiao Feng said loudly: ‘Once I, Xiao Feng, have today; needless to say, I don’t like to be reinstated as the Beggars Clan’s Chief; even if they were to ask me to be the emperor, I wouldn’t care either. AhZhu, let’s go to Xinyang to find Madam Ma. It won’t matter if she is willing to tell us or not. This is the last person that we’re gonna find. After a question, we’re gonna leave for the North of the Great Wall to go hunting and pasture cattle and sheep!”
AhZhu said: “Great Master Xiao…”
Xiao Feng said: “From today on, don’t call me great master, 2nd master or something. You call me big brother!”
Totally blushing, AhZhu said in a low voice: “How can I deserve it?”
Xiao Feng said: “Are you willing to call me so?”
AhZhu smiled and said: “Extremely willing, but I don’t deserve it.”
Xiao Feng laughed and said: “Now you try calling me so one time then.”
AhZhu softly said: “Big… big brother!”
“Ha-ha,” Xiao Feng laughed loudly and said: “That’s right! From now on, I, Xiao Feng, am no longer alone and despised as a lowly barbarian because at least in the world there’s a person… there’s a person…” For the moment, he did not know what he should say.
AhZhu continued: “There’s a person who deeply respects you, admires you, appreciates you, is willing to stay by your side forever and through all eternity to endure misfortunes, humiliations, dangers and tribulations together with you.” She said very sincerely.
Xiao Feng let out a long volley of laughs, which echoed throughout the valley. Thinking that AhZhu had said she would “endure misfortunes, humiliations, dangers and tribulations together with him”, he felt grateful to her because even though she knew clearly that there would likely be a lot of trials in the future, she was still willing to put up with them with no regret, and so two streams of tears rolled down on his cheeks even though he was wearing a smiling expression.
The house of the former Deputy-Chief of the Beggars Clan Ma Dayuan was located in Xinyang village, Henan. From Mt. Tiantai in Jiangnan to Xinyang, Xiao Feng and AhZhu would have to travel thousands of li, and this was not a journey that they could finish in a day.
Ever since the two of them had opened their hearts to each other on Mt. Tiantai, they had found themselves very attached to each other. On the way they rode their horses slowly and saw that the natural scenic views were large, wide and totally charming. AhZhu was not good at drinking wine but in order to make Xiao Feng happier, she always forced herself to drink several cups of wine with him, which made her loveable face become rosy, making her looked even sweeter. At first, Xiao Feng was full of indignation but thanks to AhZhu laughing and talking to him, and wittily joking with him nonstop, most of his grief and resentment disappeared. In this northward journey from Jiangnan to the Middle Land (Zhongzhou– ancient name of Henan) his state of mind was very different than it had been when they had been hastening to Shandong from Yanmen Pass. Sometimes Xiao Feng recalled and felt that this thousands-of-li journey was hazy just like a great series of dreams; at first, there had been continuous nightmares, but towards the end, they had become nice dreams; were it not for the delightful loveable little girl AhZhu at his side, he really would wonder if he was still in a dream.
One day, they arrived in Guangzhou; it would take them no more than two days to reach Xinyang from here. AhZhu said: “Big brother, how should we inquire Madam Ma, you think?”
In the Apricot Forest and at Juxian Manor those days, Madam Ma’s words and expression had been full of hostility towards Xiao Feng; even though Xiao Feng had been very unhappy at those times, after those incidents he thought that because she had lost her husband and firmly believed that he himself had killed him, it was normal for her to despise him, and if she did not hate him, it would be unreasonable. He also thought that because she was a widow who did not know martial arts, if he threatened her, his hero status would be lost, let alone coercing her. Hearing AhZhu ask this, he could not help hesitating and did not know how to reply. After being at a loss for a while, he said: “I think we’ll have no choice but to ask her amicably and hope that she’ll be reasonable and no longer wrongly accuses me of killing her husband. AhZhu, it’d be better if you go talk to her. Is that ok? You’re clever in your words and both of you are female. I’m afraid if she sees my face she’ll be full of hatred and everything will immediately come to a standstill.”
AhZhu smiled, saying: “I have a plan, but I’m afraid you’ll think that it’s not good.”
Xiao Feng hastily said: “What is the plan?”
AhZhu said: “You’re a great hero, a real man, so you can’t extort the truth from her. But how about letting me trick her?”
Xiao Feng happily said: “It’d be the best if you can trick her into revealing the truth. AhZhu, you know, days and nights I’ve been hoping that I’ll be able to personally cut the prime murderer of my father to death. I’m a Khitan so his exposure of my true origin was a thing that should be done as it allowed me to know who my ancestors are. I should’ve been very grateful to him. But why did he kill my foster parents? Kill my enshi (kind master)? Force me to harm my friends, bear infamy and become the the enemy of the heroes in the world? If I can’t chop him into pieces, how would I be able to put myself at ease and ride on horseback, go hunting, and pasture cattle and sheep with you for life?” Towards the end, his voice became louder and louder. For the past few days, his expression was no longer as gloomy as before; despite that, however, his hatred towards the ‘prime villain’ had not yet diminished in the least.
AhZhu said: “This ‘prime villain’ has maliciously done you so much harm. I only hope that I’ll be able to slash at him several times to help you vent your anger. After capturing him, we’ll also arrange a great banquet for heroes and extraordinary people in the world then explain the injustices you’ve suffered in front of everyone to restore your unblemished reputation.”
Xiao Feng sighed and said: “That’s not necessary. By killing so many people at Juxian Manor, I’ve caused a deep hatred of me in the world’s heroes. And I’m not asking for forgiveness from other people either. I, Xiao Feng, only hope to put a stop to this matter to give myself peace of mind, then I and you will gallop to the North of the Great Wall and become friends with tigers, wolves, cattle and sheep for life and never see these heroes and brave men of the Central Plains again.”
AhZhu happily said: “Thank heavens for that. That’s what I’ve been eager for.”
She smiled, saying: “Big brother, I wanna disguise as a person and trick Madam Ma into revealing the name of the ‘prime villain’.”
Xiao Feng slapped his thigh and cried: “Yes! Yes! Why haven’t I thought of this? Nothing can be better than your masterful disguising skill in dealing with this matter. Who do you wanna disguise yourself as?”
AhZhu said: “I would need to ask you about that. When Deputy-Chief Ma was still alive, who in the Beggars Clan was he friendliest with? I’m gonna disguise myself as this person. Thinking that this is her husband’s close friend, I think Madam Ma won’t hide the truth.”
Xiao Feng said: “Oh, the people closest to Brother Ma in the Beggars Clan are Hall Master Wang, Quan Guanqing and Elder
Chen; besides them, he had a deep friendship with the Law Enforcing Elder Bai Shijing too.”
AhZhu made a ‘hum’ sound and tilted her head to recall the appearances of these people. Xiao Feng continued: “Unlike me who am fond of drinking and roughhousing, Brother Ma was a calm and prudent man so he rarely drank or talked with me. Quan Guanqing and Bai Shijing have similar personalities to his so they often studied martial arts together.”
AhZhu said: “I don’t know who Hall Master Wang is. The jute bag of Elder Chen’s is full of poisonous snakes and scorpions. I got goosebumps as soon as I saw it. My disguising skill can’t make me look like him. Quan Guanqing has a very tall frame so it’ll take quite a while to disguise as him. I’m afraid if I stay in Madam Ma’s house for a long time to slowly and tactfully sound her out I’ll give myself away. It’d be better if I disguise as Elder Bai. He talked to me several times at Juxian Manor so imitating him is the easiest.”
Xiao Feng smiled, saying: “Elder Bai treated you very well and tried his best to ask Divine Doctor Xue to cure your injury. Wouldn’t it be wrong to disguise youself as him to deceive other people?”
AhZhu laughed and said: “I’ll disguise as Elder Bai only to do good, and not to do evil or harm his reputation.”
They immediately disguised in a small inn. AhZhu changed Xiao Feng into a 5-bag disciple of the Beggars Clan who would be considered to be Elder Bai’s attendant. She told him to speak as little as possible for fear that Madam Ma was meticulous and would recognize the flaws. Xiao Feng saw that after disguising herself as Elder Bai, AhZhu had a frosty face which looked solemn even without being angry. This was really the Law Enforcing Elder that was awed by tens of thousand of Beggars Clan disciples from the north to the south. Not only did she bear a close resemblance to Bai Shijing, her behavior and words were also exactly the same as those of his. Xiao Feng and Bai Shijing had been friends for almost ten years, yet he was unable to see any difference between his appearance and AhZhu’s disguise.
The two of them went to Xinyang. On the way, when Xiao Feng saw Beggars Clan disciples, he would use the Clan’s jargon to talk with them and ask about movements of the leading people of the Clan; he also made public that Elder Bai had arrived in Xinyang to let Madam Ma know about their visit in advance. As long as she already had first impressions of it in her mind, even if there were flaws in AhZhu’s disguise, she would not be able to recognize them.
Ma Dayuan’s house was in the western suburb of Xinyang and was 30 li (0.5 km) or so away from the city. After asking local Beggars Clan disciples about the way to get there, Xiao Feng and AhZhu went to the Ma family home. They deliberately went slowly and stalled; only at dusk did they arrive. During the day, everything could be seen clearly so their disguises might have been recognized easily, but in the evening, everything looked indistinct so it would be easier for them to trick Madam Ma.
When they arrived at the outside of Ma Dayuan’s house, they saw a brooklet go around three small tiled houses. Beside the houses were two weeping willow trees, and in front of them was a piece of flat ground which looked like a drying ground of a farmhouse but there was a pit at each of its four corners. Very familiar with Ma Dayuan’s martial arts, Xiao Feng knew that Ma Dayuan had normally used these four pits to practice his skills. He could not help feeling sad because now they had been separated by life and death. When he was about to knock on the door, suddenly there was a grinding noise, the door was opened, and a woman walked out in a full-length white mourning dress. She was Madam Ma.
Madam Ma cast a glance at Xiao Feng then bowed to AhZhu in salute, saying: “Elder Bai’s exalted presence at this humble house is really beyond my expectations. Please come in for some tea.”
AhZhu said: “Dimei (younger sis-in-law), there’s an important matter that I must consult with you so I’ve come here without being invited. Please forgive me.”
With her whole body being covered in a white mourning dress, Madam Ma’s expression resembled a smile yet she was not smiling and the corners of her mouth had a trace of hidden bitterness. In this moment, the sun which was setting towards the back of the mountains was illuminating her face with a dull yellow light. Meeting her this time, Xiao Feng was not troubled as he was the two times before. He saw that even though there were vague wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and she was around 35 or 36 and not wearing make-up, her complexion did not seem to be less white and delicate than that of AhZhu’s.
The two of them immediately followed Madam Ma into the house. They saw that the hall was rather small, there was a table in the center, and on both sides of the table were placed four chairs, so there was very little space left. An aged maid servant brought tea out. Then Madam Ma asked Xiao Feng’s name. AhZhu conveniently made up a name for him.
Madam Ma asked: “Elder Bai, I’m wondering what you want to instruct me in this exalted visit?”
AhZhu replied: “Elder Xu passed away in Weihui. Dimei must have heard about it.”
Madam Ma suddenly raised her head. With a strange expression in her eyes, she said: “Of course I know about it.”
AhZhu said: “We all suspect that Qiao Feng killed him. After that, the three seniors Grandpa Tan, Granny Tan and Zhao Qiansun were also killed outside the city of Weihui. Then the Shan family of Iron Faced Judge in Tai’an, Shandong was burned to the ground. Not long ago, while going to Jiangnan to investigate a matter involving a 7-bag disciple that violated the Clan’s rules, I received a message on the way that old Reverened Zhiguang of Zhiguan Temple on Mt. Tiantai had suddenly passed away too.”
Madam Ma trembled all over and her face changed color, saying: “This… This was also done by Qiao Feng?”
AhZhu said: “I personally went to Zhiguan Temple to investigate. Though I couldn’t get any result, it’s 9 out of 10 that it was a deed of this fellow Qiao Feng. I’ve expected that his next step will most likely be troubling you so I’ve hastily come here to advise dimei to take refuge somewhere else for about a year to avoid Qiao Feng’s assault.”
With tears welling up in her eyes, Madam Ma said: “Ever since Master Ma was unluckily murdered, it’s become pointless for me to live on in this world. If that fellow surnamed Qiao wants to harm me, he’ll be most welcome. Why the need to seek refuge somewhere else?”
AhZhu said: “Dimei (younger sis-in-law), why do you say that? Brother Ma hasn’t been avenged and the murderer hasn’t been captured. There’s a heavy burden on you. Where’s Brother Ma’s memorial tablet? I should give a bow to him.”
Madam Ma said: “I dare not accept the honor.” But still, she conducted the two of them to the rear hall. AhZhu took a bow first then Xiao Feng respectfully kowtowed to the memorial tablet. Inwardly, he prayed: “Big brother Ma, if you have supernatural powers after death, today you should induce your wife to say the name of the real murderer so that I can avenge you and get rid of the injustice you suffered.”
Madam Ma knelt down beside the memorial tablet to return the salute, tears rolling down on her cheeks. After kowtowing, Xiao Feng stood up. He saw that there were several elegiac couplets hung in the mourning hall, among which were the ones presented by Elder Xu and Elder Bai, but the couplet he himself gave her was not hung here. The pieces of white cloth in the mourning hall had accumulated dust, adding to the gloomy atmosphere. Xiao Feng thought: “Madam Ma has no child, there’s only an aged maid servant beside her every day. It’s really hard for her to pass the time during these lonely days.”
He heard AhZhu console her with patronizing but tactful words such as “Dimei, you should take care of yourself. Brother Ma’s score is everyone’s score. If you have any difficulty, just tell me, I’ll certainly help you.”
He secretly praised: “This little girl’s imitation is perfect. The Beggars Clan’s Chief was expelled, the Deputy-Chief is dead, Elder Xu was murdered and the Elder of Merit Propagation was killed by me, so Elder Bai now has the most revered position. The tone of a Chief that she uses in conversation really matches her status.” Madam Ma thanked AhZhu but her tone sounded very cold. Xiao Feng felt worried. He saw that she was very bored and her expression was desolate, perhaps because her husband had passed away, she no longer had any joy in life. He was afraid that she might commit suicide to follow her husband. This woman had an unyielding temperament so she was capable of anything.
Madam Ma invited the two of them back to the guest hall. Before long, the aged maid servant set the table for dinner. There were four dishes, green cabbage, turnip, tofu and cucumber. All were vegetarian dishes. Also, there were three bowls of steaming hot cooked rice, but there was no wine. AhZhu cast a look at Xiao Feng, thinking: “No wine for you tonight.”
Staying calm and collected, Xiao Feng lifted up a rice bowl and ate. Madam Ma said: “After my late husband passed away, this widow has become a vegetarian. This isolated residence doesn’t have meat, fish or wine, I’m sorry for treating the two of you in this cold manner.”
AhZhu sighed and said: “Brother Ma has died and cannot come back to life. Dimei, you don’t need to make yourself suffer.” Seeing that Madam Ma was so loyal to her deceased husband, Xiao Feng exceedingly respected her.
After the dinner, Madam Ma said: “Elder Bai, you came here from afar so I should ask you to stay. But it’s inconvenient for a widow like me. I’m wondering if you still have something to instruct me.”
Her tone hinted that she wanted the guests to leave. AhZhu said: “I come to Xinyang this time to advise dimei to leave your house to avoid danger. Do you have any plan?”
Madam Ma let out a sigh and said: “That fellow Qiao Feng murdered Master Ma. If he comes to kill me, it’ll only be as good as ordering me to follow Master Ma to the Underworld. Even though I’m a weak woman, to tell you the truth, when I’m not afraid of even death, I’m not afraid of anything.”
AhZhu asked: “Does that mean dimei is unwilling to take refuge somewhere else?”
Madam Ma replied: “Elder Bai, thank you very much for your kindness. This little woman is really unwilling to leave Master Ma’s house.”
AhZhu said: “At first I wanted to stay around here for a few days to protect dimei; though I’m definitely no match for that fellow Qiao Feng, in case of emergency, I’d be able to lend a helping hand. But on the way I heard a very important secret message.”
Madam Ma said: “Oh, it must be extremely important.”
It goes without saying that women are always very curious, hence when hearing about an important secret, they will certaintly be pleased to know about it even though it may have nothing to do with them; even if they say that they are not interested, their expression will always show that they really want to know. Who could have expected that Madam Ma’s was still indifferent? It looked like it did not matter to her if AhZhu said it or not because her husband was already dead, thus nothing in the world could stir up her mind. Xiao Feng thought: “They always compare the heart of a widow to a withered plant or cold ash. That expression is best used with Madam Ma.”
AhZhu waved to Xiao Feng, saying: “You wait for me outside. I have some secrets to tell Madam Ma.”
Xiao Feng nodded and walked out of the house. He secretly praised AhZhu’s smartness because he knew that if one wanted other people to reveal their secrets, he must reveal his own secrets first to make them trust him. He understood that AhZhu dismissed him because she wanted to earn Madam Ma’s trust and to express that this matter was so secret that not even a trusted subordinate was allowed to hear.
He walked out of the main door. It was dark and quiet outside and he could only hear the vague tinkle coming from the kitchen. The aged maid servant was washing dishes. He immediately went around the corner of the house then squatted down beside the window of the guest hall and held his breath to listen. Even if Madam Ma did not say the name of that man, as long as she revealed some clues, he would still have something to investigate, which would be better than the present when he was totally at a loss. Moreover, this time Elder Bai had shown his kindness first by going thousands of li to give her an alarm, and when he was about to leave, he talked about an important secret matter, he was also the head of the Clan so it was unlikely that Madam Ma would hide something from him.
Only after a long time did he hear Madam Ma sigh softly and ask in a quiet voice: “You… Why do you come here again?”
Afraid of spoiling the overall situation, Xiao Feng did not dare to rashly stick his head out to look into the guest hall through the window, but he felt surprised: “What does she mean by this sentence?”
He heard AhZhu reply: “I really heard the message that Qiao Feng wanted to harm you so I come to tell you.”
Madam Ma said: “Oh, thank you very much for your kindness, Elder Bai.”
AhZhu lowered her voice and said: “Dimei, ever since Brother Ma unfortunately passed away, some Elders of our Clan have remembered his contributions and wanted to invite you to come out of your seclusion to hold an Elder post.”
Hearing her say this in a very cordial manner, Xiao Feng could not help secretly laughing, but he praised that this was a very good idea because if Madam Ma accepted it, ‘Elder Bai’ would immediately become her superior, and then when he asked something, she would not be able to refuse to answer. Even if she did not accept to be an Elder, knowing that the Beggars Clan had high regard for her, at the very least she would be happy for a while.
He heard Madam Ma say: “What kind of virtue and ability do I have to be an Elder of our Clan? I’m not even a disciple of the Clan. The post of an Elder is too high for and too far away from me.”
AhZhu said: “I and the people such as Elder Wu have done our utmost to recommend you. Everyone said that if Madam Ma also gave some ideas, it’d be much easier to capture Qiao Feng. I also got a very important message that is closely related to the murder of Brother Ma.”
Madam Ma asked: “Really?” Her voice still sounded rather indifferent.
AhZhu replied: “That day, at the memorial ceremony for Elder Xu in Weihui city, I met Zhao Qiansun. He mentioned a matter to me, saying that he knew who the real murderer of Brother Ma was.”
Suddenly there was a bang. A teacup had been broken into pieces. Madam Ma uttered an exclamation then continued saying: “You… What are you joking about?” Her voice was extremely angry but it also sounded somewhat panicky.
AhZhu said: “This is a serious important matter, how can I be joking? That Zhao Qiansun really told me in person that he knew who actually killed brother Ma Dayuan. He said that it was definitely not Qiao Feng, nor the Murong Clan of Gusu, but he knew absolutely that it was that another person.”
Madam Ma said in a quavering voice: “How could he know? How could he know? You’re talking nonsense. Isn’t it unreasonable?”
AhZhu said: “It’s true. Don’t worry, I’m gonna slowly tell you. Zhao Qiansun said: ‘Last year, in the 8th month…’’’
When she had not yet finished, Madam Ma let out an ‘Ah’ sound of exclamation and passed out. AhZhu hastily cried: “Dimei, dimei!” and used force to press on the philtrum between her nose and her upper lip.
Madam Ma slowly regained consciousness. She complained: “You… Why did you need to scare me?”
AhZhu said: “I didn’t scare you. That Zhao Qiansun really said so. It’s a pity
he’s already dead. Otherwise, I’d be able to call him here to testify. He said that on the mid-autumn day in the 8th month last year, Grandpa Tan, Granny Tan and that murderer of Brother Ma celebrated the festival together in the house of that ‘Leading Big Brother’.”
Madam Ma uttered a sigh and asked: “Did he really say so?”
AhZhu said: “Yes. I asked who the real murderer was but he said that it was inconvenient for him to say this person’s name. I went ask Grandpa Tan. He angrily stared at me and didn’t say anything. Granny Tan said that it was totally correct and it was her who told Zhao Qiansun about it. I don’t blame Grandpa Tan for getting angry. He must’ve gotten mad because his wife told Zhao Qiansun everything. And Zhao Qiansun was unwilling to say the name of the murderer because he was afraid that he would get his old lover Granny Tan involved in this.”
Madam Ma asked: “Oh, so what?”
AhZhu said: “Zhao Qiansun said, ‘everyone suspected that Qiao Feng and Murong Fu killed Brother Ma but let the real murderer go unpunished and walk around at will, if Brother Ma knew about this in the Underworld, he would suffer a wrong and feel bitter about it’.”
Madam Ma said: “Yes, it’s a pity that Zhao Qiansun is already dead. Grandpa Tan and Granny Tan didn’t tell you the truth, did they?”
AhZhu replied: “They didn’t. When things have become like this, I have no choice but to go ask the ‘Leading Big Brother’.”
Madam Ma said: “Good. You should go ask him.”
AhZhu said: “It’s really laughable to say, but I don’t know who this ‘Leading Big Brother’ is and where his house is.”
Madam Ma said: “Oh, so you’ve beaten around the bush to tactfully ask me about the name of this ‘Leading Big Brother’.”
AhZhu said: “If it’s unsuitable, there’s no need for dimei to tell me. I may think of a way to find out about him by myself. Then we’ll find the real murderer and make him pay for his crimes.”
Xiao Feng knew that AhZhu was pretending that she did not care in order not to make Madam Ma suspect, but still, he could not help feeling exceedingly anxious.
He heard Madam Ma say indifferently: “The name of this ‘Leading Big Brother’ certainly must be concealed from other people so that Qiao Feng wouldn’t know about it and find him to avenge his parents’ deaths. But Elder Bai is on our own side, why should I hide it from you? He is…” She lowered her voice while saying the words ‘He is’, then became silent.
Xiao Feng seemed to be able to hear even his own heartbeats but all along he did not hear Madam Ma say the name of that ‘‘Leading Big Brother’’. After a long time, he heard her softly sigh and and say: “The Moon in the sky is so round, and so bright.”
Xiao Feng knew clearly that the sky was being shrouded in dark clouds and there was no Moon, but he still looked up, thinking: “Today is the 2nd day of the month, even if there was a Moon, in no way would it be round. What does she mean by saying those words?”
He heard AhZhu say: “On the 15th day, the Moon will naturally be both round and bright. Alas, but too bad brother Ma won’t be able to see it again.”
Madam Ma said: “You like to eat salty moon cakes or sugary ones?”
Xiao Feng found this even stranger, thinking: “After the death of her husband, Madam Ma’s mind has become somewhat dim.”
AhZhu said: “We’re beggars, how can we be picky in eating moon cakes? If we couldn’t find the real murderer and settle this big score for Brother Ma, not to mention moon cakes, even dainties of every kind wouldn’t taste any good.”
Madam Ma remained silent, after a long while, she coldly said: “Elder Bai wholeheartedly only wants to find the real murderer and avenge his brother Ma Dayuan. That makes this little woman feel very grateful.”
AhZhu said: “It is what a person in my position should do. Who among the tens of thousands of the Beggars Clan disciples doesn’t think of settling this score?”
Madam Ma said: “This ‘Leading Big Brother’ has a revered position and a great reputation, and he can mobilize tens of thousands of people with a word. What he likes the most is sheltering his friends. If you go ask him who the real murderer is, he’ll be unwilling to say regardless.”
Xiao Feng felt happy in his heart, thinking: “Come what may, it’s been a worthwhile trip to us. Even if Madam Ma doesn’t say the name of that person, basing on this ‘… has a revered position and a great reputation, and he can mobilize tens of thousands of people with a word’ sentence, I can always guess who he is. How many people are there in wulin having this kind of status?’
While he was pondering about who this man was, he heard AhZhu say: “Previously, in wulin, the Beggars Clan’s Chief could mobilize tens of thousands of people with a word. Oh, there’re Shaolin disciples all over the world so the Abbot of Shaolin Temple can mobilize tens of thousands of people with a word too…’
Madam Ma said: “You don’t need to guess carelessly. I’m gonna give you another clue. You must go southwest.”
AhZhu muttered to herself: “Go southwest? Does the southwest have any VIP? It seems not.”
Madam Ma extended her finger and with a ‘pai’ sound she tore the window’s paper, the hole was just above the top of Xiao Feng’s head. He heard her follow that by saying: “This little woman doesn’t know martial arts. But Elder Bai, you must know who is the best at this skill under Heaven.”
AhZhu said: “Oh, this is an acupoint blocking skill, isn’t it? The Diamond Finger of Shaolin School and the Soul Seizing Finger of the Zheng family in Cangzhou, Hebei are the most formidable ones.”
Xiao Feng cried in his mind: ‘Wrong, wrong! Among acupoint blocking skills, the Yiyang Finger (Solitary Solar Finger) of the Duan Clan in Dali is the number one under Heaven. Besides, she said the southwest.’
Sure enough, he heard Madam Ma say: “Elder Bai is experienced and knowledgeable, how could you not guess correctly? Could it be that after your journey you’ve become so fatigued and woozy that you’ve forgotten even the famous Yiyang Finger (Solitary Solar Finger)?” He tone was rather derisive.
AhZhu said: “Of course I know about the Yiyang Finger (Solitary Solar Finger) of the Duan family, but the Duan Clan is the sovereign imperial clan in Dali, they haven’t had any contact with the wulin of the Central Plains for a long time. If you say that there’s a connection between the ‘Leading Big Brother’ and them, it must be a false rumor.”
Madam Ma said: ‘The Duan Clan has royal authority in Dali, but there’s not only one person in the clan. The people who are not the Emperor have often visited the Central Plains. This ‘Leading Big Brother’ is the younger full brother of the current emperor of Dali. His surname is Duan, and given name Zhengchun. He was conferred on with the title the Southern Garrison Prince.’
Hearing Madam Ma say the three words ‘Duan Zhengchun’, Xiao Feng could not help shaking all over because finally he already knew the name which for the past several months he had rushed about thousands of li and tried his best to find out about.
He heard Azhu say: “This Prince Duan has a revered status and a lot of power, how could he take part in the fighting and killings in Jianghu?”
Madam Ma said: ‘Of course Prince Duan disdains to get involved in the common fighting and killings in Jianghu. But if it was an important matter that was related to the rise or fall, the existence or disappearance of Dali, do you think he would concern himself with it or not?”
AhZhu replied: “Sure he would take part in it.”
Madam Ma said: “I heard Elder Xu said: ‘Great Song is the northern wall of Dali, once the Khitan destroys Great Song, the second step would be nothing but swallowing up Dali. Because Great Song and Dali are closely related and mutually dependent like the lips and teeth, Dali is definitely unwilling to let Great Song be ruined at the hands of the Liao Empire.’”
AhZhu said: ‘Yes, your words are correct.’
Madam Ma said: “Elder Xu said, that year, this Prince Duan was a guest at the headquarters of the Beggars Clan. While he and Chief Wang were drinking and discussing martial arts with each other, suddenly they heard that Khitan warriors were coming to Shaolin in great force to rob sutras. Because of his sense of honor, Prince Duan couldn’t refuse to lead everybody and rush to the outside of Yanmen Pass to intercept them. In name, this deed of his was for the sake of Great Song, but in fact it was for the sake of Dali. I heard that at that time this Prince Duan was still young but he excelled in martial arts and was very benevolent and righteous. In Dali, he is below only one person and above all the others; he uses money as if it is dirt; other people don’t need to open their mouths, he can conveniently give his friends hundreds or thousands of taels of silver. If he hadn’t led the martial arts users of the Central Plains then who, you think, would have? Someday in the future he’d become the Emperor of Dali. With such exalted status, and the others being ordinary people, how could they order him about?”
AhZhu said: “So the ‘Leading Big Brother’ is the Southern Garrison Prince of Dali, and everyone would rather die than say his name only to protect him.”
Madam Ma said: “Elder Bai, you must not tell this secret to another person. Prince Duan and our Clan have a deep friendship, if this information leaks out, there’ll be a huge disaster. The Duan Clan wields great power in that region and is very formidable, but if Qiao Feng deliberately seeks revenge and waits in the dark for 8 or 10 years, it’ll be hard for Duan Zhengchun to deal with him.’
AhZhu said: “Dimei, you’re right. I’ll keep my mouth shut like a bottle and in no way reveal it.”
Madam Ma said: “Elder Bai, it’d be best if you take an oath, so that I can be at ease.”
AhZhu said: “All right. If Bai Shijing tells anyone else that Duan Zhengchun is the ‘Leading Big Brother’, Bai Shijing shall suffer the disaster of ten thousand cuts and lose all reputation and become the laughing stock of the whole world.” Her oath sounded very serious but in fact she was very crafty and pushed everything to ‘Bai Shijing’; the person who would suffer 10,000 cuts was Bai Shijing, the person who would lose all reputation was Bai Shijing, and it had nothing to do with AhZhu herself.
Hearing that, Madam Ma seemed to be very pleased, saying: “This’s good.”
AhZhu said: “Then I’ll go to Dali to pay a visit to the Southern Garrison Prince, then indirectly mention last year’s Mid-Autumn Festival and ask about who were in his mansion at that time, then we’ll be able to find out who really murdered Brother Ma. But at the moment I still firmly believe that it’s Qiao Feng. Zhao Qiansun, Grandpa Tan and Granny Tan are three dimwits. Their words aren’t very dependable.”
Madam Ma said: “Elder Bai, I beg of you find out the truth about the murderer.”
AhZhu said: “Brother Ma and I are just like full brothers. I’m certainly gonna do my utmost.”
Her tears dripping down, Madam Ma said: “Elder Bai is so serious about friendship. If my late husband could know about this in the Underworld, he would certainly be very grateful.”
AhZhu said: “Dimei (younger sis-in-law), you take care of yourself. I take my leave.”
After bidding farewell, she immediately went out. Madam Ma said: “This little woman is a widow so it’s unsuitable for me to see you off far. Elder Bai, please forgive me.”
AhZhu said: “That’s fine, that’s fine. Dimei doesn’t need to stand on ceremony.”
After getting to the outside, AhZhu saw Xiao Feng standing in waiting in the distance. The two of them exchanged a look then, silent as the grave, went straight along the road.
The new crescent moon shone on the road leading back to Xinyang. The two of them went side by side. Only after going 10 li (0.5 km) or so did Xiao Feng let out a long breath and say: “AhZhu, thank you very much.”
AhZhu smiled indifferently and did not say anything. Even though her face was full of wrinkles, and she was in disguise as Bai Shijing, from the look in her eyes, Xiao Feng still sensed that her mind was being filled with worries. He asked: “Today we’re highly successful, why aren’t you happy?”
AhZhu replied: “I’m thinking that the Duan Clan in Dali has many people and great power, if you go there to get revenge by yourself, it’d be extremely dangerous.”
Xiao Feng said: “Oh, so you’re worrying about me. Don’t worry. I’m in the dark and he’s in the light. If I can’t get revenge in 3 to 5 years, then just like what Madam Ma said, I’ll wait for 8 to 10 years. There’ll be a day when I’ll chop Duan Zhengchun into 17 or 18 pieces to feed todogs.” Saying this, he could not help but grind his teeth, showing all the enmity that filled his heart.
AhZhu said: “Big brother, you must be careful.”
Xiao Feng said: “Of course I will. It’s not important if I die, but if I can’t avenge the deaths of my parents, I won’t be able to die with my eyes closed.” He slowly stretched out his hand and pulled her hand, saying: “If I die at the hands of Duan Zhengchun, who will pasture cattle and sheep with you outside Yanmen Pass?”
AhZhu said: “Alas, I’m always very worried, and I feel that there’s something wrong in this matter. That Madam Ma, that… Madam Ma, she looks so pure and noble, but when I saw her, somehow I felt scared and disgusted by her.”
Xiao Feng laughed and said: “That woman is very smart and capable. You were afraid that she’d discover that you were in disguise so it was unavoidable that you felt scared.”
After the two of them had returned to the inn in Xinyang, Xiao Feng immediately ordered 10 Jin (600 g) of wine to carouse to his heart’s content. He continuously calculated in his mind how to get revenge. Thinking of the Duan Clan in Dali, he involuntarily recalled his new sworn brother Duan Yu and could not help shivering with fear. In a trance, he raised the wine bowl but did not drink, and the expression on his face changed greatly.
Thinking that he had sensed something, AhZhu looked around, but she did not see anything unusual so she asked in a low voice: “Big brother, what’s wrong?”
Startled, Xiao Feng said: “No… nothing.” Then he raised the wine bowl and tossed it off. When the wine reached his throat, suddenly he choked and coughed, and spewed wine onto the clothes that covered his chest. His drinking capacity was rare in the world and his internal energy was profound so choking while drinking was something that had never happened. AhZhu was secretly worried but it was unsuitable for her to ask much.
She did not know that while drinking Xiao Feng suddenly remembered the drinking contest between himself and Duan Yu in Wuxi city that day during which the opponent had used the high-level internal energy of the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ to force the wine out through the fingers. Xiao Feng himself knew that he could not match this kind of extraordinary skill and internal energy. Duan Yu obviously did not understand martial arts yet his internal energy was already so unusual. As the leader of the Duan Clan in Dali, that big enemy Duan Zhengchun had to be ten times better than Duan Yu, and so how could Xiao Feng get revenge for the deaths of his parents? He did not know the adventures through which Duan Yu had coincidentally obtained his extraordinary skills and absorbed the internal energies of other people. In terms of internal energy alone, Duan Yu was already many times better than his father. As for the ‘Six Meridians Divine
Sword’, at the present time, no one other than Duan Yu was capable of using them all. Both Xiao Feng and AhZhu knew Duan Yu very well, but Duan was the national surname of Dali, just like the surname Zhao in Great Song, the national surname Li of Western Xia, and the national surname Yelu of Liao, hence there were tens of thousands of people with this surname. Duan Yu had never mentioned that he was a prince of Dali, and thus Xiao Feng and AhZhu did not expect that he was a descendant of the Emperor.
Even though AhZhu did not know what Xiao Feng was thinking in detail, she guessed that he was worrying about how to get revenge, so she said: “Big brother, getting revenge is an important matter and can’t be done in one day. We should plan before taking action. Even if the enemies are numerous and we are few, if we can’t win by force, don’t tell me that we can’t win by wits.”
Xiao Feng was happy, thinking that AhZhu was sharp and crafty, really a great assistant, he immediately poured a bowl of wine, tossed it off and said: “I won’t live under the same sky with the enemy that killed my parents. To settle this score, there’s no need to care about any custom and morality in Jianghu, and any means is usable, regardless of its viciousness. That’s right, if it’s impossible to win by force, we’ll beat him by strategy.”
AhZhu continued: “Big brother, besides your parents, you must also avenge your foster parents Old Master Qiao and Old Madam Qiao, and your master Venerable (from now on I’m gonna translate dashi as Venerable) XuanKu.’
Xiao Feng held out his hand and gave the table a hit, saying loudly: “Yes, there’s not only one score, but many.”
AhZhu said: “When you learned martial arts from Venerable XuanKu in the past, you must have been still young, so you hadn’t learned all the profound internal energy techniques of Shaolin School.
Otherwise, even if the ‘Yiyang Finger’ of the Duan Clan in Dali was more formidable, it wouldn’t necessarily be superior to the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ (Yijin Jing) by Damo the Old Ancestor of Shaolin School. I once heard Old Master Murong discuss the martial arts in the world, and he said that the most fearsome skill of the Duan Clan in Dali was not the ‘Yiyang Finger’ but something called ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’.’
Xiao Feng frowned, saying: “Yes, Master Murong is a wizard in wulin, his words are really insightful. What I was worried about just now was not the ‘Yiyang Finger’, but this ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’.”
AhZhu said: ‘That day, while Old Master Murong and Mister Murong were discussing martial arts in the world, I stood on one side to pour tea and heard several sentences. Old Master Murong said: “Each of the 72 Ultimate Techniques of Shaolin School has its own excellence, but to defeat the enemy and win the battle, only one skill is already enough, there’s no need to use 72 skills.’’
Xiao Feng nodded, saying: “What Senior Murong discussed is very true.”
AhZhu continued: “At that time, Young Master Murong said: ‘Yes, jiumu (maternal uncle’s wife) Wang and biaomei (younger female cousin with different surname) like to boast that they know many martial arts in the world, but what’s the use of being a jack of all trades and master of none?’ Old Master Murong said: ‘Speaking of the word ‘master’, it’s easier said than done. In fact the only truly elite skill of Shaolin School is the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’. As long as this sutra is successfully practiced, any skill, no matter how ordinary it is, can become a marvel from rubbish in the hands of the user.’’
When a user had a good basis and powerful internal energy, they would be able to unleash enormous power despite using only ordinary stances. Xiao Feng certainly understood this matter deeply. That day when he fought the heroes at Juxian Manor, using just the ‘Founder’s Long Fist’, a set of martial arts that was known to everyone, he was able to battle many heroes and brave fellows in the world and make all the first-class experts there helplessly admire him. Now, after hearing AhZhu relate Old Master Murong’s words, he could not refrain from drinking two big bowls of wine continuously and saying: “He understood my heart, he understood my heart. It’s a pity Old Master Murong already passed away. Otherwise, I’d definitely go to his manor to meet this prodigy of the world.”
AhZhu smiled charmingly, saying: “When Old Master Murong was still alive, he never met any stranger, but you’d certainly be an exception.”
Xiao Feng raised his head and smiled, knowing that the words “you’d certainly be an exception” meant to say: “You’re my intimate darling so Master Murong naturally would regard you with special respect.” Seeing the look in his eyes, AhZhu could not refrain from lowering her head. Her cheeks reddened, but in her young heart, she secretly felt happy.
Xiao Feng drank another bowl of wine and asked: “Old Master Murong wasn’t very old when he passed away, was he?”
AhZhu replied: “Around fifty years old. He couldn’t be considered old.”
Xiao Feng said: “Oh, with his profound internal energy, the age of fifty was when his martial arts reached the peak of perfection. How could he suddenly pass away?”
AhZhu shook her head, saying: “The Old Master died from some illness. All of us didn’t know anything. He died very fast. In the morning he suddenly fell ill, and in the evening, the Young Master wailed loudly and came out to tell everyone that the Old Master had died.”
Xiao Feng said: “Oh, I wonder what the violent illness he suffered was. What a pity, what a pity. What a pity Divine Docter Xue wasn’t around there at that time. Otherwise, you should’ve invited him at any rate, and he would’ve been able to save (Old) Master Murong’s life.” He had never been acquainted with the father and son of the Murong Clan, but after hearing other people mention their words, deeds and natures, he could not help but rather admire them. AhZhu’s connection with them made him feel closer to them and value them even more.
AhZhu continued: “That day Old Master Murong discussed the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ with the Young Master. He said: ‘I’ve never seen the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ created by Damo the Old Ancestor, but judging from the way of martial arts, the great reputation that Shaolin School has enjoyed should come from this ‘Muscle Changing Sutra.’ It’s impossible to say that those 72 Ultimate Techniques are not formidable, but it can’t be said that you can become the leader of the world in martial arts thanks to them.’ The Old Master specially warned the Young Master that he wasn’t allowed to be overconfident about the martial arts that had been handed down by their ancestors and to make light of Shaolin disciples, because when there was already this sutra in the monastery, maybe the talented bright monks would be able to master it.”
Xiao Feng nodded in approval, thinking: ‘The Murong Clan of Gusu is famous throughout the whole world, yet they aren’t arrogant. This is hard to come by.”
AhZhu said: “The Old Master also said that all his life he had looked at almost all martial arts under heaven but it was a pity he had never seen the sword manual of the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ of the Duan Clan in Dali and the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ of Shaolin School, and that was unavoidably a great regret of his life. Big brother, Old Master Murong already mentioned these two martial arts in the same breath, guessing from this, if you want to deal with the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ of the Duan Clan in Dali, it seems you must start with the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ of Shaolin School. If we can steal the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ from the Bodhi Institute of Shaolin Monastery and put effort in practicing it for several years, then I think we wouldn’t need to be worried about that Six Meridians Divine Sword or Seven Meridians Demonic Saber.” As she said to here, her expression resembled a smile yet she was not smiling.
Xiao Feng rose, laughing and saying: ‘Little imp… You… It turns out you…’
AhZhu laughed and said: “Big brother, at first I stole this sutra to give the Young Master, after reading it he would incinerate it in front of the Old Master’s grave to fulfill his father’s desire. Now I give it to you.” As she finished, she took out an oilcloth packet and put it in Xiao Feng’s hand.
That night, Xiao Feng saw with his own eyes that she disguised herself as monk ZhiQing and stole the sutra from the copper mirror in the Bodhi Institute, but he could never have expected that it was the secret internal energy manual ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ of Shaolin School. When AhZhu was captured by the extraordinary fellows at Juxian Manor, thinking that she was a female, they did not search her body; as for the high-level Shaolin monks such as XuanJi and XuanNan, even in their dreams, they could never have expected that the lost sutra of their monastery was on her body.
Xiao Feng shook his head and said: “You took a huge risk and narrowly escaped death to steal this sutra from Shaolin Monastery with the original intention of giving it to Mister Murong (Fu). How can I seize it for myself?”
AhZhu said: “Big brother, you’re wrong about this.”
Xiao Feng asked in surprise: “How can I be wrong?”
AhZhu said: “I stole this sutra all on my own and not because I received an order from Young Master Murong. I can give it to anyone. Moreover, after you’ve read it, it still won’t be late for us to give it to Young Master Murong. You bear an absolutely irreconcilable grudge against the murderer of your parents. To get revenge, one can do any sinister, cruel, despicable or dirty thing. Why are you still fussy about borrowing a sutra to have a look?”
Hearing these words, Xiao Feng was awestruck and startled. He made a deep bow to her, saying: “Xianmei (literally ‘virtuous younger sis’, affectionately calling a younger sis), you’re right in criticizing me. How can a person who’s dealing with important matters keep worrying about trivial things?”
AhZhu puckered her lips and smiled, saying: “As a Shaolin disciple, it’s only reasonable for you to use Shaolin martial arts to avenge your enshi (kind master) Venerable XuanKu. What’s wrong about it?”
Xiao Feng continuously commended her. He felt both grateful to her and happy. Wasting no time, he opened the oilcloth packet, and saw a booklet whose paper had turned yellow. There were several sinuous bizarre characters written on the cover of the booklet. He cried inwardly: “No good!” When he turned to the first page, he saw that it was filled with words, but these words were crooked. Some had the shape of a circle, some had the shape of a hook, and he did not know any of them.
“A'yo,” uttered AhZhu, and said: “So it’s totally in Sanskrit. What bad luck. I originally wanted to burn the sutra as a sacrifice to the Old Master. As a maid, I shouldn’t read it before that, that’s why after the sutra came to my hands, I’ve never dared to open and take a look at it. Alas, no wonder those monks let me steal their secret martial arts manual without paying any attention. It turns out no one understands the sutra…” As she finished, she let out a deep sigh, sounding exceedingly dispirited.
Xiao Feng consoled her: “There’s no need to worry too much about gain and loss.” Then he put the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ back into the packet and returned it to AhZhu.
AhZhu said: “Isn’t it the same if you keep it? Don’t tell me that there’s still difference between us?”
Xiao Feng smiled and put the packet in his bosom. He poured another big bowl of wine. When he was about to drink again, suddenly he heard footsteps outside the door, then someone snarled loudly. Slightly surprised, Xiao Feng rushed out of the door. He saw a big fellow who was covered with blood from head to toe on the main street. The fellow was holding two broad axes and was brandishing them up and down chaotically.
- END OF CHAPTER 21 -