A Deadly Secret

Chapter 2: Prison
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Chapter 2: Prison

The sounds of weapons clashing were heard continuously. Ting! Ting Ting! With a series of white flashes, swords were sent flying in all directions. One sword flew right amongst the crowd of servants. The numerous maids were in shock, some fell on the seat opposite the host, while others held onto the handle against the crossbeam. In an instant, the swords of Bu Yuan, Wu Kan, Feng Tan, and Shen Cheng were all taken away by Di Yun’s “Releasing Sword Stance.”

Wan Zhenshan laughed and applauded. “Good! Good! Brother Qi, looks like you have completed the Liancheng Swordplay! Congratulations!” There was a subtle hint of bitterness in his voice.

Qi Zhangfa was stunned. “What Liancheng Swordplay?” he asked.

“If Nephew Di’s technique was not Liancheng Swordplay, then what was it? Kun’er, Qi’er, Gui’er, come back. Your Brother Di has learned Uncle Qi’s Liancheng Swordplay, how can you be any match for him?” He turned to Qi Zhangfa and sneered: “Martial brother, you’re sure good at feigning ignorance. ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ is truly remarkable.”

Di Yun had executed the “Piercing Shoulder Stance”, “Slap-in-the-face Stance”, and the “Releasing Sword Stance” in succession and managed to defeat all eight of his opponents. He was pleasantly surprised to find that he could win so easily and was actually perplexed. He looked at his teacher, martial sister, and martial uncle, unsure of what to say.

Qi Zhangfa approached Di Yun, then suddenly grabbed the long sword from his hand and pointed it at his neck. “Those sword stances… who taught it to you?” he interrogated.

Di Yun was taken aback. Usually he would not dare to hide anything from his teacher, but the old beggar stated very clearly that if Di Yun were to reveal anything about their encounter, the beggar’s life would be put in jeopardy. Furthermore, Di Yun had made an oath to not reveal anything about, so he could only say: “Tea… teacher… disciple… disciple figured it out on his own.”

Qi Zhangfa shouted: “You came up with such brilliant stances on your own? You… you dare speak such nonsense to me! If you don’t reveal the truth, I will kill you right now.” He moved his wrist forward and the blade of the sword cut Di Yun’s throat slightly.

Qi Fang rushed forward and held tightly onto her father’s arms. “Father! Martial brother was with us the whole time, how could anyone teach him martial arts? Weren’t those sword stances taught by you?”

Wan Zhenshan sneered. “Brother Qi, why do you insist on playing innocent? Your daughter has already spoken of the matter quite clearly. You need not demonstrate the acting abilities of ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ in front of your martial brother. Come now! Brother will toast you three cups of wine!” As he said that he filled up two cups of wine, downed one cup and said: “Big brother will drink first as respect! You should show me some face.”

Qi Zhangfa snorted, dropped his sword on the ground and fetched the wine cup. He downed three cups in a row and felt slightly dizzy. He was still a bit confused and remarked, “Strange! Strange!”

Wan Zhenshan said: “Brother Qi, there is something I want to discuss with you privately, please come to the study room with me.” Qi Zhangfa nodded in agreement. Wan Zhenshan put his hands on his shoulder and together they went to the study room.

Wan Zhenshan’s eight disciples looked at each other speechless, some faces turned blue while some whispered curses.

Shen Cheng said, “I’m going to the washroom! The stances that brat Di Yun pulled really scared me.”

Lu Kun’s face sunk in disgust and shouted, “Eighth Brother, have you not embarrassed yourself enough?”

Shen Cheng stuck his tongue out and left in a hurry. He went out from the dining room door and headed to the washroom but on the way he stopped by the living room to eavesdrop. He heard the sound of his teacher’s voice. “Brother Qi, for twenty years the mystery remained unsolved, but today there is finally a solution.”

He heard Qi Zhangfa reply: “Little brother does not understand what you mean by this.”

“Why do you make me say any more? Do you remember how our teacher died?”

“Teacher lost one of his martial arts manuals and could not recover it. He died under great depression. You already know this, why ask?”

“Correct. And what is the name this martial arts manual?”

“How would I know? Why ask me?”

“I heard teacher say it was called ‘Liancheng Manual.’”

“What completed or not completed?[1] I don’t understand one bit.”

“He who knows is not as he who desires, he who desires is not as what…”

“Not as he who knows not!”

“Hehe... haha, haha!”

“What is so funny?”

“You are actually well-versed in literature, yet you pretend to be ignorant. We martial brothers have been training together for over a dozen years, who doesn’t know whose background? If you don’t know the words ‘Liancheng Manual’, how could you recite the analects of Confucius or Mencius?[2]”

“You are testing me, aren’t you?”

“Hand it over!”

“Hand what over?”

“You already know, why feign ignorance?”

“I, Qi Zhangfa, have never been afraid of you.”

Shen Cheng heard his teacher and martial uncle bicker louder and louder and he became afraid. He quickly ran back into the living room, went to Lu Kun and whispered: “Elder Brother, teacher and Uncle Qi are bickering loudly, I fear a battle may ensue!”

Lu Kun stood up straight and said, “Then let’s go!” Zhou Qi, Wan Gui, Sun Jun and the others hurriedly followed.

Qi Fang pulled on Di Yun’s sleeves and said, “Let’s go too!”

Di Yun nodded and ran two steps when Qi Fang grabbed a long sword. Di Yun turned around and saw Qi Fang holding two long swords and asked, “Two swords?”

“Father did not carry a weapon!” she answered.

The eight disciples of the Wan clan had faces full of worry as they stood outside the study room. Di Yun and Qi Fang stood farther behind them. The ten of them tried to regulate their breathing while quietly eavesdropping the bickering inside the room.

“Brother Qi, our teacher’s death… it was because of you.” It was the voice of Wan Zhenshan.

“Nonsense! Complete nonsense! Brother Wan, you accuse me so clearly. Then tell me, how did I cause our teacher’s death?” Under extreme anger, Qi Zhangfa was very loud and his voice was hoarse.

“Teacher’s martial arts manual is called ‘A Deadly Secret’, were you not the one who stole it?”

“How do I know of any deadly person, or deadly ghost? Brother Wan, if you want to frame me with the surname Qi, it won’t be so easy.”

“The sword stances that your disciple executed, are they not from the Liancheng Swordplay? How could his techniques be so clever and fluent?”

“My disciple has always been intelligent, he must have come up with it himself—even I don’t know it. How could it be any Liancheng Swordplay? You told your disciple Bu Yuan to invite me over, saying that you have completed this Liancheng Swordplay, did you not? We can ask Bu Yuan to confirm this!”

Everyone outside the room looked at Bu Yuan, whose face turned deathly pale. Clearly Qi Zhangfa was speaking the truth; Di Yun and Qi Fang exchanged glances and nodded, thinking: “I heard Bu Yuan say this as well, there is no denying it.”

Wan Zhenshan laughed loudly and replied: “Of course I said this. Otherwise, how could I get you to come over? Qi Zhangfa, I ask you now: you claim you have never heard of the Liancheng Swordplay. If so, why did your expression change so drastically when Bu Yuan said I had completed this swordplay? How can you still deny it?”

“Aha! You with the surname Wan swindled me to come to Jingzhou?”

“Correct. Hand over the sword manual, then kowtow to our master’s grave to admit your misdeeds.”

“Why should I hand it over to you?”

“Hmph! I am your elder martial brother!”

The room fell quiet for a while, then Qi Zhangfa’s voice was heard: “Alright, I’ll give it to you.”

Everyone outside the room became startled when they heard these words. Di Yun and Qi Fang only wished there was a hole they could crawl into to bury their shame. Lu Kun and the other Wan disciples looked at Di Yun and Qi Fang with great resentment. Qi Fang was angry too and also felt a sense of extreme humiliation, she would have never believed that her father did such a disgraceful deed.

Suddenly, a loud and enduring scream was heard from inside the room. It was Wan Zhenshan. Wan Gui shouted, “Father!” and quickly kicked open the door and burst into the room. He saw that Wan Zhenshan lying on the floor, his chest stabbed by a very sharp and dazzling dagger, his entire body was covered in blood. The window was wide open and Qi Zhangfa was nowhere to be seen.

Wan Gui cried mournfully. “Father! Father!” He held Wan Zhenshan tightly.

Qi Fang also cried, “Father! Father!” She was trembling in fear and held Di Yun’s hand tightly.

Lu Kun shouted, “Quick, chase after the assailant!” Then with Zhou Qi, Sun Jun, and the others he quickly rushed out the window and shouted, “Capture the assailant! Capture the assailant!”

Di Yun watched as the eight disciples of the Wan clan chased after his teacher. At this moment he was truly scared out of his mind, unsure of what to do. Qi Fang shouted again, “Father!” Her body was still trembling and she could not keep her balance. Di Yun quickly held onto Qi Fang so she wouldn’t fall. He lowered his head and saw both of Wan Zhenshan’s eyes were shut tight; his expression was ferocious and disgusting and must have suffered a great amount of pain before his death.

Di Yun could look no more, and said softly: “Martial sister, shall we go?”

Qi Fang had not replied yet when a voice was heard behind them, saying: “You two are accomplices of the assailant! You cannot go!”

Di Yun and Qi Fang turned around to look and saw a long sword aimed at Qi Fang’s chest, it was Bu Yuan. Di Yun was enraged, but when he thought about it, he realized that it was his teacher who murdered his martial uncle, what more could he say? He only lowered his head and remained silent.

Bu Yuan said coldly, “The two of you return to your respective rooms, once we catch Qi Zhangfa, you will all be sent to the officials.”

“This whole ordeal was caused by me and me alone, it does not concern my martial sister. If you want to kill someone, then kill me,” said Di Yun.

Bu Yuan pushed Di Yun hard on the back and shouted, “Go! This is not the time for you to play hero.”

Di Yun could only hear the shouts of “Capture the assailant!” from outside. His mind was boggled and really did not know what to do at this point. He could only obey and head back to his room.

“Martial brother, what… what do we do?” cried Qi Fang.

Di Yun sobbed. “I… I don’t know. I will confess to the crime along with master,” he suggested.

“Father… where could he be?”

Di Yun remained in his room. It had been over four hours have passed since the murder of Wan Zhenshan, yet he was still sitting on his chair motionless over the events that had occurred. He stared blankly at the half-burnt candle on the table.

At this point the ones who chased after Qi Zhangfa returned. He heard voices outside talking. “The assailant has already left the city, we couldn’t catch him!”

“Tomorrow we will head to Hunan, no matter what we must catch him to avenge our teacher!”

“I only fear that the assailant may perish in the realmn, we may not be able to find him even if we try.”

“Hmph, even if we have to chase him to the edge of the earth and the corner of the ocean, we will still catch him and shred his corpse into ten thousand pieces!”

“Tomorrow we will spread notices across the realm to invite the righteous men in the martial world to uphold justice. Together we will kill this ignoble criminal!”

“Right! Let us first kill the daughter of the assailant and that brat with the surname Di as a sacrifice to our teacher.”

“No, let’s wait until tomorrow when the county magistrate comes to examine the corpse before we decide.”

The Wan disciples kept discussing their plans outside. Di Yun wanted to call her martial sister and escape together, but thought: “She is still a young girl, roaming in the realmn, who can take good care of her? Should I run away with her? No… no! This disaster was caused by me, if I did not try to play hero and fight with the Wan disciples, then Uncle Wan would not be suspicious of my master completing whatever Liancheng Swordplay. But my teacher is an honest person, why would he steal the sword manual? The three stances were taught to me by the old beggar, but now my teacher has already committed a crime. Even if I reveal the truth now, nobody would believe me. Even if they do believe me, what difference does it make now? I have committed a huge crime and it is all my fault. Tomorrow I must reveal the truth to everyone in defense of my teacher. But… but Uncle Qi was indeed killed by my teacher, how could this criminal record be erased? No, I can’t escape now, I will remain here and take the blame for my teacher’s actions. I will let them kill me instead!”

As he continued pondering the situation, faint footsteps were heard from the rooftop. Di Yun looked up and saw was a dark shadow heading from west to east. He jumped onto the rooftop and yelled out quietly, “Teacher!” but upon closer inspection, the shadow was tall and skinny, nothing like the build of his teacher. Following behind this shadow was yet another mysterious figure who had a blade in his hand.

He thought to himself: “Are they looking for my teacher? Maybe teacher is nearby and hasn’t gone far yet.” He was thinking when suddenly from the east a loud feminine scream was heard. Di Yun was startled. He grabbed his sword and got up. The first thought that came to his mind was: “Are they hurting my martial sister?” Following that, another yell from a girl was heard, screaming: “Help me!”

However this voice did not sound like Qi Fang’s, so he felt a bit relieved knowing that his martial sister was not in danger. He got out from the window and from inside the room he again heard a girl screaming, “Help! Help!”

He quickly rushed over to the scene. From the east side of the house saw a bright light coming out from the window. He went near the window and saw a girl tied up on a bed. Two people were molesting her face while another was about to undress her. Di Yun did not recognize who the girl was, but saw that she was very scared and was trying to struggle herself free from the bed, crying loudly for help.

Although he was in quite a predicament himself, upon seeing such injustice he could not simply walk away. At once he jumped in through the window and with his sword he aimed at the chest of the man on the left. The man on the right threw a chair at Di Yun, while the one on the left drew his blade to slash him. Di Yun saw that both men’s faces were covered by a black cloth, so all he could see were their eyes. He shouted: “You bold scoundrels! Leave your lives here!” Three stabbing sounds were heard.

The two men did not reply and instead each drew their blade. One said, “Brother Lu, pull back!”

The other said: “That Wan Zhenshan is lucky today, we will get him next time!” Both blades were held up aiming to strike Di Yun’s head. Di Yun saw the strikes approaching and quickly dodged. One of the men kicked the table up to the air, it flipped over and the candle died. Now the room was completely dark, only the sounds of breathing could be heard. The two mysterious figures jumped out through the window. Some weapon sounds were heard and several tiles were thrown. In the darkness Di Yun could not see clearly. He knew that his lightness martial arts was not proficient so he did not pursue.

“One of them had the surname Lu, likely an accomplice of Lu Tong that probably came to seek vengeance. They don’t realize that Uncle Wan is already dead,” he thought.

Suddenly, the girl on the bed shouted: “Ow! That hurts! I was stabbed in the chest by a small blade! Quickly pull it out for me.”

Di Yun was shocked. “The thief stabbed you?” he asked.

“Stabbed! Stabbed!” she cried.

“Let me light a candle so I can see clearly.”

“Come over here, quickly!”

Di Yun heard her voice was quite frantic and panicky so he walked closer and asked, “What is it?”

Suddenly, the woman opened her arms and hugged him around the waist, then shouted loudly: “Help! Help!”

Di Yun was in even more shock now: he clearly saw that she was confined by ropes, now how could she release herself? He quickly stuck out his hand and wanted to release her grip, but the woman had a very strong grip on him, and he could not instantly pull himself away from her.

Suddenly, a bright light was seen from the window. Two torches were lit and one could see the paintings inside the room. Several people spoke at once: “What’s going on? What’s going on?”

The girl shouted: “A rapist! A rapist! He wants to rob me and rape me! Help!”

Di Yun urgently shouted: “You... you... how could you do this?” He stuck his hand out to push her body away. The girl originally had hugged him hard around the waist, but now used her full force to repel him, shouting: “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!”

Di Yun instantly retreated, when suddenly he felt a cold sensation at the back of his neck: a long sword was already aimed at him. He wanted to explain himself, but with a flash of light from the blade he suddenly felt excruciating pain in his right palm. He screamed loudly as his own long sword fell on the ground. He looked down and was so scared at what he saw that he almost fainted: the five fingers of his right hand were cleanly sliced off, fresh blood splattered everywhere like spring water. In utter confusion he squinted and saw faintly that it was Wu Kan who held the bloody sword, standing on the side.

All he could utter was, “You!” and kicked Wu Kan hard with his right leg. Suddenly, he was hit hard on his back by a fist, causing him to stagger in great pain. Now his whole body fell on top of the girl. The girl shouted again: “Help! Rapist!”

He heard Lu Kun’s voice. “Capture him!”

Di Yun had actually never seen any other youngster not from the countryside, and only at this moment did he realize that he fell into a devious trap by a bunch of schemers. He quickly got up, turned his body over and wanted to attack Lu Kun, when suddenly he saw a pale face looking at him—it was Qi Fang.

Di Yun was speechless, and from Qi Fang’s face he could make out that she was in great sadness, disbelief, and anger. He shouted, “Martial sister!”

Suddenly, Qi Fang’s face turned bright red, she said: “Why... why did you do this?”

Di Yun felt his entire body overwhelmed with feelings of injustice. How could he explain himself now?

Qi Fang began to cry and said, “I... I should just die.” She saw that Di Yun’s right hand had all five fingers chopped off, so she felt great sympathy and pain for him. She clenched her teeth, tore off a piece of clothing from her garment and bandaged his wound. At this point her face turned snow white again. Di Yun was in so much pain that several times he almost passed out, but he forced himself to be conscious. He bit his lips so hard that they started to bleed. He could not utter a single word.

Lu Kun said: “Little martial mother, this bastard dared to show you such disrespect, let us kill him to help you relieve your anger.”

This woman was actually was one of Wan Zhenshan’s concubines. She covered her face with both hands and started crying. “He... he... he said many dubious and inappropriate things to me. He said that your teacher has passed away and told me to follow him. He said that Lady Qi’s father was the murderer, and that will implicate him in the crime as well. He... he said that he has already collected a lot of gold and jewellery and asked me to live a new life with him. He said he would take care of me for the rest of my life...”

Di Yun’s mind was overwhelmed with a million thoughts at once. “This is all lies... lies...” he mumbled.

“Go! Search that bastard’s room!” Zhou Qi exclaimed.

Everyone carried Di Yun over to his room, with Qi Fang following closely behind. Wan Gui said: “Everyone do not be so disrespectful to Brother Di, the situation has not been cleared up yet, do not falsely accuse him of injustice!”

Zhou Qi angrily replied: “What is there that still isn’t clear? This brat is a villain!”

“I think that he is not such a person.”

“Did you not hear just now? Did you not witness what just happened?”

“I think he only had a few too many cups of wine, and is under drug influence,” Wan Gui retorted.

After all these events, Qi Fang had long lost any opinion of the situation. Upon hearing that Wan Gui was helping to prove Di Yun’s innocence, she felt grateful deep inside, and lowly said to herself: “Brother Wan, my martial brother... is indeed not that kind of person.”

“Correct, I say he is only drunk, he would certainly not commit thievery,” he said.

During the conversation, the others have already carried Di Yun into his room. Shen Cheng began inspecting his room very carefully. He lowered himself and reached for a heavy bundle under the bed. The bundle rattled like gold clashing against each other. Di Yun felt a cold shiver and was confused as he saw Shen Cheng open the bundle. Inside it was packed full of gold and silver plates, flagons and wine cups. It was most certainly items from the Wan Family’s wine banquet.

Qi Fang was shocked, she put out her hands and leaned against the table to support herself.

Wan Gui said some comforting words: “Sister Qi, do not panic, we will think of a solution.”

Feng Tan removed the bedding and revealed yet another two hidden bundles. Shen Cheng and Feng Tan each opened one of the bundles: one was filled with silver ingots while the other was filled with jewellery and a bunch of gold rings. At this point, Qi Fang could no longer contain herself as she watched. Under extreme anger and depression, she felt like she wanted to kill herself. Since they were young, she and Di Yun have grown up together, and she had long treated him as her future husband. Never would she have guessed that her lover, in desperate times, would rather retreat and live in isolation with another woman. Was this wicked witch of a woman really so attractive? Or perhaps he was afraid he would be associated with her father’s crimes and decided to run off on his own?

Lu Kun shouted loudly: “Little thief, your loot is all here, what excuses do you have now? He gave Di Yun two hard slaps, one on each cheek. Di Yun had both his arms held and locked tight by Sun Jun and Wu Kan so he had no way of retaliating. Both his cheeks immediately became swollen, and Lu Kun continued to punch Di Yun hard on his chest.

Qi Fang shouted: “Don’t hit him! Don’t hit him! Let us talk things over.”

Zhou Qi said: “Kill this thief first, then we will report to the authorities!” As he said this, he hit Di Yun hard with a fist. Under great pain, Di Yun opened his mouth and spat out a mouthful of fresh blood.

Feng Tan drew his sword and said: “Let us severe his left hand and see if he ever dares to commit such misdeeds ever again!” Sun Jun acknowledged this and lifted up Di Yun’s arm; Feng Tan was about to strike when Qi Fang shouted: “Ah!” urgently.

Wan Gui said: “Everyone, listen. Out of respect for me, let’s just take him to the authorities and be done with it.” Upon seeing Feng Tan slowly withdraw his sword, two streams of tears began to flow down Qi Fang’s cheeks. She gave a glance at Wan Gui, her eyes full of gratitude.

*****

“5, 10, 15, 20...”

The guard was counting the number of strokes from the beating stick given to Di Yun hard on the back of his legs. Di Yun was held back by two guards while he was being beaten; the bamboo board was getting lower and lower as he was being hit. Compared to the inner pain he felt in his heart, the external pain from being hit was nothing—even the pain on his right palm was considerably painless.

He thought to himself: “Even Fang’mei thinks I’m a thief... even she thinks I’m a thief.”

“25... 30... 35... 40...” Now the board fell on the ground. Di Yun’s skin was bruised and cracked, fresh blood dripped on the board. Then he passed out.

When Di Yun woke up, he found himself in one of the prison rooms. He felt dizzy and exhausted still so he did not know where he was, nor did he know how much time has passed since the incident. Gradually, he felt the intense pain in his right palm where his five fingers were sliced, as well as the pain on his back, legs, and hip from the beating earlier. He wanted to turn his body over so the painless parts would be on the ground, when suddenly, he felt indescribably excruciating pain on both his shoulders, and he fainted again.

He woke up again several times. The first sound he heard was the sound of his hoarse moaning, followed by intense pain coming from all parts of his body. But why was his shoulder in so much pain, more than anything else? Why was the pain so excruciatingly unbearable? He could only feel indescribable fear. After a long time, he still did not dare to lower his head to look at himself.

He thought: “Perhaps both my shoulders were pierced by someone?” Suddenly, he heard the sound of iron chains softly clashing. As he looked down, he could see that two iron chains tied both his shoulders. Under his fright, when he looked down to see, he was so afraid that it caused his whole body to shake.

After a while, the pain on his shoulders became even worse. Then he realized that the two iron chains actually pierced through his scapula. Along with the iron chains on his hands and the ones that tied his ankles, all these chains were locked together. Piercing the scapula, as he once heard his master say, was one of the worst possible punishments given by the prefecture to only the most unrighteous and evil of men. No matter how high your martial arts are, once your scapula is pierced, you cannot even unleash a fraction of your strength. At that instant, countless number of thoughts came to Di Yun at once: “Why treat me this way? Do they really think I am a huge criminal? I am innocent, how can the magistrate not see through this?”

At the court of the magistrate, he once fully explained the entire incident, but the concubine of Wan Zhenshan, Tao Hong, insisted that he was the one who committed the misdeeds and nobody else. Furthermore, the eight disciples of Wan Zhenshan amongst others also attested to her claims. Indeed, they did see him hug Tao Hong, then they discovered the hidden loot from underneath the bed, and even more from beneath the bedding. Not even to mention the guards in the prefecture, in Jingzhou the name of the Wan family held great status and prestige, which foolish thief would have any ideas of looting them?

Di Yun remembered that the magistrate had a handsome face full of sincerity. He believed that the magistrate was only convinced by these words for the moment, and caused the suffering of an innocent man. Eventually, the case will come to a resolution. But nevertheless, the five fingers on his right hand had been chopped off completely, how could he ever wield a sword again?

He felt his heart overwhelm with anger and his stomach fill with sadness. Without regards to the pain, he stood up and declared: “I’m innocent! I’m innocent!” Suddenly, his leg became limp and he fell on the ground. He tried to get back up and stand straight, but fell over once again. He lied on the ground and continued to shout: “I’m innocent! I’m innocent!”

Suddenly a cold voice could be heard speaking: “Having your scapula pierced, your entire martial arts inert, haha… haha! The price to pay indeed wasn’t small.”

Di Yun did not care who spoke, nor did he care what that person’s intention was, he only continued to shout: “I’m innocent! I’m innocent!”

A gaoler walked by his cell and scolded: “What are you yelling for? You better shut up!”

Di Yun shouted: “I’m innocent! I’m innocent! I want to see the magistrate, he will correct this injustice.”

The gaoler shouted: “Are you going to shut up or not?”

Di Yun yelled even louder.

The gaoler laughed coldly and turned around to fetch for a wooden bucket, then he turned his head and threw the wooden bucket at Di Yun. Di Yun sensed an extreme foul smell and could not dodge, his whole body instantly became wet—it was a bucket of urine. The urine spread over his body and caused excruciating pain to his already agonizing wounds. His vision turned dark and he fainted again.

Subconsciously he had a high fever, sometimes he shouted “Teacher! Teacher!” while other times he shouted: “Martial sister! Martial sister!” Over a period of three days, the gaoler brought him coarse rice daily, but he felt quite unconscious and could not help himself to even a single bite.

On the fourth day, the fever in his body slowly began to disperse. As well, the numerous wounds in his body became numb and no longer caused as much suffering as it once did. He recalled that he was declaring his innocence, so opened his mouth widely again and shouted: “I’m innocent!” But at this time his voice was soft and incredibly weak; he barely had enough energy to utter any words.

He sat for a while and his eyes darted around the prison cell which he had previously disregarded. The prison was about a ten-foot squared stone house. The walls were made with tiles of rough and large stones and the floor was also made with large stones. In the corner was the wooden bucket from before, he could still smell the unpleasant scent emitted from it.

He turned his head, and saw that in the middle of the four corners of the room, there was a pair of very fierce eyes staring at him. He trembled as he did not expect that in the room would be another person besides himself. He saw that this man had a face full of facial hair, his hair was long and messy and hung down from his head to his neck. The man’s clothes were so ripped it was as if it belonged to a savage beast in the wilderness. The man’s hands were shackled by fetters just as he was, as well as the iron chain which also pierced through the man’s scapulas.

The first emotion that came to Di Yun was that of joy, and he gave a faint a smile, thinking: “There is actually someone in this world equally as unfortunate as myself.” But then he switched thoughts: “This man looks quite ferocious, he is most likely a cold-blooded and ruthless villain who committed arson and murder. He got what he deserved, but I’m innocent!” His thoughts were interrupted as tears began to drip from his eyes.

Throughout all the pain and suffering he received since going to prison, he had always remained strong and would not shed even a single tear. But at this point he could hold back no longer, for his tears streamed uncontrollably down his face. He decided to let it out and cried loudly.

The bearded man sneered: “Very nice performance, well done! Are you an actor?”

Di Yun ignored the man and continued to cry loudly. He heard the sound of footsteps and thought that the gaoler was carrying another bucket of urine. Even if Di Yun’s character was more stubborn, he would not want to clash with the gaoler, so he slowly retracted his tears and cried softly. The gaoler looked at him and suddenly said: “Little thief, you have a visitor.”

Di Yun felt both shocked and excited at once, he quickly said: “Who... who is it?” The gaoler did not reply and instead produced a large chain of keys from his garment and opened the entrance iron door. He heard footsteps approaching, the gaoler walked through a long corridor and another sound of a door opening was heard, followed by the sound of a door closing and the sound of the rail as the footsteps of three people were heard approaching.

Di Yun was overjoyed and stood up instantly. His legs felt numb again and he was about to fall over but he found support from the stone walls. As soon as he moved he felt immense pain from the chains piercing his scapula, but held no regard for it amidst his excitement. He shouted: “Teacher! Martial sister!” In the entire world, only his master and martial sister were close to him. Naturally, he thought the sound of the footsteps of the other two people must be his master and martial sister.

As the three figures approached, he shouted “Tea…” but could not utter the “cher” as he opened his mouth and could not swallow. Three figures entered through the door. The first was the gaoler, the second was a handsome young man dressed in a gorgeous attire—Wan Gui, and the third was Qi Fang.

Qi Fang shouted: “Martial brother! Martial brother!” She threw her hands against the iron fence of the cell.

Di Yun walked one step forward and saw that she was dressed in new attire, different from the attire they had brought from the countryside. He did not walk another step, but he saw that her eyes were red. She cried: “Martial brother, martial brother, you... you...”

Di Yun questioned: “Where is teacher? Did... did you find his honour?” Qi Fang shook her head, her tears rustled to the floor in the process. Di Yun continued: “Are... are you well? Where are you living?”

Qi Fang choked while she spoke. “I have nowhere to go. I am temporarily living in the Wan residence...”

Di Yun was alarmed. “That is a harmful place, you definitely cannot stay there! Quick... quickly move out.”

Qi Fang lowered her head and said softly: “I... I have no money. These past few days... every day at the prefecture, Wan Gui spent money... to rescue you.”

Di Yun grew even more frustrated and yelled: “I did not commit any crimes, why would I need him to spend money for me? How will we repay them in the future? Once the magistrate has fully examined the case over and realized my innocence, he will set me free.”

Qi Fang began to cry again. She said bitterly: “Why... why did you do such things? Why... why did you leave me?”

Di Yun became startled, but now he realized what was going on. At this point, his martial sister believed the words of the concubine Tao Hong. She believed that he was the one who stole the gold and jewellery. In his entire life he gave Qi Fang his utmost respect and love and would always submit to her, telling her everything that she wanted to know, discussing anything that she wanted. Little did he realize that when tragedy befell, she was no different from any other person. They all believed that he wanted to rape the girl and steal the money. They all believed that he would actually commit such atrocious acts.

At this moment, the emotional pain he felt caused over a hundred times more suffering and hurt than his physical wounds. He wanted to speak: he had a million things he wanted to explain to Qi Fang, but his throat suddenly became plugged, and he could not even utter a single word. He used all his strength and his ears flushed red, but his throat and tongue would not move and he could not emit any noise.

Qi Fang saw the terrifying expression on his face and became afraid. She turned her head and would not look at him. Di Yun used all his strength but still he could not utter a single word. When he suddenly saw that Qi Fang had turned her head not facing him, he could not help but feel great emotional suffering. He thought: “She hates me now… hates me for leaving her for another woman… hates me for stealing gold and jewellery… hates me for wanting to run off on my own upon trouble... martial sister, martial sister, if you don’t believe me, then why come and see me?” He no longer dared to look at Qi Fang, and slowly turned his body, facing the wall.

Qi Fang turned her head and said: “Martial brother, what happened in the past cannot be changed. We can only hope we can soon... soon receive notice of father’s whereabouts. Brother Wan will… will come up with a way to get you out of here...”

Di Yun thought: “I don’t need his help.” He also wanted to say: “Don’t live with him!” But the more he used his strength, the more his muscles tightened up, and he could not speak. His body stopped shaking, and the iron chains made clashing sounds.

The gaoler rushed and said: “Time’s up. This is a prison for those under death row, designed to punish the greatest of criminals. You guys aren’t supposed to be here to begin with. If the uppers find out about this, we will be in deep trouble. Miss, this man does not have any chance to get out of here, and he’s also handicapped now. You should forget about him and marry a wealthy and handsome gentleman!” As he said this he glanced over at Wan Gui, and gave a dirty snicker.

Qi Fang begged: “Sir, I have some things I wish to speak with my martial brother.” She extended her hands to the iron fence and pulled on Di Yun’s sleeves. She spoke softly: “Martial brother, don’t worry, I will most certainly beseech Brother Wan to rescue you, and then we will look for my father together.” She placed a bamboo basket inside the cell and said: “There’s some bacon, fish, and fried eggs there, as well as two taels of silver. Don’t worry martial brother, I will visit you again tomorrow...”

The gaoler became annoyed and said: “Lady, if you don’t leave now, I won’t be nice anymore!”

Wan Gui added: “Brother Di, don’t worry. Your problems are my problems. Younger brother will try his best to request the magistrate to set your punishment as low as possible.”

The gaoler continued to rush the two of them. Qi Fang could do nothing but take her leave slowly. With each step she turned her head to look back at Di Yun, but saw that his body was as still as a stone, his head still facing the stone wall opposite of her. All Di Yun saw was the various bumps on the stone wall. He really wanted to turn his head and see Qi Fang’s figure from behind, as well as shout, “Martial sister!”, but he could not speak out. Even his neck was straight and stiff. He heard the footsteps of three people walking away, the sounds slowly getting fainter. He heard the door unlock and open, followed by the sound of the door closing. Then he heard the footsteps of the gaoler returning, and thought to himself: “She said she would come and see me again tomorrow. Alas, I will have to wait a full day before I can see her again.”

He extended his hands to reach for the food left behind, when suddenly another long and hairy hand extended over and grabbed the bamboo basket—it was the ferocious criminal from earlier. Di Yun could only watch as the man started eating the bacon in the basket.

Di Yun shouted loudly: “That’s mine!” Suddenly he could speak, and thought it was very awkward. He walked forward a step to try and take the basket back, but the prisoner shoved him back with his hands and Di Yun could not keep his balance, moved back a few steps and with a loud bang, he hit his head hard on the stone wall. At that point he understood the true meaning of the phrase “Pierced scapula, useless person.”

The second day Qi Fang did not come to visit him. Nor the third day, nor the fourth day.

Day after day, Di Yun anxiously awaited and ended each day in disappointment. By the tenth day, he was nearly driven insane by frustration. He shouted and screamed, banged his head on the wall, but Qi Fang still did not come. All that came out of his howling was a bucket of urine from the gaoler and a harsh beating from the ferocious prisoner.

Half a month passed, and he finally became a bit more settled. In fact, he did not even speak anymore. One night, four gaolers suddenly entered the prison, each wielding a sabre, and brought the ferocious prisoner out.

Di Yun thought: “Are they taking him out to be executed? That would probably be a relief for him, for he no longer has to suffer in here, nor do I have to suffer his beatings any longer.”

He was in a deep sleep when suddenly he heard the sounds of iron chains scratching against the floor; the four gaolers brought the prisoner back to his cell. Di Yun glanced over at the prisoner and saw that his entire body was covered in blood, evidently given a harsh beating by the gaolers. The prisoner fell on the ground and went unconscious. Di Yun waited for the four gaolers to leave. From the moonlight shining through the prison cell, he could see the prisoner’s face, arm, and legs were all full of bloody bruises as a result of being whipped. Although Di Yun was always beaten by this man, when he saw this man’s current state he could not help but feel a bit of sympathy. He fed him some water from a bowl he had.

The prisoner slowly awoke. When he opened his eyes and saw Di Yun, he immediately lifted his iron chain and smacked Di Yun hard on the head. Di Yun had no energy, but he reacted to the situation quickly and made a clever dodge. However, he did not predict that the prisoner’s arms did not extend fully, and with a “peng” sound he changed directions and hit him hard on the waist. Di Yun could not keep his balance and fell forward to the right. Since his hands and feet were both connected to the chain that pierced his scapula, he felt agonizing pain. He was shocked and angry at the same time, and could not resist yelling: “You’re insane!”

The prisoner laughed: “Your psychological tricks will not work on me. You should have given up on any ideas a long time ago.”

Di Yun felt as if the ribs on his waist were about to crack. He was in so much pain that he could barely speak. He said: “You lunatic, you can barely protect yourself. Why would I have any ideas about deceiving you?”

The prisoner kicked forward with his left leg and hit Di Yun’s spine, then with his right leg kicked him hard several times. “I see that you are only just a young thief and have not committed too many crimes, only that you are under orders from someone else, otherwise I would kick you to death without regret.”

Di Yun grew so furious that he forgot the pain in his body, thinking that he was already unfortunate for being falsely accused for crimes he did not commit; now even worse, he was stuck in the same prison cell with an unreasonable lunatic. It was indeed bad luck upon bad luck.

On the full moon of the second month, the prisoner was once again brought out by four gaolers each wielding sabres. He was beaten once again and returned to his cell. This time, Di Yun conditioned himself and no matter how much pity and sympathy he felt for the man, he dared not approach him. But even then it did not matter, for the prisoner—before even catching his breath and recovering from his injuries—proceeded to beat him, shouting: “You scoundrel, even if you spied for another ten years, I will still not be fooled by you! People beating your ancestors, your ancestors beat your descendants! To think that you were born into this world, your ancestors must have sinned greatly.” Di Yun was tortured by the prisoner. No matter what he felt it was all Di Yun’s fault. Punching and kicking, the prisoner screamed and cursed at Di Yun for more than half a day.

From then on, every time it came near the full moon of the month, Di Yun feared for the worst, for he knew that he would soon inevitably be beaten. Indeed, on the fifteenth of every month, the prisoner was escorted out by four gaolers and tortured, only to briefly return the beating on Di Yun. Thanks to Di Yun’s youthful body and build, although he was severely beaten once a month, he did not collapse. He began to wonder: “My scapula has been pierced by the iron chain, and there is no strength in my body. Yet how come this lunatic who also has his scapula pierced, can muster up so much strength to torture me?” Sometimes Di Yun almost collected enough courage to ask him, but he would always be beaten. As a result, he no longer said a single word to him.

It went on like this for several more months. Winter passed and spring came. Having been imprisoned for over a year, Di Yun began to grow accustomed to prison life; the pain and anger in his heart and body had become numb. For trying to avoid the brawl of the prisoner, he did not dare to even look at him. As long as he did talk to him or look at him, except for the nights of the full moon, the lunatic would not beat him.

Early one morning, before Di Yun was awake, he heard the soft chirpings of swallows outside the prison, which suddenly made him recall the past when he and Qi Fang would used to watch the songbirds fly to their nest. His heart became sour and it went away along with the birds. He could only watch through the window several dozen feet high as a pair of birds flew away together. He had nothing to do day and night and always had thoughts about escaping through the balcony window, trying to figure out who lives there. However, the window was shut tightly, and on top of the window there would always be a basket of fresh flowers. At this time of the day the spring sun shone through the window and on the sill was placed a basin of jasmines.

His mind was boggled with many thoughts when suddenly he heard the lunatic let out a deep sigh. For the past year, the lunatic either gave crazy laughs or scolded people, he had never sighed before. A hint of sadness and gentleness could be heard through his sighing. Di Yun could not resist and turned his head over. All he saw was the lunatic sitting in the corner with the hint of a smile from the corner of his mouth, his eyes focused on the basin of jasmines on top of the window sill. Di Yun felt that the man was not putting forth his true emotions, and hence turned around and dared not to look back at him.

Ever since then, Di Yun would check the expression of the lunatic every day. He saw that the lunatic would always stare gently at the basin of fresh flowers on the window sill—from the jasmine flowers and roses of spring, to the lilacs and impatiens of the summer. For over half a year, the two of them did not speak more than a sum of ten words. The beatings on the days of the full moon also became periodic. Di Yun realized that as long as he did not utter a single word, the lunatic’s temper would be much less severe, and consequently the strength of his punches and kicks were less damaging. He thought: “In another few years, I probably won’t even remember how to speak anymore.”

However, the madness of the lunatic had an advantage too, for it even scared the gaoler from talking in the cell. Sometimes the lunatic would even scold the gaoler, and consequently he would not receive food for the day, so he would instead steal Di Yun’s food. Other times, neither of them would receive food, and the lunatic would stay hungry for days and not care.

One year on the fifteenth day of the eleventh month, after the lunatic was given a harsh beating as usual, he suddenly caught a fever, and in his unconsciousness uttered some nonsensical words. Di Yun could make out that he would often say these few words, either “double flower” or “wounded heart”.

Di Yun did not pay much attention at first, but come afternoon, he heard him constantly shout: “Water, water! Give me water to drink!” Di Yun could not resist and decided to pour some water from his bowl to help the prisoner. He got close to him, but he was completely alert in case the lunatic would strike with both hands. Luckily, this time he drank the water without getting angry, and promptly fell asleep.

Later that night, four gaolers suddenly appeared and beat up the lunatic again. When he returned this time, his groaning was weak and faint. One of the gaolers said sternly: “If he insists on not speaking, we will beat him up again tomorrow.” Another gaoler said: “Since he is unconscious, we should continue to put pressure on him. If he insists on not speaking then he will soon end up in hell. That can’t be good.”

Di Yun had been living with the lunatic for quite some time and had watched him endure the worst of pain and suffering. He really did not wish for him to die at the hands of the gaoler. On the seventeenth, Di Yun fed him water four or five times. In the last time, the lunatic nodded his head to express gratitude. Since entering prison, this was the first time that Di Yun saw the lunatic express any form of good feelings, and at that moment, Di Yun felt warmth in his heart filled with indescribable joy.

That day, after the second watch[3], the four gaolers came as expected and opened the cell door. Di Yun thought that if the lunatic were to be beaten again in such a short interval, he would most likely die. He gathered his courage and jumped in front of the cell door, shouting: “Don’t come in!”

A gaoler with a big build approached him and scolded, “Stupid prisoner, move out of the way!”

Di Yun could not gather any strength in his hands so instead he lowered his head and bit the gaoler hard on the middle and index finger of his right hand. Blood began gushing out of his wounds. The teeth sunk deep into the bones and the fingers nearly cracked. The gaoler was shocked beyond measure, and immediately turned around and jumped out of the cell. He slipped and dropped his sabre on the ground.

Di Yun quickly lowered himself and grabbed the sabre, screamed loudly and hacked three times. Although he did not have much energy in his hands, but with the sabre replacing the sword, the stances were still quite exquisite. A fat gaoler rushed forward with his sabre and Di Yun moved to the side. With a stance of “Mother and Brother Loses Salt, The Long Goose Salts Circular Wings” (it was actually “The Lonely Straight Smoke Desert, The Long River Sunset Falls”), the blade rotated in a circular motion and stabbed the gaoler’s leg. The gaoler was so scared that he rolled out of the way.

When the four gaolers saw that Di Yun was as wild and fierce as a tiger, they were afraid to get too close. Instead they stood outside the cell and started cursing at Di Yun’s eighteen generations of ancestors, uttering every profanity they could think of. Di Yun remained silent and stood guard in front of the cell door. Surprisingly, the four gaolers did not call for reinforcements. After a while, they realized that they could not fight their way in so they cursed and left.

In the four days following the incident, the gaolers did not bring them food or water. By the fifth day, Di Yun was so thirsty that he could not resist anymore. The lunatic’s lips were even more charred. He suddenly said: “If you pretend to kill me, that bítch will bring some water for sure.”

Di Yun did not understand what the lunatic was trying to say, but thought to himself: “I don’t care if this works or not, but I must try!” Then he shouted loudly: “If you don’t give us water now, I will hack this lunatic into pieces.” He turned the sabre and made some loud impact noises against the iron fence.

Suddenly he saw a gaoler rush through frantically and yelled: “If you even dare touch a single hair on his head, I will poke ten thousand holes on your body with my blade!” Following that, the gaoler brought some clean water and cold rice.

Di Yun and the lunatic began to eat. Di Yun asked: “He wants to torture you, but yet he is afraid that I will kill you. What kind of reasoning is that?”

The lunatic opened his eyes, lifted his bowl, smashed it hard against Di Yun’s head and said: “You think that just because you are pretending to get on my good side that I will fall into your trap?” Crack! The bowl shattered to pieces.

Di Yun’s forehead began to drip with fresh blood. He backed off and thought to himself: “This man is going crazy again!”

From then on, on the day of the full moon every month, the gaolers tortured the lunatic as usual, but upon his return, he would no longer unleash his wrath on Di Yun. The two rarely spoke words, but if Di Yun gave more than a few glances at the lunatic, he would be reprimanded with a hard fist. The only time the lunatic showed any signs of kindness or peace was when he looked at the fresh flowers placed outside the high windows of the cell.

By the spring of the fourth year, Di Yun no longer held any hopes of leaving the prison, but in his dreams he still constantly thought of his teacher and his martial sister. Although the image of his teacher gradually blurred over time, the image of his martial sister—her graceful and stalwart body, her rosy red cheeks, and her large black eyes—remained as clear as it was over three years ago.

He no longer dared to have any ideas of leaving prison to reunite with his martial sister. Every day he secretly prayed to Bodhisattva , wishing that even if his martial sister would visit him once, he would be willing to suffer the tortures of the lunatic every single day.

Qi Fang never came.

One day, someone came to visit him. This person was a handsome young man who wore elegant silk clothes. He laughed: “Brother Di, do you still remember me? I am Shen Cheng.” It had been over three years since they last saw each other. He grew a lot taller, to the point where Di Yun could barely recognize him.

Di Yun’s heart began to pound hard, as he knew there was a chance he could get some information from him about his martial sister. “Where is my martial sister?” he asked.

Shen Cheng sent a basket over the iron fence and laughed: “This is from my older sister-in-law, Brother Wan’s wife. Everyone did not forget our old companion. Today is a propitious day, and as such she asked me to deliver two full chickens, four trotters, and sixteen happy cakes for you.”

Di Yun quickly asked: “Who is Wan’s wife? What propitious day?”

Shen Cheng chuckled, his face let out a cunningly deceitful expression. “Brother Wan’s wife is exactly your martial sister, Lady Qi. Today is the propitious day of their obeisance to marriage. She told me to deliver you these cakes and meats, isn’t that quite enough friendship?”

Di Yun jumped up in a flash and clung hard onto the iron fence with both his hands. He shouted: “You... you speak nonsense! My martial sister, how... how would she marry the one with the surname Wan?”

Shen Cheng laughed. “My teacher was stabbed hard by your teacher. Fortunately, he did not die and proceeded to recover from his injuries. What happened in the past, we let bygones be bygones. Your martial sister lived in the Wan residence for the past three years, and with all the dear and sweet talk, who can say... who can say... hehe. Next year they’re guaranteed to expect a gorgeous and healthy baby.” Even though Shen Cheng aged a little, his playful and glib personality did not change one bit.

Di Yun’s ears felt a buzzing sound and he could only hear himself say: “Where is my teacher?”

He also seemed to hear Shen Cheng laugh as he said: “Who knows? He knows that he’s a wanted man, and naturally would run as far away as he can. Would he dare come back?” And seemed to hear Shen Cheng laugh and say: “Sister-in-law told you to continue to stay here in peace. Perhaps after she bears three sons and four daughters, she will come visit you.”

Di Yun suddenly roared: “You speak nonsense, nonsense! You... you... you’re full of shit!” He knocked the basket away. The cake, trotters, and warm chickens fell all over the floor.

Then he saw that in each and every happy cake marked the eight words: “Wan and Qi’s Marriage, Love for All Seasons.”

Di Yun did not want to believe Shen Cheng’s words, but now how could he not believe it? He drowsily heard Shen Cheng laugh: “Sister-in-law said that it’s unfortunate you could not attend to the wedding to drink a cup of wine...”

With both hands Di Yun clung hard against the iron fence. In an instant he extended his hands beyond the fence and held a firm grasp on Shen Cheng, strangling him. Shen Cheng was startled and wanted to escape, but Di Yun suddenly summoned such formidable strength that he was strangling him even harder. Shen Cheng’s face turned from red to purple, and with both his he tried to free himself, but he could not escape.

The gaoler quickly rushed to the scene, held Shen Cheng’s body with both arms and pulled hard. Only after he used all of his energy did he manage to save Shen Cheng’s life. Di Yun sat down on the ground without speaking or moving. The gaoler pranced in the cell and gleefully picked up the bits and pieces of cake and chicken on the ground. Di Yun stared at him but did not care.

That night on the third watch, he ripped off some pieces of his garment and made it into a rope. He tied a knot on it and using the support of the iron fence he climbed up, sticking his head in the noose. He no longer felt sad, nor did he feel hatred, for in his life there was no longer any love, and this would be the quickest and easiest way to end his misery once and for all. He let go and the noose on his neck began to feel tighter and tighter, until he could no longer breathe. After a while, he lost consciousness.

Later he regained consciousness, and felt a big hand exerting immense pressure on his chest. He saw the hands pushing up and down exerting force, and he felt some air entering through his nose. He did not know how much time passed, but eventually his eyes slowly opened. He saw in front of him a face full of facial hair; the face suddenly cracked into a smile.

Di Yun could not help but regain his anger. He thought to himself: “No matter what I do, you are always against me. Even now that I want to die, you aren’t willing to let me die in peace.” He had the intent to get up and fight with the lunatic, but he felt much too weak, and he could not exert any force.

The lunatic laughed: “You stopped breathing for over an hour. If I had not used my special martial arts technique, under heaven there is no second person who can save you.”

Di Yun shouted in a fit of rage: “Who wants to be saved? I don’t want to live.”

The lunatic was elated and said: “I do not want you to die, hence you will not die.” The lunatic laughed as he looked at Di Yun. After a while, he moved closer to him, and spoke in a low voice: “My technique comes from the Heavenly Glow Manual, have you ever heard of it?”

Di Yun replied in anger: “I only know that you are a heavenly psychopath. What heavenly glow or not heavenly glow, I have never heard of.”

Now that Di Yun thought about it, he felt it was quite strange, for this time the lunatic did not express any emotions of anger, and instead gently hummed a ditty. He extended his hands and pressured Di Yun’s chest, a push and a release—just like a bellow—and helped circulate the air to his lungs. He said in a low voice: “You are very fortunate to be alive. I have practiced the arts of the Heavenly Glow for a dozen years, and it wasn’t until two months ago did I complete it. If you had sought death two months ago, I could not have saved you.”

Di Yun began to feel depressed again as the thought of Qi Fang marrying Wan Gui entered his mind. He wished that he could have just died then and there. He gave a cold stare at the lunatic and said: “I don’t know how much I sinned in my previous life, that this life I would have to meet a psychopath like you.”

The lunatic laughed and replied: “I am very happy, venerable brother. These past three years I have mistaken your intentions. I, Ding Dian, formally apologize to you!” As he said this he knelt on the floor and gave three loud kowtows.

Di Yun sighed and said softly, “Lunatic!” and did not care for him anymore. But he slowly turned his body and thought: “He calls himself Ding Dian, perhaps his surname is Ding, with a given name Dian. I have been imprisoned with him for three years, but I don’t even know his name.” He became curious and asked: “What is your name?”

The lunatic replied: “My surname is Ding, the illiterate Ding. My name is Dian, the Dian from the three graves and five codes. My suspicions were too great. All this time I thought you had bad intentions, and for the last three years I really gave you much pain and suffering. I have wronged you in too many ways.”

Di Yun thought that what the man said was reasonable and did not have the least bit of insanity. He asked: “Are you really crazy or not?”

Ding Dian dejected and did not reply. After a moment, he gave a long sigh and said: “Whether I am crazy or not, that is hard to say for sure. I only wish for inner peace. What other people see, I hope they will not believe I am crazy to the point of unaccountability.” After a while, he gave some more comforting words: “Brother Di, your heart is filled with sufferings of injustice; I had already figured as much. If she doesn’t treat you with love or respect, why bring upon yourself so much pain to think of her? A gentleman does not suffer from the lack of a wife. In the future you will marry a woman that exceeds the greatness of your martial sister ten times over. What is there to feel bad about?”

Upon hearing these words, Di Yun wished to unleash all his sorrow and misery of the last three years like the pouring of mountain torrents and avalanches all at once. He felt his chest turn sour, and tears began to pour down his face. Later, he cried as hard as he could on Ding Dian’s arms. Ding Dian hugged him and gently caressed his long hair.

After three days, Di Yun’s emotions began to stabilize and he felt a bit vibrant. Ding Dian secretly talked and laughed with him, discussing the interesting stories of the realm to cure his boredom. But when it came time for the gaoler to deliver food, Ding Dian would shout and curse at Di Yun, his attitude no different from what it was before.

The person who once gave Di Yun endless pain and agony now suddenly became his good friend. If not for the incident of Qi Fang getting married being as unbearable as a poisonous centipede biting his heart out, what he felt right now must be heaven compared to his experiences in the past three years.

Di Yun once questioned Ding Dian, asking him why the latter used to think he harboured bad intentions, and why he suddenly revealed the truth. Ding Dian answered: “If you really harboured bad intentions, you would not hang yourself. I waited for your breathing to stop for a long while—a clear death, your body was about to become stiff—before I rescued you. Under heaven no one besides myself knows that I have completed my training in the formidable art of the Heavenly Glow. If not for this technique, there would be no other way to save you. Your suicide was real and most certainly not a plan to deceive me into trusting you.”

Di Yun asked: “You thought I was deceiving you? Why?”

Ding Dian only smiled and did not reply.

The second time Di Yun asked the same question, Ding Dian still did not answer. Di Yun no longer asked.

One night, Ding Dian whispered something to his ears: “My Heavenly Glow technique has the strongest internal energy foundation of any martial arts under heaven. Today, I will teach it to you. You must remember carefully.”

Di Yun shook his head and replied: “I won’t learn it.”

Ding Dian asked curiously: “In such circumstances, why won’t you learn it?”

Di Yun replied: “The days we spend here are not much better than death. The two of us have no chance of seeing life outside this prison. Even if my martial arts were higher it would not make a difference.”

Ding Dian laughed. “You want to escape prison? How hard is that? I will teach you the basic mnemonics, remember them carefully.”

Di Yun remained stubborn, for his suicidal tendencies had not completely vanished, so he insisted on not learning the technique. Ding Dian persuaded him with great persistence but it was in vain. He almost wished he could beat him into submission just like before.

Many days passed and the moon was full once again. Di Yun secretly felt worried for Ding Dian. Ding Dian could guess his emotions and said: “Brother Di, every month I suffer beatings from the gaolers. In the past, after my beatings, I would always unleash my anger out on you. You and I must not show any signs of friendship, or this will be bad for the both of us.”

“Why?” asked Di Yun.

Ding Dian replied: “If they suspect that we have become friends, they will torture you instead to get information out of me. If I beat you and curse at you, it will prevent you from being tortured by methods many times more cruel.”

Di Yun nodded in reply. “You are right. This information is so important, you mustn’t let me know about it for the fear that my tongue will slip and reveal it. Brother Ding, I am a rustic from the countryside, if I speak any nonsense and foil your plans, how can I ever forgive myself?”

Ding Dian replied: “You and I were imprisoned together for a long time. At first I thought you were sent by them as a spy, faking good intentions to deceive me in hopes of getting me to leak out information. And so I treated you with utmost disrespect and hatred, giving you the most painful of tortures. Now I realize that you are not a spy, but since they have imprisoned us together for the past three or four years without release, their intent is to expect you to be a spy, in hopes that you will get on my good side. If I reveal any information to you, they will torture you instead. They know that I will not speak no matter what, but against a young man like you, it will be much easier. You are a criminal under the magistrate, sent to the prefecture to be imprisoned, and naturally they could use this excuse to torture you.”

On the evening of the fifteenth, four gaolers brought Ding Dian out of his cell. Di Yun felt troubled and awaited his return. When Ding Dian returned on the fourth watch, his eyes were blue and his nose was swollen, his body covered in fresh blood as usual.

Ding Dian waited for the four gaolers to leave before speaking in a low solemn tone. “Brother Di, the events of today were terrible and most unfortunate. One of my enemies recognized me.”

“What?” asked Di Yun.

Ding Dian replied: “Every month on the fifteenth, the magistrate will issue a beating on me. But today someone came to assassinate the magistrate. When I saw that the magistrate’s life was in jeopardy, I could not help but save him. But because my body was confined by handcuffs and shackles, among the four assassins I only killed three. The fourth escaped, and that will most certainly cause trouble.”

Di Yun felt more and more strange, and asked continuously: “Why does the magistrate insist on beating you? Since the magistrate is so brutal, if someone has come to assassinate him, why would you save his life? Who was the assassin that escaped?”

Ding Dian shook his head and sighed: “I cannot tell you so many things at once, Brother Di. Your martial arts are frugal and you have no strength. In the future no matter happens, you should not offer your assistance.”

Di Yun did not reply, but thought to himself: “Does he think I with the surname Di is a coward? If you take me as a friend, under desperate circumstances, how can I not assist you?”

Thereafter, Ding Dian remained in silent contemplation. Except for the times where he would look up and stare at the flowers blooming outside the high window—where his face would show the slightest sign of a smile—all other times he would remain dull in thought.

On the late night of the nineteenth, Di Yun felt uncomfortably hot in his sleep. Suddenly, he heard two strange sounds. He opened his eyes and under the moonlight shone two stalwart men using a sharp weapon to destroy the iron fence outside the cell. Each of them wielded a sabre embraced close to his body. Di Yun was shocked, unsure of what to do, but he saw Ding Dian stood firm with a cold laugh.

The shorter man said: “The one with the surname Ding, our brothers have travelled from the edge of the sky to the corner of the ocean, searching for your whereabouts. Little did we know that you were hiding in an obscure prison in Jingzhou, like a tortoise shrinking its head into its shell. Thank heavens, we finally found you.”

The other man said: “Let’s get straight to the point. If you hand over the book, we brothers will not cause you any trouble. In fact, we will break you out of prison immediately.”

Ding Dian replied: “I do not have it. It was taken by Yan Daping 13 years ago.”

Upon hearing the three words “Yan Daping”, Di Yun’s heart spiked. He thought: “That is my second martial uncle, how is he involved in this?”

The short man shouted: “You think that just because you hid yourself in prison means you can get away from us? Go to hell!” He stroke forward with his sabre, the tip pointing at Ding Dian’s throat. Without dodging nor running, Ding Dian allowed the tip of the blade to get within a few inches of his throat, then at the last second, he ducked his body, which caused the shorter man to strike at the left side of the taller man. His elbow hit the taller man right in the stomach. The latter did not even let out a cry, and collapsed to the ground.

The short man aimed his sabre back at Ding Dian, giving two strikes in his direction. Ding Dian raised both his arms and blocked the blade with the iron chain. At the same time, his legs were moving frantically in all directions, and stepped on the body of the short man. The man spat out a huge volume of fresh blood and died immediately.

Upon seeing that Ding Dian killed both men empty-handed in a split second, Di Yun could not help but feel astonished. Even though he no longer possessed any martial arts, what he witnessed just now, he realized that even if his abilities were renewed, and with long sword in hand, he would not necessarily defeat the short man. And before the other man even joins in the fray, he would have died already. Their martial arts did not reveal any flaws in many stances, thinking that if the two men fought together, they would be quite formidable. Ding Dian also had his scapula pierced by the iron chain, yet he was still able to kill two formidable opponents in the matter of a few gestures. Di Yun admired him with utmost respect.

Ding Dian threw the two bodies out of the cell and began to sleep leaning on the wall. The iron fence had already been broken, so if the two of them wanted to escape, now would be a great opportunity. But Ding Dian did not even say a word, and Di Yun also did not think that the world outside was any better than prison life.

The next morning, the gaoler saw two dead bodies outside the cell and shrieked in shock and terror. Ding Dian stared at the opposite direction while Di Yun turned a deaf ear. The gaoler carried the corpses outside without even asking what happened the previous night.

Another two days passed, and Di Yun was awakened again by some strange noises. Feeling a bit hazy, he only saw that Ding Dian had extended both palms forward, matching them against a Taoist priest. The two stood there motionless. Di Yun had no clue that a Taoist had entered, nor did he know that the two of them were currently in an intense internal energy struggle. He once heard his teacher say that among the various forms of competing martial arts, competing internal energy is the most dangerous, for they would be exposed to any outside threat, and often the struggle would end in the life or death of one side. There was no easy way of stopping midway.

Under the starlight of the night, he saw the Taoist slowly moved forward one step, while Ding Dian slowly retreated one step backwards. After a while, the Taoist took yet another step forward, and Ding Dian moved another step backwards.

Di Yun saw that the Taoist was forcing his way through, slowly gaining the advantage. He was anxious and suddenly went towards the Taoist and slammed the latter’s head hard with his iron chains. The iron chain hit the Taoist right on the top of his head, but from somewhere the Taoist managed to unleash some strength and with brute force caused Di Yun to lose his balance and fall straight down. Di Yun banged his head hard against the wall and fell flat on his ***. He extended his hands to support himself back up, but in the darkness he accidentally hit a bowl. With a crack, the bowl was smashed and water spilt all over his hands. He took the broken bowl and threw the half bowl of water on the back of the Taoist’s head.

In truth, Ding Dian’s internal energy was much superior to that of the Taoist’s and he only wanted to test the depths of his newly mastered technique. Not knowing exactly how powerful the technique was, Ding Dian wanted to experiment with it and so he used the Taoist as his test subject. The Taoist had already begun to feel a bit weak in his veins and felt a little burned out. Now after being splashed by the half bowl of water, he was taken aback, and felt his opponent’s internal rush through his entire body. Kakakaka!Several exploding sounds were heard as his ribs, forearm, and leg bones were broken in half. He stared at Ding Dian and said: “You... you have mastered the skills of the Heavenly Glow... under heaven... under heaven... this is unmatched...” He slowly cuddled into a ball and died.

Di Yun felt his heart pounding frantically and said: “Brother Dian, your skills from the Heavenly Glow Manual is actually... is actually so powerful. Is it truly unmatched under heaven?”

Ding Dian gave a dignified expression and replied: “In a one-on-one battle, it is enough to rule the realm, but if the enemies attack all at once, it may not be enough to defeat them all. After the Taoist was crushed by my internal energy, he was still able to open his mouth and speak, which clearly shows that my martial arts have not yet reached the peak of perfection. Within three days, there will most certainly be truly formidable opponents visiting us. Brother Di, will you offer your assistance to me?”

Di Yun thrived in exhilaration. “I will do whatever big brother says, but I... I have lost my martial arts completely. Even if I still have some strength left, I am much too weak to be of any use.”

Ding Dian gave a faint smile and from the haystack picked up a blade that was left by the two assassins from the other day. “Cut off my beard and we will deceive them.”

Di Yun took the blade and cut off Ding Dian’s beard. The blade was quite sharp and even sliced a bit of skin off. Ding Dian collected the bits and pieces of his beard and held it firmly on the palms of his hands.

Di Yun laughed and said: “Won’t you miss the beard that you have so faithfully kept intact over the years?”

Ding Dian replied: “That is not the case. I want you to disguise yourself as me.”

Di Yun questioned: “Disguise as you?”

Ding Dian said: “That is correct. Within three days, our enemies will arrive. The five of them are not my match in a one-on-one battle, but if all five of them attack at once, they will prove to be quite impressive. I want them to mistake you for me, so when they focus all their energy on attacking you, I will unexpectedly ambush them.”

Di Yun whispered: “That... that... I’m afraid... is not very honourable.”

Ding Dian laughed heartily. “Honour, honour! In the realm everyone is full of trickery and deceit. Everyone will ambush and lame you in every way possible. If you treat others with honour, wouldn’t that just be seeking your own death?”

Di Yun replied: “Although this is true, but... but...”

Ding Dian said: “I ask you this: When you first entered prison, you cried loudly of injustice. I trust that you are indeed innocent, yet why have you been imprisoned here for over three years, without a way to prove your innocence?”

Di Yun said: “Mm, I have never understood the reason.”

Ding Dian laughed: “Whoever was the one who set you up, is also the one who is preventing you from leaving this place.”

Di Yun said: “That I never understood. I don’t even know Wan Zhenshan’s concubine Tao Hong, so naturally I have no misunderstandings or conflicts with her, so why did she frame me and cause me to lose everything that I had. Why did she cause me so much grief?”

Ding Dian asked: “How did they set you up? Tell me about it.”

Di Yun continued shaving Ding Dian’s beard as he told the story of how he went to Jingzhou to celebrate Wan Zhenshan’s birthday, how he defeated the unrighteous Lu Tong, how he got in a fight with the eight disciples of the Wan clan, how his teacher stabbed his martial uncle and ran away, how someone harassed Wan Zhenshan’s concubine, and how he tried to save her—he told him everything. The only part he omitted was the part where the old beggar taught him swordplay, because he swore an oath never to tell anyone about it. Besides, he did not consider this omission to affect his story at all, as it was mostly irrelevant.

From start to finish he told the entire story, and Ding Dian’s beard was just about completely shaved off. Di Yun sighed a few times and said: “Brother Ding, the pain that I have to suffer every day, what good was it for? They insisted that my teacher killed Uncle Wan, yet Uncle Wan only suffered minor injuries and did not die. They imprisoned me for so many years and should have released me by now. To say they have forgotten about me is incorrect, for did the one with the surname Shen not come to visit me?”

Ding Dian moved his head to the side, looked at Di Yun in one direction and then another, and sneered.

Di Yun was puzzled and asked: “Brother Ding, did I say something wrong?”

Ding Dian sneered: “Right… right, everything is right. What is there that isn’t right? If that wasn’t how it was, then it wouldn’t be right.”

Di Yun became curious. “What do you mean?”

Ding Dian said: “Well, think about it. There was dumb kid who brought along a beautiful girl to my house. When I saw the girl I became infatuated, but the girl treats the dumb kid quite nicely. I want to claim the girl, and as such I must get rid of the dumb kid. What can I do?”

Di Yun secretly felt a hidden meaning of mischievousness in his tone and casually asked: “What way is there?”

Ding Dian replied: “If I use poison or a sword to kill the dumb kid, I will have set myself up as a criminal, and that will only cause me trouble. Furthermore, the beautiful girl is most likely a well-spirited girl, and does not have a death wish. In fact, she may even seek to avenge the kid, wouldn’t that be a problem? If you ask me, I would send the dumb kid to the officials and have them lock him up, then the beautiful girl will follow me faithfully while hating the kid. How do we do this? First, we make it look like the kid has another love interest. Second, we make the kid appear to no longer like the beautiful girl. Third, we expose the kid doing some unrighteous deeds, and the girl will most certainly be filled with hatred.”

Di Yun’s entire body shook violently. “You... everything you said, it was all the one with the surname Wan... it was all Wan Gui’s idea?”

Ding Dian smiled. “I did not see it with my own eyes, so how would I know? Your martial sister is quite pretty, is she not?”

Di Yun’s mind was at a loss, and he only nodded his head.

Ding Dian continued: “Ah, for the sake of getting on the lady’s good side, I naturally have to look busy, spending lots of silver to send to the prefecture, in hopes of coming up with a plan to set the kid free. The best case would be to have the lady come along with me to send the silver, so the lady can see everything for herself, she will naturally feel grateful. The silver sent to the official, the magistrate, and the prefect was not put to waste.”

Di Yun said: “Since he sent so much silver, wouldn’t it have some effect?”

Ding Dian said: “Naturally. Money talks, how can it not have an effect?”

Di Yun said: “Then why... why did they imprison me all this time and not release me?”

Ding Dian laughed. “What crime did you commit? The crimes they framed you for were only attempted rape and thievery. It wasn’t even arson or murder, so how severe can the crime be? They did not have to pierce your scapula, nor did they have to sentence you to life in prison. This was in fact the true intent behind sending so much silver. Excellent, this plan is flawless. Now the lady will live in my household, and even though the lady still thinks much of the dumb kid, can she really wait year after year and never get married?”

Di Yun lifted the sabre, and with a loud bang he smashed it on the floor. “Brother Ding, so the real reason they never set me free was because of Wan Gui’s silver.”

Ding Dian did not reply and looked up in deep thought. Suddenly, he creased his eyebrows and said: “There’s something wrong. This plan has a serious flaw in it, this is definitely wrong.”

Di Yun replied in anger: “What is wrong? My martial sister did end up marrying him, and if not for you, I would have committed suicide already. Is this not following the course of his plans?”

Ding Dian walked around the cell, constantly shaking his head, and said: “However there is still one glaring flaw. They were so careful in their planning, how could they not see this?”

Di Yun replied: “What is the flaw?”

Ding Dian replied: “Your teacher. After your teacher wounded your martial uncle, he fled. The name of ‘Five Cloud Hand’ Wan Zhenshan is known throughout Jingzhou, so the news should have spread in a matter of days that he did not die and was only wounded. Even if your teacher no longer has any face to see his martial brother, would he not send someone to escort your martial sister back home? Once your martial sister returns home wouldn’t that foil the careful and meticulous plans of Wan Gui?”

Di Yun clapped his hands hard on his legs and said: “Right! Right!” His hands were still in shackles, when he clapped his leg, the sounds of the iron chains vibrated in the air. He saw that Ding Dian’s expression was rough, seemingly lost in his own thoughts, and then let out an expression of admiration.

Ding Dian turned his head and said softly: “Why did your teacher not retrieve his own daughter? There must be a very good reason for it. Wan Gui and the others should have already expected this, else they would not execute this plan. I have yet to figure out the trick behind this.”

It was not until today that Di Yun finally realized the truth of his imprisonment over the years. He repeatedly slapped himself on the head, cursing himself for being so foolish. It only took Ding Dian a few moments to figure it out, yet over three years he did not even have the slightest clue.

After scolding himself for a while longer, he saw that Ding Dian was still in deep thought. “Brother Ding, you don’t have to think about it so much. My teacher is an honest man from the countryside. Most likely he was afraid after wounding Uncle Wan, so he ran off in a very far and desolate place, hence he did not receive any messages from the realm. That must be it.”

Ding Dian opened his eyes widely, stared at Di Yun, his face full of curiosity, then asked: “What? Your... your teacher is an honest man from the countryside... if he killed someone would he be so afraid that he would run away?”

Di Yun replied: “Correct, but my master’s virtue and honesty was in vain, for Uncle Wan falsely accused him of stealing some sword manual from my grand-teacher. In a fit of rage, he could not resist attacking him, but really he is a good man.”

Ding Dian laughed coldly and sat at the corner of the cell, humming a small tune. Di Yun asked: “Why are you laughing?”

Ding Dian replied: “Nothing.”

Di Yun said: “There must be a reason. Brother Ding, please tell me.”

Ding Dian said: “Very well! What is your teacher’s nickname?”

Di Yun replied: “He is called ‘Iron Lock Across the River.’”

Ding Dian asked: “And what is the meaning of it?”

Di Yun hesitated for a moment before replying. “I do not know the meaning behind this title. I assume that it refers to his profound martial arts and strong defense; the meaning is that his opponents cannot easily get through his defense.”

Ding Dian laughed heartily. “Little brother, you are virtuous and honest, but ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ actually means that if one wants to go up one cannot go up, and if one wants to go down one cannot go down. Who among the older generation of pugilists would not know the meaning of his nickname? Your teacher is smart and variable, impressive to the max. Whoever makes him angry, he will think of nothing but revenge. His opponents are akin to a ship entangled in the heart of a river, splashing around in all directions, unable to move up or down. If you don’t believe me, when you leave this prison in the future, you can research this yourself.”

Di Yun naturally did not believe him. He said: “When my teacher taught me swordplay, he was mistaken in his explanations. What ‘The Lonely Bird Rises from the Ocean, the Pond Does not Dare to Care’ he explained as ‘Brother Weng Shouts Up, Dare not Cross the Horizontal; what ‘The Sunset Reflects the Banner, The Horse Cries Soughing Winds’ he explained as ‘The Falling Mud Welcomes Big Sister, The Horse Blows a Little Wind.’ He is not even literate, how could he make such intelligent changes?”

Ding Dian sighed a few times and said: “Your teacher is quite knowledgeable, how would he explain the mnemonics incorrectly? He is marked by profound shrewdness, so there must be a reason behind the explanations. Why would he lie to his very own disciple? Outsiders will not know. Hehe, if not for your profound virtue and honesty, he may not have taken you in as his disciple. Let us talk about this no further. Come, let me stick this beard onto you.”

He lifted his blade and chopped off one of the arms of the dead Taoist. The Taoist had not been dead for long, so the cut caused blood to gush out everywhere. Ding Dian smudged the beard with blood and stuck it on to Di Yun’s cheeks and jaw.

Di Yun could smell the sanguinary aroma of blood and a cold shiver went down his spine. But upon thinking of Wan Gui’s evil plans, his teacher’s nickname, and many other things that he did not understand, he realized that the safest place in the entire world was in fact this very prison.

The following afternoon, 17 inmates entered the prison all at once. They were all tall, thin and not very old. Each one of them seemed to be a figure from the realm and the prison became fully packed. Di Yun saw more and more people arrive and became very cautious, for he knew that these people were here for Ding Dian. Ding Dian had originally said that five of his rivals would show up, but now 17 had shown up.

Ding Dian stared at the walls of the cell the entire time, not paying the slightest attention to what was going on around him.

The prisoners were quite noisy and shouted a lot, laughed loudly, and sometimes cursed at each other. Di Yun ducked his head and tried to listen to what they were saying. It turns out that these 17 people were from three different clans, talking about some valuable treasures. Di Yun gave a sideways glance to one of them, only to have them return expressions of contempt, so he became scared and quickly turned his head back. He thought: “I am disguised as Brother Ding, but I have lost my martial arts completely, if I engage battle, what should I do? No matter how strong Brother Ding is, he won’t manage to kill all of these people.”

Upon seeing that the sky was getting dark, one burly prisoner spoke loudly: “Let’s make it clear first, the ones in charge here will be the ones from the Dongting Sect. If anyone is not willing to submit, you should look at the insignia, and not waste any time causing trouble.”

There were a grand total of nine people from the Dongting Sect, hence they were the overwhelming majority. One grey-haired middle-aged man spoke in a cynical voice: “To see the insignia under your hands is fine, but since all of us our here, why not take this fight outside until we come to an understanding?”

The man replied: “We will fight in the courtyard then, do you think I’m afraid?” He extended his hands, grabbed onto the iron fence and pushed to the left. The iron fence was instantly bent out of shape. Following that, he pushed on the right with his other hand, causing that fence to twist as well. His arm strength was astonishing.

The man was about to escape through the opening of the two bent fences he just made, when suddenly in front of him he saw a dazzling figure blocking the gap—it was Ding Dian. He did not speak and grabbed the man by the chest. The man was taller than Ding Dian by half a head, but upon being grabbed, he instantly became weak and could not dodge. Ding Dian threw his enormous body out the iron fence of the cell and dragged him to the courtyard. The man huddled on the ground and no longer made a move. He was dead.

The other people in the prison saw the odd shape of the man and became really afraid. Ding Dian casually grabbed another person and threw him out of the fence. He followed through and grabbed yet another and threw him out the fence. He did this continuously for a grand total of seven people; whoever was grabbed by him was killed instantly without so much as making a sound.

The ten remaining in the cell were scared shitless. Among them, three were so afraid that they hid themselves in the corner of the cell. The remaining seven decided to team up on Ding Dian at once, throwing many punches and kicks to his direction. Ding Dian did not fight back nor did he dodge. All he did was extend his hands to grab—he would always be successful in grabbing someone—and whoever he grabbed would be killed instantly. Whether or not they felt pain before death, Di Yun did not know. In an instant, all seven of them were dead.

The remaining three men still hiding in the corner were so afraid that they thought were going to get a heart attack. All at once, they dropped on their knees and begged for mercy. Ding Dian did not even look at their plea and simply threw each one of them out, one at a time, and they all died. Di Yun was left speechless and his eyes glared in extreme shock. He thought he was flurried in a dream.

Ding Dian slapped his hands together and sneered: “These people who don’t even qualify dared to attempt to steal ‘A Deadly Secret’!”

Di Yun did not know what he was talking about. “Brother Ding, what ‘A Deadly Secret’?”

Ding Dian seemed to feel as if he had regretted what he just said, but he did not want to make up lies to deceive him. He only laughed coldly several times but did not answer.

Di Yun saw that just a moment ago those 17 men were as alive as any man could be, and now it was but a few moments later, and they were all dead corpses scattered all over the floor. In his whole life he had never seen so many dead people grouped together at once. He let out a deep sigh. “Brother Ding, did all these people here deserve to die?”

Ding Dian replied: “To say they all deserved to die may be an overstatement, but they all harboured evil intentions. Had I not completed the elite skills of the Heavenly Glow and if they all attacked me at once, that could have caused a whole lot of trouble.”

Di Yun knew that what Ding Dian spoke was the truth. “You only casually grabbed each one of them and that was already enough to kill. Such magnitude of power I have never heard of. If I told my martial sister about it, she wouldn’t believe it…” As soon as he said this, he stopped talking and wanted to take back his words. He felt his heart turn sour, as if his chest was hit hard by a fist.

Ding Dian did not laugh at him, but only sighed several times, and spoke randomly to himself. “Actually, although I have completed such exceptional martial arts, not everything always goes according to plan…”

Di Yun suddenly heard a sound and he pointed his fingers at one of the dead corpses in the hall.

Ding Dian asked: “What?”

Di Yun replied: “That person is not dead yet, I saw his legs move.”

Ding Dian was taken aback by his words, and only said, “For real?” As he said these two words, his voice began to tremble.

Di Yun said: “Just now I saw him move several times.” Then he thought to himself: “Although that person is not dead yet, he suffered major injuries, what’s the big deal? He can’t fight anymore anyway.”

Ding Dian creased his eyebrows, as if he was just faced with a very difficult problem. He walked out through the gap in the iron fence and observed outside. Chi! Chi! Two very miniscule hidden projectiles were rapidly fired, aiming for his eyes. It was fired by the man who was still alive. Ding Dian quickly moved backwards. The two sleeve arrows nearly skimmed his face; his nose could smell an unusual aroma, it was most likely the case that the arrows were poisonous. After firing the sleeve arrows, the person stood up and escaped to the roof of the building.

Ding Dian saw that the man’s lightness techniques were formidable. Since he was confined by iron chains, he was not mobile enough to chase after him. Afraid that the man would get away, he quickly grabbed one of the corpses on the ground, pointed it in an upwards direction, and threw it in rapid haste. With a loud bang, the head of the corpse smashed hard onto the waist of the escapee. The man’s left leg had just landed on the roof of the building, but upon being hit by the corpse, he lost his balance and fell over. Ding Dian rushed forward several steps and grabbed the man by the neck and brought him back to the prison. He extended his hands to check for any breathing through his nose and realized that this time the man had really died.

Ding Dian sat on the ground with both hands supporting each other and began to ponder. “How come I did not manage to kill that man earlier? What is the flaw in my martial arts? Perhaps I have not fully mastered the techniques of the Heavenly Glow?” For over half a day he pondered the reason behind his failure. Under frustration, he reached his hands out for the wound in the chest of the man he just killed. Suddenly, he withdrew his finger in a tenacious and soft manner. Ding Dian felt surprised and remarked: “Yes! Yes!” He tore apart the man’s clothes and exposed that the man was wearing a shiny black protective vest. Ding Dian exclaimed: “Yes, so that’s the reason. That nearly scared me to death.”

Di Yun asked for clarification. Ding Dian sliced up the man’s clothing and peeled off the black protective vest, then dragged the corpse out of the prison. He laughed and replied: “Brother Di, put this vest on you.”

Di Yun realized that the black vest was most likely something valuable, so he said: “This is older brother’s valuable, younger brother will not be greedy for it.”

Ding Dian replied: “If it is yours, will you not crave it?”

Di Yun could sense some severity in his tone and was afraid that he would be mad if he refused. “If big brother insists, then I will wear it.”

Ding Dian spoke with a straight face. “I ask you, if it is not yours, do you want it?”

Di Yun said: “Only if the owner insists on giving it to me, otherwise I will not take it, else… else… if it doesn’t belong to me, naturally I won’t take it. If I crave so much other people’s belongings, will that not make me a thief or robber?” Di Yun said this with a proud expression, and continued: “Brother Ding, you must understand, I was framed by others, hence I was held captive in here. My whole life I am free of guilt, I have never done anything unjust.”

Ding Dian nodded his head in agreement. “Very good! Very good! My friendship with you was not made in vain. Now put this vest on you.”

Di Yun could not express any more negativism, so he took off his upper garment and wore the black vest over his body. On top of that he continued to wear the putrid outer garment that he had not washed in over three years. Both his hands were shackled by iron chains and locks, so changing clothes proved to be quite difficult. It was only with the help of Ding Dian tearing apart the sleeves of his old clothes did he manage to wear the vest. Now the black vest actually had two parts, front and back, and it had room for arms and buttons, so it was not hard to wear at all.

Ding Dian waited for him to finish putting it on before speaking. “This valuable garment is impenetrable by blades or spears; it was embroidered from dark silkworms on Snowy Mountain. Look, there are two sections to this vest; a blade could not slice this apart. The front section is buckled up together with the back section. This man was an important figure in the Snowy Mountain Sect, else he would not have a ‘dark silkworm vest.’ He came with the intention of stealing our treasures; little did he realize he would be giving up his own treasure!”

Upon hearing that the black vest was indeed so precious, Di Yun quickly replied: “Big Brother, you have so many enemies, you should really be the one to wear this instead. Besides, every month on the fifteenth…”

Ding Dian shook his head in disagreement and replied: “I have the protection of the Heavenly Glow, I do not need the dark silkworm vest. The torture I suffer every month on the fifteenth is what I willingly concede to. If I wear this precious vest it will go against my intentions. It is only a bit of external pain and will not affect me internally, why make a big deal of it?”

Di Yun felt exceedingly perplexed and continued to question. Ding Dian said: “I told you to attach the beard to pretend to be me and I will protect you from the side. I was only afraid of any accidents, but now that you have the vest I am assured. Now I will recite to you the internal mnemonics of the Heavenly Glow, listen carefully.”

Previously, when Ding Dian wanted to teach Di Yun martial arts, the latter insisted on not learning it. But upon understanding the true reason for being framed into captivity, he had a heart that longed for revenge that he could not contain. He only wished he could get out of prison instantly to settle the score with Wan Gui. He saw with his own eyes how easily Ding Dian defeated many impressive martial artists in the martial world with nothing but his bare hands, and thought that if he could even learn two or three tenths of his skills, then escaping prison for revenge would not be an impossibility. All of a sudden he became terribly upset, his blood started to rush and heat up and his face was flushed red.

Ding Dian knew that Di Yun was stubborn and would not learn his internal arts. He was just about to persuade him to when suddenly Di Yun dropped down on both knees and began to cry loudly on the ground. “Brother Ding, please teach me! I must get revenge! I must get revenge!”

Ding Dian gave a long burst of laughter, the echoes vibrating the walls and roof of the building. “You want revenge, how easy is that?”

After Di Yun’s anger passed, Ding Dian immediately began to transfer him the entry mnemonics and methods for practicing the techniques.

Upon learning these things, Di Yun wasted no time and constantly practiced it. Ding Dian saw that he was practicing really hard and laughed. “Upon completing the Heavenly Glow, you will be unmatched under heaven. Do you really think it is so easy to complete? I had a variety of coincidences, my internal energy foundation was high, and yet it still took me 12 years to complete. Brother Di, it is good to practice hard, but it is more important that you do not overwork yourself and produce counterintuitive results. You must have a sense of calmness, without feelings of distractions. Remember my words clearly.”

Although Di Yun still referred to Ding Dian as “Big Brother”, in his heart he had already treated him as his master, so no matter what he says he would obey. But in his heart were raging emotions of hate surging like waves, how could he find any inner peace?”

For several days the gaoler made a big fuss about nothing, shouting loudly. The guards, constables, and forensics were bothered for half a day, and not until late in the evening did they manage to carry out all 17 corpses out of the prison. Ding Dian and Di Yun only said that those people died from battling against each other, so they did not pursue further.

During the day, Di Yun followed the instructions of Ding Dian and executed the mnemonics of the technique. The Heavenly Glow entry mnemonics were not of great difficulty, but to find calmness and without the slightest bit of delusion was the hard part. Amidst his anger, Di Yun thought of his martial sister, Wan Gui, and his teacher. He practiced until nighttime before his heart felt a little convergence, when all of a sudden, both his front and back were attacked at the same time.

The two attacks were as powerful as two hammers hitting both sides at once. Di Yun drew blank and almost fainted until the pain became slightly numb. He cleared his eyes opened, and saw that in front of him a monk stood on each side. He turned his head and saw behind him another three monks, making five monks in total, encircling him in the middle.

Di Yun thought: “The five enemies Ding Dian spoke of have arrived. I must remain strong and not show any signs of falter.” Then he laughed heartily and said: “Five honourable elders, what do you seek the one called Ding for?”

The monk on the left-hand side replied: “Quickly deliver ‘A Deadly Secret’ over! Huh, you… you… you are…” Suddenly, a loud bang was heard from behind as the monk was hit strongly by a fist. He began shaking violently and almost fell over. Following that, two more monks were also each hit by a fist and each let out a crying sound and spat out a mouthful of fresh blood.

Di Yun felt very strange and could not resist looking at Ding Dian’s direction. He only saw that he attacked with a fist that was soundless and looked invisible. The attack was initiated with superb speed and attacked the chest of the third monk. The third monk let out a loud “ah”, moved back a few steps, and hit himself hard against the wall.

The other two monks looked at Di Yun following his sight, went to the huddle of the dark corner of the cell looking at Ding Dian, both shouted in astonishment. “Heavenly Glow, Invisible Divine Fists!” The two monks including the wounded monk had already escaped through the fence over the wall. The other monk carried the other monk on the waist who spat out blood, his hand returning to strike a palm on Ding Dian. Ding Dian countered with a fist of his own. The monk caught his fist and was forced to retreat a step. He caught another fist and retreated yet another step. By the third fist, he was already outside the iron fence.

The monk huffed and choked and ran a few steps and was forced to retreat another step. His entire body was shaking as if he was drunk. He had no choice but to let go of the monk who spat blood on the ground, then ran for his life. But every step he crossed, his legs felt like it was dragging a piece of thousand catty enormous rock. Each of his steps were heavy; by the time he walked six or seven steps, he was so short of breath that his legs were gradually bending and he fell on the floor, no longer able to get up. The two monks on the floor tried to struggle a few times, but could not move.

Ding Dian said: “What a pity, what a pity! Brother Di, if you had not been looking at me, then the monk would not have escaped.”

Di Yun saw that the two monks died a painful death, and deep in his heart he felt sympathetic, he secretly said: “Letting the three monks escape is not bad, Brother Ding has killed way too many people.”

Ding Dian said: “You think that I am much too ruthless, am I right?”

Di Yun replied: “I… I…” His throat felt plugged and inverted, he could not speak out.

Ding Dian quickly helped him push the blood and massaged for quite some time before the bottleneck in his chest began to relieve itself.

Ding Dian said: “You resent me for being cruel, yet the two vicious monks each hit you with a fist. Had you not been wearing the dark silkworm vest, you would not have survived. Look, this accident was the result of big brother’s carelessness; I did not think that they would attack right away. I thought that they would first interrogate you. Ah, yes, they are extremely careful with me. They want to wound me first before interrogating me.”

He wiped off the attached beard on Di Yun’s cheek and laughed: “Those bald thieves were so scared their hearts almost beat out of their chest. They will not dare to come back again.” He continued with a straight face: “Brother Di, the tall monk who got away, his name is Bao Xiang, the fat one’s name is Shan Yong. My first strike hit the one who was the strongest, his name is Sheng Di. The five of those monks are from Dark Qinghai Cult’s Blood Sabre Clan and are quite formidable opponents. Had I not ambushed them in the dark, one-against-five, I am afraid I may not have been able to take them all at once. Shan Yong and Sheng Di have been hit by my divine fists, even if they don’t die, they will not live for more than a few days. The remaining Bao Xiang is vicious and cruel in nature, if you ever encounter him in the realm, you must exercise extreme caution.” After thinking a long while, he continued: “The master of the five monks I just mentioned is still alive and his martial arts are extremely impressive. In the future we will have to face him.”

Even though Di Yun had worn the protective vest, he was hit on both front and back simultaneously, so the damages were not minor. Only with the help of Ding Dian transferring him energy every day for over a dozen days did he manage to recover.

*****

The next two years passed by quite peacefully. Once in a while one or two foes from the realm would come do battle, but Ding Dian disposed of them easily with either a fist or grab and they would die instantly.

In the past few months Di Yun had continued to vigorously practice the Heavenly Glow, but his progress came to an imminent halt. No matter how hard he practiced, it seemed that he did not make any further progress. Fortunately, even though his shrewdness was not high, he had high determination and realized that such profound internal martial arts could not be learned so easily. With the help of Ding Dian coaching him from the side for many days, he eventually overcame his difficulties.

One afternoon he woke up and continued to practice as he usually would, when suddenly he heard a “huh” sound coming from Ding Dian. There was a hint of anxiety in his voice. After half a day, he heard him utter words to himself: “Today it will not wilt. Changing it tomorrow will not be too late.” Di Yun was surprised and turned his body around and saw that Ding Dian lifted his head, staring at the basin of flowers outside the window at the top of the cell.

Since practicing the Heavenly Glow, Di Yun’s auditory system became a lot more proficient than what it was before. With one look, he could see three yellow roses in the basket, one of which was lacking a petal. He would often see Ding Dian staring at the basket of flowers and be completely mesmerized during the day; such has been the case for the last few years. He thought that since in prison there was not much activity, the sight of flowers by the window would serve as entertainment for Ding Dian, so he did not think it was very strange. But he saw that the fresh flowers in the basin had not bloomed yet and did not look remarkable. The flowers will bloom in time, but it inevitably had some residue and should be cared for. From the jasmines in the spring wind to the begonias in the autumn moon, day and night, there would always be a basket of flowers placed near the window sill. Di Yun recalled that this specific basket of yellow roses had been placed there for about six or seven days. It was usually the case that it would have been changed, but this time, it remained unchanged.

For the entire day and night, Ding Dian had an irritable and restless state of mind. The following morning, the basket of yellow roses still remained unchanged and at least five or six petals had already been blown away by the wind. Di Yun could sense a bad omen deep within his heart, and saw that Ding Dian’s expressions were very negative. He said: “That person forgot to change the flowers this time. Come afternoon, that person will remember for sure.”

Ding Dian shouted loudly: “How would such a thing be forgotten? Impossible! Could it be… could it be that this person contrived a sickness? Even if it is indeed sickness, someone should still have been ordered to change the flowers!” He kept walking around the cell and his emotions could not stop surging.

Di Yun did not dare to further pursue the matter. Instead, he sat down cross-legged and continued to practice in peace.

By nightfall, the clouds were ubiquitous and dark, a sign that it was inevitably going to rain soon. After a while, a cold breeze blew through, and the three yellow roses lost a bunch of petals again. In the past several hours, Ding Dian had not kept his eyes off the basket of flowers. With every petal that was blown away, his expression changed for the worst. He felt bitter and miserable, the pain even worse than having the flesh ripped right off his bones.

Di Yun could no longer resist questioning him. “Brother Ding, why are you so restless?”

Ding Dian turned his head over, his face full of anger, and yelled: “Why does it concern you? Why talk so much?” Ever since he taught Di Yun his martial arts, he had never treated him so rudely. Di Yun felt somewhat apologetic, and wanted to say a few words of resolution, but upon seeing that his expression was full of desolate intent and that of a person who suffered some sort of mournful grief, he did not say a word.

That night Ding Dian still did not sit down to rest. Di Yun only watched as he travelled back and forth around the cell. As the shackles around his legs inevitably caused a lot of rattling noises, Di Yun could find no way to sleep peacefully.

The next morning, there was some restless inclined drizzle. In the twilight of dawn he could see the basket of flowers. He saw that the petals of the three yellow roses had all wilted—all that was left in the basket was the stems of the flowers that stood motionless against the wind and rain.

Ding Dian shouted: “Dead? Dead? Are you really dead?” With both hands he grasped hard onto the iron fence, shaking it violently.

Di Yun said: “Big Brother, if you long to see this person so much, why don’t we go take a look?”

Ding Dian roared: “Look? Can I look? If I could, I would have gone a long time ago. Do I still have to remain stuck in this stupid cell?” Di Yun did not really understand, his eyes were wide open and he did not make a noise. In the middle of the day, Ding Dian held his head with both hands and sat down without making a noise or move. He did not eat or drink.

His ears heard the sounds of gongs signaling the first watch of the night. In the peace of quiet, time passed quickly. Soon, more gong sounds were heard; it was the second watch.

Ding Dian slowly got up and said: “Brother, we will have a look.” He said this in a peaceful tone. Di Yun replied in concurrence. Ding Dian extended both his hands to grab onto the iron fence and lightly moved them in opposite directions. The resulting force caused two rods of the iron fence to bend out of shape immediately. Ding Dian said: “Keep your iron chains in check and don’t let it emit any noise.” Di Yun complied and grabbed on to his iron chains.

Ding Dian walked near the edge of the wall and began to climb. He whispered: “Jump up!” Di Yun followed and began to scuttle his way up the wall, but in his haste he forgot that his scapula was still pierced by the iron chains, and his entire body was incapable of producing any strength. With one jump, he could not manage to reach a height of more than a meter. Ding Dian extended his hands to grab onto Di Yun and threw him on top of the wall. The two leaped downwards simultaneously.

After passing the wall, there was another extremely high wall in the way. While Ding Dian could probably get over it, Di Yun had no way of exceeding it. Ding Dian groaned, then leaned his back against the wall. He heard some rustling sounds as some silt fell over, and the bricks too fell in small fragments. Di Yun’s vision felt obscured, and then he could only see that on the wall there appeared a huge hole and Ding Dian was nowhere to be seen. It turns out that Ding Dian used the remarkable internal energy techniques of the Heavenly Glow to crack through the wall. Di Yun felt both astonished and pleased, as he hurriedly rushed through the hole in the wall.

There was an alley outside. Ding Dian gave a hand gesture, and from the alley they walked to end. Exiting the alley they arrived at the streets. It seemed that Ding Dian knew the streets and alleys quite familiarly. After walking past a street and two alleys, they arrived at the entrance of a family’s iron shop.

Ding Dian raised his hands and pushed. With a loud bang, the front gate of the store collapsed instantly. The blacksmith in the store became frightened with shock. He jumped up and yelled: “There is a thief!”

Ding Dian grabbed the blacksmith by the throat and whispered: “Light the candle!”

The blacksmith did not dare to disobey, and so he illuminated a lamp. He saw in front of him two men with long hair drooping down to their shoulders, their faces full of facial hair. They had the appearance of vicious men, how could he dare to move? Ding Dian declared: “Unbound us from our iron chains and shackle!”

The blacksmith figured that the two men were most likely criminals that escaped from prison. He thought that if he were to free them from their confinements, and if the government officials pursue the matter, he would most certainly be punished, so he could not help but hesitate. Ding Dian extended his hand and grabbed onto a thick strip of iron, returned, and hacked on it a few times. With a loud bang, it split into two pieces. He said: “Tell me, is your neck as hard as this?”

The blacksmith felt as if he had just seen the devil. If he wanted to break the iron strip, he should have used a chisel sledgehammer, then he would only have to stir a little while. But upon seeing that this man was strong enough to simply raise his hands and casually break the iron strips, he was certain that the man could easily snap his neck in half, so it was no longer appropriate for him to stay stubborn. He repeatedly said “Yes! Yes!” and produced a steel chisel and iron hammer and helped unbound Ding Dian and Di Yun from their shackles.

The first thing Ding Dian did was remove the iron chain which pierced his scapula. Upon pulling out the iron chain out from Di Yun’s scapula, the latter was in so much pain that he nearly fainted. Finally, Di Yun held in both hands a bloody iron chain and stood in front of the anvil. He thought of the restrictions of the iron chain that he now held in his hands: he was stuck in a dark world without justice for a hardship of over five years. Until today, the iron chain had confined his body. He could not help but feel emotions of delight and sadness at once, and in a daze, tears soon dripped from his eyes.

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[1]The word “completed” is pronounced Liancheng, the same as the Liancheng Manual. It is also called “A Deadly Secret” (the title of the novel).

[2]Confucius and Mencius are two of the most renowned Chinese philosophers in history.

[3]A watch is one of the twelve two-hour periods in a day. The first watch starts from 9 P.M. to 11 P.M. The second watch is from 11 P.M. to 1 A.M.

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