A Deadly Secret

Chapter 5: Mouse Soup
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Chapter 5: Mouse Soup

The topography of Jiangling was that of flatness; the Yangtze River was meandering and circuitous between Hunan and Hubei. With the expansive flow of water in the east, the small boat slowly flowed along the current toward its destination. Di Yun gazed at the horizon of both coasts and saw that he was slowly passing through small towns and villages. There were boats and sails passing by him in opposite directions. When people on the other boats saw his bloody and dirty face, they felt both curious and astounded.

By the time it was close to nightfall, Di Yun had regained some of his strength. At the same time, his stomach was growling of hunger. He got up and picked up one of the paddles on the boat and slowly steered his boat towards the northern shore, intending to buy some food at a local restaurant. To his surprise, the area was quite desolate and there was no one to be found. The boat followed the stream and made a turn. He saw that under some willow trees were three fisherman boats. There was smoke coming out from these boats. As he paddled his small boat towards these three fisher boats, he could hear the squeaking sounds of pans frying fishes, the fragrant smell rushing toward his direction.

He rowed his boat forward and approached the old fisherman. “Old fisherman, would you be kind enough to sell me a fish to eat?”

The fisherman saw that Di Yun’s appearance was frightening and gory and became afraid. Originally, the fisherman was not willing to sell his fish, but he also did not dare to deny this request, and replied: “Yes! Yes!” He fetched a mackerel that he had just fried and put it on a bowl, then delivered it over to Di Yun’s boat.

Di Yun said: “If you have a bowl of white rice, I would also like to buy it.”

The fisherman replied: “Of course!” and brought a large pot of brown rice. The rice was mixed with a large portion of a potato and some sorghum.

Di Yun ate the rice heartily and consumed the entire bowl. As he was about to open his mouth to request for more, he heard the sound of a hoarse voice coming from the shore, shouting: “Fisherman! If you have large fish then bring some over!” Di Yun turned his head to look at the speaker. He saw a very tall and skinny monk; his two eyes were large and shined brightly. Di Yun instantly became startled, as he recognized that this was one of the five monks who fought with Ding Dian back in prison many nights ago. After some thought, Di Yun recalled that Ding Dian said this person’s name was Bao Xiang. That night, Ding Dian managed to kill two of the monks while critically wounding two others, and the last who escaped was Bao Xiang.

Di Yun did not dare to give this man another glance. Ding Dian told him that the martial arts of this man was very high, and further told him that should he ever encounter this man, he should exercise extreme caution. If Bao Xiang should see Ding Dian’s corpse, then he would be in deep trouble. With both hands he continued to eat heartily at his rice. Although he was not one to be afraid of death, he could not prevent his heart from pounding fast and his arms trembling. He thought: “Don’t tremble! Don’t tremble! I can’t expose my identity!” But the more he wanted to remain calm, the harder it was to restrain himself.

He heard the fisherman reply: “I have sold all the fish I caught today, there is no more fish.”

Bao Xiang angrily said: “Who said there is no fish? I am starving! Hurry and give me some fish! Even if there are no large fishes, the small ones will do.”

The fisherman replied: “There is really no more fish! You have silver, if I had fish to sell why would I not sell it?” As he said this, he flipped over the basket of fish and exposed its empty contents, the bottom of the basket facing the sky.

Bao Xiang was extremely hungry. When he saw that beside Di Yun was a large fish that was only half-eaten, he shouted: “You, over there! Do you have any fish?”

Di Yun was startled as he heard this man was speaking to him. He was afraid that if he replied he would be recognized, so he did not say a word. Instead, he lifted his paddle and pushed hard on the tree roots on the shore. The small boat began to flow down the stream.

Bao Xiang was furious. “You bastard! I asked you if you have any fish, and you run away?”

When Di Yun heard his angry tone, he became even more scared. He began to row even faster, his boat approaching the heart of the river. Bao Xiang picked up a piece of rock from the shore and threw it at Di Yun. Di Yun saw the rock approaching him and bent over. The strong and swift noise of the wind made the rock fly over his head, and fell into the river, causing splashes of water to fly up the air.

Bao Xiang saw that when this man dodged the rock his movements were quite agile, definitely a person with some martial arts background. He became even more suspicious and said: “Damn it! You better row back now, or else I will take your life!”

Di Yun ignored his warning and continued to paddle his boat. Bao Xiang picked up a rock with his right hand and threw it, then followed by picking up another rock with his left hand and threw that too. Di Yun’s hands were paddling the boat, but his attention was completely concentrated on the path of the rocks. He managed to dodge the first rock; the second rock approached at a low altitude at the same level as the hull of the ship and at once hit the ship at its bottom. It was only a few inches apart, all he could see was a dark object flying past him at rapid speed, the wind it emitted scraped his nose and caused pain on his cheek. As soon as he got back up, the third rock approached him, and with a loud clap, it hit the bow of the boat. Immediately, a piece of wood fell off the boat.

Bao Xiang watched as Di Yun dodged all his rocks with agility while the small boat was following the current, drifting further and further away. Immediately, he picked up two more chunks of rock and threw it at the boat. Had he aimed for the boat to begin with, such a small boat would most certainly sink immediately. But at this point the distance was much too great, although the two rocks hit the boat in succession, by the time it made contact most of the power was already lost, hence it only managed to shatter a small fragment of the boat and its railing.

Bao Xiang realized that he could no longer prevent this man from escaping, so he cursed and threw a fit of rage. From afar he could see the wind of the river carrying the boat, causing Di Yun’s hair and facial hair to flutter in the wind. Suddenly he recalled: “This person looks like the prisoner that I once saw. Ding Dian escaped from the prison in Jingzhou prefecture, this news was already abuzz for a while in the realm. It is likely that from this man, I could find clues to the whereabouts of Ding Dian.” As he thought up to this point, he had voracious desire to follow. In a fit of rage he yelled: “Fisherman! Fisherman! Quickly row me over to catch that man.”

However, when the fisherman of the three boats under the willow tree saw him assailing the other man with rocks in such a vicious manner, he had long untied the mooring rope and left with his boat following the current.

Bao Xiang shouted repeatedly in an attempt to call the fisherman back to pick him up. However, with such vicious voice and mannerism, who would come back for him? In a fit of rage, he picked up several chunks of rock and threw it at one of the fisherman. One of the rocks hit the fisherman square on the head. The fisherman’s brains splattered instantly and he fell into the river. The rest of the fishermen were scared out of their wits and began paddling away as fast as they could.

Bao Xiang followed the shore and started sprinting in great haste. He was going at a faster pace than Di Yun’s boat. Bao Xiang continued chasing at the north bank of the Yangtze River while Di Yun continued paddling his boat towards the south bank. Although Bao Xiang managed to overtake him, the distance between him and the small boat was steadily increasing. Di Yun thought: “If he manages to find a boat by the shore and starts paddling towards me, there is no way I can escape his wrath.” In a moment of desperation, he hoped: “Brother Ding, Brother Ding, if you are still here in spirit, please let it be that this evil monk cannot find a boat.”

There were many boats in the Yangtze River travelling in both directions, but fortunately within several kilometers there were no boats heading towards the north bank. With all the strength in his body, Di Yun finally managed to row his boat to the south bank. Even though the surface of the river in this section was not wide, the trees served as good cover, and there was no hope for Bao Xiang to catch him now. Thereupon he decided to carry the bundle around his bosom, and carried Ding Dian’s body with his arms, intending to travel on foot. Suddenly, he remembered something. He turned around and kicked the boat towards the heart of the river. The intention was that if Bao Xiang was to see the ship, he would think that Di Yun was still in it and make chase.

He continuously ran towards the southern direction, not knowing where he was going. He only wanted to be as far away from the riverside as possible. After running for several kilometers, he could not help but utter a breath of stress. However, he saw a vast expanse of whiteness the color of water. The river was in front of him. It turns out that at this point, the path of the Yangtze River changes to the southern direction.

He quickly turned around and saw on his right hand side was a small abandoned temple. Immediately, he carried Ding Dian towards the direction of the temple. By the time he reached the entrance, he felt his knees were so numb that he could no longer move. He fell on the ground. He was already weakened before from sustaining numerous injuries, and now he even had to paddle a long distance to reach shore, he truly had no more energy left in his body. He tried to get up twice but to no avail. He could only lie down on the ground and breathe slowly. He saw that the sky was slowly getting dark and felt a bit comforted. He thought: “I only have to wait until night time, then Bao Xiang won’t be able to find us.” Although Ding Dian was already dead, in his heart, he still treated him as his dearest friend.

He lied down outside the abandoned temple for about an hour before he managed to recover enough strength to lift himself up. He carried Ding Dian’s body and walked into the temple. What he saw was a temple with a petty local deity who appeared short and trifling, its appearance somewhat comical. Di Yun was injured to the point that upon seeing this image of a deity, he revered happily and respectfully kneeled before it, giving the statue several kowtows to make himself feel better. He sat in front of the statue and blankly looked at Ding Dian. The sky was getting darker and he gradually felt more safe and secure. He lied down beside Ding Dian’s body, just like what he used to do for the past several years back in their prison cell.

Before the middle of the night, it suddenly started to rain. The sound of rain and drips of water could be heard. Sometimes the rain was pouring while other times it felt gentle. Di Yun began to feel very cold, so he wanted to huddle together beside Ding Dian, when all of a sudden, he made contact with Ding Dian’s cold and lifeless skin. Then he remembered that Brother Ding was already dead, and would never have the chance to speak with him again. As he had this thought, he felt misery in his heart and tears began to drip from his eyes.

Suddenly, amidst the sound of the rain, the sound of footsteps could be heard travelling towards the direction of the temple. This person was trampling over mud but was approaching at a rapid rate. Di Yun became startled as he heard the sound of this man approaching closer and closer. He quickly concealed Ding Dian’s body under the altar, while he hid himself behind the statue.

As the sound of footsteps got closer, Di Yun’s heart was beating faster. Suddenly he heard the sound of the temple door being kicked open, followed by someone cursing: “Your mother! Who knows where this old thief went, and now it is raining, causing your father to be wet all over.”

The sound of the voice was like Bao Xiang. It was already inappropriate for a monk to curse “your mother” but he furthered called himself “your father” which was even more preposterous. Although Di Yun did not know much about the outside world, throughout the several years in prison he had heard many stories from Ding Dian’s adventures in the realm. He was no longer the clueless bumpkin he was back in the countryside. He thought: “Although this Bao Xiang is dressed like a monk, he eats meat and kills people without hesitation. He is most likely an extremely violent culprit in disguise.”

He continued to listen as Bao Xiang uttered more and more phrases of profanity, cursing and prancing around for a while. After some time, he sat in front of the altar. Then rustling sounds were heard. Di Yun could make out the monk was undressing all of his wet clothes and hanging it to dry in the corner. The man leaned beside the altar and began to fall asleep. Soon after, the sound of snoring could be heard as the man ventured into a deep sleep.

Di Yun wondered: “This vicious monk undressed all his clothing completely, and now he’s sleeping in front of the deity like this, has he not sinned?” He thought: “I could take this opportunity to throw a large rock to kill him, lest I be in trouble the next day.” However, he was not the type of person who could casually kill, and he also knew that the martial arts of Bao Xiang exceeded himself ten times over. Should he fail to kill him in one hit and give him the opportunity to fight back, he was sure to be doomed.

At this point he thought that he should escape through the rear doors since Bao Xiang would likely not notice. However, Ding Dian’s corpse was hidden under the altar; should he try to take the body with him, he would definitely be discovered. He heard the continuous dripping of rainfall falling on the temple, and came up with a plan: should the rain stop tomorrow, then Bao Xiang would leave. However, the sound of rain he heard was not one that would easily stop. Should the rain not stop tomorrow, and should Bao Xiang not leave, he would likely begin to search around, then he is certainly going to find Ding Dian’s body. Since this is the case, he could do nothing but pray for good fortune. “Hopefully the rain will stop when the sky turns bright. Since the monk wants to chase after me, he’s likely to leave the temple.”

Suddenly, he thought of something else: “When he came in, he yelled that he did not know where the ‘old thief’ went. I am not that old, why would he call me an ‘old thief’? Could it be the case that he is actually looking for an elder?” He thought more about it, then came to a realization. “Ah, of course. My hair is long and my facial hair covers my face, I have not shaven it for several years. Of course people are likely to mistake me for an old man. He called me an ‘old thief’… hmm… he called me an ‘old thief!’” As he thought up to this point, he touched the messy facial hair on his cheeks.

Suddenly he heard a bang, as Bao Xiang turned his body over. Amidst his dreams he accidentally kicked under the altar, exactly the location where Ding Dian was hidden. He felt that the circumstances have changed, and immediately woke up in fear that someone was ambushing him under the altar. In the darkness he could not tell how many people were ambushing him. He picked up his blade and slashed around five or six times in all directions so that his enemies dared not get too close. He yelled: “Who is it? Your mother! Thief bastard!” He cursed several times but did not get any response. He held his breath and listened closely, but no sounds could be heard.

In the darkness, Bao Xiang slashed in all directions another 15 or 16 times. It was the stance of ‘The Eight Directions of Night Battle’. He kicked with his leg and with a loud “peng” the altar fell over. He slashed away with his blade and with a faint crack, the sound of bones being shattered could be heard. He had slashed into Ding Dian’s body.

Di Yun heard everything very clearly, Bao Xiang indeed slashed Ding Dian. Although Ding Dian was already dead and cannot feel the pain, in Di Yun’s heart, he still treated him as his closest friend and brother, so this slash was as painful as if he was the one being slashed. He immediately wanted to rush out to fight a battle to the death with the culprit, but in the five years in prison, he had slowly evolved from the hot-headed and crass personality of his youth. He was now a youth who would think things through before he acted. He thought: “If I rush out now to fight him, I will only die and nothing good will come out of that. If I cannot fulfill Brother Ding’s wish of being buried together with Lady Ling, how can I ever seek his forgiveness?”

Bao Xiang hacked again at Ding Dian’s corpse and there was no more noise after that. In the darkness, he was hardly aware of his surroundings. The match that he brought with him had long been moistened by the heavy rain, so there was no way for him to light up a fire. He slowly retreated and backed up a few steps, his back against the wall, for the fear that he may be ambushed from behind, and then paid close attention for any noise.

At this point a wall stood in the way of these two people, and besides the sound of the drizzle, nothing else could be heard.

Di Yun knew that if he so much as breathed too heavily, he would lose his life immediately. He had to micromanage his breathing, taking slow breaths in and out. In his mind he thought: “After another two hours or so, the sun will rise. When the monk sees Ding Dian’s body, I will be in serious trouble. What can I do?”

He was not an intelligent person to begin with, and now for him to come up with a plan to protect Ding Dian’s body from Bao Xiang proved to be an obstacle too great to be overcome. He thought long and hard, but he did not have the slightest idea of a plan. As he felt rushed, he repented and redressed at his own errors and said: “Di Yun… oh Di Yun, you idiot. Of course you can’t come up with a plan. If Brother Ding was still alive, he would surely know what to do.” Under much stress, he began pulling at his hair, and using a bit of strength, six or seven strands fell off.

All of a sudden, he had an idea in his mind. “The vicious monk calls me an ‘old thief’. He saw that I had a face full of facial hair so he thought I was an old person. If I shave off my facial hair completely, then he may not be able to recognize me. The only problem is that there is no razor nearby, how am I supposed to shave? Hmph, I’m not even afraid of death, would I be afraid of a little pain? I’ll just use my hands to pull it off, that’s what I’ll do.”

As he thought up to this point, he began to pull at his facial hair, and it started falling off slowly. But he was afraid that he may make noise and thought: “Even if the vicious monk will not recognize me, at most he will not kill me. But what will stop him from harming Brother Ding? Meh, one step at a time. For now I will keep myself alive, then I can get near the vicious monk, and find a way to kill him when he least expects it.”

After he pulled out about half of his hair, he had another thought: “Even if I do not have any facial hair, I still have a head full of long hair which may give away my identity. The vicious monk came chasing me from the Yangtze River, so naturally he would recognize my long hair quite clearly.” As he said this, he decided to go all the way, and picked on two strands of hair with one of his hands and pulled.

Although it did not hurt much to pull out his facial hair, to pull out his long hair cleanly definitely required a high tolerance of pain. As he continued to pull, he thought: “Pulling my hair out is no big deal. For Brother Ding, even if I had to cut my own hand off, I would not so much as crease my eyebrows.” He thought more: “This is such a stupid idea. I bet Ding Dian’s spirit is laughing at me right now. But… but… he cannot come back to tell me of a better plan.”

He heard the sound of Bao Xiang falling asleep again. But as he was afraid that the vicious monk would hear the sound of his breathing, he pulled out a bunch of hair and walked forward one step extremely slowly. It took him almost an hour to retreat all the way back to the well. And after some more time, he slowly made his way to the rear exit of the temple, with the rain dripping on his face, he began to breathe more easily.

As he was now outside the temple, he was no longer afraid of being discovered by Bao Xiang, so naturally it was much easier for him to pull out his hair. Eventually, he managed to pull out all his facial hair and the hair on his head completely. The excruciating pain he felt on his head and chin was unbearable, something he had never experienced before. But upon thinking of how he lost his fingers to his enemy, and how his scapula was pierced, what does it really matter? Full of desires for revenge, he no longer cared about pain. He buried all his hair under the mud for fear that Bao Xiang would get suspicious. He felt his own scalp and chin, not only was he no longer an “old thief”, he was now a “bald thief”. Under grief and indignation, he could not help but laugh, and thought: “I must be a mess, my scalp and chin most likely red and bleeding, so I should wash it out for fear of revealing any marks.” As he said this he lifted his head up to let the rain drip on his face.

He thought again: “Although I do not have any marks on my face, the vicious monk may still recognize my clothes and that would be troublesome. But there is no clothes for me to change into. I will just copy the vicious monk and remove all my clothes, how about that?” As he said this he removed all of his outer layers. He kept the silkworm vest on him and it became his undergarment. But as he had no pants to wear, he tore off a portion of his coat and wrapped it around his waist. But he was also afraid that Bao Xiang would recognize the silkworm vest, so he rolled around the mud to cover his entire body.

At this point, even if Ding Dian were to come back to life, he would not be able to recognize him right away. Di Yun proceeded towards under a large tree, and with his fingers dug a hole to hide his bundle of clothes. He thought: “If by chance I manage to escape the wrath of the evil monk, and further ensure that Brother Ding rests in peace, I will certainly return the favour of the one who helped me bandage my wounds and gave me silver and jewelleries. Who is this person?”

The sky was slowly getting bright as morning approached. Di Yun secretly went south, then westward for about a li. At the end of his travel the sky was already fully bright. He saw that the rain had yet to cease and presumed that Bao Xiang would not leave the temple. He tried to look for a weapon, but where can he find one amidst the wilderness? He only had a sharp stone slab hidden around his waist area, thinking that should he be able to slash this on the monk’s vital areas it would be enough to take his life. The best case scenario would be that the evil monk has already left the temple, which would be a blessing.

When he looked at his own reflection in the water, he saw a very strange look and could not help but chuckle a bit. But at the same time, he felt a small hint of sadness. In his heart he still longed for Ding Dian. He could not find a suitable weapon so he decided to head east to the temple. He thought: “I could pretend to be a lunatic; a rascal from the local area.” As he got closer to the temple, he released his larynx and sang loudly a folk song:

“To the sister in the mountain, listen to me sing,

If you marry, do not marry a rich man,

Rich people have a bad conscience!

Marry me, the bald and dysenteric A’San!”

Back in his hometown in Hunan, he used to sing this song by the lakeside and farming area. From the creek to the mountain, with Qi Fang he did not know how many thousands of these songs they sang together. By the social customs of Hunan countryside, these folk songs were often seasonal and improvised, singing whatever fits the moment; it often rhymed and was superficial. These songs were not a big difference from regular day-to-day dialect. As he sang this song, he could not help but feel sour in his heart. Since he was separated with Qi Fang, it had been five years since he last uttered a folk song. At this moment the situation at hand was extremely awkward, for he was singing not for his beautiful martial sister, but a stark naked and vicious monk.

As he further approached the temple, he adjusted his larynx to a more feminine voice and sang again:

“The bald and dysenteric A’San has fragrance,

You wish to marry me, lovable and pretty as a flower?

Would I covet your baldness and lack of need for a comb?

Would I covet…”

The next line of “would I covet” was not fully sang when Bao Xiang suddenly rushed out from the local temple. He wrapped his upper garment around his waist area and headed outside to see who it was. He only saw Di Yun bald and singing folk songs without a care, and thought that he was actually a bald and dysenteric man. The lyrics to his song was full of self-mockery, so Bao Xiang could not help but laugh and said: “Hey, bald man, come over here!”

Di Yun continued to sing:

“What does the elder monk request me for?

Do you wish for gold and silver?

The bald and dysenteric A’San is lucky,

The elder monk must treat me to a roast pig.”

He sang all the while heading towards Bao Xiang’s direction, although he was exerting himself to produce a calm and composed look, his heart was actually beating at an alarming rate and his face changed colors. Bao Xiang noticed this and commented: “Bald and dysenteric A’San, if you can find something for me to eat, I will reward you greatly. Are there any fat pigs?”

Di Yun shook his head and sang:

“In the mountain range of the wild there are no pigs…”

Bao Xiang scolded: “Speak properly, do not sing anymore.”

Di Yun thrust his lips and tried to produce a vigorous accent and said: “The bald and dysenteric A’San is used to singing folk songs, in regular speech he is not as fluent. Elder monk, a half a kilometer away lies the Buba Village, and after that the Buba Shop. Within five kilometres there is no sight of anyone. Not even to mention eating a pig, even eating some white rice and plain vegetables could be difficult. If you travel westward for 15 li there is a large town. You can eat chicken and fish and drink wine, whatever you want to eat you can find, why don’t you go there?” He knew that he did not have the power to kill Bao Xiang to get revenge for him slashing at Ding Dian’s body, but he hoped that the monk would listen to his nonsense and head westward so he has time to take away Ding Dian’s body. However, the heavy rain did not cease and dripped heavily on both of them.

Bao Xiang said: “You will find me something to eat. It is best if you can find meat and wine. If not, then you can slaughter a chicken or a duck and that will work too.”

Di Yun could only think about Ding Dian, so he reluctantly agreed. He went inside the temple and saw that Ding Dian’s body had been pulled out from beneath the altar and his clothes were ripped apart. His body was obviously searched thoroughly by Bao Xiang. Di Yun was full of hatred inside and could not hold it anymore, he said: “There… there is a dead person inside… did… did you kill him?”

His face changed color and Bao Xiang thought that he was afraid of the dead body and laughed maliciously. “I did not kill him. Come and take a look, do you recognize him?”

Di Yun was taken aback and felt his own guilty conscience. If it was the case that the monk has already seen through his disguise, he would not be able to protect Ding Dian and would have no choice but to run away. He came to a decision and said: “This person looks very strange, he is not from the local area.”

Bao Xiang laughed: “Of course he is not from your village.” Then he continued in a much more serious tone: “Go find me something to eat! If you don’t listen to me, are you not afraid my holy self will not take your pathetic life?”

Di Yun saw that Ding Dian’s body was not in trouble for the moment so he felt relaxed, so he replied, “Yes!” and turned away to leave. He thought: “All I have to do is hide from him for half a day. Eventually he will starve and have no choice but to look for food himself. It is unlikely that he will take Brother Ding along with him, as he has already searched his body thoroughly and could not find anything, he should naturally have given up.”

But before he even walked two steps, Bao Xiang yelled: “Stop! Where are you going?”

Di Yun replied: “I am going to find you something to eat.”

Bao Xiang said: “Very good! How long will it take you?”

Di Yun replied: “It will only take a moment.”

Bao Xiang said: “Then go!”

Di Yun turned his head to take another look at Ding Dian before leaving. Suddenly, he felt a gust of wind approaching from behind, and with two claps, both cheeks were slapped. Fortunately, Bao Xiang thought that he was a countryman who did not know any martial arts, so there was not much force in these strikes. It was further fortunate that Bao Xiang’s movements were surprisingly fast and hit him right away, for as Di Yun was not so bright: if he felt that he was being attacked from behind, his natural instinct would be to dodge and that would give away the fact that he knew martial arts.

Di Yun was startled and said: “You… you…” He thought: “He must have seen through my disguise. I have no choice but to give it all I’ve got.”

But he heard Bao Xiang say: “How much money do you have on you? Take it all out for me to see!”

Di Yun replied: “I… I…”

Bao Xiang scolded: “Your entire body is empty! You are a poor man; with your pathetic look, how are you supposed to get me anything to eat? Hmph, you claim to want to get me food, but is it not just a ploy to escape?”

When Di Yun heard his reply, he felt comfort. He thought: “So he only exposed the fact that I was lying about getting him food. That is not a big deal.”

Bao Xiang continued: “Your bald head said that within ten li there is not a person in sight, so how can you get me food and come back in just a moment? Aren’t you clearly deceiving me? Hmph, you better speak the truth, what do you want?”

Di Yun stammered a reply. “I… I was afraid of elder monk and wanted to go home.”

Bao Xiang laughed heartily and pounded his chest full of long dark hair. He said: “What are you afraid of? Afraid that I’ll eat you?” As soon as he said the word “eat”, his stomach growled and he felt even more hunger. He had already searched the temple thoroughly and knew there was no food around. The few words he said earlier: “What are you afraid of? Afraid that I’ll eat you?” came back to him, and his eyes filled with violence and stared intensely at Di Yun.

Di Yun felt all the hairs in his body straighten as he saw the look of the monk; he had already guessed the monk’s intentions. Indeed, the monk was thinking: “The meat of a person does not taste bad at all, and a person’s heart and liver tastes even better. In front of me is a person not much different from a pig, perhaps I could eat him alive?”

Di Yun felt consistent bitterness in his heart. “If he kills me it is no big deal. But from the evil monk’s expression, he must want to cook me alive and that would be much too violent. I will fight to the very end.” However, as soon as he fights back he would certainly be killed. And after he dies he would still be eaten, so is there really a difference? Di Yun saw as Bao Xiang’s eyes were fierce and laughed maliciously as he slowly approached.

Di Yun could only watch as Bao Xiang moved forward. With every step his expression became more sinister and frightening. Di Yun backed away a few steps. Bao Xiang laughed: “You skinny man, you probably don’t taste very good. That dead body has a much fuller build than you. Unfortunately, there is toxic in a corpse, so I cannot eat him. Oh well, even though I can’t eat a fat pig, the skinny pig will have to do.” He extended his arms to grab Di Yun by the shoulder.

Di Yun used his strength to struggle, but how could he? The anxiety and dreadfulness he felt in his heart was indescribable. After so many years of torture and pain, he had already forgotten his fear of death. But the thought of being eaten alive by this evil monk sent shivers down his spine.

Bao Xiang saw that Di Yun had no way to escape and thought that maybe he should tell him to boil the water first before killing him. Unfortunately, a person would not willingly kill himself and boil himself into a big bowl of red meat and hand himself over. He said: “There are two ways I could kill you and eat you. The first way is to cut off the flesh in your legs, then cut and slash all over your body so you will suffer immense pain. The second way is to kill you with a simple slash and cook you into a stew. Which method do you prefer?”

Di Yun bit his teeth and replied: “You… you want to kill me… you… you evil monk…” He wanted to curse at him, but was afraid that should he anger the monk that he would be tortured even more. Just as he was about to utter out his curse words, he swallowed it back in.

Bao Xiang laughed: “Correct, it is good that you know this. The more you listen to me, the easier you will die. The more you refuse, the more pain you will suffer. Hmph, bald and dysenteric A’San, I order you to find a cauldron in the kitchen and fill it with hot water.”

Di Yun knew that it was used to cook himself, but he could not help but ask: “Why?”

Bao Xiang laughed: “You don’t need to ask, just go!”

Di Yun said: “To boil water it is best to do it in the kitchen, if I take out the cauldron it is not as convenient.”

Bao Xiang replied: “The kitchen is full of dust and spider webs, if my holiness goes in there I will definitely sneeze. If I don’t keep a close eye on you, you will find an opportunity to escape.”

Di Yun insisted: “Then I will not run away.”

Bao Xiang scolded: “You will do whatever I tell you to. Do you dare to disobey me?” As he said this he released his fist and punched Di Yun hard on the left cheek, then followed with a hard kick.

Di Yun fell on the floor, then suddenly he thought: “He is telling me to boil water, this is an opportunity. I just have to wait until the water boils, then I will splash the entire cauldron over his body. He is naked, would he not be burnt to death at once?” He kept this idea in his heart and did not feel any fear. He went into the kitchen and fetched a worn-out cauldron. He saw that the upper part of the cauldron was damaged and could only hold about half of its capacity, this half may not necessarily be enough to burn down the monk. But he thought even if it wasn’t good enough to kill him completely, to burn him half to death and leave him suffering is not a bad idea either.

He took the iron cauldron to the well in front of the temple and wiped away the leaves and rain water before filling the cauldron completely.

Bao Xiang complimented: “Very good! Very good! Bald and dysenteric A’San, I am really unwilling to part with you. You are very efficient in your work, you could help me make a good stew!”

Di Yun forced a bitter smile and replied: “Thank you for elder monk’s compliments.” Then he picked up seven or eight bricks and placed it beneath the cauldron. In this broken temple there were many broken legs of chairs and tables, Di Yun was anxious in engaging a fight to the death against Bao Xiang, so he rapidly collected the materials and placed it under the cauldron. However, to find a kindler was not an easy task. Di Yun opened up his hands and gave out an expression of having no alternative.

Bao Xiang asked: “What’s wrong? You don’t have a kindler? I remember there’s one on his body.” He pointed to Ding Dian’s corpse. Di Yun had already seen Ding Dian’s legs being cut up by Bao Xiang and it was a complete mess, he could already feel the grief rush out from his heart. When he stared back at the ferocious look of Bao Xiang, he only wished he could throw himself at him and bite him.

Bao Xiang resembled a cat that caught a mouse: he wanted to toy with the mouse before eating it, so he did not take notice to Di Yun’s anger and frustration. He sneered: “If you can find it then it is for the better. If you cannot make a fire, this monk is fine eating raw meat.”

Di Yun searched Ding Dian’s body and suddenly in his coat pocket he felt two pieces of hard material. One was a flint and the other was a fire knife. He thought: “When the two of us were back in prison, Brother Ding did not carry these two things with him, so where did he get it from?” He turned over the fire knife and saw a brand name on it that said “Jingzhou Old Quan’s Iron Shop” In the past, Di Yun had been to an iron shop with Ding Dian to remove the iron chains from their body; it was precisely the name of this shop. Di Yun held tightly to the knife and flint and thought: “Brother Ding has planned thoroughly. He took this knife and flint from the iron shop as a mean to assist me in my adventures in the realm. Alas, it had not even been used once and he has already passed away.” As he held on to the knife and flint, he could not help but become teary.

Bao Xiang thought that Di Yun was grieving because he knew that he would be dead not long after he built a fire. He laughed: “This monk’s body is worth a thousand pounds of gold; you must have done good deeds in your previous life, for this life you can use my intestines as your coffin, and my belly as your tomb, you are truly most fortunate! Now quickly light the fire!”

Di Yun did not reply and found an extremely old piece of yellow fortune paper and placed it beside the knife and flint. As he started the fire it slowly began to burn the yellow paper, and the text that was originally covered by dust could now be seen. It was a negative phrase which said: “Beg for status and you shall not receive”, “Your love life will be disastrous”, “Your journeys will be detrimental”, and “Your sicknesses will not be cured” and many other phrases. In a short time, the flame burnt away a good half of the paper. Di Yun thought: “My entire life is full of misfortune; I do not need a fortune paper to tell me this.”

The water inside the cauldron slowly began to boil. Di Yun knew that the water would fully boil within the time it took to burn one incense stick[1]. He felt increasingly nervous as he stared at the pot of water then at Bao Xiang’s stomach. He knew that the difference between life and death would be determined in the next few moments, and involuntarily his hands began to tremble. Finally, the water in the cauldron began to boil as it began to bubble and steam was rising out of the pot. Di Yun stood up straight, picked up the iron cauldron with both hands, and walked forward to splash the pot of boiled water at Bao Xiang.

However when Di Yun stood up, Bao Xiang already took notice, and with ten fingers extending outwards he grabbed Di Yun by the wrist and shouted: “What are you doing?” Di Yun did not want to make an excuse, and he used his strength to try and splash the water at Bao Xiang’s direction. However, his wrist was holding the iron hoop on the cauldron and was grabbed by Bao Xiang, it would not budge any further.

If Bao Xiang wanted to splash the water at Di Yun’s direction, all he needed to was simply use his arm strength and it would be done. However, if he were to waste half the bucket of water to burn this bald and dysenteric A’San to death, he would have to boil the water again himself and that would be too much of a hassle. He used strength in both his arms and forced downwards, placing the iron cauldron in its original spot, and yelled: “Let go!”

Di Yun could do nothing but drop the cauldron with both hands. Immediately, Bao Xiang kicked forward and with a loud “peng” kicked Di Yun straight away. He slammed head first into the altar. Bao Xiang thought: “This bald man’s arm strength is not bad, I should be more careful.” Then he said: “Your daddy I wants to kill you, you should be good and remove all your clothes so that your daddy does not have to put any effort.”

Di Yun reached for the sharp stone slab that he hid around his waist intending to rush out and fight to the death against the monk, when suddenly beside one of the legs of the altar he saw two mice with their stomachs facing the sky, their bodies unable to move, half dead. Then all of a sudden across the darkness of his thoughts came a flash of white light, and he said: “I will catch a few mice for you to eat first, is that okay? The taste of mice is more fresh and pleasant than that of dog meat.”

Bao Xiang replied: “What? Mice? Is it dead or alive?”

Di Yun was afraid that the monk would not eat a dead mouse, so he quickly replied: “Of course it is alive, it is still moving, only that I strangled it half to death.” Then he reached and grabbed the two mice beneath the altar and showed it to him.

Bao Xiang has eaten mice in the past and knew that its meat tasted not much different from that of thin pork. In front of him he saw two mice that were not big, but in this broken temple there was nothing else to eat, he muttered to himself and could not come to a decision.

Di Yun suggested: “Elder monk, I will skin the mouse for you and prepare a big bowl of soup, I promise it will taste good and be ready in no time.”

Bao Xiang was a very lazy person by nature. For him to kill and wash and cut up the food, just the thought was enough to make him agitated. When he heard that Di Yun would voluntarily prepare mouse soup for him, it was in line with his original intentions, so he replied: “Two mice will not be enough for me to eat, you must go and catch some more.”

Di Yun thought: “My martial arts abilities have been lost and my limbs cannot move readily, how can I catch a mouse?” But it was fortunate for him to find a way out of being eaten, so he could not let go of this opportunity, and immediately replied: “Elder monk, I will first prepare these two mice for you as an appetizer, then I will catch some more!”

Bao Xiang nodded his head: “This is not a bad idea. If I can eat until I’m full, I will spare your life, how about that?”

Di Yun crawled out from beneath the altar and said: “I need to borrow your knife for a moment, so I can cut off this mouse’s head.”

Bao Xiang did not take this bald man from the countryside seriously at all, so he pointed at his blade and said: “Go ahead!” Then he added: “If you have the guts, try and cut off your daddy’s head!”

Di Yun originally had the intention of taking the blade then turning over to cut his head off, but his plan was already exposed, so he could not make any reckless moves. With two slashes he cut off the mouse’s head and opened its belly, putting the intestines and other organs of the mouse to be washed by the rain water. Then he put it inside the cauldron.

Bao Xiang nodded his head several times. “Good, very good. You can actually make some decent mouse soup. Now go and catch me some more.”

Di Yun replied, “Of course, I will go right now” and turned his body to walk towards the exit.

Bao Xiang said: “If you think about escaping, I will rip the flesh off your body piece by piece and eat you alive!”

Di Yun replied: “If I cannot catch a mouse then I will catch a frog. In the river there are plenty of fish and shrimp to eat. I will serve elder monk until he is completely full. If elder monk is so satisfied, why is there any need to eat me? The bald and dysenteric A’San has skin ulcers and scabies all over, if you eat me you will be sick for sure.”

Bao Xiang said: “Hmph, do not let me wait until I become impatient. Hey, you cannot leave this temple, do you understand?”

Di Yun agreed at once and crawled around the floor, imitating the movements of trying to catch mice. Slowly he crawled his way out the back door until he could stand up straight. He looked in the east and westward direction in hopes of finding a place to hide. He looked outside the back door and saw on the left hand side there was a small pond. At once he ran to the pond as fast as he could, recklessly relying on a hopelessly optimistic forecast. He slowly sank into the pond and only his nose and mouth was above water so he could breathe. He further grabbed a pile of grass and stuck it in his nose.

Since he grew up by the riverside, naturally he was good at swimming. Unfortunately, he was much too far from the river, otherwise he could fall into the Yangtze River and follow the current, and Bao Xiang would have no way of catching him.

After a while, he heard Bao Xiang compliment: “Good soup! Mouse soup is indeed not bad. Too bad there are too few mice. Hey A’San, have you caught any mice yet?” He called out several times then followed by cursing several profanities. Di Yun’s right ear was above the water so he could listen to Bao Xiang. All he heard was a mouthful of profanities and extremely vulgar expressions, he trampled on the floor and kicked the mud as he rushed outside.

He took a few strides before he reached the tip of the pond. Di Yun did not dare to reveal any part of himself; his entire body submerged under water. Fortunately, this pond was filled with green duckweed and various aquatic grasses, whoever was above water could not see him at all.

However, he could not breathe underwater. He held his breath until he could no longer hold it, then he had no choice but to slowly lift his head above the surface and take a breath. He only managed to take half a breath before he was caught by a large hand pulling him from behind. Bao Xiang scolded: “If I do not cut your bald head into seventeen or eighteen pieces, your daddy I will not be considered a person! How dare you try and escape!”

Di Yun flipped his hand to grab Bao Xiang’s arm and tried to drag him down to the pond. Bao Xiang did not expect that Di Yun would dare to counterattack, so he slipped on the mud beside the pond and with a “plop” he fell into the pond.

Di Yun was excited at the turn of events, and exerted all his strength to push Bao Xiang underwater. However, the pond was too shallow and Bao Xiang was too tall and built, the water did not even go over his head. Once Bao Xiang’s feet hit the bottom of the pond, he countered by turning his hand over and grabbed Di Yun’s wrists, then with his left hand he put his head underwater. Di Yun had already put his life aside; even though he was underwater, he maintained his grip on Bao Xiang and would not let go at any cost. At that moment Bao Xiang could not immediately struggle himself free and cursed loudly. He was careless and accidentally swallowed a few mouthfuls of dirty water which fed his anger even further. He raised his fist and hit Di Yun hard on the back.

Di Yun felt the force of Bao Xiang’s strike landing on his back. However, as his body was underwater, the power of this attack was greatly reduced and was less painful. However if he were to take another few of punches, he would definitely pass out. He had no way of retaliating, the only thing he could do was ram his head into Bao Xiang’s chest.

They continued to struggle with each other when all of a sudden Bao Xiang screamed, “Aiyo!” and let go of his hold on Di Yun. The fist he raised remained in midair, not attacking its target and slowly drifted downwards. Then followed that his entire body became stiff and he fell underwater.

Di Yun felt exceedingly strange at the turn of events and struggled to pull himself back to surface. He only saw that Bao Xiang did not move at all, as if he was dead. As he was still in a panicked state, he did not dare to make contact with his body and only stood at the side of the pond and observed. He only saw Bao Xiang continue to sink until his entire body was at the bottom of the pond and did not move at all. After a while, it appeared that the monk was really dead. Di Yun was still not confident so he threw a few pieces of rock at his body. When he saw that the body did not move at all, he realized that he was not faking his death.

Di Yun made his way back to the surface and could not figure out how the evil monk died all of a sudden for no apparent reason. In his mind he had a glimmer of hope: “Is it possible that my abilities in the Heavenly Glow possess such formidable strength that even I don’t know about it? When I rammed my head hard against his chest, was that enough to take his life?” He tried to channel his energy but only felt the “Jushao Yangdan channel reached the “Five Li” acupoint on his thigh. No matter what it could not work, he also tried “Shoushao Yang Sanjiao” meridian and channelled it to the “Qing Leng Yuan” acupoint but it also clogged up. In fact, he felt even worse than when he first left prison; it must be because in the last several days he could not maintain focus and had to put aside his training. Evidently, to complete the training of the Heavenly Glow, he still has a very long distance to cover.”

He stood quietly at the side of the pond and stared blankly. He could not believe the events that had just occurred. But he saw the raindrops gradually fall into the pond causing ripples, with Bao Xiang’s body at the bottom of the pond with no signs of life.

He was dumbstruck for a while before he returned to the temple. He saw that the fire of the iron cauldron was already extinguished, on the side of the cauldron were two dead mice with their stomachs facing the ceiling, its ears and foot showing brief signs of movement. Di Yun thought: “So it turns out that Bao Xiang also caught two mice but did not have the fortune to experience it, and was consequently killed by me.” He saw inside the cauldron there was still some residue of mouse soup; it must have been left behind by Bao Xiang. Di Yun was very hungry too, so he lifted the iron cauldron and opened his mouth to drink the remaining of the mouse soup. All of a sudden, there was a very strong scent of strange fragrance.

He felt a bit stunned and supported the cauldron with both hands and withdrew it from his mouth. He pondered: “What is this pleasant smell? I have smelled this before, but cannot make out what it is.” He smelled the strange fragrance in the mouse soup again and immediately came to a conclusion. He exclaimed, “Good fortune!” and with both hands he threw the iron cauldron inside the well. As he turned around to look at Ding Dian’s body, he could hardly contain his tears. “Brother Ding, even after your death, you have saved your brother once again.”

During this matter of life and death, in a flash he finally realized the true cause of Bao Xiang’s demise.

The poison that Ding Dian contracted was that of the “Golden Ripple Flower”, and consequently his entire body was toxic. Bao Xiang used his blade to slash Ding Dian’s corpse and this same blade was used to kill the mice. The poison was smeared on the mice, hence when Bao Xiang drank the mouse soup he also contracted this poison. During their struggle in the pond, Bao Xiang suddenly died of toxicity. The two mice in front of him right now also died as a result of drinking the poisonous mouse soup in the cauldron.

Di Yun thought: “If not for the essence of the Golden Ripple Flower containing such a strange and fragrant smell, and if I could not come to this realization quickly enough, I too would have drunk this poisonous soup.” He also thought: “The first time I smelled the scent of the Golden Ripple Flower was back at Lady Ling’s funeral hall, when Magistrate Ling smeared this poison on his daughter’s coffin. Brother Ding has smelled and contracted this poison once in the past, how did he not realize this the second time? It must be that upon seeing Lady Ling’s coffin, Brother Ding’s mind was in a state of turmoil and he could not think at all.”

In the past, Di Yun was completely disheartened and had given up on everything in life; he no longer wanted to live. But at this moment, he survived by the skin of his teeth, and he could not help but feel that it was indeed a fortunate occurrence. The sky was full of layer upon layers of dark clouds and pouring with rain, yet in his heart he felt a sense of radiance. He felt that at the very least he saved his own life, which could be considered an experience of boundless joy.

He took a moment to regain his composure, then carefully placed Ding Dian’s body upright in the corner of the room. Then he went to fetch Bao Xiang’s body from beneath the pond. He dug a hole in the ground and buried the body. When he returned to the temple, he saw Bao Xiang’s garments were placed on the altar, and on top of that was a tarpaulin packet which contained about a dozen taels of silver.

His curiosity got the best of him and he opened the packet. Inside was another layer of oil paper. He unwrapped the oil paper and saw that a small yellow paper book was wrapped inside. The text written on the seal was curved and meandering, these characters did not look like actual characters, nor did they look like drawings. He could not make out what they were.

He turned the book over and opened it. On the first page was a drawing of a really thin and naked man with one finger pointing at the sky and another finger pointing on the ground. The appearance of this man was sly and awkward. On the side, text shaped like tadpoles were written in red and green. Di Yun looked at the drawing of the man and saw that he had a profound sight and a hooked nose, his forehead slightly curved. The appearance was somewhat odd and did not look like a figure from the mainland. In addition to this strangeness, there seemed to be some sort of attraction embedded in the drawing, as if one could not help but be swayed to look at it.

He turned to the second page. There was another drawing of a naked man just like before, but in a different position; his left foot was standing firm while his right foot was extended forward. The two hands were placed behind his back, his left hand touching his right ear while his right hand touched his left ear.

He continued turning the pages in this book. In each page was a drawing of the same naked man, his disposition becoming more and more bewildering. The position changes were limitless; sometimes his hands would push against the ground, while other times it would leap in midair. Even more, sometimes his entire body would be upside-down, with the top of his head on the ground, the lower half of his body gave birth to six imaginary limbs. In the latter half of the book, the man wielded a curved sabre.

He returned to the first page and paid close attention to the expression on the man’s face. He saw that his tongue was faintly extended from the left corner of his mouth. At the same time, his right eye was opened wide while his left eye was closed; an extremely odd appearance. Di Yun became curious and tried to follow the expression of this man; also extending the tip of his tongue, his right eye was opened while his left eye was closed. As soon as he did this expression, he felt his face became very relaxed and comforting. He continued to look at the drawings, he could faintly see that in the man’s body there were several strips of extremely mild grey threads drawn by various meridians in his body. Di Yun thought: “Of course. The reason that the man in this drawing did not wear any clothes was to express the meridians in his body.”

During the time when Ding Dian taught him the Heavenly Glow in prison, he had once explained in rigorous detail the various directions a person’s meridians can take. In order to learn the most profound internal energy techniques, this was the underlying concept. He already memorized this thoroughly, but at this moment when he looked at the drawing of the pathways of the meridians, he could not help but begin to channel his internal energy in accordance to the directions of the drawing.

He thought: “The direction that this meridian takes is exactly opposite from what Brother Ding taught me. I’m afraid this is incorrect.” But he thought further, “I will try it anyway, what harm will it do me?” and at once he channelled his energy along the paths of the drawing. In a short moment, his entire body felt a sensation of relaxation and briskness that he could not describe.

When he practiced the Heavenly Glow, he had to concentrate his energy completely; it would move upwards only one inch or two inches at a time and was very challenging. Yet when he channelled his energy according to the drawing, in an instant his energy was flowing like the current of a river, he did not even need to exert the slightest bit of strength and his interior flowed naturally. He felt both startled and pleased: “How does my interior have such meridian pathways? Could it be that even Brother Ding doesn’t know about it?” Then he thought: “This manual belonged to the evil monk, and the text and drawings written on it are extremely nefarious and strange, it is unlikely to be orthodox. I would be best not training with it anymore.”

However, once his interior channels were in motion, he did not want to abruptly stop practicing. He thought: “Very well, I will only practice this once. Next time I will not practice it.” Slowly he began to feel carefree and relaxed, the blood in his body felt warmer. After another while, he felt light as a feather, as if he just finished a full meal with alcohol. He could not help but start dancing around and then he began to utter faint humming sounds. His mind drew a blank and he fell unconscious. After that he did not know what happened.

After a long while, he finally regained consciousness. He slowly opened his eyes and the brightness of the sky made him slightly uncomfortable. It turns out that the rain had already stopped and the sun was shining at the direction of the temple. He jumped up at once and felt invigorated, as if his entire body was full of energy. He thought: “Is it possible that the techniques in this manual have some sort of benefit? No! No! I should just follow the methods that Brother Ding taught me. This manual is unorthodox; should I continue training with it, the effects may be irreversible.” He grabbed the manual with the intent of ripping it apart, but thought about it some more and felt it was mysterious and was unwilling to part with it.

He tidied up his garments but saw they were already ragged and it was difficult to cover his body. He saw that Bao Xiang’s monk garment and pants were still hung on top of the altar, so he decided to wear those instead. But as he put on this evil monk’s attire, he felt uncomfortable; he could barely move around in it. Furthermore, the trousers had 17 or 18 holes in it, he could not even hide his buttocks from plain view. He took the manual along with the dozen or so silver taels inside the packet, then he went to the tree where he hid the various jewelleries and silver and dug those out of the mud. He carried Ding Dian’s body with him and left the temple.

After travelling for a kilometer or so, he saw a farmer approaching his direction. When the farmer saw that he was carrying a dead body with him, he immediately became startled and slipped on the mud. His entire body was covered with mud as he got up; he could barely maintain his balance as he struggled to run away.

Di Yun knew that if he were to continue travelling in this direction, he may cause many unnecessary incidents. But at this moment in time he could not come up with a good plan. Fortunately, this region was somewhat desolate and it would be unlikely for him to encounter anyone along the way. He continued to carry Ding Dian and thought: “Brother Ding, I cannot bear to part with you, I cannot part with you.”

Then he heard the voice of seven or eight farmers singing folk songs as they carried a shovel on their back. Di Yun sprinted quickly and hid amidst the tall grass fields, waiting for the farmers to pass. He thought: “If I do not burn Ding Dian’s body, I will never be able to fulfill his wish of being buried together with Lady Ling.” He arrived at a trough in the mountain area and fetched for some dried sticks and firewood. He clenched his teeth and set a fire ablaze and burnt the sticks around Ding Dian’s body.

As the tongue of the flame engulfed Ding Dian’s hair and clothing, Di Yun felt as if the flame was burning his own skin and flesh. He threw himself on the ground and bit on the grass, his tears dripping into the grass and earth.

He carefully picked up Ding Dian’s ashes and solemnly wrapped it around oil paper, then added another layer of tarpaulin. This oil paper and tarpaulin was exactly what Bao Xiang used to wrap the yellow manual. After he had carefully wrapped the paper around the ashes, he placed it by his waist, then scooped out a bit with his hands, causing the remaining ashes to fall in the pit. Then he covered up the ashes with mud and paid his respects.

He got back up and felt wondered what he should do next. The only close person he had left in this world was his teacher, so he suddenly thought: “I will return to Yuanling to find my teacher.” teacher had wounded Wan Zhenshan and escaped, it was unlikely that he would return to his residence in Yuanling. It is likely that he created a new identity for himself and lived in a remote area. But besides returning to Yuanling to take a look, Di Yun could not think of anywhere else he wanted to go.

At once he followed the path down until he arrived at a village. He asked a local and it turns out that the name of this place was called Tashi Dock, a place in Jianli county in Hubei. This place could be considered to be within the territories of Hunan. The river banks were desolate. Di Yun made his way to Tashi Dock and took out some silver to buy food to eat.

When he left the restaurant, he heard some loud rackets in the distance. There were many people gathered and much hubbub. Then he heard loud shouts and clashes as if there was a battle going on. Di Yun became curious and went to see what was causing all the excitement. He saw in the middle of the crowd of people there were seven or eight built men attacking an elderly man all at once. This old man wore green clothes and a cap while the built men were barefooted and wore short sleeves. On the side was a small basket of fish. They were obviously fish merchants.

Di Yun thought that it was just ordinary street fighting that wasn’t worth spectating, so he was about to leave when suddenly the elderly man unleashed a flying kick that sent one of the built men flying, turning a few somersaults before landing on the basket of fish. It turns out that this old man knew some martial arts.

He became curious and wanted to figure out the reason behind this fight. He saw that the elderly man was single-handedly battling the majority, and at once he knocked out another three fish merchants. There were also a few fish merchants among the audience, but at this time none of them dared to step forward to do battle. All of a suddenly a fish merchant yelled out: “The boss is here! The boss is here!” Di Yun turned and saw from the riverside approached two fish merchants in rapid speed. A third fish merchant followed close behind. Di Yun observed their movements and saw that their steps were calm and steady and he could tell at once that they knew martial arts.

The three of them approached the scene. The one in front was a man around 40 years of age with a candle-like complexion. He gave a glance at the fish merchant on the floor and asked: “Who are you? Whose axe are you carrying to dare to pick fights with people from Taishi Dock?” He asked these questions directed to the old man, but he did not even look in his direction.

The old man replied: “I only want to buy fish with money, how am I picking on anyone?”

The fish boss asked the fish merchant on the side: “Why did you start fighting?”

The fish merchant said: “This elderly man wants to buy our pair of gold carps. I told him that gold carps are difficult to find and it is used for boss to brew medicine. This elder insisted on buying the carp at any cost and we would not allow it, so he resorted to stealing.”

The fish boss turned around and gave a few looks to size up the elder. “Your friend has been hit by the Blue Sand Palm?”

As soon as the old man heard this, he changed expression. “I do not know what of Red Sand Palm or Blue Sand Palm. The master of my family only wants to eat carp and drink wine and ordered me to buy carp for him. In this world there is no fish that is not for sale, what kind of logic are they using to not sell the carp to me?”

The fish boss sneered: “Is there any reason to lie in front of your face? May I ask what your honourable name is? If you are a good person, not only are we willing to spare these two gold carps, but I will personally give you the ‘Jade Flesh Pill’ that will cure the injuries of the Blue Sand Palm.

The expression on the old man’s face filled with more uncertainty and hesitation. After a while he said: “What is your honourable name? How do you know about the Blue Sand Palm and how is there a Jade Flesh Pill? Could it be…?”

The boss replied: “You are correct. I am the son of the master of the Blue Sand Palm, so I definitely have a close relationship with it.”

The old man did not reply, then he turned and grabbed the fish basket. His actions were extremely fast and nimble. The boss sneered, “It won’t be that easy!” and with a loud “pang”, he attacked the man from behind with his palm. The old man returned a palm strike, and, borrowing the momentum and force of his opponent’s palm, he was sent flying several dozen feet away while grabbing hold onto the fish basket. Then he ran away in quick haste. The fish boss did not expect the old man to have such skills. He saw that he would not be able to catch up so he pulled up his sleeve and revealed a hidden weapon and shot it at the old man’s back.

When the old man got hold of the fish he focused all of his efforts on running away and did not expect that there would be a hidden projectile coming his way. The weapon that was unleashed was an earthenware dart made of steel. He used much force in his throw and sent the dart flying away. Di Yun saw that the old man was unaware of the incoming projectile, so he decided to lend a hand by throwing a fish basket to deflect the path of the dart.

As Di Yun had lost all his martial arts, he did not have formidable arm strength. However, he was standing in a good position. He heard the sound of the steel dart pierce into the fish basket, then the fish basket flew forward several meters before falling on the ground.

The old man turned around when he heard sounds coming from behind. All he saw was the fish merchant pointing at Di Yun and scolding: “You bald thief! Which temple produces such untamed monks? How dare you interfere with members of the Iron Net Sect of Yangtze?”

Di Yun stared blankly at the man and thought: “Why is he scolding me as a bald thief?” He saw that the man was impetus and had much influence and also said something about “Yangtze Iron Net Sect”. He remembered that Brother Ding often told him that there were many clans and sects in the realm that should be avoided so as to stay away from trouble. He did not want to cause trouble for himself for no reason, so he apologized: “It is little brother’s fault. Little brother asks for elder brother’s forgiveness.”

The fish boss shouted: “Who do you think you are to refer to me as a brother?” He pointed in the left and right direction and instructed one of the fish merchants: “Capture these two for me!”

All of a sudden, the sound of jingling bells could be heard approaching. Two horses came from the riverside west heading eastward. The old man was delighted and said: “My master is here, you can speak with him yourself.”

The fish boss became nervous and asked: “Is it the ‘Twin Knights of Bell Sword’?” Immediately after, he continued: “So what if it is the Twin Knights of Bell Sword? It is not in their right to show off their abilities in around the Yangtze.”

Before he even finished speaking, the two horses arrived at the scene. Di Yun felt brightness in his eyes and saw that there were two horses, one yellow and one white. Both were full of spirit with a remarkable saddle. On top of the yellow horse sat a young man aged around 25 or 26 who was tall and skinny and wore a yellow garment. Sitting on the white horse was a young girl around 20 wearing a white garment; a red silk flower hanged on her left shoulder. Her complexion white and delicate and she gave off an appearance of beauty and intelligence. Both of them carried a long sword around their waist and held onto a horse whip. The two horses were shaped like regular horses, but the impressive part was that the yellow horse was completely yellow and the white horse was completely white without a single trace of mixed fur.

A golden luan[2] bell was attached on the neck of the yellow horse while a silver luan bell was attached to the white horse; jingling sounds would be emitted as soon as the horse moved its head even slightly, the sounds were especially crisp and clear. It could be said that the horses and its masters were a perfect match. In Di Yun’s entire life he had never seen such an impressive display of beauty and elegance. He could not help but think to himself: “So beautiful!”

The young man looked at the direction of the old man and asked: “Shui Fu, have you found the carp? Where is it?”

The old man replied: “Young Master Wang, I have indeed found the gold carp, but… they refuse to sell it to me and even resorted to violence.”

The young man saw the dart that was stuck to the fish basket on the side and said: “Hmph, who uses such a vicious weapon?” He extended his whip and fetched the blue silk cloth attached to the tail of the steel dart. He said to the girl: “Sheng’mei, look at this. This is a ‘Scorpion Tail Dart’ from a bark cloth tree!”

The young girl asked: “Who was the one who used this dart?” Her voice was clear and bright.

The fish boss let out a cold laugh, his right hand holding on tightly to the blade around his waist area. “In the last few years, the Twin Knights of Bell Sword have made a name for themselves, do not think that the Iron Net Sect of Yangtze does not know this. However, if you intend to bully us to submission, I’m afraid it won’t be so easy.” The way he spoke gave out a hint of weakness covered by strength. It was clear that he was unwilling to come into conflict with them.

The young girl replied: “This type of scorpion tail dart is capable of eroding ones heart and decaying ones bones, it is much too violent. My father had said that nobody is allowed to use this, have you not heard? Fortunately, you did not use it to attack others and only practiced with a fish basket, but it is still unacceptable.”

Shui Fu said: “My Lady, that is not what happened. This person attacked me with the dart. It is thanks to this young monk who blocked the path of the dart with the fish basket, otherwise I would have lost my life.” As he spoke, he pointed at Di Yun.

Di Yun was bewildered. “One calls me a monk, the other calls me a bald thief. When did I become a monk?”

The young girl looked at Di Yun and nodded and gave a faint smile of acknowledgement. When Di Yun saw her smile, it looked as pretty as a blooming flower and was truly touching. He could not help but feel shy as his face flushed red.

When the young man heard Shui Fu’s words, he immediately became angry and strict. He looked at the fish boss and asked: “Is this true?” Without even waiting for an answer, he twirled his horse whip and sent the dart flying at an intense speed. The sound of wind could be heard, and with a loud clap, it was pinned to a willow tree more than a hundred feet away. His arm strength was astonishing.

The fish boss remained resolute. “Are you trying to show off?”

The young man shouted: “I am trying to show off!” He lifted his horse whip and aimed it at his opponent’s head. The fish boss unleashed his blade to counter. However, he did not expect that the whip would suddenly slant downwards and roll on the ground, its movements fluctuating irregularly and aimed to attack the lower half of his body. The fish boss tried to evade the whip, but the whip twirled upwards and wrapped itself around his right leg. The young man gently pushed his foot downward on the horse’s stomach and at once the yellow horse rushed forward. The fish boss’s technique in the lower half of his body was actually not that bad; even though the whip was coiled around his leg, the young man may not necessarily be able to pull him down. However, the young man strategized by first causing him to leap in midair so that he would lose his balance, then followed by whipping his leg. When the yellow horse rushed forward, the force was that of a thousand catties. Even if the fish boss’s strength was greater, he would not be able to handle it. The yellow horse pulled his body upward and he was suspended in midair. The rest of the fish merchants all gasped and shouted; seven or eight of them rushed in as reinforcement.

The yellow horse went forward several dozen feet, turning the horse whip into the shape of a bowstring, then the young man, borrowing the momentum, slung the whip with his arm and hit the fish boss, sending him soaring into the distance. The fish boss had good martial arts but in midair he could not unleash any of it, and could not help but fall towards the river. Everyone on shore was startled and gasped at once. With a loud plop, the fish boss splashed into the water and disappeared into the river.

The young girl applauded and chuckled, then she unleashed her horsewhip amidst the crowd of fish merchants and began whipping left and right. The fish merchants scattered away in every direction. The fish basket was also knocked down, causing live fish and shrimp to run about.

As the fish boss grew up near the river, he was very good at swimming so he made his way to the opposite shore. He had already swum several hundred feet and began to curse profusely, but did not dare to go back for another fight.

Shui Fu picked up the basket containing the gold carp and opened it. “Young Master, look at those red lips and gold scales, and it is very fat!”

The young man replied: “Return to the inn quickly and give it to Old Master Hua so he can use it as a cure.”

Shui Fu replied: “Yes,” then walked toward Di Yun and bowed. “I thank this little monk for saving my life. May I ask for little monk’s Buddhist name?”

Di Yun heard this old man call him a little monk many times, causing him to get goosebumps. He did not know how to answer immediately.

The young man said: “Go quickly. This task cannot be delayed.”

Shui Fu replied: “Yes.” He did not wait for Di Yun’s reply and left.

Di Yun saw that these two young people were both righteous and elegant with impressive martial arts. He felt a sense of envy and admiration. He had the intent of forming a friendship with them but they did not dismount from their horses. He wanted to ask for their names but did not want to be embarrassed.

As he hesitated to ask, the young man fetched out a gold ingot from his bosom and said: “Little monk, thank you for saving the life of our old servant. This gold ingot will be for little monk’s incense oil expenses.” He gently threw the ingot toward Di Yun.

Di Yun caught it with his left hand, then threw it back at the young man and said: “That is not necessary. I would like to ask for your honourable names.”

The young man saw the way Di Yun caught the gold ingot and concluded that he knew martial arts. He did not wait for the ingot to fly toward him before twirling and wrapping it around his horse whip. “Since little monk is a man from the martial world, he has most probably heard of the Twin Knights of Bell Sword.”

Di Yun saw the way the young man brandished the ingot with his horse whip causing it to dance around frivolously. “Just now I heard the fish merchants call you two the Twin Knights of Bell Sword, but I do not know your honourable surname.”

The young man became angry and displeased. He thought: “If you know that we are the Twin Knights of Bell Sword, how can you not know my name?” He groaned but did not reply.

Suddenly, a wind from the river blew over Di Yun and revealed a corner of his monk garment.”

The young girl was startled. “He… he is a blood sabre monk… from… from the Dark Qinghai Cult.”

The young man’s expression was filled with hatred. “That’s right. Hmph, get lost!”

Di Yun was startled. “I… I…” He took a step forward and asked the girl: “Lady, what are you talking about?”

The young girl’s face was filled with hate and fright and said: “You… you… don’t get near me. Go away!”

Di Yun was at a loss and asked: “What are you talking about?” He walked forward another step.

The young girl grabbed her horse whip and slashed it in midair. Di Yun did not expect that the girl would attack; he turned his head to dodge, but he did not react fast enough. The whip slashed him right across the face, from the upper left of his forehead to the bridge of his nose, then to the right side of his temple.

Di Yun was angry. “Why… why are you hitting me?” He saw the girl attack again and he tried to grab the whip from her, but he did not expect her whip techniques to change. When he tried to grab the whip with his right hand he was already slashed in the forehead. Then he felt a great pain from his back, he was kicked by the young man from behind. Di Yun could not keep his balance and fell over. The young man pressed forward with his horse and ran him over. Di Yun rolled outward and in a daze he could only hear the tinkling sound of silver bells as the white horse kicked him in the chest. He could not understand what was happening, but he knew that if the horse kicked him in a crucial spot he would lose his life immediately. He curled up his body and heard a crack. His vision was filled with dancing stars and then he passed out.

*****

He slowly regained his consciousness. He did not know how much time had passed. In a daze he tried to pick himself up, but there was an extreme pain on his left waist and he nearly fainted again. Then he spat out a mouthful of fresh blood. He turned his head around and saw that his right leg was covered in blood and bent sideways. He was startled and wondered: “What happened to my leg?” After a while, he understood. “The young lady’s horse trampled over my leg and broke it.”

He felt completely exhausted and the pain in his leg and back was unbearable. In that moment he again had the intention of giving himself up in despair. “I no longer want to live. I will just lie here and wait for my death.” He did not groan and only wished for a quick death. However, even dying was not easy. After lying down for a while he realized it wasn’t going to happen and thought: “Why can’t I die? Why can’t I die?”

After a very long time, he thought: “I have no animosity toward them nor have I wronged them in any way. We were just having a conversation, why did they treat me like this?” He pondered deeply but did not have a clue. He thought aloud: “I am so stupid, if Brother Ding came back to life, even if he could not help me, he could at least provide a reasonable explanation to this incident.”

As he thought about Ding Dian, he remembered: “I promised Brother Ding that I would bury him together with Lady Ling. This wish has not been fulfilled yet, I cannot die.” He felt his waist with his hands and realized that the package containing Ding Dian’s ashes did not break apart and breathed a sigh of relief. He tried to get up again and felt a sensation surging up his throat, it was blood. He knew that the more blood he spat out the weaker he would become, so he channelled his energy and suppressed his blood pressure. But he felt a weird sensation in his mouth and he spat another mouthful of fresh blood on the ground.

The most painful part of his body was his broken leg, it felt as if several hundred knives stabbed constantly at his leg. Eventually, he crawled his way to the shade of a willow tree and thought: “I cannot die. I have to stay alive at any cost. And to stay alive I have to eat food.” He saw on the ground the fish and shrimp that fell off the basket earlier. They had died a long time ago. He picked up a few shrimps and stuffed it in his mouth. “I will first fix my broken leg, then I will figure out a way to get out of here.”

He looked in all four directions and saw various items left behind by the fish merchants scattered about. He crawled forward and grabbed a small paddle and a fish net. He slowly ripped apart the fish net and put it around his leg. Then he put the paddle against his leg for support and tied it all together with a rope.

He rested for a while. Every time he wanted to get back up the pain would knock him out. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply and waited to recover his energy before getting up again. He thought: “It will take at least two months for my leg to fully recover. Where can I find a good place to rest?” In a flash he saw on a row of boats by the river bank and thought: “I will rest on the boats, then I don’t have to move.” He was afraid that the vicious fish merchants would return, so with all his strength he crawled his way to the boats without rest. He untied the ship’s hawser, picked up a paddle and began rowing toward the river.

He looked down and saw that a corner of his monk gown was flipped over, exposing a red and bloody short blade embroidered by red thread. On the tip of the blade, the red thread gave the illusion of three spots of what appeared to be blood dripping down. The shape of the blade looked lively and frightening. Then he came to a realization: “Oh, yes. This gown belongs to the evil monk Bao Xiang. Those two must have thought I was also from the same clan.” He extended his hand and felt his own bald head.

He then realized why the old man constantly called him a “little monk” and why the Iron Net Sect of Yangtze called him a “little bald thief”. He had long dressed himself up as a monk and he did not even realize it. “The corner of my gown was flipped over. The lady must have mistaken me as a blood sabre monk from the Dark Qinghai Cult. This bloody sabre of mine is frightening; the monks from this sect must commit unimaginable misdeeds. I already know this much, using Bao Xiang as an example.”

His leg was broken for no good reason. At first, he was extremely angry and wanted to figure out the reason behind this incident. But now, he removed his animosity against the Twin Knights of Bell Sword and furthermore felt that the two knights were heroic for trying to eliminate evildoers. However, the two of them were profound in martial arts and each had a strong moral character. Even if this misunderstanding was resolved, he did not feel worthy of making friends with them.

After the boat was slowly paddled about a dozen li, he saw a small town on shore. He gazed from far away and saw that there were many people in town. “I should not wear this gown any longer as it can cause me a lot of trouble, I should change into new clothes as soon as possible.” As soon as the boat made its way to shore, he took the paddle and used it as support. He walked slowly and struggled his way limping on land. The people in the town gave him strange looks when they saw this young monk crippled and face covered in blood. This feeling of suspect and coldness did not bother him in the least bit, as he had suffered much worse throughout the years.

He slowly made his way down the street. He saw an old clothing store and went in to buy a long dark gown and a new set of clothing. He had to change into his new clothes so he undressed and covered himself in the long dark gown while he changed. Then he bought a felt hat to cover his bald head. Afterwards, he went to buy food at a local restaurant to replenish his energy. He waited sitting on the table and nearly fainted of exhaustion, then he spat out another two mouthfuls of fresh blood.

The server brought him a plate of tofu with fish and a plate of meat mixed with black bean sauce. Di Yun became more alert as he smelt the scent of rice and fish. He picked up his chopsticks and ate two mouthfuls of rice, then a piece of meat. As he was chewing, he heard the sound of jingling bells coming from the west, a wave of luan bells approaching.

He did not fully swallow the piece of meat as he thought: “The Twin Knights of Bell Sword are coming again. Should I go out and clear up our misunderstanding? They trampled my leg with their horse but I am actually innocent. If I do not explain myself, they will think I’m guilty.”

However, in the past few years he had already suffered endless counts of misfortunes and was already getting used to it, so he thought: “I have already suffered so many injustices in my life. What does it matter if I suffer again?” The sound of bells was approaching closer and closer. Di Yun turned around facing the wall and did not dare to make contact with them.

At that moment, someone tapped him on the shoulder and laughed: “Little monk, you have done good deeds. Our master wishes to drink with you.”

Di Yun was startled. He turned around saw four officers; two were holding iron chains and the other two were holding blades. All four of them looked extremely cautious. Di Yun let out an interjection of surprise. He stood up and grabbed the plate of meat on the table and threw it at one of the officers. Then he used his elbows and flipped the table over, causing the tofu, white rice, and soup to splash in the direction of the second officer. He thought: “The officers from the Jingzhou Prefecture have come after me. If I end up in the hands of Ling Tuisi, how can I keep myself alive?”

Two of the officers were burnt by the splash of food and soup and moved back quickly. Di Yun took the opportunity to run away. But he only made one step before he fell on the floor. In his haste to escape, he forgot that his left leg was broken. The third officer lifted his sabre and was about to slash him. Although Di Yun lost his martial arts, he was still more than capable of overcoming one officer. He grabbed the officer by the wrist and took hold of the blade.

The four officers saw that he was now wielding a weapon and shouted loudly: “This perverted monk resists arrest!” Another said: “The evil blood sabre monks have committed another crime!” Another said: “The perverted monk who killed the lady of the official is here!” As they shouted, many citizens of the small town gathered at once and saw Di Yun covered with scars and bruises all over his face. They did not dare to get too close.

Di Yun heard the yells of the four men and thought: “Could it be that these people aren’t from Jingzhou Prefecture?” Then he shouted loudly in defense: “What are you talking about? Who is the perverted monk?”

The sound of bells fast approached; a yellow horse and a white horse made its way to the scene. The Twin Knights of Bell Sword rode their high horses in arrogance and had seen the entire incident. The two stared blankly at Di Yun for a moment and thought that he looked familiar. Then at once they recognized that he was the evil blood sabre monk. They thought that he was wearing a disguise in order to conceal his features.

An officer said: “Hey, big monk, if you wish to be romantic and lascivious that is fine, but why do you have to kill the lady afterwards? A good man will stand up to the consequences of his actions. Come with me to the county prefecture and we will fight in court.”

Another officer said: “You bought yourself a new disguise but we saw through it. There is no way you will escape today, just give up peacefully.”

Di Yun scolded: “You people speak nonsense and declare an innocent man guilty!”

An officer replied: “There is no unjust treatment here. Three nights ago you snuck into the Li residence and murdered two ladies of the family in cold blood. I saw this very clearly. The features of your eyes, eyebrows, nose, and mouth match exactly. That person was definitely you.”

The Twin Knights of Bell Sword reined their horses and watched from the side. “Biaoge[3], this monk’s martial arts is not impressive. If we did not consider the fact that he saved Shui Fu’s life, we would have killed him already. It turns out that… that he is such an evil person.”

The young man replied: “I also think this is strange. It is said that this evil monk has done many indescribably evil deeds on both sides of the Yangtze in the last few days, taking the lives of dozens. The officials could do nothing to stop him. However, the heroes of Lianghu need not be startled or afraid. Judging by the little monk’s martial arts, his martial brother or teacher could not be that impressive either.”

“It could be the case that one of them has profound martial arts, else why would the heroes of Lianghu request my father for assistance? And why would they further ask for the help of Uncle Lu, Uncle Hua, and Uncle Liu?”

“Hmph, the heroes of Lianghu must have lost their minds. Is there anyone under heaven who would require the combined forces of the four heroes known as ‘Luohua Liushui’[5] in order to be subdued?”

“Hehe, to ask for the combined forces of the Twin Knights of Bell Sword sounds more appropriate.”

“Biaomei[6], go on ahead and wait for me. I will take care of this bald thief by myself.”

“I will watch from inside.”

“No, do not stay inside. In the future, when the people of the martial world bring up this incident, they will say that I Wang Xiaofeng fought alone and killed the evil monk and implicate the heroine Shui Sheng also. You know how much nonsense people talk in the realm.”

“Right, you have thought this through. I am not as careful as you.”

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[1] About 5 minutes

[2]A luan is a mythical bird related to the phoenix.

[3]An older male cousin from the female line.

[4]Referring to Hubei and Hunan.

[5]“落花流水” (Luohua Liushui) is a group of four martial artists in the realm. There is no good way to translate this phrase so I have left it as is.

[6]Younger female cousin from the female line.

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