Demi-Gods & Semi-Devils Chapter 9: The Luan and Feng Who Exchange Nests

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Book 1: Adventures of Youth

IX - A Lady Married to a Fitting Place

Chinese title: 天龍八部 - 换巢鸾凤
Original novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha)
Wuxia Novel Fan Translation by Ren woxing @spcnet


Chapter 9: The Luan and Feng Who Exchange Nests

(Luan is the male counterpart to the female feng, which is commonly translated as ‘phoenix’. The phrase ‘luan and feng’ thus is a reference to a husband and wife.)

Upon hearing that Emperor Baoding had abolished the salt tariff, the tens of thousands of citizens of Dali felt extremely grateful. Yunnan did not produce a great deal of salt. Throughout the country, only the cities of Baijing, Heijing, Yulong, and six others produced salt. Every year, they would need to import salt from Shu (modern day Sichuan). The salt tariff was extremely heavy, often forcing many of the poorer citizens at the outlying regions of the country to go without. Emperor Baoding knew that as soon as he abolished the salt tariff, the Yellow Browed Monk would certainly try to think of a way to rescue Duan Yu, so as to show his gratitude.

He had always admired the Yellow Browed Monk’s intelligence and martial arts, and also knew that the monk’s two disciples were not weak either. With the three of them working together, they would certainly achieve victory. Much to his surprise, after waiting an entire day and an entire night, he hadn’t received any news of success at all. He was just about to send out Ba Tianshi to investigate when he discovered that Ba Tianshi, Minister of Education Hua, and Minister of War Fan had all disappeared as well.

Emperor Baoding pondered to himself, “Can it be that Crown Prince Yanqing truly is this formidable? Can it really be possible that the Yellow Browed Monk, his two disciples, and my three ministers have all fallen to him within the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities?” He immediately sent for his Imperial Crown Brother Duan Zhengchun, the Princess of the Southern Garrison Dao Baifeng, the Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment Gao Shengtai, and the Four Imperial Bodyguards to once more make their way to the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities.

Her heart aching for her beloved son, Dao Baifeng asked Emperor Baoding to call out the Imperial Army and totally obliviate the gorge. Emperor Baoding replied, “Unless we’re completely out of all other options, we must act in accordance with the customs and rules of the jianghu. The centuries-old instructions of the Duan family ancestors cannot be cast aside.”

The party arrived at the entrance to the gorge, only to see Yun Zhonghe approach them with a little smile on his face. Cupping his hands politely, he said in a deep voice, “We Four Evils and gorge-master Zhong anticipated that you, sir, would once more honor us with your presence today. I have been respectfully waiting for you here for a long time. If you have brought your armored soldiers here, we will simply escape, taking with us your beloved son and your precious daughter. But if you have come here in accordance with the rules of the jianghu, intending to greet friends based upon your martial ability, then please enter the main lounge and enjoy some tea.”

Emperor Baoding saw that he was extremely calm and showed not a single hint of fear, acting in a manner far different from the previous day, where he had immediately rushed out and launched and attack. This made him feel all the more alarmed. Instantly, he cupped his hands as well. “It couldn’t be better if that is truly the case.” Yun Zhonghe escorted the party inside the lounge. Upon stepping foot within, Emperor Baoding saw that room was filled with heroes of the jianghu. Ye Erniang and the Divine Crocodile were there as well, but Crown Prince Yanqing was nowhere to be seen. Once again, he secretly prepared for the worst.

Yun Zhonghe cried out loudly, “Master Duan, the head of the Duan Family of the Southern Skies has arrived!” He didn’t use the phrase, ‘His majesty, the Emperor of Dali’, but rather introduced him in accordance with his wulin title, showing that everything would proceed in accordance with the rules of the jianghu.

Not only was Duan Zhengming the ruler of a country, but he was also an extremely esteemed expert in the wulin, of great prestige and stature. As soon as the crowd heard that he had arrived, they all immediately rose to their feet. Only the Divine Crocodile remained sitting. He loudly shouted, “I was wondering who showed up. So its the ole emperor, eh? How ya doing?”

Zhong Wanchou quickly rushed forward and said, “I, Zhong Wanchou, did not come to welcome a distant guest. Please forgive me.” 

Emperor Baoding said, “You’re too polite, too polite.”

Presently, everyone retook their seats. Their positions were in accordance with the rules of the jianghu. Duan Zhengchun, his wife, and Gao Shengtai no longer needed to act in accordance with the rules governing how a subject should behave in front of his ruler, and so sat next to Emperor Baoding. Chu Wanli and the other three guards stood behind Emperor Baoding.

Servants of the gorge came to them, offering them tea. Emperor Baoding, seeing that the Yellow Browed Monk, Ba Tianshi, and the others were not here, was busy formulating a way which would allow him to inquire about their whereabouts. Suddenly, he heard Zhong Wanchou speak. “Master Duan, you’ve really given me a huge amount of face! It’s so seldom that so many good friends would be gathered in one place. Come, let me introduce them to you.”

Following this, he began to introduce the other guests one by one. Some were heroes from the Central Plains to the north. The rest were all outstanding members of Dali’s wulin community. They included Xin Shuangqing, Zuo Zimu, and Ma Wude amongst others. Emperor Baoding had never met most of the people present, but had heard of their names. These heroes of the jianghu all respectively paid their respects to Emperor Baoding. Some were extremely respectful; others intentionally acted arrogantly. Others addressed him using the language that a wulin person who was of a junior generation to him might use.

Zhong Wanchou said, “It is a rare thing for Master Duan to come here. Why not stay here for a few additional days? That way, you could get to know all the friends here better.” 

Emperor Baoding replied, “It would be enough if you could pardon Duan Yu for his offense, gorge master Zhong. He has been detained at your noble residence. Today, I have come here for two reasons. Firstly, to ask for clemency on his behalf. Secondly, to offer my apologies. Gorge master Zhong, I hope that you will give me some face and forgive the ignorance of the child. I will be extremely grateful.”

Upon hearing his words, everyone secretly felt admiration for him. They thought to themselves, “We’ve long heard that Emperor Duan acts in accordance with the rules of the wulin. His reputation is well earned. This place falls within the borders of the country of Dali. He only needs to send out a few hundred cavalrymen and would immediately be able to take his nephew back. Who would have thought that he would come in person, and instead ask in such respectful language?”

Zhong Wanchou laughed loudly, but did not immediately respond. Ma Wude said, “Ah, so Duan Yu offended gorge master Zhong. Some time ago, he went to the city of Pu’er, then went sight-seeing with me and my brothers at Limitless Mountain (Mt. Wuliang). I didn’t take good care of him, and this was the cause of so many problems. I would also like to request clemency on his behalf.”

The Divine Crocodile suddenly shouted loudly, “What right do you have to meddle in the affairs of my apprentice?!” 

Gao Shengtai said coldly, “The young lord Duan is your master. You’ve even knelt down and kowtowed to him. Are you reneging on that?” 

The Divine Crocodile’s entire face turned red. He cursed, “**** your grandmother. I’m not reneging! Today, I’m going to kill the brat who is my master only in name. I wasn’t careful and somehow ended up accepting that brat as my master. I’m dying of shame!”

No one in the crowd knew what he was talking about, and each and every one of them was flabbergasted.

Dao Baifeng said, “Gorge master Zhong, whether or not Duan Yu will be released lies in a single word from you.” 

Zhong Wanchou laughed. “Release, release, release! Of course I will release him! What good does it do me to keep your honorable son?” 

Yun Zhonghe interjected, “Duan Yu is romantic and handsome. Madame Zhong, the ‘Lovely Yaksha’, is an extremely beautiful woman. To keep him within the gorge would be like leading a wolf into a sheep pen, or like raising a tiger with your children. Naturally, gorge master Zhong will release him. He can’t help but release him. He doesn’t dare not release him!”

Upon hearing these words, everyone present was startled. They realized that this ‘Thoroughly Cruel and Evil’ Yun Zhonghe spoke without the slightest scruples, as though he really didn’t give a damn about gorge master Zhong. His nickname, ‘Thoroughly Cruel and Evil’, really was not mistakenly given.

Zhong Wanchou was furious. Turning his head, he said, “Brother Yun, after finishing the business at hand, I would like to experience your brilliant moves!” 

Yun Zhonghe replied, “Wonderful, wonderful! I’ve long wanted to kill the husband, seize the wife, then settle down within this gorge.”

The face of every person present turned pale. Xin Shuangqing, lady of the Limitless Cave, spoke. “The good and noble heroes of the world haven’t been exterminated. No matter how high the martial arts of you ‘Four Evils’ are, you won’t escape justice in the end!” 

In a coquettish, delicate voice, Ye Erniang said, “Daoist friend Xin, I, Ye Erniang, haven’t offended you. Why rope me in with him?”

Zuo Zimu, suddenly recalling how she had abducted his son, couldn’t help but have lingering fears. He snuck a sideways glance at her. Ye Erniang laughed. “Mr. Zuo, your little boy must be even fatter and cuter now, right?” 

Zuo Zimu didn’t dare to not respond. He said in a low voice, “Last time, he was exposed to the cold. He hasn’t fully recovered from the illness yet.” 

Ye Erniang laughed again. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. Later, when I have a chance, I’ll head over to your mountain and pay a visit to my cute little grandson.” 

Zuo Zimu was terrified. He quickly replied, “I wouldn’t dare to trouble you to come.”

Emperor Baoding thought to himself, “These Four Evils have perpetrated many atrocities and committed many outrages. Many people have formed grudges and enmities against them. These jianghu heroes clearly aren’t their allies. This makes things much more easier to handle. After rescuing Yu’er, I should take the chance to eliminate these evil people. Although the leader of the Four Evils, Crown Prince Yanqing, is a member of the Duan family, making it inappropriate for me to personally deal with him. There will still be a day when he truly is called to account for his monstrous crimes (another possible meaning of the title, ‘E Guan Man Ying’).”

Dao Baifeng, hearing everyone speak, saw that the conversation was getting derailed. She suddenly stood up. “Gorge master Zhong, as you have agreed to return my son, please return him to me and let the two of us, mother and son, meet.”

Zhong Wanchou also stood up. “Alright!” Suddenly turning his head, he shot a glance towards Duan Zhengchun. He sighed. “Duan Zhengchun, you have such a wonderful wife and son. Why aren’t you satisfied and remain so greedy? Today, when your reputation is trampled underfoot and when you lose all face, you will have no one to blame save yourself. You cannot blame me, Zhong Wanchou!”

Duan Zhengchun, after hearing that Zhong Wanchou was willing to release his son, immediately suspected some sort of conspiracy or trap, as he did not believe the matter would be settled so easily. Now, upon hearing Zhong Wanchou’s words, he immediately stood up and walked to Zhong Wanchou’s side. “Gorge master Zhong, if you have maliciously harmed him, then I assure you that I, Duan Zhengchun, will also have a method to make you bitterly repent your actions for the rest of your life.”

Zhong Wanchou saw that he had a majestic appearance and an awe-inspiring presence, with a magnificent and lofty aura. He felt that he himself truly was vastly inferior to this man. A feeling of shame suddenly filled his chest, and it engendered a jealous flame in his heart. He loudly said, “Since things have already come to this point, I’m going to take this all the way to the end, even if the final result is that I become destitute and homeless, and have my corpse broken into a thousand pieces. If you want your son back, come with me!” And as he spoke, he strode away from the hall entrance.

The group of people followed Zhong Wanchou as he arrived at the giant tree wall. Yun Zhonghe, showing off his qinggong abilities, was the first to leap over the wall. Duan Zhengchun thought to himself, “We’ve almost reached the point of no return. We might as well demonstrate our power and prestige, so as to cause the other side to know how much disaster will be in store for them and perhaps retreat.” He called out, “Ducheng, chop the tree down, so that everyone will find it easier to pass.”

Gu Ducheng responded, “Yes sir!” He raised his steel hatchets. With a series of quick ‘ca’ sounds, he immediately chopped down one of the trees. Fu Sigui launched a twin palm attack on the tree. With a loud crash, it fell down to the side. The steel hatchet, gleaming with bright light, continued to chop away. The chopping sounds went on non-stop, and the large trees were felled one after another in succession. In short time, all that could be seen were five tree stumps.

It had not been easy at all for Zhong Wanchou to plant and cultivate this wall of trees. He had labored mightily, and it had cost him a great deal of blood and sweat. After seeing them chopped down by Gu Ducheng, he couldn’t help but become agitated and furious. But then he had second thoughts. “Today, the Duan family of Dali is going to lose a huge amount of face. Why quibble over such a small things as this?” He immediately walked past the cleared stumps.

Only to see that past the chopped down wall, the Yellow Browed Monk and Duan Yanqing were both pressing against a steel cane. A cloud of white mist hover over their heads, showing that they were in the middle of an internal energy competition. The Yellow Browed Monk suddenly stretched out his right hand and used a small steel hammer to draw a circle on a blue stone in front of him. The man in green thought for a moment, then stretched out his right steel cane and pressed it downwards on the blue stone. Staring at them, Emperor Baoding immediately realized that his martial brother, the Yellow Browed Monk, was competing in both chess and internal energy with Crown Prince Yanqing. It was a competition of both intelligence and strength. The competition was as fresh and original as it was deadly. He thought to himself, “He never gave me an update. It seems as though it is because this competition has been going on for one day and one night, without victory or defeat having been achieved.

Glancing at the chess game, he saw that the two sides were locked into a ‘Life or Death Knot’. Victory and defeat would completely depend on the resolution of this knot. However, the Yellow Browed Monk was in the weaker position, barely keeping his pieces alive with strenuous effort. His two disciples, Pochi and Pochen, had fallen unmoving to the ground. Earlier, upon seeing their master in a critical situation, had attacked the man in green from both sides in a pincer attack. But both of them had been felled by his steel cane.

Duan Zhengchun walked forward and unsealed their acupoints. “Wanli, you four go and push aside the stone and rescue Yu’er.” Chu Wanli and the other three replied in the affirmative and walked forwards as well.

Zhong Wanchou called out, “Wait! Do you know who else, in addition to Duan Yu, is in this stone house?” 

Duan Zhengchun angrily said, “If you used ruthless tricks to coerce my son, then you should remember that you yourself have a wife and daughter!” 

With a cold expression on his face, Zhong Wanchou laughed. “Right on. I, Zhong Wanchou, do indeed have both a wife and a daughter. Fortunately, I don’t have a son, much less a son who will engage in depraved, incestuous acts with his own sister.” Duan Zhengchun’s face turned ashen. He called out, “You’re full of crap! What are you babbling about?” 

Zhong Wanchou said, “Mu Wanqing is your daughter, is she not?” 

Duan Zhengchun angrily replied, “What business is it of yours as to what her origins or family are, you busybody?”

Zhong Wanchou laughed. “I’m not necessarily a busybody. Dali’s Duan family serve as the rulers of the southern world and dominate it. Your name is also famous and prestigious within the wulin. Heroes and noble men present! Open wide your eyes and watch as Duan Zhengchun’s son and daughter become husband and wife, fornicating like animals. He made a hand signal towards the Divine Crocodile, and the two of them prepared to push aside the boulder which was blocking the door.

Duan Zhengchun called out, “Wait!” He extended his hands to halt them. But Yun Zhonghe and Ye Erniang each sent out a palm to attack him from two sides, forcing him to block. Slanting his body, Gao Shengtai surged forwards and blocked Yun Zhonghe’s palm attack. But unexpectedly, both Ye Erniang’s attack and Yun Zhonghe’s attacks were feints. Although they waved their right hands in a false attack, they simultaneously pressed their left palms against the boulder as well and exerted their force. That giant boulder weighed thousands of jin, but, faced with the combined efforts of Ye Erniang, Zhong Wanchou, Yun Zhonghe, and the Divine Crocodile, immediately rolled aside.

This trick was something which the four of them had long ago planned out. It was very difficult to discern, and there was no way for Duan Zhengchun to stop them. And, in all honesty, Duan Zhengchun was worried sick about his son, and thus didn’t use all of his efforts to stop them from rolling the boulder aside. After the boulder was rolled aside, a doorway was exposed. The insides of the house was dim and dark, and the circumstances inside could not be seen.

Zhong Wanchou laughed. “A lonely man and a single woman, completely naked, together inside a dark room. What type of good things might they possibly be doing aside? Haha, haha. Everyone, take a good look!”

In the middle of Zhong Wanchou’s laughter, a young man with tousled hair, naked from the waist up, walked out. He was only wearing a pair of shorts, exposing most of his legs as well. It was Duan Yu. In his arms, he held a woman. The woman cuddled into his arms. She, too, was only wearing her underwear, exposing her arms and her thighs, as well as much of the pure white flesh of her back.

Emperor Baoding’s entire face was flooded with shame. Duan Zhengchun lowered his head, unable to look. Tears filled Dao Baifeng’s eyes. She mumbled to herself, “Karma...this is karma...” Gao Shengtai removed his own gown, preparing to give it to Duan Yu to wear instead. Ma Wude, wholeheartedly trying to ingratiate himself with the two brothers of the Duan family, hurriedly stepped forward and stood in front of Duan Yu, concealing him. The Divine Crocodile called out, “Sonufabitch, fuck off!”

Extremely delighted, Zhong Wanchou continued to laugh loudly. Then, suddenly, his laughter came to an abrupt halt. He fell silent for a long moment, then let out a wretched shout. “Ling’er? Is that you?”

Upon hearing his loud cry, the hearts of the entire crowd trembled. Zhong Wanchou suddenly pounced towards Duan Yu, snatching at the woman whom he was holding in his arms. At this time, everyone present could now see this girl’s face. Her age was certainly younger than that of Mu Wanqing, and her figure was also smaller and slimmer. A look of youthfulness remained on her face. It wasn’t Mu Wanqing. It was Zhong Wanchou’s own daughter, Zhong Ling! When the group of heroes had first arrived at the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities, Zhong Wanchou had brought her to the grand hall to introduce her to the guests, with the intention of showing off his beautiful, adorable daughter.

Somewhat confused and bewildered, Duan Yu saw that there were many people in front of him. He recognized his uncle and his parents, and immediately released Zhong Ling, allowing Zhong Wanchou to take her away from him. He called out, “Mother! Uncle! Father!” Dao Baifeng rushed towards him, embracing him within her arms. “Yu’er, are you...are you alright?” 

Bewildered, Duan Yu replied, “I...I...I’m not sure.”

Not only had Zhong Wanchou failed to harm his enemy, he had harmed himself instead. How could he have imagined that the woman whom Duan Yu carried out in his arms would actually be his own daughter? Dazed, he let go of his daughter. Zhong Ling was only wearing some form-hugging undergarments. Seeing so many eyes on her, her entire face blushed red. Zhong Wanchou took off his own gown, wrapping it around her, then slapped her on the face, causing her left cheeks to redden even more. He scolded her, “Shameless! Who told you to get together with that little swine?” Zhong Ling’s face was a picture of grievance at being falsely accused, and started to cry. How could she explain everything in such a short time?

Zhong Wanchou suddenly thought to himself, “Mu Wanqing clearly was imprisoned within the stone house. I doubt she was able to push the boulder aside. She must be within the house still. I’ll go drag her out and have her help shoulder some of the humiliation which Ling’er is suffering.” He loudly cried out, “Miss Mu, hurry up and come out!” He called out three times, but heard no sound within the house.

Zhong Wanchou rushed inside the house. The stone room was only ten feet wide and long. It was obvious at first glance that there wasn’t even a shadow of a person within. Zhong Wanchou was so angry that he felt as though his chest would explode. He left the room, then struck out with another palm towards his daughter. He screamed, “Stupid girl, I’m going to kill you!”

But suddenly, a hand stretched out from the side, with the ring finger and the little finger striking towards his wrist. Zhong Wanchou hurriedly withdrew his hand to escape the blow, then turned his head. The person who had interfered was Duan Zhengchun. He angrily said, “I’m teaching my daughter a lesson. What business is it of yours?”

Chuckling, Duan Zhengchun said, “Gorge master Zhong, you really treated my son incredibly well during his stay here! You were afraid that he would get lonely by himself, and ordered your precious daughter to come here and keep him company. I am incredibly grateful towards you. This being the case, your precious daughter is already a member of my Duan family. How can I not interfere?”

Zhong Wanchou roared, “How is she a member of your Duan family?” 

Duan Zhengchun laughed. “Within this stone room, your daughter attended to the needs of my son, Duan Yu. They’ve been together quite some time now. As you said. A lonely man and a single woman, completely naked, together inside a dark room. What type of good things might they possibly be doing aside? My son is the heir to the Southern Garrison Palace. Although he might not be able to take on your daughter as his chief wife, he can still take her on as a concubine. For the nobility, what’s wrong with having three wives or four concubines? It looks like you and me have become in-laws! Ha ha ha ha, he he he!”

Zhong Wanchou was unable to suppress the violent rage which filled him, and rushed towards Duan Zhengchun. ‘Hu’, ‘hu’, ‘hu’. He struck out with three palms. His laughter not stopping, Duan Zhengchun neutralized each of his attacks.

Everybody present thought to themselves, “Dali’s Duan family really is formidable! I wonder what method they used to abscond with gorge master Zhong’s daughter, then imprison her within the stone room. Zhong Wanchou is a citizen of Dali, but repeatedly sets himself against the Duan family and stirs up trouble for them. Isn’t he really asking for trouble?”

As it happened, this entire scene was planned out by Hua Hegen and the other two. After kidnapping Zhong Ling and taking her down into the tunnel, Hua Hegen’s original idea was to simply prevent her from leaking out their plans. Only after hearing Zhong Wanchou and his wife speak did he realize that Zhong Wanchou and Crown Prince Yanqing had created such a devious, ruthless plan to destroy the reputation of the Duan family. The three of them discussed the situation in a low voice within the tunnel. All three of them knew that this was a matter of the gravest importance. Moreover, time was of the essence. As soon as Madame Zhong left, Ba Tianshi quietly left the tunnel and scouted out the area. He found the exact location of and distance to the stone house, and informed Hua Hegen. All of them sped up their excavating pace. They were busy for yet another night, digging until dawn break. Only then did they arrive at the stone house.

Hua Hegen dug his way into the stone house, only to see Duan Yu running around the room madly, as though he had gone insane. He stretched out his hand to grab him, but Duan Yu’s movements were both fast and bizarre, and he wasn’t able to get a hold of him. Ba Tianshi and Fan Hua also entered the room and surrounded Duan Yu. The room really was too small, and there was nowhere Duan Yu might go. Hua Hegen stretched out his hand and grabbed Duan Yu’s wrist, but his entire body immediately shook. He felt as though he had grabbed onto a hot coal. He quickly tugged hard, trying to knock Duan Yu into the tunnel so that they might quickly escape. But as soon as he exerted his strength, he felt his internal energy flow out of him and into Duan Yu. He couldn’t keep from uttering a startled ‘aiyo’.

Ba Tianshi and Fan Hua grabbed him and pulled at him hard. Only with their combined efforts did they manage to separate the two and shake off the internal-energy leeching ‘Divine Skill of the Northern Darkness’. The internal energy of the three chief ministers of Dali was much greater than that of the Limitless Cave (Sword) Sect disciples, and they had reacted more quickly as well. Only for this reason were they spared. Their bodies were covered with cold sweat. They thought to themselves, “The heretical skills of Crown Prince Yanqing truly are formidable!” They no longer dared to touch Duan Yu’s body.

Just as they were at a loss as to what to do, they heard voices from outside the room. They realized that both Emperor Baoding and the Prince of the Southern Garrison had arrived, and heard Zhong Wanchou’s loud mockery. Fan Hua suddenly was struck by a brainwave. “Zhong Wanchou is hateful and vile. Let’s play a big prank on him!” He immediately stripped off much of Zhong Ling’s outer garments, then dressed Mu Wanqing with them. Then, he put Zhong Ling in Duan Yu’s arms. Duan Yu dazedly accepted her. Hua Hegen and the other two grabbed Mu Wanqing then returned to the tunnel, covering the hole as they left, not leaving behind the slightest bit of evidence that they had ever been there.

Emperor Baoding saw that his nephew was totally fine. He would never have imagined that things would have turned out this way. He was both gratified and amused. For the moment, he wasn’t able to think of the reason why this all happened. He suddenly remembered that the Yellow Browed Monk and Duan Yanqing had reached a critical juncture of life and death in their internal energy competition. If they were disturbed in the slightest, their lives would immediately be in danger. He quickly walked back to the two men and their competition. Beads of sweat the size of a pea were rolling down the Yellow Browed Monk’s head, falling down onto the chessboard below. But Crown Prince Yanqing sat there nonchalantly, the expression on his face unchanged, as though nothing had happened at all. Clearly, victory and defeat had already been determined.

Duan Yu’s mind slowly became clearer. He was also concerned about the outcome of the chess match, and walked over to stand next to the two men. He saw that the Yellow Browed Monk’s resources were exhausted. Crown Prince Yanqing would only need to make one more indentation, and the Yellow Browed Monk would be out of moves and would be forced to admit defeat. He saw Crown Prince Yanqing extend his steel cane, preparing to push down on the chess board. The place he was pointing at was precisely the critical point of the match. After making this move, there would be nothing more that the Yellow Browed Monk could do at all.

Duan Yu was extremely worried. He thought to himself, “Let me go muddle up the situation a bit.” He stretched out his hand and grabbed at the cane. Just as Crown Prince Yanqing’s steel cane was about to press down at the ‘Shang’ quadrant, where the third vertical and seventh horizontal line intersected, he felt a shock in his arm. The energy from his right arm, which was as tightly wound and directed as a bowstring, suddenly was diverted and flew away from him.

The sense of startlement he felt was not small. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Duan Yu had grabbed onto the tip of his cane. Duan Yu had only wanted to pull the steel cane aside and prevent him from striking the critical point in the chess match, but the steel cane, hovering in midair, didn’t even budge. He immediately exerted as much force as he could, and Crown Prince Yanqing’s internal energy suddenly entered his body via his ‘Shaoshang’ acupoint.

Greatly startled, Crown Prince Yanqing thought to himself, “It’s the ‘Great Energy-Dissolving Skill’ (Hua Gong Fa) of that Old Freak Ding from Xingxiuhai (a plateau in Qinhai).” He immediately gathered his internal energy within his dantian, then transferred it to his arm. An incomparably powerful burst of energy erupted from his steel cane, shaking off Duan Yu’s fingers.

Duan Yu only felt half his body go sore, and wanted to faint. His body trembled, and only by gripping the blue stone in front of him did he manage to stabilize himself. But a small part of that violent burst of energy from Crown Prince Yanqing had entered the ocean of energy within Duan Yu’s dantian, then disappeared. Crown Prince Yanqing was greatly startled, and his steel cane drooped downwards slightly. The tip of it just so happened to precisely alight upon the ‘Shang’ quadrant, at the point where the seventh vertical and eighth horizontal lines connected.

After Duan Yu’s interference, his internal energy did not flow smoothly. Although his steel cane sagged, it still carried a tremendous force and he involuntarily pressed downwards. Crown Prince Yanqing secretly cried out, “Not good!” He hurriedly lifted his cane, but at the point where the seventh vertical and eighth horizontal lines intersected, a small indentation had already appeared.

When experts played chess, they had to make sure that they would not regret making even a single mistaken move. Much less in this game, a large stone was the chessboard and indentations and circles served as the pieces. How could a move be taken back? But the move he had just made, at the point where the seventh and eighth lines intersected, was where one of his ‘eyes’ were. As anyone who knows even a little bit about chess would know, having a safe pocket of two eyes meant those pieces were safe, but a single eye by itself was doomed. Crown Prince Yanqing had long ago turned that part of the board into a pocket of two eyes, making it a safe base of operations from which he could launch attacks at the Yellow Browed Monk’s pieces. What sense would there be for him to kill one of his own eyes and doom his position? And yet, he had already made the move. Although it was totally counter to the logic of chess, the move was made due to his own internal energy being weakened and unstable.

Crown Prince Yanqing secretly sighed. “A single failed move will result in defeat across the entire playing field. Is this truly the will of heaven?” He was a person of extraordinarily high status and dignity. He definitely would not get into a dispute with the Yellow Browed Monk over this matter. He immediately rose up, pressing both of his hands down against the blue stone chessboard, staring at it and not moving for a long time.

Most of the heroes present had never seen him before. Upon noticing his strange appearance, everyone’s attention was drawn towards him. He stared at the chessboard for a long time. Suddenly, without saying a word, he propped himself up with his steel canes. Their tips pressed against the earth as though he was stepping on the ground. Each step he took was very large, and he quickly departed.

Suddenly, a series of cracking sounds could be heard. The blue stone trembled, then split into six or seven pieces. And so this brilliant game of chess, the likes of had never been seen before and which might never be seen again, was erased from the world. The group of people couldn’t help but let out cries of surprise. Aside from Emperor Baoding, the Yellow Browed Monk, and the three remaining Evils, everyone present thought to themselves, “That person seemed neither like a human being, nor like a ghost. That living corpse who wore green had such an amazing level of martial arts.”

The Yellow Browed monk managed to win this game of chess by sheer chance. Both of his hands rested against his knees, and he himself was entranced in a daze as he replayed the thrilling events in his mind. He couldn’t understand at all why Crown Prince Yanqing, just as victory was within his reach, would suddenly harm his own side and seal off one of his own eyes. Could it be that upon seeing Duan Zhengming and other experts arrive, he feared coming under attack and thus conceded the match? But he had many helpers on his side as well. He wouldn’t necessarily have been defeated.

Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun, and Gao Shengtai also did not understand what had happened. But luckily, Duan Yu had been safely recovered, and the pure name of the Duan family was not damaged in the slightest. With Crown Prince Yanqing having conceded the match, a total victory had been achieved. Although there were many details of this encounter which they did not understand, at the moment it was not necessarily to thoroughly investigate everything.

Duan Zhengchun smiled towards Zhong Wanchou. “Gorge master Zhong, now that your daughter has become my son’s concubine, in the coming days, I will send someone to escort her to our palace. We will naturally take good care of these two lovebirds and treat her as though she were our own daughter. Set your mind at ease.”

Zhong Wanchou was already in the middle of an uncontrollable fury. Upon hearing Duan Zhengchun speak in such a mocking tone towards him, he pulled out his saber with a ‘shua’ sound and chopped at Zhong Ling’s head with a loud shout. “I’m dying of anger! I’m going to kill you first!”

But suddenly, a long shadow flashed by. With matchless speed, it seized Zhong Ling, then it flew away like a gust of wind, floating tens of feet away. With a ‘ta’ sound, Zhong Wanchou’s saber connected with the ground. He saw that the man holding Zhong Ling was none other than ‘Thoroughly Cruel and Evil’ Yun Zhonghe. He angrily said, “What...what are you doing?!”

Yun Zhonghe laughed. “You don’t even want this daughter anymore. Just pretend that she’s dead and that you chopped her to death. Let me have her.” Even as he spoke, he further flew tens of more feet away. He knew very well that aside from Emperor Baoding and the Yellow Browed Monk, whose martial arts were far above his own, even Duan Zhengchun and Gao Shengtai were incredible figures. And so, as soon as he hatched the scheme to kidnap Zhong Ling, he immediately fled. Seeing that Ba Tianshi was not present, he knew that as long as he could utilize his qinggong, not a single person present could catch up to him.

Zhong Wanchou knew that his qinggong abilities were incredible. He was so worried that he was literally hopping mad, jumping up and down as he cursed. Emperor Baoding had seen Yun Zhonghe run around in circles with Ba Tianshi the other day. Today, seeing Yun Zhonghe move as though he were unburdened despite carrying Zhong Ling, he knew that there was nothing he could do either.

Duan Yu suddenly had a idea flash by his head. “Yue Number Three! Your master has an order for you! Quick, get this young girl back!” 

The Divine Crocodile was startled, then angrily replied, “Bastard, whaddya talking about?” 

Duan Yu said, “You accepted me as your master, and even kowtowed to me. Are you going back on your words? Are your promises worth nothing more than a fart? You must really want to be a bastard son of a turtle!”

The Divine Crocodile furrowed his eyebrows as storm clouds gathered across his face. He thundered, “Of course I won’t go back on my words! So what if you are my master? If you piss me off, I’ll even kill you, my ‘master’!” 

Duan Yu replied, “It’s good that recognize me as your master! Miss Zhong is my wife. That makes her your master-wife. Go get her back for me! If Yun Zhonghe disgraces her, then he’s disgracing your master-wife! You’ll lose so much face that you won’t be able to be considered a hero or a real man!”

The Divine Crocodile was startled. He thought to himself, “Huh, these words make a lot of sense.” But he suddenly thought to himself that Mu Wanqing was Duan Yu’s wife. How was it that this little girl surnamed Zhong was also his wife? He asked, “How many master-wives do I have, anyhow?” 

Duan Yu replied, “Stop asking! The bottom line is, if you aren’t able to get back this master-wife, you’ll lose a huge amount of face. All of the heroes present have seen with their own eyes that you can’t even overcome the Fourth Evil, Yun Zhonghe. That drops you down to the position of being the Fifth Evil. Heck, maybe you’ll become the Sixth Evil!”

To the Divine Crocodile, being ranked beneath Yun Zhonghe was literally a fate worse than death. He’d feel less miserable if he were killed. He let out an insane roar, then rushed towards Yun Zhonghe. He screamed, “Put down my master-wife right now!”

Running and leaping forwards, Yun Zhonghe called out, “Yue Number Three, you really are a gigantic idiot! You’ve fallen for his trick!” The Divine Crocodile loved more than anything else to think of himself as an awe-inspiring person. Hearing Yun Zhonghe claim in front of so many people that he had been tricked only infuriated him all the more. He loudly roared to the heavens, “How could I, Yue Number Two, fall for someone else’s tricks?” He immediately sped up his pursuit. In the blink of an eye, the two of them, one in the front, the other in hot pursuit, passed outside the gorge.

In the middle of his earlier, blind rage, Zhong Wanchou had chopped towards his daughter. But at this moment, seeing his daughter being abducted by a thug, he was greatly agitated. After all, the love between a father and his daughter was deep. Not to mention, he realized that if his wife asked him what had happened, he would be incapable of giving her an answer. In a fit of desperation, he, too, chased after them.

Emperor Baoding quickly bade the crowd of heroes farewell, and with the rest of his party also left the gorge. They returned to the city of Dali and returned to the Southern Garrison Palace. Hua Hegen, Fan Hua, and Ba Tianshi emerged from the palace to welcome them. Next to them was a bright and beautiful young lady, dressed in the most gorgeous of clothes and ornaments. It was Mu Wanqing.

Fan Hua gave a brief report to Emperor Baoding about Hua Hegen digging out a tunnel, putting Zhong Ling in the stone house, and rescuing Mu Wanqing. Only now did everyone realize that this was why Zhong Wanchou, in trying to harm others, ended up harming himself. Everyone laughed uproariously.

Although the power of the ‘Yin and Yang Conjoining’ powder was very fierce, it wasn’t poisonous. After taking a dose of counteracting medicine, then drinking a big bowl full of cold water, the powder’s effect was dissolved.

At noon, the palace prepared a banquet. During the banquet, everyone happily and animatedly discussed all the events which had transpired at the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities. Everyone agreed that the contributions of the Yellow Browed Monk and Hua Hegen were the greatest. If the Yellow Browed Monk hadn’t kept Duan Yanqing distracted, he certainly would have discovered the tunnel being dug.

Dao Baifeng said, “Brother Hua, I would like to trouble you to do something else for me as well.” 

Hua Hegen replied, “Princess, say the word. I will obey your order.” 

Dao Baifeng said, “Please send someone to collapse the tunnel.”

Hua Hegen was startled. He replied, “Yes ma’am!” But he did not understand what she was thinking. Dao Baifeng gave Duan Zhengchun a hard stare. “This tunnel passes by Madame Zhong’s bedroom. If you don’t collapse it, I’m afraid that one of the gentlemen currently present will henceforth go tunnel his way there every night from now on.” Everyone present burst into loud laughter.

Every once in a while, Mu Wanqing would steal glances towards Duan Yu. Every time their gazes crossed, they would quickly turn their heads away from each other. She knew that for the rest of her life, she could forget about being wife and husband with him. Thinking back to the situation of the past few days, where they shared a room, she felt all the more miserable. She heard everyone discuss how Zhong Ling would become Duan Yu’s concubine, and how despite being kidnapped by Yun Zhonghe, the Divine Crocodile and Zhong Wanchou would surely bring her back. She also heard Emperor Baoding order the Four Imperial Bodyguards to send out search teams to find news regarding Zhong Ling and to protect her. The more Mu Wanqing heard, the angrier she got. From her bosom, she retrieved a tiny golden case. It was the letter which Madame Zhong had given to Duan Yu, requesting his father come and rescue Zhong Ling. She handed it over to Duan Zhengchun and said, “Gan Baobao asked me to give this to you.”

Duan Zhengchun was startled. “Huh?” Mu Wanqing indignantly said, “It’s the little girl’s astrological birth horoscope.” Pointing towards Duan Yu with the golden box, she said, “Gan Baobao told him to give it to you.” Duan Zhengchun took the box, his heart aching. He had immediately recognized the golden box as the gift which he had given to Gan Baobao on the night when they had first requited their passions for each other. Opening the cover of the box, he saw a small piece of red paper with words written on it. There were nine words in total. “December 5th, year of the Sheep, the ‘chou’ hour [1AM-3AM].” The handwriting was in a trembling scrawl. It was definitely Gan Baobao’s personal writing.

Dao Baifeng coldly said, “How very lovely. She’s even sent the girl’s birth horoscope over to us.”

Duan Zhengchun turned over the red paper, only to see several lines of small words written on it. “Broken-heartedly waiting, every hope has turned to dust. A child cannot be without a father. Sixteen years ago, I thought about you every morning and longed for you every evening, hoping that you would come to me. But now I am out of alternatives. As of the May of the ‘Yiwei’ year [32nd year of a 60 year cycle], I belong to the Zhong clan.” Every single word was extremely fine and slender. If one didn’t squint, the words would be nearly invisible.

Duan Zhengchun’s eyes reddened as he recalled how very badly he had let down Gan Baobao. Suddenly, his heart trembled, and in an instant he understood the hidden meaning behind the words of these few lines. “Baobao married Zhong Wanchou in May of the ‘Yiwei’ year, but Zhong Ling was born on December 5th of the ‘Gai’ year. Most likely, she isn’t Zhong Wanchou’s daughter. After waiting for me and seeing me not come, she wrote that a child cannot be without a father. Then she said that she had no alternative to marrying, because she couldn’t give birth to a child without having a husband. That means that Zhong Ling is my daughter. It was was precisely sixteen years ago, in the spring, when the two of us shared a joyous time lasting not even a full month. That must be when she conceived Zhong Ling....”

After understanding everything, he suddenly blurted out, “Oh, no! This won’t do!”

Dao Baifeng asked, “What won’t do?” Duan Zhengchun shook his head. With a forced smile, he said, “This fellow, Zhong Wanchou...this fellow really has a malicious heart, to come up with such a poisonous plot to harm my Duan family. We definitely cannot...definitely cannot become in-laws with him. No matter what, we cannot do this!”

Hearing him hemming and hawing, Dao Baifeng knew that his words were insincere. She took the red piece of paper from his hands and read it. She pondered it for a moment, then suddenly broke out into loud laughter. “So she...ha that little girl Zhong Ling is also your daughter!” Her anger rising, she sent out a palm. Duan Zhengchun leaned his head to the side to avoid it.

Everyone in the hall felt extremely awkward and embarassed. Emperor Baoding let out a small smile. “Since this is the case, then it looks like we’ll have to abandon the idea of marriage...”

Suddenly, one of the family warriors entered the hall. In his hands, he respectfully pro-offered a name placard. Bowing, he said, “Master Guo Yanzhi of the Hulao Pass has come to see you, lord.” Duan Zhengchun thought to himself that Guo Yanzhi was the eldest disciple of Ke Baisui leader of the ‘Hidden Ox’ sect. He was nicknamed the ‘Soul Pursuing Whip’. Supposedly, his martial arts were quite good, but he never had any relations with the Duan family. Why would he come from such a long distance? He immediately rose to his feet and said to Emperor Baoding, “I don’t know what this man has come here for. Your brother will go take a look.”

Emperor Baoding nodded, a small smile on his lips. “The arrival of ‘Soul Pursuing Whip’ is very fortuitous for you. You can seize the opportunity to sneak away.”

Duan Zhengchun left the flower pavilion. Gao Shengtai and the Four Imperial Bodyguards followed behind him. Entering the hall, he saw a middle-aged man of great height seated on a chair to the west. The man was wearing a mourning garment. He wore a hat on his head, and his face was covered with dust and dirt. His eyes were red and swollen. It was evident that a tragedy had happened, and that a family member must have died.

Upon seeing Duan Zhengchun enter, he quickly rose to his feet and bowed. “Guo Yanzhi of Henan pays his respects to the prince.” Duan Zhengchun returned the salute. “Master Guo, you honor Dali with your presence. Please forgive your little brother Duan Zhengchun for not having come out and welcomed you to the city personally.” Guo Yanzhi thought to himself, “Everyone says that despite being rich and powerful, the Duan brothers of Dali are not arrogant at all. That really is the case.” He said, “Guo Yanzhi is only a common, ordinary person. For me to beg an audience from the prince is really quite presumptuous of me.” 

Duan Zhengchun replied, “The position of ‘prince’ is just something set up to show the common people. I have long admired the reputation of Master Guo. Let us address each other as friends and as brothers. There’s no need for us to adhere to such false propriety.” After introducing him to Gao Shengtai, all three of them sat down.

Guo Yanzhi said, “Prince, my martial-uncle has resided within your palace for a long time now, and has long been away from home. Please tell him that I would like to see him.” 

Duan Zhengchun said, “Brother Guo, your martial-uncle?” He thought to himself, “There’s no member of the ‘Hidden Ox’ sect in my palace.” 

Guo Yanzhi said, “My martial-uncle changed his name and surname, hiding himself within your palace to avoid a calamity. He didn’t dare expose himself to you, Prince. This really was very disrespectful. I hope that you, Prince, will be forgiving and merciful, and won’t blame him. Allow me to thank you in advance.”

As he spoke, he rose to his feet and profoundly saluted Duan Zhengchun with cupped hands. While returning the courtesy, Duan Zhengchun was deeply pondering the situation, but could not come to a realization as to who his martial-uncle might be.

Gao Shengtai was also wondering to himself, “Who is it? Who could it be?” Suddenly, he thought of that person’s surname and nickname. “It must be him!” He spoke to a nearby servant. “Go to the accounting rooms and tell Mr. Huo that the ‘Soul Pursuing Whip’ of Henan, Master Guo, has arrived. He has important news to report to the ‘Golden Abacus’, the venerable senior Cui. Please invite him to the great hall to chat with us.”

The servant nodded and left. After a short time, the sound of footsteps coming from the back hall could be heard. All alone, a man appeared, slowly shambling forwards. He said, “Now, thanks to you, I won’t be able to have free meals here anymore.”

Upon hearing the seven words, ‘the Golden Abacus, venerable senior Cui’, the expression on Duan Zhengchun’s face changed slightly. He thought to himself, “Can it be that the ‘Golden Abacus’, Cui Baiquan, really is hidden here? How could I have been unaware of this, and why wouldn’t worthy brother Gao have told me?” Only to see an old man with a humble appearance emerge with a grin on his face. It was Mr. Huo of the accounting room, who assisted in all sorts of menial tasks. Every day, the man was either intoxicated or gambling. He was extremely lazy. The only reason why they had allowed him to stay for the past ten or so years was because he was totally honest with regards to the accounting. Duan Zhengchun was hugely surprised. “So Mr. Huo really is Cui Baiquan? I have eyes but am blind as a bat. How can I possibly recover the face I have lost?” Fortunately, Gao Shengtai had managed to come up with the right person in a single try, leading Guo Yanzi to assume that the people of the Southern Garrison Palace had long since known about the situation.

Originally, Mr. Huo was always seventy percent drunken, thirty percent awake, with a confused and uncomprehending expression perpetually on his face. But seeing Guo Yanzhi wearing mourning clothes, he couldn’t help but feel startled. He asked, “You...why are you...” 

Guo Yanzhi rushed forward a few steps. He fell to his knees and began to cry loudly. “Martial uncle Cui, my mas... master has been murdered!” 

The face of Mr. Huo, of Cui Baiquan, immediately changed. His skinny yellow visage turned, in a twinkling of an eye, sinister and predatory. Slowly, he said, “Who is our enemy.” 

Guo Yanzhi replied, crying, “Your nephew is useless. I wasn’t able to definitively identify our enemy. But from what I know, I guess that it is probable that the murderer was a member of Gusu’s Murong family.” 

A look of dread flashed across Cui Baiquan’s face, but it quickly vanished. In a low voice, he said, “We need to carefully calculate our response.”

Duan Zhengchun and Gao Shengtai exchanged a glance. They thought to themselves, “’Northern Qiao Feng, Southern Murong.’ If the ‘Hidden Ox’ sect has become enemies with the Murong clan, then it will be very difficult for them to avenge their loss.”

A distressed look was on Cui Baiquan’s face. He said, “Worthy nephew Guo, please recount the story of how my martial brother died as clearly as possible.” 

Guo Yanzhi said, “The murder of one’s master is like the murder of one’s father. Every day that vengeance is delayed, your nephew finds it hard to eat or sleep. Martial uncle, please go with me immediately, and I will report it to you on the road, so as to avoid wasting any more time.”

Seeing the expression his face, Cui Baiquan realized that it was because he felt there were too many people in the hall, making it inconvenient to speak, rather than really being worried about time. He thought to himself, “For ten years or so, I’ve hidden myself here and not revealed myself at all. I never would have thought that Marquis Gao had long ago realized my true identity and seen past my masquerade. If I do not apologize to Prince Duan, then I will have deeply offended the Duan family. In addition, I want to seek revenge upon Gusu’s Murong family on behalf of my martial brother, but that’s something I cannot accomplish by myself. If the Duan family is willing to send people to assist me, things may be different. The difference between ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ is huge.” He abruptly walked over to Duan Zhengchun’s side, then knelt before him on both knees. He repeatedly kowtowed, banging his head against the ground with a series of ‘dong’ sounds.

This was something which was totally unexpected by everyone present. Duan Zhengchun hurriedly stretched out his hand to lift Cui Baiquan up, only to find that it was as though Cui Baiquan’s body had been nailed to the floor, not budging in the slightest. Duan Zhengchun thought to himself, “Nicely done, you ‘drunkard’. So your martial arts is this profound. You totally deceived me!” Exerting his strength through both his arms, he lifted Cui Baiquan upwards. Cui Baiquan no longer resisted, and rose to his feet. As soon as he stood up, he felt as though the hundred bones in his body were filled with unspeakable discomfort, as though a tiny boat was being thrown about by killer waves in the ocean. He knew that it was Duan Zhengchun’s way of reprimanding him. He thought to himself, “If I generate my energy to resist, then the Prince of the Southern Garrison will be all the more upset with me. Perhaps he will even suspect me all the more of having crafty ulterior motives for having snuck my way into his palace. While his internal energy is raging inside my body, I might as well fall down.” He collapsed, head facing the sky and cutting a sorry figure indeed as he let out a cry. “Ow!”

Duan Zhengchun let out a small smile and extended his hand to help him up. With a light touch, he dispelled the nauseous feeling in his body.

Cui Baiquan said, “Prince, Cui Baiquan was pressed so heavily by his enemy that he had nowhere to turn. For this reason only did I hide myself within your manor and rely on your aid. Only by hiding myself under your glorious name have I managed to live until today. Cui Baiquan never revealed the truth to you, Prince, and I deserve to die a thousand deaths for my offense.”

Gao Shengtai replied, “Brother, why be so modest? The Prince knew your true identity long ago. But since you, Brother Cui, were unwilling to reveal your true identity, the Prince did not want to break your disguise either. Forget about the Prince, even others know about the situation. That day, when Duan Yu was fighting against the Divine Crocodile, didn’t he grab Brother Cui and claim you were his master? He knew that within this palace, only Brother Cui could handle that vile fellow surnamed Yue.”

Actually, that day when Duan Yu had grabbed Cui Baiquan and claimed he was his master, he was purely putting on a show for entertainment. As Cui Baiquan’s appearance was the most unsightly and humble within the palace, he had picked him to mock the Divine Crocodile. But at the moment, upon hearing these words, Cui Baiquan believed and did not doubt them. He secretly felt ashamed.

Gao Shengtai continued, “The Prince has always been a welcome and hospitable host. Brother Cui, you came to Dali without any malicious intent. But even if you had come with an intent on causing harm, the Prince would have courteously welcomed you and thrown a banquet on your behalf. Brother Cui, why stand on such ceremony?” The implicit meaning of this statement was that the only reason Cui had not been exposed was because he had not come with an evil intent; if he had, he would have been disposed of long ago.

Cui Baiquan said, “Marquis Gao is brilliant and wise. Although your words are very kind, I, the one surnamed Cui, should make clear to you the reason why I sought refuge within your palace and why I must depart now. Otherwise, my actions would be too inglorious. Only, this matter involves others. If I may be so bold, I would like to explain.”

Duan Zhengchun nodded. He said to Guo Yanzhi, “Brother Guo, although the enmity between you and your master’s killer is deep, there’s no need to quibble over such a small amount of time. Let’s slowly discuss the situation.” 

Before Guo Yanzhi had a chance to respond, Cui Baiquan had already hurriedly said, “Naturally, I will obey the requests of the prince.”

At this moment, a family warrior entered the hall. Bowing at the entrance, he said, “Reporting to the Prince! The Abbot of Shaolin has sent two eminent monks with a letter for you.” Ever since Shaolin had been founded in the Tang dynasty, it had been the Mt. Tai and the Big Dipper of the wulin (meaning that it held a position of extreme eminence). Upon hearing these words, Duan Zhengchun immediately stood up and left the hall to personally welcome the guests.

He saw a pair of middle-aged monks be escorted by two of his family warriors, making their way past the small yard. One of the monks, who had a dry and shriveled up appearance, bowed towards Duan Zhengchun, then said, “The junior monks of Shaolin, Huizhen and Huiguan, pay their respects to the prince.” 

Duan Zhengchun cupped his hands, returning the courtesy. “For you to have travelled such a distance to brighten my doorway must have been very difficult on you. Please, come inside and have some tea.”

After entering the pavilion, the two monks did not sit. Huizhen said, “Prince, this humble monk has come here on the instructions of my abbot to deliver a letter to Emperor Baoding or the Prince of the Southern Garrison.” As he spoke, he withdrew a wrapped bundle from his breast. Slowly he unwrapped it, removing a yellow parchment from within, then proffering it respectfully to Duan Zhengchun.

Duan Zhengchun accepted it, then said, “My imperial brother actually is inside at this very moment. This is the perfect time for you to meet him.” He said to Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi, “Gentlemen, please take some refreshments for now. We will speak shortly.” He then brought Huizhen and Huiguan deeper within the palace.

Actually, at this moment, Emperor Baoding had already retired into the warm pavilion and was having a tranquil conversation with the Yellow Browed Monk. Duan Yu sat next to them and listened quietly. Upon seeing Huizhen and Huiguan, he rose to his feet. Duan Zhengchun handed the scroll over to Emperor Baoding, who opened it. The letter was addressed to the two of them, and was filled with such flowery language as “long respected your illustrious name, but never had the fortune to meet you,” “rule over the south, acting with vast benevolence,” “admired by thousands of people, of exceptional ability and wisdom,” “guardian of the Buddhist truth, glorifying the saintly path,” etc. etc. etc. Finally, it came to the meat of the letter. “My younger martial brother, Master Xuanbei, will be heading towards your respected area with his four disciples. On the basis of our shared worship of Buddha and of our friendship within the wulin, I respectfully request that you take good care of him.” The letter was signed, “The lowly disciple of the Shaolin Monastery, Xuanci, pays a hundred respects.”

Emperor Baoding rose while he read the letter to show the respect he held for Shaolin. Huizhen and Huiguan politely stood off to their side. Emperor Baoding said, “The two of you, please be seated. All of us followers of Buddha’s teachings and, as members of the wulin, share the same heart and arteries. Whatever the Abbot of Shaolin requests, we will 
with. Master Xuanbei’s understanding of Buddhism is extremely subtle, and his martial arts level is deep and profound. I admire him to the extreme. Might I ask when he will grace my humble abode? We eagerly anticipate his arrival.”

Huizhen and Huiguan suddenly felt to their knees. With a series of ‘dong’ sounds, they kowtowed repeatedly. They began to cry bitterly.

Emperor Baoding and Duan Zhengchun were both startled. They thought to themselves, “Can it be that Master Xuanbei has died?” Emperor Baoding stretched his hand out and helped them up. “Both of us are members of wulin. You cannot be so polite towards me.” 

Huizhen stood up and indeed said, “My master has passed on to Nirvana.” 

Emperor Baoding thought to himself, “This letter must have been intended for Master Xuanbei to personally present to me. Can it be that he died within the borders of Dali?” He said, “Master Xuanbei has returned to the western heavens. The Buddhist family has lost an eminent monk, and wulin has lost a skilled exponent. This is mournful news indeed. May I ask when Master Xuanbei entered Nirvana?"

Huizhen replied, “A month ago, my martial uncle, the Abbot, received a letter stating that the ‘Four Greatest Evils of the World’ were headed towards Dali with the intention of making trouble for your majesty and for the Prince of the Southern Garrison. The Duan dynasty of Dali reigns supreme over the southern world. Naturally, you wouldn’t fear such a trifling group as the ‘Four Evils’. But the abbot feared that you two might not know of this news and would fall into their ambush. Thus, he sent Master Xuanbei and we four disciples to come here and inform you. This is why we came.”

Emperor Baoding felt a deep sense of gratitude. He thought to himself, “No wonder Shaolin has been held in the utmost respect for the past hundreds of years. He has taken it upon himself to safeguard the wulin. Although we are located in the distant south, he has so much concern over our well-being. Although in his letter, he asked that we take good care of Master Xuanbei, his actual intent was to station him here to assist us.” He immediately bowed slightly and said, “Abbot Fangzheng is a man of great kindness and thoughtfulness. I do not know how we brothers can repay him.”

Huizhen replied, “Your majesty, you are too modest. Our group rushed southwards upon receiving his directive. On the 28th of last month, we arrived at Dali’s Liangzhou prefecture and took shelter for the night at Shenjie monastery. Who would have imagined that on the morning of the 29th, as we four disciples woke up, we saw that our master…our master had been murdered. He died in the main hall of the Shenjie monastery….” As he came to this point, he was sobbing so much that no further words could come out.

Emperor Baoding let out a long sigh. He asked, “Was Master Xuanbei killed by means of poison or hidden weaponry?” 

Huizhen replied, “No.” 

Emperor Baoding, the Yellow Browed Monk, Duan Zhengchun, and Gao Shengtai were all startled. They thought to themselves, “With Xuanbei’s level of martial arts, unless he was struck by hidden weaponry coated with a poison that would kill on contact, even if the enemy had ambushed him from behind, he wouldn’t be completely defenseless and die on the spot. Within Dali, what evil master martial artist has such a high and vicious level of ability?”

Duan Zhengchun said, “Today is the third. The 28th of last month was four days ago. Yu’er was kidnapped on the night of the 27th. 
Emperor Baoding nodded. “It wasn’t the ‘Four Evils’.” For the past few days, Duan Yanqing had been focused on keeping guard over Duan Yu. He definitely wouldn’t have had the time to travel such a great distance to commit murder at the Shenjie monastery. In addition, even if it were Duan Yanqing, he wouldn’t have been able to silently and stealthily kill Xuanbei in the blink of an eye.

Huizhen said, “As we propped up our master, we felt that his entire body was icy cold. He had gone to Nirvana hours ago. There was no trace of any battle having occurred within the main hall. We rushed out of the temple, and the monks of Shenjie monastery assisted us as well. But within a ten-li radius, we couldn’t find a single trace of the murderer’s passing.

Emperor Baoding gloomily said, “Master Xuanbei not only died on behalf of the Duan family, but perished within the borders of Dali. No matter how one views it, we two brothers definitely cannot let this go unpunished.”

Huizhen and Huiguan immediately dropped to their knees, kowtowing in thanks. Huizhen spoke again. “After the four of us discussed the situation with Abbot Wuye of Shenjie monastery, we decided to temporarily keep our master’s remains at Shenjie monastery. We didn’t dare to cremate him on the spot, so as to allow our martial-uncle, the Abbot, to see him with his own eyes. The other two disciples rushed back to Shaolin to report the situation to the Abbot. This humble monk and Huiguan rushed to Dali to report the situation to your imperial majesty, and to the Prince of the Southern Garrison.”

Emperor Baoding said, “Abbot Wuye is of venerable age and eminent virtue. His knowledge is broad and he knows many anecdotes regarding the wulin. What did he have to say?”

Huizhen replied, “Abbot Wuye said: ‘There is an eighty or ninety percent chance that the murderer was a member of Gusu’s Murong family.”

Duan Zhengchun and Gao Shengtai exchanged glances. Both of them thought to themselves, “Once again, it’s Gusu’s Murong family!”

Up til now, the Yellow Browed Monk had been silent. He interjected, “Did Master Xuanbei die due to a strike to the chest, with the enemy technique being the ‘Great Veda Sceptre’?” 

Huizhen was startled. “Great master, your guess is just so. How…how did you…” 

The Yellow Browed Monk replied, “I’ve long heard that Master Xuanbei was an expert at Shaolins ‘Great Veda Sceptre’ technique. When fighting opponents, their ribs would snap from his blows. This martial arts skill, although fearfully powerful, is too tyrannous and brutal. It really does not seem like a Buddhist martial arts at all…alas!” 

Duan Yu interrupted, “Right! This martial arts is too brutal and ruthless.”

Hearing the Yellow Browed Monk criticize their teacher, Huizhen and Huigen naturally felt resentment. But knowing that he was of a senior generation, they did not dare to contradict him. Upon hearing Duan Yu chattering from the side, they were so furious that their eyes bulged out. Duan Yu pretended not to notice, paying them no mind.

Duan Zhengchun asked, “Martial brother, how did you know that Xuanbei died from the ‘Great Veda Sceptre’? 

The Yellow Browed Monk sighed. “For Abbot Wuye of Shenjie monastery to be so certain that the murdered was of the Murong family, he certainly must have had corroborating evidence. Gusu’s Murong family is known for something called, ‘Using the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent.’ Have you heard of this?” 
Duan Zhengchum mumbled to himself, “I have heard this saying before, but never really understand its meaning.” 

The Yellow Browed Monk murmured, “‘Using the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent.’ Hm. ‘Using the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent…” Suddenly, a look of dread flashed across his face. Emperor Baoding and Duan Zhengchun, in the decades they had known him, had never seen him be afraid. The other day, when he was engaged in a life and death duel with Crown Prince Yanqing, he was clearly in a losing position. Although he was in an extremely difficult situation, that look of utter calmness never left his face. For him to now show fear indicated that their opponent definitely was no one to look down upon.

For a period of time, there only silence within the warm pavilion. After a long moment, the Yellow Browed Monk said slowly, “This old monk has heard that within the world, there is a person known as Murong Bo. His personal name is ‘Bo’, abundant, and his martial arts knowledge and abilities truly are abundant and profound to the extreme. It seemed as though he knew every single unique and consummate skill of every sect within the wulin. He knew every one of them, and could use them as well. In addition, whenever he wanted to kill someone, he would use the same skills which that person had gained fame with.”

Duan Yu said, “This really is strange beyond imagining! There are so many martial arts in the world. How can he possibly comprehensively learn them all?” 

The Yellow Browed Monk replied, “Worthy nephew, your comment is correct. The body of learning is as vast as the sea. How could a single person know everything? But Murong Bo did not have many enemies to begin with. In addition, it was said that if Murong Bo was unable to kill his enemy with their own martial arts, he would not kill them at all.”

Emperor Baoding said, “I too have heard that there is such a strange man in the central plains. Hebei’s Three Warriors of the Luo Family excelled in using flying awls. Eventually, all three of them died due to flying awls. Taoist Zhangxu of Shandong, when killing his opponents, would chop off all four of their limbs, causing them to cry out in agony for a long time before passing away. Taoist Zhangxu himself met with such a bitter end. The phrase describing Murong Bo, ‘Using the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent’, came from Daoist Zhangxu’s dying lips." After pausing for a moment, he continued. “That year, within the busy streets of Jinan, who knows how many people watched as Daoist Zhangxu rolled about on the floor, limbless and howling.” As he said this, it seemed as though he was dimly seeing in his mind the sight of Taoist Zhangxu’s cruel death. His face was filled with both resentment and with an unbearable look.

Duan Zhengchun nodded. “Then it must be so.” He suddenly thought of something, and said, “Master Guo Yanzhi’s master, Ke Baisui, was said to be a master of the soft whip. The powerful force released from his whip was pure and hard. When killing his opponents, he could often crush their skull with a single whip. Can it be that he…he…” Slapping his hands together three times, he called for a servant. “Invite Mr. Cui and Master Guo inside. Tell them I have something to discuss with them.” 

The servant replied, “Yes sir!” But he didn’t know who Mr. Cui was, and hesitated to leave. 

Duan Yu laughed. “Mr. Cui is the Mr. Huo of the accounting room.” 

Only now did the servant loudly reply, “Yes sir!” Turning his body, he left.

After a short period of time, Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi arrived at the warm pavilion. Duan Zhengchun said, “Brother Guo, there’s something I must ask you. Please do not be offended.” 

Guo Yanzhi replied, “I will not.” 

Duan Zhengchun said, “Might I ask, how was old master Ke ambushed and murdered? Was he fatally wounded by punches and kicks, or by martial weaponry?” 

Suddenly, Guo Yanzhi’s entire face flushed red. A look of deep shame on his face, he stammered for a long moment. Finally, he spoke. “My respected master was slain by the soft whip technique, the ‘Thousand Rendings of the Heavenly Spirit’. The murderer’s power was extremely hard and ferocious. Even my master himself could not…could not…”

Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun, the Yellow Browed Monk, and the others exchanged glances. They couldn’t help but feel a chill in their hearts.

Huizhen walked towards Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi. After saluting them, he said, “This humble monk and his brother share the same enmity with you two brothers. If we do not eradicate Gusu’s Murong family…” As he came to this point, he halted. Whether or not they could actually wipe out Gusu’s Murong family was hard to say. He clenched his teeth. “…then this humble monk will simply give his life to them instead.” 

Tears filling his eyes, Guo Yanzhi said, “Shaolin also has a deep enmity with Gusu’s Murong family?” Huizhen gave a brief summary of how his master, Xuanbei, died at the hands of Gusu’s Murong family.

Guo Yanzhi’s face was filled with grief and indignation as he listened, and he gnashed his teeth with hate. Cui Baiquan, on the other hand, simply looked crestfallen and was silent, as though the death of his brother was not a matter of great importance at all. Huiguan said, “Mr. Cui, are you afraid of Gusu’s Murong family?” 

Huizhen quickly interjected, “Martial brother, do not be so rude!” Cui Baiquan glanced to the east, then to the west, as though he were afraid that the walls might have grown eyes or ears, or as though a powerful enemy had arrived and was about to launch a sneak attack. A look of utter terror was on his face. Huiguan let out a ‘heng’, then muttered to himself, “If a real man is faced with death, then so be it. What’s the point of being afraid?” Huizhen also did not approve of Cui Baiquan’s attitude. Thus, having already reprimanding his martial brother once, he no longer said anything.

The Yellow Browed Monk coughed lightly. “This matter…” 

Cui Baiquan’s entire body shuddered. He jumped up, so hurriedly that he overturned his teacup. With a ‘ping’ and a ‘pang’, it crashed to the floor, breaking into tiny pieces. After calming himself down and collecting himself, he noticed that all eyes were on him. He flushed with same. “Sorry, I’m very sorry!” Guo Yanzhi knitted his brow, then bent over and began to pick up the broken pieces of the shattered teacup.

Duan Zhengchun thought to himself, “This Cui Baiquan fellow is useless.” He said to the Yellow Browed Monk, “Martial brother, what were you going to say?”

The Yellow Browed Monk took another sip of tea, then said unhurriedly, “Benefactor Cui, I take it that you have met Murong Bo before?” 

Upon hearing the three words, ‘Murong Bo’, Cui Baiquan let out a little ‘ah’ cry of fear. His two arms propping him up on the arms of the chair, he stammered, “I never…I…I saw him…I didn’t…” 

Huiguan loudly said, “Mr. Cui, have you met Murong Bo before or not?” 

Cui Baiquan stared towards the sky, as though his spirit had fled his body. Duan Zhengchun and all the others were secretly shaking their heads. Seeing his martial uncle shame himself in front of all these people, Guo Yanzhi felt all the more humiliated and miserable. Only after a long time did Cui Baiquan say, in a quavering voice, “I didn’t…well…I kind of…it seems there was…this…”

The Yellow Browed Monk interjected, “This humble monk has a personal experience which I will relate to everyone, so that everyone might know the details. This was something that happened forty three years ago, when I was young and in the prime of my strength. I had just entered the martial world, and had gained a little bit of fame within jianghu. I really was a ‘newborn calf who did not fear a tiger’ (Chinese saying meant that an ignorant person knows no fear)! I felt that despite the vastness of the world, aside from my own master, no one had higher martial arts skill than me. That year, I was escorting a retiring official and his family back to their old homes. We were travelling from Bianliang back to Shandong. At a mountain pass near the Blue Leopard Ridge, we came upon four bandits. After they saw us, their first move was not to go after our belongings, but rather for that official’s daughter. At the time, I was young and impetuous. Naturally, I showed no mercy with my blows, and every strike was a vicious one. I exercised the power of my Vajra Fingers, and drove each finger into an enemy heart with each attack. All four of the bandits died before they had so much as a chance to grunt.”

“I really thought that I was something incredible, and began to brag and boast to that retiring official. I said things like, ‘Even if eight or ten bandits came, I would take their lives with my Vajra Finger.’ At that moment, I heard the sound of hoofsteps, and two people rode past on a donkey. Suddenly, one of the persons on the back of the donkey let out a ‘heng’. It was a female’s voice, but that ‘heng’ was filled with contempt and disdain. I turned around and saw a thirty six year old married woman on the donkey. The other person was a fifteen year old lad with delicate and extremely attractive features. Both of them were wearing white mourning clothes, showing great filial piety. That youth said, “Ma, what’s so impressive about the Vajra Finger, for someone to come here to brag about it?”

The origins of the Yellow Browed Monk, even Emperor Baoding and his brother were not too clear about. But everyone here very much respected his display at the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities, where he used the power of his Vajra Finger to carve out a chessboard, carve out chess moves, and struggle unyieldingly against Crown Prince Yanqing. His Vajra Finger was even more venerated. At this moment, hearing him recount these events, they all thought to themselves that it was just a young, ignorant kid whose words were full of nonsense.

They didn’t expect that the Yellow Browed Monk would let out a light sigh before continuing. “At that time, I was angry upon hearing these words. But I thought to myself, why be upset over the wild ramblings of a little kid? I glared at him, but paid him no attention. Only to hear the woman upbraid him. She said, ‘This person’s Vajra Finger comes from the orthodox teachings of the Putian Damo Courtyard of Fujian. He’s achieved a thirty percent proficiency in it. What does a little kid like you know? When you strike with your fingers, you aren’t as accurate as he is.”

“As I heard this, I was both startled and angry. Very few people in jianghu knew where my martial arts originated from, yet this woman was able to determine it with a single sentence. In addition, she claimed that my Vajra Fingers had only reached a level of thirty percent proficiency. Of course I couldn’t take this lying down. Alas, at that time, I really had no idea as to how high heaven is, or how deep the earth is. Based on my level of actual ability at that time, for someone to say that I had reached thirty percent proficiency was already giving me too much credit. At most, I had reached perhaps twenty six or twenty seven percent proficiency. I loudly said, “Madame, what is your respected surname? Your son belittled my Vajra Finger. Does he wish to exchange a few stances and pointers with me?” 

That kid brought the donkey to a halt and was about to respond. Suddenly, the lady’s eyes reddened and tears appeared in her eyes. “What words did your father say to you just before he died? Have you already forgotten?” 

That youth replied, “Understood. I don’t dare forget.” They spurred the donkey on and galloped forwards.

“The more I thought about it, the less I could accept their words. I spurred on my own horse to catch up to them. I called out, ‘Hey! You came here and spewed nonsense about my martial arts, but refused to exchange a few pointers with me. Do you really plan to just get away that easily?’ I was riding an extremely fine stallion. As I spoke, I passed by their donkey, then came to a halt in front of them. That woman said to her son, ‘See? You said a bunch of rubbish, and now other people are upset.’ That youth was clearly very obedient towards his mother, and did not dare to even glance at me. I saw that they were afraid of me, and thought to myself that they were just a widow and an orphan, with no martial abilities. Why lower myself to their level? But from the woman’s words, it seemed as though that youth also knew the Vajra Finger. It took me over fifteen years to begin to master this set of martial arts. How could this little kid possibly know it? Naturally, they were just blowing hot air. I said, ‘Today, I’ll let you guys go. In the future, be more careful when speaking.’”

“The woman still didn’t even so much as glance at me. She said to the youth, ‘The words of this uncle are correct. In the future, be more careful when you speak.’ It would have been so much better if I had just let the matter drop here. But that that time, I was young and strong-headed, and did not move my horse away, continuing to block the road. The woman got off the donkey and began to walk in front of it. The youth patted the donkey, then also got off and began to lead it past me. I let out a big laugh and aimed a blow at the donkey with my whip, saying, ‘Hurry, scram!’ But before my whip reached a foot of the body of the donkey, the youth turned around. With a ‘chi’ sound, he pointed, projecting his internal energy through the air and knocking my whip out of my hand. This terrified me so badly that I was totally stunned. The power of his finger was extremely strong, far surpassing my own.”

“I heard the woman say, ‘Since you have already attacked, you might as well finish the job.’ The youth said, ‘Yes!’ He turned the donkey around and rushed towards me. Stretching out my left palm, I executed the technique, ‘Cloud-Barring Hand’ and pushed towards him. Suddenly, with a ‘chi’ sound, he pointed at me with his finger. I felt some pain on the left side of my chest. Then, all my energy left my body.”

As the Yellow Browed Monk came to this point in the story, he slowly began to remove his robes, exposing his thin, bony chest. Everyone could see that on the left side of his chest, above his heart, there was a hole roughly an inch deep. Although the hole was long since scabbed over, it was nonetheless clear to everybody how severe the injury he suffered was. Everyone was absolutely astonished that with such a deep wound over his heart, he not only did not die, but had managed to survive to this very day.

The Yellow Browed Monk pointed towards the right side of his chest and said, “Everyone, please take a look.” The flesh and skin there were slightly undulating upwards and downwards. Only now did everyone realize that his body structure was a bit different from everyone else’s; his heart was closer to the right side than the left. The reason he managed to just barely survive was for this reason.

The Yellow Browed Monk once more put on his cloth robes, then continued. “For a person to have a heart like mine is really an extremely rare occurrence. That youth, seeing that I did not immediately die upon being struck by his finger on my heart, pulled his donkey back a few steps. A look of great surprise was on his face. I saw the blood flowing from my chest and knew that my life certainly would be lost. I no longer had any fear, and immediately boomed out, ‘Little crook, you claim that you know how to use the Vajra Finger. Hmph! The Vajra Finger of the Damo Courtyard, is there such a thing as it injuring the opponent and drawing the opponent’s blood but not taking the opponent’s life? Your technique is totally wrong. It definitely is not the Vajra Finger!’ That youth leapt towards me, once more about to strike at me. At that moment, I couldn’t defend myself in the slightest. All I could do was stand there and wait for death. I never would have imagined that the woman would suddenly flick her whip and capture her son’s arm with it. I dimly and hazily heard her reprimand her son. ‘The Murong family of Gusu actually has such a useless scion as you. Since your finger strike was not perfect, you cannot kill this man. I’ll punish you. For the next seven days…’ As to what sort of punishment she would assign him for the next seven days, I do not know. By that time, I had already fainted.”

Cui Baiquan said in a trembling voice, “Ma…master, afterwards…afterwards, did you ever meet them again?”

The Yellow Browed Monk said, “I am embarrassed to say this. But after that day, I felt extremely downhearted. Such a young man already achieved such great attainment in martial arts. Even if I practiced hard for the rest of my life, I might not be able to catch up to him. After the injury to my chest was healed, I left the territory of the Great Song, and came to far-away Dali. I hid myself under his majesty’s protection, and after a few years became a monk. Over these many years, I have passed beyond the point of caring about life or death, and no longer care about my past honors or humiliations. But when I occasionally think back on that event, my heart cannot help but quiver with fear. I really am like a little bird terrified by the twang of a bowstring.”

Duan Yu asked, “Master, if that youth lived to this day, he would be in his sixties. He would be Murong Bo, right?”

The Yellow Browed Monk shook his head. “I’m embarrassed to say this, but I don’t know. As to whether or not the skill he used to attack me truly was the Vajra Finger, I also could not tell for sure. I only felt that it seemed somewhat different. But regardless of whether or not it was the Vajra Finger, it was extremely powerful…extremely powerful…”

No one spoke. The disdain they had felt towards Cui Baiquan was mostly gone now. They all thought to themselves that for a martial artist of the Yellow Browed Monk’s caliber to be in dread of Murong Bo, it was excusable for Cui Baiquan to be terrified out of his wits.

Cui Baiquan said, “Sir, you have an extremely high status, and yet you do not conceal your past inglories at all. What type of person am I, to not speak for fear of being shamed? I was just about to explain to the Prince my reasons for hiding myself here. As no one here is an outsider, I will tell everyone the story.” As he said this, his face became extremely agitated. He felt his tongue and his throat become dry. He grabbed his bowl of tea and gulped it down, then took Guo Yanzhi’s bowl of tea and drank that down as well. Only then could he continue. “This…this event of mine, happened… happened eighteen years ago…” After he said this, he couldn’t help but start glancing outside the window again.

He calmed himself down, then said, “Within the regional capital city of Nanyang, there was a local tyrant surnamed ‘Cai’. He was rich but cruel and oppressed the common people. A friend of my martial brother and mine was framed and harmed by him. His entire family died at Cai’s hands.” 

Guo Yanzhi said, “Martial uncle, are you talking about that crook, Cai Qingtu?” 

Cui Baiquan said, “Right. Whenever your master speaks of Cai Qingtu, he always gnashes his teeth with hate. Your master wrote many letters of condemnation and complaint to the local officials, but each time Cai Qingtu would bribe the high officials to suppress and quash the complaints. If your master were to use his soft whip, he could have destroyed Cai Qingtu in a heartbeat. But although he was a lofty hero in the world of jianghu, in his own hometown, he had a family and a business. He wasn’t willing to break the law. I, Cui Baiquan, was totally different. I thieved chickens and stole dogs, *****d and gambled, committed murder and arson. I did everything. That night, I couldn’t suppress my anger. I snuck into Cai Qingtu’s house and wiped out everyone in his household, numbering over thirty people.”

“I started killing at the main gate, and killed all the way until I reached the backyard courtyard. I didn’t even spare the female slave gardeners. Entering the courtyard, I saw some light at the window of a small building. I rushed up the building and kicked down the door. It was a study room, and all four walls were filled with books. A pair of two, a man and a woman, were seated there and were reading.”

“The male was in his forties and had handsome features. He wore the clothes of a scholar. The woman appeared very young, but as her back was towards me, I didn’t see her face. I saw that she wore a light green outer garment. Judging by the candlelight, she seemed quite pretty and charming. Goddamnit…” Up til now, his words had been refined, not at all in keeping with his normal behavior. He stunned everyone in suddenly letting out such an uncouth remark. Swimming in his memories, Cui Baiquan continued, “…I had just killed thirty odd people in a short amount of time and was in a great mood. I suddenly saw those two bastards, and goddamnit, I thought it was weird. Everyone in Cai Qingtu’s family was vicious and thuggish. Where did these two attractive, refined bastards come from? Isn’t this like Emperor Tangming and Yang Guifei from the opera skits? I thought it was weird, and wasn’t planning to immediately kill them. The man said, “Wife, everything from ‘guimei’ to ‘wuwang’ is not lined up correctly (tortoise sister to martial king).”

Duan Yu, upon hearing the words, ‘guimei’ to ‘wuwang’, thought to himself, “What the heck is this? What is he talking about?” After thinking for a moment, he came to a realization. “Oh, he means, from ‘guimei’ to ‘wuwang’ (tortoise sister to no rashness). The man is talking about the I-Ching.” His interested was roused.

Cui Baiquan continued, “That woman muttered to herself for a while, then said, ‘If you go from the northeast corner and slant towards ‘dage’ (elder brother), then turn at ‘zizi’ (elder sister)…is this route possible?” Duan Yu thought to himself, “Elder brother? Elder sister? Oh, he means ‘large road’ and ‘already crossed’.” Suddenly, he was startled all the more. “This woman is clearly talking about the steps within the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’. Her positioning is a bit off though, so she isn’t totally correct. Can it be that this woman has some sort of relationship with the Dear Goddess of the mountain cave?”

Cui Baiquan continued, “These two kept on talking incessantly, babbling about turtle sisters, brothers-in-law, older sisters, yadda yadda. I got impatient and yelled, ‘Goddamnit, both of you bastards, roll the hell out!’ But both of them acted as though they were deaf and hadn’t heard my words at all. They simply continued to stare intently at that book. The woman said in a soft voice, ‘There are nine steps that need to be taken from here to the elder sister’s house. They can’t be taken.’ I yelled again, ‘Take them, take them, take them! Take as many steps as you need to your grandmother’s house! I’ll send you to meet all eighteen generations of your ancestors!’ Just as I was about to enter the room, that man suddenly clapped his hands and laughed. ‘Brilliant, brilliant! The grandmother is the ‘kun’. Eighteen generations of ancestors…hey, two times nine is eighteen! They should revolve around the ‘kun’ position. We’ve thought through this part of the footwork!’ He reached out and grabbed an abacus on the table. I don’t know what he did, but suddenly three abacus beads flew out towards me. I only felt some pain in my chest, then found my body to be paralyzed and unable to move any more.”

“These two still ignored me, and continued to talking about their little brothers and their little swine. My heart was filled with unspeakable fear. My bandit nickname was the ‘Golden Abacus’, because I always carry with me an abacus forged from gold. Hidden within was a secret spring mechanism which would shoot out seventy seven abacus beads when the mechanism was activated. But the abacus on the table was an ordinary one made from mahogany. The bamboo cross-pieces of the abacus had been broken into countless pieces; clearly, he had used his internal energy to shatter the bamboo cross-pieces, then used his internal energy to agitate the beads and shoot them out. This display of martial arts prowess really was goddamn incredible.”

“The more the man and the woman spoke, the happier their voices became. I, on the other hand, grew steadily more afraid. I committed over thirty bloody murders in this house, and now I was stuck here, unable to move, unable to speak. It would be alright if I had to pay with my own life for my murders. But if I were found here, I would be implicating brother Ke as well. The four hours that I spent there were more agonizing than that of ten or twenty years of torture. It wasn’t until the chickens began to crow that the man laughed and said, ‘Wife, it looks like we won’t be able to figure out the next few steps tonight. Let’s go!’ The woman said, ‘This ‘Golden Abacus’, Master Cui, helped you to come up with such a miraculous solution. We should give him some sort of reward!’ I was startled once more. So they had known my identity all along. The man said, ‘Since this is the case, let’s let him live a few more years. We’ll take his life the next time we meet him! He dared to insult you and insult me. We can’t just pretend that didn’t happen.’ As he spoke, he picked up his book, then sent out a palm and lightly tapped me on the back, unsealing my acupoints. Following this, the two of them flew out of the window. I lowered my head and saw that three holes had appeared in the chest of my clothes. Three abacus beads were neatly and perfectly nailed into my chest. Even if one had used a ruler and other tools, it would be extremely difficult to place them so accurately. Look, look, look. Everyone, take a look at my predicament for yourself.” And as he spoke, he removed his upper body garments.

As everyone looked at him, they couldn’t help but laugh. Two of the abacus beads were planted precisely on top of his nipples, with the other one in between them. Can it be that he wasn’t able to think of a way to remove them, despite all these years having passed? Cui Baiquan shook his head, rebuttoning his clothes. “For these three beads to be placed on my body is really a heavy punishment. At first, I wanted to dig them out with a knife. But as soon as I used the slightest bit of force, I agitated my own meridians and passed out. It took four hours before I was able to wake up. How about using sandpaper or a filing knife to slowly destroy it? It was still so agonizing that I screamed like a goddamn pig. This punishment has followed my spirit and never left my body. Whenever it is about to rain, these three points of my chest are filled with so much unbearable ****ing pain. It’s more accurate than tortoise shell divinations!” Everyone present was both astonished and amused.

Cui Baiquan let out a sigh. “This man said that the next time he saw me, he would take my life. I can’t let him take my life, but if I ever met him again, I can’t prevent him from taking it either. The only thing I could do was to make sure he would never see me again. I had no other choice but to escape far away. I ended up arriving at the Southern Garrison Palace. There were many experts here, including Prince Duan, Gao Shengtai, Chu Wanli, and the other bodyguards. Surely, they wouldn’t stand by and do nothing and simply watch as my life was taken away. When these three beads on my chest began to hurt, I had no choice but to drown the pain in alcohol for a while. Any lofty aspirations, grand ideals, or dreams of becoming a famous man of my time had become totally out of ****ing reach, more distant than the ninth level of the heavens.”

Everyone thought to themselves, “This person’s situation is largely the same as that of the Yellow Browed Monk. The only difference is that one left the secular world and became a monk, whereas the other hid his identity and lived incognito.” 

Duan Yu asked, “Mr. Huo, how do you know that those two belonged to Gusu’s Murong lineage?” He was used to calling this person ‘Mr. Huo’, and wasn’t able to instantly change his mode of address.

Cui Baiquan scratched his head and said, “That was the hypothesis of my martial brother. After being hit by these three abacus beads, I went to discuss the situation with him. He told me that in wulin, only Gusu’s Murong family would ‘Use the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent.’ I use abacus beads to attack others, and so he used abacus beads to attack me. Gusu’s Murong family isn’t a flourishing one. ****! It’s a good thing there’s not a lot of them in the world. If they had thousands of sons and hundreds of grandsons, there would be no others left in jianghu. Only their family would be left.”

These words were extremely disrespectful to Dali’s Duan family, but no one cared. He continued, “The only famous person from their family is Murong Bo. Forty three years ago, the kid who used the Vajra Finger to harm this respected monk was aged fifteen or sixteen. Eighteen years ago, the man who drilled these three beads into my chest was in his forties. It seems likely that they both were the same person, Murong Bo. I never would have imagined that my martial brother would lose his life to him as well. Yanzhi, how did your master offend him?”

Guo Yanzhi replied, “These past few years, my master had been focused on his business. He would often say, ‘harmony brings prosperity’. He never quarreled with anybody. There’s no way that he could’ve offended Gusu’s Murong family. We’re located in Nanyang; they’re located in Suzhou. There’s a huge distance between us.”

Cui Baiquan said, “Most likely, Murong Bo wasn’t able to find me, shrinking, cowardly turtle that I am, and went to ask your master for my location. Your master was a loyal, filial man. He would rather die than reveal my location, and lost his life under Murong Bo’s hands. Brother Ke! I harmed you!” As he spoke, tears began to fall from his eyes and he had a runny nose. Sobbing, he said, “Murong Bo…Bo, Bo, Bo! I’ll rip your skin off [Bo is a homonym for another Chinese character, meaning to skin]!” After crying for a bit, he turned to Duan Zhengchun and said, “Prince Duan, all I have to say, I have. Thank you for taking care of me over the past few years and not exposing my identity. I feel extremely grateful towards you, but it will be difficult for me to repay you. I am heading to Gusu right now!” 
Astonished, Duan Zhengchun said, “You are going to Gusu?”

Cui Baiquan said, “Right! My martial brother and I are as close as blood brothers. How can I not avenge his murder? Yanzhi, let’s go!” As he spoke, he clasped his hands towards every person, then turned around and left. Guo Yanzhi also paid his respects to everyone present, then followed him out.

This turn of events was completely out of everyone’s expectations. They saw how terrified Cui Baiquan was of Gusu’s Murong family. But when he spoke of going to avenge his martial brother, despite the fact that he knew he was going to his death, he didn’t show an iota of fear. Everyone secretly felt respect for him within their hearts. Duan Zhengchun called out, “Gentlemen, please wait. Brother Guo has travelled such a long distance to get here. Please take a night’s rest at my humble abode first, then leave on the morrow.” 
Cui Baiquan halted, turned around, and said, “Yes! We’ll follow your orders, Prince, and trouble you for one last meal. Yanzhi, let’s go drinking!” He led Guo Yanzhi away.

Emperor Baoding said to Duan Zhengchun, “Brother Chun, tomorrow, go with Ministers Hua, Fan, and Ba to the Shenjie Monastery of Luliang prefecture. Hold a memorial service on my behalf for master Xuanbei.” Duan Zhengchun agreed. Huizhen and Huiguan kowtowed, showing their thanks. Emperor Baoding said to Duan Zhengchun, “After paying your respects to Abbot Wuye, wait at the Shenjie monastery for the arrival of the other master monks of Shaolin, then give them my return letter for Abbot Xuanci.” He said to Ba Tianshi, “Prepare a pair of letters. One will go to Abbot Xuanci, the other will go to Abbot Wuye. Also prepare gifts for both of them.” Ba Tianshi bowed and acknowledged the order. Emperor Baoding continued, “Escort these two eminment monks to their rooms so that they can have some rest.” After Ba Tianshi escorted Huizhen and Huiguan out, Emperor Baoding said, “Dali’s Duan family came from wulin of the Central Plains. We have never dared to forget our origins, despite the passage of centuries. When friends from wulin of the Central Plains come here, we always happily welcome them with lavish ceremony. But our ancestors laid down an extremely strict rule. The scions of the Duan family are completely forbidden from getting involved in the enmities of the jianghu of the Central Plains. Although we will not and cannot ignore the death of master Xuanbei, we will leave the question of getting revenge up to Shaolin. We cannot interfere.” 

Duan Zhengchun said, “Yes, your brother understands.”

The Yellow Browed Monk said, “It really is very difficult to decide what our proper course of action here is. We must assist Shaolin, but we cannot get involved in any revenge killings. Although Gusu’s Murong family does not have many people, as a famous, aristocratic wulin family, they certainly have a huge number of friends and affiliates. For Shaolin to be open enemies of Gusu’s Murong family would be an shocking, earth-shattering event in wulin. Blood will spray like rain, and the wind will reek of flesh. Who knows how many people will perish. For the past few years, the country of Dali has been peaceful and prosperous. If we get too deeply involved in this spat, I’m afraid that in future years, there will be many people who come to Dali for the purpose of settling scores.”

Emperor Baoding said, “Master, your words are most correct. Our only option is to act totally in accordance with the righteous path, while also showing as much forebearance as we can. Brother Chun, you must always remember these four words: ‘Maintain righteousness, exercise forebearance.’” Duan Zhengchun cupped his hands in acknowledgement of the lesson.

The Yellow Browed Monk said, “My two worthy brothers, I must depart now. I need to take a stroll at the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities.” 

Everyone was astonished. Emperor Baoding said, “Martial brother, what business do you have at the Ten Thousand Calmities Gorge? Who do you want to take with you?” 

The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. “I won’t even take my two disciples. My two worthy brothers, why don’t you try to guess why I am going there?” Seeing a cheerful smile on his face, Emperor Baoding and Duan Zhengchun felt that it probably wasn’t some dangerous affair. And yet, they still weren’t able to guess what it might be. The Yellow Browed Monk smiled towards Duan Yu. “Worthy nephew, I’ll wager you can guess what it is.”

Duan Yu was startled. “Why is it that I can guess what it is, despite my uncle and father being unable to?” But suddenly, the answer came to him. Laughing, he said, “Master, you are going to investigate that game of chess!” 

The Yellow Browed Monk laughed loudly. “Precisely. I have no idea as to how, precisely, I defeated Crown Prince Yanqing in that game of chess. Why did he kill one of his own eyes?” 

Duan Yu shook his head. “I don’t know either.” 

The Yellow Browed Monk said, “Can it be that there was some oddity within the stone house, or on the blue stone? This humble monk must go take a second look!”

For students of chess, after each game, regardless of victory or defeat, they would go and ponder and deliberate the moves of that match. They would consider where they made weak moves or unwise moves, or where they attacked to aggressively or moved too sluggishly. They wouldn’t feel comfortable until after they had totally understood the intricacies of the game. Not to mention, the Yellow Browed Monk won this game of chess in an extremely strange manner. If he couldn’t discover the secret to this game of chess, it would most likely vex him for the rest of his life.

Emperor Baoding immediately returned to his own palace. The Yellow Browed Monk instructed his two disciples to return to the Flower Gathering Monastery, then went by himself to the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities. He reassembled the blue stone chessboard which was shattered by Crown Prince Yanqing, then began pondering each move step by step.

After escorting Emperor Baoding and the Yellow Browed Monk out of the palace, Duan Zhengchun returned to his own room, intending to discuss the day’s events with his wife. Unfortunately, Dao Baifeng, still angry with him over the discovery that he had another illegitimate daughter, in the form of Zhong Ling, had locked the door and wouldn’t let him in. Duan Zhengchun begged her from outside to open up for a long time. She replied, “If you don’t leave immediately, I’m going back to the Hollow Jade Monastery!”

Helpless, Duan Zhengchun could only return to the study room, sitting down gloomily. He suddenly thought of Zhong Ling, and wondered if Zhong Wanchou and the Divine Crocodile could rescue her. Chu Wanli and the others had left to investigate, but hadn’t returned to make a report yet. His mind was uneasy. He stroked the golden box which Gan Baobao had returned to him. Staring at her slender, fine handwriting, his mind returned to a time seventeen years past, where the two of them had shared joy and happiness so overwhelming, it had penetrated to their marrows. Then he thought of how she had painfully waited for him for so long, before she finally was forced to marry Zhong Wanchou. He couldn’t help but feel a deep ache within his heart. “At that time, she was only a seventeen year old girl. Her parents had always treated her unkindly. She was carrying my child within her, out of wedlock. What else could she do?”

The more he thought, the more miserable he felt. Suddenly, he remembered the words which Dao Baifeng had earlier said to Minister Hua. “This tunnel passes by Madame Zhong’s bedroom. If you don’t collapse it, I’m afraid that one of the gentlemen currently present will henceforth go tunnel his way there every night from now on.” He immediately ordered one of his servants to secretly summon two of Minister Hua’s most able family warriors, admonishing him to keep everything secret.

Within his own study room, Duan Yu’s mind was fully occupied with running through all the strange events which had recently transpired. First, his wedding engagement with Mu Wanqing, then his discovery that she was his sister. Even more bizarre, Zhong Ling was also his sister. Zhong Ling had been kidnapped by Yun Zhonghe, and whether or not she had escaped his clutches was as of yet unknown. His heart was filled with worry. Then, he thought of Murong Bo and his wife studying the art of the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’. He wondered what sort of connection they might have with his Dear Goddess from the cave. “Could it be that they were disciples of the Carefree Sect (literally, ‘Xiaoyao Sect’)? Are they the people whom the Dear Goddess has ordered me to kill? They have attained such an incredibly high level of martial arts. For someone to expect me to try and kill them will be a joke of colossal proportions.”

His mind wandered to his imprisonment within the stone house. Thank goodness he hadn’t committed any incestuous acts. It really was a stroke of luck. In addition, he had become much more familiar with the footwork of the ‘Graceful Steps Upon the Waves’ as well. However, he had been slacking with regards to doing the homework which the Dear Goddess had assigned him. He immediately reached within his bosom, intending to pull the manuscript out. As soon as his fingers brushed its surface, he realized that something was wrong. He quickly extracted the manuscript, then let out a series of cries, “Aiyo! Aiyo!” The scroll had long since been torn into many scattered pieces. Upon unwrapping it, he found that all the pieces were jumbled together. How could this be readable at all? Of the scattered pieces of parchment, perhaps only thirty percent of the original remained. The damage done to the actual diagrams and instructions was even more severe. Duan Yu’s entire body trembled, as though he had been thrown into a room built of ice. He thought to himself, “How…how could this have happened.”

Only after a long time had passed did he vaguely recollect that after being imprisoned by the man in green, his entire body had suddenly turned unbearably hot. He had wildly ripped and torn at his clothes. Later, as he ran and jumped about madly, he had continued to wildly tear at his clothes. In his dazed state, how could he tell the difference between clothes and manuscripts? Naturally, he tore at everything, ripping them into little pieces then casting them aside.

He stared stupidly at the image of the naked girl on the scroll, whose arms and legs had been torn off with the parchment they were drawn upon. And yet, there was a feel of relief in his heart as well. “The manuscript has been destroyed. I can no longer learn the martial arts written within it. It’s not that I refuse to obey Dear Goddess’s orders, but that I am unable to. All that stuff about exterminating the disciples of the Carefree Sect no longer apply.” He threw the remaining scraps of parchment into the fireplace, then lit the fire and burned them to ash. He thought to himself, “The naked pictures are badly damaged. Each time I look at them, I would be profaning the memory of the Dear Goddess. It is heaven’s will that it be destroyed in flame.”

He saw that it was now late at night, and headed to his mother’s room. He wanted to have a good conversation with her and share a meal. Arriving at her room, he saw that the door was shut tightly. The female servant in charge of waiting on the princess giggled, “The princess is sleeping. Please come back tomorrow.” 

Duan Yu thought to himself, “Oh, right. Father must be inside.” Turning away, he left, intending to find Mu Wanqing and have a conversation with her instead. But after taking a few steps, he decided that it would be best for him to avoid her for now. For him to visit her now would only make her feel sadder. Bored and aimless, he strolled towards the inner garden.

By now, the moon appeared. He sat for a while at the pavilion by the side of the pond, watching as the curved crescent moon rose up into the sky from the east. He thought to himself that at this moment, the moonlight would also be descending upon the Jade Cliffs of Limitless Mountain (Mt. Wuliang). After a few more hours, a multicolored long sword would appear on those Jade Cliffs, pointing to the abode of the Dear Goddess. Just as he was beginning to fall into a spellbound trance, he heard a soft whistle come from outside of the walls. Listening, he heard the sound a few more times. In the past, he wouldn’t have paid such a thing any mind. But in the past few days, he had undergone many things and broaded his experiences. He thought to himself, “Can it be that a person of jianghu is sending a secret signal?”

After a short period of time, the whistle came again. Suddenly, a shadow flashed by the peony flower terrace. As it reached the wall, it leapt on top of it. Duan Yu involuntarily cried out, “Sister Wan!” The person was Mu Wanqing. He watched as she leapt down from the wall, to the other side.

Duan Yu cried out a second time, “Sister Wan!” He rushed to the spot where Mu Wanqing had leapt onto the wall, but he himself, of course, didn’t have that sort of ability. There was a door next to him, leading out of the garden, but it was bolted and locked shut with an iron padlock. He could do nothing but loudly shout out, “Sister Wan! Sister Wan!”

Only to hear Mu Wanqing loudly shout back from the other side of the wall, “Why do you keep on calling my name? I never want to see you again! I’m leaving with my mom!”

Duan Yu anxiously said, “Don’t leave! No matter what, you mustn’t leave!” Mu Wanqing did not reply.

After a while, he heard the voice of an older woman say from the other side, “Wan’er, let’s go! Alas! It’s useless.” 

Mu Wanqing was still silent. Duan Yu knew that this woman must be Qin Hongmian. He shouted, “Aunt Qin, please come in.”

Qin Hongmian said, “Come in? For what purpose? So that your mother can kill me?”

Duan Yu wasn’t able to formulate a reply. He hit the door hard, calling out, “Sister Wan, Sister Wan! Don’t go! Let’s slowly think of an idea.” 

Mu Wanqing replied, “What idea can we come up with? Heaven itself has no ideas!” After pondering a moment, she called out, “I have an idea. Are you interested?” 

Duan Yu happily replied, “Great! What’s the plan?”

With two ‘chi’ sounds, the blade of a thin blue saber was inserted within the openings at the side of the doorway, then cut the hinges off. Following that, with a pair of ‘peng’ sounds, the gate was pushed open. Mu Wanqing stood in the doorway. Within her hands, she held that thin blue Asura Saber. She said, “Stretch out your neck and let me chop it in half. Then I’ll immediately kill myself. When we reincarnate, we won’t be brother and sister. That way, we can become man and wife.”

Duan Yu was so frightened that he was stupefied. In a quavering voice, he replied, “This…this isn’t…isn’t workable!”

Mu Wanqing said, “I’m willing. Why aren’t you? Alternately, you can kill me first, then take your own life.” As she spoke, she handed an Asura Saber over towards him. Duan Yu hurriedly took two steps back. “No way, no way!”

Mu Wanqing slowly turned around. Grasping her mother’s arm, she quickly walked away. Duan Yu blankly stared as their silhouettes disappeared within the darkness of the night. For a long, long time, he did not move.

Slowly, the moon rose until it was in the middle of the sky, but he continued to stand there without moving. He suddenly felt a tightness at the back of his neck, and then he was lifted up in the sky by someone. A quiet voice laughed. “Do you wanna die, or do you wanna live? If you wanna be my master, you’ll be a dead master. But if you’re willing to be my apprentice, you’ll be a living apprentice.” It was the Divine Crocodile’s voice.

Duan Zhengchun, with two of Hua Hegen’s most skilled subordinates, swiftly rode to the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities. These two subordinates, having helped Hua Hegen dig the tunnel, knew where the entrance to it was. They led him to it, then shifted away the branches and twigs which they had used to camouflage the entrance. One of them said, “Let this humble one guide you.” 

Duan Zhengchun said, “No need! The two of you shall just wait for me here.”

Just as he was about to crawl into the tunnel, he suddenly a shadow flash by from behind a large tree to the west. The movement was extremely quick. Duan Zhengchun immediately utilized his energy and charged over there. He cried out in a low voice, “Who are you?” Behind the large tree, a man whispered back, “Prince, I am Cui Baiquan!” He stepped out from behind the tree.

Surprised, Duan Zhengchun said, “Brother Cui, what are you doing here?” 

Cui Baiquan said, “This humble one heard that your honored daughter had been abducted. I came with my martial nephew Guo in order to look for her. I saw some clues on the road and deduced that the young miss most likely fled back here. But that villain is continuing to pursue her and not letting up.”

Duan Zhengchun’s mind was suddenly enlightened. “This Cui Baiquan is a man who distinguishes between benevolence and mistreatment. He had hidden himself in my manor for all these years, and consequently feels that he owes me a debt of gratitude. He is about to go seek out Gusu’s Murong family for revenge. This is tantamount to throwing his life away. He hoped to be able to find my daughter, Ling’er, and in this way repay the gift of protection which I had given him for the past ten or so years.”

He immediately bowed deeply. “Brother Cui, I can’t thank you enough for the righteousness you have displayed.” 

Cui Baiquan replied, “I’ll go search for her over there.” In a flash, he entered the forested woods, demonstrating an exceptionally capable skill in qinggong.

Duan Zhengchun thought to himself, “Brother Cui’s martial arts is not inferior at all to Wanli or Danchen.” Returning to the tunnel entrance, he entered the tunnel. After crawling for a while, he came to a fork in the tunnel. The two subordinates had already told him earlier that the northeastern tunnel led to the stone house which had previously imprisoned Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing, and that the northwestern tunnel led to Madame Zhong’s bedroom. He immediately crawled in the northwestern direction. Arriving at the end of the tunnel, he gently lifted up the board above his head by a few inches. Bright light appeared before him. He slowly peered into the crack, only to see a pair of purple, flower-embroidered shoes resting on the floor. Duan Zhengchun felt a great shock in his heart, then pushed the board up another two inches.

He heard Gan Baobao let out a long sigh. After a while, she quietly said, “If you weren’t a Prince, but were instead a farmer or a hunter, or a philandering little thief, or a bandit who plundered homes, I would still have followed you...I would have followed you my entire life...” Following this, a few teardrops fell, descending on the floorboard next to her flower-embroidered shoes.

Duan Zhengchun felt a gush of warm feeling rise from the pit of his stomach. He thought to himself, “I won’t be a Prince anymore. I’ll be a thief or a bandit and have you follow me for the rest of our lives. What’s so good about being a prince anyhow?”

Only to hear Gan Baobao continue, “Can it be...can it be that I really will never see you again for the rest of my life? Not even once? I...I’m better off dead. Brother Chun, brother you miss me at all?” 

These soft laments were truly heart-rending and deeply moving. Duan Zhengchun couldn’t resist from quietly whispering, “ beloved Baobao...” 

Gan Baobao was startled. She stood up, then immediately let out a sigh. She mumbled to herself, “I’m dreaming again. I dreamed that you were calling to me.” 

Duan Zhengchun said in a low voice, “Beloved Baobao, I really am calling out to you. I’ve always been thinking of you and missing you.”

Gao Baobao let out a startled cry. “Brother Chun, is it really you?” 

Duan Zhengchun pushed the floorboard aside and crawled out. In a low voice, he said, “Beloved Baobao, it really is me!” Gan Baobao, upon suddenly seeing Duan Zhengchun appear before her, lost all color in her face. She took a few steps forward, her entire body trembling. Duan Zhengchun rushed forwards and embraced her in her arms. Gan Baobao’s body suddenly swayed, and then she passed out.

Duan Zhengchun hurriedly massaged her ‘Renzhong’ acupoint. Slowly, Gan Baobao began to come to. She felt that her body was in Duan Zhengchun’s embrace, while he was kissing her face. She was filled with such joy that her entire body was about to explode from it. Her mind in a daze, she whispered, “Brother Chun, Brother Chun...I’m dreaming again.” 

Duan Zhengchun tightly embraced her warm, soft body. He whispered in her ear, “Beloved Baobao, you aren’t dreaming. I’m the one dreaming.”

Suddenly, a coarse voice erupted from outside the door. “Who?! Who’s inside the room?! I heard a male voice!” 

It was Zhong Wanchou’s voice. Duan Zhengchun and Gan Baobao were both startled. Gan Baobao loudly replied, “I’m inside! What’s this nonsense about a male voice or a female voice? You’re babbling again!”

Duan Zhengchun whispered into her ear, “Run away with me. I’ll be a thief or a bandit. I won’t be a prince anymore.” Absolutely jubilant, Gan Baobao whispered back, “I’ll be a thief’s wife or a bandit’s wife. Even if it’s just for one day, it would be wonderful.”

Without his wife’s permission, Zhong Wanchou didn’t dare to enter his wife’s room. But from a window, he saw a man’s shadow inside the room. He loudly cried out, “You have a man inside your room! I...I see him!” He no longer cared about whether or not his wife had given permission and knocked the door open with a flying kick.

The back of Duan Yu’s neck had been seized by the Divine Crocodile. Held up in midair, he couldn’t move in the slightest. He had only finished practicing one part of the ‘Divine Art of the Northern Darkness’, the ‘Shoutaiyinfei’ part. He could only use the ‘Shaoshang’ acupoint on his thumb to fight with people. In addition, the opponent was using all his might in seizing him; how could he drain his energy away, with all of his other acupoints unable to draw internal energy? He was just about to shout, but the Divine Crocodile stretched out his left hand and covered his mouth.

Holding him, the Divine Crocodile raced away. He did not stop until he had arrived in a quiet, secluded place, far away from the Southern Garrison Palace. He put Duan Yu back down, but did not release the back of his neck, fearing that if he did, Duan Yu would utilize that bizarre set of footwork to flee.

Duan Yu let out a bitter smile. “Evidently, you changed your mind. You don’t want to be my disciple after all; you’d rather be a bastard son of a turtle.” 

The Divine Crocodile replied, “Says who? First, return to me my eight kowtows and expel me from your sect, releasing me from your tutelage. Then kowtow to me eight more times and accept me as your master. We’ll do this orderly and by the book. That way, there’ll be no issue of me being a bastard son of a turtle.”

Duan Yu couldn’t help but laugh silently to himself. “No way! At this moment, I’ve been captured by you and don’t have the ability to defend myself. Go ahead and kill me!” 

The Divine Crocodile spat. “Bah! I won’t fall for your trick! Your old man definitely won’t kill you while you are helpless and give people a reason to call me a bastard son of a turtle! Do you think I’m stupid or something?” 

Duan Yu replied, “You are so sharp! So extremely smart!”

The Divine Crocodile had come up with a ‘brilliant plan’ that would allow him to flawlessly and properly achieve his hearts desire in terms of formalities. How could he have known that the other person would rather die than kowtow to him eighteen times? The brilliant plan he had spent days concocting was now totally useless. He couldn’t help but feel extremely anxious and indecisive.

Duan Yu said, “According to the rules of the Southern Seas sect, can a disciple kill his own master?” 

The Divine Crocodile replied, “Of course he can’t! A master can kill his disciple, but a disciple killing his master is unheard of!” 

Duan Yu continued, “So does a disciple have to listen to and obey his master, or does the master have to obey the disciple?” 

The Divine Crocodile replied, “Naturally, the disciple has to obey the master. After you accept me as your master, you’ll need to obey me in all things.” 

Duan Yu laughed. “Right now, you are still my disciple. I told you to go rescue your master-wife. Have you accomplished this or not?”

The Divine Crocodile said, “****! I started to fight with Number Four just as my master-wife’s old man rushed over. He took the opportunity to seize her back.” Duan Yu, hearing that Zhong Ling had already escaped Yun Zhonghe’s vile grasp, was filled with joy.

The Divine Crocodile continued, “Next, I started to fight with my master-wife’s old man. After we battled for a bit, he didn’t want to fight anymore. My master-wife had already run away as well. Number Four said that we should go to the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities and kill Zhong Wanchou.” 

Duan Yu asked, “Why’s that?” 

The Divine Crocodile replied, “This important task cannot go undone! Otherwise I, Yue Number Two, will never be able to raise my head in jianghu ever again, and be looked down upon by everyone.” 

Baffled, Duan Yu said, “What type of logic is that? Number Four was just messing with you. You don’t need to listen to him.”

The Divine Crocodile replied, “No, no! Number Four is looking after my well-being. If you don’t understand the logic of this, let me instruct you. That little girl is now my master-wife, putting her a generation up above me. That means her old man is two generations above me. ****! What type of shitty creature is Zhong Wanchou, for him to be two generations my senior? I gotta kill him! Number Four also said that the reason he was planning to kill Zhong Wanchou and steal his wife was because of his loyalty to our group, the ‘Four Evils’. He was totally doing this for my sake, charging ahead without caring about his own safety and risking everything for me.”

Duan Yu was all the more baffled. He asked, “How so?” 

The Divine Crocodile replied, “Zhong Wanchou’s wife, being my master-wife’s mother, is also two generations above me. But if Number Four made her his wife instead, she would become the wife of the junior brother of I, Yue Number Two. That would make her my sister-in-law. Her daughter would naturally be a generation beneath me, making her my niece. You would be my niece’s husband, making you my nephew-in-law. Naturally, you’d also be one generation lower than me. I’d address you as ‘master’, and you’d address me as ‘uncle’. Wouldn’t that put both of us in a great position? Haha! What a brilliant idea!”

Duan Yu burst into loud laughter. The Divine Crocodile said, “Let’s go, let’s go! Let’s quickly go and take care of this important bit of business. There can never be a person in the world who is two generations above Yue Number Two!” Grabbing Duan Yu by the hand, he flew towards the direction of the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities.

Duan Zhengchun heard Zhong Wanchou kick down the door to enter the room. A thought flashed by his mind. “I can’t kill him!” He gently pried himself loose from Gan Baobao’s embrace and jumped back into the tunnel, hurriedly replacing the wooden board.

With his large saber in hand, Zhong Wanchou rushed into the bedroom, only to see Gan Baobao by herself in the room. He hurriedly checked the wardrobe, underneath the bed, and behind the door. He checked every conceivable place where a person might hide. Forget about finding a male, he wasn’t even able to find half the shadow of a ghost. He was filled with total astonishment. Gan Baobao furiously said, “You’ve come to bully me again! Quick, just go ahead and kill me cleanly with a cut of your saber!” 

Not finding a man inside the room, Zhong Wanchou had been filled with happiness. He hurriedly threw aside his saber and laughed heartily. “Wife, my vision must’ve been blurry. I must’ve drank a few too many cups of wine earlier!” But even as he was saying this, he continued to peer here and there.

Suddenly, the sound of frantic footsteps came from outside. Zhong Ling cried loudly, “Mother! Mother!” She flew into the room. 

Yun Zhonghe’s voice pursued her in. “Even if you run to the ends of the world, I’ll still find and capture you!” With quick footsteps, he followed her in.

Zhong Ling cried out, “Daddy, this bad man…this bad man is chasing me again!” In the course of running away from Yun Zhonghe, she had long since exhausted herself. Fortunately, she was familiar with every nook and cranny of her own home, and so was able to dodge here and hide there. Yun Zhonghe on the other hand, in this twisting maze of secret paths and passageways, wasn’t able to utilize his qinggong abilities fully. This was the only reason she was able to escape into her mother’s bedroom. Yun Zhonghe, seeing both Zhong Wanchou and his wife in the room, was very pleasantly surprised. He thought to himself that this was an excellent opportunity to kill Zhong Wanchou, then carry off both Madame Zhong and Zhong Ling.

Zhong Wanchou fired off three palms in a row, but all three were sidestepped by Yun Zhonghe. Yun Zhonghe circled past the table to pursue Zhong Ling. He thought to himself, “First, let me take care of the little girl. The next step after that would be to kill her father and capture her mother. That way, I won’t give her a chance to run away.” 

Zhong Ling cried out, “Hey, you bamboo-pole, if you keep on chasing me, I’m going to start tickling you!” 

Yun Zhonghe was startled, then called out, “You’ll tickle me? I’d like to see you try!” As he spoke, he threw himself through the air towards her.

That day when Zhong Ling had been abducted by Yun Zhonghe, she had struggled with all her might. But how could she escape his grasp? She was terrified to death. She heard the Divine Crocodile rush after them from far away, and heard him loudly call out, “Master-wife! Master-wife! Stretch out your hand and scratch his armpit! This skinny bamboo pole is terrified of being tickled!” 

Zhong Ling thought to herself, “Tickling? I’m an expert at that skill!” Stretching out her hand, she was just about to tickle his armpit. But Yun Zhonghe had also heard the Divine Crocodile’s shout. Even before she had startled to tickle him, he couldn’t help but begin to laugh. While laughing, he was no longer able to run as quickly as before, and the Divine Crocodile was able to catch up to him.

Yun Zhonghe said, “Yue Number Three! You’ve fallen for that guy’s tricks!” 

The Divine Crocodile retorted, “What are you babbling about, tricks this and tricks that? Hurry up and let go of my master-wife, or I’ll give you a taste of my Crocodile Fang Scissors!” Out of options, Yun Zhonghe was forced to put Zhong Ling down. Catching him off-guard, Zhong Ling startled to tickle him. Turning his waist away, Yun Zhonghe laughed so hard that he ran out of breath. The more he laughed, the more vigorously Zhong Ling tickled. Between laughs, Yun Zhonghe began to cough. 

The Divine Crocodile said, “Master-wife, please spare him! If you keep on doing this and if this goes on for much longer, he’ll suffocate to death from laughter!” 

Zhong Ling thought this was really bizarre. This evil person’s martial arts skill was of such a high level. How could he be literally tickled to death by someone? She replied, “I don’t believe you! I want to try and see if he can really be tickled to death!” 

The Divine Crocodile said, “That won’t do! If you tickle him to death, he won’t be able to come to life again. The weak spot of Yun Zhonghe’s martial arts is at the ‘Tianquan’ [Heavenly Spring] acupoint underneath his armpit. It can’t be touched!”

Upon hearing his words, Zhong Ling ceased her assaults on the crook of his armpit. Yun Zhonghe rose to his feet, then suddenly spat towards the Divine Crocodile. He cursed, “You damned crocodile, you ugly alligator! Why’d you expose the weak spot of my martial arts to an outside?!” 
Zhong Ling said, “Wow, now you’re cussing at people?” She stretched out her hand to tickle him again, but unexpectedly, it didn’t work this time. Yun Zhonghe sent out a flying kick that sent her flying far away.

The Divine Crocodile helped Zhong Ling stand up. He said, “Master-wife, does it hurt?” 

Before Zhong Ling had a chance to respond, Zhong Wanchou rushed towards them, his large saber in hand. He cried out, “Stupid girl! What’s the point of you dying here?” 

The Divine Crocodile turned his head and barked out, “****, man! Why the hell are you screaming obscenities?” 

Zhong Wanchou angrily replied, “I’m scolding my daughter! What the hell does it have to do with you?” 

The Divine Crocodile was totally enraged. Pointing at Zhong Wanchou, he roared, “You…you thieving dog! You want to take advantage of me? I…I, Yue Number Two, am going to go all out on you!” 

Zhong Wanchou replied, “How am I taking advantage of you?” 

The Divine Crocodile replied, “She’s my master-wife. That means she’s a generation above me. There’s nothing I can do about that. But you dare to call yourself her father. This… this… you… doesn’t this mean you’re two generations above me!? Yue Number Two is a respected senior in the Southern Seas Sect. Everyone politely addresses me as ‘grandpa’ or ‘ancestor’. But ever since I arrived on the Central Plains, I’ve become a generation or two lower than everybody. This old man won’t stand for it! I won’t stand for it no matter what!”

Zhong Wanchou replied, “If you won’t stand for it, then you won’t stand for it. She’s my birth daughter. That naturally makes me her old man. What’s this crap about ‘calling myself’ her father?” 
The Divine Crocodile craned his head to glance at both him and his daughter, then said, “Naturally, you’re ‘calling yourself’ her old man. My master-wife is spectacularly beautiful. But you’re as ugly as sin. How could you possibly be her old man? She definitely wasn’t conceived by you, she was conceived by some other bloke! You’re not really her ‘old man’, you are a fake ‘old man’!” Listening to his words, Zhong Wanchou was so enraged that his face turned black with rage. Raising up his saber, he chopped at the Divine Crocodile.

Zhong Ling hurriedly said, “Daddy, this person rescued me from the hands of that bad man! Don’t kill him!”

The flames of Zhong Wanchou’s fury towered above the sky. He roared out, “Damn girl! I always suspected that you weren’t really my daughter! Even this huge dumbass knows it to be true! How can it be false? First I’ll kill him, then I’ll kill you, and last of all I’ll kill your mother!”

Zhong Ling saw that the two had begun to fight, and that victory or defeat would take some time to be determined. She loudly cried out, “Hey, Yue Number Three! You aren’t allowed to hurt my daddy!” She called out again, “Daddy, you can’t hurt Yue Number Three!” Then she walked away.

By the time she reached the Valley of Ten Thousand Calamities, she was totally exhausted. As soon as she arrived at her own room she immediately fell asleep. She remained asleep until midnight, when she was awoken by Yun Zhonghe’s shouts and calls. He was searching through every single room, one after the other. She had hurriedly gotten up and ran away.

At this time, Zhong Ling suspected that she wouldn’t be able to get close enough to Yun Zhonghe to tickle him without being captured. She suddenly saw the plank covering the tunnel. Remembering how she was kidnapped via this tunnel by Hua Hegen, she immediately ran over there and lifted up the wooden plank then threw herself into the tunnel.

Yun Zhonghe hurriedly jumped in after her. After crawling for less than ten feet, his hand suddenly fell upon a thin, slender ankle. He heard Zhong Ling call out, “Aiyo!” Kicking frantically, she tried to kick him loose. But how could Yun Zhonghe, as ecstatic as he was, let her go? Exerting some of his upper body strength, he gave a strong pull, trying to pull her towards him. But unexpectedly, Zhong Ling let out another cry of ‘Aiyo’ and didn’t budge in the slightest. It seemed as though someone in front of her had grabbed her as well. At this moment, Yun Zhonghe felt a tight grasp settle around his own two ankles, and was himself being pulled out by someone else. He heard Zhong Wanchou call out, “Get out, get out!”

Zhong Wanchou, worried about his daughter, had also rushed into the tunnel. Zhong Wanchou gave two tugs but was unable to budge him. He was just about to exercise his strength when he, too, felt his ankles being seized by someone else. A surge of energy ran through his body, trying to pull him out. The Divine Crocodile’s hoarse voice was heard. “You ugly, horse-faced bastard, how dare you ‘call yourself’ my master-wife’s father?! You want to put yourself two generations above me? I’m going to kill you today, no matter what!”

As it was, the Divine Crocodile had just arrived, with Duan Yu in tow. From outside the room, he had watched as Zhong Ling, Yun Zhonghe, and Zhong Wanchou successively jumped into the hole. He thought to himself that there was nothing more important, at this moment in time, than killing this “fellow who dares calls himself my master-wife’s father”. He immediately rushed into the house and jumped into the tunnel as well, seizing hold of Zhong Wanchou’s feet.

Duan Yu hurriedly rushed into the room as well. He said to Madame Zhong, “Aunt Zhong, the important thing right now is to help little sister Zhong Ling.” Just as he was about to jump into the tunnel as well, somebody suddenly gave his body a push. He immediately fell down.

A female voice cried out, “Number Three, Number Four, get out of there now! Our leader has sent instructions forbidding you guys from killing each other!” It was “No Evil Left Undone”, Ye Erniang. She had received orders from Duan Yanqing to come and collect Yun Zhonghe and the Divine Crocodile. But she had arrived a bit late, and saw Yun Zhonghe wriggling into the tunnel, followed shortly by Zhong Wanchou and the Divine Crocodile. She knew that, earlier, the Divine Crocodile was trying to pursue and kill Yun Zhonghe. Yun Zhonghe’s martial arts was inferior to the Divine Crocodile. If he were to be really killed, their leader would definitely be absolutely infuriated. After calling out a few more times, and seeing that the Divine Crocodile did not respond, she too jumped into the hole after them. Grabbing the Divine Crocodile’s feet, she prepared to exert her strength and pull him out.

Duan Yu cried out, “Hey hey, you guys can’t kill sister Zhong Ling! Originally, she was my fiancée. Now she’s my sister!” But the cries and shouts coming from the tunnel were chaotic and muddled. He couldn’t tell who was calling out what. He thought to himself that with three of the most evil people in the world in that tunnel, Zhong Ling was in a very precarious situation. He felt that she had treated him with loyalty and affection; even though he did not know martial arts, he was willing to stake his life in order to rescue her. He immediately threw himself towards the tunnel opening. Grabbing onto Ye Erniang’s ankles, he prepared to pull her out.

As he clenched his hands around her ankles, his hands naturally settled around the location on Ye Erniang’s ankles, known as the “Shouyishu”. This was the location of a major acupoint, the ‘Sanyinjiao’ [‘Three Lunar Crossings’] acupoint of the ‘Zutaiyinpijing’ [‘Lunar Foot and Spleen Channel’]. The intersections were of the ‘Zushaoyinshenjing’ [‘Younger Lunar Foot and Kidney Channel’], the ‘Zutaiyinpijing’, and the ‘Zujueyinxinbaojing’ [‘Lunar Foot and Pericardium Channel’]. The ‘Shaoshang’ acupoint of his thumb was resting on the ‘Sanyinjiao’ acupoint of Ye Erniang’s ankle. As the two of them simultaneously exerted their energy, Ye Erniang’s internal energy immediately rushed out and entered Duan Yu’s body.

In the narrow confines of the tunnel, it wasn’t easy to turn around. Yun Zhonghe had seized Zhong Ling’s ankles, Zhong Wanchou had viciously grabbed on to Yun Zhonghe’s ankles, the Divine Crocodile had latched on to Zhong Wanchou’s ankles, Ye Erniang had snatched the Divine Crocodile’s ankles, and at the very end of the chain, Duan Yu was holding on to Ye Erniang’s ankles. Aside from Zhong Ling, everybody in the tunnel was using all of their strength to pull out the person in front of them. Zhong Ling did not have much internal energy, and at first, it seemed as though she was going to be easily pulled out by Yun Zhonghe. But somehow, it seemed as though someone in front of her had tightly grabbed onto her, preventing her from being pulled out!

Everyone in this human chain had the ‘Shaoshang’ acupoint on their thumbs attached to the ‘Sanyinjiao’ ankle acupoints of the person in front of them. As Ye Erniang’s internal energy flowed towards Duan Yu, it carried with it the internal energies of the Divine Crocodile, Zhong Wanchou, Yun Zhonghe, and Zhong Ling. Zhong Ling didn’t have much internal energy to begin with, so it was no big deal for her. But the other four people were terrified out of their wits and starting to kick like crazy, trying to escape the hold of the person behind them. But they were so tightly grabbed that they couldn’t shake loose no matter what. The more urgently they exercised their internal energy, the more quickly it flew away from them.

Yun Zhonghe only felt that a stream of energy was flowing from Zhong Ling’s ankle to him, and then passing through his own ankle further down the chain. He thought to himself that it was extremely strange that the little kid had such profound internal energy. Fortunately for him, even while internal energy was dissipating from his ankles, he was receiving a constant injection from his hands around her own. Naturally, no matter what he was unwilling to let go of Zhong Ling’s ankles, for fear that once he did, he wouldn’t be able to catch her again. Zhong Wanchou and the rest had the exact same ideas as well. As their hearts began to grow more and more fearful, their grips grew tighter and tighter as well. It was similar to how a drowning person will grab onto anything they can and refuse to let go no matter what.

Nobody in the tunnel could see a single thing. It was filled with the clamor of their shouts. “Our leader has summoned you!” “Let go of me!” “Your old man is gonna butcher you!” “Whaddya grabbing on to me for? Let go now!” “Mom! Mom! Daddy!” Towards the end, they began to feel that although the stream of energy entering their body from their hands was beginning to weaken, the energy flowing out of their bodies from their feet did not slacken in the slightest. This caused them to be all the more fearful.

Duan Yu pulled for a long time, and noticed that the internal energy continuously gushed forth into him. He had experienced this before at Limitless Mountain (Mt. Wuliang). At the moment, he was able to handle the feeling of dry heat as he stored up the gush of internal energy within the ‘Ocean of Energies’ at his ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint. But after a while, he began to feel as though the ‘Ocean of Energies’ at his ‘Shanzhong’ acupoint was becoming bloated and swollen. Slowly, he began to grow afraid as well. But he thought to himself that with Zhong Ling in such a precarious situation, he had to hang on no matter what. He clenched his teeth together and did not let go.

Seeing so many strange events occur in succession, Gan Baobao was totally flustered and did not know what to do. In her heart, that spiritually transcendent feeling she had when Duan Zhengchun held her in his arms had not yet totally dissipated. Sitting on a chair stupidly, she softly cried out, “Brother Chun, Brother Chun…he addressed me as his ‘Beloved Baobao’, he held me, he kissed me. This time, it wasn’t a dream. It was real!”

The heat in Duan Yu’s chest was proving difficult to endure, but the energy which was entering his body from his hands was only growing stronger and stronger. At this point in time, roughly half of the internal energy of the people in the tunnel had entered his body. Finally, he was able to slowly drag Ye Erniang out of the tunnel, followed by the Divine Crocodile, Zhong Wanchou, Yun Zhonghe, and Zhong Ling. Upon seeing Zhong Ling, Duan Yu felt a great sense of relief in his heart. He immediately let go of Ye Erniang, then rushed forward to help Zhong Ling up. He called out, “Sister Ling, sister Ling, you aren’t hurt, are you?”

Ye Erniang and the other three had lost half of their internal energies. They released each other, then simply sat there on the floorboards, huffing and panting.

Zhong Wanchou suddenly cried out, “There’s a man! There’s a man in that tunnel! It’s Duan Zhengchun, Duan Zhengchun!” He suddenly understood what had happened. He thought to himself, “It must have been Duan Zhengchun who dug the damn tunnel underneath my wife’s bedroom. Earlier, I heard a man’s voice and saw a man’s shadow. It’s definitely Duan Zhengchun!” The flames of his jealousy roaring, he rushed forwards, pushing Duan Yu aside and grabbing Zhong Ling by the back of her neck, intending to toss her aside, then jump back down into the tunnel and drag Duan Zhengchun out.

Upon hearing him loudly cry out the words “Duan Zhengchun!”, Gan Baobao immediately awoke from her stupor. Rising to her feet, her heart was filled with grief and bitterness.

Zhong Wanchou had forgotten that he had lost a large part of his internal energy. Although he grabbed her back the back of her neck, not only was he unable to budge her, his own two feet suddenly buckled and he fell to a sitting position on the ground. But he was unwilling to give up; no matter what, he was going to pull Zhong Ling from the tunnel. There was no way he was going to let Duan Zhengchun slip away!

After pulling for a while, he saw a pair of hands emerge from the tunnel. These hands were wrapped around Zhong Ling’s own wrists. Zhong Wanchou loudly cried out, “Duan Zhengchun, get up! You and I are going to fight to the death!” Exerting all his strength, he pulled Zhong Ling backwards. And indeed, a person slowly emerged from the tunnel.

This person really was a male!

Zhong Wanchou loudly called out, “Duan Zhengchun!” 

Letting go of Zhong Ling, he threw himself forward and seized the man by the chest. He lifted the man up, only to see that this man was repulsive and ugly, with knitted brows, a miserable face, a crooked mouth, and slanted shoulders. His body was extremely thin and gaunt. He was totally different from Duan Zhengchun. Duan Yu cried out, “Mr. Huo, what are you doing here?” This person was the ‘Golden Abacus’, Cui Baiquan!

Zhong Wanchou cried out, “It isn’t Duan Zhengchun!” Lifting his face towards the sky, he fell over backwards. But even then, he wouldn’t relinquish his tight grip on Cui Baiquan. But suddenly, two more hands reached out from the tunnel, grabbing on to Cui Baiquan’s ankles. Zhong Wanchou loudly cried, “Duan Zhengchun!” Using all his might, he pulled a second person out of the hole.

Only to see that this person was bald, with incense burn-scars on the top of his head. It was a monk. His face was filled with wrinkles, and eyebrows were long and yellow. Not only was it a monk, but it was an extremely old monk. Duan Yu cried out, “Master Huangmei! What are you doing here?” This old monk was the Yellow Browed Monk.

Zhong Wanchou exerted all the remaining strength he had to pull the Yellow Browed Monk out of the tunnel. But nobody was grabbing onto his feet. Zhong Wanchou rushed into the tunnel. After a long period of time, he breathlessly emerged from it, shouting, “Nobody left, there’s nobody left in the tunnel.” He glanced at Cui Baiquan, then peered at the Yellow Browed Monk. There was no way in hell either of these two could be the secret lover of his wife. He felt a huge sense of relief. He cried out, “Wife, I’m sorry, I…I wrongly blamed you yet again!” By now, he had totally exhausted all of his internal energy, and simply lay there at the tunnel entrance, panting. He was incapable of standing up again.

The Yellow Browed Monk, Cui Baiquan, Ye Erniang, the Divine Crocodile, and Yun Zhonghe sat down on the floor, regulating their breaths and circulating their internal energy. Amongst the five, the Yellow Browed Monk’s internal energy was far and away the best. After a short period of time, he stood up. He shouted loudly, “You three evil creatures! Today, I’ll spare your lives. If you dare come to Dali again to cause trouble, don’t blame this old monk for being merciless!”

Neither Ye Erniang, nor the Divine Crocodile, nor Yun Zhonghe had any idea as to what had happened in the tunnel. They all thought to themselves that it was some trick which the Yellow Browed Monk had performed. They thought to themselves that not even their leader had been able to overcome this old monk, who was able to take away half of their internal energy in the twinkling of an eye. How could they dare to make so much as a peep? After regulating their breathing for a long period of time, they slowly rose to their feet. They fractionally bowed towards the Yellow Browed Monk, then left the room and departed. At this moment, these three evil people didn’t have the slightest evil aura about them.

After bidding Zhong Wanchou and Madame Zhong farewell, the Yellow Browed Monk, Cui Baiquan, and Duan Yu left the gorge. As they arrived at the mouth of the gorge, they saw Duan Zhengchun waiting with two of his household warriors. As Duan Zhengchun and Duan Yu, father and son, saw each other, they both felt very surprised.

As it happened, after Duan Zhengchun saw Zhong Wanchou rush into the room, he had felt extremely guilty and ashamed in his heart. He hurriedly exited the tunnel. As he left, he saw Cui Baiquan standing guard off to the side. Knowing the prince’s dissolute temperament, Cui Baiquan didn’t ask too many questions. He immediately volunteered himself to enter the tunnel and keep an eye on things, so as to make sure that Madame Zhong would not be harmed by her husband. But instead, he found Zhong Ling, whose ankles had been grabbed by Yun Zhonghe. He immediately grabbed her wrists to help her out. Just as he felt as though he would no longer be able to hold on, someone seized him by his ankles. As it happened, the Yellow Browed Monk was in the middle of pondering that game of chess. Hearing some commotion down in the tunnel, he had entered the tunnel from the stone house. Following the sound of the voices, he had discerned Cui Baiquan’s identity and location, and had decided to give him a hand. But in that short period of time, both he and Cui Baiquan had lost a small half of their internal energy to Duan Yu as well.


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