The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (笑傲江湖) Chapter 10

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The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (笑傲江湖) Chapter 10

[The old man nodded, let out a sigh, and then slowly walked to the front of the big rock to sit down. Tian Boguang yelled, “Here’s the chop!” and then slashed his knife at Linghu Chong. Linghu Chong turned to the side to dodge and then fought back with a thrust.]

Chapter 10 – Sword Training

Linghu Chong was thunderstruck. He turned around and saw an old man with a gray beard in a green robe standing in front of the cave’s opening. The old man had a somewhat depressed expression on his face, which was as white as a sheet.

“Could this old man be the masked man in green robe I saw the other night? Where is he from? When did he come right behind my back? How come I didn’t feel a thing and had no idea about it?” He couldn’t help but feel bewildered.

“Are you…are you really Grandmaster Feng?” Tian Boguang asked in a trembling tone.

“It has gotten to be rare for people in this world to still remember my name.” The old man heaved a sigh.

In the instant, many thoughts flashed through Linghu Chong’s mind. “There is still a senior grandmaster of our Huashan Sword School alive today? Why haven’t I ever heard Master or Master-Wife mentioning anything about it? What if he is just an imposter who took the opportunity from Tian Boguang’s words? Wouldn’t everyone in the Martial World laugh at our Huashan Sword School if I recklessly salute him as a junior? Besides, what a big coincidence is this? As soon as Tian Boguang mentioned the name ‘Feng Qingyang,’ a ‘Feng Qingyang’ suddenly shows up right away?”

“Linghu Chong, what an useless lad you are!” The old man shook his head with another sigh. “Let me teach you. Use the move White Aurora Shooting the Sun first and follow up with Graceful Phoenix, then use Golden Geese Crossing Sky followed with Sword Interception Stance….” He talked on and on in a flow of eloquence and soon mentioned the names of thirty different moves.

Linghu Chong had learned all the thirty moves before, but the sword positions and the stances of those moves didn’t seem to connect at all.

“What are you waiting for? Oh, I see. With your current understanding of martial arts, it isn’t easy to just perform all thirty of them at once, indeed. Why don’t you try them out slowly, first?” The old man instructed.

His voice was low and deep, and his face looked desolate. It almost appeared as if he had infinite grievance, yet there was a certain majestic feel in his tone.

“Well, there’s nothing to lose if I give it a try,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

So he performed the White Aurora Shooting the Sun move and thrust his sword with the sword tip pointing up. Then he got stuck, having no clue how to connect the second move Graceful Phoenix to it.

“Alas! Idiot! Idiot! Only able to rigidly adhering to formalities with no adaptation, no wonder you are an apprentice of Yue Buqun. The art of swordplay calls for fluency like floating clouds and flowing water – natural and smooth, come and go freely. After you finished the move White Aurora Shooting the Sun and had your sword tip pointing up, couldn’t you just follow the flow and slash it downwards? Even though there’s no such posture in the move, why can’t you adapt to the flow and make it more convenient for yourself?”

The words struck Linghu Chong’s ears like bell rings and woke him. Slightly pulling the sword back with a slash, he naturally transformed it into the move Graceful Phoenix. Before it was entirely done, he had already changed it again and smoothly transformed it into the move Golden Geese Crossing the Sky. The long sword swished across above his head, and then with a hook and a jab, it easily turned into Sword Interception Stance – all the connections and transformations appeared to be smooth and flawless. With the ease of mind, he continued performing one move after another following the old man’s instruction. By the time he stopped at the move Ringing Bells and Drums, it was exactly a total of thirty moves. All of a sudden, Linghu Chong felt indescribable joy. On the old man’s face, however, there was no trace of approval whatsoever.

“You got them connected alright, but see how stiff and rigid they are, also very clumsy. Even though you are still far from capable of fighting a master hand, it would be enough to deal with that little chap over there. Go ahead and try them out on him!” he demanded.

Linghu Chong still didn’t quite believe that the old man was his Grand Uncle-Master, but he was quite convinced that the old man had to be an elite Kung Fu master. His sword pointing down at the ground, he bowed to salute to the old man, then turned to face Tian Boguang.

“Brother Tian, please go ahead!”

“I’ve seen you perform all thirty moves. What’s there to fight about?” Tian Boguang questioned.

“If brother Tian doesn’t want to fight, that’s totally alright. Will you please leave now? I’d like to ask for some more advice from this senior master here. Sorry, can’t be your company now,” Linghu Chong said.

“What are you talking about? Do you expect me to just die for nothing only because you don’t want to go down Mount Huashan with me?” Tian Boguang objected loudly. He turned to the old man.

“Grandmaster Feng, Tian Boguang is only a junior here. I am not worthy to exchange moves with you, the respectful one. If you join in the fight, it would really be beneath your dignity.”

The old man nodded his approval with another sigh. He slowly walked by a big rock and sat down.

Tian Boguang felt great relief. “Look out!” he yelled and brought his knife swishing down upon Linghu Chong’s head.

Linghu Chong dodged to the side and stabbed back with his long sword. The move was the fourth move Sword Interception Stance the old man had told him earlier. Once starting his attack, he poured out many continuous moves with ease. Some of the moves he used were among the ones named by the old man, and some were outside of those thirty moves the old man had told him. Since he had comprehended the essence of the phrase “floating clouds and flowing water – natural and smooth, come and go freely,” his sword skills improved dramatically, and the fight went on well over a hundred moves.

All of a sudden, Tian Boguang roared loudly and chopped straight down. Knowing that it would be very difficult to dodge out of that one in time, Linghu Chong snapped his wrist and pointed his long sword toward Tian Boguang’s chest. Tian Boguang turned his knife around and smacked it at the sword. “Clank,” the knife and the sword clashed. Tian Boguang didn’t wait for Linghu Chong to pull back his sword. He simply let go of his own knife and jumped forward. Reaching out with his two hands, he seized Linghu Chong’s throat in a strangle hold. Linghu Chong was almost suffocated. In the rush, he dropped his long sword as well.

“If you don’t come with me, your old man here will choke you to death.” Tian Boguang yelled out.

He had been calling Linghu Chong a brother earlier with a very respectful tone. After the fierce fight of over a hundred moves, he really lost his temper and started calling himself Linghu Chong’s “old man” after he seized Linghu Chong’s throat.

Not able to breathe, Linghu Chong still shook his head as his face went purple from the choking.

“One hundred moves or two hundred moves, it doesn’t matter. As long as I am winning, you’ll have to go down Mount Huashan with me. The hell with the bet on the thirty moves thing. Your old man I don’t care!” Tian Boguang cursed between his teeth.

Linghu Chong wanted to laugh, but with Tian Boguang’s hands choking onto his throat hard, he couldn’t make any sound.

“You idiot! Your finger can be used as a sword, too. Do you absolutely have to use a real sword for that Treasures All Over the Room move?” The old man reproved.

Those words worked the magic as a flash lighted in Linghu Chong’s mind. He thrust out with his right hand and used the move Treasures All Over the Room. His middle finger and index finger struck the Tan-Zhong Point on Tian Boguang’s chest in a jab; Tian Boguang uttered a muffled groan and collapsed onto the ground, his hands letting go of Linghu Chong’s throat.

Linghu Chong had no idea that such a casual jab would actually subdue the “Ten Thousand Miles Loner” Tian Boguang, a man who enjoyed great fame for his Kung Fu skills in the martial world, in such an easy manner. He gently rubbed his own throat, which was still hurting uncomfortably from Tian Boguang’s choking, and then looked down at the evil rapist, who laid on the ground huddled up, twitching involuntarily. Seeing Tian Boguang showing the whites of his eyes and having lost his consciousness, Linghu Chong found himself deeply amazed and overjoyed. Instantly, he felt tremendous admiration toward the old man. Rushing by the old man’s side, he knelt down and kowtowed.

“Grand Uncle-Master! Will you please pardon me! I have treated you with such disrespect.”

“You don’t think I am just swindling and bluffing now?” The old man let out a slight smile.

“I dare not! Grandmaster Feng, I am so fortunate to be able to meet a senior grandmaster of our school! This is so marvelous.” He kowtowed more.

“You can get up now,” the old man Feng Qingyang said.

Only after another three respectful kowtows, Linghu Chong stood up. Noticing that the old man had a very pale and pallid complexion, looking wan and sallow, he asked, “Grand Uncle-Master, are you hungry? I have some food in the cave. Let me go get them.” He turned around and headed toward the cave.

“No need for that!” Feng Qingyang shook his head.

He squinted at the sun and then murmured, “The sunshine is so warm! It has been a long time since I last basked in the wonderful sunshine.”

Linghu Chong was taken by surprise, but he dared not ask.

Feng Qingyang threw a glance at the huddled up Tian Boguang on the ground. “You have jabbed onto his Tan-Zhong Point,” he said. “With his mastery of martial arts skills, he will probably regain his consciousness in two hours. By then, he’ll start another round of harassing. Once you beat him one more time, he would have no choice but to behave and leave. After you subdue him, you must force him to swear a deadly oath that he would never mention to anyone that he had seen me.”

“When I won earlier, it was only because I got lucky and took him by surprise. I am still no match for him with my sword skills. To be able to subdue him…subdue him…,” Linghu Chong murmured.

Feng Qingyang shook his head. “You are Yue Buqun’s apprentice. I really shouldn’t teach you any Kung Fu. That day…that day…I swore an oath that I would never fight anyone in the remaining of my life. When I demonstrated the sword moves to you the other night, I just wanted to let you know that if one executes the Huashan Sword School’s Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword the right way, how can anyone ever flick the sword out of your grip? I suppose if I don’t make you do the work, I won’t be able to force a deadly oath out of Tian Boguang, promising not to let out the secret. You, follow me.”

Feng Qingyang walked in the cave and entered the back cave through the hole on the rock wall. Linghu Chong followed in behind him.

“You have studied and memorized all those drawings of Huashan style sword art on the rock wall. When you used them though, they were all totally off. Alas!” Feng Qingyang pointed at the rock wall and shook his head.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “So when I was studying those drawings here during those many times, Grand Uncle-Master had been watching me. I guess every time I was simply too focused in studying and didn’t even notice that someone else was actually in the cave as well. If…if Grand Uncle-Master had been an enemy…hmm, if he were an enemy, even if I had found out about it, would I then have any chance of surviving?”

“The chap Yue Buqun is a total moron. You are very good apprentice material, but he turned you into a dumb fool with his teaching.” Feng Qingyang continued.

Hearing Feng Qingyang’s humiliating words to his respectful Master, Linghu Chong was very displeased.

“Grand Uncle-Master, I don’t want you to teach me any more. I’ll just go outside and force Tian Boguang to swear the oath, promising that he will never let out Grand Uncle-Master’s secret,” he said in a bold tone.

Feng Qingyang was seized by surprise, but it only took him an instant to understand the reason behind. “What if he won’t agree? Are you going to kill him?” he asked dryly.

Linghu Chong hesitated and didn’t know how to answer. He thought that since Tian Boguang had never intended to kill him even when he won the many fights, how could he himself be so cruel to kill Tian Boguang immediately after he got the upper hand?

“You are blaming me for swearing at your Master, aren’t you? Fine. I won’t mention his name any more. He calls me Uncle-Master. It should be alright for me to call him a ‘chap,’ shouldn’t it?” Feng Qingyang asked.

“Grand Uncle-Master, if you stop scolding my respectful Master, of course I will listen to your advice cautiously,” Linghu Chong replied.

“This is almost like I am begging you to learn from me.” Feng Qingyang was amused.

“I dare not. Grand Uncle-Master, I beg for your pardon.” Linghu Chong bowed.

Feng Qingyang pointed at the drawings of the Huashan style sword art on the rock wall and started explaining.

“These moves are indeed the unique moves among our school’s sword arts. Most of them have long been lost, and even Yue…Yue…hmm…even your Master doesn’t know them. Even though they are brilliant moves, when you use them one move at a time, others would still be able to overcome them….”

Hearing these words, Linghu Chong felt a sudden inspiration and vaguely understood an ultimate principle of sword art. He couldn’t help but show a wild, joyful face.

“What have you figured out? Tell me about it.” Feng Qingyang requested.

“Grand Uncle-Master, are you saying that if all the moves become an integral whole, then the enemy would have no way of breaking them?” Linghu Chong stated.

“Didn’t I say that you are good material? You have very good comprehension.” Feng Qingyang nodded happily. “Those Demon Cult Elders….” He pointed at the staff-wielding figure on the rock wall as he spoke.

“Is that an Elder of the Demon Cult?” Linghu Chong asked in bewilderment.

“Didn’t you know? The ten skeletons are the remains of the Demon Cult Ten Elders,” Feng Qingyang said while pointing at a skeleton on the ground.

“Why did all the Demon Cult Ten Elders fall dead here?” Linghu Chong became quite curious.

“Tian Boguang will wake up in two more hours. If you keep asking about these past events of many years ago, do you think you’ll still have time left to learn some Kung Fu?” Feng Qingyang reproved.

“Right! Right! Grand Uncle-Master, please go on.” Linghu Chong replied.

“Those Demon Cult Elders had truly outstanding and brilliant minds. They were actually able to defeat the advanced moves of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance cleanly and completely.” Feng Qingyang sighed. “They didn’t know, however, that the most devastating move in the world is not inside Kung Fu, but in setting up schemes, intrigues, and traps. If one falls into someone’s clever trap, regardless of how brilliant his Kung Fu moves are, it would still be completely useless….” At these words, he raised his head and fell into a daze. Apparently he had remembered many things from the past.

Hearing the bitterness in his tone and seeing the anguish look on his face, Linghu Chong dared not interrupt and only thought to himself, “Could it be true that the Five Mountains Sword Alliance really had ‘no way to win in a fair fight,’ so they tricked the enemy into a trap? Grand Uncle-Master Feng is a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, but he probably didn’t object to such contemptible means. I guess in order to counter the enemies from the Demon Cult, it is probably necessary to use some contemptible means.”

Feng Qingyang went on talking. “If we judge them by their understanding of advanced Kung Fu theories, these Demon Cult Elders shouldn’t be counted as ones who have entered the realm of top level Kung Fu. They didn’t know that moves are static, but the one executing the moves is alive. No matter how clever the counter-move is for breaking static moves, as soon as they encounter moves performed in a lively way, they would feel like their arms and legs are all tied up and would have no other choice but to give themselves up to the opponent’s mercy. You must remember the keyword ‘lively’ here. When you learn a move, you need to learn it in a lively way; when you execute a move, you also need to execute it lively. If you only rigidly adhere to formalities without adding your own lively elements, even if you have mastered thousands or tens of thousands unique moves, as soon as you encounter a true elite master hand, he would still be able to overcome every single one of them.”

Linghu Chong felt tremendous joy in his heart. He was the unrestrained and unconventional type. Each of Feng Qingyang’s word struck a chord in his heart. He kept agreeing and agreeing, “Yes, yes! One must learn it lively and use it lively.”

“Each of the Five Mountains sword schools have countless number of idiots who believed that as long as they become proficient with the sword moves taught by their masters then naturally they would become elite fighters.” He paused the let out a disgruntled snort. “You must have heard of the saying, ‘Once memorizing three hundred poems well, one will be capable to write poems himself!’ After memorizing others’ poems well, one might be able to write a couple of ragged verses, but without being original in conception, can he ever become a real poet?” Feng Qingyang criticized.

His criticism naturally included Yue Buqun as one of the “idiots” he had mentioned, but since firstly, Linghu Chong felt the comments were quite convincing, and secondly, Feng Qingyang didn’t mention Yue Buqun’s name specifically, he didn’t argue.

“Learn it lively and use it lively is only the first step. Only when you can fight with no moves, you will eventually reach the realm of a true elite fighter. When you said ‘all the moves become an integral whole, then the enemy would have no way of breaking them’ earlier, you’ve only gotten less than half right. It’s not ‘an integral whole’ but simply no moves. No matter how hard you work on making the moves an integral whole, as long as there’s a trace of the connection, your enemy would have a flaw to exploit. If you don’t have any moves at all, then how is your enemy going to break your move?”

Linghu Chong’s heart thumped wildly and even his palms became burning hot as he mumbled, “No move at all, how do you break it? No move at all, how do you break it?” Suddenly, a whole new world he had never seen before or even dreamed about appeared in front of his eyes.

Feng Qingyang continued. “If you want to slice a piece of meat, you need to have the piece of meat before you can slice it; if you want to cut some firewood, you need to have the firewood before you can cut it; if your enemy wants to break your sword move, he needs to have your sword move before he can break it. When an ordinary person who has never learned any Kung Fu waves a sword wildly, no matter how knowledgeable you are, you still wouldn’t be able to predict where his next thrust or chop will land. Even someone with the most advanced sword skills still wouldn’t be able to defeat his move. Because there is no move, it’s impossible to break the move. If this person has never learned any Kung Fu, then even though he doesn’t have a sword move, others can still knock him down easily. True first-class sword art, on the other hand, will enable you to control others, not controlled by others.”

He picked up a shinbone from the ground and randomly pointed one end of it at Linghu Chong. “How are you going to break this move of mine?”

Linghu Chong had no idea what move that was. After a pause, he said, “This is not a move, so there’s no way I can break it.”

“That’s correct.” Feng Qingyang smiled. “When a Kung Fu practitioner uses a weapon or throw punches and kicks, he would always have moves. All you need to know is how to overcome it, and once you do know how, you can easily defeat his move and subdue him.”

“But what if the enemy didn’t have any move either?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Then he must be a first-class elite fighter also. The result of the fight could go either way. Maybe you are better, or maybe he’s better,” Feng Qingyang answered. He let out a sigh and said, “In today’s world, it’s very difficult to find such an elite fighter. If by chance you meet one or two, then you have really good fortune. During my entire life, I’ve only met three of them.”

“Who are these three?” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but ask.

Feng Qingyang stared at him for a short while and then split into a smile. “Among Yue Buqun’s apprentices, there’s actually one who likes to poke his nose everywhere and not willing to devote himself to sword training. Great! Wonderful!”

“Sorry, I am wrong.” Linghu Chong blushed and quickly bowed for forgiveness.

“No, you are not wrong.” Feng Qingyang smiled. “You are a lively lad, just the type to my liking. We don’t have much time left. You go ahead and work on merging all the thirty to forty Huashan style sword art moves together. Think how you can get them going smoothly with no interruption, and then try to forget all of them. You need to forget all of them completely without leaving a single one in your head. Then, a bit later, you can use the Huashan Style Sword Art With No Moves to fight Tian Boguang.”

“Yes!” Linghu Chong answered, feeling half surprised and half pleased.

Linghu Chong studied the drawings on the rock with rapt attention. During the past several months, he had memorized the Huashan style sword moves on the rock wall well, so he didn’t have to spend any time learning the moves. All he had to do was to try to connect all the distinct and separate sword moves together.

“Everything must be following the natural rhythm. Act when you have to act and stop when you have to stop. If you simply can’t connect some of them, then don’t connect them. In short, don’t force anything,” Feng Qingyang pointed out.

Linghu Chong nodded. Since all he had to do was to follow the natural flow, it became an easy task for him regardless of connecting them cleverly or clumsily. Soon, he had connected all the thirty to forty moves of Huashan style sword art together. But to merge all of them into one with no traceable rigid gaps was not so easy. He waved his sword, sometimes slashing to the left, sometimes chopping to the right, without thinking about any moves drawn on the rock wall. He didn’t care if his posture or position was close to the drawing or not and simply followed his own will. Occasionally when he had a smooth one, he couldn’t help but feeling quite pleased with himself.

He had been in sword training for over ten years. Every time when he practiced, he would always stay very focused with all his heart, not daring to slack in any way. Yue Buqun was a very strict teacher. When his apprentices practiced forms or sword arts, if anyone’s arm or leg were slightly off from the perfect position, he would immediately correct them. Everyone’s every move or posture had to be in the absolutely perfect position without a single error to get his approval. Linghu Chong was the first and most senior apprentice, besides, he was always eager to do well in everything and excel others. In order to gain praises from Master and Master-Wife, he always put in extra efforts to be strict with himself. Feng Qingyang, on the other hand, had taught in a totally opposite way – the more casual the better. That fitted in with his personality just perfectly. He felt the kind of carefree and joy beyond words, and it seemed as if the pleasure was even more enjoyable than drinking ages old good wine. While he was still intoxicated in practicing, Tian Boguang had shouted from outside.

“Brother Linghu, will you please come out so we can have another contest.”

That brought Linghu Chong back to reality. He stopped and stood still.

“Grand Uncle-Master, do you think this random slashing and chopping style sword form of mine will enable me to block his fast knife chops?” Linghu Chong asked hopefully.

“If you want to block, of course it won’t help you much. But why do you have to block?” Feng Qingyang said.

Linghu Chong immediately got the idea and the feeling of joy washed over him.

“That’s right. He is begging me to go down Mount Huashan with him, so of course he dared not to kill me. In that case, despite what knife moves he uses, I can simply ignore them and just focus on my own attacks.”

Linghu Chong stepped out of the cave with his sword in his hand and saw Tian Boguang waiting with his knife drawn.

“Brother Linghu, after Grandmaster Feng gave you some knacks and pointers, your sword skills surely improved a lot. However, when you sealed my point just now, it was only because of my oversight. I am not convinced yet. Let’s have another fight,” Tian Boguang suggested.

“Fine!” Linghu Chong answered as he thrust his sword out in a crooked manner. The blade wobbled as it moved forward; there was no strength attached in the thrust at all.

“What kind of move is that?” Tian Boguang was bewildered.

Seeing Linghu Chong’s sword getting closer, Tian Boguang was just about to fend it off using his knife when Linghu Chong suddenly pulled his right hand back and jabbed the sword toward an empty space. Then following the jab, Linghu Chong retracted the sword quickly. The sword handle almost struck his own chest when he flicked his wrist, which sent the sword handle to another empty space to his right. Tian Boguang was even more bewildered. He threw a gentle probing chop cautiously. Linghu Chong didn’t even care to dodge and simply drove his sword tip toward his opponent’s lower stomach in an angle.

“How weird!” Tian Boguang shouted as he turned his knife around to block it.

After the two exchanged several moves, Linghu Chong started using the Huashan style sword moves on the rock wall, attacking without any defending, almost as if he was just practicing sword form all by himself. The continuous attacks sent Tian Boguang into a frantic rush.

“If you decide to ignore this chop of mine again, don’t blame me when I chop your arm off!” Tian Boguang shouted.

“It’s not going to be that easy!” Linghu Chong grinned as he initiated another three thrusts, all attacked from very odd and unusual positions. Relying on his fast eyes and quick hands, Tian Boguang successfully fended all of them off. Just when he was about to start his counter-attack, Linghu Chong suddenly threw his long sword straight up in the air. Tian Boguang looked up at the sword in the air when suddenly a heavy punch landed squarely on his nose. Blood immediately gushed out from his nose. While Tian Boguang was still in shock, Linghu Chong used his hand as a sword and stabbed it out, and it struck Tian Boguang on his Tan-Zhong Point once again. Tian Boguang slowly collapsed down, his face covered with a mixture of confusion and anger.

Linghu Chong turned around and Feng Qingyang called him back into the cave.

“You just got yourself another three hours for sword training. He is hurt even worse this time. He won’t be able to wake up as easily as the last time. Only that when you fight him the next time, maybe he’ll go all out and might not yield to you any more. You must be very careful. Go ahead and try out those Hengshan style sword art moves.” Feng Qingyang suggested.

After getting more pointers and advice from Feng Qingyang, Linghu Chong used each move as if there was no move – with the essence of the move but without the form of it. Those unique Hengshan style sword moves by themselves were already extremely unpredictable and volatile, now it was even more difficult to find any trace of gap among them.

After Tian Boguang woke up, the two of them fought another seventy to eighty moves before Tian Boguang got knocked down once again.

It was already quite late in the day. Linghu Chong placed Tian Boguang, who was unable to move at all because of the sealed pressure points, behind some big rocks when Lu Dayou brought food up the cliff, while Feng Qingyang stayed inside the back cave.

“Sixth apprentice brother, I am having some real good appetites these days. Will you please bring some extra food tomorrow?” Linghu Chong asked.

Lu Dayou could tell that his big apprentice brother’s face glowed with health and radiating vigor, quite different from the depressed and upset one in the last couple months. He couldn’t help with his joy. He also noticed that Linghu Chong’s robe was soaked with sweat and thought that Linghu Chong must have been practicing assiduously with his sword techniques.

“Great! I’ll bring up a large basket full of food tomorrow,” he said.

After Lu Dayou left, Linghu Chong opened Tian Boguang’s sealed pressure points and invited him and Feng Qingyang to have dinner together. Feng Qingyang had enough after only a half bowl full of rice. Tian Boguang on the other hand, felt very aggrieved and had no appetite at all, raking the food in his mouth and pouring out streams of abuses at the same time. Suddenly, with a loud crack, the china bowl in his hand smashed into pieces from the tremendous forces coming from his grip. Broken china pieces and rice fell all over his clothes and the floor.

“Brother Tian, why are you being so hard on a rice bowl?” Linghu Chong burst into loud laughter.

“Damn it, I am being hard on you,” Tian Boguang yelled in rage. “When we fought, you took advantage of me and spared no effort in defending yourself whatsoever, only because I didn’t want to kill you. Tell me, you think this is fair? If I hadn’t given ground to you, I’d have chopped your head off within thirty moves. Humph! Humph! Damn the little…little….”

Obviously he had wanted to scold Yilin, the little nun, but for some reason he stopped short, instead, he stood up and drew his knife.

“Linghu Chong, come and fight me again if you’ve got guts,” he yelled out.

“Fine!” Linghu Chong replied and stepped forth, sword in hand.

Using the same strategy again, Linghu Chong paid no attention to Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops and simply stabbed his sword at Tian Boguang with clever moves. But this time Tian Boguang was quite relentless. After they exchanged about twenty moves or so, he threw two chops – one landed on Linghu Chong’s thigh and the other one left a cut on Linghu Chong’s left arm. He had shown some mercy after all – neither of the two wounds was critical. In astonishment accompanied by great pain, Linghu Chong found himself in a very awkward situation. His sword techniques became very sluggish and only a few move later, Tian Boguang kicked him down to the ground.

“Do you want more fights?” Placing the sharp blade right next to Linghu Chong’s throat, Tian Boguang yelled. “Humph, I’ll make sure to leave a couple of cuts on you every time, so even though you won’t die, your blood will drain and your arms and legs will look really good.”

“Of course I want more fights! Even if I can’t beat you, do you think my Grand Uncle-Master Feng would just look on with folded arms and let you ride roughshod?” Linghu Chong rebuffed with a smile.

“He is a senior grandmaster. He won’t pick a fight with me,” Tian Boguang said as he moved his knife away.

Fearing that Feng Qingyang might start a fight out of anger because he had wounded Linghu Chong, Tian Boguang was actually quite apprehensive. Even though Feng Qingyang looked very old, he sure wasn’t rotten. From Feng’s piercing eyes, Tian Boguang could tell that Feng must have excellent inner energy, not mentioning his god-like sword skills. He figured that Feng didn’t even have to kill – all Feng needed to do was to drive him down Mount Huashan, and that would be just as bad.

Linghu Chong tore a piece of his robe off and used it to wrap up the two wounds before entering the cave.

“Grant Uncle-Master, that chap has changed his strategy and decided to cut me for real now! If my right arm gets wounded and can’t use a sword anymore, it would be impossible to beat him.” Linghu Chong shook his head in a wry smile.

“Luckily it’s late already. You can tell him that you’ll fight him again tomorrow morning. Let’s not sleep tonight. I’ll use the entire night to teach you three sword moves,” Feng Qingyang instructed.

“Three moves?” Linghu Chong repeated, not understanding why a mere three sword moves would take up an entire night to learn.

“You look like a smart one. I wonder if you are really that smart or only look like one. If you are truly smart, then you might be able to learn the three sword moves within the night. If you aren’t smart and only have ordinary comprehension, then…then…there would be no need to fight him again tomorrow morning, and you can simply admit your failure and follow him off Mount Huashan!” Feng Qingyang said.

Hearing those words from his Grand Uncle-Master, Linghu Chong knew that the three sword moves must be very extraordinary and sophisticated. That actually aroused his willingness to take on the challenge.

“Grand Uncle-Master,” he said fearlessly, “if I can’t learn these three sword moves within one night, then I’d rather die from his blade than surrender and leave Mount Huashan with him.”

“Good.” Feng Qingyang smiled. He raised his head and thought for quite a while before finally saying, “To learn three moves within one night is really asking for the impossible. You won’t need the second move just yet. We can work on only the first one and the third one. But…but…many of the variations in the third move come from the second move. Very well! Let’s ignore all the related variations and see if it will work.”

He was more like talking to himself. But after thinking about it for a moment, he shook his head.

Seeing the worried look on Feng Qingyang’s face, Linghu Chong became very anxious. The harder it is to learn a type of martial arts, of course, the more powerful it will be. Then he heard Feng Qingyang murmuring again.

“If he forgets one of the three hundred and sixty variations in the first move, then he would get the third move wrong. That’s not going to work.”

Linghu Chong was astonished when he heard that only the first move already contained three hundred and sixty variations.

Feng Qingyang started counting with his fingers. “Gui-Mei tends toward Wu-Wang, Wu-Wang tends toward Tong-Ren, Tong-Ren tends toward Da-You. Jia turns into Bing, Bing turns into Geng, Geng turns into Kui. Zi connects Chou, Chen connects Si, Wu connects Wei. Wind to thunder is one change, mountain to lake is one change, water to fire is one change. Qian and Kun activate each other, Zhen and Dui activate each other, Li and Si activate each other. Three increases to five, five increases to nine….”

The more he counted the more worried he looked. Finally he said with a heavy sigh, “Chong, when I learned this move, it took me three months. To expect you to learn two moves in one night is really like a joke. Think about it, ‘Gui-Mei tends toward Wu-Wang….’”

At those words, he stopped talking and apparently was lost in deep thought. After a long while, he asked.

“Now, where was I?”

“Grand Uncle-Master, you said Gui-Mei tends toward Wu-Wang, Wu-Wang tends toward Tong-Ren, Tong-Ren tends toward Da-You,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Ha, you’ve got good memory. What’s next?” Feng Qingyang raised his eyebrows.

“Grand Uncle-Master said, ‘Jia turns into Bing, Bing turns into Geng, Geng turns into Kui….’” Linghu Chong recited along and was actually able to repeat almost half of what Feng Qingyang said, but he could no longer remember the rest of it.

“Have you learned the General Index of the Dugu Nine Swords before?” Feng Qingyang was astonished.

“No. I have never learned anything like that before. I had no idea that this is called the Dugu Nine Swords.” Linghu Chong replied.

“If you haven’t learned it before, how come you are able to recite it?” Feng Qingyang asked.

“I just memorized it when you read it just now,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Hey, this might work!” Feng Qingyang slapped his thigh in excitement. “Although you won’t be able to learn the whole thing, you can simply memorize it. It would be alright if we only learn half of the third move. Now remember these: Gui-Mei tends toward Wu-Wang, Wu-Wang tends toward Tong-Ren, Tong-Ren tends toward Da-You….”

He went on and on and recited over three hundred words before finally saying, “Give it a try. Recite it.”

Linghu Chong had been staying very focused trying to memorize the script. After getting the go, he started reciting and only missed ten words or so. Feng Qingyang corrected them. The second time when Linghu Chong recited them, he only missed seven words. By the time he finished reciting the script a third time, he didn’t miss any word at all.

“Excellent! Excellent!” Feng Qingyang was very pleased. He then taught Linghu Chong another section of the script about three hundred words long. After Linghu Chong memorized those well, he taught the next section of about three hundred words to Linghu Chong.

The General Index of the Dugu Nine Swords had a total of over three thousand words, besides, the contents of the script weren’t really connected to each other logically, so even though Linghu Chong had extraordinary memorizing abilities, he still couldn’t help but remember parts of it while forgetting other parts of it. It took him over two hours and many reminders from Feng Qingyang to finally memorize the entire script with no errors. Feng Qingyang made him recite the script from the very beginning to the very end another three times and was finally convinced that he had memorized all of them.

“The General Index is the key and foundation of the Dugu Nine Swords. Even though you have memorized it at the moment, you only did it by ear for the sake of saving time while having no idea about the theories behind. You can forget about it as easily. From now on, you must recite it days and nights.”

“Yes!” Linghu Chong answered.

“The first move of the Dugu Nine Swords, General Index Stance, has many variations to implement the General Index Script. Let’s not rush into that one yet. The second move, Sword-breaking Stance, can be used to overcome sword arts from every single school or cult in the world. No need to rush into that one either. The third move, Knife-breaking Stance, can be used to overcome knife moves of Single Knife, Double Knives, Willow-Leaf Cutlass, Ghost-Beheaded Saber, Large Cleaver, Horse-Cutting Blade, and so on. Tian Boguang is using the Fast Knife Chops technique out of the Single Knife moves. Let’s focus on learning the part about how to overcome his knife techniques specifically tonight.”

Realizing that the second move of the Dugu Nine Swords could overcome all the sword arts from all the schools and clans out there, and the third move of the Dugu Nine Swords could overcome all the knife moves, while feeling stunned, Linghu Chong couldn’t help but show his joy.

“The nine stances must be very brilliant. I have never heard of it before.” Because of the great excitement, his voice trembled.

“Your Master probably has never seen the moves of the Dugu Nine Swords, but he sure has heard about the name Dugu Nine Swords before. He just doesn’t want to mention it to you, that’s all,” Feng Qingyang said.

“Why’s that?” Linghu Chong asked with surprise.

Feng Qingyang didn’t answer the question and went on explaining the moves. “The third move, Knife-breaking Stance, stresses on using light to resist heavy and using fast to overcome slow. The chap Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops are surely very fast, so you will have to be even faster than him. For a young lad like you, it’s probably ok to try to be faster than him; you might win or you might lose. There’s no guaranteed success. For an old rotten folk like me, if I still wanted to be faster than him, then the only solution would be launching my attack before he even starts his. If you can foresee what kind of a move he will be using and then scramble before him, before the enemy even raised his hand, your sword is already pointing at his vital parts. That way no matter how fast your enemy is, you will still be faster.”

“Yes, yes! So it teaches about how to anticipate the enemy beforehand.” Linghu Chong nodded again and again.

“Good, good! You got it!” Feng Qingyang praised as he applauded. “‘Anticipating the enemy beforehand’ is precisely the key to this set of sword techniques. Before anyone executes a move, there will always be many signs that you can catch. If he plans to slash toward your left arm with his next chop, he will certainly cast a glance at your left arm, and if his knife is in the lower right part at the time, then of course he will raise his knife in an arc before swishing his blade down in an angle.”

Feng Qingyang went on and explained all the variations in the third sword stance that would overcome fast knife chops, one by one in great details. Linghu Chong felt so relaxed and happy as he listened in. He almost felt like that he was a country boy who had just entered the inner circle of the royal palace, and every single thing he saw or heard was new and interesting. The third sword stance had very complicated variations, and within the limited time, Linghu Chong was only able to comprehend about twenty percent of it. He simply worked hard on memorizing the rest.

The teacher taught enthusiastically and the student studied energetically; both of them lost track of time completely. Suddenly, Tian Boguang shouted outside of the cave.

“Brother Linghu, it’s daybreak now! Are you awake yet?”

“Wow, it’s daybreak already,” Linghu Chong uttered.

“It’s a pity that we had so little time.” Feng Qingyang sighed. “You’ve learned very quickly, way beyond my expectation already. Go ahead and fight him,” he said.

“Yes.” Linghu Chong answered. He closed his eyes and went through the gist of all the things he had learned during the night in his head. Suddenly he opened his eyes and asked.

“Grand Uncle-Master, I still have one more question. Why are all the variations attacking techniques with no defending ones at all?”

“Dugu Nine Swords, once stepping in, never steps back! Every technique is an attacking technique. When you force your enemy to have no other choice but to defend himself, of course there’s no need to defend yourself. Senior master Dugu Seeking-A-Loss, who created this set of sword techniques, had a name ‘Seeking-A-Loss.’ He had been seeking a loss all his life and still couldn’t get one. Once the sword techniques were executed, he would become unmatched anywhere in the world. Why would he have to defend? If anyone could have forced him to draw his sword back and defend himself, the respectful master would have burst with joy and be delighted beyond measure.” Feng Qingyang said.

“Dugu Seeking-A-Loss, Dugu Seeking-A-Loss,” Linghu Chong muttered as he imagined how the senior master had wandered about the Martial World, unmatched anywhere, with only his sword, and couldn’t even find a single one who was capable of forcing him into a defending stance. That was truly admirable.

“Hurry up! Come out! Let me give you two more cuts!” Tian Boguang’s voice rose again.

“I am coming!” Linghu Chong replied.

“I am very concerned about one thing right now.” Feng Qingyang knitted his eyebrows together. “When you go out to fight him, if he injures your right arm or right wrist as soon as the fight breaks out, then you would be incapable to fight and leave yourself at his mercy. I am quite worried about that.”

“I’ll do my best, Grand Uncle-Master! You didn’t waste all that time teaching me with all your heart. I won’t let you down no matter what,” Linghu Chong said fearlessly, in high spirits.

As soon as he stepped out of the cave, he immediately put on a dejected and apathetic face. After a yawn, a stretch, and then some rubbing into his eyes, he finally said to Tian Boguang.

“Hey, brother Tian, you got up too early. Didn’t you have a good rest last night?”

In the mean time, he was actually thinking to himself, “All I need is to hold out through this current one. If I get to study several more hours, I would never be afraid of him again.”

“Brother Linghu,” Tian Boguang said as he raised his knife, “I really don’t intend to hurt you, but you are simply too stubborn and won’t go down Mount Huashan with me. If we continue fighting like this, I’ll be forced to add ten or twenty more cuts on you and have you beaten black and blue. Wouldn’t that be too bad for you?”

Linghu Chong suddenly got an idea. “You don’t even need to add ten or twenty more cuts on me. All you need to do is to cut my right arm off or injure my right hand, so I can’t use a sword. Then wouldn’t I be at your disposal as you wish? Either to kill me or take me prisoner?”

“I only want you to admit your loss. Why do I want to injure your right arm or right hand?” Tian Boguang shook his head.

Linghu Chong was overjoyed, yet he put on a very depressed face. “I am afraid that you are just saying it right now. Once you get mad because of your losses, you would spare no effort in using all kinds of cruel and vicious tactics,” he complained.

“You don’t have to goad me. First, I have no grudges against you; secondly, I respect you as a true man with integrity; thirdly, if I injure you too badly, I am afraid someone might come and give me trouble. Go ahead!” Tian Boguang said.

“Alright! Brother Tian, please go ahead.” Linghu Chong replied.

Tian Boguang gave a fake slash and immediately followed it with a tilted chop. His blade flashed in the sunshine with blinding reflections and the chop looked very vicious. Linghu Chong was about to overcome it with one of the variations in the third sword stance out of the Dugu Nine Swords, but Tian Boguang’s knife moves came too fast, by the time he was going to attack, the knife move had already changed. He was just one step too slow.

“How terrible! How terrible! I can’t even be fast enough to use the newly learned sword techniques. Grand Uncle-Master must be calling me an idiot right now,” Linghu Chong groaned inwardly in great worries.

After a few more moves, cold sweats started rolling down Linghu Chong’s forehead. But in Tian Boguang’s eyes, his sword techniques looked extremely fierce, and every move seemed as if it was the exact restraint to Tian’s knife moves. Tian Boguang couldn’t help but feel worried.

“He could have killed me with the last several sword techniques. Why did he slow it down just a little bit intentionally?” he thought aloud. “Oh, I got it. He is being lenient and wants to beat me into a retreat in the face of difficulties. But even though I see the difficulties, I can’t simply retreat. I have to hold out with all my might.”

Because of these thoughts, with every chop, he dared not to use all his strength and made sure he would always have extra energy left in case of an emergency. The two dreaded each other and both fought in a very cautious manner.

After a while, Tian Boguang gradually increased his knife chopping speed, and Linghu Chong also became more familiar with the variations of the Dugu Nine Swords third sword stance. While lights of the knife and the sword flashed, the two fought faster and faster.

Suddenly Tian Boguang let out a loud roar as he threw a kick with his right foot, which struck Linghu Chong in the stomach. Linghu Chong fell down facing up.

In the split of a second, Linghu Chong thought, “All I need is another day and night. This time tomorrow I am sure I can beat him.” He let go of his sword, shut his eyes tight, held his breath, and pretended to be knocked out cold.

Seeing that Linghu Chong laid on the ground unconscious, Tian Boguang was stunned. But knowing that Linghu Chong was cunning and crafty, he dared not to bend over to check, afraid that Linghu Chong might jump up and attack all of a sudden to seek a victory from a defeat. So he crossed his blade in front of him and then took a couple of steps closer.

“Brother Linghu? Are you alright?” he called out.

He called a few more times and found Linghu Chong finally regaining himself slowly with little breathing.

“Let’s…let’s fight again.” Linghu Chong said in a trembling voice.

He struggled to stand up, but half way up, his left leg gave out and he fell on the ground again.

“You are not going to make it. Why don’t you have a good rest for a day and then follow me down Mount Huashan tomorrow?” Tian Boguang suggested.

Linghu Chong didn’t express any opinion of his and pushed the ground with one hand, trying to stand up while panting hard.

With no more doubts, Tian Boguang took a step forward and grabbed onto Linghu Chong’s right arm to prop him up, but when he took the step forward, his foot “happened” to step on top of Linghu Chong’s long sword on the ground, and while guarding himself with the knife in his right hand, his grip also happened to grab onto a pressure point on Linghu Chong’s right arm to make sure Linghu Chong couldn’t play any tricks. Linghu Chong’s entire body weight hung onto Tian Boguang’s left arm and he appeared to be completely weak and frail.

“Who asked for your help? Damn it!” Linghu Chong swore and then limped back into the cave.

“Hey, you just gained an entire day and night without any extra effort. Don’t you think it was a bit despicable and shameless?” Feng Qingyang said with a smile.

“Well, when you are dealing with despicable and shameless people, I suppose a small despicable and shameless trick would be acceptable.” Linghu Chong laughed.

“What if you are dealing with a gentleman?” Feng Qingyang asked with a serious face.

“A gentleman?” Linghu Chong was taken by surprise and became speechless.

“What are you going to do if you are dealing with a gentleman?” Feng Qingyang fixed his piercing eyes on Linghu Chong’s face and asked coldly.

“Well, even though he is a gentleman, if he wants to kill me, I can’t just let him. When I have to, I guess I will have to use a little bit of the despicable and shameless tricks,” Linghu Chong answered.

Feng Qingyang was delighted beyond measurement. “Great! Great! If you can say that, then you are not a hypocrite who only pretends to do good,” he said loudly. “A true man does things to his own like, just like floating clouds and flowing water – natural and smooth, come and go freely. Rules of the Martial World or regulations of schools and clans are all complete bull!”

Linghu Chong let out a slight smile. Every word of Feng Qingyang had struck a chord in his heart and made him feel indescribable joy. But since Master had been repeatedly admonishing him that even if one had to give up his own life, he should never defame the great reputation of the Huashan Sword School by breaking school rules or violating regulations of the Martial World, he really couldn’t echo Grand Uncle-Master’s point publicly; besides, the words “hypocrite who only pretends to do good” seemed to be satirizing his Master’s nickname of “Gentleman Sword,” so he only let out a slight smile and didn’t chime in.

Feng Qingyang reached out with his wizened fingers and stroked Linghu Chong’s hair gently, a bright smile blossoming on his face.

“Among Yue Buqun’s apprentices, there are actually good talents like you. That chap does have some taste. He wasn’t a complete loser.” The “chap” he had mentioned of course meant Yue Buqun.

“Kid, you really suit my taste. Come on, let’s practice some more of Great Hero Dugu’s first sword stance and the third sword stance.” Feng Qingyang patted on Linghu Chong’s shoulder.

Feng Qingyang went ahead and picked some key issues in the first sword stance of the Dugu Nine Swords to explain to Linghu Chong. After Linghu Chong comprehended them, he then explained in detail the related variations in the third sword stance with both words and gestures. There were some long swords in the back cave, so both of them used Huashan style long swords to demonstrate and perform. Linghu Chong memorized everything with all his heart, and every time when he had a question, he would ask it right away. Because they had plenty of time during the day, the learning process wasn’t as intense as the night before, and each stance and variation could be explained and demonstrated in great details.

After dinner, Linghu Chong slept for four hours and then continued with the learning. The next morning, Tian Boguang was convinced that Linghu Chong had been injured pretty badly the previous day, so he didn’t even press with his shouts outside this time. Linghu Chong was just happy that he could continue learning sword techniques at the back cave. By the time of about two o’clock in the afternoon, Linghu Chong had learned all the variations in the third sword stance of the Dugu Nine Swords completely.

“It’s no big deal if you still can’t beat him today. If you get to study for another day and night, I am sure you will win tomorrow no matter what,” Feng Qingyang declared.

Linghu Chong nodded and then walked out of the cave slowly with the long sword left by a senior grandmaster of the Huashan Sword School in hand. When he saw Tian Boguang looking into the distance from the edge of the cliff, he put on a pretended surprised face.

“Why, brother Tian? How come you are still here?”

“I am waiting for you. Sorry about the offense yesterday. Are you feeling better today?”

“I didn’t see anything getting better. The wound on my leg from your knife chop is still hurting really badly.”

“Ha-ha, that day when we fought in Hengyang Town, your wounds were a lot more severe than today, yet you never said anything to give the impression of weakness. I know you have a whole bag of tricks. When you strike a pose to show your weakness, you probably are thinking about a surprise attack. I am not going to fall for it,” Tian Boguang said with a smile.

“You have already fallen for it. Even if you can figure it out right now, it would still be too late!” Linghu Chong’s face split into a big smile. “Brother Tian, look out!”

At the exact moment of his last word, Linghu Chong thrust his sword at Tian Boguang’s chest. Tian Boguang raised his knife hurriedly to parry it, but his knife hit nothing. Meanwhile, Linghu Chong’s second thrust had arrived.

“Excellent speed!” Tian Boguang praised as he crossed his knife to block the attack, but Linghu Chong had already launched his third and forth thrusts.

“I’ve got some even faster ones,” Linghu Chong declared.

He immediately thrust out the fifth and the sixth attacks. Once he started his attacks, each thrust was followed by another continuous thrust, and each thrust was faster than the previous one. He had really grasped the essence of the Dugu Nine Swords – once stepping in, never step back, and every thrust is an attack.

After ten moves or so, Tian Boguang became terror-stricken. He had no clue how to fend off the endless of attacks. Every time when Linghu Chong lunge a thrust, he would take a step back. After another ten thrusts, he had retreated to the very brink of the cliff. Linghu Chong didn’t slow down his attack one bit and with four whistling sounds, he lunged another four thrusts, all of which pointing at Tian Boguang’s vital parts. Tian Boguang worked his best and parried two of the thrusts away, but could not fend off the third thrust in any way. He stepped back with his left foot but his foot only landed on emptiness. He knew clearly that it was a bottomless abyss behind him and anyone falling down it would be smashed into pieces. At the critical moment, he chopped down at the ground with all his strength and was able to stable himself right on the edge. By then, the fourth thrust from Linghu Chong had arrived and the tip of the sword stopped inches short from his throat.

Tian Boguang’s face was as white as a sheet of paper. Linghu Chong didn’t let out a sound either and simply remained still with the sword tip right next to Tian’s throat.

“Go ahead and kill me. What are you waiting for?” Tian Boguang yelled angrily after a long silence.

Linghu Chong pulled his right hand back and leapt several big steps backward.

“Brother Tian, you just had an oversight and permitted me to take the initiative. This one doesn’t count. Let’s fight again,” he said.

Tian Boguang let out a loud snort and then waved his knife madly in a thunderstorm-like attack toward Linghu Chong.

“I’ll attack first this time. I am not going to let you take advantage again,” he shouted.

Seeing the fierce chop of the steel blade coming toward him, Linghu Chong jabbed his sword in an angle toward Tian Boguang’s lower stomach while turning his upper body to dodge away from the sharp knife blade.

Realizing that Linghu Chong’s thrust was quickly approaching him, Tian Boguang hurriedly turned his knife around and smacked it toward Linghu Chong’s sword. Relying on his own exceptional strength, he thought that as soon as the knife and the sword collided, for sure he would be able to knock the long sword out of Linghu Chong’s grip.

With the first thrust Linghu Chong was already able to take on the initiative. The second and the third thrust shot out continuously. Each thrust was accurate and effective, and his sword tip was never a second apart from his opponent’s vital parts.

Tian Boguang didn’t have enough time to parry off the attacks and had to take one step back after another. Who would have expected that after ten moves or so, he actually followed the same old disastrous road and once again retreated to the very edge of the cliff?

Linghu Chong slashed down with his sword and forced Tian Boguang to wave his knife down to guard his lower portion body. At the meantime he reached out with his left hand and struck out in a claw hand. The claw hand struck with perfect timing and broke through from a flaw in Tian Boguang’s defense line. Linghu Chong held the claw hand still, when his fingers were only two inches from Tian Boguang’s Tan-Zhong Point on his chest. He had sealed Tian Boguang’s Tan-Zhong Point twice before. Tian Boguang knew very well, that if Linghu Chong had struck out with his claw hand, he would have collapsed and his body would have fallen into the bottomless abyss this time instead of falling onto the ground. When Linghu Chong held his hand still, he was obviously giving ground.

The two both stayed still for a brief moment before Linghu Chong once again leapt back to yield.

Tian Boguang sat on a rock and meditated a short while with his eyes shut. Suddenly he shouted a loud roar as he launched his attack, chopping down vertically with mighty force. This time he took the surroundings into consideration and made sure his back was facing the mountain. He figured that even if he were forced into retreat, he would end up retreating into the cave. And without worrying about falling down the cliff, he could really fight it out.

By now Linghu Chong had a good grasp of the various variations in Tian Boguang’s knife moves. When Tian’s chop came, he dodged to the right, and at the meantime, slashed his long sword toward Tian Boguang’s left shoulder. Tian Boguang circled his knife back to block, but Linghu Chong had already retracted his sword and thrust it at his left waist. Tian Boguang’s left arm was only less than a foot away from his left waist. When he had circled his knife back, he was actually defending and launching a counter-attack at the same time, and to be able to execute his counter-attack, he had attached much strength with the move, which sent the knife chopping out. In a hurry, he didn’t have enough time to pull his knife back to guard his waist, so with no other choice, he took a half step to his right. Linghu Chong threw another thrust at Tian’s right cheek. Tian Boguang hurriedly raised his knife to block when Linghu Chong’s sword suddenly pointed at his left leg. Not able to block this one in time, either, Tian Boguang had to take another step to his right.

Linghu Chong continued with endless thrusts, all of which aimed at Tian Boguang’s left side and forced him to retreat to his right one step after another. After about ten steps, Tian Boguang found himself near the end of the cliff where a big rock blocked his retreating route. Leaning his back against the rock wall, Tian Boguang simply waved his knife all around himself and paid no attention to how Linghu Chong might thrust his sword out. Tearing sounds came into his ears continuously as Linghu Chong’s sword slashed six times on his left sleeve, left side of the robe, and the left leg of his pants. The entire six slashes only left cuts on his clothing without really touching his skin. Tian Boguang knew too well that any one of the six slashes could have cut his belly open or cut off his arm and leg. In the instant, Tian Boguang felt so disheartened and dispirited that it seemed as if all his hopes had died out. In unspeakable despair, he spewed out a mouthful of blood.

Within the short moment, Linghu Chong had succeeded in forcing Tian Boguang to the very edge between life and death three times in a roll. Linghu Chong almost couldn’t believe it, himself. Just a few days ago, his opponent still had much superior Kung Fu than him, yet right now he had taken the lead and had his opponent completely in his power. He had won so easily that he didn’t even have to use all his strength. Although he maintained his composure, deep in his heart, he was really enlightened beyond words. By the time Tian Boguang spurted out a mouthful of blood after the crushing defeat, remorse welled up in Linghu Chong’s heart.

“Brother Tian,” he said, “victories and defeats are normal and common. Why are you taking it so hard? Didn’t I lose to you many times before?”

Tian Boguang threw his knife down and shook his head. “Senior grandmaster Feng has miraculous sword skills. No one will be a match for him in the entire world. I will never be a match for you again.”

“Brother Tian, you said it right. It was all because of Grand Uncle-Master Feng’s great advice, I was able to gain victory.” Linghu Chong picked up the knife and handed it back respectfully with both hands. “Grand Uncle-Master Feng hopes that you can grant him a request.”

“My life is at your mercy, what’s there to talk about?” Tian Boguang didn’t take the knife and mocked in a sad tone.

“Grand Uncle-Master has withdrawn from society and lived a hermit’s life for many years. He prefers not to be disturbed by vulgar people. When you, brother Tian, leaves Mount Huashan, would you please not mention the respectful Grand Uncle-Master’s name to anyone? I would really appreciate that,” Linghu Chong said.

“Why don’t you just stab me with your sword to rid the witness? Wouldn’t that be a lot easier?” Tian Boguang mocked coldly.

Linghu Chong took two steps back and slid his sword back to the sheath.

“Brother Tian, earlier when your Kung Fu skills were way ahead of mine, you could have whacked me with a single chop, and then this would never have happened. I am only asking a favor from you to not tell anyone else the whereabouts of my Grand Uncle-Master Feng. I dare not to mean any intimidation or offense,” he explained sincerely.

“Fine. I won’t.” Tian Boguang agreed.

“Many thanks to you, brother Tian!” Linghu Chong bowed deeply down.

“I have come to invite you down Mount Huashan as instructed. I guess that’s not going to work now, but we are not done yet. I probably will never be able to beat you in a fight again in this life. I am not giving up though. This concerns my own life, so I would have no choice but to keep pestering you. You can’t blame me for not being a true man. Brother Linghu, farewell for now.” At the last word, Tian Boguang cupped his hands with a salute and then walked off.

Linghu Chong remembered the deadly poison that was planted in Tian Boguang’s body. After Tian left Mount Huashan, the poison would soon become active and kill him. After so many fierce fights with him, Linghu Chong felt as if they were much closer unwittingly. He almost called out with an impulse, “I’ll go with you.” Then he remembered that he was still being punished on the “Cliff of Contemplation”, and without Master’s permission, he was not allowed to even take a step off the cliff. Besides, Tian was a rapist who did all kinds of evil. If he had left together with Tian, wouldn’t he be wallowing in the mire with Tian? That would surely bring disgrace and ruin upon him and lead to endless trouble. With those thoughts, he held the words back and simply looked on as Tian Boguang descended down the path.

Linghu Chong went back into the cave and bowed down to the ground.

“Grand Uncle-Master, you not only saved my life, but also taught me superb sword techniques. How can I ever repay you for the kindness and grace?”

“Superb sword techniques, superb sword techniques! Hmm, it’s still far from that.” Feng Qingyang let out a smile, yet the smile was really in a mood of loneliness and depression.

“May I make bold to ask Grand Uncle-Master to teach me all of the Dugu Nine Swords techniques?” Linghu Chong pleaded.

“Are you sure you won’t regret it later for learning the Dugu Nine Swords?” Feng Qingyang asked.

Linghu Chong was confused for a moment, thinking that why would he regret it later, then he quickly found an answer and thought, “I see. The Dugu Nine Swords are not sword techniques from our own school. Grand Uncle-Master meant that Master might not approve it and punish me once he finds out about it. But Master never restricts me from learning other school’s techniques for references. He has said before that stones from other hills may serve to polish the jade on this one – advice from others may help one overcome one’s shortcomings. Besides, I have already learned many Heng-Shan, Hengshan, Taishan, and Songshan Sword Schools’ sword moves from the drawings on the rock wall. I even learned some Demon Cult Ten Elders’ Kung Fu. The Dugu Nine Swords Kung Fu is so magnificent. It is the kind of unraveled skill that us martial arts practitioner would crave about even in our dreams. I am really very lucky to have a senior grandmaster in our school who is willing to teach it to me.”

“This is the most fortunate thing in my entire life. I would only feel grateful, never regrets,” he said as he knelt down.

“Very well, I will teach you then. If I don’t teach the Dugu Nine Swords to you, there probably wouldn’t be Dugu Nine Swords left in this world a few years from now,” Feng Qingyang said with a smile.

For a moment, his face showed traces of great delight, but soon they were replaced with a dreary expression. After a long pause, he finally continued.

“Tian Boguang definitely won’t just give up so easy. Even if he decides to come back again, it’s going to be at least ten to fifteen days from now. Your Kung Fu is already better than his, and you certainly have more tricks than he does. I don’t think you’ll ever be afraid of him again. We have plenty of time now, so you must study from the very beginning to ensure a solid foundation.”

This time Feng Qingyang went through the script of the General Index Stance, the first stance of the Dugu Nine Swords, one sentence at a time, and explained in great details bundled with various variations that were implementations of the script. Linghu Chong had simply memorized the script by ear without understanding most of the ideas and theories behind it. Now with Feng Qingyang’s calm and unhurried explanation, he was able to comprehend many principles of advanced-level Kung Fu and several brilliant and profound variations every moment of it. He couldn’t help but show his great happiness and great admiration throughout the time.

The old and the young went over the brilliant sword techniques in the Dugu Nine Swords atop the “Cliff of Contemplation.” They started from General Index Stance and went on with Sword-breaking Stance, Knife-breaking Stance, Spear-breaking Stance, Mace-breaking Stance, Whip-breaking Stance, Palm-breaking Stance, and Missile-breaking Stance all the way till the ninth stance, Energy-breaking Stance.

The Spear-breaking Stance included techniques to overcome long weapons such as long-handled spear, long-handled halberd, snake-shaped spear, staff, fanged cudgel, white wax stick, Buddhist monk’s staff, and Buddhist monk’s spade.

The Mace-breaking Stance was used to overcome short weapons such as steel club, iron mace, point-sealing peg, crutches, Emei[1] sting, dagger, war axe, iron plate, octagonal hammer, and iron awl.

The Whip-breaking stance was able to overcome flexible weapons such as long cord, whip, three-sectioned staff, chain spear, iron chain, fishing net, and meteor hammer.

Although each move was just one stance, it had endless variations. The more Linghu Chong learned, the more powerful it became when he comprehended the connections between each stance. The last three stances were the most difficult ones.

The Palm-breaking Stance overcame Kung Fu skills related to one’s fists, legs, fingers, and palms. If the opponent were brave enough to fight against a sword with bare hands, he had to have superb Kung Fu skills and that using a weapon or not was really no difference for him any more. There are many fist forms, leg forms, finger forms, and palm forms in the world, and all of them are very complex. The Palm-breaking Stance included techniques to overcome boxing and grappling, joint manipulation and point sealing, demon claw and tiger claw hands, iron sand divine palm, and the type of barehanded Kung Fu skills.

The word “Missile” in the name of the Missile-breaking Stance included the many different kinds of missiles and projectiles. To be able to learn this stance, the practitioner must first learn the skill of distinguishing the type of the missile by ear. He not only should be capable of blocking the many kinds of missiles coming from the enemy with his long sword, but also redirecting the force in the missiles to send them back and injure the enemy with his own missiles.

When it came to the ninth stance, Energy-breaking Stance, Feng Qingyang only taught Linghu Chong the script and formula of how to practice it.

Feng Qingyang explained, “This stance is used to overcome opponents who have great inner energy. The essence of the move really depends on your own interpretation. When senior master Dugu took on the entire Martial World with this set of Dugu Nine Swords many years ago, he couldn’t even find a single person that could defeat him, that was all because he had reached the acme of perfection with the set of sword techniques. The same sword technique from the same Huashan style sword art could have very different effect and power. It’s the same with the Dugu Nine Swords. Even though you have learned the sword techniques, if you can’t perfect your skills, you would still be no match for first-class elite fighters in today’s world. You have already entered the field. If you prefer to win than lose, go practice hard for another twenty years, then you will be capable of competing with the key players in the world.”

The more Linghu Chong studied, the more he realized that there were endless variations in the nine stances, and it will take a very long time for him to actually probe all the profound knowledge in them. When he heard his Grand Uncle-Master saying that he still needed to work hard on practicing the sword techniques for at least twenty more years, he wasn’t surprised at all.

“If I’m able to fully understand the idea left by senior master Dugu when he created the nine stances of Dugu Nine Swords, I would be overjoyed,” he said.

“You don’t have to unduly humble yourself. Great Master Dugu was one with extraordinary intelligence. To be able to master his sword techniques, the key lies on the word ‘comprehension,’ not simply memorizing mechanically. Once you understand the essence of the sword techniques, you can use it anyway you want. Even if you have forgotten all the variations completely, it wouldn’t matter anyway. And when you are in a real fight, the more you forget about them, the less you will be restricted by the original sword stances. You are good Kung Fu material, just the right kind to learn this set of sword techniques. Humph, in today’s world, I doubt that there’s really any extraordinary hero out there. You should remain diligent in your studies. I am leaving now,” Feng Qingyang said.

Linghu Chong was dumbfounded. “Grand Uncle-Master, where…where are you going?” his voice quivering, he asked anxiously.

“I have been living by the back side of Mount Huashan for decades. I just had a sudden impulse earlier and came out of my cave to teach you the set of sword techniques, hoping that senior master Dugu’s unrivalled and superb Kung Fu wouldn’t get rotten together with me. Of course it’s time to go back now,” Feng Qingyang said.

“Grand Uncle-Master, so you live right by the back side of the mountain. That’s wonderful! I can serve upon you days and nights to help rid your lonesomeness,” Linghu Chong said happily.

“Starting from now on, I will never see anyone from the Huashan Sword School. Even you are not an exception,” Feng Qingyang said sternly.

Seeing the frightened and confused look on Linghu Chong’s face, he changed into a softer tone.

“Chong, fate brought us together, and you are very to my liking. I am truly very delighted to have you, such a wonderful boy, to carry on my sword techniques in my old age. If you still think I am your Grand Uncle-Master, then don’t come looking for me to make things difficult.”

“Grand Uncle-Master, why?” Linghu Chong felt great sorrow in his heart.

“Don’t even tell your Master that you have seen me.” Feng Qingyang shook his head.

“I will follow your instructions,” Linghu Chong said as tear started to emerge in his eyes.

“Good kid, good kid!” Feng Qingyang stroked Linghu Chong’s head gently and then turned around to go down the cliff.

Linghu Chong followed him all the way till the edge of the cliff. Seeing Feng Qingyang’s thin figure receding down the cliff and eventually disappearing in the back mountain, he couldn’t help but feel deep sorrow and grief.

During the ten days or so Linghu Chong spent with Feng Qingyang, even though all they discussed about were sword techniques, he admired Feng Qingyang’s demeanor with all his heart. On top of that, he also felt that Feng seemed to be so close to him and the two were indescribably congenial. Feng Qingyang was really a Grand Uncle-Master of his who was two generations higher than him, yet deep inside Linghu Chong’s heart, he vaguely felt a kind of affection as if Feng was a good friend in his same age group who he had wished to meet all along. Comparing to his relationship to his respectful Master, Yue Buqun, this one seemed to be much closer instead.

“When this Grand Uncle-Master was still young, he probably had the same kind of temper just like me, fearing nothing, carefree, and tending to do things following one’s free will,” Linghu Chong thought aloud. “When he taught me sword techniques, he always liked to say that ‘it’s the person using the sword techniques, not the sword techniques using the person’ and ‘a person is alive, but sword techniques are not, so an alive person shouldn’t be restrained by dead sword techniques.’ That principle is so true. Why did Master never say anything close to that?” He pondered over it for a while and then got his own answer. “Of course Master knows about this principle. It’s just that he knows well that I am too carefree and is afraid that once he tells me the principle, I would go on wild imaginations to create a mass and won’t follow the rules step by step when I practice sword art. Once I get to a certain level with my sword skills, Master will then explain everything in details. Apprentice brothers and sisters aren’t there with their level of Kung Fu skills, so of course it would be even more difficult for them to understand the principle of advanced sword art. It would be a waste of time telling them.” Then his mind slipped into a different thought. “Grand Uncle-Master’s sword skill has really reached the acme of perfection. What a pity it is that he never showed his true skills so I could broaden my horizons. Compared to Master, Grand Uncle Master’s sword skill must be another level up.”

He remembered that Feng Qingyang’s face was always covered by depression. He figured, “During the last ten days or so, Grand Uncle-Master would occasionally heave deep sighs. Obviously he had some kind of a big tragedy in his mind. I wonder what happened to him.” He heaved a sigh himself and then went out the cave to practice.

He practiced for a while and then randomly threw out a thrust. It turned out to be the Graceful Phoenix move from Huashan style sword art. He paused for a second and shook his head in a wry smile.

“Wrong!” he said to himself and then continued on. Not long after, he threw out another random thrust, and it turned out to be Graceful Phoenix once again. He couldn’t help but get mad at himself.

“Because I know sword moves from our sword school very well, and all those moves are already deep-rooted in my mind, as soon as I become careless, I would naturally add the familiar moves from our school into it. Then it’s not Dugu Nine Swords anymore.”

Suddenly a thought flashed by his mind. “Grand Uncle-Master told me to have no restraints and follow the natural flow, then why couldn’t I use sword moves from my own school? And furthermore, why couldn’t I add Hengshan, Taishan, or other schools’ sword moves, or even Demon Cult Ten Elders’ Kung Fu into it? If I insisted on separating them, using only certain type of sword art, not another certain type of sword art, then I am really putting restraints onto myself.”

After figuring that out, he just randomly threw out different moves. If it followed the natural flow, he would mix sword moves from his own school or moves from the rock wall together. Instantly, he felt endless fun. The sword moves from the five different mountain sword schools were quite different from each other, and the ten Demon Cult Elders also came from six or seven different sects. It was almost impossible to mix moves from so many different styles. After practicing for some moments, he was still not able to merge them together.

“If I can’t merge them together, so what? Why do I have to?” he suddenly realized. So he stopped worrying about what move it was and as soon as he thought of a move, he would simply mix it into the Dugu Nine Swords as he pleased. However, out of all those moves, Graceful Phoenix was still the one he used the most. He practiced some more and then threw another random thrust. Not to his surprise, it was Graceful Phoenix once again.

“What might little apprentice sister say once she sees how I am executing that Graceful Phoenix?” he suddenly thought.

He held his sword still as a gentle and soft smile broke out on his face. During the last few days, he had been studying and practicing sword arts with all his heart, even in his dreams he had been only thinking about the various variations of the Dugu Nine Swords. Now when he suddenly remembered Yue Lingshan, lovesick quickly welled up in his heart.

“I wonder if she is still teaching apprentice brother Lin sword art secretly. Master has strict orders, but little apprentice sister has always been very bold. Relying on Master-Wife’s spoiling, she probably started teaching again. Even if she’s not teaching sword art, they see each other days and nights, so of course they will become even closer.”

Gradually, the gentle smile changed into a wry smile, and eventually there was not a trace of happiness left on his face. Feeling quite depressed, he slid his sword back into the sheath slowly.

Suddenly Lu Dayou’s shouting voice rose. “Big apprentice brother! Big apprentice brother!” His voice was filled with worry.

“Oh no! Tian Boguang went down the cliff after a crushing defeat. He had said that he was not going to give up and would keep pestering to the very end. Could it be that since he can’t beat me in a fight, he had taken little apprentice sister into hostage so he could force me to surrender?” Linghu Chong was stunned.

He rushed by the edge of the cliff and looked down. Flustered and exasperated, Lu Dayou ran toward the cliff, the food basket in his hands.

“Big…big apprentice brother…big…apprentice brother, this is not good!” Lu Dayou shouted.

“What? What happened to little apprentice sister?” Linghu Chong asked hurriedly, even more worried.

Lu Dayou jumped up the cliff, and after sitting the food basket on a big rock, he said, “Little apprentice sister? Little apprentice sister is just fine. This is terrible. I think it’s going to be trouble.”

Hearing that little apprentice sister was just fine, Linghu Chong felt quite relieved. “What trouble?” he asked.

“Master and Master-Wife came back.” Lu Dayou panted.

Linghu Chong was quite delighted. “Bah! Isn’t it a great thing that Master and Master-Wife have come back? Why are you saying that it’s going to be trouble? Nonsense!” he reproached.

“No, no, you don’t understand. Right after Master and Master-Wife came back, before they even had a chance to rest, many people came to pay a visit, and among the people coming, there are ones from the Songshan Sword School, the Hengshan Sword School, and the Taishan Sword School,” Lu Dayou explained.

“Our five sword schools are all members of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. It’s quite normal when people from the Songshan Sword School and the others come to pay a visit to Master,” Linghu Chong said.

“No, no…you don’t know. There are three others that came together with them and claimed to be part of our Huashan Sword School, but Master doesn’t call them apprentice brothers.”

“Really? What do those three look like?” Linghu Chong asked, feeling slightly surprised.

“One of them has a yellowish face and claimed to have a surname of Feng,[2] and called something like Feng Buping. Then another one is a Taoist priest; the third one is a short guy. Both of them are called ‘Bu’ something. I guess they are really ones in the ‘Bu’ class.”

“Maybe they are traitors of our school and had been expelled out of the school a long time ago.” Linghu Chong nodded.

“Yeah! You guessed it right. As soon as Master saw them, he became very displeased and said to them, ‘Brother Feng, all three of you have had your connection with Huashan Sword School dropped a long time ago. Why are you coming back to Mount Huashan again?’ Then that Feng Buping said, ‘Apprentice brother Yue, did you buy out Mount Huashan? Are you not allowing other people to come up Mount Huashan? Or did the Emperor grant it to you?’ Master snorted and then said, ‘If you are just touring around Mount Huashan, of course you have your freedom. Yue Buqun is no longer your apprentice brother. I’ll have to send the words ‘apprentice brother Yue’ right back to you.’ Feng Buping said, ‘Your Master used schemes and intrigues to seize control of the Huashan Sword School many years ago. We’ll have to square the old accounts today. You don’t want me to call you ‘apprentice brother Yue.’ Humph, after we square the old accounts, even if you kneel in front of me to beg for it, I wouldn’t grant you the wish.’”

“Oh,” Linghu Chong replied, thinking that Master really had trouble this time.

“Us apprentices all got angry at those words.” Lu Dayou continued. “Little apprentice sister was the first one to yell out. Who would have thought that Master-Wife had a real soft temper this time? She didn’t allow little apprentice sister to make any noises. Master obviously didn’t take them too seriously. He said dryly, ‘You want to square accounts? What accounts do you want to square? How do you want to square?’ Feng Buping said loudly, ‘You have usurped the Head Master post of the Huashan Sword School for over twenty years. Haven’t you had enough of it already? Don’t you think it’s time to step down now?’ Master answered with a smile, ‘So all of you took on all the trouble to line up here just so that you can seize my post of Head Master. What’s there to cherish? Brother Feng, if you think you are capable of the Head Master post, of course I can step aside.’ Feng Buping said, ‘Your Master usurped our sword school’s Head Master post using schemes and intrigues many years ago. I have already petitioned to the Five Mountains Sword Alliance Chief Zuo and received the Command Flag to become the new Head Master of the Huashan Sword School in his command.’ He took out a small flag from his chest pocket and extended it out. It is indeed the Command Flag of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance.”

“Isn’t Alliance Chief Zuo a bit too impetuous to think he has the authority here? This is an internal affair of the Huashan Sword School. We don’t need him to poke his nose in that matter. What right has him to decide who should be the Head Master of our Huashan Sword School?” Linghu Chong shouted angrily.

“That’s right! Master-Wife said the same thing. But that Lu-named old guy from the Songshan Sword School, Crane Hands Lu Bai, you know, the old folk we saw at Uncle-Master Liu’s house in Hengshan, he spared no effort backing up that Feng Buping saying that the Feng-named guy should become the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School and argued again and again with Master-Wife. And those two guys from the Taishan Sword School and the Hengshan Sword School, this is so annoying, also ganged up with Feng Buping. The three schools of theirs have decided to gang up to give trouble to our Huashan Sword School. Heng-Shan Sword School is the only one that doesn’t have anyone involved. Big…big apprentice brother, I figured this is going to be big trouble, that’s why I came in a rush to let you know.”

“When our school has trouble, as long as us apprentices can still breathe, we are all willing to die for Master. Six apprentice brother, let’s go!” Linghu Chong shouted.

“Right! When Master sees that you are working for him, for sure he won’t blame you for leaving the cliff without permission,” Lu Dayou exclaimed.

“It’s alright even if Master do blame me. Master is a courteous gentleman, and he doesn’t like to argue with others. Maybe he will actually let someone have the post of Head Master. Wouldn’t that be terrible…?” Linghu Chong started rushing down the cliff using his Qing-Gong.

In the middle of running, Linghu Chong suddenly heard somebody shouting from the mountain path in front of him.

“Linghu Chong! Linghu Chong! Where are you?”

“Who is calling my name?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Are you Linghu Chong?” several voices asked in unison.

“That’s right!” Linghu Chong answered.

Suddenly two shadows flashed by and blocked in the middle of the road. The mountain path was very narrow and on one side of the path was the ten-thousand-feet deep bottomless valley. When the two men showed up so abruptly on the mountain path all of a sudden, Linghu Chong was in the middle of a fast dash and almost bumped into them. He stopped abruptly and found himself only a foot away from the two. The two faces were both very bumpy and wrinkly and looked very frightening. In great surprise, Linghu Chong immediately turned around and leapt back ten feet or so, shouting, “Who are you?” But to his great astonishment, he found another two extremely ugly faces, also bumpy and wrinkly, blocking his way. The two faces were less than half-a-foot from his face, and their noses almost touched his nose. Linghu Chong immediately took a step to his side and again found two more people standing by his side between him and the bottomless abyss. Their faces were also very similar to the previous four.

Having bumped into six freaks all of a sudden, Linghu Chong was at a loss as what to do, and his heart pounded like a drum. Within the split of a second, the six freaks had jostled him into a three-inch wide small space. The breaths of the two in front of him had already reached his face. He could also feel warm air on his back neck. Apparently it was because of the breathing from the two behind him. In a hurry, he reached for his sword. However, as soon as his finger touched the handle of the sword, the six freaks took a half step forward all at the same time and jostled with their bodies toward the middle. Instantly, Linghu Chong was squeezed into such a tight space that he couldn’t even move an inch.

“Hey, hey! What are you guys doing?” Lu Dayou’s voice rose from behind him.

Even though Linghu Chong had a bag full of tricks, at the moment, he was scared out of wits. Those six freaks looked almost like trolls or monsters, and not only did they have scary looks, their behaviors were even more freaky. Linghu Chong tried hard to open his arms so he could push away the two in front of him, but with his arms being jostled down, he had no way of pushing.

“They must be villains together with Feng Buping’s group,” he thought to himself hurriedly.

His entire body felt the great pressure; he couldn’t even breathe. The four freaks kept jostling toward the middle and soon Linghu Chong’s joints started popping. Not daring to stare right into the eyes of the freak right in front of him, Linghu Chong quickly shut his eyes tight. Then he heard a screeching voice.

“Linghu Chong, we’ll take you to see the little nun.”

“Oh, no! So they are Tian Boguang’s gang.” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

“If you don’t let go of me, I’ll commit suicide with my sword! Linghu Chong would rather die…!” he shouted.

Suddenly, Linghu Chong felt two hands grabbing onto both of his arms. The grips were as tight as clamps. Even though he had learned the Dugu Nine Swords, he had no means of using it at all. He groaned inwardly.

“The good little nun wants to see you. Behave yourself. Be a good kid, too,” another voice rose.

“It would not be good if you become dead. If you commit suicide, I’ll beat you half dead half alive,” a third one said.

“He would be completely dead already. Why would you still beat him half dead half alive?” someone else argued.

“If you want to scare him, don’t let him hear you. Once he hears it, he won’t fall for it,” another one commented.

“I just like to scare him, what are you gonna do about it?” the previous one mocked.

“I think it’s better to talk him into behaving himself,” another one suggested.

“I said to scare him, and I will scare him,” the previous one said.

“I like to talk him out of it,” that another one insisted.

The two actually went on arguing against each other nonstop.

Linghu Chong listened as the two argued foolishly. He was both greatly shocked and annoyed. He thought to himself, “The six freaks have very high Kung Fu skills, however, they seemed to be really stupid.” So he shouted, “It’s useless to try to scare me or talk me out of it. If you don’t let go of me, I’ll bite off my tongue and kill myself.”

Suddenly, great pain came from his cheeks. Someone had grabbed onto his jaw.

“This guy is really stubborn. If he bites off his tongue, he won’t be able to talk. The little nun won’t like that for sure,” one voice said.

“If he bites off his tongue, he would be dead. Why would it matter if he can still talk or not?” another one argued.

“He might not die. If you don’t believe me, you can bite your own to try it out,” a third one suggested.

“I said he would die, so I won’t bite off my own tongue. Why don’t you try it out?” the previous one mocked.

“Why should I bite my own tongue off? I got it. Let him try it,” the one spoke before him replied.

There came a loud cry from Lu Dayou. Apparently those freaks had captured him.

“You, bite off your own tongue and let’s see if you will die or not? Hurry up! Bite!” one freak yelled.

“I won’t! If I bite my tongue off, I’d be dead for sure,” Lu Dayou shouted.

“That’s right! If one bites his tongue off, he would be dead for sure! Even he said so too,” one of the freaks said.

“He’s not dead yet. His words are not dependable,” another one argued.

“He didn’t bite off his tongue, so of course he won’t die. If he did, he would die!” a third one commented.

Linghu Chong gathered his strength and jerked his arms abruptly. Instantly the pain from his wrists went deep into his marrow, yet he was still not even able to move a single bit. In the instant, he suddenly hit upon a way out of the trouble. He let out a loud scream and then pretended to be out cold. The six freaks all cried out in surprise. The one who grabbed at Linghu Chong’s cheeks immediately let go of them.

“He was scared to death!” a freak commented.

“He can’t be scared to death. He’s not that big of a loser,” another one disagreed.

“Even if he’s dead, he wasn’t scared to death,” a third one suggested.

“Then how did he die?” the previous one asked.

Lu Dayou actually believed that they had tortured big apprentice brother to death and burst into a loud cry.

“I think he was scared to death,” a freak insisted.

“You grabbed him too hard. He was grabbed to death,” another one suggested.

“How on earth did he die?” a third one questioned.

“I shut down my arteries and killed myself!” Linghu Chong shouted loudly.

The six freaks were shocked when they suddenly heard Linghu Chong talking, then they all broke into loud laughs and said, “Aha, he’s not dead. He was pretending to be dead.”

“I wasn’t pretending. After I died I came back to life again,” Linghu Chong claimed.

“Do you really know how to shut down your arteries? That must be a very difficult Kung Fu. Will you teach me?” a freak asked.

“The Shut Down Your Own Arteries Kung Fu is very advanced. This dude doesn’t know it. He’s lying to you,” another freak said.

“Did you say I don’t know it? If I don’t know it, how could I have shut down my arteries and killed myself earlier?” Linghu Chong challenged.

“Well…well…that’s really odd.” The freak scratched his head and didn’t know how to answer.

Linghu Chong now was sure that even though the six freaks had excellent Kung Fu skills, their brains were certainly dull-witted to the extreme. So he said, “If you don’t let go of me, I am going to shut down my arteries again. After I die this time, I won’t be able to come back to life any more.”

The two freaks that had been grabbing onto Linghu Chong’s wrists tightly immediately let go of him and said in unison, “You can’t die. If you die, it would be terrible.”

“Well, if you don’t want me dead, you’ll have to move aside and let me through. I got to take care of some important business,” Linghu Chong suggested.

The two freaks blocking his way shook their heads at the same time, both to the left and then both to the right. “No way! No way! You have to come with us to see the little nun,” they said in unison.

Linghu Chong gathered his inner energy and jumped up, hoping to be able to jump over the two freaks’ heads. But to his surprise, the two freaks also jumped up in great speed and their two bodies made a flying wall that blocked Linghu Chong’s path again. Linghu Chong’s body bumped with the two freaks’ bodies and fell back down to the ground.

While still in mid-air, Linghu Chong had already grabbed hold of his sword handle. He waved his arm to draw his sword, but suddenly felt great burdens on both of his shoulders. The two freaks behind him had each reached out with an arm and placed a hand on each of his shoulders. His sword was only about a foot out of the sheath and he simply could not draw it out. The two hands on his shoulders each seemed to have weighed hundreds of pounds. His body was immediately pushed lower. He couldn’t even stand straight, not mentioning drawing his sword.

“Let’s carry him away!” after the two freaks pushed him down onto the ground, they suggested with big smiles.

The two freaks in front of Linghu Chong each reached out with a hand to grab onto his ankles and picked him off the ground.

“Hey! Hey! What are you doing?” Lu Dayou shouted.

“This chap is so annoying. Let’s kill him!” a freak suggested and raised his palm high, ready to strike down onto Lu Dayou’s head.

“Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!” Linghu Chong cried out loudly.

“Alright, I’ll listen to you. I won’t kill him. I’ll seal his Mute Point instead,” that freak replied. He didn’t even bother turning around and simply pointed backward with his finger. In a whistling sound, he had sealed Lu Dayou’s Mute Point with a beam of energy. Lu Dayou was in the middle of screaming, but the scream suddenly stopped abruptly as if someone had cut his scream off using a pair of scissors, and his body immediately huddled up.

Linghu Chong had rarely seen such accuracy and mighty power demonstrated in the freak’s point-sealing skills; he couldn’t help but show great admiration.

“Excellent Kung Fu!” he praised.

The freak was greatly pleased. “This is nothing! I have a lot more cool Kung Fu skills. Let me demonstrate a few of them for you,” he said with a big smile.

If it were in normal days, Linghu Chong would have wanted to broaden his horizons, but at the moment he really worried about his Master’s safety and was very anxious.

“I don’t want to watch!” he shouted.

“Why don’t you want to watch? You’ll have to watch!” the freak said angrily.

He jumped into the air and flew over Linghu Chong and the four freaks holding Linghu Chong like a big bird. His body maintained a horizontal position when he flew in the air and looked as if he was a swallow gliding in the air with beautiful postures.

“Beautiful!” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but blurt out another praise.

The freak landed back to the ground smoothly and gently, without even bringing up any dust. By the time he turned around, great smiles piled up on his long horsy face.

“This is really nothing! I’ve got a lot more even better than that,” he said happily.

He was at least somewhere close to sixty or seventy years old, yet his temper and the way he behaved was just like a little kid that wanted to keep showing off as soon as someone praised him. The superb and profound Kung Fu and the childish and naïve behavior of him happened to be on the exact opposite in extreme.

Linghu Chong thought, “Master and Master-Wife are in trouble right now surrounded by tough enemy. The enemy has all those Songshan Sword School, Taishan Sword School, and the bunch of elite fighters to back him, even if I go over there, the situation wouldn’t be approved much. Why don’t I trick these freaks into going over there to help Master and Master-Wife out?” So he shook his head and said, “You guys’ little Kung Fu is far from good enough to show off here on Mount Huashan.”

“Far from good enough? What are you talking about? You got caught by us, didn’t you?” that freak rebuffed.

“I am just a nobody in the Huashan Sword School. What’s so difficult to beat me? Right now, there are many elite master hands from Songshan Sword School, Taishan Sword School, Hengshan Sword School, and Huashan Sword School gathered here at Mount Huashan. Of course you guys wouldn’t be brave enough to go provoke them, would you?” Linghu Chong bluffed.

“Why would we be afraid to provoke them? Where are they?” the freak asked.

“We won the bet with that little nun, so the little nun asked us to come get Linghu Chong. She never asked us to provoke any elite master hands from the Songshan Sword School or the Taishan Sword School. We should only do one favor for one win. If we do too many favors, it’s not worth it. Let’s go,” another one suggested.

Hearing those words, Linghu Chong felt very relieved. “It turned out that they were sent by little apprentice sister Yilin. Then they must not be enemies of mine. It seemed that they had lost a bet and thus had to come to get me. It’s funny that they still want to save their faces and claim to have actually won the bet instead.”

“That’s a good idea,” he said. “The elite master hand from the Songshan Sword School said that he looked down the most upon those six old freaks with horsy faces that looked like tangerine skins, and as soon as he sees the six of them, he would nip them dead one by one like nipping puny ants. Too bad that as soon as those six old freaks hear his voice, they all immediately ran far way and there was no way for him to find them.”

At these words, the six freaks roared in great outrage. The four of them who had been carrying Linghu Chong sat him back down on the ground and then shouted all together.

“Where is this guy? Take us to him. We’d like a fight with him.”

“What about the Songshan Sword School or the Taishan Sword School? Humph! Peach Valley’s Six Fairies think nothing of them.”

“Is he insane or something? How dare he nip Peach Valley’s Six Fairies dead like nipping puny ants?”

“Well, you call yourselves Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, but he kept on calling you Peach Valley’s Six Trolls, or sometimes Peach Valley’s Six Kids. I’d advise the Six Fairies of you to better stay as far away from him as possible. That guy’s Kung Fu is so vicious. You don’t stand a chance fighting him,” Linghu Chong added.

“No way! No way! Let’s go fight him and see who’s better,” a freak shouted out.

“I think this doesn’t look too good. If that elite master hand from the Songshan Sword School dares to say so, he must have superb skills to back himself up. He had called us Peach Valley’s Six Kids, then he probably is a senior master of ours, and we probably can’t beat him in a fight. The less trouble we have to deal with, the better. Why don’t we go back now?” another freak suggested.

“Sixth brother has the least guts. We haven’t even had the fight yet. How do you know we can’t beat him?” another one exclaimed.

“What if he really can nip us dead like nipping ants? Wouldn’t that be real bad luck? And after we fight him, we’d all be nipped dead already, how could we run away by then?” the coward freak asked.

“That’s right!” Linghu Chong laughed out loud inwardly. “If you want to run away, you need to hurry up. If he gets the news and then comes after you, you won’t have enough time to run away by then.”

Hearing these words, the coward freak immediately started running. Only after a blurry flash, he had already vanished from everyone’s sight.

“Wow, he’s gotten really excellent Qing-Gong skills.” Linghu Chong thought to himself in surprise.

“Sixth brother has no guts. It’s alright that he ran away. We’ll go fight that elite master hand from the Songshan Sword School,” a freak proposed.

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Peach Valley’s Six Fairies are undefeatable! Why would we be afraid of him?” the rest of the freaks all agreed.

“Hurry up and take us over there. Let’s see how he’ll nip us dead like nipping puny ants,” a freak said as he patted on Linghu Chong’s shoulder gently.

“Well, I can take you over, but as a true man, I, Linghu Chong, will never let others force me into doing things. I really resented it when I heard that Songshan Sword School elite master hand ridicule the six of you left and right. Also because I admired the superb Kung Fu of yours very much, that’s why I am volunteering to take you over there from a sense of justice so you can get even with him. If you force me to do this or that simply because you have more bodies here, I’ll never do it even if I have to die!” Linghu Chong announced.

“Great! You have quite some integrity and sharp eyes too to be able to see that the six brothers of us have superb Kung Fu skills. We brothers admire you too!” the five freaks all applauded.

“If so, I’d be glad to take you guys over there. When you see him, you must not speak or act irresponsibly, so people in the Martial World won’t hold you guys for ridicule and say that Peach Valley Six Fairies are naive, childish and lack common sense. You have to all listen to my instructions, otherwise, you will make me lose face greatly and we’ll all look stupid,” Linghu Chong said.

He was just testing water here. Who would have thought that the five freaks immediately agreed with no complaints whatsoever?

“That’s perfect! We can’t ever let others call us, Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, naive, childish and lack common sense!” the five of them answered in unison.

Apparently they have heard those words “naive, childish and lack common sense” many times already, and considered them very embarrassing comments. Linghu Chong’s words were almost like music to their ears.

“Good. Will you please follow me?” Linghu Chong nodded at them and then hurried down the mountain path.

The five freaks followed right behind Linghu Chong carrying Lu Dayou with them. Only after a couple of miles, they found the coward freak popping his head up and down to peek out from behind a big rock. Linghu Chong figured that this one definitely needed some encouragement, so he said to him.

“That Songshan Sword School’s old folk’s Kung Fu is far from yours. You don’t need to be afraid of him. We are going there to kick his ass. Why don’t you come with us?”

“Great! I am going too!” the freak said with great joy. However, he immediately asked again, “Well, you said that his Kung Fu is far from mine. Is his Kung Fu far better than mine or far worse?” He was quite timid, so naturally he was very cautious.

“Of course yours is far better than his. When you were running earlier, I could tell that you have outstanding Qing-Gong skills. That old folk from the Songshan Sword School will never be able to keep up with you,” Linghu Chong said with a grin.

That freak was very pleased and decided to join the group, walking next to Linghu Chong, but he still wasn’t too sure about it, and asked, “What if he did catch up with me? What then?”

“I’ll always be by your side, and if he ever dares to catch up with you, humph! Humph!” Linghu Chong pulled his sword half a foot out of the sheath and then snapped it back in with a forceful push. “I’ll whack him with a single thrust!” he said.

“Wonderful! Wonderful! Hey, you have to keep your words!” the freak said with great joy!

“Of course! If he can’t keep up with you, then I don’t need to kill him,” Linghu Chong promised.

“Sure! If he can’t keep up with me, then we’ll let him go.” The freak smiled happily.

Linghu Chong laughed hard inwardly. He thought to himself, “Once you start running, I am sure it wouldn’t be an easy task to keep up with you!” He then figured, “These six old folks are unsophisticated and honest. They aren’t bad guys. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to make acquaintances with them.” So he spoke again.

“Six Fairies, your names have long resounded in my ears! Today I finally get to meet all of you. And sure enough, you all live up to your reputation. I was wondering what are the respectful names of the six of you?”

The six freaks had no idea that what Linghu Chong just said was totally illogical, and as soon as they heard him saying that their names had long resounded in his ears, all were wild with joy.

“I am the big brother. My name is Peachtree Root Fairy,” one said.

“I am the second. My name is Peachtree Trunk Fairy,” another one said.

“I am either the third or the fourth. My name is Peachtree Branch Fairy,” a third one said. He pointed at a fourth one and said, “He is either the third or the fourth. His name is Peachtree Leaf Fairy.”

“How come you don’t even know if you are the third or the fourth yourselves?” Linghu Chong asked in surprise.

“It’s not that we don’t know. It’s because my mom and dad forgot about it,” Branch Fairy explained.

“When your mom and dad gave birth to you, if they forgot that they had ever given birth to you, as a little kid, how would you know if there’s a you in the world?” Leaf Fairy interrupted.

“Right! Right! Luckily my parents remembered that they gave birth to me.” Linghu Chong nodded while working hard to hold his laugh.

“Here you go!” Leaf Fairy said.

“So how did your parents forget about it?” Linghu Chong asked.

“At the time when Mom and Dad gave birth to us, the two brothers, they remembered who was the elder one and who was the younger one, however, they forgot about it a few years later. That’s why we don’t really know who is the third and who is the fourth,” Leaf Fairy said. He pointed at Branch Fairy and said, “He really wanted to be the third, and if I don’t call him third brother, he would start a fist fight with me. So I had to let him have it.”

“So you are two brothers.” Linghu Chong smiled.

“Yeah! We are six brothers!” Branch Fairy said.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Well, parents are dumb parents, no wonder they gave birth to six dumb sons.”

“What are you two’s names?” Linghu Chong asked the rest two.

“Let me tell him. I am the sixth. My name is Peachtree Fruit Fairy. My fifth brother is named Peachtree Flower Fairy,” the coward freak announced.

Linghu Chong was unable to stifle a laugh, thinking, “The Peachtree Flower Fairy has such an ugly face. He really has nothing even comparable to a peach tree flower.”

Seeing Linghu Chong’s smiling face, Flower Fairy said happily, “Among the six brothers, my name is the most beautiful one. Theirs are no match for mine!”

“Peachtree Flower Fairy is such a pleasant name, and Peachtree Root, Peachtree Trunk, Peachtree Branch, Peachtree Leaf, and Peachtree Fruit are all beautiful names too. Wonderful! Wonderful! If I could have a name so beautiful and pleasant, I’d be delighted beyond words.”

Every one of the six Fairies felt unspeakable happiness and couldn’t help but dance with joy, feeling that Linghu Chong was truly the number one nice guy in the world.

“Let’s keep going now. Will one of the Peachtree brothers please open my apprentice brother’s point? Your point-sealing techniques are way too advanced for me. There’s no way I’ll be able to open his point all by myself,” Linghu Chong said with a smile.

Each getting a flattery, Peach Valley Six Fairies immediately vied with each other in rushing by Lu Dayou to open his sealed points.

From the “Cliff of Contemplation” to the “House of Integrity” of the Huashan Sword School, it was somewhere between three or four miles. Other than Lu Dayou, everybody had good Qing-Gong skills and it took them almost no time to arrive at the outside of “House of Integrity.” As soon as they got there, Linghu Chong saw Lao Denuo, Liang Fa, Shi Daizi, Yue Lingshan, Lin Pingzhi, and the bunch of dozens of apprentice brothers and sisters all standing outside of the hall way looking quite worried. Seeing that the big apprentice brother had arrived, everyone felt a bit relieved.

Lao Denuo greeted them and whispered to Linghu Chong, “Big apprentice brother, Master and Master-Wife are greeting guests inside.”

Linghu Chong turned his head back and signaled Peach Valley Six Fairies to not make any sound while they stand there waiting.

“Those six are my friends. You don’t have to worry about them. Let me go have a look,” he whispered to Lao Denuo and then peeked inside from the crack of the hall windows.

Normally when Yue Buqun and Madam Yue greet guests, apprentices would never have peeked in from the outside, however, since the Huashan Sword School was in great trouble right now, all the apprentices didn’t think what Linghu Chong did was anything inappropriate at all.

__________

[1] Emei in Chinese genuinely means beautiful women. Emei sting here has nothing to do with Emei Sect mentioned earlier in the novel. It’s used because the weapon is specifically used by women.

[2] Just want to clarify that the character Feng here is a different one from the Feng in Feng Qingyang’s name.

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