Smiling Proud Wanderer

 
 

Smiling Proud Wanderer Volume 1 Chapter 6


Chapter Six: Hand-Washing


After Yue Buqun took Lin Pingzhi as his new apprentice, the Huashan group, led by Yue Buqun, arrived at the Liu House. When Liu Zhengfeng heard the news from his servants, he was overwhelmed by both surprise and joy – even the world renowned “Gentleman Sword” in the Martial World, Head Master of the Huashan Sword School, came himself. Wasting no time, he rushed to the door to greet, expressing his gratitude again and again. Yue Buqun appeared to be very polite and modest. After congratulating Liu Zhengfeng with a big smile, he entered the gate with Liu Zhengfeng abreast. Priest Tianmen, Sister Dingyi, Yu Canghai, Mr. Wen, and He Sanqi all greeted at the door of the hall.

Yu Canghai had his own interpretation. He thought to himself, “Liu Zhengfeng certainly does not have the kind of fame that will get the Head Master of Huashan Sword School to come himself. Yue Buqun must have come for me. Humph! The Five Mountains Sword Alliance does outnumber me here, but my Qingcheng Sword School is not easy to be trifled with either. If Yue Buqun starts to criticize me, I’ll cut him off and question him about Linghu Chong sleeping with prostitutes. When it comes down to blows, we’ll just have to fight it out.” But when Yue Buqun saw him, Yue just bowed down like how he did to all the others and greeted.

“Master Yu, long time no see. You are even in better shape now.”

“Mr. Yue, how are you?” Yu Canghai bowed back.

After the masters exchanged some short chats, more guests showed up at the gate. This was the day set for Liu Zhengfeng’s “Gold Basin Hand Washing” ceremony. At one hour before noon, Liu Zhengfeng went back to the inner rooms to prepare himself for the ceremony, while his apprentices took over the tasks of catering the guests.

Close to noon, over five hundred more guests from distant locations flooded in. Among the guests, there was Vice-Chief of the Beggars Clan – Zhang Jin’ao, Master Xia of Zhengzhou Six Harmonies Style Studio together with his three sons-in-law, Granny Tie from the Holy Maiden Peak of the Three-Gorges, Chief of the Sea-Sand Clan from the East Sea – Pang Roar, the Dual of the River Qu – Magic Blade, Bai Ke, and Magic Brush, Lu Xisi. Some of them had known each other before, and some had only heard about each other’s names, never having the chance to meet. The Big Hall soon was filled with greetings and chats, almost sounding like a big marketplace.

Priest Tianmen and Sister Dingyi stayed inside their rooms to rest, not bothering going out to greet the crowd. They both thought, “Among the guests here today, some have good reputations in the Martial World, but some others are obviously people with doubtful characters. Liu Zhengfeng is a Master of the Hengshan Sword School. Why doesn’t he conduct himself with dignity, instead, associating himself with all kinds of people indiscriminately? Wouldn’t that lower the reputation of our Five Mountains Sword Alliance?” Yue Buqun, on the other hand, was very fond of making friends. Even when many nobodies or even people with not-so-good reputations came by to chat with him, he always chatted and joked with them without any arrogant posture as the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School – a famous one in the Martial World.

Meanwhile, directed by apprentices of the Liu House, the servants had set up over two hundred banquet tables inside and outside the Big Hall. Liu Zhengfeng’s relatives, subordinates, bookkeepers, and apprentices including Xiang Danian and Mi Weiyi started seating the guests. Based on the fame and seniority in the Martial World, Priest Tianmen, the Head Master of the Taishan Sword School, should be seated at the head of the table, but since the five Sword Schools were all part of the Sword Alliance, Priest Tianmen, Yue Buqun, and Sister Dingyi were all half-hosts as well, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to be seated in the seats of honor. Other senior masters all yielded to each other; no one wanted to sit at the head of the table.

Suddenly two shots of blunderbuss came from outside the gate, then strains of music accompanied by drumbeats followed, together with sound of gongs clearing the way. Apparently, some kind of a government official had just arrived at the gate. While the guests were still in surprise, Liu Zhengfeng rushed out in his brand new silk robe from the inner room. All the guests started congratulating and cheering for him, but Liu Zhengfeng only put out a brief salute, and walked straight out. A few moments later, he walked back in accompanying a government official in government uniform respectfully.

All the guests were stunned. “Is that official a first-class master in the Martial World?” Although his uniform looked very impressive, his sleepy eyes and unhealthy complexion all indicated that he did not have any martial arts skills. Yue Buqun and the bunch all thought, “Liu Zhengfeng is a very wealthy man in the town of Hengshan, of course he would be making friends with the local government officials. Since today is the day of great rejoicing for Liu Zhengfeng, it would be no surprise for a local official to come by and congratulate out of perfunctory.”

The official walked straight into the hall and stopped in the middle. A subordinate of his knelt down on his right leg and raised the tray in his hands high above his head. The tray was covered by a piece of yellow satin with a scroll in the middle. The official bent slightly to pick up the scroll and shouted loudly, “The Imperial Decree is here! Liu Zhengfeng, greet the Imperial Decree!”

All the guests were astonished! “Liu Zhengfeng’s hand-washing and giving up using his sword were purely events only related to the Martial World. What has that got to do with the imperial government? Why did the emperor send an Imperial Decree? Could Liu Zhengfeng have plotted against the imperial government and was found guilty? That would be a crime punishable by beheading everyone in the whole family.” Soon, everyone had reached the same conclusion and stood up. Some impatient ones had already grabbed their weapons. Everyone thought that since this official was announcing the Imperial Decree, then soldiers must have surrounded Liu House in all directions, and a big fight had become inevitable. As friends of Liu Zhengfeng, no one would be standing by unconcerned. In addition, when a nest got demolished, no eggs would escape unbroken; by coming to the event at Liu House, one had already become accessory of the rebels. It was already too late to stay aloof from the affair anyway. Everyone waited for Liu Zhengfeng’s signal. As soon as he started yelling, all the blades in the Big Hall would chop the official into ten thousand pieces in no time. But Liu Zhengfeng appeared to be very calm and relaxed. He knelt down in front of the official, and after three kowtows, he said loudly, “Liu Zhengfeng greets the Imperial Decree. Thanks to his great Majesty!” All guests were stunned.

The official opened the scroll and started reading. “His great Majesty said: According to the report from Governor of Hunan Province, civilian Liu Zhengfeng of Hengshan County, who is zealous for the common weal and possesses good skills in horse-riding and archery, is worth of government services. Now you will be promoted to the rank of a Sergeant. From now on, you will render your service to the Imperial Court with no reservation to repay the Majesty’s kindness. His Majesty!”

“Liu Zhengfeng thanks for his Majesty’s great kindness. Thanks to his great Majesty!” Liu Zhengfeng answered while kowtowing several more times. He stood up and then bowed to the official. “Many thanks for the patronization from your Excellency Zhang!” Liu Zhengfeng exclaimed.

“Congratulations! Congratulations! Sergeant Liu, we are both serving for his Majesty now. You are being too modest!” The official stroked his goatee with a smile.

“I am just a reckless man of the bush,” Liu Zhengfeng said. “Today I am being promoted by the Imperial Court, of course that attributes to the great kindness of his Majesty, bringing honors to all my ancestors, but that also attributes to the outreaching patronization of the Governor’s Excellency and your Excellency Zhang.”

“Not really. Not really,” the official said with a smile.

“Brother Fang, where are the gifts for his Excellency Zhang?” Liu Zhengfeng turned to Fang Qianju.

“They are all here.” Fang Qianju turned around and took out a round tray. A brocade wrapped package lay in the middle of the tray.

Liu Zhengfeng took the tray with both of his hands. “Here are some small gifts, just to show a small portion of our respect. Please accept them, your Excellency!” he said with a big smile.

“We are all brothers, there’s really no need for gifts.” The Zhang-named official grinned while tipping his subordinate a wink. The subordinate by his side immediately stepped forward and took the tray. As soon as the tray was handed over, his arms lowered. Obviously the package in the tray was something heavy. It had to be gold, not silver.

Beaming with joy, the Zhang-named official excused himself, “Bro, I still have government duties to take care of. I really shouldn’t stay any longer. Come, let’s fill three cups of wine and congratulate Sergeant Liu’s promotion today. Wish him more promotions in the near future, and enjoy his Majesty’s kindness once more.” The servants had already prepared the wine. The Zhang-named official drank all three cups of wine swiftly, and then cupped his palms for a salute and walked out of the gate. Liu Zhengfeng walked him all the way out with heaps of smiles on his face. Gong sounds rose again, and shots of blunderbuss were set of by Liu House again to see the official off.

This scene was really not expected by any of the guests. They all just stared at each other, not knowing what to say. Everyone’s face was covered by embarrassment and surprise.

Although the guests that came to Liu House were neither from the dark side of the Martial World, nor rebellions, they all had some fame in the Martial World and considered themselves the type with exceptional abilities that would looked down upon local governments. When they saw how Liu Zhengfeng curried favor with the powerful, and acted so nauseatingly just for the promotion to Sergeant such a low rank from the emperor, and even bribed the official in public, some couldn’t help showing disgusts on their faces. Some elder guests all thought, “He probably bought his promotion. How much gold and silver would he have to spend to get the recommendation from the Governor? Liu Zhengfeng was a man of integrity, why would he let covetousness overcome him and buy a title so unscrupulously?”

Liu Zhengfeng walked back to his guests with a big smile and invited everyone to be seated. Since no one wanted to sit at the head of the table, the armchair in the middle was left empty. Seated at the head seat by the left was Master Xia of Six Harmonies Style Studio, the oldest one among the group, and seated at the head seat by the right was the Vice-Chief of the Beggars Clan, Zhang Jin’ao. Zhang Jin’ao, himself, did not have any outstanding fame, but since the Beggars Clan is the largest clan in the Martial World, and the Chief of the Beggars Clan, Xie Feng, had outstanding martial arts skills and fame, so everyone showed their respect.

After everyone was seated, servants brought out various dishes and wines. Mi Weiyi took out a tea table covered by brocade. Xiang Danian held a shinning gold basin in his arms. The basin was already filled with water. Three shots of blunderbuss came from outside, followed by eight loud “bangs” from firecrackers. All the junior apprentices at the Back Hall and the Flower Hall all rushed into the Big Hall to see the fun. Liu Zhengfeng stepped to the middle of the hall with a bright smile and bowed to all directions with his palms cupped. All the guests stood up to salute him back.

“All the senior heroes, good friends and young friends,” Liu Zhengfeng said in a loud voice, “thank you for coming such a long way. You really have given Liu Zhengfeng great due respect. I truly appreciate that! After today’s Gold Basin Hand Washing, I will no longer be involved in the Martial World. You probably have all seen the reason why. Thanks to the great kindness of the Imperial Court, I have been awarded a small government post. As the saying goes: On his Majesty’s payroll, then show his Majesty your loyalty. In the Martial World, people do things following the code of brotherhood, but to fulfill government duties, one has to follow the laws and regulations of the government to show loyalty to his Majesty. When there is a conflict between the two, it would put me in a very awkward position. Starting from now on, Liu Zhengfeng will be quitting the Martial World. If my apprentices want to submit themselves to other schools or clans, it’s totally up to their own decisions. I invited all you friends here to be my eyewitnesses. Later when you come to the town of Hengshan again, you are still good friends of mine, but regarding the various kinds of dispute and clash in the Martial World, I will have to excuse myself.” He bowed again after the words.

All the guests had expected those words out of him. “He really wanted to be a government official. That’s his own will, and no one can force him to give that up. He has never offended me; I guess I’ll just pretend there’s no more Liu Sir in the Martial World,” they all thought.

“Such a behavior would really hurt Hengshan Sword School’s fame, no wonder the Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School, Great Mr. Mo, did not show up. He must be quite mad about it,” some also thought.

“The Five Mountains Sword Alliance has done many chivalrous acts recently, and is well respected by everyone. Now with such a behavior from Liu Zhengfeng, people probably won’t say anything up front, but behind the scenes, there might be all kinds of comments,” some others thought.

There were also people who took pleasure out of the scene, thinking, “And the people of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance still call themselves a chivalrous group? As soon as he has a chance to gain promotion and get rich, he kowtows to an official in such a begging manner. How could that be called chivalrous?”

These thoughts boggled each of the guests’ minds. In the meantime, silence swept the entire Big Hall. Under such circumstance, everyone should have already congratulated Liu Zhengfeng, and complimented with something like “Retire with happiness and a long life,” “Great courage and great wisdom,” etc. etc., but with over a thousand guests around, none said a word.

Liu Zhengfeng turned to face the outside and said loudly, “Thanks for the respectful Master’s kindness, I, Liu Zhengfeng, was taken as an apprentice of the Hengshan Sword School, and was taught martial arts skills. I am very ashamed that I could not expand the fame of the Hengshan Sword School. Luckily, our school still has apprentice brother Mo to manage things. Liu Zhengfeng is just mediocre in the school. The school wouldn’t miss anything without me. Starting from now on, after I wash my hands in the gold basin, I will be focusing on my governmental career. I will never use the martial arts skills I learned from my Master to work toward my promotion. Regarding disputes and clashes in the Martial World, or arguments between schools and clans, Liu Zhengfeng will never be involved again. If I ever break my promise, I will end up like this sword.”

He turned his right palm over and drew a long sword from under his robe. Bending the sword slightly with his hands, “Crack,” he had broken the blade into two pieces. He simply let the two broken parts fall to the floor, and the broken blades pinned into the green brick on the floor without any noise.

Seeing the scene, everyone was well shaken. The broken blade had penetrated the brick so quietly; apparently, the sword had an extraordinarily sharp blade. For someone like Liu Zhengfeng, to break a normal steel sword with one’s hands was nothing extraordinary, but to break such an outstanding sword so effortlessly, the strength required from one’s fingers could only come from someone who had the skills of an elite fighter in the Martial World.

“What a pity!” Mr. Wen gave out a deep sigh. No one was clear if he was feeling sorry because of the loss of such an outstanding sword, or because such a great master as Liu Zhengfeng would willingly barter away his honor for the government’s patronage.

With a bright smile on his face, Liu Zhengfeng rolled up his sleeves and got ready to put his hands into the golden basin, when suddenly someone shouted sharply outside, “Stop!”

Slightly surprised, Liu Zhengfeng looked up and saw four men in yellow robes walking through the gate. After entering the gate, the four split into groups of two and stood still on each side of the path, when a tall man, also in a yellow robe, walked straight in with his head held high and a silk flag in five colors raised high in his hand. The flag was studded with pearls and diamonds, so when the flag flapped, magnificent twinkles flashed.

While in shock, many guests recognized the silk flag: “It’s the Five Mountains Sword Alliance Chief’s Command Flag!”

The man walked until he was right in front of Liu Zhengfeng, and then raised the flag high in the air. “Uncle-Master Liu, here’s Five Mountains Sword Alliance Chief Zuo’s order: Please temporarily postpone the ceremony of Uncle-Master Liu’s ‘Gold Basin Hand Washing’,” he announced.

Liu Zhengfeng bowed to the flag. “May I ask why Alliance Chief would give such an order?” he asked.

“I am just following my orders. I really don’t know the reason behind Alliance Chief’s decision. Will you, Uncle-Master Liu, please pardon me?” the man answered.

“You are being too modest! Nephew apprentice, you must be ‘Ten Thousand Feet Pine’ Nephew Shi, am I right?” he asked. Although he had a smile on his face, his voice had already slightly trembled. Obviously, even as one who had experienced many confrontations, he was greatly shocked because of the sudden change.

The man was none other than the apprentice of the Songshan Sword School, “Ten Thousand Feet Pine” Shi Dengda. Realizing that Liu Zhengfeng knew about his name and nickname, he was immensely proud.

“Apprentice Shi Dengda here shows his respect to Uncle-Master Liu,” he said, bowing slightly.

Taking a few steps forward, he also saluted Priest Tianmen, Yue Buqun, Sister Dingyi, and the bunch. “Apprentice of Songshan Sword School here shows his respect to Uncle-Masters.” The other four men in yellow also bowed to salute.

Sister Dingyi was quite pleased. “It’s great that your Master decided to step in and stop this ceremony,” she said while slightly bowing back. “All we martial people care about is the virtue of chivalry. I think one should just enjoy the Martial World leisurely and carefree; why bother becoming a government official? But I knew brother Liu had everything arranged already and would never have listened to the old nun, me, so I simply decided to save my breath.”

Liu Zhengfeng said with a solemn face, “In the old days when our five sword schools formed the alliance, we agreed to help each other when attacking or attacked upon, to uphold justice in the Martial World as a whole. When there are matters related to the five schools, we should all follow the Alliance Chief’s command. Our five schools made this five-colored Command Flag together. It is true that when seeing the Command Flag, it’s like seeing the Alliance Chief himself, but today’s ‘Gold Basin Hand Washing’ ceremony is only my private matter. It is neither against any martial rules, nor related to the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, so I am not restricted by the Alliance Chief’s Command Flag. Nephew Shi, please tell your respectful Master that I will not follow the order and ask for his pardon.” He walked toward the gold basin.

Shi Dengda rushed forward and blocked in front of the gold basin.

“Uncle-Master Liu, my Master urged me again and again to ask Uncle-Master you to temporarily postpone your ‘Gold Basin Hand Washing’ ceremony. Master said that the Five Mountain Sword Alliance has the same root with different branches; we members are like brothers to each other. By sending out this Command Flag with the order, he was not only taking the inter-school relationship into consideration, but also to uphold the justice in the Martial World, and also for the good of Uncle-Master Liu,” he exclaimed while raising the silk flag even higher in the air.

“I am a bit confused here,” Liu Zhengfeng said. “The invitation for my Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony was sent to Mount Songshan with great manners way ahead of time. A long letter was also sent together to apprentice brother Zuo explaining everything in detail. If apprentice brother Zuo really had such good intentions, why didn’t he stop me earlier, and waited till now to stop me with the Command Flag? Obviously he wants me to go back on my words in front of all the heroes in the Martial World, so I would be laughed at by every martial people!”

“Master said that Uncle-Master Liu is a man of iron will in the Hengshan Sword School, with righteousness as broad as the sky and well respected by all fellow martial people. Master himself well admires you as well, so he exhorted us to never act with impoliteness, or to face strict punishment. Uncle-Master Liu, you have great fame spreading around the Martial World, so there’s really no worry regarding that,” Shi Dengda said.

“Chief Zuo was flattering me. I don’t have such great fame.” Liu Zhengfeng smiled.

Seeing that neither would give in, Sister Dingyi couldn’t help cutting in.

“Brother Liu, why don’t you just postpone it for a little while? Everybody here today is a good friend of yours; who would be laughing at you? Even if there are really a few jerks that are bold enough to ridicule you, you don’t have to worry about it, because I won’t let them get off.” She glanced at everyone’s face challengingly to see who was going to be so bold to offend her fellow master in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance.

Liu Zhengfeng nodded. “Well, since Sister Dingyi also said so, let’s postpone my Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony till noon tomorrow. All of my good fiends, please stay one more day in the town of Hengshan, and wait for me to discuss this more with these nephew apprentices of the Songshan Sword School.”

Suddenly, a girl’s shouting voice came from the direction of the inner rooms. “Hey, back off! What are you doing? Who I want to play with is none of your business!”

Stunned, everyone recognized her voice. It was the young girl Qu Feiyan who confronted Yu Canghai the day before.

A man’s voice rose, “Sit down tight and shut up. I will let you go later.”

“Huh, how strange! Is this your home? Why are you blocking sister Liu and I from going to the back garden to catch butterflies?” Qu Feiyan’s voice rose again.

“Fine! If you want to go, go by yourself. Miss Liu has to stay here for a while,” the man answered.

“Sis Liu thinks you are disgusting! Why don’t you just go away and leave us alone? Sister Liu doesn’t even know you,” Qu Feiyan snapped.

Another girl’s voice came, “Sister, let’s go. Don’t pay any attention to him.”

“Miss Liu, please stay here for a while,” the man ordered.

Liu Zhengfeng’s anger started growing. “Which jerk is being bold enough to cause trouble in my house and tease my Jing’er?” he thought.

Second senior apprentice of Liu House, Mi Weiyi, rushed into the inner rooms toward the direction of the voices and saw his apprentice sister, hand in hand with Qu Feiyan, standing in the courtyard, while a young man in a yellow robe extended his arms and blocked their way. From the robe the young man was wearing, Mi Weiyi recognized him as an apprentice of the Songshan Sword School. With anger, he faked a cough and said loudly, “Are you an apprentice brother of the Songshan Sword School? Why didn’t you take a seat in the Big Hall?”

“No need for that. I am following Alliance Chief’s order to keep an eye on Liu’s family members, and not to let anyone get away,” the man said arrogantly. His voice was not loud, but it had a clear tone of haughtiness. From his words, all the guests were stunned.

Liu Zhengfeng’s anger exploded. “What’s all this about?” he questioned Shi Dengda.

“Apprentice brother Wan, you can come out now. Watch your words; Uncle-Master Liu has already agreed to stop the Hand Washing ceremony,” Shi Dengda urged.

“Yes. That would be the best,” the man in the inner room answered. He entered the Big Hall from the inner room and bowed to Liu Zhengfeng. “Songshan apprentice Wan Daping here shows his respect to Uncle-Master Liu.”

Liu Zhengfeng’s body trembled from of anger. “How many Songshan apprentices are here today? Why don’t you all show yourselves now?” he yelled.

Right after his last word, voices of dozens of people suddenly answered in unison from above the roof, outside of the gate, around the corner of the hallway, in the backyard, and all other directions, “Sure. Songshan apprentices show their respect to Uncle-Master Liu.” The shouting of dozens of voices came at the exact same moment, loudly and unexpectedly. That really caught all the guests in the Big Hall completely off guards. The dozen people standing on the roof were all in yellow robes, but the others in the Big Hall each dressed differently, and obviously had sneaked into the Big Hall a while back to keep watch on Liu Zhengfeng in secret. They mixed themselves in the over one thousand guests, and no one had suspected them at all.

Sister Dingyi was the first one to lose her calmness. “What…what’s this about? This is too much!” she called out.

“Please excuse us, Uncle-Master Dingyi,” Shi Dengda explained. “Our Master gave the specific order that we should stop Uncle-Master Liu’s hand washing ceremony at all costs. We were afraid that Uncle-Master Liu wouldn’t follow the order, so had to give offense. Please pardon us.”

Right at that moment, over a dozen people walked out from the inner rooms. They were Liu Zhengfeng’s wife, his two young children, and seven apprentices of the Liu House, each with a Songshan apprentice behind holding a dagger against each one’s back.

“Dear friends,” Liu Zhengfeng said loudly, “Liu Zhengfeng is not someone who would cling obstinately to his course, but today with such intimidation from apprentice brother Zuo, if I have to bend my will because of force, my reputation will be ruined, then why should I even live? Apprentice brother Zuo will not allow me to have my Gold Basin Hand Washing; humph, my head can be cut off, but my will can not be bent.” He took a step forward and reached for the gold basin.

“Hold it!” Shi Dengda yelled out. He waved the Command Flag and blocked the way.

Reaching his left hand out, Liu Zhengfeng poked at Shi’s eyes. She Dengda raised both of his arms to block when Liu Zhengfeng abruptly pulled his left hand back and poked with his right hand. With no other options, Shi Dengda had to take a step back.

After forcing Shi Dengda back, Liu Zhengfeng reached for the gold basin again, when he heard some kind of swooshing sounds from behind his back – and two people had jumped on him. Without turning around, Liu Zhengfeng threw a swift back kick with his left foot. “Bang,” a Songshan apprentice flew into the air. Then he grabbed back with his right hand following the direction of the sound and grabbed at another Songshan apprentice’s collar. Pulling toward the direction of the force, he lifted the second apprentice over his shoulder and threw him toward Shi Dengda. The back kick with his left foot and the back grab with his right hand were executed so swiftly and accurately that it was almost like he had eyes on his back. The unusual skills of an elite fighter were clearly shown in those moves.

In shock, no more Songshan apprentices dared to come at Liu Zhengfeng again. The Songshan apprentice behind Liu Zhengfeng’s son shouted, “Uncle-Master Liu, if you don’t stop right now, I will have to kill your son.”

Liu Zhengfeng turned his head back and threw a glance at his son. “With so many heroes here today, if you dare to touch a single hair of my son, all you dozens of Songshan apprentices will be grounded into ten thousand pieces,” he said coldly.

These were not bluffing words. If this Songshan apprentice had really hurt his young son, it would certainly arouse public indignation, and cause all of the guests to attack the Songshan apprentices, and then none of the Hengshan apprentices would make it out alive. He turned back and reached for the gold basin once again.

It seemed that no one would be able to stop Liu Zhengfeng this time, when suddenly, with a silver flash, a tiny missile flew over. Liu Zhengfeng took two steps back; “Ring,” the missile hit the edge of the gold basin and knocked it down to the ground. “Clank,” the gold basin flipped over and landed bottom up; water splashed all over the floor. Meanwhile, a yellow shadow jumped off the rooftop, and in a flash, had rushed by the fallen gold basin. He stomped on the gold basin; the gold basin collapsed under his foot and was flattened.

In his forties, the man had medium height. He was an extremely thin man with ugly mustaches under his nose. “Apprentice brother Liu, I’ve got orders from the Alliance Chief to not let you have your Gold Basin Hand Washing,” he said, cupping his hands toward Liu Zhengfeng.

Liu Zhengfeng knew the man in front of him. His name was Fei Bin, and he was the fourth apprentice brother of Zuo Lengchan – the Head Master of the Songshan Sword School. His outstanding skills in “Great Songyang Palm” earned him great fame in the Martial World. Obviously, people sent by Songshan Sword School to deal with him included more than just second-generation apprentices. Since the gold basin had been destroyed, there was no way to continue the Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony. Should he fight with all his might or temporarily endure humiliation? Liu Zhengfeng could not make up his mind. Then he quickly thought, “Even though the Songshan Sword School has the Command Flag of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, they are so overbearing. Among the one thousand or so heroes here today, someone had got to stand out and uphold justice.” So he cupped his hand to salute back.

“Apprentice brother Fei, why didn’t you join us and enjoy a cup of wine, but would rather hide on top of the roof to suffer from the sun? Probably there are even more masters from Songshan Sword School here today. Please all come out now. If you want to deal with me, apprentice brother Fei is more than enough. If you want to wipe out all these heroes here today, the power of the Songshan Sword School probably is not yet enough.”

“Apprentice brother Liu,” Fei Bin said with a slight smile, “you don’t need to foment discord. Just to fight apprentice brother Liu you alone, I wouldn’t have a chance defending myself against the ‘Slight Geese Landing’ Kung Fu you have just showed. The Songshan Sword School would never dare to offend the Hengshan Sword School, and would never dare to offend any hero here today either; we wouldn’t even dare to just offend apprentice brother Liu. We are only here to beg apprentice brother Liu to not Wash Hands for the sake of thousands of fellow martial people’s lives.”

Hearing these words, everyone in the Big Hall was greatly surprised. “Whether or not Liu Zhengfeng has his Gold Basin Hand Washing, how could it affect thousands of fellow martial people’s lives?” They all pondered the question.

“Well,” Sister Dingyi cut in again, “brother Liu wants to wash his hands and accept that tiny sergeant title. To be frank, I really didn’t approve that idea. But everybody has his own will. Heck, if he wants to win promotion and get rich, as long as he does not harm people and do not go against the chivalry side, then no one has the right to prevent him. I don’t think brother Liu has the kind of ability to harm so many fellow martial people.”

“Sister Dingyi,” Fei Bin said, “you are a devout Buddhist, that’s why you don’t understand the kind of dirty tricks that are used by others. If this big conspiracy got through, then not only will countless of fellow martial people die, a lot of innocent citizens will also be greatly harmed. Please think about it, Liu Sir of the Hengshan Sword School is a famous and well-respected hero in the Martial World. Why would he lower himself and endure the kind of ill treatment by those filthy government officials? Liu Sir already has tons of money, why would he hanker after promotion and money? There is really a sinister reason here.”

“That sounds reasonable,” everyone thought to himself or herself. “I have felt suspicious earlier: why would someone like Liu Sir accept such a tiny government title? How odd?”

“Apprentice brother Fei, if you want to throw maliciously slanders at me, at least make it sound right,” Liu Zhengfeng said with a laugh, holding his anger back. “Other apprentice brothers of the Songshan Sword School, why don’t you show yourself now?”

“Fine!” voices came from both the east side and the west side of the roof. Two yellow shadows flashed by in front of everyone’s eyes and two men appeared at the entrance of the hall. The Qing-Gong they used was the exactly same type Fei Bin had used earlier when he jumped down the roof. The one standing to the east was a big fatty with broad shoulders. Sister Dingyi and others recognized him to be the second apprentice brother of the Songshan Sword School Head Master, “Tower Holding Palm” Ding Mian. The one standing to the west was a tall and thin man. He was the third apprentice of the Songshan Sword School, “Crane Hands” Lu Bai. “Hi, Liu Sir. Hi, everyone,” the two cupped their hands slightly to greet. Ding Mian and Lu Bai both had great fame in the Martial World; everyone stood up to greet back.

Seeing that more and more first-class Songshan masters showed up, all had a gut feeling that this whole thing was not going to end pleasantly. Most likely Liu Zhengfeng would get the worst of it.

“Brother Liu, don’t worry. All things in this world cannot go against righteousness. Even though they have an overwhelming number of guys, the friends from our Taishan Sword School, Huashan Sword School, and Heng-Shan Sword School aren’t just a bunch of good-for-nothing guys either,” Sister Dingyi said angrily.

“Sister Dingyi,” Liu Zhengfeng said with a wry smile, “this is so embarrassing. It is really an internal affair with my Hengshan Sword School, yet it caused worries for so many friends. It is very clear in my mind that my senior apprentice brother Mo must have complained to Alliance Chief Zuo of the Songshan Sword School, which brought so many apprentice brothers of the Songshan Sword School here to denounce my wrong deeds. Fine, fine, fine! It was my fault that I have not shown good manners to senior apprentice brother Mo. I will apologize to senior apprentice brother Mo and ask for his forgiveness.”

Fei Bin glanced around the hall, his eyes squinting, yet appearing to be bright and piercing, clearly showing his great inner energy.

“What does this have anything to do with Great Mr. Mo? Great Mr. Mo, please come out, so we can straighten this out,” he demanded.

After his words, the entire hall quieted down, but after quite a while, “Night Rain of Xiaoxiang” – Great Mr. Mo still did not step out.

Liu Zhengfeng let out a wry smile. “Everyone in the Martial World has already known that my apprentice brother Mo and I don’t get along, so I really don’t have to hide this fact. I am lucky to have been born in a rich family and inherited quite a few assets from my ancestors. My apprentice brother Mo, on the other hand, came from a very poor family. Normally speaking, even friends should be giving loans to each other, not mentioning apprentice brothers, but just because of the difference here, senior apprentice brother Mo loathed about it and never come to my home. We have not seen each other or contacted each other for years. Of course senior apprentice brother Mo would not come here today. What really ticked me off was the fact that simply with the one-sided story from my senior apprentice brother Mo, Alliance Chief Zuo had sent so many apprentice brothers here to deal with me today, even taking my wife and my children prisoner. Don’t…don’t you think you are making a fuss over a trifling matter?”

“Raise the Command Flag,” Fei Bin said to Shi Dengda.

“Yes!” Shi Dengda answered and raised the Command Flag high in the air by the side of Fei Bin.

“Apprentice brother Liu,” Fei Bin said grimly, “the matter today has nothing to do with the Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School, Great Mr. Mo. You don’t need to mix him into this. Alliance Chief Zuo has ordered us to investigate what secret collaboration does apprentice brother Liu have with the Demon Cult Chief – Dongfang Invincible, and what plot you are developing to attack our Five Mountains Sword Alliance and other chivalrous martial fellows.”

Everyone in the Big Hall was greatly stunned by those words. Many could not help but utter a cry of surprise. The Demon Cult was the ultimate enemy of all the martial people on the good side of the Martial World. The two sides had scores tracing back to a hundred year, fighting continuously all these years with exchanging triumphs. Among the thousand or so people in the Big Hall, at least half of them had old scores to settle with the Demon Cult – some lost family members in the fights, and others lost senior masters. Every time the name Demon Cult was mentioned, all would bite their lips hard with hatred. The ultimate reason why the Five Mountains sword schools had formed an alliance was to unite together to fight the Demon Cult. Demon Cult had many followers and did not lack highly skilled elite fighters; that was why even though the chivalrous schools all had unique skills of their own, they still failed to defeat the Demon Cult. Furthermore, Demon Cult Chief, Dongfang Invincible, maintained the title of “Number One in the Martial World.” His name was Invincible, and he had never lost after he completed his apprenticeship; that was simply incredible. So when everyone heard Fei Bin criticizing Liu Zhengfeng for collaborating with the Demon Cult, which did relate to everyone’s own life, the sympathy they had toward Liu Zhengfeng evaporated instantly.

“I have never seen Demon Cult Chief Dongfang Invincible before in my whole life. Where did you get the idea of the so-called collaboration and the so-called plots?” Liu Zhengfeng asked.

Fei Bin turned his head to the side and stared at his third apprentice brother Lu Bai, waiting for him to speak.

“Apprentice brother Liu, what you just said might be a bit shallow. There’s an Elder in the Demon Cult named Qu Yang. I wonder if apprentice brother Liu knows him?” Lu Bai said in a soft voice.

Liu Zhengfeng had remained calm since the beginning of the disturbance, but as soon as he heard the name “Qu Yang” mentioned, his face changed color. He shut his mouth tight and did not answer the question.

The fatty Ding Mian had not said anything since he entered the hall, but now he suddenly shouted harshly, “Do you know Qu Yang?” His voice sounded like a thunder, echoing in everyone’s ears. He was a big and tall guy, yet now he seemed to be even bigger and taller in everyone’s eyes, looking like a majestic giant.

Liu Zhengfeng still did not answer. Thousands of eyes stared at his face. Everyone thought the same thing – if he could not think of an answer, then he was really admitting to it.

After a long while, Liu Zhengfeng finally nodded. ‘That’s right! I not only know big brother Qu Yang, but also consider him the only person that knows my heart and is my best friend.”

Instantly, the big hall was taken over by uproar. These words of Liu Zhengfeng caught everyone by surprise. Everyone had thought that he would at least try to deny the allegation, or only admitting that he probably had met that Qu Yang once or twice. No one expected him to claim that this Demon Cult Elder was actually his best friend.

Fei Bin let out a relaxed smile. “It’s great that you admit it. A true man takes on his own responsibilities. Liu Zhengfeng, Alliance Chief Zuo has given you two options to choose from.”

Liu Zhengfeng paid no attention to him as if he had not heard any word from Fei Bin. He sat down slowly with no specific expression on his face, and poured himself a cup of wine. Raising the cup to his lips, he drank the wine slowly. Everyone could see that his robe and his long sleeves remained dead still, no trembling what’s so ever. That was a good indication that he had a very good grip of himself, even in such an emergent situation. It was clearly shown that his courage and his Kung Fu skills were both first-class. Without any one of the two, he would not have behaved in such a calm way. Inwardly, everyone could not help but praise him.

“Alliance Chief Zuo said: Liu Zhengfeng is one with extraordinary talents in the Hengshan Sword School. He just made friends with the wrong kind of people and tumbled down the wrong way. We, as friends of the chivalrous side in the Martial World, only want to help him, so of course we will give him a way to correct his errors. Alliance Chief Zuo asked me to take a message to apprentice brother Liu: If you want to take this option, then within the next month, slay the Demon Cult Elder Qu Yang. Once you come back with his head, we will all forget about this incident, and be good friends and good brothers again,” Fei Bin said loudly.

Everyone in the Big Hall thought, “Good and evil are mutually exclusive. Every single time when people from various heretical sects that belong to the Demon Cult meet people from the chivalrous side of the Martial World, fierce fights break out. It was not too much of a request from Alliance Chief Zuo to ask Liu Zhengfeng to kill Qu Yang to show his sincerity.”

A sad smile flashed by Liu Zhengfeng’s face. “Big brother Qu and I already felt like old friends when we first met,” he said. “During the dozen of times when we had long chats late into the night, occasionally we would talk about the different opinions between schools and clans. He would always sigh deeply and consider such fights and conflicts unproductive and ineffective. I only made friends with big brother Qu for the sake of music. He is an expert in zither; I like to play the bamboo flute. Most of the times when we get together, we just played the zither and flute, never discussing Kung Fu skills.” He paused, smiled, and then went on, “Maybe you don’t believe this, but in the entire world today, I think no one plays the zither better than big brother Qu; and regarding bamboo flute skills, I also consider myself not inferior than anyone else. Although big brother Qu is a member of the Demon Cult, from the music of his zither play, I could tell that he had noble character and the breadth of a man with integrity. Liu Zhengfeng not only admires him, but also looks up to him. Although I am just a coarse guy, I would never agree to harm such a gentleman.”

Everyone was greatly surprised by these words. No one had anticipated that he actually made friends with Qu Yang all because of music. From the honest look on his face without a single trace of deceiving, one simply could not help but believe him. Since many people in the Martial World had unusual or out of the ordinary behaviors, music was well known to have fascinating power upon people; it wouldn’t be a surprise to know that Liu Zhengfeng had such a hobby. People who knew the Hengshan Sword School well also thought, “Many generations of Hengshan Masters all loved music. Even the current Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School, Great Mr. Mo, has a nickname of ‘Night Rain of Xiao Xiang’ – a famous music title. He never lets his huqin leave his side, and people described his Kung Fu as ‘sword hidden in the Huqin, sword plays the music.’ Then it is definitely possible that Liu Zhengfeng made friends with Qu Yang because of his love of playing the bamboo flute.”

“Alliance Chief Zuo clearly knows that you made friends with Devil Qu for the sake of music based on his own investigation,” Fei Bin did not object. “He said: The Demon Cult has secret and evil plots. They know that our Five Mountains Sword Alliance is gaining more and more prosperities these last couple of years, and might grow into an opponent they cannot fight. That is why they are trying all kinds of tricks to try to hurt us by fomenting discord. They tempt some with gold and treasure, others with beautiful women. Apprentice brother has been a man of integrity, so they tried to cater your tastes and sent Qu Yang to work you with music. Apprentice brother Liu! Please wake up! Don’t you remember how many people on our side had been slain by the Demon Cult? Don’t you see that you have fallen into evil’s trap?”

“That’s right!” Sister Dingyi agreed. “Apprentice brother Fei is right. The terror of the Demon Cult wasn’t really because of any high level Kung Fu of theirs. It was because of their various cunning schemes that are so hard to guard against. Apprentice brother Liu, you are a man of integrity. It’s all right that you got tricked by an evil villain. You can kill Qu Yang the devil with a single blow. It’s just as simple as that. Our Five Mountains Sword Alliance has the same root with different branches. You must not let the villains of the Demon Cult drive a wedge between our fellow martial friends and damage our relationship.”

Priest Tianmen nodded with concord. “Apprentice brother Liu, a gentleman’s mistake is as easy to spot as the sun and the moon. Once he learns about the mistake and corrects himself, the gain suppresses the harm. All you need to do is to kill that Qu-named devil, then people in the chivalrous side will all raise their thumbs and praise, ‘Liu Zhengfeng of the Hengshan Sword School is a true man who can distinguish between good and evil.’ And we, as your friends, would look good too.”

Liu Zhengfeng did not answer. He turned and stared right into Yue Buqun’s eyes.

“Apprentice brother Yue, you are a true gentleman who can distinguish between right and wrong. Many of the masters here are forcing me to sell out my friend. What would you say?”

“Brother Liu,” Yue Buqun answered, “if he were a true friend, then we martial people wouldn’t even frown if we have to die for friends. But that Qu of the Demon Cult obviously has evil intent behind his smiles. With honey on his lips, he really has murder in his heart when he catered to your tastes. This kind of enemy is the evilest kind. His object is to bring disgrace and ruin upon you and destroy your family. The evil intention of him is to the extreme. If such a person can still be called a friend, then isn’t it a disgrace to the definition of ‘friend?’ In history, there were many examples of people placing righteousness above family loyalty. Even family can be disregarded, why cannot such a big devil and a big villain that should have never be considered as a friend be disregarded?”

Hearing his theory, everyone cheered. “Mr. Yue’s words have said it clearly. With friends, one of course should consider the code of honor, but with enemies, one should strike down with no mercy. Why restrict oneself with the code of honor?”

Liu Zhengfeng let out a sigh. He waited till the Big Hall quieted down before speaking again slowly.

“At the very beginning when I decided to make friends with big brother Qu, I had expected something like this to happen. After some careful observations, I came upon the conclusion that there will be a big fight between our Five Mountains Sword Alliance and the Demon Cult soon. Once the fight breaks out, there will be apprentice brothers in the alliance on one side and a good friend on the other side. It would be impossible for me to help either side. That’s why I came up with this dumb idea to have my Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony. I just wanted to tell everyone in the Martial World that Liu Zhengfeng would be leaving the Martial World and never be involved in any of the score-settling fights. I just wished I could stay out of everything, and not get involved. Buying this tiny army sergeant title was just a way to disgrace myself and hide my true intentions. But Alliance Chief Zuo is certainly resourceful. This move of mine simply could not fool him.”

Hearing his explanation, everyone finally understood. All thought, “So he really had secret intensions behind the Gold Basin Hand Washing event. I figured there would be no way that such a master of the Hengshan Sword School would be willing to accept such a tiny title from the government.” After the explanation, everyone found himself or herself having the foresight way ahead of time.

Fei Bin, Ding Mian, and Lu Bai looked at each other and all felt quite contended. “If it weren’t for apprentice brother Zuo, who saw through your conspiracy and stopped you in time, your plan would have succeeded,” they all thought.

Liu Zhengfeng continued, “For the last one hundred years, the Demon Cult and our chivalrous side have been fighting with each other back and forth. It would be impossible to go over the reasons behind all these fights. All I want is to stay away from such violent and fierce fights, and live my remaining years in a quiet place, playing the flute and teaching some kids, just like an average law abiding citizen. I think this wish of mine does not violate my school rules and the alliance treaty of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance.”

“If everyone thinks like you do, and desert on the eve of a battle, then do we just let the Demon Cult control the Martial World and harm everybody? If you wanted to stay out of this, then why didn’t the Qu-named devil stay out of everything?” Fei Bin sneered.

With a slight smile, Liu Zhengfeng answered, “Big brother Qu had vowed to the ancestors of the Demon Cult right in front of my eyes a while back, promising that no matter how the Demon Cult fights with the chivalrous side, he would always stay out of it and never interfere. As long as no one attacks him, he will not attack anyone!”

“Huh, how wonderful!” Fei Bin sneered again. “What if someone from the chivalrous side does attack him?”

“Big brother Qu said that he would try his best to endure and never fight anyone for fame and victory. He would even try his best to mend the gap of misunderstanding between the two sides. Just this morning, big brother Qu sent me a message saying that Huashan apprentice Linghu Chong was wounded terribly by others, and was on the verge of dying. It was him who took the initiative and saved Linghu Chong.”

Noises broke out in the crowd again, especially among ones belonging to the Huashan Sword School, Heng-Shan Sword School, and Qingcheng Sword School, who immediately started whispering to each other’s ears. Yue Lingshan from the Huashan Sword School could not help asking, “Uncle-Master Liu, where is my big apprentice brother? Is it really…that Qu-named…Qu-named senior master who saved his life?”

“If big brother Qu said so, then of course it’s true,” Liu Zhengfeng answered. “When you see nephew Linghu later, you can ask him yourself.”

“What’s so strange about that?” Fei Bin mocked. “Demon Cult members always try to foment discord, using any means they could get their hands on. If he could use every possible means to draw you in, of course he would use every possible means to draw a Huashan apprentice. Maybe Linghu Chong would feel so grateful and want to return the favor. Then we would have another traitor in our Five Mountains Sword Alliance.” He then turned to Yue Buqun and explained, “Apprentice brother Yue, I am just using this as a way of analogy. Please don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind,” Yue Buqun answered with a smile.

“Apprentice brother Fei,” Liu Zhengfeng raised his eyebrows and asked loudly, “you said another traitor. What do you mean by ‘another’?”

Fei Bin sneered, “You understand it very well. Do I still need to explain?”

“Humph, so are you calling me a traitor of my own school?” Liu Zhengfeng yelled. “It’s my private matter who I want to make friends with. It’s none of other people’s business. Liu Zhengfeng does not dare to betray my Master and my Hengshan Sword School. I’ll send the word ‘traitor’ right back to you.”

Before, he had acted with good manners, just like a local gentleman, rich yet rustic. But now, he had shown a quite different image – one filled with vitality and heroic spirit. Seeing his tit for tat argument with Fei Bin and not giving away any ground, everyone admired his courage.

“I suppose apprentice brother Liu is not interested with this option, right? Are you sure you don’t want to rid the evil and kill that big devil Qu Yang?” Fei Bin asked.

“If Alliance Chief Zuo has given you the order, then go ahead, apprentice brother Fei, go ahead and kill my entire family!” Liu Zhengfeng answered with no hesitation.

“Are you thinking that just because so many heroes are visiting you in your home, our Five Mountains Sword Alliance would have scruples and give up on purifying our own group?” Fei Bin mocked.

“Come here!” he beckoned Shi Dengda.

“Yes!” Shi Dengda answered and took three steps forward.

Fei Bin took the five-colored Command Flag from Shi and raised it high. “Liu Zhengfeng, listen carefully: Alliance Chief Zuo has ordered that if you don’t agree to kill Qu Yang within a month, then the Five Mountains Sword Alliance will have no choice but to purify our own group. To prevent any future problem, we will have to rid the branches together with the root. You’d better think it through!”

Liu Zhengfeng let out a sad smile. “When I make a friend, I value the utter devotion. How could I kill a friend in exchange for my own protection? Since Alliance Chief Zuo does not allow this, I, Liu Zhengfeng, with only little power and backing, do not even stand a chance resisting Alliance Chief Zuo. Your Songshan Sword School has planned everything beforehand, probably even got my coffin ready. If you want to do it, then go ahead and do it. What are you waiting for?”

Fei Bin waved the Command Flag and said in a loud voice, “Apprentice brother Tianmen of the Taishan Sword School, Apprentice brother Yue of the Huashan Sword School, Sister Dingyi of the Heng-Shan Sword School, and apprentice brothers and nephew apprentices of the Hengshan Sword School, according to Alliance Chief Zuo’s order: Good and evil can never coexist. The Demon Cult has heaps of scores with our Five Mountains Sword Alliance; the hatred is as deep as the ocean. Liu Zhengfeng associated himself with the devil and submitted himself to the enemy. Everyone in our Five Mountains Sword Alliance is obligated to attack him and kill him. All the ones that will follow the order please stand to the left.”

Priest Tianmen stood up and strode to the left without even looking at Liu Zhengfeng. Priest Tianmen’s Master had been slain by a female Demon Cult Elder, which was why he hated the Demon Cult to the very marrow of his bones. Once he walked to the left side, all his apprentices followed him over.

“Brother Liu,” Yue Buqun stood up, “all you need to do is nod, and I, Yue Buqun, will take care of the business of Qu Yang for you. You said that a true man should not betray his friends, but is Qu Yang your only friend in this world? Aren’t people in our Five Mountains Sword Alliance and many people here today your friends too? The thousands of fellow martial people here traveled long ways to congratulate you sincerely when they heard you were having your Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony. They’ve shown their friendship. Don’t the lives of your entire family, kindness and friendship of your friends in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, and the friendship of those hundreds of fellow martial people outweigh this one individual Qu Yang?”

Slowly shaking his head, Liu Zhengfeng answered, “Apprentice brother Yue, you are a scholar, you should have heard the saying of ‘a true man has things he will not do.’ I am grateful for your advice and your good words. When others force me to kill Qu Yang, I won’t agree. Just like when someone forces me to kill you, apprentice brother Yue, or any one of the friends here, I would never agree even if my entire family would be wiped out as the consequence. It’s true that big brother Qu is a good friend of mine, but apprentice brother Yue is also a good friend of mine. If big brother Qu has ever even mentioned about plotting against any friend of mine in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, I would have looked down upon his character and not consider him a friend.” These words were said in a very sincere way and moved many people in the Big Hall. Brotherhood was a greatly valued virtue in the Martial World, so even though these martial people did not like the fact that Liu Zhengfeng defended his relationship with Qu Yang, they all praised Liu Zhengfeng inwardly.

Yue Buqun shook his head and argued, “Brother Liu, you said it wrong. Your valuing of brotherhood is very admirable, but you did not distinguish between good and evil or right and wrong. The Demon Cult committed countless number of crimes and harmed many gentlemen and innocent people. Just for the sake of your interest in music, giving your wholehearted devotion to him is a terrible misunderstanding of the definition of ‘brotherhood’.”

“Apprentice brother Yue, you don’t play any instrument, that’s why you don’t understand me here,” Liu Zhengfeng explained with a smile. “A person can lie using words, but the sound of flute or zither is directly from one’s heart and can’t lie. Big brother Qu and I have played the flute and zither together. We fully understand each other wholeheartedly. I can guarantee you with my life and my reputation that although big brother Qu is a member of the Demon Cult, he does not have any trace of evil of the Demon Cult.”

With a long sigh, Yue Buqun walked by Priest Tianmen’s side. Lau Denuo, Yue Lingshan, Lu Dayou, and the bunch all followed him over.

Sister Dingyi stared at Liu Zhengfeng. “Starting from now on, should I call you brother Liu or Liu Zhengfeng?” she asked.

“Liu Zhengfeng is bound to die any minute now. Sister, there’s no need for either one,” Liu Zhengfeng replied with a wry smile.

Sister Dingyi put her palms together, forming a Buddhist greeting posture, and then prayed, “May Buddha preserve us!” She slowly walked by Yue Buqun, saying, “The Demon has added more crimes into the world. What a sin, what a sin!” Her apprentices also followed her over.

“This is the personal matter of Liu Zhengfeng. It has nothing to do with other people. Apprentices of Hengshan Sword School, if you don’t want to follow the traitor, you can stand to the left side too,” Fei Bin declared.

After a short silence, a young man murmured, “Uncle-Master Liu, please pardon us apprentices.” Then thirty or so Hengshan apprentices walked to the side of the nuns of the Heng-Shan Sword School. Those were all Liu Zhengfeng’s nephew apprentices, since none of the other senior masters of the Hengshan Sword School came to the ceremony.

“Apprentices of Liu House stand to the left side too,” Fei Bin yelled again.

Xiang Danian answered loudly, “We value the grace of our Master. We will never betray him. We as apprentices of Liu will always be with our beloved Master, dead or alive.”

Warm tears swamped Liu Zhengfeng’s eyes. “Good, good! Danian, your words are already great comforts for your Master. Why don’t you all walk over? It was your Master, I, who made the friend. It has nothing to do with any of you.”

With a loud “clank” sound, Mi Weiyi drew his sword out. “The Liu House undoubtedly is no match for the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. But what more could we lose other than our lives. Whoever wants to harm my Master has to kill me first,” he exclaimed while standing right in front of Liu Zhengfeng, blocking him protectively.

Ding Mian waved his left hand slightly, and a silver flash zipped out in extreme speed. In shock, Liu Zhengfeng pushed Mi Weiyi’s right shoulder hurriedly using his inner energy. Mi Weiyi was pushed to the left, and the silver flash headed directly toward Liu Zhengfeng’s chest. Eager to protect his Master, Xiang Danian jumped forth to block, and the silver needle penetrated his heart squarely. He only had enough time to let out a painful groan before falling dead. Liu Zhengfeng lifted Xiang’s body with his left arm and checked his breath. He then turned to Ding Mian. “Ding second, it is your Songshan Sword School who has killed my apprentice first!”

“Precisely. We killed first. So what?” Ding Mian mocked coldly.

Liu Zhengfeng picked up Xiang Danian’s body with both arms; it seemed as if he was going to throw the body toward Ding Mian. Ding Mian had long known that the Hengshan Sword School inner power style had some unique traits. Liu Zhengfeng was a first-class elite fighter in the Hengshan Sword School; from the way he gathered his strength, Ding Mian could tell that the strength of the throw must be tremendous, so he gathered his inner energy and readied himself to catch the body, so he could throw it right back. Although it appeared that Liu Zhengfeng picked up the body to throw it forward, he suddenly jumped to the side, holding the body in his hands and sent it toward Fei Bin’s chest. The change was so swift and dramatic that Fei Bin was caught by a total surprise. He had to raise both of his palms and blocked the body with double knife hands, when suddenly he felt numbness from his ribs – Liu Zhengfeng had sealed his pressure points.

After the successful move, Liu Zhengfeng grabbed the Command Flag from Fei Bin’s grip using his left hand, while drawing Fei’s sword with his right hand and placed the blade right on Fei Bin’s throat. Then he struck Fei Bin’s back on multiple spots with his left elbow rapidly and sealed another three pressure points on Fei’s back. He moved so fast that he completed the entire series of moves before Xiang Danian’s body even landed on the floor.

After Fei Bin was taken prisoner and the Command Flag exchanged hands, everyone finally realized that the moves Liu Zhengfeng used were from the unique Kung Fu of the Hengshan Sword School called “Magical Thirteen Phantom Stances of Hengshan Mist.” People had heard about it for a long time, and now they were lucky enough to actually see it with their own eyes. Yue Buqun had heard from his Master many years ago that a great master from the last generation of the Hengshan Sword School created the “Magical Thirteen Phantom Stances of Hengshan Mist.” That great master made a living by traveling around performing magic shows. Magic tricks relied on illusions and redirecting audiences’ attentions. When that great master was in his old age, his Kung Fu skills became higher, and so did his skills with magic tricks. He was actually able to use his inner energy and Kung Fu skills in his magic tricks, entertaining a great amount of street audiences. Then later, he was able to merge his magic trick skills into his Kung Fu skills. He was a funny guy and created this set of Kung Fu just for fun, having no idea that the set of Kung Fu would become one of the three unique sets of Hengshan Kung Fu skills. Although the set of Kung Fu had very odd and unexpected moves, it actually was not very useful in a real serious fight because when masters fight, each would be guarding himself carefully and protect his own vital parts well, thus rendering these tricky and flashing moves useless. That was why even the Hengshan Sword School didn’t emphasize on teaching it. If the apprentice appeared to be a flashy one, then the master would not teach him that set of Kung Fu so that the apprentice won’t be relying on fake and flashy moves and lose focus with the real rudimentary type of Kung Fu skills. Liu Zhengfeng was the quiet and deep type. After he learned that set of Kung Fu from his Master, he had not used it ever until today. Now when he used it in such an emergent situation, it actually worked wonders and helped him take control of the notable “Great Songyang Palm” Fei Bin, whose real Kung Fu skills were definitely no less than his.

Lin Zhengfeng held the Command Flag of the Five Mountains Sword alliance high with his right hand and grabbed tight the sword that was on Fei Bin’s throat with his left hand, then said firmly, “Apprentice brother Ding, apprentice brother Lu, I made bold and took the Command Flag of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. I dare not threaten the two of you; I just want to beg mercy from you.”

Ding Mian and Lu Bai looked at each other, both thinking, “Since apprentice brother Fei had fallen for his tricky attack, we’d better listen to what he has to say first.”

“What kind of mercy?” Ding Mian asked.

“Would you two please take a message to Alliance Chief Zuo for me,” Liu Zhengfeng said, “Asking for his permission to let me and my family to withdraw from civilization and live in solitude without ever getting involved in any matter of the Martial World? I will not see big brother Qu Yang ever again, and I will be leaving you, the apprentice brothers and friends here today…as well. I will bring my family and my apprentices to leave the country and live a hermit’s life. As long as I am alive, we will never step on the ground of China again.”

“Apprentice brother Lu and I can not make a decision on that. We will have to report this to apprentice brother Zuo to get his judgment,” Ding Mian hesitated for a second and then replied.

“We have the Head Masters of the Taishan Sword School and the Huashan Sword School here, plus Sister Dingyi from the Heng-Shan Sword School, who should be able to make a decision representing her Head Master apprentice sister. In addition, all the fellow martial people and heroes here today can act as eye witnesses,” Liu Zhengfeng argued. He glanced around everybody and said in a deep voice, “I am begging for a favor from all you friends. Please let me save my family and my apprentices while not betraying my belief in brotherhood.”

Sister Dingyi was the type who acted tough with a hot-temper, yet very kind in one’s heart. She first agreed.

“That would be great, thus we won’t damage our good relationship. Apprentice brother Ding and apprentice brother Lu, let’s agree to brother Liu. Since he wouldn’t be seeing any member of the Demon Cult, and he will be far away, it’ll be like there isn’t a Liu Zhengfeng in this world at all. Why do we have to commit more killing?”

“That sounds good.” Priest Tianmen also nodded. “Brother Yue, what do you think?”

“Brother Liu’s words are as solid as a mountain,” Yue Buqun said. “If he said so, of course we all trust him. Come on! Let’s turn hostility into friendship. Brother Liu, you set brother Fei free, and then we’ll all drink a cup of friendly wine. Tomorrow morning, you can take your family and your apprentices to leave the town of Hengshan!”

“Even the Head Masters of Taishan and Huashan said so, plus Sister Dingyi is also pleading for Liu Zhengfeng, how can we dare to oppose? But because apprentice brother Fei fell for Liu Zhengfeng’s tricks, if we just agreed like that, everyone in the Martial World will be saying that the Songshan Sword School was taken hostage by Liu Zhengfeng and had to give in. When rumors like this spreads out, what would happen to our reputation?” Lu Bai said.

“It is brother Liu who is begging for mercy from the Songshan Sword School. He wasn’t threatening or forcing you. Talk about ‘give in’, it is Liu Zhengfeng who is giving in, not the Songshan Sword School. And you’ve already killed an apprentice of the Liu House,” Sister Dingyi said.

“Di Xiu, get ready!” Lu Bai said after a disgruntled snort.

“Yes!” Songshan apprentice Di Xiu answered. He pushed the short sword in his hand forward a bit, until the tip of the blade penetrated the cloth and reached Liu Zhengfeng’s eldest son’s back muscle.

“Liu Zhengfeng, if you want to beg for mercy, then come back with us to Mount Songshan and see Alliance Chief Zuo. You can beg him for mercy yourself. We are just following orders. We can’t make decisions. Give me back the Command Flag and set my apprentice brother Fei free,” Lu Bai demanded.

With a sad smile, Liu Zhengfeng turned to his son. “Son, are you afraid to die?”

“I am with you, Dad. I am not afraid!” Liu’s son exclaimed.

“Good kid!” Liu Zhengfeng said.

“Kill him!” Lu Bai yelled.

Di Xiu pushed the sword forward. The tip of the short sword went all the way until it penetrated the heart. Then he pulled the short sword out as Liu’s son collapsed onto the floor, blood gushing out from the wound on his back.

Madam Liu, Liu Zhengfeng’s wife, screamed and rushed by her son’s body.

“Kill her too!” Lu Bai yelled again.

Di Xiu thrust his sword forward. The blade penetrated Madam’s Liu’s back.

Sister Dingyi’s anger exploded. “Swoosh,” she slammed her palm toward Di Xiu while swearing, “You monster!” Ding Mian rushed forward and also pushed out with his palm. The two palms met squarely in the midair, sending Sister Dingyi stumbling three steps back. Sister Dingyi felt a great pain from her chest, with blood gushing out of her throat into her mouth. She was the type that would always try to best others, so she immediately swallowed the blood back in, not showing any weakness.

“Thanks for your grace!” Ding Mian smirked.

Sister Dingyi’s Kung Fu was not specialized in her palm strength; in addition, she didn’t put a lot of strength into her palm strike toward Di Xiu, because she, as a senior, did not want to kill Di Xiu, a junior. But when Ding Mian suddenly took on her palm strike with all his strength, and at the time when the two palms met, it was already too late for Sister Dingyi to add more strength to the strike. Ding Mian’s strength overwhelmed Sister Dingyi like a huge wave and injured her badly. In great rage, Sister Dingyi wanted to strike out with her palm again, but when she tried to gather her inner energy, great pain came from her abdomen. It almost felt like that someone was cutting her flesh with a knife. Realizing how severely she had been injured, she clearly knew that she would have no chance of winning the fight with Ding Mian today, so she beckoned her apprentices and said angrily, “Let’s go!” then strode out of the gate. All her apprentices followed her.

“Kill more!” Lu Bai yelled again.

Two Songshan apprentices pushed their short swords forward and killed two more apprentices of Liu House.

“Listen carefully, Liu House apprentices,” Lu Bai said. “If you want to live, then kneel down now and beg for mercy. Whoever is willing to condemn Liu Zhengfeng, his life will be spared.”

“You filthy murderers! Your Songshan Sword School is ten thousand times eviler than the Demon Cult!” Liu Zhengfeng’s daughter Liu Jing swore angrily.

“Kill!” Lu Bai yelled.

Wan Daping raised his long sword and chopped downward. The blade cut through Liu Jing’s right shoulder and went all the way down to her waist. Shi Dengda and other Songshan apprentices also thrust out their swords and killed the Liu House apprentices whose pressure points were sealed earlier.

Although the people in the Big Hall were used to dangerous lives, yet all were greatly shocked by the massacre scene. Some senior masters had wanted to call them to stop, but the Songshan Sword School had acted so fast that within the moment of hesitation, the hall had been filled with dead bodies. Everyone then thought, “Good and evil can never coexist. The Songshan Sword School’s acts weren’t really for any private score they have with Liu Zhengfeng, but acts to fight with the Demon Cult. Although the acts were kind of brutal, one really could not criticize them. In addition, at the moment, the Songshan Sword School had controlled the entire situation, even Sister Dingyi took a hit and left the scene, and Priest Tianmen, Yue Buqun, and other first-class masters all kept their silence. This was the matter within the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. If any outsider pokes his nose into other people’s business and jumps out to stir things up, he would be planting a dangerous seed for himself, and might get killed because of that. The best thing to do was to be worldly wise and play safe.”

By then, among Liu House relatives and apprentices, all was left was Liu Qin, Liu Zhengfeng’s youngest and favorite fifteen-year old son.

“Ask this lad whether he wants to beg for mercy. If he refuses, then cut his nose off first, then his ears, and then cut out his eyeballs. Let him have the pain in small dozes,” Lu Bai directed Shi Dengda.

 “Sure!” Shi Dengda answered. He turned to Liu Qin and asked, “Are you going to beg for mercy?”

Liu Qin’s face was as white as a sheet. He couldn’t help his trembling.

“Good kid, see how tough you brother and sister were. It’s only death, nothing to be scared of,” Liu Zhengfeng said.

“But…Dad,” Liu Qin said with a trembling voice, “they want to…want to cut off my nose, and cut out…cut out my eyeballs….”

Liu Zhengfeng let out a laugh. “By now, do you still think they will let us live?”

“Dad, can’t you…can’t you just agree to kill Uncle…Uncle Qu…?” Liu Qin begged.

Liu Zhengfeng was enraged. “Garbage! You little bloody pig, what did you say?” he yelled.

Shi Dengda raised his long sword and moved the tip of the sword back and forth right in front of Liu Qin’s nose. “Hey lad, I am going to cut down now if you don’t kneel down and beg for mercy. One…two….”

Before the word “three” came out of Shi’s mouth, Liu Qin had already knelt down on the floor. Trembling hard, he begged, “Don’t…don’t kill me….”

“Good! We’ll spare you, only after you condemn Liu Zhengfeng in front of all the people here today.” Lu Bai laughed.

Liu Qin stared at his father, his eyes filled with begging and pleading. Liu Zhengfeng had been able to maintain his calmness all the way through; even when his wife and children were slain right in front of his eyes, he kept a still face, but now he simply could not hold his anger. “You little bloody pig, aren’t you ashamed of yourself right in front of your mother’s dead body?” he yelled loudly.

Seeing his mother, brother and sister’s bodies lying in the blood pool, also seeing Shi Dengda’s long sword moving back and forth right in front of his face, Liu Qin was scared out of his wits.

“Please, please, I beg of you to spare my life, and spare…spare my dad’s life,” he said to Lu Bai.

“Your dad collaborated with the villains in the Demon Cult. Do you think it’s right or wrong?” Lu Bai pressed.

“It’s…wrong!” Liu Qin murmured.

“Should this kind of people be executed?” Lu Bai asked.

Liu Qin lowered his head and dared not to answer.

“The lad doesn’t want to talk. Kill him!” Lu Bai ordered.

“Yes!” Shi Dengda answered. Knowing that Lu Bai really meant to just scare the kid, he raised his sword high and pretended to be chopping down.

“Yes…yes, they should!” Liu Qin muttered immediately.

“Very good! Starting from now on, you are not part of the Hengshan Sword School, neither are you Liu Zhengfeng’s son any more. I spare your life,” Lu Bai declared.

Liu Qin just remained in his kneeling position, not able to stand up with his scared to weak legs. Seeing that, people in the hall could not help but feel ashamed for him. Some turned their heads away, not able to bare themselves to such an embarrassing scene.

Liu Zhengfeng let out a long sigh. “Lu, you won!” Waving his right hand, he threw the Command Flag toward Lu Bai, at the meanwhile, raised his left leg and kicked Fei Bin away. “I’ll finish it off on my own. No need for more killing now,” he said loud and clear, turning the sword in his left hand and slashed it toward his own throat.

Right at the instant, a shadow in black robe glided down from underneath the eaves. The shadow moved as swift as a breeze and quickly grabbed onto Liu Zhengfeng’s left wrist. “A wise man can wait ten years for his revenge. Let’s go!” the shadow yelled out loud. His right hand waved in a circular motion toward his back, and then dragged Liu Zhengfeng toward the outside hurriedly.

“Big brother Qu…you…!” Liu Zhengfeng blurred out in shock.

Hearing the words “big brother Qu,” everyone instantly realized that the man in black robe was none other than the Demon Cult Elder Qu Yang. All felt a shiver inside.

“No time for discussion!” Qu Yang shouted, running even faster. But only after running three steps, Ding Mian and Lu Bai’s four palms had arrived toward the backs of the two.

“Run! Hurry!” Qu Yang yelled to Liu Zhengfeng, pushing hard on Liu Zhengfeng’s back with his palm while gathering his own inner energy around his back. He took the solid strikes of the combination of Ding Mian and Lu Bai, the two first-class elite fighters, squarely on his back. “Bang!” Qu Yang’s body was knocked flying in the air toward the gate.

Still in the air, Qu Yang spat out a spray of blood toward the back while waving his hands continuously. A cluster of black needles rained toward everybody behind him.

“Those are the Black Blood Sacred Needles, move away fast!” Ding Mian shouted while dodging to the side hurriedly.

Seeing the cluster of black needles flying toward them and knowing the great fame of the Black Blood Sacred Needles of the Demon Cult, people in the hall were all astounded. The crowd became a mass. In chaos, voices from dozens of people echoed in the hall: “Ouch!” “Wow!” Since there was quite a crowd in the hall and the Black Blood Sacred Needles were in great amount and great speed, the poisonous needles hit many. In the hubbub, Qu Yang and Liu Zhengfeng had escaped.

 

  Blunderbuss shots and music/drums were typical in ancient China as formal greetings to government officials. Gongs were used in front of the official’s wagon to inform people on the street to yield the way for the government official. People blocking the way would be thrown into prison right away.

  Also explained in chapter two: A general term for certain two-stringed bowed music instruments, popular in ancient China.