The Smiling Proud Wanderer Ch. 08

Previous Chapter: The Smiling Proud Wanderer Ch. 07
aka: Hina Kelana, Author: Jin Yong, Chin Yung

Chapter Eight: Meditation

At dusk that night, after bowing to Master and Master-Wife and bidding his farewell to all the apprentice brothers and sisters, Linghu Chong climbed up the steep cliff on the very top of the Jade Maiden Peak, bringing only a long sword with him. There was a cave on top of the cliff. It was the spot used for punishing generations of Huashan Sword School apprentices who had violated school rules. The cliff was completely bare, without a single blade of grass, not mentioning any trees. Other than the cave, there was nothing else on the cliff. Mount Huashan had many beautiful types of scenery and resourceful of trees and grasses, but this steep cliff was an exception. Legend told that the cliff was a pearl studded on the Jade Maiden’s hairpin. The reason why earlier generations of Huashan grandmasters picked this steep cliff as the place for punishing apprentices was mainly because it was such a bare place that even birds or insects didn’t want to live here. Therefore, when the punished apprentice meditated and thought through his mistakes, he wouldn’t be distracted by other things and would be able to stay focused.

Linghu Chong entered the cave, and a big smooth rock on the floor soon caught his eyes.

“For the last several hundred years, many grandmasters of our Huashan Sword School must have sat on this rock before, which really smoothed out the rock surface. I, Linghu Chong, am the number one troublemaker of Huashan Sword School nowadays, so of course I am destined to sit on this rock. Master has been really kind to me. He had waited until today to send me here to sit on this rock,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

“Hello rock!” He patted on the big rock gently and muttered. “You’ve probably been lonely for many years. But Linghu Chong is here to be your company now.”

Sitting down on the rock, he found his eyes only one foot away from the rock wall. Then something caught his attention. The words “Feng Qingyang” were carved on the left side of the rock wall. Those must have been carved using a sharp blade – the vigorous strokes were almost half-an-inch deep into the rock.

“Who’s this Feng Qingyang?” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but ask himself. “He is probably a senior master of our school who was once punished to meditate here. Oh, I see. My Grandmaster’s name has a ‘Qing’ in it and he belongs to the ‘Qing’ generation of Huashan masters. This senior master named Feng must be my Grand Uncle-Master then. It takes great strength to carve something like that. His Kung Fu must have been outstanding. How come Master and Master-Wife never mentioned him before? I guess this senior master must have passed away a long time ago.”

He closed his eyes and worked on his breathing exercises for about an hour before standing up again to stretch out. Going back into the cave and sat back down on the rock, he started pondering upon the question, “When I meet people from the Demon Cult, should I simply draw my sword and kill him right away with no questions asked and with no regards? Doesn’t the Demon Cult even have a single good person? But if he were a good person, why would he join the Demon Cult in the first place? Even if he had joined the Demon Cult by mistake, he could have quit immediately. If he didn’t quit, then he must be willing to collaborate with evil and harm innocent people.”

Instantly, many scenes appeared in his mind. Those were all scenes Master, Master-Wife, and other senior masters in the Martial World had told him before, things about the many kinds of murders the Demon Cult members had committed: The entire family of Master Yu in Jiangxi Province, a total of twenty-three, were taken prisoner by the Demon Cult and all were nailed onto tree trunks. Even the three-year-old child was no exception. Two of Master Yu’s sons groaned for three days and three nights before finally passing away. When the Head Master of Dragon-Phoenix Saber in Jinan, Zhao Dengkui, held the wedding ceremony for his son, members of the Demon Cult forced their way into the crowds, beheaded the newly weds and placed their heads on top of the gift table claiming them to be wedding gifts. When old Hero Hao in Hanyang had his seventieth birthday party and invited many friends in the Martial World over, no one had known that the Demon Cult had planted bombs right underneath the room for the ceremony. The sudden explosion killed and wounded countless number of people, including Uncle-Master Ji from the Taishan Sword School, who lost an arm in this tragedy. Uncle-Master Ji had told this story himself, so it had to be true. Then he remembered when he met Uncle-Master Sun of the Songshan Sword School, whose both arms, feet and eyes were cut out. He was screaming nonstop, “The Demon Cult did this. Seek revenge for me! The Demon Cult did this. Seek revenge for me!” At that time the Songshan Sword School had already sent people to help, but with such severe wounds, there was really not much to be done. Remembering the image of two empty holes on Uncle-Master Sun’s face with blood gushing out continuously, Linghu Chong could not help but quiver.

“Demon Cult members really have committed too many cruel crimes,” he thought. “So when Qu Yang and his granddaughter saved me, they must have had ill intentions. When Master asks me again if I will kill with no hesitation when I see members of the Demon Cult, my answer will be: Why should I hesitate? Of course I will draw my sword and attack with no question asked.”

Finally able to think it through, Linghu Chong had an ease of mind. With a long roar, he jumped backwards toward the opening of the cave. Turning his body around while still in mid-air, he opened his eyes again after landing squarely on the ground. Looking down at his feet, he found his feet almost on the edge of the steep cliff, only two feet from the very brink of the cliff. If he had used just a little more strength when he jumped up and had landed two more feet further, he would have fallen into the bottomless abyss and have his body smashed into pieces. He had actually calculated the distance well in his head before he closed his eyes and jumped backwards. Since he had made his mind up to kill the Demon Cult members on first sight and didn’t have any more burdens on his mind, he just wanted to have a little risky fun.

“I am still not brave enough. I should have jumped at least another feet closer to the edge for the real fun,” Linghu Chong thought, when sounds of giggles and clapping suddenly rose from behind.

“Big apprentice brother! That was so cool!” It was the voice of Yue Lingshan.

Linghu Chong was very delighted. He turned around and saw Yue Lingshan carrying a meal basket.

“Big apprentice brother, I’ve brought you your dinner,” Yue Lingshan announced happily. She sat the meal basket on the ground, went into the cave, and sat on the big rock facing the rock wall. “This is a really cool trick of yours! Let me give it a try.”

Linghu Chong knew that this trick was indeed a very dangerous one. Even when he tried it earlier, he was ready to give it all up. Yue Lingshan’s Kung Fu skills were much less compared to his, and if she couldn’t calculate her strength right, it would be disastrous. But because she was really in the mood at the moment, he couldn’t hold her back. So he stood right next to the brim of the cliff and waited.

Intending to make sure she could beat the big apprentice brother, Yue Lingshan went over the calculation in her head quickly and then pushed the ground hard with her toes. After her body had left the ground, she also turned her body around in the mid-air. Hoping to land closer to the edge of the cliff than Linghu Chong did, she used a little bit extra strength, but when her body started to fall, fear suddenly overwhelmed her and she had to open her eyes. Seeing the bottomless abyss right in front of her eyes, she screamed in terror.

Linghu Chong reached out and caught her left arm while she was still in the air. When Yue Lingshan landed back onto the ground, she found her feet only one foot away from the very brink of the cliff. It was indeed closer than what Linghu Chong had achieved. Before her heart even had time to fall back into her chest, she was already claiming her victory.

“Big apprentice brother, I landed further than you did!”

Seeing her frightened face as white as a sheet, Linghu Chong patted her gingerly on the back. “Better not try this trick again. If Master or Master-Wife ever hear about this, they would definitely scold me harshly, maybe even punish me for another year of meditation facing the wall here.”

Yue Lingshan felt a little better now. She took two steps back and said with a big grin, “Then I need to be punished too. We can meditate facing the wall here together. Wouldn’t that be fun? We can have a contest everyday to see who can jump further.”

“Us two, meditate here together everyday?” Linghu Chong repeated the words while throwing a glance at the cave, a breeze of happiness swelling in his heart, thinking, “If I get to spend an entire year together with the little apprentice sister here without any disruptions, then I’d be as happy as a worry-free fairy? Alas, it will never happen.”

“I am afraid that Master will have you meditate in the ‘House of Integrity’ and ban you from leaving there, then we won’t be able to see each other for an entire year,” he said.

“That’s not fair!” Yue Lingshan immediately complained. “How come you can have fun here, and I have to be a prisoner in the ‘House of Integrity’?” Knowing clearly that her parents would have never allowed her to accompany the big apprentice brother here on the cliff, she changed the subject.

“Big apprentice brother, Mom told Monkey Six to bring you food everyday at first. I told Monkey Six, ‘Sixth apprentice brother, I know you are a monkey and all that, but climbing up and down the ‘Cliff of Contemplation’ is no easy task. Why don’t you let me help you and do it for you? So, how are you going to repay me for this favor?’ Monkey Six said, ‘I dare not to loaf on the job given by Master-Wife. Besides, big apprentice brother is the one that treats me the best. I am so glad that I’ll be bringing food to him for an entire year and will be able to see him once everyday. I don’t mind even if it’s no easy task.’ Big apprentice brother, don’t you think Monkey Six is very mean?”

“Well, he was telling the truth.” Linghu Chong smiled.

Yue Lingshan continued. “Monkey Six also said, ‘I’ve always wanted to ask for advice from big apprentice brother about Kung Fu questions. But every time as soon as you show up, you’d be kicking me away, not allowing any more conversation with the big apprentice brother.’ Big apprentice brother, do I ever do things like that? Isn’t Monkey Six talking garbage here? He then said, ‘Hey, for the entire next year, I will be the only one who can go up the ‘Cliff of Contemplation’ to see big apprentice brother. You won’t even have a chance.’ I got mad, but he paid no attention. Later…later….”

“Later you threatened him with your sword?” Linghu Chong guessed.

“No.” Yue Lingshan shook her head. “Later I got real upset and started crying. Monkey Six then came to me and begged me to bring food to you.”

Staring at her cute little face, Linghu Chong could see the slight swelling right next to her eyes. Sure enough, she must have had quite some weeping. Deeply moved, he thought, “She is so good to me. I’d be willing to die a thousand times for her.”

Yue Lingshan opened the meal basket. Taking out two plates of dishes, together with two pairs of chopsticks and two rice bowls, she set them on a big rock with a flat top.

“Two sets of chopsticks?” Linghu Chong uttered.

“I’ll eat together with you. Look, what’s this?” Yue Lingshan’s face split into a big grin when she took out a small wine-calabash from the bottom of the meal basket.

Linghu Chong was very addicted to wine. Seeing the calabash of wine, he stood up and bowed deeply to Yue Lingshan. “Thank you so-o-o much!! I’ve been worrying about having no wine to drink for an entire year. You just saved my life!”

Yue Lingshan uncorked the wine-calabash and then passed it to Linghu Chong. “There’s not much here. I can only steal one small calabash of wine for you everyday. If I try to steal too much, my mom might find out about it,” she explained with a smile.

The Huashan Sword School rule said that an apprentice meditating on the “Cliff of Contemplation” would be prohibited from eating any meat, which was why the kitchen only prepared a big plate of boiled vegetables and a plate of Tofu for Linghu Chong. But considering herself going through the punishment together with her big apprentice brother, Yue Lingshan found the dishes quite enjoyable. After dinner, the two chatted with no specific topics for another hour. Only when it was already in the nightfall, did Yue Lingshan go down the cliff.

From then on, Yue Lingshan would bring food up the cliff around dusk everyday, and the two would have dinner together. At noon the next day, Linghu Chong simply ate the leftovers from previous day’s dinner as his lunch.

Although Linghu Chong lived alone atop the cliff, he didn’t feel lonely at all. Every morning after he woke up, he would meditate with breathing exercises and also practice the Huashan style inner energy and the sword arts taught by his Master. He also spent time pondering upon and going over Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops and the move created by Master-Wife – Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning. There was only one thrust in this The Thrust of Ning move, but it contained many techniques from Huashan style inner energy and Huashan sword arts. Linghu Chong knew that he was not at the level to execute this move yet. If he had tried to use it, he would only make a fool out of himself, so he worked hard everyday in advancing himself with his Kung Fu skills. Thus, although he was punished to meditate by facing the wall to think over his mistakes, he didn’t do any of those. Other than having some chats with Yue Lingshan every evening, he simply worked hard on his Kung Fu skills with dedication. Two months passed like that, and it started to get colder and colder each day atop the cliff. Some more days later, Madam Yue finished making Linghu Chong a new set of cotton-padded coat and had Lu Dayou bring it to him up the cliff.

One day, a windstorm swept by in the morning, and by noon, big snowflakes had started swirling out of the sky. Seeing the heavy dark clouds gathering in the sky, Linghu Chong could tell that the snow would be lasting for quite a while. “The road up the cliff is very steep and dangerous. By dusk the road must be very slippery. Little apprentice sister shouldn’t try to bring me any food in a day like this,” he couldn’t help thinking. But there was no way of communication for him to send the message. In great worries, he could only wish that Master and Master-Wife would know about this and stop little apprentice sister from coming.

“How could Master and Master-Wife not know about the fact that little apprentice sister has been bringing food for me instead of sixth apprentice brother? Maybe they just pretended to not know and paid no attention. If little apprentice sister tried to climb up the cliff today, a single slip would cost her life. I guess Master-Wife would ban her from climbing up the cliff for sure,” he thought.

Linghu Chong waited anxiously until dusk, casting a glance down the cliff every once a while. Seeing that it was getting darker and darker and Yue Lingshan never showed up, Linghu Chong felt a bit relieved. “Tomorrow morning, sixth apprentice brother will bring the food up. I hope little apprentice sister will never take on the risks.”

He was about to go back in the cave to sleep when rustling sounds of somebody climbing the snow-covered road to the cliff came to his attention. Then Yue Lingshan’s voice rose, “Big apprentice brother…big apprentice brother…!”

Greatly surprised but also greatly delighted, Linghu Chong rushed by the side of the cliff. In the shower of the big snowflakes, he could see Yue Lingshan struggle her way up the cliff in slips and skids. Restricted by the order from the Master, Linghu Chong dared not to step even one step down the cliff, only reaching out with his hand to try to catch Yue Lingshan. As soon as Yue Lingshan’s left hand touched his right hand, Linghu Chong grabbed onto her wrist and pulled her up the cliff. Under the dim light, Yue Lingshan appeared to have snow all over her; even her hairs were covered in snow. There was a big swelling on the left side of her forehead and blood was still dripping down slowly from the cut. “You…you….” Linghu Chong was lost in words.

Yue Lingshan bit her lip as if she was going to start crying. “I fell, and the meal basket fell into the valley. You…you’ll be hungry tonight.”

Linghu Chong’s heart was swelled with gratefulness and with compassion. He pressed gingerly on her wound with his sleeve and said affectionately, “Little apprentice sister! The mountain road is too slippery. You shouldn’t have come up here.”

“I don’t want you to starve. And…and, I wanted to see you,” Yue Lingshan muttered.

“But if you had fallen into the valley as a result, how could I ever face Master and Master-Wife again?” Linghu Chong said.

“Get rid of that worrying face of yours! See, I am fine here. It’s just that I am too impotent. I lost the meal basket and the wine-calabash right before I almost made it up the cliff,” Yue Lingshan said.

“I only want you to be safe. I don’t mind if I have to starve for ten days,” Linghu Chong said compassionately.

“Half way up, the road was so slippery. I gathered all my inner energy and jumped a couple of times. Hey, I actually made it up that real steep slope by the ‘Five Pine-Trees.’ I was so scared of falling down into the valley at that moment.” Yue Lingshan gasped.

“Little apprentice sister,” Linghu Chong demanded, “promise me that you’ll never risk your life for me again. If you had really fallen down into the valley, I would have jumped down after you for sure.”

Yue Lingshan looked at Linghu Chong with warmth and happiness blazing in her eyes. “Big apprentice brother, why do you worry so much? If I had fallen down on my way to bring you food, it would be the result of my own carelessness. Why would you feel so guilty?”

“It’s not about feeling guilty.” Linghu Chong shook his head slowly. “If it were sixth apprentice brother who was bringing food to me and fell down into the valley and got killed, will I jump down the valley after him?” He shook his head slowly as he spoke. “I will try my best to take good care of his parents and his family. But I won’t jump off the cliff to die along with a friend.”

“But if I had died, then you wouldn’t want to live any more?” Yue Lingshan asked slowly.

“That’s correct. Little apprentice sister, it wasn’t because you were bringing me food. Even if you were bringing food for someone else and died because of that, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay alive.”

Yue Lingshan gripped onto Linghu Chong’s hands tightly, her heart filled with tenderness and affection. “Big apprentice brother!” she called out gently.

Linghu Chong had an urge to embrace her in his arms, but still couldn’t gather enough courage to do so. The two of them simply stared at each other quietly, neither one moved an inch. Big snowflakes kept pouring down from the sky and soon the two looked almost like two snowmen.

After a long while, Linghu Chong finally broke the silence. “You can’t go down the cliff all by yourself tonight. Did Master and Master-Wife know that you came up here? It would be better if they can send someone up to get you.”

“This morning, out of the blue, Dad received a letter from the Songshan Sword School’s Alliance Chief Zuo, saying that they need to discuss something urgent, so he and Mom had left Mount Huashan today,” Yue Lingshan said.

“Then does anyone else know that you came up here?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Nope. Nobody. Second, third, forth apprentice brothers and Monkey Six all headed to Mount Songshan together with Mom and Dad, and no one knows that I came up the cliff to see you. Otherwise, Monkey Six would have fought with me for the chance to bring food up for you, and that would be very troublesome! Oh, that’s right. The chap Lin Pingzhi saw me coming up. But I told him to shut his mouth if he wanted to be spared of a good beating tomorrow.”

“Wow, what an impressive senior apprentice sister.” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Of course!” Yue Lingshan let out a big smile. “Somebody is finally calling me senior apprentice sister now. If I don’t put on the manner of a senior, what a waste would that be? It’s not like you. Everybody calls you the big apprentice brother. What do you care?” The two of them broke into a laugh.

“Well, then you can’t go back down tonight. Why don’t you spend the night in the cave and plan on going back down tomorrow morning?”

Linghu Chong held Yue Lingshan’s hand and walked her into the cave. The cave was quite small, just big enough for the two of them to stay in, and not much room left after that. The two of them sat down facing each other and chatted until late night. Yue Lingshan finally dozed off and fell asleep. Afraid that she might catch a cold, Linghu Chong took off the cotton-padded coat he was wearing and tucked it around her. In the dim light reflected by the snow outside, he could vaguely see her cute little face.

“Little apprentice sister has such deep affection for me. Even if I have to die for her and be smashed into ten thousand pieces, I will not regret it,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

In the silence, he soon fell into an even deeper thought. “I lost my parents when I was still little. Luckily, Master and Master-Wife brought me up and treated me like their own son. I am the head apprentice of the Huashan Sword School. Not only did I become an apprentice earlier than everybody else, but also my Kung Fu skills were way above the rest of the apprentice brothers. One day I will probably take over the responsibility from Master and become the Head Master of Huashan. Now with little apprentice sister treating me like this, it would be impossible for me to ever repay the great kindness from my Master. But I’ve always been doing things with no restrain and have kept Master and Master-Wife angry with me. I’ve really disappointed their expectations. I must thoroughly rectify my errors starting from now on. Otherwise, I would be failing not only Master and Master-Wife, but also little apprentice sister.”

Staring at the lovely hair of Yue Lingshan, which rustled gently from her breathing, Linghu Chong drifted into deep thoughts when he suddenly heard Yue Lingshan murmuring, “Hey, chap Lin, you are not behaving yourself! Come over here to let me give you a good beating!”

Linghu Chong was surprised. But seeing Yue Lingshan turning her body to the side with her eyes shut tight and her breathing falling back into a normal rhythm, he realized that she was just having a dream. Quite amused, he thought, “Finally getting to be a senior apprentice sister to someone, she probably has been acting in a real cocky way. During these days, apprentice brother Lin must have been ordered around left and right, and probably had enough of suffering. She can’t even stop bullying him in her dreams.”

Guarding by Yue Lingshan’s side, Linghu Chong did not sleep at all. Yue Lingshan had been totally exhausted the previous evening, so she slept till it was already late in the morning before waking up. Finding Linghu Chong staring at her with a smile, she returned with a smile and then said with a yawn, “Did you wake up early in the morning?”

Linghu Chong didn’t tell her that he had not slept at all during the night. “What dream did you have? Did you beat up apprentice brother Lin?” he asked with a grin.

“Did you hear me talk in my dreams?” Yue Lingshan asked after thinking for a moment. “This chap Lin is so stubborn. He just doesn’t want to listen to me. Ha-ha, I scold him not only in day times, but also when I am sleeping.”

“How did he get on your nerves?” Linghu Chong asked.

“I dreamed that I had asked him to go practice sword skills with me in the waterfall, but he had all kinds of excuses and simply didn’t want to go with me. I finally tricked him into going. And as soon as he got to the waterfall, I pushed him down the waterfall.”

“Oops, you can’t do that. You are going to get him killed,” Linghu Chong commented with a smile.

“It’s only a dream. It’s not real. Why are you worrying so much? Are you afraid that I really might kill this chap?”

“Well, what one thinks about in day time, one dreams about it at night. You must have really thought about killing apprentice brother Lin during the day, and you kept thinking about it, that’s why you dreamed about it at night.”

Yue Lingshan showed a winkled nose. “This chap is useless. He has been practicing the entry-level sword art form for three months now, and it still looked far from right. Yet he is the dedicated type and kept practicing days and nights. I get mad just looking at him practicing. What do I have to think about if I want to kill him? All I need to do is to raise my sword and then bring the sword swishing sideway. A sure kill with a single blow!” She slashed out with her right hand and performed a move of Huashan sword arts.

“Cloud by the Hill – Chap Lin’s head falls off!” Linghu Chong burst into laughter.

“If I actually use this Cloud by the Hill move, his head will fall off for sure.” Yue Lingshan giggled loudly.

“You are the senior apprentice sister. When a junior apprentice brother has problem with his sword practice, you should be giving him some pointers, not drawing your sword to kill for no specific reasons. All new apprentices of the Master will be your junior apprentice brothers. What if when Master takes in one hundred new apprentices, and you decided to kill ninety-nine of them in a couple of days? What are we going to do then?” Linghu Chong joked.

“You are absolutely right about that! I’ll only kill ninety-nine of them and make sure I leave one alone. If I kill all of them, then who is going to call me senior apprentice sister?” Yue Lingshan held onto the side of the rock wall and almost laughed herself silly.

“If you killed ninety-nine junior apprentice brothers, the one hundredth one would be running away for sure. You still won’t be able to maintain your senior apprentice sister status.” Linghu Chong suggested.

“By then I’ll make you call me senior apprentice sister.” Yue Lingshan grinned.

“I have no problem calling you senior apprentice sister. But are you going to kill me or not?” Linghu Chong asked jokingly.

“If you listen to my orders, then I won’t kill you. If you don’t, then I will.” Yue Lingshan also said jokingly.

“Little apprentice sister, I beg you to show some mercy with your sword!”

It had stopped snowing by then. Afraid that when apprentice brothers and sisters found out that Yue Lingshan had been missing they might start slanderous gossips, which could be disastrous for little apprentice sister’s reputation, Linghu Chong urged Yue Lingshan to go back down after some short chats.

“I want to stay here a bit longer to play. Mom and Dad are both not at home. It’s very boring!” Yue Lingshan still didn’t want to go.

“My good apprentice sister, in the last couple of days, I just created some more moves for the Chong-Ling Sword Art. As soon as I can leave the cliff, I’ll go with you to practice sword skills in the waterfall. Alright?”

After quite some coaxing, Linghu Chong finally succeeded in getting her off the cliff back home.

At dusk that day, Gao Gengming brought food up the cliff instead. He said that Yue Lingshan caught a cold and was having fevers. She had to rest in bed, but she thought about the big apprentice brother and had asked him to make sure not to forget bringing some wine when he brought the food up. Linghu Chong was greatly shocked and suffered great worries. He knew that she had a terrible fall the previous evening and was probably terribly scared, which caused all the illness, and wished dearly that he would be able to rush down the cliff to pay a visit to her. Although he had starved for two days, with the meal right in front of him, he only felt a lump in his throat and could hardly swallow.

Gao Gengming knew that big apprentice brother and the little apprentice sister were a loving couple, and that was why as soon as Linghu Chong heard about her illness, he became very worried. So he tried to comfort him.

“Big apprentice brother, don’t be too worried. Yesterday we had a lot of snow. Little apprentice sister must have spent too much time in the snow playing and caught a cold. For people who practice inner energy like us, such a little cold is really nothing. After taking some medicines, it will be gone in no time,” he persuaded.

But Yue Lingshan remained sick for over two weeks. Only after the Yue couple had returned to Mount Huashan and rid the fever for her using Huashan style inner energy was she able to recover slowly. By the time she was finally able to get up to the cliff, it was already over twenty days later.

After suffering such a long parting, both felt great joy tempered with sorrow. Yue Lingshan stared at Linghu Chong’s face and burst out a cry, “Big apprentice brother, did you get sick too? How come you look so thin?”

Linghu Chong shook his head. “I didn’t get sick. I…I….”

“You…you were thinking of me. And you lost weight because of the worries.” Yue Lingshan suddenly realized. She burst into tears. “Big apprentice brother, I am all recovered by now.”

“I watched the road days and nights waiting for this very moment. Thank Heavens! You came at last!” Linghu Chong muttered, holding Yue Lingshan’s hand tightly.

“Actually, I saw you many times,” Yue Lingshan said.

“What? You saw me many times?” Linghu Chong asked in surprise.

“Yeah! While I was ill, I saw you all the time when I closed my eyes. That day when my fever worsened, Mom said that I kept talking to you in my dreams. Big apprentice brother, Mom has learned about that night when I spent the night up here.”

Linghu Chong blushed and felt some uneasiness. “Was Master-Wife angry?” he asked.

“Mom wasn’t angry about it. But…but….” Yue Lingshan suddenly blushed and stopped abruptly.

“But what?” Linghu Chong asked.

“I am not telling you,” Yue Lingshan declared.

Noticing the affected shy expression on Yue Lingshan’s face, Linghu Chong’s heart quivered. He immediately pulled himself together and said, “Little apprentice sister, you just got better. You really shouldn’t come up here so soon. I knew you were gradually getting better. Everyday when fifth apprentice brother or sixth apprentice brother brought food up for me, they all told me about you.”

“Then how come you are still so thin?” Yue Lingshan asked.

“Well, as soon as you fully recover, I will gain my weight back.” Linghu Chong answered with a smile.

“Tell me the truth. How much did you eat at each meal these days? Monkey Six said that you didn’t touch your food at all and only drank a lot of wine. He tried to persuade you, but you simply wouldn’t listen to him. Big apprentice brother, why don’t you…take good care of yourself?” At those words, tear drops started rolling in her eyes again.

“Nonsense! Don’t listen to him. Monkey Six always likes to exaggerate. Why would I only drink wine and not eat?” Linghu Chong denied.

A breeze of cold wind swept by and sent Yue Lingshan shivering. It was a very chilly day. The cliff didn’t even have a single tree to block the cold wind. It was already very cold on top of Mount Huashan; it was even colder here on the cliff.

“Little apprentice sister,” Linghu Chong said quickly, “you have not fully recovered yet. You’d better not catch a cold again. Go back down the cliff. Wait till one day when the sun comes out and after you have fully recovered, then you can come up to see me again.”

“I’m not cold. We are getting snow and windstorm everyday. Who knows when we will have sunshine again?” Yue Lingshan complained.

“But what if you get sick again? I…I…,” Linghu Chong said in a worried tone.

Seeing the thin and pallid face of Linghu Chong, Yue Lingshan thought, “If I get sick again, he’ll get sick too for sure. That will surely get him killed with no one here taking care of him at all.” So she had to agree. “Fine. I am leaving now. You take good care of yourself. Don’t drink that much wine. Have at least three bowls of rice every meal. I’ll go talk to Dad and tell him that you are not feeling well. You need more nutritious food. You can’t live off only vegetables.”

“I will not violate the prohibition. Seeing you getting better is enough nourish for me already. I am sure I will start gaining weight in a couple of days. My dear, please go back now,” Linghu Chong urged.

“What did you call me?” Her cheeks going red, Yue Lingshan asked in a low voice, love and affection swelling in her eyes.

Feeling a little bit shy, Linghu Chong immediately answered, “I just blurted that out. Little apprentice sister, please don’t mind.”

“Why would I mind? I like you to call me that.” Yue Lingshan replied.

Linghu Chong felt a warm current coursing through his heart. All he could think of was to embrace her tightly in his arms. But he immediately told himself, “She has shown me such affection. How could I ever disgrace her with such disrespectful behavior?” So he turned his head aside in a hurry, and only said in a soft voice, “Walk slow when you go down the cliff, one step at a time. Take a rest if you need to. Don’t just run all the way down like you used to do in other days.”

“I won’t,” Yue Lingshan answered as she turned around slowly and walked toward the road down the cliff.

Hearing the sound of her steps getting further and further, Linghu Chong turned his head back, only seeing Yue Lingshan standing a few dozen feet away down the road staring at him. For a long while, the two just stared at each other silently.

“Walk slow. It’s time for you to get back,” Linghu Chong finally said.

“Yes,” Yue Lingshan answered and this time really started heading back.

In that day, Linghu Chong felt a kind of joy he had never experienced before in his entire life. Sitting on the rock, he couldn’t resist his urge to laugh out loud. He suddenly burst out a long roar, and it echoed around the valley again and again. The roar seemed to be shouting the words, “I am so happy! I am so happy!”

The next day, it snowed again, and sure enough, Yue Lingshan did not come up. Linghu Chong heard from Lu Dayou that she was enjoying a speedy recovery and was getting better and better everyday. That truly cheered him up.

Another twenty or so days passed before Yue Lingshan came up the cliff again. She had a basket full of Zong-Zi[1] this time. After looking at Linghu Chong’s face carefully for a moment, she smiled. “You didn’t lie. You sure gained quite a few pounds back.”

“You’ve recovered well. I am so happy to see you healthy.” Seeing the ruddy complexion on Yue Lingshan’s cheeks, Linghu Chong also smiled.

“I’ve been bugging Mom every day so that I could bring your food up, but Mom just wouldn’t let me. She kept saying that it was too cold, or it was too humid. She almost sounded as if as soon as I come up the cliff, I’ll drop dead. I said that big apprentice brother has stayed on the cliff for days and nights. I don’t see him getting sick. Mom said that big apprentice brother has very high inner energy; I am simply not in the same league. Hey, Mom was praising about you. Aren’t you happy to hear that?”

Linghu Chong nodded. “I really miss Master and Master-Wife. I wish I could see them soon.”

“Yesterday I spent a whole day helping Mom wrapping Zong-Zi. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if I could bring you some? And guess what? Before I even opened my mouth to ask today, Mom had already said to me, ‘Take this basket of Zong-Zi to Chong.’ What a surprise!”

Linghu Chong felt a lump in his throat, thinking, “Master-Wife is so nice to me.”

“These Zong-Zi just came out of the pot; they are still hot. Let me peel some for you.” Yue Lingshan went in the cave and started unwrapping the bamboo leaves outside of the Zong-Zi. Soon, appetizing smell filled the small cave.

Taking the unwrapped Zong-Zi Yue Lingshan handed to him, Linghu Chong took a bite. Even though the Zong-Zi only had vegetarian stuffing, the mixture of straw mushrooms, lotus seeds, broad beans and other ingredients gave it a very delicious flavor.

“Little Lin and I picked those straw mushrooms the day before yesterday…,” Yue Lingshan bragged.

“Little Lin?” Linghu Chong was lost.

“Oh, That’s junior apprentice brother Lin. I’ve been calling him Little Lin these days. He came to me the day before yesterday and told me that there was straw mushrooms under those pine trees at the east slope. He even went with me and spent half a day picking them. But we only found enough to fill a half basket. While there’s not much, it sure is tasty, isn’t it?”

“Yummy! I almost swallowed my tongue together with it. So, little apprentice sister, you don’t yell at him now?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Why not! Anytime he doesn’t listen to me, I yell at him. But he sure learned how to behave himself these days, so I don’t yell at him as much now. And when he works hard and progress a little with his sword practice, I praise him a little, ‘Aha, Little Lin, this move looks not too shabby, much better than yesterday. But it’s still not fast enough. Practice more! Practice more!’ Ha-ha!” Yue Lingshan said amusingly.

“Are you teaching him sword arts?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Yep! He speaks Fujian dialect. Apprentice brothers and sisters are having a hard time understanding him. I’ve been to Fuzhou before and it’s easier for me to understand his words, so Dad asked me to help him with his sword art whenever I have time. Big apprentice brother, since I can’t come up here to see you all the time, when I get bored, I might as well teach him a couple of moves. Little Lin is no dummy. He can learn quickly.”

“I see. So you are the senior apprentice sister and the instructor. No wonder he dares not to disobey you.” Linghu Chong laughed.

“I wouldn’t say that. Yesterday when I asked him to go hunt pheasants with me, he didn’t want to go, and said that he had not gotten the moves White Aurora Shooting to Sun and Heaven Hanging Upside Down right and needed to practice more.”

Linghu Chong was a bit surprised. He asked, “He has only been in our Huashan Sword School for several months, how come he is already practicing moves like White Aurora Shooting to Sun and Heaven Hanging Upside Down? Little apprentice sister, our Huashan sword arts require the practitioner to follow each of the steps. It would be harmful to try to advance too quickly.”

“Don’t worry about it. I won’t be teaching him irresponsibly,” Yue Lingshan explained. “Little Lin is always eager to excel. He practices days and nights. Every time when I want to chat a little, in less than three sentences, he would start asking questions about sword arts. Sword forms that will take others three months to grasp will only take him half a month. When I wanted him to go play with me, he would never agree frankly.”

Linghu Chong fell silent, and all of a sudden, some kind of indescribable annoyance filled his heart. He took another bite, and then just stared at the Zong-Zi in his hand blankly.

“Big apprentice brother, did you swallow your tongue? Why have you stopped talking?” Yue Lingshan pulled at Linghu Chong’s sleeves.

Absentmindedly, Linghu Chong put the remaining of the Zong-Zi in his mouth. Somehow, the supposedly delicious Zong-Zi got stuck in his mouth and he couldn’t swallow it down.

Yue Lingshan pointed at him and giggled hard. “Aren’t you too impatient? See, you got it stuck to your teeth.”

With a wry smile, Linghu Chong swallowed hard and finally managed to send it down his throat. He thought to himself, “I am really being stupid! Little apprentice sister loves to play. Since I can’t go down the cliff, she wanted apprentice brother Lin to be her company. That’s really quite normal. Why am I being so narrow-minded and getting mad at that?” So he relaxed a little and said with a smile, “You must have worked on this one. See how tight did you wrap it? It got my tongue and my teeth all stuck together.”

Yue Lingshan burst into loud laughter. After a few moments, she commented, “Poor big apprentice brother, who has to be a prisoner on top of the cliff. See how gluttonous you are!”

The next time when she came up the cliff again, it was already over ten days later. Other than the meal basket, she also brought a small basket with half basket of pine nuts and chestnuts.

During the ten days, Linghu Chong’s neck probably had gotten longer from all the anxious looking down the cliff. Every time he asked about little apprentice sister from Lu Dayou when he brought food up, Lu Dayou would always look queer and speak in an odd way. Linghu Chong got suspicious, but simply couldn’t get a straight answer out of him. When Linghu Chong pressed really hard sometimes, Lu Dayou would always answer, “Little apprentice sister is doing great. She practices sword art diligently everyday. Maybe Master didn’t want her up the cliff so she wouldn’t be disturbing big apprentice brother’s meditation here.”

Now when he finally saw Yue Lingshan again after all the waiting, his joy was unspeakable. She seemed to be glowing with health and radiating vigor, looking even prettier than how she looked before the illness. Linghu Chong couldn’t help but think, “She has fully recovered. Why did she wait so long before coming up the cliff again? Did Master or Master-Wife ban her from coming up here?”

Seeing the puzzled look in Linghu Chong’s eyes, Yue Lingshan suddenly blushed. “Big apprentice brother, I hadn’t come up to see you for so many days. Are you mad at me?” she asked.

“Why would I be mad? Master and Master-Wife must have told you not to come up, haven’t you?” Linghu Chong said.

“Yeah. Mom just taught me a new sword art form. She said that this sword art form has so many complicated variations, if I had come up the cliff to chat with you, I’d lose my focus.”

“Which sword art form?” Linghu Chong asked curiously.

“Take a guess!” Yue Lingshan challenged.

“Yang-Wu Sword Form?”


“Xi-Wu Sword Form?”

“Try again!” Yue Lingshan shook her head.

“Could it be the Fair-Maiden Sword Form?”

“That’s my mom’s specialty. I am not even qualified to give the Fair-Maiden Sword Form a try yet.” Yue Lingshan stuck her tongue out and made a face. “Ok, let me tell you. It’s The Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword!” she said triumphantly.

Linghu Chong was taken by slight surprise. “You start to learn The Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword now? Oh, that really is a very complicated sword form,” he said happily. All his suspicion melted away.

Although the set of Jade Maiden Sword form only had nineteen stances, every stance had very complicated changes and variations. If the practitioner couldn’t memorize all those, he wouldn’t even be able to fully use just one stance. He had heard from Master about it before, “The Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword mainly focus in the fancy variations and changes. The form is quite different from our school’s main focus – Inner Energy Drives the Sword. Since female apprentices tend to have less strength from their arms, when they encounter with a tougher opponent, they can use this sword form to counter with artful moves. But all the male apprentices have no need to learn it.” That’s why even Linghu Chong himself had not learned it before. Based on Yue Lingshan’s current skill level, it seemed that she was not ready to learn this sword form yet. Before, Linghu Chong, Yue Lingshan and some other apprentice brothers and sisters had watched how Master and Master-Wife showed the set of sword form. Master had attacked using many different sword art forms from different sword schools and styles, but Master-Wife only defended with this Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword form. The Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword were actually well matched with the hundreds of excellent sword moves in a dozen different styles. All the apprentices watching by the side were dumbfounded in amazement. Yue Lingshan had begged her mother to teach her this sword form by then, and Madam Yue had answered, “You are still too young. First, you don’t have the skill level yet. Secondly, this sword art form requires a lot of brainpower. You should probably wait till you are twenty years old before learning this sword form. In addition, this sword form is used for countering sword moves from other sword schools. If you only work with apprentice brothers and sisters in our own school, you’d end up practicing how to counter Huashan sword art. Chong knows a lot of different Kung Fu and he probably remembers many different sword moves from other sword schools. He can probably practice with you in the future.” This was an episode that happened about two years ago, and nobody ever mentioned it again. Who’d expect that Master-Wife actually taught her this sword form?

“Master must be in a real good mood these days to practice sword art with you everyday,” Linghu Chong said.

This sword form focused on adapting itself to changing conditions and not restricting oneself to certain moves or postures, that was why right from the beginning, the practitioner would need to practice with a partner. Within the Huashan Sword School, Yue Buqun and Linghu Chong were the only two having good knowledge about sword arts from other sword schools. Thus, since Yue Lingshan was learning The Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword, Yue Buqun had to be working with her to attack her with other sword school’s sword moves.

Yue Lingshan flushed slightly again. “Dad doesn’t have that much time. It was Little Lin who helped me to practice,” she said bashfully.

“Apprentice brother Lin? Does he know many sword moves from other sword schools?” Linghu Chong asked in surprise.

“He only knows the family Kung Fu of his – Evil-Resisting Sword Art. Dad said that even though the Evil-Resisting Sword Art isn’t that powerful at all, it has some interesting variations in the moves, which would be good for me to compare to. He wanted me to counter Evil-Resisting Sword Art as the starting point for my Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword training.”

“I see.” Linghu Chong nodded.

“Big apprentice brother, are you upset?”

“No. Why would I be upset? You are learning an advanced form of our Huashan sword arts now. I feel very happy for you! Why should I be upset?”

“But you don’t look very happy.”

“Which stance are you on now?” Linghu Chong squeezed out a smile and asked.

Yue Lingshan didn’t answer. After a long time, she finally said, “I see. Mom said to let you help me practice, but I am having Little Lin do it, that’s why you are upset. Am I right? But think about it, big apprentice brother, in the short while, you won’t be able to come down from the cliff, and I am just too anxious to learn this sword form. I just can’t wait for you any longer.”

“You are talking childishly again. We are all apprentice brothers and sisters, so it’s all the same no matter who practices with you,” Linghu Chong said in laughter. He paused for a second and then went on, “I know you’d rather have apprentice brother Lin practice with you than having me.”

“Nonsense!” Yue Lingshan blushed again. “Compared to you, Little Lin’s skill level is miles away. What good does it do me practicing with him?”

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Apprentice brother Lin has only joined the Huashan Sword School for several months. Even if he were a super genius, how good could he get?” So he said, “Of course there’s benefit here. Wouldn’t you feel great when you can beat him with every single one of your moves?”

“Humph, just with his clumsy Evil-Resisting Sword Art, does he actually expect to defeat me?” Yue Lingshan giggled.

Linghu Chong had long known that the little apprentice sister was the type who always wanted to win. When she sparred with Lin Pingzhi, most likely she was able to use the newly learned sword art with facility, and was able to enjoy advantage with every single move. Lin Pingzhi’s Kung Fu level was very low, and he probably made a perfect spar partner. When Linghu Chong thought about that, his depression went away immediately. “Then let me try a couple moves with you. Let’s see how good you are with your Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword,” he suggested, smiling.

Yue Lingshan was overjoyed. “Wonderful! Today…today before I came up…I actually planned….” With a shy smile, she drew her long sword.

“You came up the cliff today just to show me the sword art you just learned? Good, go ahead!” Linghu Chong said.

“Big apprentice brother, your sword skills have always been better than mine. But after I learn this set of Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword well, you won’t be able to bully me anymore.” Yue Lingshan grinned.

“When did I ever bully you? You are wronging the good guy here.”

“Don’t you want to draw your sword?” Yue Lingshan got into her starting position.

“Not so soon!” Linghu Chong said. He shifted his left hand into the starting position and then thrust his right hand out quickly. “This is from the Qingcheng Sword School’s Pine-Wind Sword Art. This move is called Thundering Pine Wave!” He pretended that his hand was a sword and thrust it toward Yue Lingshan’s shoulder.

Yue Lingshan turned to the side and stepped back while waving her sword to block toward Linghu Chong’s hand. “Look out!” she called out.

“Don’t try to be nice. I’ll draw my sword when I can’t defend myself.”

“How dare you fight my Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword with your bare hands?” Yue Lingshan snapped.

“That’s because you have not mastered it. Once you master it, I won’t be able to fight you with my bare hands.”

Yue Lingshan had been practicing the Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword very hard these days. She felt that she had advanced quite a lot in her sword skills, and even if compared to first class sword masters in the Martial World, she would be no less. The reason why she didn’t come up the cliff for the last ten days was to keep this a secret from Linghu Chong, so she could give him a big surprise with one brilliant feat, and thus make Linghu Chong think highly of her. But now he was actually belittling her and only wanted to fight her Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword with his bare hands, she couldn’t help but feeling annoyed.

“If by accident I cut you or something, don’t blame me. Don’t tell my mom or dad either.” She pulled a long face.

“That’s of course. You do your best. If you give ground in anyway, you wouldn’t be showing your true skills.” Linghu Chong’s left hand suddenly chopped out as he spoke. “Look out!” he yelled.

“What…what! Is your left hand a sword too?” Yue Lingshan shouted in astonishment.

If Linghu Chong had really chopped down, Yue Lingshan would have been injured in the shoulder. He held on his strength and explained, “Some people in the Qingcheng Sword School do use double swords.”

“That’s right! I’ve seen some Qingcheng apprentices carrying double swords. How did I forget that? Watch out!” Yue Lingshan launched a counter attack.

Seeing that the thrust drifted swiftly, Linghu Chong figured this must be an advanced move out of the Jade Maiden Sword. He praised, “This one is very good. Just not fast enough.”

“Still not fast enough? A little bit faster, I would have chopped off your arm.”

“Go ahead and try to chop it off.” Linghu Chong used his right hand as the sword and chopped toward her left arm.

Yue Lingshan was a bit annoyed. She waved her sword quickly and swiftly and started using the Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword she had been practicing one move after another. Out of the total nineteen stances of moves, she could only remember nine, and within the nine stances, she could really only use six. But these six stances were already quite powerful. Whenever she pointed the sword somewhere, Linghu Chong would have a hard time getting close to her in that direction. Linghu Chong circled around her as they fought. Every time when he tried to attack his way in, he was forced back by her sharp sword moves. Once he had to jump backward quickly and ended up bumping his back on a piece of rock that was sticking out.

Yue Lingshan was very pleased with herself. She asked in a grin, “Don’t you want to draw your sword now?”

“Just a little bit longer,” Linghu Chong said, as he lured her into using one move after another out of the Jade Maiden Sword form. After a few more moments of fighting, noticing Yue Lingshan used the same six stances again and again, Linghu Chong figured it out. He abruptly stepped forward and chopped with his right knife hand. “Killer move from the Pine-Wind Sword Art! Watch out!” he yelled. The chop looked as if it had a lot of strength in it.

Seeing the knife hand swishing down toward her head, Yue Lingshan slashed her sword upwards. That was exactly the move Linghu Chong had expected. He reached out his left hand in a flash and flicked out with his middle finger. “Ring,” his finger knocked on the blade of the long sword. Yue Lingshan only felt a burning pain in her palm and could no longer hold on to the sword. The sword flew out of her grip and fell straight down the bottomless abyss.

Her face as pale as a white sheet, Yue Lingshan stared silently at Linghu Chong in disbelief and astonishment, biting her lower lip hard with her upper teeth. “Oops!” Linghu Chong cried, and immediately rushed by the edge of the cliff, but the sword has disappeared in the bottomless valley and could no longer be seen. Suddenly, a green shadow flashed by the side of the cliff. It seemed to have been a piece of a robe. But when Linghu Chong looked more carefully, it was already gone. His heart thumped hard as he thought aloud, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? I’ve practiced and sparred with little apprentice sister thousands of times before. Every time I would give ground to her and had never acted so mercilessly like today. I am really being ridiculous!”

Yue Lingshan cast a sideway look down the valley as she cried out loud, “The sword! The sword!”

Linghu Chong was stunned when he suddenly remembered that little apprentice sister’s long sward was an exceptional sword that could cut steel. It was called “Sword of the Green Pool,” and was acquired by Master in Dragon-Spring, Zhejiang Province[2] three years ago. Ever since little apprentice sister laid eyes on it, she could not keep her mind off it. She had begged for it from Master many times and Master never agreed until her eighteenth birthday this year when Master gave the sword to her as her birthday present. Now the sword had fallen into the bottomless valley, there would be no way to retrieve it back.

“What a terrible mistake have I made?” Linghu Chong regretted full heartedly.

Tears rolling in her eyes, Yue Lingshan stomped her left foot in frustration and then turned around to leave.

“Little apprentice sister!” Linghu Chong called out, but Yue Lingshan ignored him and started heading off the cliff. Linghu Chong chased her to the side of the cliff and reached out for her arm, but as soon as his fingers touched Yue Lingshan’s sleeve, he drew his arm back and watched her leave without ever looking back.

Feeling very depressed, Linghu Chong thought aloud, “Normally I would have put up with her and give in to her, but why did I flick away her sword today? Am I envying her because Master-Wife taught her the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword? No, no way. It can’t be! The Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword were meant for female apprentices, and wouldn’t I be happier that little apprentice sister is learning more Kung Fu? Ah, probably it’s because I have been alone on the cliff for too long and have become ill tempered. I only wish she would come up the cliff again tomorrow so I can apologize to her sincerely.”

That night Linghu Chong could not sleep. He sat cross-legged on a rock and tried to work on his breathing exercise, but he simply could not stay focus, and he dared not to continue. Moonlight shone through the opening of the cave and lit the rock wall. Noticing the words “Feng Qingyang” carved on the rock wall again, Linghu Chong reached out and started writing following the strokes carved on the rock wall. Suddenly, the wall darkened as a shadow was cast upon the rock wall. In astonishment, Linghu Chong picked up the sword by his side, with no time to unsheathe the sword, he just thrust it toward his back. When it was half way out, he suddenly retracted his strength and turned around as he called out in joy, “Little apprentice sister!” But it wasn’t his little apprentice sister.

A thin and tall man stood about a dozen feet away from the cave. Dressed in a green robe, he stood with his back toward the moonlight; a piece of green cloth covered his face, leaving only his eyes showing. Linghu Chong didn’t recall ever seeing this man before, so he yelled, “Who are you?” and jumped out of the cave with his sword drawn. The man didn’t answer, but raised his right hand and chopped twice toward his front-right, which turned out to be two moves out of the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword Yue Lingshan had used in the day. Linghu Chong was greatly surprised, although by now he had dropped most of his animosity toward the man.

“Are you a senior in our sword school?” he asked, when suddenly a strong wind of energy came upon his face. With no time to think, Linghu Chong slashed out with his sword, but at the meantime, a slight pain came from his left shoulder. It had been hit by the man’s hand. It seemed that the man did not use any inner energy when he struck with his hand. In great fear and astonishment, Linghu Chong hurriedly slid a couple of steps toward his left. The man did not follow up, and simply used his hand as a sword, and within moments of time, he had shown the dozens of moves included in those six stances of the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword smoothly with no interruptions. The dozens of moves were executed as if they were all part of one big move. The speed he had shown was simply unthinkable. Under the moonlight, Linghu Chong could see clearly that every move had been used by Yue Lingshan during the day. But how could he have executed all those dozens of moves as if it was just one big move? Linghu Chong’s jaw dropped and his body seemed to have frozen. The man flicked his long sleeves and walked off around the back of the cliff.

It was already a good while later when Linghu Chong was finally able to regain himself. “Senior Master! Senior Master!” he called out loud, but by the time he ran to the backside of the cliff, all he found was the sliverish moonlight reflected by the ground. There was no one to be found.

“Who is he?” Linghu Chong gasped and thought aloud. “When he showed the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword, I would stand no chance flicking away his sword, and every move from him could have chopped my hand off. No, it’s not only my hand. He could have stabbed me anywhere he wants or cut me anywhere he wishes. With those six stances of the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword, I would be like a piece of meat on somebody’s chopping block – totally be at his mercy. It turned out that this sword form is actually so powerful.” He pondered upon it a bit more and then thought, “Apparently the power didn’t come from the sword moves but the way he used his sword. With such a method, I wouldn’t be able to defend myself no matter what kind of ordinary moves he uses. Who is this man? Why is he on top of Mount Huashan?”

He pondered upon the question for a long time but still had no clue. Finally he gave up, thinking that Master and Master-Wife must know about this man, and when little apprentice sister comes up the cliff again tomorrow, he could ask her to inquire about it from Master and Master-Wife.

But Yue Lingshan didn’t come up the next day, nor did she come the third day or the forth day. Only after a total of eighteen days, she finally came up the cliff together with Lu Dayou. Having longed for Yue Lingshan for eighteen days and nights, Linghu Chong had a stomach full of words to tell her, but with Lu Dayou by the side, he simply could not spill them out.

After dinner, knowing Linghu Chong’s feelings, Lu Dayou suggested, “Big apprentice brother, little apprentice sister, since you two haven’t seen each other for many days, why don’t you two have a good chat here. I’ll take the basket down first.”

“Monkey Six, are you trying to run away from me? We came together, so we’ll leave together too,” Yue Lingshan said with a grin as she stood up.

“Little apprentice sister, I have something to talk to you about,” Linghu Chong said.

“Sure. Monkey Six, stop right there. Big apprentice brother has some advice for us,” Yue Lingshan said to Lu Dayou.

“It’s not about advice.” Linghu Chong shook his head. “That ‘Sword of the Green Pool’ of yours….”

Yue Lingshan cut him short quickly. “I’ve told Mom that I was being too careless and the sword slipped out of my hand down the valley when I was practicing the Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword. It’s nowhere to be found now. I had a good weep. Mom not only didn’t yell at me, but she also comforted me and promised to get me another good blade next time. This really is history now. There’s no need to mention it again.” She shrugged with a smile on her face.

The more easily she acted, the more disturbed Linghu Chong felt. “After I fulfill my punishment so I can get down the cliff again, I’ll find a good blade to repay you.” Linghu Chong promised.

“We are apprentice brothers and sisters. Don’t worry about the sword. And it did fall into the deep valley because I couldn’t hold on to it. It’s all because I didn’t really master my Kung Fu skills. Who else is there to blame? Let’s just ‘gi’ton witit’n falla ya’n distini’.” Yue Lingshan started giggling.

“What did you say?” Linghu Chong was lost.

“Oh, yeah, you don’t know. Little Lin always liked to say ‘get on with it and follow your own destiny,’ but he’s got a heavy accent, so I imitate him to make fun of him. Ha-ha! ‘Gi’ton witit’n falla ya’n distini’!”

Linghu Chong squeezed out a dry smile. He suddenly remembered something. “That day when little apprentice sister used the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword, why did I pick the Pine-Wind Sword Art of the Qingcheng Sword School as the counter? In my subconscious, did I actually want to counter apprentice brother Lin’s Evil-Resisting Sword Art? His entire family and the Fortune Prestige Escort House of his Lin family were completely ruined by the Qingcheng Sword School. Was I intentionally being sarcastic? Why was I so harsh and mean?” Then he thought some more about it. “The other day, in the Jade House of Hengshan Town, I almost got killed from Yu Canghai’s palm strike. It was all because of apprentice brother Lin’s yelling of ‘A senior bullies a junior, how shameless’ with disregard of his own safety, Yu Canghai held back the strike. I really owe apprentice brother Lin the big favor of life and death.” At that thought, he felt very ashamed of himself as he heaved a long breath out.

“Apprentice brother Lin is very bright and he also works hard. After the last couple of months of training by little apprentice sister, he probably has progressed very rapidly. It’s a pity that within the year of my punishment, I can’t leave the cliff. Otherwise, because of the favor I owe him, I really should have helped him with his sword training myself.” Linghu Chong sighed.

“How did Little Lin do you a favor? How come I have never heard anything about it from him?” Yue Lingshan raised her eyebrows.

“Of course he won’t be bragging about it himself.” Linghu Chong explained and then told the story about that day at the Jade House.

Yue Lingshan seemed to have lost in her thought for a moment. “No wonder Dad said that he had the character of the chivalry kind, and that’s why Dad saved him from the ‘Hunchback of the North.’ He is so muddle-headed. So he actually came out boldly for you, too, with that loud yell of his.” At these words, she couldn’t help and giggled some more. “With his little Kung Fu skills, he actually saved the big apprentice brother of Huashan Sword School, and also came forward for the sake of Huashan Head Master’s daughter and whacked the beloved son of the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School. Just with those two achievements, he could have gained a lot of fame in the Martial World. But nobody would have guessed that such a big hero, who likes to defend people against an injustice, ha-ha, Big Hero Lin Pingzhi, has such terrible Kung Fu skills?”

“One can learn Kung Fu skills, but the character of the chivalry type comes when one gets born. And that’s what differentiate people’s moral standings,” Linghu Chong said.

“Dad and Mom said the same thing about Little Lin.” Yue Lingshan smiled. “Big apprentice brother, other than the character of chivalry, there’s one more thing that both of you have.”

“What other thing? Bad temper?” Linghu Chong asked.

“It’s the feeling of pride. Both of you are quite proud of yourself,” Yue Lingshan answered.

Lu Dayou suddenly cut in the conversation. “Big apprentice brother is the leader of all the apprentice brothers and sisters, it’s natural for him to feel the pride. Who the heck does that chap Lin think he is? What makes him think he is worthy to show his pride in the Huashan Sword School?” A tone of hostility toward Lin Pingzhi was clearly shown.

“Monkey Six, when did apprentice brother Lin offend you?” Linghu Chong asked in shock.

“He never offended me. It’s just that we apprentice brothers don’t like his attitude,” Lu Dayou said irritably.

“Sixth apprentice brother, what’s the matter with you? Why are you always so hard on Little Lin? He is your junior apprentice brother. As a senior, you should treat him nice and not pick on his mistakes,” Yue Lingshan said.

“If he knows his place and behaves himself, I’d have no problem with him, otherwise, I would be the first one to jump on to him.” Lu Dayou grunted.

“How did he not know his place and behave himself?” Yue Lingshan challenged.

“He…he…he…,” Lu Dayou answered but stopped short.

“What are you trying to say? Why are you hesitating?” Yue Lingshan charged.

“I hope I got it wrong and thought of it in the wrong way,” Lu Dayou croaked.

Yue Lingshan blushed slightly and stopped asking. Lu Dayou said that he wanted to go back now, and Yue Lingshan left the cliff together with him.

Seized with gloominess, Linghu Chong stood by the edge of the cliff and gazed at their receding figures until they turned around the shoulder of the pass. Soon, Yue Lingshan’s loud and clear singing wafted up the cliff from behind the mountain shoulder. It was a lively and smooth tune. Linghu Chong grew up together with Yue Lingshan and had listened to her singing for many times, but he had never heard of this tune before. Yue Lingshan had always been singing Shanxi[3] folk songs – the kind that had a long ending sound that would be echoing around the valleys. But this one sounded more like water drops dripping down a fountain and each word was short and clear. Linghu Chong tried to listen to the lyrics, but could only hear something like “sisters, let’s go uphill to pick tea.” She had some odd pronunciations; Linghu Chong could hear the words, but he could only recognize probably the meaning of one out of ten words. He thought, “When did little apprentice sister learn this new song? It is a very pleasant song. I’ll have to ask her to sing this one again from the beginning next time when she comes up the cliff.”

Suddenly, he almost felt like a hammer had just smashed his chest as he realized, “This is a Fujian[4] folk song. Apprentice brother Lin must have taught her this one!”

That night, Linghu Chong couldn’t sleep. Disquieting thoughts surged in his mind. It seemed as if Yue Lingshan’s lively but hard to understand singing still echoed around his ears. “Linghu Chong! You’ve always been so unrestrained and carefree before, but today you can’t even put aside your worry just because of a song. How can you still call yourself a true man?” he kept blaming himself.

Knowing very clearly that he shouldn’t be still thinking about it, but the Fujian folk song sang by Yue Lingshan kept wafting around his ears. Linghu Chong felt great pain in his heart. In frustration, he picked up his sword and chopped and slashed toward the rock wall like a mad man. Feeling a stream of inner energy rising from his abdomen, he thrust the sword out, the posture and the way he used his energy happened to be just like the move taught by Madam Yue – Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning. With a piercing sound, the sword surprisingly went into the rock wall all the way to the sword handle.

Linghu Chong was astounded. He knew too well that no matter how quickly he had advanced his Kung Fu skills in the last several months, it would still be impossible for him to jab his sword into the rock wall all the way to the handle. That would require putting superb inner energy onto the sword blade so that the blade could be jabbed into a rock as if the rock was a rotten piece of wood. Even Master or Master-Wife wouldn’t have such magical skills. He stood there as if he was in a trance, then he pulled at the sword handle and drew the blade out when he suddenly realized from the feel with his hand: the rock wall was only a very thin layer of rock. It was empty after about two or three inches deep – there was a cave on the other side of the rock wall.

Linghu Chong’s mind was now filled with curiosity. He lifted his sword and thrust again. “Clank!” This time the long sword broke in half. It turned out that because he didn’t use enough inner energy, the sword couldn’t even penetrate a two or three inches thick layer of rock. He spilled out a couple swears and then picked up a big rock from outside the cave. This time he used all his might and threw the rock at the rock wall, which smashed the rock wall hard and produced some vague echoes from behind the rock wall – apparently there was quite some spacious room behind it. He smashed the rock against the rock wall once again, and this time with a loud bang, the rock went through the rock wall and landed on the floor in the other side. Loud bangs kept rising from the other end as the rock rolled on the floor.

The discovery of such a secret cave drove all his depression and worries completely out. He picked up another rock and started smashing again. Soon, a hole big enough for his head to go through appeared on the rock wall. He widened the hole some more and then climbed in with a lit torch. Inside was a narrow corridor kind of pathway. Suddenly, he broke into a cold sweat as he looked down. A skeleton lay still on the ground facing down right next to his feet. This scene was far from what Linghu Chong had expected.

He calmed himself down a bit and thought, “Could this be a tomb? But why would the skeleton lay on the floor facing down instead of lying facing up? And this narrow corridor doesn’t look like a tomb corridor either.”

He looked down at the skeleton again. The clothing on the skeleton had rotten into dusts. Two huge axes lay on the ground next to the skeleton, shining as they reflected the light from the torch. He picked one of the axes up. It was very heavy, at least over forty pounds. He raised the axe and chopped it at the rock wall by his side. “Clank!” A big chunk of rock was chopped off. He was stunned.

“This axe is too sharp to be a normal axe. It must have belonged to a senior master in the Martial World as his weapon.” The spot where the axe had just chopped by looked very smooth, almost as smooth as a Tofu Cube being cut by a knife, and there were many chop marks on all sides of the corridor. He thought about it for a short moment and was stunned by his conclusion. He walked down the path a bit more with the torch raised high, only finding axe chopping marks all over the cave. He found himself stupefied.

“So the pathway was actually made by chops from this man using his sharp axes. Right, he was taken prisoner in the middle of the mountain, so he tried to use his sharp axes to dig a way out of the mountain. But he fell short of success and died exhausted with only inches from breaking out. Alas, he was certainly very unfortunate.”

He walked about another one hundred feet and the pathway still did not end. He thought aloud, “That man dug such a long pathway. Such strong will and determination together with his superb Kung Fu level must have been extraordinary.” He couldn’t help but feel great respect toward the mysterious man.

Some steps deeper down the path, two more skeletons appeared, one sitting down leaning against the wall, the other one huddled up and lay on the floor. “So there were actually more than one trapped in the middle of the mountain,” Linghu Cong figured. “But this is an important site of our Huashan Sword School; outsiders shouldn’t be able to have access here. Could all these skeletons be senior masters of our Huashan Sword School who violated school rules and were punished to die here?”

He walked another one hundred feet and followed the pathway when it swerved to the left. Suddenly, a huge cave, spacious enough to hold over a thousand people, appeared right in front of his eyes. There were seven more skeletons in the cave, some sitting down, some lying on the floor. All of them had weapons lying next to them. Among those weapons were a pair of iron plates, a pair of Judge-Pens, an iron staff, a copper club, a weapon that looked like a thunderbolt mace, a fanged tri-tip and double-blade halberd, and also some kind of a weapon that looked like a combination of knife and sword that he had never seen before.

“These people with those special weapons and the one using the axes couldn’t have been apprentices of our sword school,” he told himself.

Not far from where he stood, over a dozen long swords piled on the ground in disorder. He walked by and randomly picked one up. The sword was shorter than average but the blade had double the width of a regular sword; it was also much heavier. He thought, “This is the kind of sword used by the Taishan Sword School.” Among the rest of the swords, some were light and very flexible, which was the type of sword used by the Heng-Shan Sword School. Some had crooked blade and were among one of the three types of swords used by the Hengshan Sword School. Some had very blunt edges and a very sharp tip, which was the type of popular weapon used by some senior masters from the Songshan Sword School. There were also three swords that had the same length and weight of a regular Huashan style sword. More and more questions popped out in his head, “Why is there a pile of weapons from the Five Mountains Sword Alliance?”

Linghu Cong raised the torch high and looked around the walls of the cave. There was a big rock sticking out dozens of feet above the ground from the rock wall on the right side. It looked like a platform. Underneath the big rock, some words were carved onto the rock wall in large fonts, saying “THE FIVE MOUNTAINS SWORD ALLIANCE, YOU SHAMELESS AND DESPICABLE BUNCH, CAN’T WIN IN A FAIR FIGHT, DIRTY TRICKS ARE YOUR SPECIALTY.” There were a total of four lines of words and each character was about a foot tall. The strokes went inches into the rock. Obviously they were carved in with a very sharp blade. All the words were written in a bold and tense hand, with strokes extending in all directions. Then he noticed many smaller characters carved next to the huge characters with words like “dirty scoundrel”, “ignominious cowards”, “filthy pigs”, and “incompetent chickens” etc. All of them were cursing or swearing words.

The more Linghu Chong read, the angrier he became. “So all those people were prisoners of our Five Mountains Sword Alliance. They were all completely irritated, but had no other way of venting their anger, so had to carve those words onto the rock wall. I’d say what they did was the real shameless and despicable thing. But I wonder who would they be? If they were enemies of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, then they mustn’t be good.”

He looked at the rock wall again and saw a line of words that read, “Fan Song and Zhao He defeat Heng-Shan sword art here.” Right next to the text, there were many sketches of human forms drawn in pairs, one wielding a sword and the other wielding an axe. After a quick count, Linghu Chong estimated that there were at least five or six hundred of sketch drawings. Apparently the axe wielding one was countering the sword wielding one’s sword art forms. By the side of those human form drawings, there was another line of words saying, “Zhang Chengyun and Zhang Chengfeng defeat all Huashan sword art here.”

Linghu Chong was furious. “You shameless scoundrels, how wildly presumptuous you are! Huashan style sword art is meticulous and profound. There is very few in the world that can actually block it; who would have dared claiming to be able to not only “defeat”, but “defeat all” of the Huashan sword art?” he thought aloud.

He picked up the heavy sword of the Taishan Sword School and smacked it hard against the line of text. With a loud bang and a shower of sparks, he smacked a part of the word “all” off. But from the smacking, he realized that the rock belonged to a very hard type, and even with sharp blades, it would still be very difficult to draw sketches or write on the rock wall.

He looked more closely and saw a drawing by the line of text. The sword wielding man were drawn with only a few simple and crude lines, but from the posture he could tell that it was one of the moves in the basic sword form of the Huashan sword art called Graceful Phoenix. In the move, the sword would be dancing with lithe and graceful movements. The countering human shape was wielding a straight line shaped weapon that could have been either a staff or a spear, with the tip of the weapon pointing directly at the swordsman’s sword tip, looking very clumsy.

Linghu Chong sneered. “The Graceful Phoenix move of Huashan has five additional hidden techniques. How could it ever be defeated by such a clumsy move?”

But when he looked at posture of the man in the drawing again, out of the dullness, there seemed to have more continuous flow in it. Although the move Graceful Phoenix had five additional techniques, but the staff move seemed to faintly have six or seven additional techniques, more than enough to counter the various techniques from the Graceful Phoenix move.

His eyes fixing on the quick drawn human sketch, Linghu Chong was dumbfounded. “This Graceful Phoenix move of our sword school looks like an ordinary move, but the additional techniques hold great power. A smart opponent would have simply blocked it and dodged aside. If he had tried to counter it, he would be suffering great losses. But that staff move in the drawing really can defeat the Graceful Phoenix move of ours. That…that…that….” Gradually, his astonishment transformed into admiration. Deep in his heart, he also felt great terror.

He stared blankly at the two human sketches, lost in thoughts and completely forgot about time. Suddenly, a great pain came from his right hand and woke him. It turned out to be the torch, which had burned almost to the end and the flame caught his hand. He threw it down, thinking, “It’s going to be completely dark if the torch burns down.” So he rushed to the front cave, took over a dozen of the pine branches that were meant to be firewood for heating purposes, and then returned to the back cave in a dash.

He lit a pine stick from the about to extinguish torch and gazed at those two human shape sketches again, thinking, “If the staff wielding guy has the same level of Kung Fu as the swordsman from our sword school, then the swordsman might incur some serious injury. If the opponent has slightly better Kung Fu, then when the two moves clashes, the swordsman will see his own life perishing in front of his own eyes within the time of a flash. That Graceful Phoenix move of ours…has truly been defeated by the staff wielding man and has been rendered useless!”

He turned a little and started studying the second group of drawings and soon recognized that the swordsman was using a Huashan move called Green Pines Welcoming Guests. He immediately felt his spirits buoyed up. When he had learned that move in the old days, it had taken him a full month to be able to execute it proficiently. That move had become one of his favorite killer moves. Feeling excited yet slightly frightened, fearing that this move might be defeated again, he looked at the staff wielding man drawing. But to his surprise, he saw five staffs in the man’s hand striking toward five different parts of the swordsman’s lower body.

“Why does he have five staffs?” he pondered.

After looking at the staff wielding man’s posture some more he understood it. “These aren’t five staffs. He is striking out five times quickly in one instant to hit five of the opponent’s lower body. But if he’s fast, I can be fast too. He might not be able to strike out five times fast enough. So this Green Pines Welcoming Guests can’t be defeated after all.”

Just when he was feeling great, he suddenly realized, “He is not striking out with his staff five times. He could have struck out in any one of the five positions, and how would I dodge that?”

He picked up one of the Huashan style sword and performed the move Green Pines Welcoming Guests. Then he studied the drawings carefully and imagined in his head how the opponent would have struck out with his staff. He figured that since he already knew where the staff would be striking to, he should be able to figure out a counter. But when that staff struck out from any one of the five positions, his sword would have been fully thrust out with no chance of withdrawing it back in time. Unless the thrust could kill the opponent, otherwise his lower body would for sure get hit. And the opponent most likely would be a skilled fighter, how could one expect to kill the opponent with one single thrust? And with the sliding posture and a lowered shoulder in the drawing, the enemy for sure would be able to dodge the thrust in that fraction of time. Once the enemy dodged the sword thrust and struck back, he would have no chance to evade. Thus, the unique Huashan move of Green Pines Welcoming Guests had been defeated as well.

Linghu Chong remembered that he had won three times in various fights using that move of Green Pines Welcoming Guests. If his opponents had seen the drawing on the rock wall before, and knew how to counter attack, then it wouldn’t matter whether the opponent had used a staff or a spear, he would have either get wounded or get killed. Probably there wouldn’t even be a Linghu Chong left in the world today.

The more he thought about it, the more terrified he became. He murmured to himself as cold sweat streamed down his forehead, “That’s impossible! That’s impossible! If the move Green Pines Welcoming Guests could be defeated this way, how come Master knows nothing about it? Why didn’t he ever warn me about it?” He knows all the key aspect of that move from inside out, so he knew to the full extent how detrimental those five staff strikes were. Although those were just five short lines on the rock wall, he could almost feel every strike smacking heavily onto his ankles and shins.

Linghu Chong looked on. The sword moves carved onto the rock wall were all unique moves of the Huashan Sword School, and the opponent always had ultra-clever and vicious moves that would defeat them. The more moves he checked out, the more he gasped, until a move called Boundless Falling Leaves. The enemy’s staff move against this one appeared to be very weak and powerless. The entire counter move had taken the defending initiative. Linghu Chong heaved a long sigh of relieve, thinking, “There’s finally one you can’t defeat!”

He remembered a scene in January last year. It snowed that day. Countless of snowflakes swirled in the air. Master was in a very good mood. He gathered the apprentices for a sword art lesson. At the end of the lesson, he demonstrated the move Boundless Falling Leaves. His every thrust became even faster than the previous one and every thrust hit a swirling snowflake in the air. Even Master-Wife applauded and cheered, saying, “Apprentice brother, I am convinced from this move that you are qualified to be the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School.” Master answered with a smile, “It takes moral integrity, not shear power to lead the Huashan Sword School. It’s not necessary that with just one proficient move, someone would become qualified for the post of Head Master.” Master-Wife rebuffed in a grin, “Hey, aren’t you ashamed? What moral integrity of yours is better than mine?” Master smiled and did not argue. Master-Wife seldom submitted to other’s Kung Fu and loved to compete with Master. Even she had to admit her admiration that time, so it was obvious that the move Boundless Falling Leaves was a superior move. Master explained about the move later. The name of the move came from a poem and the poem had a line saying something like “boundless falling leaves”. Master had recited it at the time, but Linghu Chong couldn’t remember it. It seemed to be describing how leaves from thousands of trees had fallen and swirled in the air in all directions. That was why this sword move needed to cover all directions.

Looking at the staff wielding human sketch, he found a human shape drawing huddled himself up in a rather unsightly posture that looked as if he had no way of avoiding a good beating. Linghu Chong was about to laugh out loud when his smile suddenly froze. He only felt chilling cold on his back and his fine hairs on the back almost all stood up. He gazed at the staff in the man’s hand on the sketch without blinking. The more he gazed at it, the more he felt that the staff was at an ingenious position. All the nine thrusts, ten thrusts, eleven thrusts, or twelve thrusts…out of the move Boundless Falling Leaves would inevitably land on the staff. The position of the staff appeared to be dull when one first looked at it, but was actually very clever; the staff move appeared to be very weak, yet it was actually extremely strong. The move really had attained the lofty realm of martial arts that is to “counter motion with standstill and defy cleverness with dullness.”

Instantaneously, he had lost all his confidence in the Kung Fu of his own sword school. All he could think of was that even if he could perfect his sword art so it was as good as his Master’s, when he encountered the man with the staff, he would still stand no chance of possibly defending himself. In that case, what good would it do for him to continue learning this style of sword art?

“Is Huashan style sword art really so fragile that it wouldn’t even withstand a single blow? Those skeletons must have been decaying in the cave for at least thirty or forty years. How could the Five Mountains Sword Alliance still be dominating the Martial World since then, and no one had ever mentioned that the sword art of any one of the five sword schools could be defeated? Are those drawings just idling theories? Well, it doesn’t seem so.”

Although he couldn’t tell if the sword arts of the Songshan Sword School and the rest members of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance were truly defeated, he knew Huashan style sword art from inside out, and he knew too well that if he had encountered such brilliant moves in a real fight all of a sudden, he would undoubtedly be suffering a crushing defeat.

He stood still, seized in terror, almost as if someone had sealed his pressure points. Endless of thoughts flashed by his mind, and he totally forgot about time.

Time went by, and finally, someone’s voice rose. “Big apprentice brother, big apprentice brother, where are you?”

Stunned, Linghu Chong immediately turned and ran through the narrow pathway until he passed through the hole on the rock wall and got back into his own cave compartment. It was Lu Dayou calling out around the cliff. Linghu Chong leapt out of the cave and turned behind a big rock at the back of the cliff. After sitting down cross-legged, he called out, “I am here meditating. Sixth apprentice brother, what’s the matter?”

Lu Dayou followed the direction of the sound and came by. “Big apprentice brother! Here you are! I’ve brought your dinner up for you,” he said happily.

Ever since Linghu Chong started studying the moves on the rock wall before dawn, he had totally lost track of time because of his focus on the drawings. It was already in the late afternoon by now. The cave he lived in was specifically used for meditation and contemplation, so Lu Dayou dared not to enter without permission. The cave was a shallow one. Since he didn’t see Linghu Chong inside the cave, he started looking around the cliff.

Linghu Chong noticed that Lu Dayou’s right cheek was covered with a layer of herbal medicine, with blood still oozing out of the green dressing. Evidently, he was wounded pretty badly. So he asked hurriedly, “Hey, what happened to your face?”

“This morning when I was practicing sword art, I accidentally cut myself. How stupid was I!” Lu Dayou answered.

Seeing more irritation than embarrassment in Lu Dayou’s eyes, Linghu Chong figured that there must be something else. “Sixth apprentice brother, how did you really get hurt? Can’t I be trusted with the truth?” he asked.

“Big apprentice brother, I don’t want to hide the truth from you. I didn’t say the truth because I am just afraid that you might get mad,” Lu Dayou growled.

“So who cut you?” Linghu Chong inquired. He felt quite surprised. Apprentice brothers in Huashan Sword School had always been getting along comfortably well, and had never got into any fights among each other. Did outside enemies come to Huashan to cause trouble?

Lu Dayou explained. “This morning I sparred with junior apprentice brother Lin. He just learned that move Graceful Phoenix. I wasn’t paying enough attention and got a cut on my face.”

“It’s normal for somebody to make a mistake occasionally when apprentice brothers spar each other. Don’t get mad. Apprentice brother Lin probably just learned that move recently and couldn’t control the move too well. You can’t really blame him. But you probably were a bit too careless. That move Graceful Phoenix is a powerful one. You should have treated it more carefully,” Linghu Chong said.

“That’s right. But how would I know that…that chap Lin have learned the Graceful Phoenix after only several months of apprenticeship? It was after my fifth year in Huashan that Master finally permitted you to teach me that move,” Lu Dayou grumbled.

Linghu Chong was slightly surprised. He thought to himself, “Apprentice brother Lin has only been in Huashan Sword School for several months, and now he has already learned the move Graceful Phoenix. He has progressed too fast. If he didn’t have the brain of a super smart genius, then he wouldn’t have a good foundation. To progress this fast is actually detrimental for his later progress. Why did Master teach him this move so early?”

Lu Dayou continued, “When I saw it all of a sudden, I was shocked, that’s how I got cut by him. Little apprentice sister applauded and cheered by the side. She said, ‘Monkey Six, you can’t even beat my student. How are you going to pose as a hero in front me again?’ That chap Lin knew he was wrong and tried to come by and bind up the wound for me, but I kicked him to the ground. Little apprentice sister snapped, ‘Monkey Six, he is trying to be nice to bind up your wound. Are you shamed into anger because you can’t beat him?’ Big apprentice brother, it turned out that little apprentice sister secretly taught him that move.”

Instantly, Linghu Chong’s heart was filled with strong grief. That Graceful Phoenix move was a very difficult one. The five additional techniques had complicated variations, and on top of that, the practitioner also needed to memorize a lot of formulas that went with the techniques. In order to help apprentice brother Lin understand that move, little apprentice sister must have racked her brain out and put in a lot of work. So the reason why she didn’t come up the cliff all those days is because she spent the entire time with apprentice brother Lin. Yue Lingshan was the impatient type. She always had a hard time staying still and hated tasks that would require meticulous cares. She always wanted to be better than others. That was why she was able to gather enough patience when she was learning sword arts herself. But if she were teaching someone else, she would never have taught carefully. But now she actually taught that complicated move Graceful Phoenix to Lin Pingzhi. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how much she cared about this junior apprentice brother of hers. Only after a while did he finally managed to calm down.

“Why did you go sparring with apprentice brother Lin?” he asked dryly.

“Yesterday when I said those words to you, little apprentice sister wasn’t very happy about it and croaked at me all the way down the cliff. Then early this morning, she dragged me to go sparring with apprentice brother Lin. I didn’t think too much about it and thought that it was just a practice. But who would have expected that little apprentice sister secretly taught several unique moves to the chap Lin. I was caught totally off guard and became a prey of their plot.”

Linghu Chong understood now: When Yue Lingshan and Lin Pingzhi got into an intimate relationship in those past days, since Lu Dayou was very close to me, he couldn’t take it anymore, so he must have spilled out many satirical comments. Linghu Chong wouldn’t be surprised if Lu Dayou had even made trouble and swore at Lin Pingzhi. So he asked.

“You’ve swore at apprentice brother Lin several times already, haven’t you?”

“That dirty shameless sissy. Of course I’d be swearing at him. He got scared of me. Every time I swore at him, he dared not swear back at me and always turned away immediately to avoid me. But I would never have thought…thought that this chap is so vicious. Humph! He can’t get anywhere by himself. If it weren’t because little apprentice sister was behind him, how could he have wounded me?” Lu Dayou grunted.

Linghu Chong couldn’t help but feel a kind of indescribable bitterness in his heart. He suddenly remember the move drawn on the rock wall in the back cave that was created to defeat the move Graceful Phoenix, so he picked up a branch from the ground and was ready to teach that move to Lu Dayou, but then he thought better of it.

“Sixth apprentice brother hates that chap Lin so much right now, once he uses this move, he would almost certainly wound Lin Pingzhi severely. Then when Master and Master-Wife look into the incident, the two of us would be severely punished for sure! I can’t do that!” At that thought, he said, “Well, a fall to the pit, a gain in your wit. Just don’t get tricked again next time. We are all apprentice brothers. A small loss in a spar practice is really nothing. Why don’t you take it easy?”

“Sure. But big apprentice brother, I can take it easy. Can you…you take it easy, too?” Lu Dayou rebuffed.

Linghu Chong knew that he meant Yue Lingshan. A great pain came from his heart, and even his face twitched because of the pain.

“Sorry, I…I shouldn’t have said that.” As soon as the words came out, Lu Dayou realized how much damage he has done, so he immediately regretted it.

Linghu Chong held tight Lu Dayou’s hands and said slowly, “You said it right. How can I not care? But…but….” After a long pause, he said, “Sixth apprentice brother, let’s not talk about this anymore.”

“Sure!” Lu Dayou replied. “Big apprentice brother, you have taught me that move Graceful Phoenix before. I just didn’t pay enough attention and fell into that chap’s trap. I’ll practice more dedicatedly with all my heart. I have to let that chap know who’s better, the one taught by big apprentice brother or the one taught by little apprentice sister.”

Linghu Chong let out a sad smile. “The move Graceful Phoenix, alas, it really is nothing,” he said.

Lu Dayou could see the sad expression on Linghu Chong’s face. He figured that Linghu Chong only got so disheartened because little apprentice sister started to treat him coldly, so he dared not to say another word. After the two finished the meal, Lu Dayou cleared away the bowls and chopsticks and then left.

After a slight rest, Linghu Chong lit a torch and went back to the back cave to study those sword art drawings on the rock wall again. At the beginning, all he could think of was still how Yue Lingshan taught Lin Pingzhi sword arts, so he simply could not concentrate on the drawings on the rock wall. All the human forms in simple sketches seemed to have transformed into Yue Lingshan and Lin Pingzhi, one teaching, the other learning, in a very affectionate way. And no matter which direction he looked at, he could always see the handsome face of Lin Pingzhi flashing in front of his eyes again and again. He heaved a long sigh, thinking, “Apprentice brother Lin is ten times more handsome than I am, and he is much younger than me, only one or two years older than little apprentice sister. Of course it is natural for the two to become close.”

Suddenly, a drawing on the rock wall caught his attention. The swordsman in the drawing thrust his sword out, and the way he thrust the sword out and the route of the sword greatly resembled the move of Madam Yue’s – Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning. Linghu Chong was astounded. He thought, “This move of Master-Wife clearly was created by her. How come it was carved on the rock wall way ahead of time? How could this have happened?”

He looked at the drawing more closely and then found out that the thrust drawn on the rock wall and the move created by Madam Yue were actually quite different. The sword move on the rock wall was bold and vigorous, simple and unadorned, apparently executed by a man. Once the thrust was out, there was only one thrust, not like how Madam Yue’s move had all those extra hidden techniques. But because it was simpler, it was also more swift and fierce. Linghu Chong nodded as he thought aloud, “It’s actually not surprising at all. The sword move created by Master-Wife used an idea that matched with earlier people’s idea. Since both moves came from the basic theory of the Huashan style sword arts, and the two creators had about the same level of Kung Fu and comprehension, of course the creations would have been alike with only minor differences.” Then he realized, “In that case, even Master and Master-Wife didn’t know many of the sword moves drawn here. Didn’t Master learn the entire set of the advanced sword arts of our Huashan Sword School?” The opponent’s staff also thrust out straight with the staff tip aiming right at the sword tip. The staff and the sword made a perfect straight line.

Seeing the straight line made, Linghu Chong cried out loud, “Oh, no!” The torch in his hand fell down to the floor and the cave was instantly covered by complete darkness. He was completely taken by terror and could only murmur, “What do I do? What do I do?”

He could see clearly that since the staff and the sword were in a tit-for-tat fight, and the staff is rigid and solid while the sword being flexible, when the two fighters both thrust out with all their strength, the long sword would have no choice but to break from the middle. In this move, both fighters would have continuous energy flow going together with the thrust, and the staff would be taking the advantage of the situation and keep going forward while the energy on the sword would come right back to haunt the swordsman. There was really no way out of it.

A thought suddenly flashed by his mind, “Is there really no way out of it? I guess not. After the sword breaks in half, and when the opponent’s staff jabs by, the swordsman can either drop the broken sword, kneel down with both legs, or he can dive forward to avoid the strike from the staff. But Master and Master-Wife are both well-known sword masters in the Martial World, how could they even consider using such body positions? They would rather die than take on such humiliation. Alas, what a crushing defeat! What a devastating defeat!”

He stood there silently for a good while, and then finally took out the flint stone and lit the torch again. He continued studying the rock wall and saw that the sword moves were getting more and more exquisite and intriguing, especially the last dozens of moves simply fluctuated unpredictably and appeared to be mysterious and profound. But no matter how brilliant each sword move was the opponent’s staff would always have an effective way to counter it. At the end of the Huashan sword move drawings, pictures of the swordsman kneeling on the floor in front of the staff wielding man, heading down, sword being thrown away, were carved on the rock wall. Feelings of anger and rage had slipped away from Linghu Chong’s mind long ago. All there was left was the deep feeling of despair. Although the picture was totally arrogant and harsh, there was no doubt that Huashan style sword art had been completely defeated by him, and the swordsman would never be able to compete with him. It was sadly so very true.

That night, he wandered around the back cave back and forth for countless of circles. He had never been hit with such a devastating strike before in his entire life. He kept thinking, “Huashan Sword School is a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. It is a world-renowned big sword school with great fame in the Martial World. But the Kung Fu of our sword school is actually so pathetic. Among those sword moves drawn on the rock wall, there were at least over a hundred moves that even Master and Master-Wife didn’t know about. Even if I could master the entire most advanced sword moves of the Huashan Sword School, and become way better than my Master, what difference would it make? As long as the opponent knew about the counter moves, even the best and toughest swordsman of Huashan Sword School would still have to throw down his sword and surrender. If he didn’t want to surrender, then the only other choice was to commit suicide.”

He paced up and down, feeling deeply vexed and frustrated. The torch had extinguished a while back. He lit the torch again. Staring at the kneeling and surrendering human shape sketch, he felt more and more annoyed. Raising his sword high, he wanted to chop at the picture, but right before the tip of the sword touched the rock wall, he held it back, thinking, “A true man is open and aboveboard. A win stays a win and a loss stays a loss. Our Huashan Sword School truly has inferior Kung Fu skills. We really have no excuses.” He threw down his sword with a deep sigh.

He went ahead and looked at some other drawings on the rock wall, and not to his surprise, the sword moves of Songshan, Hengshan, Taishan, and Heng-Shan Sword Schools were also completely defeated, and the swordsman sketch always ended up kneeling down to surrender. Linghu Chong had been in Huashan Sword School for a long time and had a good amount of knowledge about many other sword schools. Although he didn’t know the key aspects of the other four member sword schools’ sword moves, he had at least heard about the basic ideas behind them. Every one of the sword moves from the other four member sword schools drawn on the rock wall was truly magnificent, but still, the man in the drawing defeated every one of them.

In his heart, other than terror, some unanswered questions also troubled him. “Fan Song, Zhao He, Zhang Chengfeng, Zhang Chengyun. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Why did they work so hard to carve on the rock wall all those moves that can defeat our Five Mountains Sword Alliance’s sword arts, yet they themselves were so unknown to the Martial World? And how could our Five Mountains Sword Alliance have still maintained such a great fame today?” He faintly felt that the Five Mountains Sword Alliance had been enjoying a quite undeserved and deceiving fame in the Martial World today, or they were just too fortunate. The thousands of masters and apprentices in the five sword schools were only able to survive in the Martial World because luckily the drawings on the rock wall were unknown to the public.

A thought suddenly popped into his mind, “Why don’t I use that sharp axe to chop all those drawings down and leave no trace of it whatsoever, so it would be as if those counter moves had never even existed in the world? Then, for sure, the fame of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance would be saved. I’ll just pretend that I’ve never found this back cave. That’s all.”

He went in to the narrow pathway, picked up the axe, and came back by the rock wall. But after staring at those exquisite and brilliant moves for a good while, he simply could not raise the axe to chop at the drawings. He stood there and pondered upon the decision back and forth. Finally, he said to himself loudly, “I, Linghu Chong, will never do such shameless and undignified things!”

All of a sudden, he remembered about the masked man in green robe. “That man has such excellent sword skills. He probably had something to do with the drawings in the cave. Who is he? Who is he?”

He stepped back to the front cave and pondered upon the question for half a day, then went back again to the back cave to study the drawings on the rock wall. He went back and forth between the front and the back cave until it was getting late in the day.

Sounds of footsteps came, and it was Yue Lingshan who came with the meal basket in her hand. Linghu Chong was overjoyed. He rushed by the edge of the cliff to greet. “Little apprentice sister!” His voice trembled from joy.

Yue Lingshan didn’t answer. She climbed up the cliff and threw the meal basket on to the big rock heavily. Without even looking at Linghu Chong, she turned around and started walking away.

“Little apprentice sister, little apprentice sister, what’s the matter?” Linghu Chong called out in despair.

Yue Lingshan gave a snort and then leapt off the cliff onto the path going back. And no matter how Linghu Chong called her again and again, she never answered or even looked back.

With thoughts surging through his mind, Linghu Chong didn’t know what to do. He opened the meal basket and found one bowl of rice and two bowls of vegetarian dishes, without the small calabash of wine. He stared at them blankly, lost in thought. For several times he had wanted to start eating, but each time after the first bite, he would feel bitterness in his mouth and totally lose his appetite. He finally gave up, thinking, “If little apprentice sister is mad at me, why did she bring the food up for me herself? If she is not mad at me, why didn’t she say a word and didn’t even cast a glance at me? Is sixth apprentice brother sick so she had to bring food up? But if sixth apprentice brother can’t bring food up, fifth, seventh, eighth apprentice brothers or any other person can do it. Why did little apprentice sister come by herself?” He pondered hard upon the question and completely forgot about the sword moves on the rock wall in the back cave.

At dusk the next day, Yue Lingshan brought food up again. As same as the day before, she didn’t look at Linghu Chong or say anything to him at all. On her way down the cliff, she even started singing Fujian folk songs loudly. Linghu Chong felt like someone was stabbing him hard in the heart. He thought to himself, “So she came to annoy me intentionally.”

At dusk the day after, again, Yue Lingshan threw the meal basket on the big rock and immediately turned around and left. Linghu Chong could not hold it any longer and called out, “Little apprentice sister, please stop. I need to talk to you.”

“Speak out, please.” Yue Lingshan turned around. Her face looked as if it was covered by a layer of frost. There was no trace of a smile at all.

“You…you…you….” Seeing the expression on Yue Lingshan’s face, Linghu Chong stammered.

“What about me?” Yue Lingshan demanded.

“I…I….” On normal days, he was the unrestrained and unconventional type, and would have been clever and fluent, but now he was completely lost in words.

“If you don’t have anything to say, I am leaving,” Yue Lingshan said as she turned around to leave.

Linghu Chong was greatly worried, thinking that once she had left, she wouldn’t be back until dusk the next day, and if he couldn’t get an answer out of her today, how could he ever endure the anxiety for another night? And judging from the look on her face, maybe she wouldn’t even come the next day, and it wouldn’t be surprising that she might not come for an entire month. In the moment of desperation, he reached out and grabbed onto her left sleeve.

“Let go of me!” Yue Lingshan snapped, as she pulled back hard. With a tearing sound, the sleeve was tore off completely and half of her left shoulder was exposed. Greatly nettled and embarrassed, Yue Lingshan didn’t even know how to place her exposed shoulder and arm. As a martial arts student, Yue Lingshan didn’t bother with small matters as much as an average girl, but when a potion of her shoulder and her arm suddenly became exposed, she found herself in a very awkward position.

“How…how dare you!” she yelled.

“Little apprentice sister, sor…sorry, I…I didn’t mean to do that.” Linghu Chong explained hurriedly.

Yue Lingshan placed her right sleeve on her left shoulder to cover it up. “What exactly are you trying to say?” she ranted.

“I just don’t understand,” Linghu Chong said, “why are you treating me like this? If I really somehow offended you, little apprentice sister, you…you…can just draw your sword and stab me a dozen times or something, and I’ll die with no grievance.”

“You are the big apprentice brother, how dare us to offend you, not mentioning stabbing you a dozen times?” Yue Lingshan sneered. “We are your junior apprentice brother and sister. As long as you don’t discipline us with punishment, we’d be thanking Heavens already.”

“I’ve been thinking very hard, but I still can’t figure out how I offended my apprentice sister,” Linghu Chong said.

“You can’t figure it out? Didn’t you figure out how to have Monkey Six complain to Dad and Mom?” Yue Lingshan said furiously.

“I had Monkey Six complain to Master and Master-Wife? Complain…complain about you?” Linghu Chong asked in great surprise.

“You knew Dad and Mom love me dearly and it would be useless to complain about me. How clever of you to complain about…complain about…humph! Why are you still pretending? Don’t you know what you did?”

It only took Linghu Chong an instant to guess what really happened, but that only brought more bitterness. “Master and Master-Wife found out about Lu Dayou’s wound from his sparring with apprentice brother Lin and punished apprentice brother Lin, didn’t they?” he asked, but in his heart, he thought, “Because Master and Master-Wife punished apprentice brother Lin, you actually become this mad at me?”

“It was only an accident in a sword spar between apprentice brothers. He didn’t do it intentionally. But Dad sided with Monkey Six and gave Little Lin a good scolding, saying that Little Lin didn’t have enough skills and shouldn’t have learned the kind of moves like Graceful Phoenix. He banned me from teaching him sword skills. Fine, you won! But…but…I…I’ll never pay attention to you again! Never ever ever!”

The phrase “never ever ever” was something Yue Lingshan used quite often when she joked with Linghu Chong in normal days. When she had said it before, she would always be casting a sideway glance at him with a big grin on her face. But this time she looked so serious and sincere, and from the way she said it, it seemed as if she really was determined to end her relationship with him.

Linghu Chong took a step forward and said, “Little apprentice sister, I….” He had wanted to say, “I really didn’t ask sixth apprentice brother to complain to Master and Master-Wife.” But then he thought, “I didn’t do it. I have a clear conscience. Why should I beg pity from you?” So after the word “I”, he stopped abruptly.

“You what?” Yue Lingshan asked.

“I nothing.” Linghu Chong shook his head. “I just thought, even though Master and Master-Wife banned you from teaching apprentice brother Lin sword arts, that’s nothing major, why did you get so mad at me?”

Yue Lingshan blushed. “I am mad at you! I am mad at you! You’ve got ill will in your heart. You figured that since I can’t teach apprentice brother Lin sword arts anymore, I would be your company everyday. Humph, I’ll never pay attention to you again! Never ever ever!” She stomped her foot on the ground heavily and then stormed off.

This time Linghu Chong dared not to pull her clothes again. With a stomach full of grievance and bitterness, he heard her loud and clear singing the Fujian folk song again. He walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down, only seeing her slim receding figure turning around the shoulder of the peak. Vaguely, he could see her left arm and shoulder still covered by her right sleeve. He became worried.

“I tore her sleeve off. If she runs to Master and Master-Wife to complain, the respectful Master and Master-Wife might think that I was taking liberties with her, then…then…what’s going to happen? If this gets spread around, even the bunch of apprentice brothers and sisters would look down on me.”

But then he reconsidered, “I wasn’t taking liberties with her. What do I care how others would think of it?” But when he thought that she got so mad at him just because she couldn’t teach Lin Pingzhi sword skills anymore, he couldn’t help but feel great sorrow.

At the beginning, he was still able to comfort himself by thinking, “Little apprentice sister is young and playful. Since I am meditating on the cliff, and there is no one else who would chat with her and play with her, she just wanted apprentice brother Lin, who happened to be about the same age as her, to be her companion. She doesn’t have any other thoughts.” But then after reconsideration, he thought, “I grew up together with her. That’s a much deeper relationship and affection. Apprentice brother Lin has only been on Mount Huashan for several months, but she has treated us so differently, so out of ordinance.” At that thought, he felt even more bitterness.

That night, he paced up and down, from the cave to the edge of the cliff, then back from the edge of the cliff to the cave, again and again, for thousands of times, and the same the next day. All he could think of was Yue Lingshan. The drawings on the rock wall in the back cave and that man in the green robe who showed up that night were all completely forgotten from his mind.

At dusk, it was Lu Dayou who brought the food up. He set the food on the rock and filled the bowls with rice. “Big apprentice brother, let’s eat,” he said.

Linghu Chong merely answered a slight snort as he picked up the bowl and the chopsticks. He placed some food in his mouth but had no appetite whatsoever. After casting a glance down the cliff, he slowly set down his bowl.

“Big apprentice brother, you don’t look too good. Are you feeling alright?” Lu Dayou asked.

“It’s nothing.” Linghu Chong shook his head.

“I picked those mushrooms for you yesterday. Have some and see how they taste?” Lu Dayou suggested.

Not having the heart to go against Lu Dayou’s good will, Linghu Chong ate two mushrooms. “Very good,” he said. Actually, the mushrooms were quite tasty, but he didn’t even notice.

“Big apprentice brother, I’ve got good news for you!” Lu Dayou said with a grin. “Starting from yesterday, Master and Master-Wife banned Little Lin from learning sword arts with little apprentice sister.”

“You couldn’t beat apprentice brother Lin in a sword fight, that’s why you complained to Master and Master-Wife, didn’t you?” Linghu Chong said coldly.

Lu Dayou jumped onto his feet. “Who said that I couldn’t beat him? I…I was doing it for….” He suddenly stopped.

Linghu Chong knew very well that even though Lin Pingzhi wounded Lu Dayou with a move of Graceful Phoenix by surprise, Lu Dayou still had been in the school much longer, and Lin Pingzhi would be no match for him. The reason he complained to Master and Master-Wife was really for Linghu Chong’s sake. He suddenly came upon a thought, “So all the apprentice brothers and sisters were pitying me in their hearts. They all know that little apprentice sister is breaking up with me. Only because sixth apprentice brother is close to me, he managed to do something about it. Humph, a true man does not need pity from others!”

All of a sudden, he jumped up like a mad man. Picking up the bowls and the plates, he threw them off the cliff one by one, shouting, “Who asked you to poke around? Who asked you to poke around?”

Lu Dayou was shocked. He had always respected and admired the big apprentice brother, and had no idea that Linghu Chong would be provoked into such an outrage. Flurried, he kept stepping back, murmuring, “Big apprentice brother, big…apprentice brother.”

After throwing all the bowls and dishes into the deep valley, Linghu Chong didn’t feel any better, so he randomly picked up one rock after another and kept throwing them into the deep valley.

“Big apprentice brother, it’s my fault. Why…why don’t you give me a beating,” Lu Dayou said.

Linghu Chong was just about to throw a rock when he heard Lu Dayou’s words. He turned around and asked in a stern voice, “Why is it your fault?”

Lu Dayou took another step back in fear and murmured, “I…I…I don’t know!”

Linghu Chong heaved a deep sigh. He threw the rock in his hand far away and then grabbed Lu Dayou’s hands. “Sixth apprentice brother, I am sorry. I am just depressed myself. It has nothing to do with you.”

Lu Dayou let out a breath of relief. “Let me get down and bring up some food again,” he suggested.

“No, don’t bother. I don’t feel like eating.” Linghu Chong shook his head.

Seeing the food in yesterday’s meal basket still untouched, Lu Dayou became worried. “Big apprentice brother, you didn’t eat yesterday either, did you?” he asked.

“Don’t worry about it. I just don’t have good appetites these days.” Linghu Chong forced out a smile.

Lu Dayou dared not to argue, but the next day when it was still early in the afternoon, he had already brought food up the cliff. He thought, “I’ve managed to get a big calabash of good wine today together with two delicious dishes. I’ll have to get big apprentice brother to eat some more.” But after he climbed up the cliff, he found Linghu Chong sleeping on the rock in the cave, looking very wan and sallow.

“Big apprentice brother, see what this is?” Slightly shocked, he said, as he swayed the wine-calabash in front of Linghu Chong. After he opened the lid, the entire cave was soon filled with the wonderful scent of wine.

Linghu Chong took the calabash and drank half of the wine in just one breath. “The wine is not bad!” he praised.

“Let me fill your bowl with rice,” Lu Dayou said happily.

“Nah. I don’t feel like eating.” Linghu Chong objected.

“How about just one bowl?” Lu Dayou suggested, as he filled the bowl full with rice.

Not having the heart to go against Lu Dayou’s good will, Linghu Chong had to agree. “Ok, I will eat it after I finish drinking.”

But Linghu Chong didn’t eat the bowl of rice after all. The next day when Lu Dayou brought food up again, he found the bowl of rice sitting on the rock untouched and Linghu Chong sleeping on the floor. Lu Dayou noticed some redness on Linghu Chong’s cheeks, so he reached out and felt Linghu Chong’s forehead with his hand. It was burning hot. Linghu Chong must be running a high fever. He became very worried.

“Big apprentice brother, are you feeling sick?” he asked gently.

“Wine, wine! Give me wine!” Linghu Chong mumbled.

Although Lu Dayou brought some wine with him, he didn’t give it to him. Instead, he poured a bowl of water and sent it next to Linghu Chong’s lips.

Linghu Chong sat up and drank the big bowl of water in one swallow. “Good wine, great wine!” he yelled, and then fell down on his back heavily, still mumbling, “Good wine! Great Wine!”

Knowing that Linghu Chong’s illness was quite serious, Lu Dayou was very concerned, but it happened that Master and Master-Wife had some business to take care of and had left Mount Huashan early in the morning. So he ran down the cliff and told Lao Denuo and the other senior apprentice brothers.

Yue Buqun had set up a strict rule that other than the once a day task of bringing food up the cliff, no one would be allowed to go up the cliff to see Linghu Chong. But now since he was seriously ill, to go up the cliff to check on him probably wouldn’t be counted as a violation. Yet the bunch of apprentices still dared not to go up the cliff all at once and decided to go up the cliff to check on Linghu Chong in groups and in different days. Lao Denuo and Liang Fa were the first two to go up.

Lu Dayou then went and told Yue Lingshan about it. Yue Lingshan was still quite angry at Linghu Chong, so she said coldly, “Come on, big apprentice brother has excellent inner energy, how could he become ill? You can’t fool me.”

The illness of Linghu Chong broke with such a tremendous force. For four days and four nights, Linghu Chong stayed in a coma. Lu Dayou begged Yue Lingshan to go up the cliff to pay a visit. He almost knelt down in front of her when she finally realized he was speaking the truth and also got greatly worried. She went up the cliff together with Lu Dayou, only finding a Linghu Chong with deeply sank cheeks and disheveled beard all over his face, nothing even close to the unrestrained and unconventional one he used to be.

With remorse in her heart, Yue Lingshan walked by his side and said gently, “Big apprentice brother, I’ve come to see you. Don’t be mad at me any more, alright?”

Linghu Chong’s face looked indifferent. His eyes wide open, he stared at her with a confused look, as if he didn’t know who she was at all.

“Big apprentice brother, it’s me. Why don’t you answer me?” Yue Lingshan said.

Linghu Chong kept staring at her blankly. After a while, he closed his eyes and fell asleep. Till Lu Dayou and Yue Lingshan had left, he still did not wake up.  

Only after well over a month, Linghu Chong finally started to recover. During the one month, Yue Lingshan had come to visit him a total of three times. The second time she came, Linghu Chong had already regained his consciousness and was very happy to see her. The third time she came, Linghu Chong had already been able to sit up to eat a couple of the cookies she brought with her. But after that visit, she stopped coming. After Linghu Chong was able to stand up and walk around, he would be waiting by the edge of the cliff most of the day for little apprentice sister’s pretty figure to show up, but every time all he could see was either the quiet and empty valley, or the sight of Lu Dayou bending his back to climb up the cliff in a hurry.