Smiling Proud Wanderer

 
 

Smiling Proud Wanderer Volume 1 Chapter 7


Chapter Seven: Music Score


Although Linghu Chong’s injuries were very severe, with the help of the Heng-Shan Sword School’s great medicines, “Heavenly Connecting Glue” applied outside and “White Cloud Bear Gallbladder Pills” taken orally, after just a day and two nights’ sleep by the waterfall, his wounds had started to heal. The fact that Linghu Chong was a strong man still in his youth, and the good amount of inner energy developed from his martial arts training both contributed greatly to his fast recovery.

During the day and two nights, all they had were watermelons. Linghu Chong had begged Yilin to catch some fish or wild rabbits for a change, but she would not give any ground, saying that only because of the blessing from the Buddha, had Linghu Chong been able to narrowly escape from death, and it would be the best if he would become a vegetarian for a few years to show his grace to the Buddha. There was absolutely no way that she would violate the prohibition of killing. Linghu Chong laughed at her pedantry, yet could not force her, so he had no choice but to give it up.

It was already dark. The two of them rested with their back against a big rock and looked at the many fireflies flying in and out of the bushes. The flickering of the many fireflies painted a beautiful picture of the midsummer night.

“In the summer before the last one, I once caught thousands of fireflies and placed them in dozens of gauze bags to hang in the room. That was a lot of fun!” Linghu Chong said.

Figuring with his kind of temper, he would never have made dozens of gauze bags out of his own will, Yilin asked, “It was your little apprentice sister, who had asked you to catch those fireflies, wasn’t it?”

“You are smart!” Linghu Chong smiled. “You got it right! How did you know my little apprentice sister asked me to do it?”

“You have such a hot-temper; besides, you are no longer a kid. How could you have such patience to catch thousands of fireflies just for fun?” Yilin answered with a smile. “So what happened afterwards?” she asked.

“Little apprentice sister hung all these gauze bags inside her bed curtains. She said that with so many twinkling around her bed, she would feel like sleeping above clouds. Every time when she opened her eyes, she would be seeing stars all around her.”

“Your little apprentice sister certainly knows how to have fun. And she also got you, the apprentice brother, to join in with her. If she had wanted you to catch the stars in the sky, you probably would have agreed just the same,” Yilin commented.

“Talk about catching the stars in the sky, that was actually the reason why we caught so many fireflies,” Linghu Chong explained. “That night, she and I went out to enjoy the cool breezes of the night. When she saw the twinkling stars in the sky, little apprentice sister took a deep breath. ‘It’s too bad that a bit later I’ll have to go to bed,” she said. ‘I’d rather sleep outside under the night sky, so when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ll see all the stars blinking at me. That’ll be so much fun! But Mother definitely won’t allow that to happen.’ So I suggested, ‘Why don’t I go catch some fireflies, and then put them in your bed curtain. They would look just like stars.’”

“So it was your idea after all,” Yilin murmured gently.

“‘But the fireflies would be flying in all directions,’ Little apprentice sister said. ‘It would be so annoying if some of them landed on my face. I got it! Why don’t I sew some gauze bags and put the fireflies in those.’ So she started making gauze bags while I worked on catching fireflies. We worked for an entire day and an entire night to get everything ready. It was too bad that we were only able to enjoy it for the first night. By the second night, the fireflies all died.”

Yilin’s body shook at these words. “All the thousands of fireflies died? How…how could you…?” her voice quivered.

Linghu Chong grinned. “You wanted to say that we were too cruel, didn’t you? Ah, you are a Buddhist with a very kind heart. When it gets cold, those fireflies would have frozen to death, anyway. They only died a couple days earlier. What’s the big deal?”

“Actually it’s no different for us human beings,” after a long silence, Yilin finally said quietly. “Some will die sooner, and some will die later. Whether one dies sooner or later, he will die eventually. Buddha says that no one can escape the suffering of death, either by old age or by illness. It is so difficult to understand the ultimate truth regard the cycle of life.”

“Well said! That’s why there’s no need for you to worry about all those rules and regulations, such as no killing, no stealing, and so on. If the Buddha had to watch out for every little thing out there, he would probably become exhausted,” Linghu Chong exclaimed.

Speechless, Yilin turned her head away, just as a shooting star flashed across the night sky to their left, leaving a long beautiful light trail.

“Apprentice sister Yijing once said, that when you see a shooting star, if you can tie a knot using the ribbon on your robe and make a wish at the same time, then the wish will come true, as long as you can finish both of them before the shooting star disappears. Do you think that’s real?” Yilin asked.

“I don’t know,” Linghu Chong answered. “Why don’t we give it a try? But I don’t think I can be that fast.” He picked up the ribbon of his robe. “Better get ready yourself. One second slower, you wouldn’t make it.”

Yilin picked up the ribbon of her robe and gazed at the night sky. Shooting stars were not rare in summer nights. Only a few minutes later, another one streaked across the sky. In a flash, it had vanished. Yilin only had enough time to move a finger, and the shooting star was already gone. “Ah.” She let out a gentle cry and then waited again. Soon, another shooting star appeared. It streaked from the west to the east and lasted a short while. Yilin had very quick fingers and actually tied a knot in time.

“Remarkable! Excellent! You finished the knot! Buddha Guanyin will surely bless you and make your wish come true!” Linghu Chong cheered.

“All I thought about was how to tie the knot in time. I forgot to make a wish.” Yilin heaved a sigh.

“You’d better think of your wish ahead of time.” Linghu Chong grinned. “Recite it a few times in your heart, so you won’t forget to make your wish when you tie the knot.”

“What should I wish for? What should I wish for?” holding the ribbon in her hands, Yilin thought aloud. She glanced at Linghu Chong and suddenly flushed, immediately jerking her head around. By then several more shooting stars had streaked across the star-strewn indigo sky.

“Oops, another one! Wow, that was a long one. Did you tie the knot in time? You had enough time for that one,” Linghu Chong shouted in excitement.

But Yilin’s mind was as confused as a tangled skein. Deep in her heart, she had a vague wish, but that was a wish that she didn’t even dare to think of, not to mention asking the Buddha to grant the wish. Her heart thumped hard as the feeling of unspeakable fear mingled with unspeakable joy washed over her. Then she heard Linghu Chong’s voice.

“Have you gotten your wish yet?”

Yilin asked herself gently in her heart, “What should I wish for? What should I wish for?” Raising her head slightly and watching one shooting star after another flashing across the night sky, she found herself lost in thought.

“You are not gonna tell me, are you? Let me guess.” Linghu Chong grinned.

“No, no, don’t!” Yilin objected in a hurry.

“It’s alright! Let me give it three tries, and see if I can get it.” Linghu Chong said with an even bigger grin on his face.

“If you don’t stop, I am leaving.” Yilin stood up.

Linghu Chong burst into laughter. “Fine, I’ll stop. There’s nothing embarrassing about wishing to be the Head Master of the Heng-Shan Sword School.”

Yilin was caught by surprise. “He…he thought I wanted to be the Head Master of the Heng-Shan Sword School? I never thought of anything like that. How would I ever be capable of being a Head Master?” she thought aloud.

Suddenly, the dim sound of a string instrument floated in from a distance. It seemed that someone was playing a zither. Linghu Chong and Yilin exchanged a surprised look, both taken aback: “Why would someone play the zither in such wilderness?”

The sound of the zither continued, smooth and graceful, and moments later, a few subdued sounds of a bamboo flute started playing accompanying the zither music. The sound of the seven-stringed zither was pastel and placid, when blended with the clear and elegant flute play, the tone seemed to have become even more soothing and touching. The music was played as though the zither and the flute were holding an intimate conversation, and gradually, the sound of music came closer and closer.

“Playing music here at this moment is kind of odd,” Linghu Chong leaned toward Yilin and whispered to her ear. “I am afraid they might be hostile. No matter what happens, don’t make any noise.” Yilin nodded.

The sound of the zither gradually become louder and more sonorous, while the sound of the flute became lower and deeper, but the notes played by the flute were low yet unceasing, almost like a silk thread swaying in the breeze, incessant and soul stirring.

Amid the music play, three shadows walked out from behind the big rock following a small path. At the moment, a shallow cloud blocked the moon, so everything was enveloped in a shade of blur, and Linghu Chong could vaguely tell that the group consisted of two tall ones and a short one. The tall ones were two men, and the short one was a girl. The two men walked by a big rock in easy ambles and sat down, one playing the zither and one playing the flute. Quietly, the girl stood by the side of the zither-playing man. Slowly, Linghu Chong retracted himself back into hiding behind the rock wall, afraid that those three might see him. The melodious play of zither and flute continued in great harmony.

“There’s a waterfall right next by, yet the thundering of the falling water still cannot cover the soft and smooth music,” Linghu Chong thought aloud. “These two players’ inner energy must have reached a remarkable height. Oh, I see. The sound of the waterfall is exactly the reason why they came here to play the music. It has gotten nothing to do with us.” At that thought, he felt more relaxed.

Suddenly, the sound of the zither turned loud and forceful, with the implication of battle and fights, but the flute play remained elegant and graceful. After a while, the zither play also turned mild and gentle, and both the zither and the flute switched between high notes and low notes back and forth. All of a sudden, the sounds of both the zither and the flute changed completely, as though there were many zithers and many flutes playing together in an orchestra. Although the music had changed into something magnificent with many complex florid notes, each tone and cadence stayed clear and meaningful and the melody remained pleasing and moving. Linghu Chong could feel that his mind had been completed captured by the music, and almost couldn’t help but stand up. After another while, the tone of the zither and the flute changed again. This time the flute took over the lead and the zither simply accompanied with soothing chords. Soon, the sound of the flute play ascended higher and higher. Out of nowhere, the feelings of grieve and sadness rose and washed over Linghu Chong’s heart. He turned to look at Yilin, only to find tears rolling down her cheeks like streams. A loud “ring” echoed suddenly, then the zither and the flute fell silent at the exact same instant. Silence swept across in all directions; all there left were the moon, shinning high and bright in the indigo sky, casting still shadows from the endless of trees on the ground.

A voice said slowly, “Brother Liu, it must be fate that you and I have to die here today. It was really my fault that I didn’t act sooner; otherwise, your entire family and all your apprentices wouldn’t have lost their lives. I am so deeply disturbed.”

“We are friends with unsurpassed devotion. There’s really no need to explain….” another voice replied.

Hearing that voice, Yilin suddenly remembered. “That’s Uncle-Master Liu Zhengfeng,” She whispered at Linghu Chong’s ear.

Neither of them had any idea about what had just happened inside Liu House, so both were stunned beyond words when they suddenly made out Liu Zhengfeng in the remote valley and hear his companion saying something like “you and I have to die here today” and “your entire family and all your apprentices have lost their lives.”

“No one can escape the destiny of death,” Liu Zhengfeng said. “Having met the soul-mate in his living, one would die with no regrets.”

“Brother Liu, your flute play today seemed to have the implication of some kind of regret. Are you regretting about how your son cravenly clung to life instead of brave out death in the face of danger, and brought humiliation to your reputation?” the other man asked.

“Big brother Qu, you guessed it right. I have really spoiled the child too much and didn’t teach him well, shaping him into such a coward with no integrity.” Liu Zhengfeng sighed deeply.

“With or without integrity, it’s all the same,” Qu Yang comforted him. “A hundred years later, we all will rot into dusts. What’s the difference? When I was hiding on the rooftop, I should have acted sooner, but I figured you wouldn’t want me to ruin your relationship with your friends in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance for my sake. I also thought about the vow I had with you that I would never hurt anyone in the Chivalrous Side. That’s why I waited and waited. Who would have expected that the Songshan Sword School, the school housing the Alliance Chief, would act so viciously?”

Liu Zhengfeng did not answer and, for a long while, kept his silence. Eventually, with a deep sigh, he spoke again.

“How would any of these vulgar people ever understand the high spirits and graceful friendship of ours in music? Appraising with normal sense, they of course are convinced that our association would greatly harm the Five Mountains Sword Alliance and the Chivalrous Side. Alas, they don’t understand, and we cannot really blame them. Big brother Qu, were you hit at your Da-Zhui Point, which shook your heart arteries?”

“Yes,” Qu Yang answered. “Songshan style inner energy is truly outstanding. When I took the hit on my back, I had no idea that the inner energy would be so strong to have passed through my body and broke your heart arteries with the shock, too. If I’d known earlier that you couldn’t have escaped the hit, either, I wouldn’t have shot out that cluster of ‘Black Blood Sacred Needles.’ Hurting more innocent people wouldn’t have helped any bit. Luckily, those needles were not poisonous.”

Hearing the name “Black Blood Sacred Needles,” Linghu Chong felt his heart skip a beat. “This man saved my life. Could he have been an elite fighter of the Demon Cult? If that’s true, why would Uncle-Master Liu befriend him?”

Liu Zhengfeng let out a slight smile. “But thanks to that, we got to play the zither and the flute together one last time. From now on, there will never be any zither and flute play like that.”

Qu Yang heaved a deep sigh. “Legend has it that before Ji Kang was executed, he played his zither one last time, and regretted that the ‘Guang-Ling Song’ music would be lost forever after his death. The ‘Guang-Ling Song’ sure is wonderful, but how can it compare to the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song we just played? However, Ji Kang probably felt just the same like how we feel today.”

“Big brother Qu, you were quite enlightened just minutes ago, how come you just turned rigid again?” Liu Zhengfeng smiled. “Our play of the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song, tonight, has brought out the best of the music. The music had already existed once in the world, and we have already played the song together once. What more could we ask for?”

“You are right!” Qu Yang clapped his hands gently. Then a short moment later, he sighed again.

“What’s the matter, big brother? Ah, I see. You are worrying about Feifei,” Liu Zhengfeng said.

“Feifei? Could that be the same Feifei?” Yilin thought to herself. Then, sure enough, she heard Qu Feiyan’s voice.

“Grandpa, after Grandpa Liu and you gradually recover from your injuries, we’ll wipe out every one of those Songshan villains and avenge granny Liu and the rest of them!”

Suddenly a long laugh rose from behind the rock wall. Amid the echoing of the loud laugh, a dark shadow had jumped out. Light of reflection flashed, and the next moment, a man appeared in front of Qu Yang and Liu Zhengfeng, holding a long sword in his hand. He was none other than the “Great Songyang Palm” Fei Bin of the Songshan Sword School.

“Hey, this little girl certainly likes to talk big. She wants to wipe out the entire Songshan Sword School. But I doubt everything will go as you had wished,” Fei Bin said with a cold sneer.

“Fei Bin, you have already killed my entire family, and I could die any minute now thanks to the palm strikes from your two apprentice brothers. What else do you want?” Liu Zhengfeng stood up.

“Didn’t this little girl say to wipe everyone out? I am here to wipe everyone out!” he said with an arrogant grin. “Little girl, why don’t you come here, and be the first one to die?”

“Feifei and her grandpa saved your life. You have to think of something to save them!” Yilin pleaded Linghu Chong in whisper.

Even before she had said anything, Linghu Chong had already thought hard about ways to help them, thus repay the favor to the grandpa and granddaughter. But firstly, the opponent was an elite fighter of the Songshan Sword School; even if he hadn’t incurred any injuries, he still would be no match for Fei Bin. Secondly, he had already found out that Qu Yang was a member of the Demon Cult. The Huashan Sword School had always considered the Demon Cult an evil enemy. How could he help an enemy? The conflicting thoughts wavered in his mind, and he simply could not decide what to do.

“Fei Bin, you are a well known master in a famous sword school. Since Qu Yang and I are in your hands now, you can kill us or torture us all you want. But what would you become if you bully a little girl? Feifei, go! Leave!” Liu Zhengfeng urged.

“I’d rather die together with Grandpa and Grandpa Liu. I won’t live alone,” Qu Feiyan exclaimed.

“Hurry up! Go now!” Liu Zhengfeng urged again. “This is a matter between adults. It has nothing to do with a child like you.”

“I won’t go!” Qu Feiyan insisted.

Drawing two short swords by her waist, she rushed forth to hide Liu Zhengfeng behind her.

“Fei Bin, Grandpa Liu spared your life earlier, and now you are still requiting kindness with enmity. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” she shouted.

“You said you would wipe out our entire Songshan Sword School. Are you starting already? Do you expect me to just stand here and get slaughtered, or should I turn around and run away?” Fei Bin mocked in a chilling tone.

Liu Zhengfeng grabbed at Qu Feiyan’s arm. “Hurry up! Go now!” he said hastily. But because the shock from the Songshan style inner energy had broke his heart arteries, and the play of the “Smiling Proud Wanderer” had also used up his last bits of strength, the grab became so weak. With an easy pull, Qu Feiyan had freed her arm from Liu Zhengfeng’s hand.

Suddenly, reflections flashed in front of her eyes and Fei Bin’s long sword was already on its way toward Qu Feiyan’s face. She blocked the thrust with the left short sword and immediately thrust out the right short sword.

Fei Bin sneered as he circled his sword tip back and smacked it against Qu Feiyan’s sword in her right hand. A stream of numbness and pain shot through Qu Feiyan’s right palm and her entire right arm; the sword in her right hand flew out of her grip instantly. Fei Bin shook his sword in an angle and then poked backward. “Clank!” The sword in Qu Feiyan’s left hand was also knocked out and flew dozens of feet away. Before Qu Feiyan even had any chance to react, Fei Bin’s long sword was already pointed at her throat.

Fei Bin turned to Qu Yang, a cold grin on his face.

“Elder Qu, how about I first prick out your granddaughter’s left eye, then cut off her nose, and then cut off her two ears….”

Qu Feiyan screamed loudly. She jumped forward and threw herself at the long sword.

Fei Bin retracted the sword swiftly as he poke out with his right index finger, and Qu Feiyan fell to the ground like a rock.

Fei Bin burst into loud laughter. “You wicked demons,” he yelled, “with so many crimes you have committed, I am not going to let you die this easy. Let me first prick out your left eye.” He raised his sword and pierced it down toward Qu Feiyan’s left eye.

“Hold it!” someone shouted from behind him suddenly. Astounded, Fei Bin quickly turned around and waved his sword about to block any possible attacks. He had no idea that Linghu Chong and Yilin were actually hidden behind the rocks even before he arrived; otherwise, with his outstanding Kung Fu skills, nobody could have sneaked behind him without him noticing it. Under the dim moonlight, he saw a young man standing still, his hands on his hips.

“Who are you?” Fei Bin asked in a yell.

“Linghu Chong of the Huashan Sword School here shows his respect to Uncle-Master Fei,” Linghu Chong answered. He bowed to salute, but his body started shaking and he had a hard time keeping himself balance.

“Fine! So it’s the senior apprentice of apprentice brother Yue.” Fei Bin nodded. “What are you doing here?”

“I was injured by a Qingcheng apprentice, and was healing my wounds here, thus having the honor to meet you, Uncle-Master Fei.”

“Hmm, it’s perfect that you’re here.” Fei Bin snorted. “This little girl is an evil member of the Demon Cult. She deserves being executed. If I have to finish her off myself, it would look like a senior bullying a junior. You go ahead and kill her.” He pointed at Qu Feiyan.

Linghu Chong shook his head. “This little girl’s grandpa calls Uncle-Master Liu of the Hengshan Sword School a brother. So that would make her even one generation lower than I am. If I kill her, people would say that a Huashan Sword School senior bullied a junior. Once the news gets out, it probably wouldn’t do much good for our reputation. Besides, this senior master Qu and Uncle-Master Liu are both badly wounded; to bully a junior of theirs right in front of them wouldn’t be the right kind of behavior for a true gentleman. Our Huashan Sword School certainly wouldn’t do anything like that. Uncle-Master Fei, will you please pardon me?”

He had clearly implied that if the Songshan Sword School did the thing the Huashan Sword School disdained to do, that would obviously make the Songshan Sword School far less graceful than the Huashan Sword School.

Fei Bin knitted his brows, and a ferocious look appeared in his eyes.

“So you are secretly collaborating with the Demon Cult, too!” he bellowed in a stern voice. “That’s right, Liu Zhengfeng mentioned earlier that this Demon Qu had helped with your wounds and saved your life. I certainly did not expect an impressive Huashan apprentice to have submitted himself to the Demon Cult so quickly.”

The sword in his hand started to vibrate, and cold reflections flashed from the blade. He was about to thrust his sword at Linghu Chong.

“Nephew Linghu, you have nothing to do with this. There’s no need for you to mix yourself up in this. You should leave quickly to avoid getting your Master into an awkward position,” Liu Zhengfeng urged.

Linghu Chong laughed. “Uncle-Master Liu, we all consider ourselves part of the Chivalrous Side and irreconcilable with the Evil Side. What does the word ‘chivalrous’ really mean? Is it considered chivalrous to bully someone who has severe injuries? Is it considered chivalrous to kill an innocent little girl? If we were capable to lower ourselves to commit such deeds, what makes us different from the Evil Side?”

“Even our Demon Cult doesn’t do things like that,” Qu Yang said with a sigh, “Little brother Linghu, why don’t you leave now? If the Songshan Sword School likes to do such things, then just let them do as they wish.”

“I am not leaving!” Linghu Chong refused, a broad grin emerging on his lips. “‘Great Songyang Palm’ Hero Fei enjoys a great reputation in the Martial World. He is one of the best Masters in the Songshan Sword School. I am sure he was just trying to scare the little girl with harsh words. How could he actually commit such shameless deeds? Uncle-Master Fei is not that kind of guy.” He folded his arms in front of his chest and leaned onto the trunk of a pine tree.

A strong wish to kill washed over Fei Bin, and he grinned hideously.

“You think you can just tie me up with your words, so I have to let these three devils walk free? Keep on dreaming! Well, since you have submitted yourself to the Demon Cult, what difference does it make for me to kill four instead of three?” He took a step forward.

Seeing the hideous look on his face, Linghu Chong was astounded, yet he kept the same face as he pondered hard for an idea to get out of trouble.

“Uncle-Master Fei, you are thinking about killing me to rid the witness, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Hey, you’re smart. That’s right!” Fei Bin had no intention to deny. He took another step forward forcefully.

Suddenly, a young nun walked out from behind the rocks.

“Uncle-Master Fei, the sea of bitterness has no bounds; repent and the shore is at hand. You only have the intent to commit a crime, yet the crime has not been committed. It’s still not too late to rein in at the brink of the precipice.”

That was Yilin. Although Linghu Chong had instructed her to hide behind the rocks and not to let anyone see her, seeing the danger Linghu Chong was in, she immediately walked out without much thinking, hoping to convince Fei Bin to stop with her sincere advice.

Fei Bin was caught in great surprise. “You are from the Heng-Shan Sword School, right? Why are you hiding here in such a sneaky way?” he demanded.

“I…I….” Yilin blushed and could only murmur.

Qu Feiyan lay on the ground still. She could not move any of her limbs because of her sealed pressure points, but she could still talk.

“Sister Yilin,” she shouted, “I knew you’d be together with big brother Linghu. So you did heal his wounds. Too bad…too bad we are all going to die soon.”

“No, we won’t.” Yilin shook her head. “Uncle-Master Fei is a renowned hero in the Martial World. How could he hurt a severely wounded man or a little girl like you?”

“Is he really a renowned hero, a true man?” Qu Feiyan only sneered.

“The Songshan Sword School houses the Alliance Chief of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, the leader of the Chivalrous Side of the Martial World. They would, of course, follow the chivalrous rules first no matter what they do,” Yilin emphasized.

She had really said those words sincerely and honestly, but in Fei Bin’s ears, it all sounded like sarcastic ridicules. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” he thought aloud. “If I let anyone of them leave here alive, my reputation would be ruined forever. Even though I am killing demons of the Demon Cult, killing wounded people and prisoners is not the kind of act of a true man, and will surely be looked down upon by others.” At that thought, he pointed his sword at Yilin.

“You are neither severely wounded, nor a little girl that cannot move; I guess it’s alright to kill you then.”

Greatly stunned, Yilin took several steps back.

“Me…me…me? Why do you want to kill me?” in a trembling voice, she asked in disbelief.

“You ganged up with the demons of the Demon Cult. That little devil even called you a sister; you are obviously taking the demons’ side. Of course I won’t let you go.” He took another step forward and was ready to thrust his sword at Yilin.

Linghu Chong hurriedly rushed in front of Yilin, hiding her behind him. “Apprentice sister, run! Quick! Ask your Master to come save us,” he shouted loudly. He knew clearly that water a mile away wouldn’t extinguish the fire close by. Asking Yilin to go seek help was just another excuse to get her out of here, staying away from danger.

Fei Bin waved his sword and thrust the tip of the blade toward Linghu Chong’s right shoulder, which Linghu Chong dodged by turning to the side hurriedly, then, Fei Bin thrust out three more continuous moves, which Linghu Chong was only able to escape barely.

Yilin was extremely worried. She drew the broken sword by her waist in a hurry and thrust it at Fei Bin’s shoulder.

“Big brother Linghu, you have injuries. Stay back!” she shouted.

“I see. The little nun has forgotten about all the prohibitions. After seeing a handsome lad, she doesn’t even care about her own life any more.” Fei Bin let out a stream of laughter. He slashed his sword straight down. “Clank!” The two swords collided and Yilin’s broken sword was instantly knocked out of her grip. Fei Bin pushed his sword forward, and the sword headed straight toward Yilin’s heart.

Fei Bin figured that he had as many as five people to kill. Even though none of them could really put up a decent fight with him, but a long delay would mean many hitches, and he couldn’t afford to let any one of them escape, otherwise, there would be endless trouble. That was why he was so determined to use deadly moves.

Linghu Chong jumped on Fei Bin, poking two fingers of his left hand at Fei Bin’s eyes. Fei Bin pushed the ground with his toes and leapt backward, slicing his sword conveniently following his body movements, which left a long cut on Linghu Chong’s left arm.

Linghu Chong’s fierce attack with disregard to his own life saved Yilin from being stabbed, but it also exhausted all his strength that he could hardly breathe, his body trembling hard, as if he could collapse any second.

Yilin rushed forward and held onto his arms. “He will have to kill the both of us!” she exclaimed in a sobbing voice.

“Run…run away now…hurry up…!” although totally out of breath, Linghu Chong managed to squeeze out these words.

“You dummy!” Qu Feiyan grinned. “Don’t you understand what she wants? She wants to die with you…!” Before she could finish, Fei Bin’s sword had already penetrated her heart.

Qu Yang, Liu Zhengfeng, Linghu Chong, and Yilin all screamed in disbelief.

With a hideous grin on his face, Fei Bin slowly took a step toward Linghu Chong and Yilin, then another step, then another. Blood dripped down from the tip of the sword one drop after another.

Linghu Chong’s mind fell into a state of chaos: “He…he actually killed the little girl. How vicious! I am going to die, too. Why does apprentice sister Yilin want to die together with me? Yes, I’ve saved her before, but she has saved me, too, and has repaid the favor she owed me. I had never known her before. We are just apprentice brother and sister of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. There is of course the code of honor in the Martial World, but she doesn’t have to sacrifice her life for that. I’d never thought an apprentice of the Heng-Shan Sword School would take brotherhood of the Martial World so seriously. Sister Dingyi must be a remarkable person. Ah, it’s this apprentice sister Yilin who will die together with me, not my little apprentice sister Lingshan. Talking about Lingshan, what is she…doing right now?” With a gentle sigh and a slight smile, he shut his eyes tight and completely ignored the dreadful face of Fei Bin that was getting closer and closer.

All of a sudden, several faint sounds of a huqin came into his ears. The tone was filled with sadness, almost sounded like a sigh, yet also sounded like a sob. The sounds quivered, like drops of rain falling on leaves. Very surprised, Linghu Chong opened his eyes.

A shock went through Fei Bin’s heart: “‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang’ Great Mr. Mo is here.”

The music played by the huqin became even more depressing, but Great Mr. Mo remained behind the trees.

“Great Mr. Mo, why don’t you come out?” Fei Bin yelled.

Music from the huqin stopped. A thin figure walked out from behind a pine tree. Linghu Chong had long heard of the fame of “Night Rain of Xiaoxiang” Great Mr. Mo, but he had never seen him in person before. Now in the dim moonlight, he could see a man standing in front of Fei Bin. He was so thin that he was mere skeleton, and his back arced badly. He looked almost like someone who was so ill that he could collapse down and die any second. Who would have thought that the well-known Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School had such a wretched appearance?

Great Mr. Mo cupped his hands toward Fei Bin, still holding the huqin in his left hand. “Apprentice brother Fei! How is Alliance Chief Zuo?” he greeted.

Seeing that Great Mr. Mo hadn’t come with any ill intentions, and also knowing that he didn’t get along with Liu Zhengfeng, Fei Bin answered, “Thanks for asking, Great Mr. Mo. My apprentice brother Zuo is just fine. Liu Zhengfeng of your respectful school collaborated with the Demon Cult and had plotted against our Five Mountains Sword Alliance. Great Mr. Mo, what do you think we should do?”

Great Mr. Mo took two steps toward Liu Zhengfeng and said in a chilling tone, “We should kill!” Right after the word “kill,” a thin and narrow long sword appeared in his hand out of nowhere. Cold reflections flashed when he thrust the sword hard backward; the tip of the blade went straight toward Fei Bin’s chest. His sudden attack was so fast and swift that it almost looked unreal. That was one of the unique moves of the “Magical Thirteen Phantom Stances of Hengshan Mist.”

Fei Bin had fallen for this unique style of Kung Fu from Liu Zhengfeng earlier in Liu House, and now he fell for it again. In great astonishment, he jumped back as quickly as he could, but it was still not quick enough. In a tearing sound, the sword sliced across his chest; his robe was cut open and a long cut appeared on his chest. Although the wound was nothing serious, because of his surprise and anger, he had lost his edge in spirit.

Fei Bin immediately started his own attack, but Great Mr. Mo had taken control of the initiative with his first move, and his attacks poured out continuously, one wave after another. The thin sword twisted and vibrated like a serpent, flying swiftly in between Fei Bin’s sword flashes. Fei Bin was forced to retreat back a step, then another, without a chance to utter a cry or swear.

Qu Yang, Liu Zhengfeng, and Linghu Chong were all taken aback by the magical and ghost-like sword moves of Great Mr. Mo. Liu Zhengfeng had studied with him in the same school, and had been his apprentice brother for decades, but even he did not expect such outstanding and magnificent sword skills out of him.

Drops of blood splashed out between the two swords. Fei Bin jumped and dodged and ducked, trying his best to block away the attacks, but he still couldn’t escape the cage of light created by Great Mr. Mo’s fast sword. The splashing blood gradually made a red circle around them.

Suddenly, Fei Bin uttered a long scream and jumped high in the air as Great Mr. Mo took a few steps back. Shoving his sword into the huqin, Great Mr. Mo turned on his heels and strolled away. A song of “Night Rain of Xiaoxiang” rose from behind the pine trees, and soon the music fainted into the distance.

Fei Bin collapsed onto the ground after his jump. Blood sprang out from his chest and up into the air like a fountain. In the fierce fight, he had loaded the Songshan style inner energy. When his chest was stabbed, the inner energy was still circling inside his body, and started pumping blood out from the wound. Such a scene was strange yet horrifying.

Yilin held onto Linghu Chong’s arm, her heart thumping like a drum. “You didn’t get injured again, did you?” she asked in whisper.

Qu Yang heaved a sigh. “Brother Liu, you had mentioned before that you don’t get along with your apprentice brother. Who would have thought that he would save us when we are in danger.”

“My apprentice brother always behaves in such odd ways. I really have no idea beforehand what he might do. We don’t get along. It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m rich and he’s poor. It’s just that our temperaments don’t agree with each other,” Liu Zhengfeng explained.

“His sword skills are so outstanding, but the music he played with his huqin only showed sadness and depression that will move the audience into tears. His music play is too vulgar; he still cannot get rid of the sordid street tone in his music.” Qu Yang shook his head.

“Exactly!” Liu Zhengfeng couldn’t agree more. “Apprentice brother’s huqin play has no circulation in the chords, and the tone always goes far too deep into the sadness. Good poems have regards about joyful but not fancy, sad yet not depressing. What’s so different about music? Every time when I hear his huqin play, all I want to do is to run as far away as possible from it.”

Linghu Chong couldn’t help thinking to himself, “These two are simply obsessed with music. Even in such a life threatening situation, all they could think of are ‘sad yet not depressing’ and ‘vulgar versus graceful.’ If it weren’t Uncle-Master Mo who got here in time, we would all be dead. What a pity that the little girl Qu had to be murdered by Fei Bin.”

Liu Zhengfeng continued. “But regarding sword skills and Kung Fu skills, I am really far behind. In the old days, I haven’t really showed a lot of respect for him. Now when I think about it, I truly regret it myself.”

“The Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School really lives up to his reputation.” Qu Yang nodded in agreement. He turned to Linghu Chong. “Little brother, I have a favor to ask of you. Will you do me this favor?”

“Senior Master, please! Of course I will,” Linghu Chong answered.

Qu Yang cast a side-glance at Liu Zhengfeng and then said, “Brother Liu and I love music to the extreme. We spent several years writing this song called ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer.’ We believe this piece of music is so unique that during the past millennium, there was nothing even close to it. From now on, even if there will be someone like Qu Yang again, there might not be a Liu Zhengfeng; if there will be someone like Liu Zhengfeng, there might not be a Qu Yang. If there will be people like Qu Yang and Liu Zhengfeng, the two of them might not be born during the same period of time to meet and become friends. To find two who are good not only in music, but also in inner energy, yet have the same tastes and similar level of Kung Fu skills, to create a piece of music like this, is more difficult than finding a needle in a hay stack. If this piece of ultimate music gets buried into oblivion, brother Liu and I will undoubtedly sigh with regret in the underworld.” Taking a book of manuscripts out from his chest pocket, he continued, “This is the music score of the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song. Little brother, for the sake of the great devotion and efforts the two of us put in this, will you please find the right kind of people to give this to?”

“If the world gets to know the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song, then big brother Qu and I will be able to die content,” Liu Zhengfeng added.

Linghu Chong bowed and took the music score manuscripts from Qu Yang with both of his hands, and put it into his own pocket.

“Please rest assured. I will definitely try my best,” he promised.

 When Qu Yang had said that he had a favor to ask of him earlier, Linghu Chong thought it was going to be something very difficult and dangerous. He also worried that to accomplish such a task might require action that would violate his school rules and offend fellow martial people in chivalrous schools. But he really could not refuse in the circumstance by then. Learning now that all they wanted was for him to find two guys to play zither and flute, he immediately felt much relaxed, and heaved a sigh of relief.

“Nephew Linghu, this piece of music not only is the ultimate lifelong work of the two of us, it is also related to a historical figure. A good amount of the melody in the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song was modified by big brother Qu Yang based on the Jin Dynasty musician Ji Kang’s ‘Guang-Ling Song’,” Liu Zhengfeng elaborated.

Qu Yang was quite proud of himself for this one. “It has always been said that after Ji Kang had died, the ‘Guang-Ling Song’ was lost for ever. Do you have any idea where I got it?” he beamed at Linghu Chong.

“I don’t have the slightest idea about music. And since you two do things so differently from other people, how would I have any clue about the answer?” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “Senior Master, will you please tell us?” he requested.

Qu Yang grinned. “Ji Kang was a very interesting guy. According to history books, he liked to ‘speak with magnificent style, quoting from Lao and Zhuang and enjoying the company of unusual people.’ His character was the type that I would have gotten along with. Zhong Hui was a high official at that time. Hearing about Ji Kang’s great reputation, he went to visit Ji Kang, but Ji Kang just went on with his blacksmith work, and paid no attention to him. Put out by Ji Kang’s indifference, Zhong Hui had to leave. Ji Kang asked him, ‘what did you hear before you came, and what did you see before you leave?’ Zhong Hui answered, ‘I heard what I heard before I came, and I saw what I saw before I leave.’ Zhong Hui the fellow was really a smart guy, but he was too narrow-minded. Because of this embarrassing encounter, he became angry and spoke ill of Ji Kang to Sima Zhao. Sima Zhao then ordered Ji Kang to be killed. Before Ji Kang was executed, he played a song with zither. That was really a good display of elegance. But when he said that the ‘Guang-Ling Song would be lost for ever from now on,’ he really underestimated everybody after his generation. He wasn’t the composer of this piece of music. He lived during the West Jin Dynasty, even if it really became extinct after the West Jin Dynasty, what about the dynasties before the West Jin Dynasty?”

Linghu Chong was confused. “Before the West Jin Dynasty?” he repeated in a mutter.

“Yep!” Qu Yang nodded. “I really didn’t agree with that comment of his, so I started digging in the tombs of Emperors and high officials in West Han Dynasty and East Han Dynasty. After digging in twenty-nine different ancient tombs, I finally found the music score manuscripts in Cai Yi’s tomb.” He burst into loud laughter and was very content with himself.

Linghu Chong was dumbfounded: “Just for the manuscripts of a single piece of music, this Senior Master actually dug into twenty-nine different tombs.”

Qu Yang’s smile gradually disappeared, and a bit of depression climbed onto his face. “Little brother,” he said, “I know you are the senior apprentice of a famous Chivalrous School, and I really shouldn’t be asking you for this favor, but in such urgency, I really have no other choice but to get you involved. Please pardon me.” Then he turned to Liu Zhengfeng. “Brother, we can go now.”

“Right!” Liu Zhengfeng answered and extended his hand out.

The two grabbed hold of each other’s hand and laughed loudly. Amid the loud laughter, both gathered the remaining inner energy still left in them and burst the main arteries in their bodies. Within seconds, both shut their eyes tightly and passed away.

“Senior Master! Uncle-Master Liu!” Linghu Chong shouted in shock and reached out to check the two’s breathing, but found none.

“They…they are all dead?” Yilin asked in shock, and Linghu Chong answered with a nod.

“Apprentice sister, let’s bury the four bodies quickly, in case someone comes over searching for them and causes more trouble. We must under no circumstances ever let out the news that Great Mr. Mo killed Fei Bin.” He lowered his voice and said, “If this ever gets leaked out, Great Mr. Mo would know for sure that it was us who leaked the news. That would create major problems.”

“Yes,” Yilin agreed. “But what if my Master asks about it? Should I tell?”

“You can’t tell any one. If you ever tell this to your Master and Great Mr. Mo comes to pick a sword fight with your Master, that would be disastrous,” Linghu Chong emphasized.

Remembering the outstanding and magical sword skills that Great Mr. Mo had demonstrated earlier, Yilin couldn’t help but shiver. “I won’t tell,” she promised hurriedly.

Linghu Chong slowly bent over to pick up Fei Bin’s long sword, and then started poking holes on Fei Bin’s dead body with it. Yilin didn’t have the heart to watch.

“Big brother Linghu, he is already dead, why do you still hate him so much and want to torture his dead body?” she asked hesitantly.

“Great Mr. Mo’s sword is very thin and narrow. It would take a master no time to figure out who had executed the kill by checking the wounds on Uncle-Master Fei’s dead body. I am not torturing his dead body; I am just messing up every wounds on his body, so no one would be able to tell,” Linghu Chong explained.

Yilin gasped. “Why are there so many schemes in the Martial World? It’s really…really difficult,” she couldn’t help thinking.

Seeing that Linghu Chong had thrown down the long sword and was picking up stones to throw on top of Fei Bin’s body, she said hurriedly, “Don’t work too hard. Why don’t you sit down? Let me do it.” Picking up a stone, she placed it on Fei Bin’s body, so gently as if the body still had senses and could feel the pain because of the stones.

Yilin kept on picking up stones and soon covered the four bodies of Liu Zhengfeng and the others. Affectionately placing one more stone on Qu Feiyan’s grave, she murmured.

“Little sister, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have to suffer so much pain. I wish you would ascend into the Heaven to enjoy all the happy things, and then in your next life, get reborn as a male, performing many charitable and pious deeds, so eventually you would be able to enter the western paradise. May the merciful Buddha preserve us all….”

Linghu Chong sat on the ground leaning against a rock. Thinking about how Qu Feiyan had saved his life, yet had to die a terrible death at such a young age, he couldn’t help but feel sad. Even though he never believed in Buddhism, he still recited some ‘may the merciful Buddha preserve us all’ together with Yilin.

After some good rest, the pain from Linghu Chong’s wounds lightened, so he took the book of manuscripts of the “Smiling Proud Wanderer” music score out from his pocket and opened it up. The book was filled with strange symbols, and he didn’t even know a single one of them. His reading capabilities were very limited. Having no idea that music scores all used this kind of strange symbols, he thought that these were difficult words and characters he had never learned before. So he put the music book back into his robe pocket. He raised his head slightly while taking a deep breath, thinking, “Uncle-Master Liu had given up everything, including his own life, for his friend. Even though the friend was an Elder in the Demon Cult, both of them showed zealous passion and great courage, and deserved to be called true men. They are so admirable! I thought Uncle-Master Liu was going to have his ‘Gold Basin Hand Washing’ ceremony, and quit the Martial World today. What really happened? How did he become an enemy of the Songshan Sword School? How strange?”

Still lost in his wild imagination, Linghu Chong suddenly noticed some flashes of sword reflections from the northwest corner in the distance. The sword moves looked very familiar. It seemed that an elite fighter in his own sword school was in a sword fight with someone else. A shiver ran through his heart.

“Apprentice sister, wait here for a while. I will be right back,” he muttered to Yilin,

Yilin was still working on piling the stones for the graves, and didn’t even notice the sword flashes. She thought Linghu Chong was just in need of nature’s call, so she nodded.

Using a fallen branch as his crutch, Linghu Chong stepped forward. Picking up Fei Bin’s long sword on his way, he hung it by his waist, and then walked toward the direction of the sword flashes. After a short while, he could already vaguely hear the weapons colliding noises. The noises were so dense that they sounded nonstop; obviously it was a fierce fight.

“Which senior master in our school is in the fight?” he thought aloud. “The fight has lasted for quite a while. Apparently the opponent is an elite fighter, too.”

He bent his back and slowly sneaked closer. Hearing the colliding sounds get louder, he knew he was already very close to the scene, so he hid behind a big tree and peeked out. In the bright moonlight, he could make out a scholarly looking man standing in the middle of the open field, holding a long sword. It was his Master, Yue Buqun. A short Taoist priest circled around Yue Buqun in blazing speed and continuously thrust his sword toward him. In the time of one circle, he would have made over a dozen thrusts. This man was the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, Yu Canghai.

Seeing his Master in a fight with someone so unexpectedly, and the opponent being the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, Linghu Chong felt very excited. He could tell that his Master fought in a very relaxed and graceful way. Every time when Yu Canghai thrust his sword out, Yue Buqun would simply block it leisurely. When Yu Canghai circled behind his back, he didn’t turn around, but only waved his sword to protect his back. Yu Canghai’s sword attacks became faster and faster, yet Yue Buqun only defended and didn’t attack back.

Linghu Chong watched on with great admiration. “Master’s nickname is ‘Gentleman Sword,’ and he really is behaving like a polite, graceful, and elegant gentleman. Even when he is in a fight with someone, he didn’t show any trace of violent brutality, none whatsoever.” He watched some more and then thought, “Master is able to control his temper well because he has not only poise, but also outstanding Kung Fu skills.”

Yue Buqun rarely got into fights with anyone. In normal days when Linghu Chong watched him fight, it would always be a demonstration fight with Master-Wife for the apprentices. Those were all fake fights. But this time it was a real one, so of course it was quite different from all the demonstration fights.

Linghu Chong could hear the whistles made by Yu Canghai’s sword every time he thrust the sword out, clearly showing the great strength behind each sword attack. “I’ve always looked down upon the Qingcheng Sword School. But this short Taoist priest actually is a very tough opponent! Even if I were healthy, I still wouldn’t last one minute fighting against him. The next time I meet him again, I’d better watch out for myself. The best thing to do would be keeping a safe distance from him.” Linghu Chong told himself inwardly as he went on watching.

By then, Yu Canghai had accelerated his circling around Yue Buqun. It almost looked as if a purple shadow had surrounded Yue Buqun and was rotating around him. The noises of swords colliding into each other had become so dense that all the sounds echoed continuously, and making a long ringing sound.

Linghu Chong couldn’t help but think, “If those dozens of attacks were aimed at me, I probably won’t be able to block a single one, and would end up enjoying dozens of holes in my body. This short Taoist priest probably has even better Kung Fu than Tian Boguang.”

Seeing that his Master still was not attacking back, he became worried. “That short Taoist Priest’s sword skills are so stunning, I hope Master won’t lose to him because of any small oversight.”

Suddenly a loud “ring” echoed in the air, and Yu Canghai had slid back like a shooting arrow. He stopped at about a dozen feet away and stood there still; Linghu Chong didn’t even catch a glimpse of him shoving his sword back to his sheath. Greatly astonished, Linghu Chong immediately glanced at his Master. Yue Buqun had also put his sword back into the sheath and just stood there quietly. The change happened in such an abrupt manner that Linghu Chong had no idea who had won and who had lost the fight. He wasn’t even sure if anyone had been injured internally or not.

For a moment, the two just stood there quietly, then eventually Yu Canghai sneered coldly, “Very well! I am sure we will meet again!” After these words, he sprinted toward his right side without any further delay.

“Master Yu, wait!” Yue Buqun yelled loudly. “What about the Lin Couple?” He quickly chased after Yu Canghai following the same direction. Before their voices fainted down, the two had vanished from sight.

From the dialogue between the two, Linghu Chong could tell that his Master had won the fight with Yu Canghai. He couldn’t help but feel great joy. But because of all his wounds and all the excitement, fatigue soon started to sink in, and he felt totally exhausted.

“Ah, Master has gone after Yu Canghai. With the level of Qing-Gong they have, they are probably a mile away by now!” he thought aloud.

He leaned on his crutch and started walking back to meet Yilin again when suddenly a long scream floated out from within the woods to his left. The scream sounded miserable. Astounded, Linghu Chong took several steps toward the woods. A yellow wall could vaguely be seen behind the trees, and it looked like the kind of wall of a temple. Fearing that his fellow apprentices of the Huashan Sword School might be injured in fights with the Qingcheng apprentices, he strode in the direction of the yellow wall. When he was only about dozens of feet away from the temple, he heard an old and shrill voice speaking from inside the temple.

“Where is the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’? If you tell me where it is with no tricks, then I promise to wipe out the entire Qingcheng Sword School for you, and avenge the couple of you two.”

Linghu Chong had heard this voice before. That was when he was on the bed in “Jade House.” So he recognized the man easily. It was “Hunchback of the North” Mu Gaofeng.

“Master is looking for the whereabouts of the Lin Couple right this moment. Turned out the two actually are in the hands of Mu Gaofeng!” he thought to himself.

“I don’t know if there is actually an ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’,” a man’s voice replied. “The sword art of our Lin family had always been passed down orally throughout the generations. I’ve never seen a sword art manuscript.”

“This one must be apprentice brother Lin’s father, the Chief Escort of the Fortune Prestige Escort House – Lin Zhennan,” Linghu Chong told himself.

Then the voice continued, “Senior Master, I thank you for considering seeking revenge for us. Yu Canghai of the Qingcheng Sword School had committed so many evil crimes; he will definitely have a terrible death. Even if he could escape you, Senior Master, he would die under someone else’s blade for sure.”

“Are you saying that you are determined to keep this to yourself? I am sure you’ve heard about the reputation of the ‘Hunchback of the North’ before, haven’t you?” Mu Gaofeng screeched with a threatening tone.

“Of course everyone knows about your great reputation, Senior Master Mu,” Lin Zhennan answered.

“Excellent! Excellent!” Mu Gaofeng said. “I wouldn’t call it a great reputation, but you probably have heard about how cruel and merciless I can be, haven’t you?”

“I knew you would be torturing me, Senior Master Mu. Even if we really had the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ I would have never given that out no matter how others combine threats with inducements. Ever since I was taken prisoner by the Qingcheng Sword School, I’ve been tortured every single day. I don’t have high Kung Fu skills, but I do have some hard bones,” Lin Zhennan said firmly.

“Well, well, very well!” Mu Gaofeng pondered upon himself.

Outside the temple, Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Why is he saying ‘well, very well?’ Oh, I see. That’s why!” Then he heard Mu Gaofeng’s voice again.

“You claim that you have hard bones and can take tortures. The short bull-nose of the Qingcheng Sword School tortured you left and right, and you still didn’t let the words out. If your Lin family never had the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ then you would simply have no words to let out, and wouldn’t have to rely on your hard bones. I see. You do have the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ You just won’t give it out no matter what.”

After a short while, he heaved a sigh. “You are really dumb, you know that?” he muttered. “Chief Master Lin, why won’t you give the sword art manuscript up? The sword art manuscript won’t do you any good. You know what I think? I think the sword arts recorded on that sword art manuscript must be really ordinary. Otherwise why you cannot even beat a couple of Qingcheng apprentices? This type of sword art skills is really not worth mentioning, you know what I am saying?”

“That’s right! Senior Master Mu, you said it right! Even if I really had this ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ such ordinary good-for-nothing sword art wouldn’t even enable one to protect his own life, why in the world would you, Senior Master Mu, be interested in it?” Lin Zhennan said.

“I am only curious,” Mu Gaofeng said. “Since that short bull-nose made such a fuss about it and dragged in so many people to pressure you, there’s got be something strange here. Maybe the sword art recorded in that sword manuscript is really high-level stuff; it’s just that you are too stupid to understand it, and had to bring disgrace to the ancestors of your Lin Family. Why don’t you take it out and let me, a senior master, have a look at it, and point out all the advantages and good tricks of your Lin family’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’, so everyone in the Martial World will know about them? Wouldn’t that be better for your Lin family’s reputation, too?”

“Thanks for your kind regard, Senior Master Mu,” Lin Zhennan answered. “Why don’t you search me and see if I really have the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’?”

“Nah, no need for that!” Mu Gaofeng declined. “You’ve been the Qingcheng Sword School’s prisoner for many days. They must have frisked you up and down dozens of times. Chief Master Lin, you are really dumb. Did you know that?”

“I am really dumb. I’ve got that part figured out a long time ago. I don’t need others to point that out for me,” Lin Zhennan responded.

“Well, you don’t understand, but maybe Mrs. Lin will. Who knows? Mothers tend to love their kids more than fathers,” Mu Gaofeng said.

“What are you talking about? What has it got anything to do with my Pingzhi? What happened to him? Where…where is he?” Mrs. Lin shrieked.

“The lad Lin Pingzhi is quite bright. I liked him the first moment when I laid my eyes on him. That kid surely knows how to behave himself. He knows that my Kung Fu skills are tough, so he had submitted himself to be my apprentice,” Mu Gaofeng said.

“So my son had asked you to be his Master, Senior Master Mu? That’s really his good fortune. Because of injuries from the cruel tortures, the two of us could die any moment now. Will you please call our son over to see us one last time?” Lin Zhennan asked.

“It is only natural that you want your son to attend upon dying parents. That’s easy.” Mu Gaofeng smirked.

 “Where is Pingzhi? Senior Master Mu, I beg of you! Please ask our son to come. I’ll never forget your kindness,” Mrs. Lin pleaded.

“Very well! I’ll go get him right away. But Mu Gaofeng never likes to be ordered around by others. To get your son here is as easy as falling off a log, but you’ll have to first tell me the whereabouts of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ truthfully.”

“If you don’t believe me, there’s really nothing I can do to convince you. The two of us are already on the verge of dying; all we want is to have one last look at our son. If there were really an ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ I would have asked you to tell my son without your asking about it.” Lin Zhennan sighed.

“That’s exactly why I think you are dumb,” Mu Gaofeng explained. “Your heart arteries are already busted. I don’t even have to touch you with a little finger; you’d be dead, anyway. You simply won’t last another hour, why are you so stubborn and simply refuse to tell me where the sword art manuscript is? Obviously, it’s because you want to reserve the Lin family Kung Fu that was passed down from your ancestors. But after you are dead, Lin Pingzhi would be all there is left in the Lin family. If he’s dead too, then there’s this sword manuscript, but there won’t be any Lin family’s descendents left to practice it; what good would that do your Lin family to leave the sword manuscript in this world?”

“Is my son…my son alright?” Mrs. Lin asked in terror.

“Right now, of course he is alright. Once you tell me where the sword art manuscript is, and after I get it, I promise I will give it to your son. And when he has questions when he studies it, I can also give him some good pointers, so he won’t be like his dad, Master Chief Lin, who studied the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’ for his entire life and still had no clue about how to use it whatsoever. Wouldn’t that be a better choice than smashing him dead with a knife hand chop?” Smashing sounds rose from inside the temple. Apparently he had just smashed some big object into pieces.

“Why…why do you want to smash him dead?” Mrs. Lin asked fearfully.

Mu Gaofeng burst into loud laughter. “Lin Pingzhi is my apprentice. If I want him alive, he will stay alive. If I want him dead, he will die. Anytime I feel like smashing him dead, all I need to do is to raise my hand.” Some more smashing sounds came. He had smashed some more things.

“Wife, enough talks. He doesn’t have our son, otherwise, why wouldn’t he bring him here and threaten to kill him right in front of our eyes?” Lin Zhennan said.

Mu Gaofeng laughed out loud. He said, “I said you were dumb, and you really, really are dumb. If the ‘Hunchback of the North’ wants to kill your son, is it that hard? Let’s assume that he is not in my hands right now, but if I am really determined to find him and whack him, you really think it’s going to be that difficult for me? I have friends and information sources all over the Martial World. To find your darling baby son is like a piece of cake.”

“Husband, if he really decides to give our son trouble….” Mrs. Lin said to Lin Zhennan in a low voice.

“Yeah! Once you tell me, even if the both of you cannot survive, you still have Lin Pingzhi to carry on with your name. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Mu Gaofeng encouraged.

Lin Zhennan laughed. “Wife, if we tell him where the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ is, the first thing he’ll do is get the sword art manuscript; the second thing on the list will be to kill our son. If we don’t tell him, in order to get the sword art manuscript, the hunchback would have no other choice but to protect Pingzhi’s life. As long as Pingzhi doesn’t tell him, the hunchback would never dare to harm him. You must understand the trick here.”

“You are right!” Mrs. Lin said in agreement. “Hunchback, go ahead and kill us,” she yelled at Mu Gaofeng.

By then, Linghu Chong knew that Mu Gaofeng must be infuriated. If he couldn’t figure out a way to draw Mu Gaofeng away, then the Lin couple would be dead in no time for sure. So he said loudly, “Senior Master Mu, following my Master’s order, Huashan Sword School apprentice Linghu Chong here invites Senior Master Mu to come out. We have something important to discuss with you.”

In great rage, Mu Gaofeng had raised his hand, ready to strike down on Lin Zhennan’s head, when he suddenly heard the words from Linghu Chong outside of the temple. He was dumfounded. It was rare for him to ever give ways to others, but the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School, Yue Buqun, surely made him think twice, especially after his dreadful encounter with the “Divine Art of Violet Twilight” of Yue Buqun outside of the “Jade House” the other day. Probably Yue Buqun and his apprentices had been eavesdropping outside the temple for quite a while when he threatened the Lin couple. That type of deeds was really looked down upon by all the chivalrous schools.

“Yue Buqun asked me out to discuss something? He will probably pretend to make peace between the Lin couple and I, while actually casting sarcastic remarks. A wise man will never put himself in a disadvantageous situation. I’d better take off now,” he told himself.

“Sorry,” he said after making up his mind, “I really don’t have any time. I already have previous arrangements. Please tell your Master that whenever he gets some free time, he is welcome to visit me near the northern border. I will be humbly awaiting for him!”

He jumped out of the hall into the courtyard. Pressing hard on the ground with his left foot, he had jumped up the roof and then down to the back of the temple. Afraid to be stopped and questioned by Yue Buqun, he disappeared in an instant.

Hearing that Mu Gaofeng had fled, Linghu Chong was so glad. “Wow, this hunchback is really scared of my Master. If he hadn’t run away and decided to fight me, I wouldn’t stand a chance.”

With the help of the branch, he slowly walked into the tiny temple housing the village god. The hall was enveloped in darkness. There was no lights or candles. He could only make out two shadows of a man and a woman sitting on the floor leaning against each other.

“I am Linghu Chong of the Huashan Sword School. Apprentice brother Pingzhi has also joined our sword school just recently. I am here to pay my respect to Uncle Lin and Auntie Lin,” he said with a bow.

Lin Zhennan burst with joy. “Young sir, you are really flattering us. We are both injured severely, so please pardon us for greeting back. Is our son really an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School’s Hero Yue now?” His voice trembled in the last couple of words.

Yue Buqun had a much bigger fame in the Martial World than Yu Canghai. Every year, Lin Zhennan had been sending presents to the Qingcheng Sword School to fawn on Yu Canghai, but he dared not to send any present to the Huashan Sword School, knowing that he would be in no position to make friends with one of the Head Masters of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. Now seeing that even such a ferocious Mu Gaofeng fled as soon as he heard the name of the Huashan Sword School mentioned, and his son so fortunate to have become an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, he found himself in high spirits and his heart filled with joy.

“Yes,” Linghu Chong answered. “The hunchback Mu Gaofeng was forcing your son to become his apprentice, but your son simply wouldn’t agree. The hunchback got mad and was about to harm your son when my Master happened to be passing by. So Master was able to save him. Your son begged Master sincerely to take him in as an apprentice. Seeing his sincerity and that he would make a good apprentice, Master did not object. Earlier Master just had a sword fight with Yu Canghai and defeated him in the fight. Yu Canghai ran away, and Master chased after him in order to get the whereabouts of you two, Uncle and Auntie. But he didn’t know that you two are actually right here.”

“I wish…wish Pingzhi could get here soon. We don’t have much time left.” Lin Zhennan murmured. He breathed hard, but it still seemed that more air was breathed out than in; he was really on the threshold of meeting death.

“Uncle Lin, don’t talk. After my Master takes care of the business with Yu Canghai, he’ll come back looking for you. The respectful Master must have a way to heal you,” Linghu Chong comforted him.

Lin Zhennan let out a wry smile and then closed his eyes. After a few moments, he spoke again in a low voice, “Little brother Linghu, I…I…I am not going to make it. I am overjoyed to know that Pingzhi was taken into the Huashan Sword School. Will you…you please help take care…care of him?”

“Uncle, please don’t worry. Apprentice brother Lin will be studying together with us, and we will be like brothers in a family. I will put in extra effort to take good care of him,” Linghu Chong assured him.

“Thanks to your great kindness, we will be remembering it even after we head to the underworld,” Mrs. Lin cut in.

“Please, don’t talk much. Concentrate on your breathing and you will feel better,” Linghu Chong suggested.

Lin Zhennan appeared to be short of breath. Disjointedly, he said, “Will you…will you please tell my son? The thing in the basement of the old Lin House in the Xiang-Yang Alley of Fuzhou has…has been handed down in the family from generation to generation. He must…he must take good care of it. But…but his great grandfather Sir Yuantu had said in his last words: ‘for all my descendents, you shall never read it, or great misfortune will fall upon you.’ Please tell…tell him to remember that well.”

Linghu Chong nodded. “All right! I will take the message to him,” he promised.

Lin Zhennan murmured, “Many…many…many….” The word “thanks” never made it out of his mouth before he fell dead.

Wishing to see his son one last time and tell him these important words himself, Lin Zhennan had been struggling to hold out. Now after Linghu Chong gave his word that he would take the message, and knowing his son had found such a good home, in great joy, he had no regrets left. As soon as he gave up on the struggle, he departed with the living world.

“Young hero Linghu,” Mrs. Lin said, “I hope you will tell my son never to forget seeking revenge for his parents.” She threw herself toward the stone steps under the columns of the temple and bumped her head hard onto one of the steps. With her previous fatal injuries, the bump killed her instantly.

Linghu Chong heaved a deep sigh, and couldn’t help thinking aloud, “Yu Canghai and Mu Gaofeng both tried to force the whereabouts of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ out from Lin Zhennan, but he would rather die than speak out the secret. Only when he knew he was going to die right away, he had no choice but to ask me to take a message. But he still feared that I would go take out the sword art manuscript of his Lin family, so he said something like ‘you shall never read it, or great misfortune will fall upon you.’ Humph, what kind of person did you think Linghu Chong was? Did you actually think I would covet the sword art manuscript of your Lin family? You were really worrying yourself for nothing…?”

By then he was totally exhausted, so he sat down leaning against a column and rested with his eyes shut.

A good while passed when Yue Buqun’s voice finally rose outside the temple, “Let’s check out this temple.”

“Master, Master!” Linghu Chong shouted out loud.

“Is that Chong?” Yue Buqun asked in delight.

“Yes, it’s me!” Linghu Chong answered. He propped himself up slowly against the column.

It was already near dawn, so when Yue Buqun entered the temple, he easily spotted the bodies of the Lin Couple. “Are they Chief Master Lin and his wife?” he asked with a frown.

“Yes.” Linghu Chong answered and then went ahead and told everything: how Mu Gaofeng had compelled the Lin couple, and how he scared Mu Gaofeng off but the Lin couple still died because of the injuries. He also told his Master the last words of Lin Zhennan.

“Ah, Yu Canghai had really committed some terrible sins this time, yet he got nothing,” Yue Buqun muttered to himself.

“Master, did that dwarf Yu asked you for mercy?” Linghu Chong asked in an excited tone.

“Master Yu has very fast legs. I chased him for quite some time, yet was only getting further and further behind him. The Qing-Gong of the Qingcheng Sword School is, I guess, somewhat better than ours of the Huashan Sword School,” Yue Buqun replied.

“The Qingcheng Sword School’s ‘bum bum back fleeing’ Kung Fu is definitely better than other schools.” Linghu Chong burst into laughter.

Yue Buqun pulled a long face and reproached, “Chong, you’ve really gotten a glib tongue with no decency. How would you be a role model for all your apprentice brothers and sisters if you keep acting like this?”

Linghu Chong turned his head aside, stuck his tongue out and made a face. “Yes, Master!” he answered

“If you agree, then agree. Why did you stick your tongue out when you answered? You are not being honest,” Yue Buqun criticized.

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong replied.

Yue Buqun had brought him up since he was little. To him, Yue Buqun was almost like a father figure. Although he revered the Master, he never reserved himself much in front of the Master.

“Master, how did you know that I stuck my tongue out?” he asked with a grin.

Yu Buqun snorted. “The muscles under your ear were retracting, so of course you were sticking your tongue out. You always like to run wild. See, you’ve come to a good grief this time! Are your wounds better now?”

“Yes, they are much better now,” Linghu Chong answered. He then added, “Well, the more grief this time, the smarter next time!”

Yue Buqun scolded, “Don’t you think you are too smart already?”

He took a signal flare out from his pocket and walked into the courtyard. Lighting the fuse with a match, he threw the flare up into the air. The flare rocketed high into the sky, and with a loud “Bang,” it exploded in the air, leaving a trail of silver light in the shape of a long sword, hanging in the sky for a long while. Then the sword shaped light trail descended slowly for a couple hundred feet before finally bursting into hundreds of glitters. That was the type of signal flare used by the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School to call on all school members.

Soon footsteps from a distance rose as someone ran toward the tiny temple.

“Master, are you here?” Gao Gengming’s voice shouted from outside.

“Yes, I am in the temple,” Yue Buqun answered.

Gao Gengming came into the temple and bowed to Yue Buqun. “Master!” Seeing that Linghu Chong was standing next to the Master, he said cheerfully, “Big apprentice brother! Are you alright? We became really worried when we heard that you were severely wounded.”

“I guess I am plain lucky this time. I am still alive,” Linghu Chong said with a smile.

More sounds of footsteps came from the distance. It was Lao Denuo and Lu Dayou this time. As soon as Lu Dayou saw Linghu Chong, spending no time greeting the Master, he rushed straight forth toward Linghu Chong and gave a big hug to him while shouting happy words wildly. Then third apprentice Liang Fa and fourth apprentice Shi Daizi came into the temple one after another. After a few moments, seventh apprentice Tao Jun, eighth apprentice Ying Luobai, Yue Buqun’s daughter Yue Lingshan, and the new apprentice Lin Pingzhi came all at once.

Seeing his parents’ bodies, Lin Pingzhi threw himself onto them and began crying bitterly. All the fellow apprentices felt real sorry for him.

Yue Lingshan was gleefully surprised when she saw that Linghu Chong was all right. But seeing Lin Pingzhi’s bitter grief, she knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to express her cheerfulness out loud at this moment, so she walked by Linghu Chong and slightly pinched his right hand.

“Are…are you all right?” she whispered.

“I am fine!” Linghu Chong answered.

For the last couple of days, Yue Lingshan had been worried to death about her big apprentice brother, and now when she finally bumped into him all of a sudden, she could no longer control the excitement that had been growing inside her these days. She grabbed onto Linghu Chong’s sleeve and burst out crying.

Linghu Chong gently padded her on the shoulder. “Little apprentice sister, why? Did someone pick on you? I’ll go whoop his ass for you!” he whispered.

Yue Lingshan did not answer and went on weeping. After shedding some more tears, she finally felt better. Wiping off the tears with Linghu Chong’s sleeve, she murmured, “You are not dead. You are not dead!”

“I am not!” Linghu Chong shook his head.

“I heard that you took a palm strike from that Yu Canghai of the Qingcheng Sword School,” Yue Lingshan whispered. “That man’s ‘Heart Crushing Palm’ can kill without spilling blood. I’ve seen him kill many people with my own eyes. I was so scared that…that….” Remembering all the agonizing suffering and torturing she had to go through in the last couple of days, she could not help but start weeping again.

“I was really lucky that his palm strike missed me narrowly. It was such a cool scene earlier when the Master was fighting Yu Canghai and scared him so much that he ran away so fast. Too bad you missed that one,” Linghu Chong said with a smile.

“Let’s not mention this to any outsiders,” Yue Buqun ordered. Linghu Chong and the rest of the apprentices all complied in unison.

Yue Lingshan stared at Linghu Chong through her tearful eyes. Linghu Chong looked so wan and sallow. There was little color in his cheeks. Feeling very pitiful for him, she sniveled, “Big apprentice brother, this time…this time you are so badly wounded. You should have some good rest and recovery once we get back to Mount Huashan.”

Seeing that Lin Pingzhi was still sobbing bitterly by his parents’ bodies, Yue Buqun said, “Pingzhi, cry no more. We should make arrangements for the funeral now.”

“Yes, Master!” Lin Pingzhi stood up and answered. But seeing blood all over his mother’s face and forehead, he could not help but shed more tears. “When Mom and Dad passed away, they couldn’t even see me one last time. They must…they must have wanted to give me some last words of advice,” he murmured, sobbing.

“Apprentice brother Lin,” Linghu Chong said, “I was here when your parents passed away. The two of them wanted me to take care of you. That’s something I should be doing anyway, there’s not much to talk about that. Your father had some other words that he wanted me to pass on to you.”

“Big apprentice brother, at the time…when my mom and dad passed away, fortunately they had you as accompany. Otherwise, they would have had no one around them when they left this world. I…I am truly grateful!” Lin Pingzhi bowed.

“The rascals of the Qingcheng Sword School tortured your parents cruelly in order to force the whereabouts of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ out of them, but they never gave in. The torturing busted their heart arteries. Later that Mu Gaofeng also tried to force information out. Mu Gaofeng is a mean villain; doing what he did was not something out of his character. But Yu Canghai, as the Master of a big school, had acted in such a despicable way. Everybody will hold him in contempt for sure,” Linghu Chong said.

“If I cannot seek my revenge, I will be no better than a pig!” Lin Pingzhi vowed with his teeth gnashed. He punched hard on the column. Although his Kung Fu skills were ordinary, yet because of the great hatred, the punch carried much strength and even the dirt atop the cross beam in the temple started to fall down.

“Junior brother Lin,” Yue Lingshan said, “this matter really started because of me. When you settle your score later, as your senior apprentice sister, I definitely won’t just stand by with folded arms.”

“Many thanks, senior apprentice sister!” Lin Pingzhi bowed.

“The tenet of our Huashan Sword School has always been ‘if others don’t offend us, we won’t offend them’.” Yue Buqun sighed. “Other than our deadly enemy the Demon Cult, there’s no grudge between any of the schools or clans in the Martial World and us. But starting from now on, the Qingcheng Sword School…the Qingcheng Sword School…Well, as a part of the Martial World, not offending anyone is so much easier said than done.”

“Little apprentice sister and junior brother Lin,” Lau Denuo said, “this misfortune wasn’t really caused by junior brother Lin, because he killed the wicked son of Yu Canghai to defend justice. It was really because Yu Canghai coveted the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ of the Lin family. Many years ago, when the Head Master of Qingcheng, Evergreen, lost to junior brother Lin’s great grandfather’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art,’ the root of the trouble was already planted.”

“That’s right,” Yue Buqun said. “Most martial people tend to scramble for supremacy and victory. So as soon as they hear about some kind of secret manuscripts of Kung Fu, not even bothering to check if it’s real or not, they would all try to secure it by force or by trickery, by hook or by crook. People like Master Yu or Hunchback of the North, who already have elite skills and fames, really have no need to covet the sword art manuscript of your Lin family.”

“Master, my family really do not have any kind of Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,” Lin Pingzhi said. “My dad taught me the seventy-two moves of the Evil-Resisting Sword Art personally and orally. He told me to memorize everything in my head. If there was some kind of sword art manuscript, of course my dad wouldn’t tell outsiders anything about it, but why would he keep it a secret from me? There’s no reason for that.”

Yue Buqun nodded in agreement. “I never believed that there was some kind of Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript. Otherwise, Yu Canghai would be no match for your father. It’s just so clear and simple.”

“Junior brother Lin, your father wanted me to tell you: In the Xiang-Yang Alley of Fuzhou…,” Linghu Chong said.

Yue Buqun waved him off. “These are the last words of Pingzhi’s father. You can tell Pingzhi alone. There’s no need for others to hear about it.”

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong answered.

“Denuo, Gengming, you two go buy two coffins in the town of Hengshan.” Yue Buqun instructed.

After putting the Lin couple into the coffins, they hired some porters to carry the coffins to the river wharf. The group hired a big ship and headed north by water.

When they arrived at west Henan Province, they changed into traveling by land. Linghu Chong rested in a wagon through the trip, while his wounds slowly recovered. Days later, they arrived afoot the Jade Maiden Peak of Mount Huashan. The Lin couple’s coffins were temporarily placed in a small temple by the side of the peak, so an appropriate date for burial can be decided on later. Gao Gengming and Lu Dayou went up the peak ahead of everyone else to inform about the return of the group. Soon the rest of the Huashan apprentices that stayed on Mount Huashan, about twenty of them or so, came down to greet the Master. Lao Denuo introduced them to Lin Pingzhi one by one. Some elder ones were well over thirty years of age; some younger ones were only about fifteen or sixteen. Among them were six female apprentices. As soon as they spotted Yue Lingshan, they immediately went into chitchats. The rule of the Huashan Sword School’s apprenticeship was that seniority would be based on the date order when each one became an apprentice, so with even the youngest one Shu Qi, Lin Pingzhi had to call him senior apprentice brother. Yue Lingshan was the only exception. She was the daughter of Yue Buqun, so she couldn’t be ranked using the same ordering system, and had to be called based on age. People older than her called her junior sister. She was really a couple of years younger than Lin Pingzhi, but she firmly insisted on being Lin Pingzhi’s senior apprentice sister. Since Yue Buqun did not object, so Lin Pingzhi called her “senior apprentice sister.”

After they all climbed up the peak, Lin Pingzhi followed behind all the senior apprentice brothers. The mountain was very precipitous, yet appeared to be graceful and elegant because of the many ancient trees. Bird tweeting and stream gurgling echoed, making the place a lively environment. Several big houses stood on the side of the hill, some tall, some short, built following the slope of the hill, and all with whitewashed walls.

A middle-aged, pretty lady slowly walked toward them, and as soon as Yue Lingshan caught the sight of her, she dashed into her arms and shouted excitedly.

“Mom, I’ve got a new junior apprentice brother!” She pointed at Lin Pingzhi, smiling.

Lin Pingzhi had heard from his senior apprentice brothers that Madam Yue, Ning Zhongze, or Master-Wife, as how all the apprentices called her, was really a junior apprentice sister of the Master under the same master, and her sword skills were really no less than the Master. So he rushed forward and kowtowed.

“Lin Pingzhi here shows his respect to Master-Wife.”

“That’s wonderful! Get up, get up!” Madam Yue said with a bright smile. She turned to Yue Buqun with a grin. “Every time when you go down the mountain, you always seek a couple treasures to satisfy your craving. This time when you headed for the Hengshan Meeting, I figured that you’d be getting at least three or four new apprentices. How come you only came back with one?”

“Didn’t you always say quality is more important than quantity? What do you think about this one?” Yue Buqun grinned.

“This one is way too handsome. He doesn’t look like the kind of material for Kung Fu training. Why don’t you have him study the Four Books and the Five Classics from you, so he will pass the Xiucai test someday, and maybe become a Zhuangyuan later?” Madam Yue said with a big smile.

Lin Pingzhi blushed. “Master-Wife is not taking me seriously because I look gentle and frail. I’ll have to work extra hard, so I won’t be looked down upon because my performance is inferior to the other senior apprentice brothers,” he told himself.

“That’s a wonderful idea. If the Huashan Sword School could actually produce a Zhuangyuan, then we would be creating legends for our descendents,” Yue Buqun answered with a grin.

Madam Yue glared at Linghu Chong. “You got into fights with others and got wounded again, didn’t you? How come you don’t look too well right now? Were you severely wounded?” she asked.

“It’s already much better now. If I hadn’t been lucky this time, I probably wouldn’t even make it back to see you again,” Linghu Chong replied with a light smile.

Madam Yue gave him another glare. “It’s a good lesson for you to learn that there’s always stronger than the strong. Did you think you lost in a fair fight?”

“I couldn’t fend off the fellow Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops. Master-Wife, will you please give me some pointers?” Linghu Chong requested.

Hearing that it was Tian Boguang who had injured Linghu Chong, Madam Yue nodded, while a big smile blossomed on her face. “So you were fighting the villain Tian Boguang. That’s great! I thought you stirred up dispute and got into trouble again. How were his fast knife chops? Let’s think it over and refine your techniques, so you can fight him again.”

During the trip back home, Linghu Chong had asked several times for advice from his Master about techniques to counter Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops, but Yue Buqun had not said any word in regard, and simply told him to ask his Master-Wife once they were back to Mount Huashan. Sure enough, as soon as Madam Yue heard about it, she got so excited that she almost wished she could get onto it the very moment.

The bunch went into the house Yue Buqun lived in – “House of Integrity,” and talked about events that had happened since the two groups separated. The six female apprentices really envied Yue Lingshan when they heard about her adventure in the town of Fuzhou and in the town of Hengshan. Lu Dayou, on the other hand, really bragged about how the big apprentice brother had fought the fierce fights with Tian Boguang and how he had slain Luo Renjie, to the bunch of junior apprentice brothers. He added many inflammatory details to the story, and it sounded as if big apprentice brother had defeated Tian Boguang instead of suffering a crushing defeat. After they had some snacks and tea, Madam Yue asked Linghu Chong to emulate Tian Boguang’s knife moves and also inquired about how he had countered them.

“That chap Tian Boguang’s knife skills are excellent. I was simply dazzled just looking at the chops, having a hard time fending them off. How could I have countered them?” Linghu Chong answered with a grin.

“If you couldn’t fend them off, then you must have used all kinds of tricks in a slick way to cheat your way through,” Madam Yue concluded. She had raised Linghu Chong up, so of course, she had a very good idea of Linghu Chong’s character.

Linghu Chong blushed. “When I fought Tian Boguang outside the cave, the apprentice sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School had left, and I no longer had any scruple, so I fought the chap Tian Boguang with all my heart. But not far into the fight, he started using his fast knife chop moves. After fending off only two of those moves, I was already groaning inwardly: ‘Looks like I am dead meat!’ So I started laughing loudly.

“Tian Boguang pulled his knife back. ‘What’s so funny?’ he asked. ‘Do you think you can fend off my thirteen stances of ‘Wind Storm’ knife chops?’

“I said, ‘Aha, so the well-known Tian Boguang is actually an expelled apprentice of our Huashan Sword School. I had no idea! Really no idea! I got it. You must have been kicked out of our school because of your dreadful personal character.’

“Tian Boguang said, ‘Expelled Huashan apprentice? What kind of nonsense is that? My Kung Fu is of its own style. What the hell has it got anything to do with your Huashan Sword School?’

“I said, ‘This set of knife moves has a total of thirteen stances, right? ‘Wind Storm?’ Did you just pick a nice random name for it? I’ve seen my Master and Master-Wife use those during practices before. My Master-Wife created those out of a sudden inspiration when she was embroidering. You must know that we’ve gotten a Jade Maiden Peak in Mount Huashan, don’t you?’

“Tian Boguang answered, ‘Yeah. Everybody knows there’s a Jade Maiden Peak in Mount Huashan. What about it?’

“I answered, ‘This set of sword art created by my Master-Wife is called ‘The Thirteen Stances of Jade Maiden’s Golden Needle.’ One of them is called ‘Threading the Needle;’ another one is called ‘Seamless Heavenly Robe;’ there’s also another one called ‘Late Night Embroidering of the Loving Birds.’

“Then I started counting with my fingers as I spoke. I said, ‘That’s right, the two moves you just used were evolved from the eighth move created by my Master-Wife: ‘Weaving Goddess Throwing the Shuttles.’ Why would a valiantly and hefty fellow like you imitate the manners of my affectedly sweet Master-Wife and throw the shuttle with the pretty hands from left to right, then right to left, like how the gorgeous looking Weaving Goddess would have when she is sitting by a weaving loom. Don’t you think that’s just hilarious…?’” Before he even finished, Yue Lingshan and the bunch of female apprentices all started giggling.

“That’s too mischievous!” Yue Buqun scolded, yet could not help but grin.

“Bah,” Madam Yue spat at Linghu Chong. “Why couldn’t you use some other materials for your nonsense, and had to get your Master-Wife involved? You really deserve a good beating.”

“Master-Wife, you don’t understand.” Linghu Chong grinned. “That Tian Boguang is rather conceited. When he heard that I was comparing him to a woman and that my Master-Wife created her own magical knife moves, he had to argue about it and definitely wouldn’t just kill me right away. Sure enough, he started to show me the moves of that set of knife chops one by one slowly. Each time when he was demonstrating one, he would ask, ‘Did your Master-Wife create this one?’

“I pretended to be very secretive about it and kept my silence while secretly memorizing his knife moves. I waited till he was done demonstrating all thirteen stances and then said, ‘This set of knife art of yours only has very slight deviations from the one created by my Master-Wife, but the majority of it is still the same. This is really odd? How did you steal it from our Huashan Sword School?’

“Tian Boguang said angrily, ‘You couldn’t fend off this set of knife art of mine. That’s why you simply made things up to stall time so you can investigate the moves of my knife art. Did you think I am stupid? You said your school has the same set of knife art, then please show them to me and help me broaden my horizon.’

“I said, ‘First of all, our school uses swords, not knives. Secondly, this set of ‘Jade Maiden’s Golden Needle Sword’ of my Master-Wife is only taught to female apprentices, not male apprentices. If we hefty guys had to use such sissy looking sword art, wouldn’t we become the laughing stocks of the entire Martial World?’

“Tian Boguang became even more angry. He yelled, ‘Whether I become the laughing stock or not, I am going to make you admit that the Huashan Sword School does not have this set of Kung Fu. Brother, I admire your courage, but you shouldn’t wag your tongue so freely and make fun of me.’”

“Who cares if such a shameless villain admires you or not? He deserves to be made fun of,” Yue Lingshan interrupted.

“But in that circumstance,” Linghu Chong said, “if I did not demonstrate this made-up set of ‘Jade Maiden’s Golden Needle Sword’ in front of him, I’d be dead by now. So with no other choices, I had to add some affectedly bashful moves at random based on his knife art and demonstrated the moves.”

“Did these affectedly bashful moves of yours look real?” Yue Lingshan giggled.

“I’ve seen you use your sword many times, so how could they not look real?” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Ah, you are making fun of me saying that I use my sword in an affectedly bashful way. I am not going to talk to you for three days!”

Madam Yue had been quiet for the time being, and finally she spoke out.

“Lingshan, give your sword to big apprentice brother.”

Yue Lingshan drew her long sword and handed it to Linghu Chong with the handle first.

“Mom wants to see the wicked look of yours with those affectedly bashful moves,” she said with a grin.

“Chong, don’t pay attention to Lingshan. How did you demonstrate the moves at that time?” Madam Yue asked.

Linghu Chong knew that Master-Wife meant to see Tian Boguang’s knife moves. He took the long sword and then bowed to the Master and Master-Wife.

“Master! Master-Wife! May I demonstrate Tian Boguang’s knife moves now?”

Yue Buqun nodded.

“Junior brother Lin,” Lu Dayou said to Lin Pingzhi, “this is a rule of our school. Every time before an apprentice performs moves in front of elders, he must first ask for permission.”

“I see. Thanks for telling me, sixth apprentice brother,” Lin Pingzhi said.

Linghu Chong yawned languidly with a slight smile on his face and then held up his arms sluggishly as if he was going to stretch himself, but suddenly, he snapped his right wrist speedily and chopped three chops continuously. The chops were almost as fast as flashes, and whistles from the sword slashes echoed. All the apprentices were shocked, and a few of the female apprentices uttered a cry of surprise almost in unison. Linghu Chong started to chop, slice, slash and stab the long sword in all directions. The moves appeared as if they were going in all directions randomly and disorderly, but in Yue Buqun and Madam Yue’s eyes, the dozens of moves were clear and distinct; every hack, thrust, slash or chop was vicious yet accurate. Only moments later, Linghu Chong had pulled the sword back and stood still to bow to the Master and Master-Wife.

Yue Lingshan was a bit disappointed. “That fast?” she said.

“It has to be that fast.” Madam Yue nodded. “Within those thirteen stances of fast knife chops, each stance has three or four moves of variation. Over forty moves had passed within such a short period of time. This is really an exceptional set of fast knife art.”

“When the chap Tian Boguang used it, he was way faster than what I’ve just demonstrated,” Linghu Chong added.

Madam Yue and Yu Buqun looked at each other, both couldn’t help but feeling some admiration and surprise inwardly.

“Big apprentice brother, how come you didn’t look anything close to affectedly bashful?” Yue Lingshan asked mockingly.

“For the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking about this set of fast knife chops all the time, so of course when I showed them I was able to do it a little bit faster. That day when I was showing them to Tian Boguang in the remote mountain area, I wasn’t doing it as fast. I had to intentionally make those moves similar to his moves yet different, as well as putting on an act with many postures of a lady, therefore it was even slower,” Linghu Chong explained with a smile.

“How did you put on the postures of a lady? Show me! Show me!” Yue Lingshan requested, her face split into a big grin.

Madam Yue turned to her side and drew a long sword from one of her female apprentices. “Use the fast knife chops!” She demanded.

“Yes,” Linghu Chong answered, and with a loud “Swoosh,” his long sword circled around Madam Yue’s body and the blade chopped toward her lower back.

“Mom, look out!” Yue Lingshan cried out in shock.

Madam Yue threw herself forward, completely ignoring Linghu Chong’s chop from her back, and her sword tip went straight toward Linghu Chong’s chest, also extremely fast and swift.

“Big apprentice brother, watch out!” Yue Lingshan uttered another cry.

Linghu Chong didn’t block either. “Master-Wife, he was way faster,” he said as he chopped backward with his sword.

Madam Yue attacked with another three thrusts, and Linghu Chong also returned the attacks with three chops. The two both fought with fast attacking moves, and none used any defending moves to block. Within a short moment, the two had exchanged over twenty moves.

Lin Pingzhi was dumbstruck. “Big apprentice brother speaks and acts like a lunatic, but his Kung Fu skills are excellent. I’ll have to train really hard, with no slack anytime whatsoever, so others won’t belittle me,” he told himself.

Right at the moment, with a quick thrust, Madam Yue’s sword tip had touched Linghu Chong’s throat. Not able to dodge that, Linghu Chong muttered, “He can block that.”

“Fine!” Madam Yue shouted. She waved her sword and a couple of moves later, her sword tip stopped next to Linghu Chong’s heart.

“He can block that,” Linghu Chong muttered the second time.

What he meant was that even though he wasn’t able to block it, Tian Boguang would have been able to block those two moves because his knife chops were a lot faster.

The two fought faster and faster, and soon, Linghu Chong didn’t even have any time to spill the words ‘he can block that.’ Whenever Madam Yue’s sword tip pointed next to his vital body parts, he simply shook his head to signal that the move would not have worked on Tian Boguang.

Madam Yue was really in the mood now; she was totally carried away. Suddenly with a loud and clear roar, she thrust the sword rapidly around Linghu Chong’s body, the sword tip flashed about as if it was everywhere; the silver reflection circled around and blurred the audiences’ eyes. Suddenly she pushed the sword straight toward Linghu Chong’s heart in the speed of light, with the strength of a thunder.

Linghu Chong was dumbfounded. “Master-Wife!” he cried.

By then the sword tip had already penetrated his robe. Madam Yue’s right hand still pushed forward until the hand guard of the long sword touched Linghu Chong’s chest. It seemed as though the sword had went through Linghu Chong’s body all the way till the end of the sword.

“Mom!” Yue Lingshan screamed. Then sounds of clatter and jingle echoed when pieces of inch-long steel fell down to the floor by Linghu Chong’s feet. Madam Yue smiled as she pulled her hand back. In her hand, all there was left of the long sword was only the sword handle.

“Junior apprentice sister, your inner energy has really progressed, and you kept it well from me,” Yue Buqun said happily.

The two of them had studied under the same Master. They were used to the way they had called each other in their youth, so after they got married, they still called each other apprentice sister and brother.

“Senior apprentice brother is really flattering me. These were just insignificant skills. Nothing to be mentioned about!” Madam Yue said with a smile.

Staring at the pieces of broken sword, Linghu Chong gasped with astonishment. Master-Wife must have thrust the sword out with her whole might, otherwise, without the full strength of her inner energy, the sword thrust would not have had such extraordinary speed. As soon as the sword tip reached the skin, she immediately retracted the vigorous inner energy and changed the direction of the strength from horizontal to vertical, and the great shock from the inner energy strength broke the long sword into inch-long pieces. The superb inner energy manipulation had really reached the level of perfection. In great admiration, he said, “Even if Tian Boguang’s knife chops were faster, he still would not have escaped this thrust of yours, Master-Wife.”

Lin Pingzhi stared at the many holes all over Linghu Chong’s robe, which all came from Madam Yue’s sword thrusts, and almost couldn’t believe his own eyes. “There are actually sword arts this fantastic in the world. All I need is a portion of that and I’d have enough skills to avenge my parents.” He then thought, “The Qingcheng Sword School and Mu Gaofeng both coveted our family’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ but when comparing our family’s Evil-Resisting Sword Art to the sword art of Master-Wife, they are as far apart as from heaven to earth!”

Madam Yue was quite contended. “Chong, since you say this move can kill Tian Boguang, if you train hard, I’ll teach it to you,” she said.

“Thanks to Master-Wife!” Linghu Chong replied.

“Mom, I want to learn it too,” Yue Lingshan demanded.

“Your inner energy is not there yet. You won’t be able to learn this move.” Madam Yue shook her head.

Very discontented, Yue Lingshan pouted her lips. “Big apprentice brother’s inner energy is not that much better than mine. Why can he learn it, but not me?” she complained.

Madam Yue did not answer and only smiled.

Yue Lingshan grabbed onto her father’s sleeve and begged, “Father, you teach me a Kung Fu that will counter that sword move, in case big apprentice brother picks on me after he learns that sword move.”

“This sword move of your mom’s is called ‘Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning.’ Since it’s unrivaled, how could I have anything to counter it?” Yue Buqun shook his head and grinned.

“That’s nonsense. It’s alright that you flatter me, but once the name spreads out, fellow martial people will laugh their teeth off for sure.” Madam Yue smiled.

This sword move was really created out of a sudden inspiration of Madam Yue. It contained the Huashan inner energy style, the Huashan sword techniques, plus some of her clever inventions, so it was indeed a devastating move. But since it had just been created, there was no name for it. Yue Buqun had thought of naming it “The Unrivalled Thrust of Madam Yue,” but then he thought that his wife had always been valuing her own pride; even after they got married, she still liked when fellow martial people called her “Heroin Ning” instead of “Madam Yue.” Calling her “Heroin Ning” would be praising her own skills and behavior, and calling her “Madam Yue” would only make it sound like she was relying on her world-renowned husband.

Although Madam Yue called her husband’s words nonsense, she truly liked the name “Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning,” and praised inwardly that her husband, as a scholar, had really thought of a wonderful name for her new move.

“Father, when are you going to create the ‘Incomparable and Unparalleled, The Ten Thrusts of Yue,’ and then teach them to your daughter, so I can challenge big apprentice brother?” Yue Lingshan asked.

“No, I cannot. Dad is not as smart as your mom. I don’t know how to create new moves!” Yue Buqun shook his head.

“It’s not that you don’t know. It’s just that you are afraid of your wife, and dared not to create any,” Yue Lingshan whispered at her father’s ear.

Yue Buqun burst into loud laughter. “Total nonsense,” he denied as he gave a gentle pinch to Yue Lingshan’s cheek.

 “Lingshan, don’t get wild with your father. Denuo, go arrange the ritual so your apprentice brother Lin can pay his respects to the spirits of all the former grandmasters of our sword school,” Madam Yue instructed.

“Yes!” Lau Denuo answered and soon had everything ready.

Yue Buqun led the group into the Back Hall. Lin Pingzhi could see a banner board hanging high in the middle of the room, and the words “Inner Energy Drives the Sword” were inscribed onto the board. The hall was decorated in a very serious and solemn manner. Swords after swords hung by the two sidewalls. The sheaths were pitch black and the tassels all appeared to be ancient. Lin Pingzhi figured that those swords must have been the swords of all those former grandmasters of the Huashan Sword School. He thought to himself, “Huashan Sword School has such a great fame and reputation in the Martial World today. There must be heaps of evil villains who died from these grandmasters’ long swords.”

Yue Buqun knelt in front of the incense burner table and kowtowed four times.

“Apprentice Yue Buqun is taking Lin Pingzhi of Fuzhou as my apprentice today. All the ancestors’ spirits in Heaven, will you please bless Lin Pingzhi and watch out for him, have him study and train hard, preserve his purity, follow the school rules, and never harm the reputation of the Huashan Sword School?” he prayed.

Hearing these words from Yue Buqun, Lin Pingzhi knelt down behind him respectfully.

Yue Buqun stood up. “Lin Pingzhi,” he said coldly, “you are taken into our Huashan Sword School today. You must follow the school rules strictly. If you ever violate any of them, you will be punished based on the severity. If the violation were severe, you would be beheaded with no pardon. Our sword school has been in the Martial World for hundreds of years. Although we are capable of striving for supremacy with other schools using our Kung Fu skills, temporary victories are really not worth mentioning. The real important thing is that members of our school all greatly value the reputation of our school. You must remember that well.”

“Yes, Master. I will always keep your advice and instruction in my heart,” Lin Pingzhi promised.

“Linghu Chong, recite the school rules to Lin Pingzhi,” Yue Buqun ordered.

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong answered. “Apprentice brother Lin, listen carefully. Firstly, any deceiving behavior to the Master and any disrespectful behavior to the seniors is prohibited; secondly, bullying the weak and hurting the innocent is prohibited; thirdly, assailing of women with obscenities is prohibited; fourthly, jealousy and killing between school members are prohibited; fifthly, stealing and forsaking righteousness for the lust of gain is prohibited; sixthly, conceited and arrogant attitudes when dealing with fellow martial people are prohibited; seventhly, reckless collaboration with gangsters or evil and wicked is prohibited. These are the seven prohibitions of Huashan. All members of the Huashan Sword School have to follow them.”

“Yes. I promise to remember the seven Huashan prohibitions that big apprentice brother just informed me. I will follow all the rules and never dare to violate any of them,” Lin Pingzhi promised sincerely.

“Well, that’s it.” Yue Buqun smiled. “Our school is not like most other schools that have many rules and regulations. As long as you remember these seven prohibitions well and always remember to uphold humanity and righteousness above everything else, behaving like a true gentleman, you’ll keep the Master and the Master-Wife happy.”

“Yes, Master!” Lin Pingzhi answered. He kowtowed to the Master and the Master-Wife, then bowed to and saluted all apprentice brothers and sisters.

“Pingzhi, let’s first bury your parents to let you fulfill your duty as the son, then I will start teaching you the basic drills of our sword school,” Yue Buqun said.

Tears instantly filled Lin Pingzhi’s eyes. “Many thanks to Master and Master-Wife,” He said, kneeling down on the floor.

Yu Buqun propped him up. “In our school,” he said kindly, “everybody is like a member of a big family. When one has a matter to deal with, it becomes a matter for the entire group. You don’t have to be so courteous.”

Yue Buqun turned around and looked at Linghu Chong up and down. After quite a while he finally said, “Chong, this time after you left Mount Huashan, how many prohibitions have you violated?”

Linghu Chong’s heart skipped a beat. He knew that in normal days the Master was always kind and loving to all the apprentices, but if anyone violated school rules, he would be punishing the violator severely without any mercy. So he knelt down in front of the incense burner table.

“I have realized my mistake,” he said. “I did not listen to the advice from Master and Master-Wife. I violated the sixth prohibition of being conceited and arrogant when dealing with fellow martial people. I killed Luo Renjie of the Qingcheng Sword School on top of the Huiyan Wine House in the town of Hengshan.”

Yue Buqun let out a snort with a stern face.

“Father, it was Luo Renjie who had bullied big apprentice brother. At that time big apprentice brother just had a fierce fight with Tian Boguang and was severely injured. Luo Renjie took advantage of big apprentice brother. How could big apprentice brother just let himself get killed like that?” Yue Lingshan argued.

“This matter does not concern you. This really started because Chong kicked the two Qingcheng apprentices earlier. If it weren’t because of the grudge before, why would that Luo Renjie take advantage of Chong when everything is perfectly alright?” Yue Buqun reproved.

“When big apprentice kicked the Qingcheng apprentices, you had already given him thirty sticks of beating as punishment. That matter was over; you cannot count that one in again. Big apprentice brother is so badly injured, he can’t take any more beating now.” Yue Lingshan pleaded.

Yue Buqun gave a strict glare at his daughter. “We are talking about school prohibitions right now. You are an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School. Shut up and don’t interrupt me,” he yelled sharply.

Yue Lingshan rarely received any harsh words or stern looks from her father; feeling the grievance, her eyes reddened and she almost fell into a cry.

During normal days, even if Yue Buqun ignored his daughter, Madam Yue would have comforted her with kind words, but since Yue Buqun was judging school matters as the Head Master at the moment, it wouldn’t be appropriate for Madam Yue to help her daughter, so she had to pretend that she didn’t see or hear anything.

Yue Buqun continued with Linghu Chong, “When Luo Renjie took advantage of you and humiliated you, you would rather die than submit. That was something a true man would have done. But why did you offend the Heng-Shan Sword School in your words and said something like ‘Once seeing a nun, one loses all bets,’ and that even I was afraid of seeing nuns?”

Yue Lingshan burst into laughter. “Father!” she yelled.

Yue Buqun waved her off, but had dropped his stern look.

Linghu Chong explained, “I only wanted to get the apprentice sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School to leave at that time. I knew I was no match for Tian Boguang in a fight, and would have no way to rescue the apprentice sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School, but she valued the brotherhood of fellow martial people and didn’t want to leave first, so I had to make up some nonsense. That kind of nonsense is truly disrespectful to the Uncle-Masters of the Heng-Shan Sword School.”

“You wanted to get nephew apprentice Yilin to leave; the intention was good, but why can’t you say something else instead of such harmful words? It was all because you are used to being frivolous in normal days. By now, everybody in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance has heard about this incident. Others must be saying behind our backs that you are not a true gentleman, and blame me for not disciplining you properly,” Yue Buqun reproached.

“Yes, Master. I was wrong,” Linghu Chong admitted.

Yue Buqun continued. “When you were recovering in the ‘Jade House,’ we understand that you had no other options. But when you hid nephew apprentice Yilin and that little demon girl of the Demon Cult under the quilt, and claimed that it was a prostitute in the town of Hengshan, weren’t you risking too much? If they had actually found out about the truth, losing face and hurting the reputation of our Huashan Sword School would be secondary; wouldn’t you do a disservice to the entire Heng-Shan Sword School by ruining their hundreds of years of reputation?”

Cold sweat broke out on Linghu Chong’s back. “Later when I thought more about it, I was also breathless with anxiety. So Master, you have already known about it,” he said with a trembling voice.

“I only heard about how Qu Yang of Demon Cult sent you to the ‘Jade House’ to recover later,” Yue Buqun said, “but when you told those two girls to hide under the quilt, I was already outside of the window.”

“Fortunately, Master, you know that I am not a reckless loafer,” Linghu Chong said.

“If you had actually been sleeping with the prostitutes, I’d have chopped off the head on your neck a long time ago. How could I still let you live ‘til now?” Yue Buqun said in a chilling tone.

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong answered.

Yue Buqun’s face turned more and more serious. After quite a while he spoke again. “You already knew that the Qu-named girl was a member of the Demon Cult, why didn’t you kill her with a single sword blow? Although her grandfather had saved your life, it was obviously an evil plot the Demon Cult had put together using favor as bait to foment discord among our Five Mountains Sword Alliance. You are not stupid. You had to have figured that part out. There was actually a bigger conspiracy, and saving your life was only a small part of it. Even Liu Zhengfeng, such a smart and experienced senior master, fell into their trap, and ended up ruining his reputation and getting his entire family killed. You have seen such vicious and evil acts of the Demon Cult with your own eyes. But on our way from Hunan back to Mount Huashan, I didn’t hear a single word of condemnation to the Demon Cult out from your mouth. Chong, I think after he saved your life, you are getting really confused about the distinction between good and evil, honesty and treachery. This matter is the key matter that will affect the rest of your entire life. There’s no middle ground for you to muddle with.”

Linghu Chong couldn’t help but remember the night in the remote valley when he listened to the zither and flute music played by Qu Yang and Liu Zhengfeng. It didn’t seem like that Qu Yang had any evil thoughts and intentionally harmed Liu Zhengfeng at all.

Seeing the hesitation on Linghu Chong’s face, obviously suspicious about his words, Yue Buqun said, “Chong, this matter is related to the future of our Huashan Sword School. It is also related to your future success or failure of your entire life. You cannot hide anything from me. Let me ask you: when you meet a member of the Demon Cult later, are you going to be treating evil as your enemy and slay evil with no hesitation?”

Linghu Chong stared at his Master blankly; a thought kept flashing around in his mind: “Later when I meet with a member of the Demon Cult, should I simply draw my sword and kill him without checking if it’s right or wrong?” He really couldn’t decide for himself, so he didn’t know how to answer the Master’s question.

Yue Buqun stared at Linghu Chong for a long while but still did not get an answer out from him. He heaved a deep sigh.

“It would be useless to force an answer out of you. When you left Mount Huashan this time, you greatly damaged the reputation of our sword school. I hereby punish you to meditate facing the wall for an entire year, so you can think the matter through thoroughly.”

“Yes, Master! I accept my punishment.” Linghu Chong bowed down.

“Meditating facing a wall for an entire year? Then throughout the year, how many total hours does he have to meditate?” Yue Lingshan asked.

“What total hours? Everyday from morning to night, other than eating and sleeping, he will be meditating to go over his mistakes.”

“That’s terrible! Wouldn’t he be bored to death? Will he even be allowed to go to bathroom?” Yue Lingshan said in worry.

“Watch your manners, young lady!” Madam Yue reproved.

“What’s the big deal about meditating for a year?” Yue Buqun said. “Years ago when your grandmaster made some mistakes, he was punished to meditate facing a wall for three years and six months. During that entire period of time, he did not take one single step down the Jade Maiden Peak.”

Yue Lingshan stuck her tongue out in disbelief. “So meditating for an entire year is actually a light punishment? Big apprentice brother said the ‘Once seeing a nun, one loses all bets’ completely out of good intentions. He wasn’t really saying bad words!”

“Just because he had good intentions, I am only punishing him with one year of meditation. If he had any ill intentions, I’d have knocked off all his teeth and cut off his tongue,” Yue Buqun said.

“Lingshan, stop bothering your father,” Madam Yue said. “When your big apprentice brother starts meditating on top of the Jade Maiden Peak, you’d better not go up there to chat with him, otherwise, the good intention of your father would be ruined by you for sure.”

“Big apprentice brother is going to be a prisoner on top of the Jade Maiden Peak, and you still call that a good intention? If you don’t allow me to chat with him, then when big apprentice brother gets lonely, who’s going to cheer him up? And within the entire year, who’s going to practice sword arts with me?” Yue Lingshan whined.

“If you go chatting with him, then how will he be able to meditate and how can he think his mistakes through? All the many apprentice brothers and sisters can practice sword arts with you,” Madam Yue said.

Yue Lingshan leaned her head to the side and thought for a while. “Then what’s big apprentice brother going to eat? If he doesn’t come down the peak for an entire year, isn’t he going to be starved to death?” she asked.

“You don’t have to worry. We will have people bringing food up the mountain for him,” Madam Yue answered.

 

  Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi are both famous philosophers in ancient China. Lao Zi started Taoism, and Zhuang Zi is a good scholar in Taoism.

  Sima Zhao was an emperor of Jin Dynasty in ancient China.

  The Four Books and the Five Classics are books from ancient China. They were used as standard textbooks for people to study with.

The Four Books are:

The Great Learning (Da-Xue)

The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong-Yong)

The Analects of Confucius (Lun-Yu)

Mencius (Meng-Zi)

The Five Classics are:

The book of Songs (Shi-Jing)

The Book of History (Shu-Jing)

The Book of Changes (Yi-Jing)

The Book of Rites (Li-Ji)

The Sprig and Autumn Annals (Chun-Qiu)

  Xiucai: one who passed the imperial examination at the county level in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

  Zhuangyuan: title conferred on the one who came first in the highest imperial examination.