Book 1: Adventures of Youth
Chinese title: 天龍八部 -Original novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha)
Wuxia Novel Fan Translation by (Moinllieon, Pacifian and ani411)
Chapter 5: Subtle Steps and Hanging Threads
The daybreak solved her problem for her, because she could not escape any more.
"If that heartless jerk comes, he comes; if he doesn't, he doesn't. All I can do is wait here for death to come." Her thoughts were just turning towards the morose when she suddenly heard a sharp crack behind her. Turning around, she saw an object fell out of the sky and land in the relatively dense area of grass about 100 meters away.
"What could that be?" She immediately flattened herself against the ground. Only when no other sound could be heard from the bush did she, as silently as she could, crawl over to take a peek.
When she finally made it to the thicket and pushed the tall grass aside, what she saw made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Laid side to side within the thicket of grass were the bodies of six infants, some on their side, others facing up. Among them was the infant that she saw Second Madame Yie holding in her hands days ago.
"There are six bodies, and she's been here for 6 days. So it true, that evil wench does kill an infant every day. But why?" It was hard to tell how Second Madame Yie killed the babies because there were no blood or obvious injuries on the bodies. One of the babies was wearing bright and colorful cloths, but the other five were wearing cloths made of rough materials typical of farmers, presumably farmers of the Limitless Mountains. Ever since she had left her hide out with her master, Mu WanQing had killed quite a number of people. But all of her victims had been people of the pugilistic world who did not have good intentions towards her. Witnessing first hand the murders of these innocent infants made her entire body tremble in fear.
Suddenly a shadow flashed across her view. A person was shooting down the mountainside like a bird, landing every so often, but only momentarily, before taking off again. It was none other than Second Madame Yie. Watching the speed with which she flew, Mu WanQing realized that it was a speed that even her master could never hope to obtain. With that realization, a sense of hopelessness shot through her. Her legs gave out from underneath her, making her sit down onto the ground.
She sat there dumbstruck for a while before coming around again. She lined the bodies of the six infants up and covered them with little rocks and dirt. Suddenly, a freezing sensation ambushed her from behind. She immediately tapped the ground with her left foot and shot forward. A laughter that inexplicably switched from sharp to thick could be heard coming from behind her.
"Little lady, your hubby just ditched ya, so why don't you follow me instead?" It was Yun Zhonghe.
He arrived at the same time as his voice, reaching out trying to grab Mu WanQing's waist. Just as it looked like his claws were going to catch her when a sideways palm came in and parried away his hand. The palm was from none other than the Divine Crocodile.
"Number Four, you better keep away from my Southern Sea Sect!" He yelled in anger.
"Your disciple isn't showing up, so this little missy isn't related to your sect." Yun Zhonghe quickly hopped about twenty or so meters out of the way. Only now did Mu WanQing get a good look at him. He was extremely tall, but also extremely thin, reminding her of a long bamboo stick. Even his face looked impossibly long.
"How the hell do you know my disciple won't show up? Did you kill him?" The Divine Crocodile replied in anger. "That's right! You must have saw how great my disciple is and kidnapped him for yourself! You messed up my plans you bastard, I'm going to strangle you dry!"
Being the unreasonable brute that he was, he did not even wait for Yun Zhonghe to answer his charges before throwing himself at Yun Zhonghe.
"I don't know what shape or color your disciple is as I have never seen him before. How could I try and take him in?" Yun Zhonghe yelled as he swiftly dodged Divine Crocodile 's initial flurry.
"Bullshit!" Divine Crocodile angrily shouted. "Who's going to believe that shit? You lost your fight and took it out on my disciple!"
"Is your disciple a man or a woman?"
"A man, of course! What would I do with a female disciple?"
"Well then! Yun Zhonghe only goes after women and is never interested in men. You know all about that don't you?"
Divine Crocodile was in midair when he heard this remark. Finding some reason in it, he immediately switched to "Thousand Ton Boulder" and dove back to Earth.
"So where did my disciple go?" He inquired, placing his right foot up on a piece of rock that happened to be by his feet. "Why hasn't he shown up yet?"
"Hehe, that's your Southern Seas Sect's own business, what does it have to do with me?" Yun Zhonghe joked.
"How dare you make fun of me!" The Divine Crocodile was already terribly frustrated by the absense of Duan Yu, so his temper was very touchy at the moment.
"If I could get the two of them in a fight, it would be very advantageous for me." Mu WanQing decided.
"That's right, this Yun Zhonghe must have harmed your disciple!" So she shouted. "Or else how could he get down from the cliff all by himself? This Yun Zhonghe's lightness kungfu is amazing, so he must have went up the cliff, took your disciple somewhere, and killed him to make sure that Southern Seas Sect would not produce a powerful figure. Why else would the body be missing?"
The Divine Crocodile slapped his own foreheard as if he had just had an epiphany.
"You see? Even my disciple's wife says so. Are you still saying you are innocent?"
"My husband told me that he could only dream to be so lucky as to have a master as great as you and he has to drive himself so as to bring fame and glory to the great Southern Seas Sect as well as the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas. So famous so that all those 'No Evil Left Undone' and 'Evil Overflowing the Cup' would be so envious of you. But who could have guessed that this Yun Zhonghe would be so cruel as to kill your disciple. You'll never be able to find a disciple so like you again!" For every point she made, the Divine Crocodile slapped his forehead. She continued. "My husband's back of the head is shaped just like yours, not to mention that he is a physical specimen just like you. He's the perfect successor to the Southern Seas Sect. But yet this Yun Zhonghe just wanted to trouble you. So why haven't you avenged your disciple?"
By this time, Divine Crocodile 's eyes were literally on fire as he threw himself at Yun Zhonghe. Yun Zhonghe knew that Mu WanQing was intentionally trying to instigate something but did not have a chance to defend himself. Knowing that his kungfu was not up to par with Divine Crocodile, he immediately turned and ran when he saw Divine Crocodile coming at him. Divine Crocodile landed and took off, once again flying towards him.
"He's running because he's guilty!" Mu WanQing poured gasoline on the fire. "If he didn't kill your disciple, then he wouldn't be running!"
"That's right, that makes sense!" Divine Crocodile shouted. "Give me back my disciple!"
One ran, the other chased. In a blink of an eye the two of them disappeared over the top of the mountain.
Mu WanQing was just patting herself on her back when she realized that the Divine Crocodile 's shouts were getting closer once again as the two men worked their way back around to this side of the mountain again.
It was obvious that Yun Zhonghe was much faster than Divine Crocodile. With his long and lanky body, he looked like a bamboo in the wind, shaking left and right, yet a good distance was always maintained between him and Divine Crocodile. The two of them flashed by in front of Mu WanQing and instantly disappeared around to the other side of the mountain again. By the second time the two men made their way back around, Yun Zhonghe suddenly changed directions and floated to just by Mu WanQing 's side. He reached out and tried to grab her shoulder. Caught off guard, Mu WanQing immediately flicked up her right arm and sent a poisonous arrow flying towards his face. Yun Zhonghe slid to his left a little and dodged the arrow. Somehow, with the way his body was twisted, his long arms arrived in front of Mu WanQing 's face. Mu WanQing tried to get out of the way, but she was still a step too slow. A gust of coolness hit her face as her veil ended up in Yun Zhonghe's hand.
Yun Zhonghe was momentarily dumb struck by Mu WanQing 's beauty, and then an evil smile crept onto his face.
"Woah, hot damn! This littl girlie here is quite something here. Could be a bit more coy, or else she would be perfect...." While he was busy talking, Divine Crocodile arrived, his palm howled as he aimed for Yun Zhonghe 's back. Yun Zhonghe gathered his power into his right palm and countered.
"Hong!" A huge explosion of sound could be heard as the power of their strikes met. Mu WanQing suddenly felt as if all the air was squeezed out of her as she found it impossible to breath due to the air pressure. Within a radius of several meters, the dust and dirt on the ground swirled about in a frenzy. Using the power of Divine Crocodile 's strike, Yun Zhonghe shot back and was instantly five meters away.
"Eat my palm!" Divine Crocodile screamed.
"You can't catch me, and I can't beat you." Yun Zhonghe laughingly observed. "We can keep this up for another day and would still be like this."
Once again, the two disappeared, still in chase. But the dirt and dust around Mu WanQing had yet to settle.
"I have to figure out a way to get in Yun Zhonghe’s way, or else these two would never fight." She decided.
Translated by Pacifian
And so she waited for both men to chase around the mountain for the very third time; and as they approached, she leapt upwards. Chi sounds reverberated continuously in the air. The next instant, approximately six to seven poisonous arrows raced towards Yun Zhonghe.
“Return my husband’s life!”
Hearing the swishing sounds of arrows slicing through the air, Yun Zhonghe understood the severity of the situation he was in. Soaring skyward and diving downward, he simultaneously evaded the flurry of arrows which were directed at him. The next moment, Mu WanQing unsheathed her sword and slashed twice at his direction, viciously. How would Yun Zhonghe not understand her intentions behind all these actions? Not in the least concerned with defending himself, Yun Zhonghe simply floated away; behind him, all Mu WanQing 's strikes landed on air.
However, with her interference, the Divine Crocodile’s palms finally managed to reach Yun Zhonghe. The palm winds generated from his forceful palm strikes completely enveloped Yun Zhonghe’s body.
“Number Three," Yun Zhonghe said, baring a ferocious grin. "I have given way to you countless times; if not for the sake of preserving the friendship between us — the ‘Four Evils', do you for once really believe I’m afraid of you?”
That said, his hands reached for his waist, each grasping a steel handle. This handle was at least three feet in length, and at the tip of it lay a human hand. The fingers on the steel handle extended in all directions, and the fingertips glowed in a scintillatingly blue colour. The left claw headed for the right, whilst the right claw went for the left. Instantly, Yun Zhonghe’s body was sealed in a tight defensive position.
The Divine Crocodile said gleefully, “Excellent! We haven’t met each other for seven years, and now you have trained yourself with such an unorthodox weapon! Now, watch mine!” Done with speaking, he released the contents of his backpack, and from it he pulled out two weapons.
Mu WanQing retreated hastily: she knew it was useless for her to join in the battle.
The Divine Crocodile held a strange-looking scissors with a short handle and a long blade in his right hand, the blade was full of serrated blades, resembling the ferocious jaws of a crocodile. On the other hand, he wielded a soft whip that has razor spikes all over; it looked almost indistinguishable from the tail of a crocodile.
Yun Zhonghe glanced at the bizarre weaponry the Divine Crocodile was using. Without warning, his right steel claw flew out, charging towards the Divine Crocodile’s face. The Divine Crocodile flipped the Crocodile Tail Whip in his right hand, and a noisy pa resounded, causing the steel claw to propel away forcefully. However, Yun Zhonghe’s reflexes were amazingly quick; deftly, he flung the other steel claw even before he withdrew his right hand.
Crack! The Crocodile Jaws Scissors extended itself, clipped Yun Zhonghe’s left steel claw and gave it a brutal twist. Even though Yun Zhonghe’s steel claw was made of pure steel, the Crocodile Jaws Scissors seemed to be casted from some unknown material. It broke two fingers out of the five on the Steel Claw with absurd ease. Fortunately, Yun Zhonghe had retracted his hand swiftly, preventing the other three fingers from being snipped away. However, the Claw skill he was practising all along required the use of all ten fingers. Now that he had two fingers missing, the power displayed in his moves was greatly weakened. A crestfallen look fell over Yun Zhonghe’s face.
The Divine Crocodile laughed nastily as he advanced, snatching the offensive position with a nimbly-curling Crocodile -Tail whip.
All of a sudden, a green shadow intervened; this new apparition slipped ethereally and elegantly between the two fighters.
This person was none other than Second Madam Ye.
Her left palm swept across horizontally, pressing itself onto the Crocodile Tail Whip, and manoeuvred it aside. Yun Zhonghe quickly seized this opportunity to leap away from danger.
“Number Three, Number Four, why are the both of you fighting with each other?” Second Madam Ye asked. Turning around, she saw Mu WanQing’s face; suddenly, her expression changed dramatically.
Mu WanQing saw that Second Madam Ye was holding an infant in her arms. It was a boy, approximately around the age of three to four, he was dressed in clothes made of brocade, and looked really adorable. She immediately understood the purpose of Second Madam Ye descent of the mountain: she wanted to search for her child. The peculiar look in her eyes scared Mu WanQing; she looked away immediately, not daring to face Second Madam Ye.
Suddenly, the infant cried, “Daddy! Daddy! Shan Shan wants Daddy!”
“Shan Shan be obedient. Daddy will come soon.” said Second Madam Ye soothingly.
The scene of the six grisly remains she saw on the grass plains earlier swam into view; after hearing Secong Madam Ye’s affectionate words of comfort to the infant, Mu WanQing felt her hair rise on end.
“Second sister, Number Three’s recent Crocodile Jaws Scissors and Crocodile Tail Whip kung fu is quite amazing," laughed Yun Zhonghe; "I have only played with him for a short while, yet I still found it difficult to even defend myself. What skills have you been practising these seven years? Are you able to challenge Number Three’s dual formidable weapons? I am afraid you, too, are unable to do so.”
He made no mention on Divine Crocodile wronging him, nor did he say anything about how the Divine Crocodile had blatantly claimed about his non-existent murder of Duan Yu — even when he had absolutely no idea what Duan Yu looked like. All he wanted to do was to get both Second Madam Ye and Divine Crocodile in battle with each other by casually saying a few simple sentences.
As Second Madam Ye ascended the mountain, she had already seen the two men battling with their lives — she knew their spar wasn't all that friendly. A faint smile lifted the sides of her lips as she replied, “For seven years I have been practising my internal energy kung fu industriously — my physical combat skills have thus became somewhat rusty. Naturally, I am not a match for either of you.”
From the waist of the mountain below, a cry rang. “That madam up there, what are you trying to do with my child? Return him to me!”
Before the voice ceased, a man had already leaped towards the peak, his body movements fluid and agile. He was in his forties, and wore bronze-coloured clothes of satin, his hand wielding a long sword.
The Divine Crocodile hollered, “Who are you, punk? How dare you make so much noise here! Were you the one who stole my disciple?”
“This mister is the renowned master of the East Faction “Limitless Sword”, Zuo ZiMu. His swordplay is not worth a single comment, but his baby sure is an adorable one,” explained a laughing Second Madam Ye.
Realization dawned on Mu WanQing. Second Madam Ye was unable to search for a kid in Mt. Limitless; as a result, she decided to do with the child of the master of Limitless Sword sect.
“Mister Zuo, your darling son is so lovable and interesting. Once I’m done hugging him, I will return him to you tomorrow. Fret not.”
Second Madam Ye then kissed Shan Shan’s cheek and ruffled his hair gently, her eyes filled with motherly warmth. Shan Shan saw his father and began to cry, “Daddy! Daddy!”
Zuo ZiMu extended his left hand and walked closer towards his child, as he implored, “My child is extremely playful; there is nothing fun about him, so please return him immediately, and I will be eternally grateful to you.”
The moment he saw his son, his tone changed abruptly from rough to soft. He feared that this woman might suddenly exert force and strangle his son to death.
The Divine Crocodile chuckled, “This madam is “No Evil Left Undone”, Third Madam Ye. Even if the Emperor’s son landed in her arms, chances of her returning the baby are zero.”
Cold sweat poured down Zuo’s back, as he began to tremble. “You… You are Third Madam Ye? So Second Madam Ye … Second Madam Ye is related to you in… in what way?”
He has heard of the dreaded name of the “Four Arched Villains”, and remembered the person ranked second among the Four Villains was a lady called Second Madam Ye, who loved snatching an infant by day to play and tease until evening, which she would then brutally torture the poor kid to death. The last thing he wanted was that this “Third Madam Ye” was somehow related to Second Madam Ye, say, as sisters, and that both of them somehow shared the same insane habit.
Second Madam Ye gave a coquettish laughter and said, “Don’t listen to his nonsense. I am Second Madam Ye. Since when have there been a Third Madam Ye?”
All colour drained out of Zuo ZiMu’s face. When he realized his child has been snatched away, he tried all his might to chase the abductor; however, he realized her kung fu was way above his. Initially, he thought since he had not been acquainted with this lady who snatched his child, she wouldn’t harm Shan Shan since they haven’t had any past grudges or feuds. It was only until this point that he knew this lady was in fact Second Madam Ye — he felt all the words he had initially wanted to say glued themselves to his throat, be they pleading or demanding.
Second Madam Ye held Shan Shan’s palm and examined it closely under the sun. Following that, she checked the colour of his blood and clucked her tongue in praise — as though he was an animal in the market, awaiting to be fed and eventually slaughtered for food. “What a healthy young boy he is! Look at his glowing smooth skin, and his blood — scarlet and crystal clear, almost transparent! After all, he is the child of a wulin pugilist; therefore he is undoubtedly much more special compared with those children raised on a farm.”
Watching the hungry, ravenous look in her eyes, which looked as though she was about to eat Shan Shan alive in no time, Zuo ZiMu wasn't willing to give up without a fight, even though he knew he was no match for her. Overwhelmed with fury, he unleashed the stance “White Rainbow pierces the Sun”.
His sword lunged at Second Madam Ye’s throat.
A faint laughter emitted from Second Madam Ye; she gently held the infant at the path of the sword. Had Zuo ZiMu continued this strike, his child would undoubtedly be killed.
Fortunately, he was quite experienced in the fields of swordplay. While this stance was at its peak of motion, he swiftly retracted the force behind the sword, and the tip of the blade wavered briefly in the air, before a second flash of light blinked. This time round, the sword went for Second Madam’s right shoulder.
Instead of evading this strike, Second Madam Ye shifted Shan Shan’s body once again, and held him in front of her. In the swift blink of an eye, Zuo ZiMu stabbed four times, yet all Second Madam Ye did was to lazily change the position of Shan Shan’s body. All four vicious stances he pulled on her could only be used halfway and had to be forcibly stopped by the user himself. After all these stances had been completed, Shan Shan began to bawl in fright.
After being chased round the mountain thrice — all thanks to Divine Crocodile — plus having to tolerate the heart-wrenching pain of watching two precious fingers of his Steel Claw snipped off, Yun Zhonghe felt himself boiling with anger. With the unbearable fury threatening to erupt from within him, he soared into the air, thrusting out his Left Steel Claw towards Zuo ZiMu's head.
Lifting his sword, Zuo ZiMu performed the stroke “Ten Thousand Plants Vie for Glamour” in an effort to parry Yun Zhonghe’s move. In an instant, madly-dancing sword sparks enshrouded the top of his head, shielding his upper body against Yun Zhonghe’s attacks.
A dang sound echoed in the air: both weapons clashed with each other.
Following that, Zuo ZiMu unleashed the stance “Pushes Boat Towards the Water Current”, sending the blade of his sword towards Yun Zhonghe’s throat. All of a sudden, the fingers of a Steel Claw closed onto the blade, trapping the sword.
Zuo ZiMu would never have anticipated this even in his wildest dreams, but he was unwilling to release his sword just like this. He immediately channeled his internal energy, trying fruitlessly to release the sword from his opponent's grip.
With a pu, Yun Zhonghe’s right Steel Claw sank into Zuo ZiMu’s shoulder. Fortunately, with two fingers on the Steel Claw snipped off, the damage inflicted on Zuo ZiMu wasn't too bad. However, it was enough to cause some severe bleeding. Now that he had three steel fingers firmly closed on to his opponent's shoulder bone, Yun Zhonghe took this opportunity to leap forward and kicked him forcefully.
These movements were like a leap of a rabbit or the swooping down of a crane: not only were they incredibly nifty, they were also totally unpredictable — impossible to block. Even the leader of a powerful sect like Zuo ZiMu had absolutely no chance of defending himself.
“Number Four," the Divine Crocodile praised, "these few strokes aren’t too bad, at least they aren’t too embarrassing.”
Second Madam Ye giggled again, “Leader Zuo, have you seen our Number One before?”
Zuo ZiMu’s right shoulder bone remained clutched onto painfully by Yun Zhonghe’s Steel Claw; he wasn’t able to move an inch. He tried hard to bear the pain and answered with gritted teeth, “Who is your Number One? I have never seen him before.”
The Divine Crocodile joined in the interrogation. “Have you seen my disciple before?”
“Who is your disciple? I have never seen him before.”
The Divine Crocodile roared furiously. “Since you do not know who my disciple is, how could you say you have never seen him before? Fart your mother’s ****** ***** ***! Third sister, quick! Let’s devour his son alive!”
Second Madam Ye laughed, “Your second sister doesn’t eat little infants. Leader Zuo, please leave, we don’t want to take your life.”
“Since you don’t want to take my life, second … Second Madam Ye, please return my child to me, I will go search for three to four kids for you to play with. I shall be eternally grateful to you.”
“That’s fine with me, go search for eight little kids and I shall return your son to you. We have four people here in total, each of us shall carry two children each, and that should be enough to satisfy my needs for eight days. Number Four, release him.”
Yun Zhonghe smirked as he released the trigger. Teeth still gritted, Zuo ZiMu stood up, and bowed deeply towards Second Madam Ye; he then extended his arms to hug his child.
Second Madam Ye laughed. “Being a man from the pugilistic fraternity, how could you not know the basic rules? Until you finally get eight kids prepared for an exchange, do you think I will casually return the child to you?”
Seeing Shan Shan in her hands, Zuo ZiMu felt displeased, but as a victim of circumstances, he could only nod and said gloomily, “I will pick eight fattest children for you to play with, please treat my child with good care.”
Second Madam Ye ignored him. She cradled the child, humming a tune, before saying, “Little grandson, your nanny adores you so much.”
Zuo ZiMu understood the meaning behind calling Shan Shan “grandson”: Second Madam Ye was implying she was now his mother. Unable to laugh nor cry, he turned to his son and said, “Shan Shan be obedient. Daddy will come and hug you as soon as I can.”
Seeing his father leave, Shan Shan bawled noisily, struggling to jump into his father’s arms. Zuo ZiMu couldn’t bear to leave his child; he cast a sideways glance at Shan Shan a few more times, before holding on to his injured shoulder and turned around, slowly descending the mountain.
Suddenly, a sharp whistling sound shook the air; it seemed to be coming from behind the mountain. The whistling kept sounding continually; it seemed like it will never fade.
Both the Divine Crocodile and Yun Zhonghe had glee written all over their faces.
“Number One is finally here!”
Both leapt towards the direction of the whistling sound, vanishing from sight almost instantly like gases diffusing into the air. However, Second Madam Ye seemed oblivious of the sound; instead she continued playing with Shan Shan, until her gaze fell on Mu WanQing.
She simpered, “Miss Mu, you have such gorgeous eyes on your mesmerizing face, this is absolutely intolerable. Leader Zuo, help do me a favour and dig out this lady’s eyeballs.”
Now that his son was being held captive, Zuo ZiMu had no choice but to obey. “Miss Mu, it’s best that you follow according to Second Madam Ye’s instructions, it will save you much pain and suffering,” said Zuo, as he brandished his sword at her direction, before stabbing the sword towards her.
“Despicable lowlife!” Mu WanQing shrieked. She pulled out her sword and swung it at Zuo’s left shoulder. Three strokes were exchanged; suddenly, Mu WanQing’s body swerved as she threw out her left arm.
Chi! Chi! Chi!
Three poisonous arrows flew towards Second Madam Ye, attempting to attack her off-guard.
“Don’t hurt my child!” Zuo ZiMu yelled.
What Mu WanQing did not expect was that as speedy her poison arrows might be, all it took of Second Madam Ye was a mere whisk of her left sleeve and all three arrows were wrapped, instantly, into a harmless bundle; she then disposed them off easily by throwing the arrows aside. When that was done, she conveniently removed Shan Shan’s shoe and flung it towards Mu WanQing’s back.
Mu WanQing heard something soaring towards her from behind. She hastily swung her sword to the back, trying to knock it away. Unfortunately, her injury caused her to hold the sword at a wrong angle, such that the shoe was able to slide down the surface of her sword upon contact and struck her right waist with a loud pu sound.
As Second Madam Ye tossed the shoe, she imbued her internal energy into the shoe, Mu WanQing tried desperately to use her own internal energy to resist that of Second Madam Ye. However, in the process of all this she was unable to take even a single breath and thus became momentarily paralyzed. No longer being able to hold onto her sword, she released her grip on the weapon as it fell with a loud “qiang-lang”. The very next thing she knew, a second shoe was soaring towards her, striking her chest.
Mu WanQing’s eyes saw nothing but darkness; she was unable to hold on any longer and collapsed. Zuo ZiMu’s sword swerved abruptly and aimed towards her chest; meanwhile, he extended his left hand to gouge out her right eye.
“Brother Duan!” cried Mu WanQing as she jumped towards the blade. She'd rather die under the sword than undergo the excruciating torture — and humiliation — of getting her eyes gorged out.
Zuo ZiMu pulled back his sword to prevent killing her; suddenly he felt something mighty tugging at his wrists. In an instant, he lost control of the sword; it flew towards the skies upon release. The powerful force he'd just experienced forced him back several steps.
All three of them gasped as they watched the sword flying in midair. A soft, thin rope wrapped around the blade of the sword, an iron metal handle was attached to the other end of the rope. It was held onto by a soldier in yellow garments. This man appeared to be somewhere in his thirties.The heroism expressed on his facial features was impressive yet frightening. A cold sneer spread across his face.
Second Madam Ye recognized this man as the very person who battled with Yun Zhonghe seven days ago, and knew that his martial arts are not weak. In fact, his martial arts were only a notch weaker than hers. She was not afraid of him; however, she feared that his companions had arrived too.
And indeed, another yellow-clothed soldier stood at the East, an axe tied to his waist.
Before she could say another word, noises rumbled loudly from behind her. She turned around and saw two more yellow-clothed soldiers standing at the South-East and the South-West direction. Like the two soldiers who first arrived, they had uncarved gems on their collar and looked like military officers. The soldier at the North-East wielded a pair of judge's pens, while the other at the North-West held a staff forged using refined copper, which was so tall it reached his eyebrows.
All four men stood around the corners of the peak, forming an enclosed wall around the three.
Zuo ZiMu called out loudly, “So the four honorable Dali palace guardians Chu, Gu, Fu, Zhu have arrived. Zuo ZiMu from Limitless Sword pays his respect here.” After speaking, he bowed courteously to them.
Palace guardian Zhu Dan Chen, the man wielding the pair of judge's pens clasped his fist respectfully in the direction of Zuo ZiMu. The other three military officers, however, ignored him.
Chu Wan Li, the palace guardian who arrived first among the four, brandished the metal handle in his hand, causing the sword trapped in midair by his rope to vibrate vigorously. The reflection caused by the sun rays made the sword sparkled beautifully like stars in the night, as he sneered, “Limitless Sword is quite a powerful sect in Dali, but nobody expected the leader of the sect to be such a despicable creature. Where is Young Master Duan?”
Initially, all that Mu WanQing could think of was suicide and more suicide. Now that a potential saviour had arrived, these thoughts were replaced immediately by relief and joy. Hearing this palace guardian enquiring about Duan Yu, she suddenly felt as if this stranger were a close relative of hers.
Zuo ZiMu murmured, “Young... Young Master Duan? Ah yes, I saw him a few days ago, but I have no clue to where he is now.”
“Young Master Duan has been tortured to death by this evil lady’s brother,” Mu WanQing pointed an accusing finger at Second Madam Ye, before adding, “That man was named something like ‘To The Core Evil’ Yun Zhonghe; he looks so skinny and tall I could compare him to a bamboo.”
“What? That man killed Young Master?” Chu Wan Li gasped.
Grief and fury overwhelmed Fu Si Gui, the palace guardian weilding the copper staff. “Young Master Duan,” he bellowed, the copper staff in his hands lunging towards the top of Second Madam Ye’s head. It looked almost ready to slam down onto her head. “I will avenge your death!”
With a flash Second Madam Ye evaded Fu Si Gui’s moves as her body streaked about, while she shrieked, “Aiyo! My little babies, you, Dali’s four palace guardians surnamed Chu, Gu, Fu and Zhu. How could you kiddies die so young? How can mummy not feel miserable? You little unfortunate babies, wait for mummy while in hell!”
Chu, Gu, Fu and Zhu, the palace guardians, were only slightly younger than her, yet Second Madam Ye kept calling out “my little children” and “unfortunate babies”, claiming to be their mother.
Fu Si Gui looked murderous. He swung his copper staff viciously about, creating fierce swishing noises in the air. In an instant, his copper staff dissolved into a yellow mist which enclosed Second Madam Ye in between.
Holding onto Zuo ZiMu’s son, Second Madam Ye's weaving body penetrated every opening in the flurry of her opponent's stances, evading every single stroke of the copper staff. As she dodged about, the child in her arms started crying.
Zuo ZiMu anxiously cried for everybody to stop fighting, now that he feared that his child might get hurt. “Both of you stop fighting! Both of you stop fighting!”
Another palace guardian withdrew his axe and bellowed, “‘No Evil left Undone’ Second Madam Ye certainly lives up to her name. Allow me Gu Du Cheng to challenge your amazing skills.”
As soon as his voice can be heard, Gu Du Cheng went rolling on the floor. His hand shot out suddenly, as he hacked at her legs with the strongest move of his “Viciously Intersecting Eighteen Axes”. Axes seemed to appear from both sides of her body; they closed in towards her and began striking brutally from all directions.
Second Madam Ye laughed, “This child is such an obstruction. You kill him first.”
With that, she shifted Shan Shan towards the blade of the axe. Gu Du Cheng gasped and withdrew his axe immediately. Without missing a beat, Second Madam Ye seized this chance to launch a flying kick at his shoulder. Fortunately, this kick only caused him to stagger without suffering from any injury, for Gu Du Cheng had quite a muscular build. Recovering from the pain, he immediately jumped up and attacked.
However, Second Madam Ye had the child as a form of shield; as such, Gu Du Cheng and Fu Si Gui’s attacks met with restrictions everywhere. Neither of them had the intention of harming the little infant.
Zuo ZiMu shouted again, “Careful, my child is in her hands! Careful! Careful! Brother Fu, your staff is a little bit too high. Brother Gu, your axe mustn’t… mustn’t get too close to my child.”
Amidst all the mess, the melodious sound of a flute resounded in the air from the mountain ridge. It sounded clear, loud and intense. Shortly after, the music seemed to be coming from nearby. From behind the mountain, a middle-aged man sauntered into view, wearing large robes and sleeves. He had three tufts of beard and had a lofty appearance. He walked gracefully towards them, playing the metal flute in his hands as he did so.
Zhu Dan Chen darted towards his side and whispered something into his ear. The stranger continued playing the flute; the tune was melodious and relaxing; this stranger calmly walked towards the site where they were battling earlier.
Suddenly, the flute rang loudly, causing the people around him to clutch their ears for dear life as if their eardrums were about to explode. He then covered all the holes in the flute with all ten fingers, as he gathered energy and blew into it with force. A ferocious gust of wind burst out from the other end of the flute, searing towards Second Madam Ye’s face.
Shocked, Second Madam Ye turned around and evaded the blow; as she did so, she felt one end of the flute pressing at her throat.
Both movements were frighteningly quick; even for a person with such speedy reflexes like Second Madam Ye, she was rendered quite helpless when faced with such a situation. Raising her waist slightly, she forced herself to retreat many feet backwards. As she did so, she suddenly hurled Shan Shan’s body downwards while extending her arms, trying to grab the metal flute.
Before the infant touched the floor, the stranger wearing huge robes threw out his sleeve; they curled around the infant and lifted it, harmlessly.
The very moment when Second Madam Ye’s hand grabbed the metal flute, she felt as though she were holding a burning piece of coal! She gasped in shock and leapt backwards, releasing the flute immediately as she did so. She wondered whether the flute was coated with poison.
The stranger flung his sleeves; Shan Shan's body flew steadily towards Zuo Z ZiMu
Second Madam Ye glanced sideways and noticed the stranger's palms were as scarlet as blood.
Her eyes widened in surprise. The flute was actually not coated with poison at all; instead, it was his internal energy all along which made the metal flute burn as though it had just came out of a furnace.
Retreating a few steps in fear, she laughed, "This mister's kung fu is indeed almighty, it is unimaginable that such a small country like Dali has such a powerful figure. May I ask for your honorable name?"
The stranger returned a faint smile. "It is such an honour to have Second Madam Ye's arrival here at our tiny boundary. It is fortunate, indeed fortunate for us, and hence we, the citizens of Dali, should welcome you gracefully as your host."
Surprise and happiness welled inside Zuo ZiMu 's heart as he hugged his son tightly, blurting out, "Your excellency must be Lord... Lord Gao?"
The stranger did not reply, instead he returned another faint smile, before facing Second Madam Ye and inquired her politely, "Where is Mister Duan? Please do tell."
"I do not know his whereabouts, and even if I do, why should I tell you?" sneered Second Madam Ye.
With that, she sprang into the air; her soaring body was about to land onto the peak of a mountain nearby.
"Halt!" The wide-robed stranger cried, his body soaring after her.
Suddenly, several gleaming lights dazzled before his eyes. Upon closer look, they were in actual fact seven to eight hidden projectiles speeding towards him in midair - each of them aiming for them various acupoints on his head.
Waving his metal flute swiftly, the stranger made every single projectile drop simultaneously onto the ground below. It was, however, too late to apprehend Second Madam Ye as she took this opportunity to escape. Her shadow weaved and flashed about, and it was impossible to catch her anymore owing to the now huge distance between her and himself. He turned to look at the "hidden projectiles" on the ground. They were in fact a variety of mere accessories that a child has on him or her. There was a longevity tablet, mini-lock, gold and silver items, etc.
"These are objects of the many children she has killed. If this menace isn't removed, heaps of infants will fall prey in the country of Dali." He mused.
Chu Wan Li waved the metal handle in his hands. The soft rope uncurled itself, sending the sword flying towards Zuo ZiMu, hilt facing him. Embarrassed, Zuo ZiMu extended his arm and caught his sword. Under such embarrassing circumstances, he couldn't say a word.
Chu Wan Li then turned around to ask Mu WanQing, "What has truly happened to Mister Duan? Had he really been killed by Yun Zhonghe?"
“These people seem to be Brother Duan's friends. I'd better tell them the truth, and we shall go search for him at the other side of the cliff” Mu WanQing thought. As she opened her mouth to speak, she heard somebody crying out anxiously from the waist of the mountain, sounding half-dead, "Miss Mu... Miss Mu... Are you still there? Divine Crocodile, here I come, I beseech you not to hurt Miss Mu! Regarding the matter of acknowledging you as master, we shall discuss that in the future... Miss Mu, Miss Mu, are you alright?"
The wide-robed stranger and the military officers cried in joy. "Young Master is here!"
During the long suffering wait for Duan Yu for seven long days, the emotional agony in her heart was able to rival her physical pain; until now when was she finally able to hear his voice again. As surprise and relief overwhelmed her, she lost consciousness.
Everything was in a state of blur. Mu WanQing heard someone calling softly, anxiously into her ear.
"Miss Mu, Miss Mu, please... please wake up!" All her feelings and memories flooded back into her mind. She began to gain consciousness, and soon found herself in the arms of somebody. Somebody was hugging her tightly, she instinctively tried to jump away from this person's arms, but then a thought entered her mind: This must be Brother Duan. Her heart was full of sweetness, yet at the same time she tasted bitterness, and as she slowly opened her eyes, she saw a pair of clear eyes, like that of a river during autumn.
Who else could it be besides Duan Yu?
His voice was full of relief. "Ah, you have finally awakened!"
Tears rolled down Mu WanQing's cheeks as she raised her hand and gave him a painful slap. However, she continued to lean on his body, as her now depleted body made leaping out of his arms impossible.
Carressing his own face, Duan Yu laughed, "You fierce lady! How dare you hit me for no reason?" Later, he added, "Where is Divine Crocodile? Wasn’t he waiting for me earlier?”
“He had been waiting for you for seven days and seven nights, wasn’t that enough? He left.”
Upon hearing these words, Duan Yu looked as though he was revitalized; he cheered gleefully. “Excellent! Excellent! I was at such a loss earlier, if he was to force me to become his disciple, I… I don’t know what I am supposed to do.”
“Since you are unwilling to become his disciple, why bother coming here?”
Duan Yu replied in surprise. “Eh? You were held hostage by him, right? If I am not to come, won’t he be going to harm you then? How could I let this happen?”
Sweetness filled Mu WanQing’s heart, her following words in stark contrast to her feelings. “Hmph! You, totally evil and heartless creep, why haven’t you searched for me during these seven days?”
Duan Yu sighed, “I was held captive and couldn’t escape. However, I thought of you all day and night, everyday. The anxiety in my heart was tormenting me so badly. The moment I could escape, I went searching for you immediately.”
That very day when the Divine Crocodile abducted Mu WanQing, he had left a flustered, agonised Duan Yu alone at the mountain peak.
“I’d better beg that villain to keep me under his tutelage; in this case Miss Mu’s life wouldn’t be in such danger”, Duan Yu thought. “But if I were to become a disciple of that villain, and learn that noisy-cracking neck-breaking skill, things will become terrible. After teaching me these skills, he would get me to perform this horrid skill on innocent people, and I will be breaking the necks of one after another. That is totally horrible! Fortunately, this villain is quite reasonable, albeit cruel and vicious. If I were to debate with him once more, there is a possibility of getting him to release Miss Mu and not keeping me under his tutelage.”
As he paced back and forth, his mind was filled with a never-ending stream of thoughts; suddenly, he felt a pain in his abdomen. A thought struck him. “Aiyoh! This is not good! How could I have forgotten? I have already acknowledged Dear Goddess as my master, so I’m a disciple of Xiao Yao Sect. As a disciple of Xiao Yao Sect, how can I change sects? Right, I am going to reason with that villain, and I must hear him say once again ‘This makes sense’”.
“What if”, he suddenly thought, “that villain wanted me to display the kung fu of Xiao Yao Sect, I couldn’t do anything at all; the Divine Crocodile surely wouldn't be convinced of my being a disciple of Xiao Yao Sect.”
“Dear Goddess had instructed me to practice the divine martial arts in that scroll thrice everyday--morning, afternoon and night.” However, having experienced the most dangerous and busiest times of his life, he barely even touched it. I deserved death, he mused.
Guilt-stricken, he reached into his robes to pull out the scroll. Suddenly he heard footsteps from behind; as he turned to look, he gasped in shock. In front of him were a huge crowd of very familiar people, all of whom were walking along the side of the cliff.
The first person was the leader of Divine Farmer Clan, SiKong Xuan. Behind him stood Zuo Zi Mu, the leader of the East Faction and Xin Shuang Qing, leader of West Faction of Limitless Sword. The rest were disciples of the three Sects. The sight of everybody crowding together puzzled Duan Yu. Weren’t these people fighting each other with their all earlier? “Not bad”, he thought, “these guys were finally able to convert their enmity towards one another into one of friendshipfriendship.”
The huge crowd of people made two rows at each side of the cliff, as they bowed courteously, as though awaiting the arrival of someone of high power and authority.
Shades of green flashed; eight ladies appeared, all of them leaping up the side of the cliff. They all wore a emerald cape that had a large vulture embroidered onto it.
I am going to die, Duan Yu thought in fear. He could recognise the clothing the ladies were wearing, anytime.
Four ladies stood at each side. One more lady dressed in green walked up the peak of the mountain. She was only in her twenties, her facial features clear and beautiful. However, her eyebrows seemed to conceal a murderous air. She glared at Duan Yu and snapped, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Duan Yu felt immense relief upon hearing these words. This lady had yet to know it was me and Miss Mu who had killed her four friends and attempted to disguise ourselves as the Sacred Heralds of the Nimble Vulture Palace. Since that cape had been wrapped on the obese Granny Ping, and Miss Mu’s cape had disappeared into the LanCang River, these ladies have no evidence at all, so I can easily push away all charges made against me then.
“I am Duan Yu from the country of Dali, and had once become a guest in Mister Zuo’s Limitless palace with a friend of mine….”
“Buddy Duan,” Zuo ZiMu interrupted hastily. “Limitless Sword has currently submitted as subordinates to the great Nimble Vulture Palace. Limitless Palace has now been renamed Limitless Cave; hence the three words ‘Limitless Palace’ will now cease to exist.”
“What a brilliant idea”, Duan Yu thought amusedly to himself, “now that you were defeated by others, you admitted defeat and surrendered!”
“Congratulations! Congratulations!” Duan Yu smiled, “Mister Zuo has finally forsaken the dark side and has now seen the light! This is something worth celebrating…”
“When have I been in the “dark side”, and what “light” have I seen?” Zuo ZiMu thought to himself; however, these words could not be spoken aloud; all he could do was to return a forced smile.
Duan Yu continued, “I had earlier witnessed a misunderstanding that occured between this Leader SiKong and Leader Zuo, and had attempted to clear up the dispute. Unfortunately, things were messed up even further: I had to retrieve an antidote under the orders of Leader SiKong. Little did I expect to meet the Divine Croc Yue Number Three, who said I am of high intelligence and forced me to become a disciple of his. I told him I know no kung fu, yet this villain was such an unreasonable creep; he abducted me and brought me here, and gave me no other choices besides acknowledging him as my master. I feel so helpless…”
Following that, he bowed courteously and said, “How am I to escape from this impossibly high precipice? Answering Missy’s question pertaining to what am I doing here, I just have to say I am awaiting death.”
Nothing Duan Yu had just said was false. The earlier part of what he had said was true, the later part was not false in every aspect; all he did was to omit a huge portion of what happened in the middle.
“Confucius omitted the words “Spring Autumn” in his work, he narrates but doesn’t create it”, Duan Yu mused. “Omitting portions of text is not against the way of the sages. Only when one lies, then he wouldn’t be a true gentleman.”
“En,” the lady replied softly, before continuing, “So the Four Villains have indeed arrived in Dali. What kind of ‘high intelligence’ do you possess which made Yue Number Three want nothing better than to make you his disciple?”
Before the reply came, her gaze swept towards Sikong Xuan and Zuo ZiMu and inquired, “his words aren’t false, are they?”
“Indeed, ” Zuo ZiMu replied.
“Reporting Sacred Herald,” SiKong Xuan spoke, “This lad knows no kung fu, all he knew was to create a mess out of everything.”
“According to the both of you, there were two creeps who had the audacity to disguise themselves as my sisters and escaped to this peak. Where are they?” The lady spoke, once again turning towards Duan Yu. “Mister Duan, did you happen to see two ladies dressed in a green cape just like us?”
“Nope,” Duan Yu replied. “I have not seen anybody dressed up like your sisters.”
“The two impostors disguising as your people weren’t ‘two ladies’”, Duan Yu thought, searching for an excuse to justify his statement so as to not make it a lie and go against his principles. “They were a man and a lady, and without a mirror, I can’t see how I look like, as for Miss Mu, she is only ‘one’ lady, not ‘two ladies’.”
Nodding her head, the lady turned towards SiKong Xuan and said, “You must have been a subordinate of Nimble Vulture Palace for quite a long time?”
SiKong Xuan replied tremulously, “Yes…. I have been a subordinate for — for eight years….”
The lady spoke again, “What a fool you have been, not even able to recognize us sisters. What help can you be for Kid Nanny? Regarding this year’s antidote for your ‘Life-Death Talisman’, you won’t have any hope.”
A despondent look fell over his ashen face. He knelt on the floor and began kowtowing to the lady as he begged, “Have mercy Sacred Herald! Have mercy Sacred Herald!”
“This goatie hasn’t died yet; Miss Mu must have given him some fake antidote, or did the people from the Nimble Vulture Palace give him some miraculous medicine?” Duan Yu thought in puzzlement. “And what on earth is the ‘antidote for ‘Life-Death Talisman’?”
Ignoring Sikong Xuan, the lady turned her attention towards Xin Shuang Qing. “Bring Mister Duan down with you. If the Four Villains dare to create any trouble, tell them to find me at Obscure Peak, Nimble Vulture Palace! I shall leave the matter of apprehending the two impostors to the people of Limitless Cave. Hehe…. What audacity! Those two traitors Gan Guang Hao and Ge Guang Pei must be brought back and slain. If any of you sees my four sisters, inform them to return to Nimble Vulture Palace, I shan’t wait for them any longer.”
Every sentence she spoke, Xin Shuang Qing replied another, making sure his eyes did not meet the lady’s eyes. After she finished speaking, the lady walked down the peak herself without even giving a final look at the crowd. The eight women accompanying her followed closely and left.
SiKong Xuan was kneeling on the floor all this while. The moment the nine women left the peak, he immediately leapt towards the side of the cliff, yelling “Sacred Herald Fu, please pass this message of mine to Kid Nanny, ‘SiKong Xuan has let her down’.”
As he said so, he sprang to the other side of the cliff and dove towards the LanCang River miles below. Everybody called aloud in shock. The Divine Farmer Clan members rushed quickly towards the side of the cliff. Turbid waves billowed and surged past fiercely; their Clan leader was nowhere to be seen. Many of the clan disciples began to get weepy and started pounding their chests in agony. Seeing the way their leader SiKong Xuan had ended, the disciples of Limitless Sword stared at each other in dismay.
“Leader SiKong’s death is partly my fault,” a remorseful Duan Yu thought sadly.
“Take care of Mister Duan as you bring him down,” ordered Xin Shuang Qing, as he pointed towards two male disciples of the East Faction of Limitless Sword. The two men, named Yu Guang Biao and Wu Guang Sheng, bowed and complied.
Duan Yu finally reached the foot of the hill after a very long walk as he was being hauled by the two men. He took a deep breath and cupped his hands courteously to Zuo ZiMu and Xin Shuang Qing, saying “I thank the both of you sincerely for escorting me down the mountain, let us part ways here.”
His eyes darted around and he spotted the mountain the Divine Crocodile was pointing at earlier, as he thought in dismay, “climbing up this mountain must be harder than descending that mountain by manifolds. I doubt the people of Limitless Sword will be that nice to carry me up that hill. I'll just have to save Miss Mu with all I can, he mused.”
To his shock, Xin Shuang Qing said, “Please do not hurry away and do accompany me back to Limitless Cave.”
“No,” Duan Yu said in alarm, “No, I have many things to do for the moment, I can’t comply today. Apologies. Apologies.”
“Hng!” Xin Shuang Qing humphed and made a hand signal. Both Yu and Wu immediately stretched their arms and locked his arms tightly with theirs and continued moving ahead.
“Hey! Hey! Leader Xin, Leader Zuo, I have never offended the both of you in any way. That Sacred Herald sister has commanded the both of you to escort me down the mountain. Now we have descended the mountain and I have thanked you people. What more do you want from me?”
(Briefly edited by lilchilipepper)
Neither Xin Shuang Qing nor Zuo ZiMu bothered to listen. Seized tightly captive between Yu and Wu, Duan Yu had no choice, save to follow them back to the Limitless Cave.
The two men brought Duan Yu past five houses and through a large garden before stopping in front of three small houses. Wu Guang Sheng opened the door, while Yu Guang Biao pushed him firmly forwards. As soon as Duan Yu stumbled into the house, the door closed behind him with a resounding clicking sound. The door had been locked, and he was now efficiently trapped within.
“How unreasonable can you Limitless Sword people get? How can you all treat me like a criminal? It’s not as if Limitless Sword are the authorities. How could you imprison people for absolutely no reason?” Duan Yu called out.
The noises outside ceased instantly. Despite all of his shouting and screaming, nobody seemed to notice him at all.
Duan Yu sighed, “Since things happened this way, let it be. All I can do now is to await my fate.” The descent from the mountain had exhausted him sorely, and, upon seeing a bed and a table in the room, he immediately reclined on the bed and fell asleep.
Before long, a person came to serve him food; surprisingly, it did not taste awful. Turning to the servant who brought the food, Duan Yu spoke, “Go and report to your two leaders. Tell them I have a word to…” Before he could finish saying what he wanted to say, he heard Yu Guang Biao roaring gruffly outside the door.
“That little lad whose surname is Duan, you had better keep your mouth shut. I could care less whether you want to sleep or lie down, but if I hear just one more sound coming from you, expect no more mercy from us. You speak one sentence, and I will return it with a slap. Two sentences, two slaps, another three will get you three from me. Surely you know how to count?”
Duan Yu instantly fell silent. “These barbarians will truly not hesitate to do something they have threatened. When Miss Mu slapped me, my cheeks were certainly in pain, but there was sweetness in my heart. If these guys slapped me, things definitely would be far different.”
He finished three large bowls of rice and rested on the bed again. “I wonder if Miss Mu is alright now,” he thought in worry. “It would be best if she manages to shoot Divine Crocodile to death with her poisonous arrows, and then comes to rescue me. Ay, how could I actually hope for her to kill people?”
Another string of thoughts swam around in his head before he finally gave a weary yawn and fell asleep.
This time, he slept until the following morning. Scanning the area around him, Duan Yu noticed that the furniture was crude and simple, as though it were placed here long ago. Metal chains lined the inside of the windows; it could not have been any more evident that this was the place in which the Limitless Sword held captives.
All the thoughts of his current dilemma—namely, being locked in a room while pressed for time—vanished as he stared at the cavernous space before him. The first notion that came to his mind was to practice the Divine Skill of the Northern Darkness as Dear Goddess had instructed him.
He reached into his robes, removed the scroll, and placed it on the table. Remembering the nude pictures in the paintings, his heart began palpitating furiously. He straightened his robes and set himself in a meditating position—endeavoring with great difficulty to stop his face from reddening any further—as he thought silently, “Dear Goddess, I am here to follow your instructions and to practice the divine art you have told me to. I’m not trying to steal a look at your ethereal figure. Forgive me for being disrespectful...”
He slowly unrolled the scroll and began reading the words that appeared behind the first painting. To him, reading these words was as simple as eating rice at home; he skimmed through the words, and he instantly understood the meaning. After the second reading, he had them all memorized, and, by the third time, he had it all inside him. He dared not glance longer than necessary at the exposed paintings; rather he quickly studied the various meridians and acupoints on the picture before commencing his training.
The words on the scroll read: “Our sect’s internal energy is a total contrast to those of other sects, for internal energy cultivated using our methods flows in the opposite direction. As such, those who have already had practised internal energy training must forget those learnt in the past, and start training on the martial arts here diligently. If one has any stray thoughts left in one’s mind, this may lead to two opposite forces clashing with each other, which would immediately result in fire deviation. The victim will go mad and vomit blood, at which point he or she would then become fully paralyzed; nothing could possibly be more dangerous than this.”
The words repeatedly reiterated this point, emphasizing the severity of the situation. However, Duan Yu never began any internal energy training before; therefore, he could conveniently move on without having to bother with this dangerous stage at all.
Within one hour, Duan Yu had managed to follow the written instructions and memorized all the channels, meridians, and acupoints of the Lung Meridians* correctly. However, his body did not possess even the slightest trace of internal energy; as a result, he naturally would not be able to channel his non-existent internal energy to move through his meridians.
(End of editing work)
Following that, Duan Yu commenced his cultivation on his “Ren Meridians”. This particular meridian route begins at the ‘Yin Gathering’ pressure point located in the perineum. The route moves up various pressure points like the ‘Crooked Bone’, ‘Centre Extremity’, ‘Closed Energy’, ‘Rock Entrance’, going past the abdomen, chest, the throat and ends at the ‘Broken Foundation’ pressure point which resides at the space between his lower jaws.
Although there were numerous pressure points along the Ren Meridians, the path of the meridian was entirely straight, which made it easy for Duan Yu to practice. In an instant, Duan Yu memorized the positions and names for the various pressure points. He reached out his hands to touch those pressure points he had just learnt. As it was mentioned in the scroll earlier, he had to cultivate his internal energy through his meridians — in the reverse way. As such, he had to cultivate his internal energy from his ‘Broken Foundation’ pressure point, down the ‘Liquid Receiving’, ‘Incorrupt Fountain’, ‘Abrupt Heavens’ pressure points to his ‘Yin Gathering’ pressure point.
**The words in the painting read: The Ren Meridians and the Lungs Meridians are the cornerstones in the cultivation of our Divine Skill of the Northern Darkness. The ‘Less Merchant’ pressure point located at the thumb and the 'Shan Zhong' pressure point between the breasts are the most vital points of our skill, the former collecting internal energy whilst the latter accumulates and stores them.
The human body has four oceans: namely the ‘Ocean of the Water and Rice’ in the stomach, the ‘Ocean of the Twelve Channels’ in the Chong Meridians, the ‘Ocean of Energies’ in the Shan Zhong pressure point, and finally, the ‘Ocean of the Marrow’ in the Brain. The practice of storing food and water in the stomach is known throughout every human being the moment they were born; hence no special training is needed. However, the marvellous ability to absorb others’ internal energy and store it in our own body can only be achieved by our Carefree Sect’s ‘Divine Skill of Northern Darkness’.
Within a day, food and water collected in the stomach is absorbed and assimilated, however, the internal energy which a human absorbs accumulates after each absorption, becoming thicker and more abundant, resembling that of the enormous Ethereal Lake in the Dark North that could even float a gargantuan sea-monster whose size spans a thousand li.**
Duan Yu rolled the scroll and thought deeply: “This kung fu is purely beneficial to oneself at the expense of others. By absorbing the internal energy that others had practised industriously for years and using it as my own, wouldn’t it be as cruel as consuming the flesh and blood of a fellow human being? Wouldn’t it be as if I was to purloin the wealth of others and take it as my own? Wouldn’t I be cheating or doing something illegal then? But I have promised Dear Goddess to practise this martial arts, I can’t break my promise…. Never mind, I will not absorb anybody’s internal energy in my entire life.”
Another thought occurred to him: “Uncle had constantly reminded me that when humans were first born into this world, they had neither food nor any clothes, and had nothing to use for survival. Even a bowl of porridge, rice or even a thread of clothing all had to be obtained by something else. The act of obtaining things from somebody else cannot be helped, but the real question is how are we able to repay those who had given us. What we obtained must be minimal, and we must always give out much, much more than what we take in. If one was to take in something from the wealthy and the evil, and give that stuff obtained to the poor and the needy, there would be nothing to feel guilty over. On the other hand, it is more of a charitable act done by a kind soul. This golden rule is the same in Buddhism and Confucianism. There is nothing wrong in offering ointment from the affluent to those who badly need it, so long as my intention was purely for doing something for the needy. Doing as much charity as I can do to every soul under the skies would be like having Buddha in every household. The question is not about obtaining or not obtaining, but rather, to do charity or to do evil.”
The moment Duan Yu understood this point, he no longer had any qualms on practising the ‘Divine Skill of Northern Darkness’ anymore.
Translated by ani411
While Duan Yu had no misgivings in his heart about that matter, he thought again, “In short, I should just do more good deeds in my life and never do bad things. Elephants can carry heavy loads of tons, crickets and ants can only drag little things; if you have a strong ability, you can do great good deeds, but you would also be able to do horribly bad things. With Divine Crocodile’s abilities, if you only do good deeds, wouldn’t it be greatly beneficial to everyone?” The moment he thought of this point, he felt that even if Divine Crocodile was his master, but he only twisted bad people’s necks, it would seem as though “This sentence seems to be logical.”
The scroll also had ways to cultivate the many other channels and meridians; all of them were for absorbing the internal energy of others. Although Duan Yu had no more qualms about that, he still felt that practicing it went against his personal character. Just being greedy of much and determined to meet one’s desires alone was already not a good thing and thus, he decided to ignore it.
*Translated by Pacifian*
Duan Yu further unrolled the scroll till its very end, and on it he saw the five words “Graceful Steps Upon the Waves”. These words reminded him of a poem he read in the past: “The Goddess Luo”.
Graceful Steps upon the Waves,
Dust settles on her gauze stockings….
Passionate fluttering eyelids and vivacious glances;
Euphoria moisturizing her jade-like countenance.
She has yet to say the delicate speech,
Her breath possesses the fragrance of the Tranquil Orchid.
An air of Grandeur and Elegance;
I lost my soul in the presence of such beauty!
Those unforgettable words of aesthetic elegance created by Cao Zhi flowed gently, unhurriedly across his mind:
Voluptuousness, Slenderness – flawlessly combined, she is;
Complementing elements of loftiness and daintiness,
Waist of delicate silk,
Ravishingly long neck with a lovely chin,
Her unblemished substance now revealed,
Her fragrance needed no further enhancing,
Cosmetics, totally redundant!
Her hair flailed loftily like the clouds,
Her slender brows arched slightly, gracefully.
Radiant, sparkling lips of vermillion,
coupled with spotless teeth brimming with freshness.
With captivating, crystal-clear glances,
Those two alluring dimples on her cheeks,
A posture of magnificence and carefreeness,
A demeanour of tranquility and elegance.
With tender passions and graceful manner,
Words just cannot depict her charm….
The moment he thought of Dear Goddess’ elegant posture, he recalled again a few verses:
Pure as the twilight – the morning sun;
Dazzling as the lotus sprouting from nature's waves!
To him, following Dear Goddess’ instructions was the happiest and most blissful thing to do on Earth. Even if he were to die a hundred times, suffer ten thousand trials and tribulations, he would not regret the tiniest bit. “I shall practice this “Graceful Steps Upon the Waves” first”, Duan Yu mused, “since this is a skill to flee and not to harm others, learning it would only bring good and no harm.”
All the steps were clearly illustrated in the scroll; given its wealth of details, not even a single positioning of the ‘Sixty-four Trigrams of the Scripture of Changes’ had been missed out. Ever since Duan Yu was young, he had already familiarized himself with the Scripture of Changes, therefore felt no difficulty in learning these steps.
However, the footwork on the scroll was inconceivably weird. After moving a step, it was impossible to progress onto the next one. It was only when Duan Yu thought of somersaulting into the air, could he finally be able to form a miraculous, yet strangely natural connection between the two steps. There were even weirder cases: such as leaping forwards and backwards, or fleeing to the left and dodging towards the right, only so could he be able to follow the instructions written in the scroll.
The moment the enormous potential behind his bookworm-ish nature was unleashed, he found immeasurable joy in analyzing, and eventually solving, any problems with an insurmountable level of difficulty. Such was the joy that he was unable to express his feelings at that moment. He thought unconsciously: “Never did I once expect to find such unlimited pleasure in martial arts; this is definitely not beneath studying books and memorizing scriptures.”
In this way, a day had passed. He had grasped roughly twenty to thirty percent of the intricacies of the footwork illustrated in the scroll. After dinner, he learned ten-odd more steps before retiring to bed. In his semi-consciousness, the myriad of thoughts floating in his mind comprised the terms of the various acupoints such as: ‘Less Merchant’, ‘Shan Zhong’, ‘Closed Energies’ and ‘Centre Extremity’, along with other Scripture of Changes’ trigrams like ‘Concording People’, ‘Great Possessing’, ‘Converting The Maiden’, ‘Not-yet Fording’ and so on.
During midnight, Duan Yu was awoken by a sudden series of thunderous croaks, each sounding like a ‘Jiang-ang’ noise. Not long after, another series of similar croaks ensued. The sound was similar to the mooing of a cow, but there were elements of melancholy and absolute misery to it. Duan Yu wondered what kinds of animals could produce such noises, but then again, he remembered that strange beasts and venomous insects are aplenty on Limitless Mountain (Mt. Wuliang). As soon as he heard the croaking noises die down, he could not care any less about the matter and slept soundly as soon as his head touched the pillow.
Somebody spoke nearby. “The ‘Venomous Crimson Bullfrog’ hasn’t appeared for quite some time, but now, it suddenly croaked again tonight. I wonder whether this means good or bad for us.”
Another voice replied, “Our East Faction has been reduced to such a miserable state; things can’t be anymore good for us. We owe our lives to heaven if this bad news isn’t so extreme.”
Duan Yu knew those two disciples that spoke were Yu Guang Biao and Wu Guang Sheng. “They must have been sent to sleep in the room near mine so as to prevent me from escaping,” he thought.
Wu Guang Sheng’s voice could be heard once more. “We, the Limitless Sword, already belong to Nimble Vulture Palace; even though this spells a lack of freedom for us, as we are now being controlled by those of higher authority, we at least have a powerful backing. So, all in all, we have half of each: good and bad. However, what I truly cannot stand is this: The West Faction has always been inferior to us. Why did that Sacred Herald pass the position of head of Limitless Cave to Senior Martial Uncle Xin, leaving us at their beck and call?”
“What else could we do? Everybody - Heavenly Mountain Kid Nanny included - in Nimble Vulture Palace is female, and they say we guys aren't in the least bit trustworthy. Sacred Herald Fu is considered kind enough: by placing Martial Uncle Xin as our leader, Nimble Vulture Palace will view us in a new light. Watch how cruelly Sacred Herald Fu has dealt with the Leader of Divine Farming Clan. As compared to her treatment of Martial Uncle Xin, they are miles apart!”
“This, I don’t understand,” Wu Guang Sheng said. “Senior Apprentice Brother Yu, why did Sacred Herald Fu treat that lad so courteously? She addressed him as ‘Mister Duan’, ‘Mister Duan’, doesn’t that sound a little too affectionate?”
Hearing his name being mentioned, Duan Yu erased all temptations of sleeping from his mind, and began to listen more attentively to the ongoing conversation.
He heard a laugh - Yu Guang Biao’s voice. “These words can only be said here in secret. A young maiden, politely calling a white-faced lad ‘Mister Duan’, ‘Mister Duan’….” The moment the three words “Mister Duan” were spoken aloud, he pressed his windpipe and the results were immediate: he spoke using a tone simlar to that of Sacred Herald Fu, with the addition of some tenderly whining created by none other than he himself.
“Guess what's going on?”
Wu Guang Sheng spoke excitedly. “So … so Sacred Herald Fu is infatuated with that white-faced lad?”
“Keep your voice softer,” Yu Guang Biao cautioned. “Don’t wake that little white-faced kid.” Following that, he laughed. “I am not the ‘sacred’ parasite residing in Sacred Herald Fu’s stomach, how am I to understand her intentions? I guess Martial Uncle Xin must be thinking along these lines too, no wonder she made us keep a close watch on him, preventing his escape.”
“How long must we keep him here?” Wu Guang Sheng asked.
Yu Guang Biao responded, “Sacred Herald Fu said on the mountain peak, ‘Xin Shuang Qing, bring Mister Duan down with you. If the Four Villains dare to create any trouble, tell them to find me at Obscure Peak, Nimble Vulture Palace.’” These words were spoken once again using the tone of the lady dressed in green.
He continued further, “So what if we brought Mister Duan down the mountain? She wouldn’t explain further, nobody dare query her. Suppose if one day Sacred Herald Fu sent people over here to pass on a message: Xin Shuang Qin, bring that Mister Duan up Nimble Vulture Peak to meet me. And it so happens that that little white-faced lad was killed by us, or set free, wouldn’t things be disastrous for us?”
Wu Guang Sheng asked. “What if Sacred Herald Fu was to forget this entire matter, are we supposed to keep that white-faced lad in here for ever, just to wait for Sacred Herald Fu’s instructions?”
Yu Guang Biao laughed. “That’s right.”
Duan Yu’s heart was filled with cries of ‘T'his is bad’. “This Sacred Herald sister by the surname of Fu addressed me as “Mister Duan” merely because she saw me as a scholarly man, hence was slightly more courteous in her speech,” Duan Yu thought, flustered. “Where have you guys been thinking all these rubbish? Even if I am still in prison until my beard has grown white, that Sacred Herald sister wouldn’t even think of seeing me, this white-faced oldie.”
As Duan Yu was lost in his thoughts of worry, he heard Wu Guang Sheng speak again. “Then wouldn’t the both of us be -”
His words were cut off completely, by three thunderous ‘Ji-ang’ croaks. Clealy, that Venomous Crimson Bullfrog was croaking again. Wu Guang Sheng kept his mouth tightly shut. After a long while, when he was finally certain that the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog did not croak any further, he continued, “Every time the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog croaks, my heart would leap like mad and I would have goose bumps all over. I wonder how many lives the God of Plague would want to claim this time round.”
Yu Guang Biao said, “Everybody called the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog the creature of transport of the God of Plague; that would merely be a saying. The Manjusri Bodhisattva rides a lion; the Samantabhadra rides on a white elephant; the Lord Supreme rides a green ox…. This Venomous Crimson Bullfrog is the king of all poisons, its powers are divine and all-reaching, and the formidableness of its toxicity is known throughout many generations. Calling it the creature of transport for the God of Plague simply wouldn't be enough!”
“Senior Apprentice Brother Yu,” continued Wu Guang Sheng. “What do you think that Venomous Crimson Bullfrog looks like?”
Yu Guang Biao grinned. “Why, aren’t you interested in finding out?”
“That would be something you’ve got to tell me after you have seen it.” Wu Guang Sheng said, returning the grin.
“The moment I spot the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog, the toxic gases it emitted would instantly blind my eyes. Following that, it would creep into my brain. By then, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have much time left to describe the looks of the King of All Poisons for you to know. How about having the both of us take a look?”
With that said, footsteps were heard, followed by the sound of someone unlocking the door.
Wu Guang Sheng was immediately seized with fear. “Don’t… Don’t kid…” His trembling voice was easily noticeable. He rushed over to the door and locked the door again. Yu Guang Biao laughed at the sight.
“Hahaha! Now, really, you didn’t for a moment think I would actually dare to take a look? Have a look at how laughably frightened you have became.”
Wu Guang Sheng was still recovering from the shock. “This joke had better not be played, or else certain things we wouldn’t want to happen really do. Let all be peaceful. Let’s go to sleep!”
Yu Guang Biao changed topic. “You guess whether that immoral couple – Gan Guang Hao and Ge Guang Pei – managed to escape?
“We haven’t heard the slightest thing about them for so long, most probably they did manage to escape after all.”
“I know everything about Gan Guang Hao’s capabilities. That person is greedy and lazy and flirtatious — he is totally uninterested in practicing swordplay; all that he is capable of would be to sweet-talk ladies. All of us combed the whole of North, South, East and West; even the Sacred Herald from Nimble Vulture Palace came here personally to search for them. Yet, in the end, that couple managed to escape. I just can’t believe this.”
“However much you disbelieve, you just got to.”
Yu Guang Sheng was deep in his thoughts. “I say, this couple must have been hiding deep inside the mountains, and met the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog.”
Wu Guang Sheng gasped loudly in surprise; even the most insensitive of people could sense the dread in his voice.
Yu Guang Biao continued. “Yes. They must’ve been searching themselves silly for a deserted area to hide themselves in. Yet, the moment they ran into the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog, their brains would be filled with those toxins and hence, they got themselves dissolved into a bloody heap as a result. No wonder we couldn’t find them.”
Wu Guang Sheng said, nodding, “You've got a point there.”
“What do you mean I have got a point?” Yu Guang Sheng snapped. “If they hadn't run into the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog, then there wouldn’t be anymore points left, would there?”
“Perhaps they couldn’t tolerate it any more. Deep inside the deserted mountains or ridges, they started doing this thing and that thing. And in the midst of all darkness, they unleashed the move ‘Flipping the carp over’ and oh, how could it be? – they fell into somewhere miles deep into the valley!”
At this point, both men started cackling nastily.
Duan Yu sank deep into his thoughts: “At that food stall Miss Mu shot both Gan and Ge to their deaths, how could it be that the Limitless Sword disciples weren’t able to find them? Hmm… Right. It must be that the stall owner was afraid of attracting trouble, so he quickly buried the corpses somewhere. So when the Limitless Sword disciples came to investigate, everybody naturally kept silent, seeing their fierce looks and their weapons and all.”
Wu Guang Sheng spoke again, “The East and the West Factions of Limitless Sword merely lost two disciples. How big a matter could it be? The Emperor isn’t in the least worried yet the eunuchs are. Why would the Sacred Heralds of Nimble Vulture Palace be so anxious? Why must they be in such a hurry to apprehend those two people?”
“This, you need to use your brains more to find the answer.”
Silence ensued. “You know my mind isn’t in the slightest quick. After thinking this to that, here to there, I just couldn’t figure it out.”
“Let me pose you a question, then,” Yu Guang Biao said: “the Nimble Vulture Palace is so keen on taking over our Limitless Palace — why is this so?”
Wu Guang Sheng was lost in his thoughts. “Senior Apprentice Tang once said, the reasons most likely have something to do with the Limitless Jade Wall. The very moment Sacred Herald Fu arrived here, she enquired non-stop about the divine silhouette, swordplay, and everything else up on the Limitless Jade Wall.” As an afterthought, he added, “That’s right! All of us had to abide by the instructions Sacred Herald Fu set for us – the swearing of an oath never to divulge the slightest thing about the divine silhouette at the Jade Wall; yet both Gan Guang Hao and Ge Guang Pei had already escaped from Limitless Palace. Neither of them made the oath! There is no telling whether they wouldn’t mention it to the outside world!”
At this point, he slapped his thigh in revelation, exclaiming, “Right! Right! Nimble Vulture Palace went through all this effort just to silence those two rascals.”
“Hush! Don’t make so much noise; there is somebody next door, have you forgotten?” Yu Guang Biao whispered warningly.
An abashed-looking Wu Guang Sheng nodded. “Indeed, indeed.”
For a moment, neither spoke. Finally, Wu Guang Sheng broke the silence. “That rat Gan Guang Hao sure has infinite blessings; having the fortune to cuddle Ge Guang Pei, such a white and fleshy little cute gunnysack in his arms; having the luck to skin her as if she were a sheep…. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. Damn it. Even if he really did get dissolved into a bloody mass, he didn’t… didn’t really…. Hehe…”
From then on, the two men’s conversation was reduced to a lowly mixture of vulgarities and obscenities. Duan Yu was unwilling to eavesdrop any longer, but the lewd and dirty jokes and laughter continually coursed through the wall separating them – much to Duan Yu‘s dismay; so trying to shut the noises away was impossible. The only way out for him would be to concentrate on the various channels, meridians and acupoints. Indeed, all it took was a short while of deep concentration, and the vulgarities nearby vanished without a trace as if they had been switched off, no matter how loud they were.
The following day, Duan Yu continued his training on the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’. He followed the footwork illustrated in the scroll very closely, and began trying them out step by step. This footwork was either inclined to the left or slanted to the right: none of the steps taught was to advance and retreat directly. Even though he was confined to a small area, all he needed was to remove the table and chairs and he could perform the footwork without any obstructions; after a period of training, he had learned ten-odd more steps.
Suddenly, an idea struck him. “Later, when somebody comes to give me lunch, all I need is to perform these weird, diagonal steps and it would take me no time at all to move round him and escape past the door. It is unlikely that he would be able to catch me. By then, I would be able to escape this place instantly and avoid the horrible fate that awaits me if I stayed – waiting till the day I became an Oldie White-faced?”
He was brimming with joy as he thought about this. “I must very diligently train this set of footwork to the extent of total familiarization,” he thought firmly. “Should I take a wrong step by accident and fail to escape, they might shackle my legs together from that point onwards to prevent me from escaping. By then, no matter how delightfully incredible ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ might be, every step I take would be restrained by the metal chains; I will really have to become Oldie White-faced no matter how much I dread it.”
Lost in thought, Duan Yu involuntarily made dizzy circles with his head.
Without further ado, he speedily ran through the hundred-over steps he had learned in his head. “I need to reach a stage whereby I need not even think about the steps in my mind; the mere lifting of my legs would result in a rapid succession of the following steps.”
Suddenly, he sighed. “I, Duan Yu, a stinky male, had to learn those graceful and delicate ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ from the Tranquil Lady Goddess Luo. What qualities of ‘Dust Settles on Her Gauze Stockings’ do I possess? More likely mine's a poor imitation in the form of ‘Dust Settles on His Naked Bottom’, I guess.”
Chuckling merrily at himself, Duan Yu stepped on the position of ‘Central Confirmation’, followed shortly by an immediate turning towards the ‘Already Fording’ spot. What he didn’t expect was that the moment he changed positions from ‘Exultation’ to ‘Venom’, a sudden blast of blazing energy surged upwards – towards his dantian, paralysing him instantly. His body rocked forwards as he lay resting against the tabletop – lifting a finger suddenly became an impossible feat.
Feeling stupefied, Duan Yu attempted to grasp the table by its sides and lift himself; little did he know that not a single one of his muscles or bones complied. Not even a tiny finger. His current situation was reminiscent of a horrible nightmare gone wrong: the more anxious he was, the more helpless he became.
He had absolutely no idea that ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ is an extremely profound branch of martial arts. The reason for this skill being taught near the end of the scroll was for the practitioner to master ‘Divine Skill of the Northern Darkness’ and absorb fairly substantial amounts of internal energy before he or she could start training on the intricate footwork.
Every single step of the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ was designed as such that when a step was made, the momentum and movement of the practitioner’s entire body blended entirely and intimately with his or her internal energy; it amounts to much, much more than the mere lifting of limbs and moving about. Duan Yu had hardly any internal energy. Before then, he would always make a step before a momentary pause, with which he used to contemplate the next step. Then he would follow by retreating another step, which he then paused to think again. As such, he has had consistent intervals of rest in his blood flow, therefore no such obstructions occurred.
This time, however, he had memorized the steps and even attempted to try them all at once in one single breath; the blood flow in his channels and meridians went topsy-turvy, paralysing him in the process. In fact, he almost suffered from fire-deviation. Fortunately for him, he only moved a few steps, and was trying it out at a comfortable pace; therefore the extent of internal injury hadn’t reached the fatal stage of the utter destruction of his own channels due to the immense blood pressure.
Flustered, Duan Yu struggled even harder to move; but the more he did so, he felt the suffocating pressure in his chest and abdomen intensify. To add to all this, he began feeling somewhat nauseous, but he could hardly vomit. He let out a sad sigh, ceased struggling and allowed nature to take its course. As he did so, the frustratingly painful feeling inside him began to subside.
Lying immobile against the table, Duan Yu saw the scroll in front of his eyes. Having nothing else to do, he studied those unfamiliar steps he had yet to try and thought them out in his mind, imagining himself trying them out step by step. About an hour later, he had learned another twenty-odd steps, and to his surprise, the pain in his chest had almost fully dissipated.
It was almost noon. Duan Yu had finally understood all the steps that were illustrated in the scroll. In his mind, he decided to try them out by imagining himself starting on ‘Bright Concealment’, moving along several other positions like ‘Adornments’, ‘Already Fording’, ‘Dwelling People’; and eventually completed stepping – or rather, imagining himself stepping – on the positions of all sixty-four Trigrams and ended nicely on the position ‘Without Embroilments’ after moving in the direction of a huge circle.
The fact that he had finally completed learning the entire footwork was overwhelming; ecstasy welling inside him, Duan Yu leapt into the air clapping his hands, exclaiming in delight. “Amazing! Amazing!”
The moment these two words left his lips, Duan Yu realised he could finally move again. Unknown to him, his internal energy had unconsciously followed the thoughts in his head; as he completed one full cycle of ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’, his blood flow did the same, unclogging the blocked meridians in the process.
He could barely contain his excitement and surprise that were threatening to burst from within. In his head, he tried to go through all the positions of the sixty-four Trigrams in his head a few more times. For fear that he might commit the same mistake as before; he moved each step very slowly -- every step made had to be followed by a few deep breaths.
In this way, all sixty-four positions had been completed. Duan Yu saw that he had finished one huge circle; meanwhile, his body was bursting with renewed vitality and vigour. Unable to bear his excitement any longer, Duan Yu gave a cry in joy.
“Amazing! Amazing! Utterly amazing!”
From outside the door, came a roar of annoyance. It was Yu Guang Biao’s voice. “Why are you screaming your head off? Whatever your old man, I, have said, I don’t eat them back! You say a sentence, you eat a palm!”
Having said that, he unlocked the door and flounced inside. “Earlier, you made three sentences, so you shall eat three palms! However, on account that you are a first-time offender, I shall discount you two slaps; just one palm would suffice.”
He advanced threateningly towards Duan Yu, his right palm poised to strike Duan Yu’s cheek.
This palm didn’t contain any hidden stances beneath it; neither was it anything special. But Duan Yu, lacking martial arts, couldn’t block it with his arms. Slightly tilting his head to one side, Duan Yu instinctively moved his feet diagonally and landed on the position of ‘Swallow’ from his current position, ‘Well’. And voila! Duan Yu managed to evade the slap.
Yu Guang Biao was furious. He thrust out his fist forcefully and rapidly towards Duan Yu. Meanwhile, Duan Yu was still contemplating which step to move (he has hardly familiarised himself with the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ footwork) when the blow struck his chest with a loud peng. The fist had struck his ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint.
The ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint is vital to the human body. The moment Yu Guang Biao threw out his fist, he instantly regretted his actions and feared he might inflict too heavy a damage for Duan Yu to handle; if anything happened to Duan Yu, he might not be able to account for it.
What he did not expect, however, was that the moment the fist came in contact with Duan Yu’s chest, Yu Guang Biao felt his arm suddenly depleted of energy. What was even worse was that he felt some sort of emptiness in his heart! Yu Guang Biao could barely register this strange phenomenon when everything reverted back to normal. Seeing Duan Yu unhurt, Yu Guang Biao, relieved, said, “Although you have managed to dodge my slap, your chest received my knuckle sandwich; that still counts as one slap.”
With that he disappeared from view as he left the room shortly after. Clunk! The door was locked once again.
The strike might be loud, but strangely enough, Duan Yu felt absolutely no pain in that strike. Unknown to him, whatever energy that was present in Yu Guang Biao’s fist earlier has been transferred into his ‘Ocean of Energies’ in his ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint, where it will be stored permanently.
It just happened so coincidentally. Had Yu Guang Biao’s fist struck anywhere except his chest, Duan Yu would have been considered extremely lucky to have avoided injury, yet no matter what, he would not be spared from the excruciating pain. However, the ‘Ocean of Energies’ in his ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint was the exact location where the ‘Pure Energies of Northern Darkness’ would be accumulated and stored.
The number of times he had tried cultivating this skill were too little; he had zero foundation in this skill. It would thus be impossible for him to perform the various feats needed to absorb internal energies from other sources at this stage: using the ‘Less Merchant’ acupoint to leech the internal energies of other people, channeling these energies via his Lung Meridians up to the ‘Sky Shock’ acupoint in his Ren Meridians, and sending them once again for permanent storage in his ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint. Even if he had reached that stage after plenty of training, he would rather die than to do what he considers an immoral act – stealing stuff from others’ for his own benefit.
In this case, however, it was the other party himself who had forced his own internal energies right inside Duan Yu’s ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint. Duan Yu could not resist the energy transferring process; the moment the fist touches the chest, the internal energy would gain entry into his body. It was as though gold coins and gold bars flew towards his backpack from outside the heavens, yet, the foolish lad was oblivious to all this. In fact, he even thought: What an unreasonable brute. How much could a few sentences of ‘Amazing!’ offend him so much? He hit me for absolutely no reason.
The internal energy that was originally Yu Guang Biao’s continually revolved and vibrated in Duan Yu’s ‘Ocean of Energies’. In an instant, Duan Yu felt his chest tighten. He immediately thought of the two channels in his body – the Lung Meridians and the Ren Meridians, and the effect was immediate: a faint warmth began to spread throughout these two channels. It circulated the channels once before dissipating back into the ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint, bringing the pain along with it.
Unbeknownst to Duan Yu, the tiny warm circulation he had just experienced in such a short time had earned him some amounts of internal energy, which, upon storage, could no longer leave his body.
From a helpless lad without the tiniest trace of internal energy, Duan Yu finally acquired a little. All this began thanks to Yu Guang Biao’s forceful punch at Duan Yu’s chest.
Also, Duan Yu should thank heaven for the fact that Yu Guang Biao’s internal energy was mediocre, and that he had not put all his energy in that single strike. Had it been a martial arts expert the likes of the Divine Crocodile who struck his ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint instead, Duan Yu, having no internal energy foundation at all, couldn’t immediately absorb all force into his ‘Ocean of Energies’. When that happens, his meridians and channels would have all been destroyed into smithereens, and he would die immediately after vomitting huge amounts of blood. Also, the amount of internal energy Yu Guang Biao lost was too slight- he hadn’t noticed anything.
Right after lunch, Duan Yu got down very quickly to his ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ training. Each step he moved, he would take in a deep breath, followed by another step, and from there the cycle goes on. ‘Sixty-four Trigrams’ were completed in no time. Duan Yu felt no paralysis in his muscles, and speculated that so long as he maintains a constant, uninterrupted series of smooth intervals in his breathing, there wouldn't be any harm.
His second try was bolder than before: two steps before taking in a deep breath; rinse and repeat.
‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ was indeed an extremely profound skill. It enables its practitioner to cultivate internal energy through kinetic motion. One round of stepping all sixty-four positions would enable his internal energy to revolve smoothly around his body, leading to a slight growth of internal energy with every round made.
Duan Yu, however, barely knew that he was cultivating internal energy; he only wished he could familiarize himself with the footwork even better with every round, or that he could move at a quicker pace. “Earlier, when that Brother Yu tried to slap my face, I managed to dodge it by moving from ‘Well’ to ‘Swallow’. Following that I should keep it up by sliding to the position of ‘Venom’, in this way could I be able to evade that punch on my chest. Regrettably, I was busy thinking what step I should move when his fist struck. This ‘busy thinking’ suggests that I am not fully familiarized with this skill yet. Should I want to depend on this footwork and escape this place without being caught, I must immerse myself into this skill till any further training is pointless; every step made must be done without thinking. The phrases ‘busy thinking’ and ‘without thinking’ have only one dissimilar word, but it makes a world of difference between life and death.”
Immediately, he trained himself even more arduously on the footwork once more. Every day, from morning to night, with the exception of daily needs such as eating, sleeping and using the toilet, the rest of the time was spent on moving repeatedly in huge circles.
There were times when he thought: The only reason I am practicing this skill so hard is merely to escape this horrid place and rescue Miss Mu; I did not abide by Divine Goddess’s instructions and train the ‘Divine Skill of Northern Darkness’.
Guilt-stricken, Duan Yu spared some time to cultivate the Lung and Ren Meridians. He did so reluctantly and shoddily; all he wanted was to peace his mind. As for the rest of the channels and meridians, he shelved them temporarily.
After several days of training, Duan Yu made marked improvement in his ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’. He need no longer count his steps and breaths, and could now glide to each next step with rapid ease. To top it all, he suffered no more obstructions in his internal flow. As he moved, his mind and heart relaxed. Several lines from the poem 'Goddess Luo' came to mind – those that were related to the ‘Graceful Steps upon the Waves’:
She resembles the concealed moon behind the frail clouds; her floating grace, the returning snow from the flowing wind.
The body suddenly gains freedom; to roam the world, to enjoy life.
The Divine Brilliance converges and unites: the emergence of light and darkness.
The body, light as a feather, stands upright like a crane; seems ready to fly yet but has yet to.
Her body is as swift as a soaring teal; floating rapidly – goddess-like.
Movements without following norms: maybe perilous, maybe safe; Irregular movements and pauses: maybe departing; maybe arriving.
These last twenty words were easily the crux of this complex footwork. Although Duan Yu understood this point, trying to reach the realm of ‘Movements without following norms: maybe perilous, maybe safe; Irregular movements and pauses: maybe departing, maybe arriving’ would require God-knows-how-much diligent practice, not to mention how many years and months Duan Yu would have wasted just to acquire this phenomenal accomplishment.
Given his current martial arts, should his enemies stretch their hands and try to grab him, Duan Yu knows not of his chances of success in evading them. He had half a mind to stay for a couple of days to half a month to improve his chances of success. However, he realised that he had been separated from Mu WanQing for seven whole days; he thought of her having to accompany the unreasonable Divine Crocodile for so long, where every single day felt like years. Duan Yu finally decided to leave this place that day. He hoped the servant bringing in his food had better not know any kung fu; escaping this place would therefore be much easier.
Sitting on his bed, Duan Yu locked himself in deep concentration, refreshing his memory on the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves' while awaiting patiently for the arrival of the servant. Finally, he heard the sound of the door being unlocked, coupled with loud footsteps, and he saw the servant bringing in the food. Duan Yu walked towards him unhurriedly.
It all happened in a split second. Duan Yu quickly toppled the plates of food over the servant’s head. Ping! Ping! Pang! Pang! And rice and bowls and vegetables and plates rained heavily down the poor fellow’s head….
‘Aiyoh!’ The poor servant screamed in horror.
Wasting no time, Duan Yu rocketed out of the door in just a few steps.
Unfortunately, Yu Guang Biao happened to be guarding outside the door. Hearing the servant’s scream, he rushed inside without delay. The narrow doorway caused both men to crash into each another on their way in, or in Duan Yu’s case, out.
Duan Yu hastily leaped towards the position of ‘Beholder’ from his current (‘Preparation’) in a bid for not wasting anymore precious time. Unfortunately for him, however, while on his way out, his left foot landed on the doorstep.
Duan Yu was instantly overwhelmed with shock and confusion. Nowhere in the instructions under ‘Graceful Steps Under the Waves’ taught him ‘What to do in the case of stepping on the doorstep, which results in one foot higher than the other?’
He stumbled, struggling with might to step on the position of ‘Comparison’. Till this day, never in his wildest dreams could he dream that he would step on Yu Guang Biao’s foot! ‘What to do when you accidentally step on others’ foots, causing others to scream in pain and fury?’ was also not recorded in the secret footwork manual!
Duan Yu thought depressingly: “Well, the Goddess Luo’s ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ in the Luo Waters embodies the ‘sleekness and elegance of a swan in startled flight’ and the ‘restrained grace of a roaming dragon’, certainly she wouldn’t land herself in drastic situations such as stepping on doorsteps and crushing the feet of others.”
In his fluster, Duan Yu felt someone’s fingers closing over his wrist. The next moment he was dragged back inside by a fuming Yu Guang Biao.
All his hard work over the last few days had came to naught. Things just had to happen against his wishes. Filled with resentment, Duan Yu raised his right hand to prise his left wrist away from Yu Guang Biao’s grip. However, the five fingers encasing Duan Yu’s wrist felt like iron; they simply refused to budge.
Suddenly, Yu Guang Biao made a ‘yi?’ sound in surprise. His fingers felt enervated and were about to release his grip in no time. Yu Guang Biao circulated his internal energy into his arm and held on firmly, but in no time at all, his fingers were weakened by an invisible force.
“Damnit!” He cursed.
He imbued more internal energy into his arm; only to find that this time, his entire arm drooped downwards. He wasn’t aware that in Duan Yu’s endeavour in forcing him to release his grip, Duan Yu had accidentally used his own thumb to prise Yu’s thumb away. In this way, both ‘Less Merchant’ acupoints of the two men had connected themselves. As he used his energy to hold onto Duan’s wrist tightly, whatever energy applied has flowed continuously into Duan Yu’s thumb. Unknown to him, every bout of internal transferrence into his arm would result in a loss of internal energy.
Duan Yu was clueless about what was going on. He only felt Yu Guang Biao’s fingers relaxed and tightened inexplicably. It seemed almost as if by using more strength Duan Yu could prise away Yu Guang Biao’s fingers and make an escape. But at this point in time, how was he to know how to remove his right thumb from between his left thumb and Yu Guang Biao’s thumb?
That fateful day when Yu Guang Biao punched him hard in the chest, all the internal energy in his fist has been transferred into his ‘Ocean of Energies’. Although the internal energy in Yu Guang Biao’s punch was too little to be even noticeable, Duan Yu has used whatever little there was of those energies to clear the path in his Lung and Ren Meridians. Now, whatever energy Yu Guang Biao had in his body began moving along these channels slowly into Duan Yu’s ‘Ocean of Energies’. This fitted exactly the ‘Divine Skill of Northern Darkness's’ theory of “Converging a Hundred Streams to Form an Ocean” meant.
If both men did not use any energy at all and merely touched each other’s thumbs instead, Duan Yu wouldn’t be able to unleash the ‘Divine Skill of Northern Darkness’ as he did not know how. This time, however, both men were fighting for their lives. It was similar to the previous scenario wherein Yu Guang Biao struck his chest; in both cases, Yu Guang Biao had forcibly inserted his own internal energies down Duan Yu’s ‘Ocean of Energies'. This can be likened to a scenario of pouring wine to a cup; even if the wine cup was unable to tolerate the wine, it simply cannot do anything.
Initially, Yu Guang Biao’s internal energy was way more abundant than Duan Yu’s. Had he understood what was happening and released his hold on Duan Yu immediately, the most Duan Yu could do would be to leave this place and escape. But Yu Guang Biao was under strict orders by his superiors to prevent Duan Yu from escaping; how could he let this white-faced dolt leave so easily?
His arm went numb again; Yu Guang Biao tried to replenish it with more internal energy. However, he felt that his one arm was no longer able to hold on any more. He stretched out his left arm in an attempt to assist his right one. Unknown to him, this only made the flood of internal energy gushing out of him flow even faster. Shortly afterwards, half of his internal energy has been transferred into Duan Yu’s body.
One is losing energy; the other increasing. Yu Guang Biao’s strength was no longer Duan Yu’s match. His internal energy cascaded out of his thumb even more rapidly as time passed. Eventually, his energy leak was like that of water from a reservoir bursting out from a dam- spewing in enormous quantities at an alarming rate. He could no longer do anything except to helplessly watch his energy drain away and himself wither. He tried desperately to release his hand and escape this nightmare, but he couldn’t: this time, it was Duan Yu who grabbed his five fingers firmly in place, unwilling to let go; try as he might, Yu Guang Biao simply couldn’t do anything given his depleted strength.
The person who was once the captive suddenly became captor; yet, he was oblivious of this at all. In a frenzy, Duan Yu held on to Yu Guang Biao’s for dear life: he didn’t realize his struggle for ‘prising away his fingers’ had suddenly became ‘grabbing tightly onto his fingers’.
Yu Guang Biao was on the verge of collapsing. Fearful, he screamed, “Junior Wu! Wu Guang Sheng! Come quickly! Come quickly!”
Wu Guang Sheng happened to be at the toilet at that time. Hearing his senior apprentice’s voice, he rushed towards Yu Guang Biao without a moment’s hesitation. A hilarious scene, indeed, watching him totter hastily while clutching onto his pants.
“This lad wanna escape. I — I can’t do anything to stop him!” Yu Guang Biao yelled.
Wu Guang Biao no longer cared about his pants; he released them and prepared to hurl himself at Duan Yu.
Yu Guang Biao saw this and immediately cried out, “Get me out of here first!” He sounded as if he was about to cry soon.
“All right!” Wu Guang Sheng replied. He stretched out his arms and held on firmly to Yu’s shoulders, trying to yank him away from Duan Yu. At the same time, he asked, “Are you injured?” Given Yu Guang Biao’s martial arts, how couldn’t he handle this sissy scholar by himself? Wu Guang Sheng thought, puzzled.
The words barely left his lips when he felt his both arms ached painfully - it was as if there weren’t any energy left in them! He quickly mustered his strength into his arms. But all the energy he summoned was gone almost as soon as they entered his arm.
What happened in fact was that Duan Yu had leeched Yu Guang Biao’s internal energy dry; now he further proceeded to absorb Wu Guang Sheng’s one. Yu Guang Biao’s body now became the path for transferring Wu’s internal energy over to Duan Yu.
Seeing more people rushing over to Yu Guang Biao’s aid, in addition to Yu Guang Biao’s tenacious grip closing over his wrist suddenly becoming more rigid, a terror-stricken Duan Yu used even more force if possible to prise away Yu Guang Biao’s fingers. Wu Guang Sheng, sensing his limbs began to ache for no apparent reason, kept calling out, “How strange! How strange!” Even as he said so, he did not release his hold a single bit.
The servant bringing in food for Duan Yu saw all three men lay in a mess on the floor, coupled with blanched faces belonging to Wu Guang Sheng and Yu Guang Biao, who looked almost as if they were about to collapse any time soon. He fumbled out of the room by crawling over their backs, screaming, “Somebody, come quickly! That white-faced lad by the surname of Duan is trying to escape!”
The disciples of Limitless Sword nearby heard the cry and rushed over immediately. Two men appeared at the scene, followed shortly by another three, all bellowing in unison. “What happened? Where’s that kid?”
Duan Yu was crushed under both Yu Guang Biao and Wu Guang Sheng; naturally, the newcomers could not spot him.
Yu Guang Biao couldn’t even catch his breath; to him, speaking was a total impossibility. Wu Guang Sheng already had eighty per cent of his internal energy drained away; he could only choke, “Senior Brother Yu is… trapped by that laddie…. Come… come and help quickly….”
Two disciples immediately leapt forward; each of them grabbing Wu Guang Sheng’s arm each and started pulling with all their might. However, as they pulled, they felt their arms became suddenly devoid of energy. Both men’s internal energies were now flowing through Wu Guang Sheng’s body into Yu Guang Biao’s body, which would then later flow right inside Duan Yu’s thumb. Currently, Duan Yu’s ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint had already accumulated both energies of Yu and Wu; now, with the tiny portion of energy collected from the two newcomers, his internal energy had surpassed the energies of the two men put together. Once the men felt their arms ache, they instinctively channeled more energy to their arms. Yet, the more they did so, the more presents they forced down Duan Yu’s thumb.
As the amount of internal energy Duan Yu collected grew, his internal energy absorption accelerated too. Initially, his internal energy growth was that of tiny droplets; now they flushed like water streams.
The other three disciples stood there, dumbstruck. One of them laughed, “What childish game are you guys playing? Stacking the Arhats?”
He moved forwards to heave his fellow disciples. Little did he know by his second pull, his entire arm glued itself to the arm of his fellow disciple! He shrieked in astonishment, “This is demonic! Devilish!”
His fellow disciples who were still standing behind him rushed over to his side and too began pulling. All three of them pulled with all their might; the stack of human bodies moved ever so slightly, and the next thing they knew, a pang of ache coursed through their wrists and arms. Instantly, they felt themselves enervated by Duan Yu’s draining force.
A huge pile of Limitless Sword disciples lay at the doorway of the room where Duan Yu was earlier held captive. The weight of their bodies crushed Duan Yu so painfully he could barely breathe. Seeing that it was impossible to escape, he had no choice but to surrender himself.
“Let go of me! I am not leaving anymore!” He yelled.
It was no use. The other parties’ internal energy just had to surge into his body; Duan Yu felt his ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint nearly bursting with all the myriad of energies churning inside him. The pain in his chest began growing more intense by the second.
He stopped trying to prise Yu Guang Biao’s thumb; however, Yu’s thumb was crushing his thumb so forcefully that he couldn’t move. He screamed again, “I am going to be crushed to my death! I am going to be crushed to my death!”
Yu Guang Biao and Wu Guang Sheng looked lifeless; the five disciples who came trying to prevent Duan Yu from escaping were flabbergasted and at a loss of what to do. Seized by a sudden bout of panic attack, they struggled and pulled with more strength. As they did so, their internal energy gushed out at an even faster rate.
Eight men huddled together messily; six were screaming their voices hoarse, yet none of them was able to hear what the other was yelling. After a while, it became four people yelling out loud. Shortly after, the number of people shouting had been reduced to three. Eventually, Duan Yu was the only person yelling, “You are crushing me to death! Let go of me! I want to escape no more!”
Every cry he made, the pain in his chest subsided a little. To lessen the pain even further, he continued raving like mad, his voice hoarse yet his energy abundant. The more he shouted, the louder he became.
Suddenly, somebody bellowed, “That evil witch stole my baby! Everybody, chase after her, quick! The four of you guard the door; the three of you, guard the rooftops; you four guys, seal the East Door; those five, guard the West Door. Don’t – don’t let that evil witch bring my kid away!” Although it sounded like a command, the voice sounded fearful and anxious.
Duan Yu immediately recognized the voice as Zuo ZiMu’s. What woman stole his child away? Duan Yu thought. A thought struck him. Ah! It had to be Miss Mu! She stole his son and wanted to use it in exchange for her husband. This ‘exchange for the general with the horse’ tactic is useful for sure.
Finally, he stopped yelling. It was at this point he was aware that Yu Guang Biao’s fingers that were closing over his wrist had relaxed. He struggled and heaved with all he could; the seven people lying over him tumbled to the ground, one after another.
Duan Yu felt immensely delighted. Their master’s kid had been snatched away by Miss Mu; now everybody’s mind was in a whirl and frenzy. “None of them could bother about catching me any longer”, he thought. Crawling out from under a pile of human bodies, Duan Yu wondered, “Why aren’t these people lying immobile on the floor? Yes. They must be fearful that their master would punish them severely, hence they pretended to be injured.”
He must have been very intent on escaping, to the point that he had no idea how weak the logic in his conjecture was. Finally, he got the freedom he wanted so much; his legs sprinted so quickly as if there were wings attached to them. Never in his dreams would he ever have dreamt that all the internal energy of the seven disciples has now become his own …
The distance he covered was disproportionate to the footsteps he took; he reached the back of the house in no time at all. The assorted positions such as ‘Not-yet Fording’, ’Already Fording’ were all discarded at the back of his mind. The elegant postures of ‘Concealed Moon Behind the Frail Clouds’ an; ‘Returning Snow from the Flowing Wind’ turned into garbage created by Cao Zi Jian. Duan Yu ran amok like a dog whose owners have died, and frenzied as though he were a fish that was trapped in a net where there is a gaping hole large enough for it to escape.
Limitless Sword disciples had their swords ready and were scampering in all directions, yelling as loud as their lungs would allow. “Don’t let that evil witch get away!” “Quick! Snatch our little junior apprentice back!” “You go there! I’ll go this way!”
“Miss Mu’s ‘exchange for the general with the horse’ tactic was ingenious; now it even became ‘attracting the tiger to leave the mountain’”, Duan Yu thought gleefully. “Now I must employ the thirty-sixth tactic.”
He dove into a dense patch of grass, and crawled more than ten zhang away. He thought inwardly: “My hands and feet are touching the ground at the same time; what other skill am I using if it isn’t the ‘(un)Graceful Crawling Upon the Waves’?”
The noises and yells decreased in volume. Seeing that no one had noticed him, Duan Yu finally stood up and fled to the dense forest at the back of the mountain. Even though he was running for a long long time, he felt just indescribably energetic. He found it very strange and warned himself: “Better not be so scared; otherwise I would run until all my energy has depleted.”
A large tree stood nearby and he took the opportunity to rest under the shade. But he felt spirited and full of vigour; what was there to rest when he had too much energy to spare?
“When people get lucky, they would feel as if their bodies were packed with dynamic energy; still, they will break down eventually”, Duan Yu thought.
He remembered the instructions stated for the ‘Vibration’ Trigram, number six two: Don’t chase; harmonize after seven days. Suddenly, he remembered: “Today is the seventh day of my captivity! I must be careful of the two words ‘Don’t chase’”, Duan Yu thought warily. He circulated the internal energy collected in his ‘Shan Zhong’ acupoint to the Lung Meridians; however, he just had too much internal energy. Back and forth the energies went; there was simply no end to it all.
He suddenly became frightened. “This isn’t good”, he told himself, “There must be some danger awaiting me." Since the pain in his chest had now fully dissipated, he ended his internal energy circulation, stood up and started walking again. He thought: “how am I to meet Miss Mu to tell her I am no longer in danger? I must also tell her to return the baby to Zuo ZiMu; otherwise he would care for his son too much and live with fear from then onwards.”
Walking a few more li, Duan Yu suddenly heard the sounds of something going ‘ji’ ’ji’. A grey shadow flashed past before his eyes. He saw that it was a tiny animal that soared past him at a speed few animals could ever possess, and vaguely recognized it as Zhong Ling’s pet marten Lightning. The object simply leaped too fast for the naked eye to observe carefully. But Duan Yu knew this animal that could travel at lightning speed could only be the marten, Lightning.
Duan Yu was pleased at seeing it. He thought inwardly: “Miss Zhong went everywhere yet she couldn’t find you; all along you had hid yourself here, I shall bring you back to your rightful owner; she will be too pleased to be able to speak.”
He whistled loudly, imitating Zhong Ling’s whistling voice. The shadow flashed. An animal fell from the trees above and sat several zhang in front of him. A pair of quivering, sparkling eyes stared back at him. It was indeed Lightning. Duan Yu whistled once more; Lightning moved two steps closer and lay immobile on the floor.
“Good marten, good marten. I shall bring you back to your owner.” Duan Yu called out loudly. He whistled again and moved few steps forward. Lightning remained immobile. Duan Yu had touched its back before; he knew this animal was speedy as the wind, and had poisonous fangs; but it obeyed its master before everything else. He saw the marten’s eyes continued quivering, and couldn’t help commenting how cute it was.
Duan Yu whistled and moved forward again, before squatting down before the animal, and said, “Obedient marten!” He slowly stretched his hand and caressed its back; Lightning lay unmovable on the floor all this while. Duan Yu caressed the marten’s fur, which felt smooth, gentle and soft. In a gentle voice, he spoke, “Good marten, let’s go home!”
That said, his hand went over to carry the marten.
In an instant, his arms trembled, followed shortly by a sharp pain in his left thigh. A gray shadow flashed once more, and Lightning reappeared several zhang in front of him. It stood on the floor, staring back at Duan Yu with its quivering eyes.
Duan Yu shrieked in horror. “Aiyo! You bit me!”
A tiny hole appeared in his left trousers. Duan Yu rolled up his pants and saw two rows of teeth marks imprinted on his left thigh. Fresh blood seeped out from the wound….
He could remember the horrific scene of Divine Farmer Clan Leader SiKong Xuan slicing off his arm as if it has happened only a few minutes ago; fear gripped his heart and he was so sure his soul was about to leap out of his own body. He cried in disbelief, “You…you…. How could you be so unreasonable? I am your master’s good pal! Aiyoh!”
A pain shot through his left thigh, numbing it. Duan Yu involuntarily knelt down on the floor; his arms held on to the area above his wound, trying–but failing–to prevent the venom in his left thigh from spreading any further. Sure enough, the same numbing pain that coursed through his left leg did the same to his right thigh. No longer in control of his legs, Duan Yu collapsed onto the floor.
The shock was too much for him to handle; he used his arms to push himself against the floor, trying to get up. Unfortunately, his arms felt numb and enervated. With all the strength he could muster, Duan Yu crawled a few steps forward. Right in front of him, Lightning the marten looked on impassively; all this while, it did not seem to move a single inch.
Duan Yu thought bitterly to himself, “I am just too rash. This marten has been brought up by Miss Zhong; naturally, it would only listen to what she says. It is highly possible my whistle sounds different from hers. What … what should I do?”
He knew perfectly well the only thing to do to preserve his life would be to follow what SiKong Xuan did when he was bitten: hack at the injured area with a weapon. However, he hadn’t had any weapons with him; moreover, he lacked the courage and instinct of a seasoned warrior like SiKong Xuan. Furthermore, he had just learnt the skill ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’: without a leg, he could only perform the skill ‘(Un)graceful One-legged Bouncing Upon the Waves’. To him, that would have been meaningless.
He sighed and complained for a moment; his limbs gradually became stiffer and more immovable by the second. He knew the venom had spreaded throughout his entire body. Soon, he found himself unable to close his eyes and mouth. He was, however, still aware of his surroundings.
He mused sadly: “If I were to die like this, wouldn’t I look ugly? My corpse would have a gaping mouth, would I become an idiot ghost or a hungry one in future? Fortunately, there is one bit of good news amongst all this bad news: When Miss Mu sees my grotesque corpse with my mouth wide open and my naked bottom, she might vomit at the ugly sight. Perhaps she might think less about me after my death. This would be better for her health.”
Three thunderous ‘Jiang-ang’ growls reverberated noisily in the air. Then, came the sounds of pu pu pu. Something leaped out of the tall grass.
Duan Yu froze, dreadfully. “Aiyo! The King of all Poisons, the “Venomous Crimson Bullfrog” is here! Those two men said the moment one sees this creature, his or her own body immediately gets dissolved into a thick pool of blood. What am I going to do?”
And then he thought, “What a silly blockhead I am. Given a choice between turning into a thick pool of blood and dying as a corpse with a wide mouth and a naked bottom, which would be preferable? Definitely the former.”
‘Jiang-ang’ noises echoed continually in the air; the newcomer had arrived at Duan Yu’s right. Duan Yu was unable to look at it as his neck bones had stiffened so badly he couldn’t even turn his head. He could only await his fate: to dissolve into a pool of blood.
“Pu” sounds were made again; fortunately for Duan Yu, the creature suddenly leapt at the direction where the marten Lightning was instead.
No words could describe Duan Yu’s astonishment as the creature came into view. It was only a toad– a very tiny one. It couldn’t have been longer than two cun. Its body gleamed a crimson bloodlike color from top to bottom and a golden aura radiated off its sparkling, glimmering eyes.
It opened its mouth wide; the flabby skin underneath its neck vibrated ferociously. A thunderous croak projected– the ‘Jiang-ang’ noise he had once compared to that of a buffalo’s growl. It was incredible how a tiny little creature like that could produce such a sonorious cry. If not for the fact that the creature was right before his very eyes, Duan Yu would never have believed such a phenomenon existed.
He thought inwardly, “No wonder it is called the ‘Venomous Crimson Bullfrog’. Its growl resembles a bull’s; its body crimson all over; there can’t be a better name to describe it. Even so, there must be a mistake going on regarding the rumour going on about dissolving into a pool of blood upon seeing it. Furthermore, the name ‘Venomous Crimson Bullfrog’ was surely coined by one who has seen it before. How can a pool of blood think of such a suitable name?”
Upon seeing the Bullfrog, the Lightning marten seemed to look slightly apprehensive. It turned its head as if to run, yet it dared not. In an instant it leapt into the air. The Bullfrog widened its mouth, projecting a thunderous ‘Jiang-ang’ growl, and a faint spray of scarlet mist shot towards Lightning.
Lightning happened to be in midair at the time; as the mist struck it, the marten somersaulted into the air and plunged towards the ground. Then suddenly, it pounced forward and sank its teeth into the Bullfrog's back.
“In the end, Lightning emerged victorious over the toad,” Duan Yu thought proudly.
He was wrong. Just as soon as the thought flashed in his mind, the marten fell limply and lay supine on the floor. Its legs quivered their last, and it would never move again.
“Aiyoh!” Duan Yu thought sadly. “Should he be able to speak, he would have cried out loud. Although Lightning had bitten him to ‘death’, he knew that it was entirely his fault for rashly trying to tame the marten even when he had neither experience nor knowledge of doing so. As such, he didn’t blame the marten at all. Seeing it die before his very eyes, Duan Yu felt miserable. Sigh. If Miss Zhong knew about this, she would feel so sad.”
He watched helplessly as the Bullfrog leaped onto the marten’s body, creeping towards its cheeks and began sucking at it. It started off with the marten’s left cheek, followed by its right.
Duan Yu thought to himself: “The Venomous Crimson Bullfrog sure isn’t given the title “King of All Poisons” for nothing. The fatal venoms in Lightning’s fangs had entirely no effect to the toad; instead, the poor marten got itself poisoned. Now, this Bullfrog is going to extract the venoms in Lightning’s toxic glands. Lightning the marten is hyperactive and extremely cute; the Venomous Crimson Bullfrog has a scarlet body and golden eyes, its beauty almost unsurpassable. Who on Earth would suspect that beneath the exterior of such sheer beauty lay a river of venom so thick and deadly… No, Dear Goddess, I wasn’t referring to you...”
The Bullfrog jumped off the marten’s body when it was done, letting out two thunderous ‘Jiang-ang’ croaks. Suddenly, soft ‘xiao xiao’ hisses could be heard. The next instant, a huge centipede swam into view. Its body had brilliant spots of scarlet and black all over; it must have been seven to eight cun long.
The Bullfrog reacted quickly. It pounced at the nimble centipede, but missed it narrowly, as its poor victim was now fleeing for its life. Dissatisfied, the Bullfrog tried again a couple of times, yet none of its attempts succeeded.
It croaked out loud, ready to fire a blast of poisonous mist. Suddenly, the centipede changed its direction mid-way and headed for Duan Yu’s mouth, which happened to be wide open ….
Duan Yu was stunned beyond words. Most unfortunately, he couldn’t move. Not even close his mouth. He couldn’t do anything except yell like mad in his mind, “Hey! This is my mouth, brother! Don’t be mistaken; it isn’t a centipede hole…”
He heard a faint hiss; the centipede crawled unceremoniously up his tongue. Duan Yu almost fainted from the fright. He felt a moving sensation with many, many legs crawling down his throat, and then went further down his gullet. It wasn’t long before it disappeared right into Duan Yu’s stomach.
Worse still, such catastrophes never end so early. The Bullfrog jumped into the air and landed right on Duan Yu’s tongue! Duan Yu felt something icy in his throat, and sure enough, the Bullfrog went inside his stomach to chase after the centipede. Having a rather smooth skin, the Bullfrog slid down his gullet rapidly.
He could hear ‘Jiang-ang’ croaks emitting from his own stomach. They sounded depressing. Duan Yu felt nothing could possibly be worse-or more hilarious–than this. He wanted to bawl out loud, yet at the same time, felt like bursting out laughing too. However, his muscles had stiffened so badly he could do neither of these.
At this point, tears dropped onto the ground beneath.
Suddenly, he felt a continuous lurching motion in his belly. The pain was unbearable. He wondered whether the Bullfrog had succeeded in catching the centipede. He could only yell out in his mind, “Brother Bullfrog, go and catch the centipede quickly and climb out immediately once you’re done. There is nothing fun to do in my lowly stomach.”
A few moments passed, and his stomach finally stopped lurching. Vanishing along with it were the 'Jiang-ang' croaks. The pain, however, had not. Quite the contrary, it seemed to grow even more intense. Another few moments passed and Duan Yu suddenly closed his mouth and his teeth rammed painfully onto his tongue. Under excruciating pain, Duan Yu felt his tongue went back into his mouth.
Duan Yu, feeling surprised, called out loud, “Brother Bullfrog, come out quickly!” He widened his mouth, waiting for it to come out, but even after a long long time, nothing happened.
“Jiang-ang! Jiang-ang! Jiang-ang!” Duan Yu croaked, hoping desperately that the Bullfrog would be attracted to the sound and would then get out from there. However, it appeared as if the toad was oblivious of the sound. Perhaps ... it could tell there’s something amiss with the croaks; therefore it was unwilling to be fooled by him and preferred resting in his stomach.
Now unnerved and frantic, Duan Yu inserted his hand deep inside his mouth and tried digging out the Bullfrog. Needless to say, it was impossible for anyone to attempt this. After quite a while, Duan Yu became aware that he could move his limbs again! He stood upright and stretched his back; the paralyzing feeling in his limbs had disappeared without a trace.
“This is strange! This is strange!” Duan Yu remarked aloud.
“This King of Poisons must be intending to stay in my stomach permanently; what am I to do if it really decides to treat my stomach as its cosy home? Allow me to congratulate it for its new home,” Duan Yu decided.
He did a handstand and supported his legs with a huge tree trunk nearby. He widened his mouth and shook his own body hard for quite a while. Still, nothing happened. It seemed as if the Bullfrog was insistent on using his stomach as a home and had decided to live there till it dies.
Duan Yu was left with no way out. He, however, had a rough idea of what has just happened, This King of Poisons and that centipede must have become food digested in my stomach. It must be that their venoms have neutralized the marten’s venom in my body. To think that I have digested such a venomous creature, and at this point of time my stomach stopped hurting anymore. This sure is very weird.
He did not know that typical venoms from snakes and toads are only fatal when they come into contact with one’s blood. Yet, if they were to be consumed, so long as his of her mouth, throat, digestive tract and the various digestive organs weren’t damaged internally, there would be no harm done. Similarly, if he were to get bitten by a poisonous snake, he could suck the venom out of his wound and save his own life.
However, the various poisons and venoms in this world are varied – too varied for one to generalize the whole of them in a single breath. The Venomous Crimson Bullfrog may possess powerful toxins in its body; however, it is absolutely harmless when placed in the stomach of a person. Rather, its body had been dissolved by Duan Yu’s digestive juices. To the Bullfrog, Duan Yu’s digestive juices are the toxic venoms – it was they which dissolved the poor creature into a thick pool of blood.
Duan Yu stood upright and walked a few steps. Suddenly, his stomach burned as if there were coals in it; a gust of blazing heat had erupted within his abdomen. ‘Aiyoh!’ He yelped.
The sudden gust of energy rocketed wildly inside him; however, it met with walls everywhere and thus cannot be released away. Duan Yu attempted vomitting it out, but no matter how hard he try, he couldn’t succeed.
This time, he took an extremely deep breath and exhaled all the air in him with all he could, hoping that the venomous gas the Bullfrog had dissolved into would leave his body too.
Little did he know that his endeavour to expel the air within him had transformed the blazing heat into a coil of heat, which flowed unhurriedly into his Ren Meridians.
“All right,” Duan Yu thought, “let us get this done and over with. Brother Bullfrog, you have flatly refused to spare me and tried haunting me – now my ‘Ocean of Energies’ shall become your place of burial. Whenever you feel like poisoning me, I shall return your favour anytime you wish.”
He continued to inhale and exhale deeply. Indeed, he felt the warmth within him channel along the meridians he had cultivated and disappeared inside his ‘Ocean of Energies’. Soon, he no longer felt anything strange.
Despite his struggling with life and death for so long, Duan Yu felt as energetic as before. He gathered rocks and sand and piled them onto the body of the dead marten. When he was done, he prayed silently: “Little brother Lightning, I will surely bring your master Miss Zhong to offer her prayers in front of your grave and at the same time offer you some poisonous snakes we could catch. Earlier you bit me unintentionally, I won’t tell any of this to your master, for she will berate you if she knows about it – don't worry.”
Out of the woods, Duan Yu saw Zuo ZiMu running frantically with his sword in position. “He must be chasing after Miss Mu, I shan’t not interfere.”
With that, he silently stalked the panicky man. At this point in time he had the combined internal energies of the seven Limitless Sword disciples; following Zuo ZiMu up the mountain was no difficult task. Besides, Zuo ZiMu was too bothered for the safety of his child to notice somebody following him.
Fearing that Zuo ZiMu might suddenly turn around and act rashly towards him – or perhaps even use this opportunity to hold him hostage to exchange for his child, just like the ‘exchange for the general with the horse’ tactic Miss Mu employed against Zuo ZiMu – he maintained a fairly wide distance between himself and the man before him.
Soon after, Duan Yu reached the waist of the mountain. Knowing that his reunion with Mu WanQing was coming soon, his heart burned with longing. He, however, feared that the Divine Crocodile might lose patience and harm her; no longer able to control himself, he yelled out to her at the top of his voice.
- END OF CHAPTER 5-