Chapter 12 : The Proud Dragon Repents

Chapter-LoCH012

Suddenly, Wanyan Kang understood: She is telling me that we are not related by blood at all.

(xuelian's translation)

Huang Rong was just about to tear the chicken when a voice said from behind: "Tear 3 pieces and give me the backside."

Startled at how someone had sneaked up behind them without their knowledge, they turned their heads hurriedly to see a middle-aged beggar. The beggar had a rectangular face with a hint of beard beneath his chin. All his four limbs were sturdy and bulky. Though his clothes were frayed and had obviously been patched in many places, it looked clean nevertheless. In his hand he held a green bamboo stick that was as bright and clear as jade, and on his back he carried a vermillion-red gourd. On his face was a gluttonous and impatient expression, and he looked as though he was going to take the chicken backside by force if it was not given. But before Guo Jing and Huang Rong could even answer, he had already sat down in front of them unceremoniously and retrieved the gourd from his back. Pulling out the cork, the heady fragrance of wine escaped into the surroundings. After a few noisy gulps ('gu-du, gu-du'), he handed the gourd to Guo Jing, saying, "Lad, you drink."

Though Guo Jing found the beggar rather ill-mannered, he gathered from his peculiar actions that this was no ordinary person and so, did not dare to be impolite. "I do not drink," he replied, cautiously respectful. "Elder, please go ahead and drink without me."

The beggar turned to Huang Rong and said, "Lass, do you drink?" Huang Rong shook her head. Suddenly, she noticed that his left hand, with which he was holding the gourd, had only four fingers – his forefinger was severed. She quivered slightly as she recalled the conversation she overheard outside the inn window. Qiu Chu Ji and Wang Chu Yi had been talking about the 9-Fingered Divine Beggar, and she thought to herself, Could it be such an extraordinary coincidence that we should meet this Elder expert? Let's try to sound him out first...

She saw that his eyes remained fixated on the juicy chicken in her hand as his throat moved rhythmically in expectation. Chuckling inwardly, she proceeded to tear the chicken into half and gave him the half with the backside. He seized it in delight and attacked it ferociously. As he ate, he continuously praised, "Delicious, delicious! Even I, Ancestor of Beggars, couldn't have whipped up a better 'Beggars' Chicken' than this."

Grinning, Huang Rong offered him the other half. The beggar said apologetically, "How would this do? You two young'uns have yet to eat." Though his tone was courteous, he had long taken the remaining half and had now reduced them to mere chicken bones. Patting his belly, he exclaimed, "Belly, ah belly. You have rarely tasted such good chicken, haven't you?"

Huang Rong burst out with laughter. "This humble girl only prepares one Beggars' Chicken occasionally, and it is such an honor for it to have gone down the honorable stomach of the Ancestor of Beggars."

"You're a good lass," the beggar said, laughing along jovially. He reached into his robes and fished out a few golden projectiles. "Yesterday I chanced upon some people fighting, and one of them was very generous indeed. The projectiles he used were unusually bright and sparkling, so I conveniently pocketed some. These few golden darts might be made of waste metal inside, but are actually coated with real gold. Lad, take these and go have fun with them. If you're ever in need of money, this should fetch you seven or eight strings of silver," he said, offering the projectiles to Guo Jing.

Guo Jing shook his head. "We treat you like a friend. One mustn't accept returns when giving a friend a treat." This was the mark of a good host in Mongolia.

The beggar looked uneasy, scratching his head. "Now that's tough. This old beggar has never minded begging for spoiled broth and cold rice, but today I've eaten such a delicious chicken from you two young 'uns and have no means of repayment. This... this..."

Smiling, Guo Jing said, "How can an insignificant chicken be considered any sort of kindness? To tell you the truth, the chicken was also stolen by us."

"We conveniently took the chicken and you conveniently ate the chicken," said Huang Rong, laughing. "It seems convenience is in both our vocabularies."

The old beggar hooted with laughter. "You two young 'uns are rather interesting – my type! Come, tell me if you have any wish." These words obviously meant that the beggar wanted to extend some help to them, but that was still accepting returns for treating someone. Thus, Guo Jing shook his head.

Huang Rong, however, had different ideas. "This Beggars' Chicken is nothing. I still have some specialty dishes up my sleeve, and I do want you to taste and critique them. Shall we go to the town market together?"

The beggar cried in delight, "Excellent! Excellent!"

Guo Jing asked, "Elder, how do we address you?"

The beggar replied, "My surname is Hong and I'm the 7th in line. You two young 'uns can call me Qi-Gong." [1]

On hearing that this beggar had the surname Hong, she pondered: So it really is him. But judging by his age, he actually looks a few years younger than Qiu Chu Ji. How can he possibly rank alongside the Quan Zhen Seven's Teacher? But then again, my father isn't old either and is also in that same class, together with Hong Qi-Gong. Those old priests from Quan Zhen must have been lazy and wasted their years on the dogs. Obviously, Huang Rong was still bearing a grudge against Qiu Chu Ji for forcing Guo Jing to marry Mu Nian Ci.

The three of them set off Southwards and came to town called Town of Jiang Temple, and they settled in one of the inns there. Huang Rong said, "I'm going to buy the ingredients, both of you can have a rest here."

Hong Qi-Gong looked on as she left, smiling cheekily. "She's your wife, isn't she?" he teased.

Guo Jing went red at once. He didn't dare to concur but on the other hand, didn't wish to refute as well. Hong Qi-Gong chortled. Shutting his eyes and leaning against the chair, he took a nap.

It took one whole hour for Huang Rong to return with the ingredients, and she entered the kitchen to prepare. Guo Jing wanted to help but was chased out by her with a laugh. Another hour passed and Hong Qi-Gong yawned. Sniffing, he exclaimed, "How oddly fragrant! What vegetable is that? A little unorthodox, this is. The situation doesn't seem right!" Sticking out his neck, he couldn't help but try to peer into the kitchen. Looking at his desperately impatient expression, Guo Jing secretly found it funny.

The fragrant aroma continued spouting out of the kitchen but Huang Rong still did not appear. Hong Qi-Gong scratched his ears and went into a restless cycle of standing up then sitting down again. Finding it hard to endure, he said to Guo Jing, "Gluttony has always been a dumb habit of mine. When I think of food, I can forget everything else." Holding up his right hand that only had four fingers left, he said, "The ancient people spoke of the 'fidgety index finger', and they got it absolute right. Whenever I see or smell exquisite dishes and aromas, the index finger on my right hand would twitch non-stop. There was once where my gluttony ruined an important matter. In a fit of anger, I chopped off the finger..." An 'ah' escaped from Guo Jing. Sighing, Hong Qi-Gong said, "The finger might be chopped off, but my gluttonous nature still remains."

At this point, a beaming Huang Rong emerged from the kitchen with a wooden tray and placed it on the table. On it were three bowls of white rice, a wine cup and two other dishes. Guo Jing could feel the sweet aroma wafting into his nostrils and he was immediately washed over with an indescribable comfort. But one dish was merely broiled beef strips and apart from its thick fragrance, looked nothing special. However, the other dish was a clear green soup with dozens of scarlet cherries and several pink flower petals floating on its surface. Tender bamboo shoots were settled at the bottom. The colors red, white and green combined to make the soup bright and attractive. The soup exuded the distinct smell of lotus leaves, and it would be apparent that that was what it was boiled with.

Huang Rong poured some wine into the wine cup and placed it in front of Hong Qi-Gong, grinning. "Qi-Gong, please try my creations."

Naturally, Hong Qi-Gong didn't need telling twice. Skipping the wine, he seized a pair of chopsticks and sent two beef strips into his mouth. The taste was exquisite – this was definitely not ordinary beef. Every chew yielded a different sensation. At times it was soft and tender, other times it was crispy and refreshing. The variation in flavors was plentiful and unpredictable, the same way a martial arts expert had no lack of depth in techniques – it was beyond anyone's estimation. Both delighted and surprised, Hong Qi-Gong examined the beef strips to find that each strip was itself comprised of 4 different types of meat strips.

Shutting his eyes in concentration, he proceeded to differentiate the different types of meat. "That's right," he said. "One strip is lamb's thigh, one is pig's ear, one is calf kidney and the other... the other strip is..."

Puckering her lips in a smile, Huang Rong said, "I'll count you an expert if you can guess this..."

Right after her sentence, Hong Qi-Gong exclaimed, "It's deer thigh mixed with rabbit!"

"Well done!" Huang Rong applauded. "Well done."

Amazed at what had just transpired, Guo Jing thought, These beef strips have taken that much effort to prepare? And trust him to be able to identify the 5 different types of meat!

"There might be only 5 types of meat, but the blend of pork and mutton yields one taste, the blend of deer and beef yields another," said Hong Qi-Gong. "I cannot count the number of combinations."

Huang Rong said with a smile, "If we ignore the sequence, then there are 25 variations altogether, according to the five times five of the Plum-Blossom Calculation. And because the meat strip is shaped like a flute, this dish is therefore called "Amongst the jade flute's song, who hears the plum flowers fall". The word 'who' in the name has the purpose of testing someone's ability to taste. Qi-Gong, you passed the test – a true connoisseur!"

"Excellent!" Qi-Gong cheered, without even knowing if the praise was directed at himself or the dish. Picking up a spoon, he scooped two cherries from the soup and laughed. "This soup looks beautiful with the lotus leaves, bamboo shoots and cherries. I'm almost sorry I have to eat it."

Tasting the cherries, he cried "ah", and then said curiously, "Eh?" He popped two more cherries into his mouth and another "ah" escaped him. The pureness of lotus, freshness of bamboo and sweetness of cherries were evident as expected, but the cherry seeds had been replaced with something else.

Unable to tell what was in the cherries, he wondered aloud, "What exactly has been placed in the cherries?" Shutting his eyes, he chewed slowly to better capture the flavor. He mumbled, "It's sparrow meat! If it's not partridge, then it must be turtle-dove. That's it! It's turtle-dove!"

He opened his eyes to see Huang Rong giving him the thumbs up, and he felt extremely pleased with himself. Laughing, he said, "And what strange name does this soup with lotus leaves, bamboo shoots, cherries and turtle-dove meat have?"

Grinning, Huang Rong replied, "Old man, you've missed out one ingredient."

With a cry of surprise, Hong Qi-Gong peered into the soup and said, "That's right, there are also some flower petals."

"Correct! The name of this soup is derived from these 5 main ingredients."

"I can't do riddles," he said. "Good girl, just tell me now."

"I'll give you a hint," said Huang Rong. "The answer is in the Book of Odes."

Hong Qi-Gong shook his head in protest. "This won't do," he said. "I'm hopeless at anything to do with books."

Chuckling, Huang Rong said, "The flowers resemble a woman's beauty, and the cherries resemble her small mouth, do they not?"

"Ah, so it is the 'Beauty's Soup'."

She shook her head and went on, "The bamboo symbolizes humility, thereby referring to a gentleman. The lotus is also prince among flowers. Thus, the bamboo shoots and lotus leaves represents a gentleman."

"Oh, so it is the 'Beauty and Gentleman's Soup'."

But Huang Rong still shook her head. "And what of the turtle-dove? The first page of the Book of Odes says, 'By the riverside are cooing, a pair of turtle-doves, while a young gentleman is wooing, the fair maiden he loves'. So this soup is called 'Soup of Wooing'." [2]

"With such a strange soup comes such a strange name – very well, very well. I wonder which strange man fathered such a strange girl," Hong Qi-Gong said, laughing. "This soup tastes truly exquisite. The cherry soup I had in the imperial kitchen over ten years ago cannot be compared to this."

"What nice dishes do they have at the imperial kitchen? Name me some and I'll see if I can learn to prepare them for you."

But Hong Qi-Gong couldn't tear his mouth away from the food, munching non-stop on the meat strips and drinking the fresh soup. He hadn't even had time to drink the wine, so where would he have time to answer her question? Only after reaching the bottom of the bowls did he stop and reply, "The imperial kitchen, of course, has a lot of great food, but none of them can compare to these two dishes. Hmm, but there is this 'Five Treasures of the Mandarin Ducks' that is extremely delicious, but I wouldn't know how to prepare it."

Guo Jing asked, "You were there at the invitation of the Emperor?"

"That's right," said Hong Qi-Gong with a chuckle. "The Emperor invited me, but he wasn't aware of that. For three months I stayed in the imperial kitchen on the beam of the roof. I tasted each of the Emperor's dishes – if it was tasty then I took the whole plate, if not then I returned it for the Emperor himself to eat. The kitchen workers suspected ghosts and said that the Fox Deity had descended!"

Guo Jing and Huang Rong both thought: This person is not only exceptionally gluttonous, but extremely audacious as well.

"Young lad, your little wife here is the best cook in the world. You have a life of happiness ahead!" Hong Qi-Gong laughed, and then continued in a tone of sincere regret, "Damn it, why didn't I meet such a capable girl when I was younger?"

Huang Rong smiled and tucked into the leftovers together with Guo Jing. She was full after one bowl. Guo Jing, however, finished four big bowls without caring if the food was good or not. Hong Qi-Gong shook his head and sighed. "Like a bull chewing on peonies! What a shame, what a shame."

Huang Rong cupped her mouth and sniggered. Guo Jing thought to himself, Do bulls like to eat peonies? Bulls are very rare in Mongolia, and there are no peonies at all, so I've never seen bulls eating peonies. But why is it a shame?

Patting his stomach in contentment, Hong Qi-Gong said, "Both you young'uns know martial arts, I saw that right away. The young lass went to such lengths to prepare such exquisite dishes for me; naturally she doesn't harbor good intentions. She must be cornering me into giving you two a few pointers. Alright then, having eaten such a tasty meal, I mustn't leave without teaching you a stroke or two. Come, come with me." Slinging his gourd and lifting his bamboo staff, he rose.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong followed him to a pine forest outside the city. Hong Qi-Gong asked Guo Jing, "What would you like to learn?"

Guo Jing wondered to himself, The study of martial arts is so broad and extensive. Can you really teach me anything I want to learn?

While Guo Jing was considering, Huang Rong said, "Qi-Gong, his kungfu is not as good as mine. He often gets angry about that, because he really wants to defeat me."

"When was I ever angry..." he protested. Huang Rong frowned at him and he fell silent.

Hong Qi-Gong smiled. "I see that his movements are firm and steady, so he must have a pretty good foundation of internal energy. How could his skills be inferior to yours? Come, both of you, have a match."

Stepping a few paces back, Huang Rong called, "Jing-ge-ge, come." But Guo Jing was hesitant, so Huang Rong urged again, "If you don't show your skills, how do you expect this Elder to correct you?"

Guo Jing thought she made sense and turned to Qi-Gong, saying, "Elder, my kungfu simply isn't up to scratch, please do give your extra guidance."

"A little guidance is fine, but extra guidance is off-limits," said Qi-Gong.

Guo Jing was taken aback by his remark, and at this moment Huang Rong warned, "Watch out!" Advancing to him, she brandished her palms and attacked. Guo Jing raised his arms to block the blow, but Huang Rong's movements were swifter. In a flash, she had withdrew her palms and instead leapt up, aiming a kick at his knee.

"Good job, young lass," Qi-Gong exclaimed.

"Focus," Huang Rong demanded in a low voice. "Fight seriously."

Guo Jing plucked up his concentration and displayed 'Palm of the Southern Hills', taught by Nan Xi Ren. His palm strokes were fierce and the wind around them stirred. Huang Rong dodged in variations of leaping upwards and stooping down, and they went on like this for a few moments. Suddenly, Huang Rong switched stances and executed 'Palm of the Divine Sword'[3], a technique created by her father, Huang Yao Shi. The name of this palm technique incorporates the words 'Divine Sword' because Huang Yao Shi extracted its essence from sword techniques.

Brandishing her palms, she struck so fast that one could only see mere traces of her palms attacking from all directions. Out of 5 or 8 palm strokes there was perhaps only one real stroke; the rest were all feigned. It could be likened to a violent wind passing through a peach blossom grove and falling a thousand flowers. The brilliance lay in her graceful, gliding stances; it was beautiful to behold, like an aerial waltz. However, her foundational practice was shallow and the delivery of her palm strokes did not possess the ferocity of a sword yet.

Utterly dazzled, Guo Jing lost all means of defense. Without warning, four blows struck in quick succession, first on his right and left shoulders, then on his back and chest. But Huang Rong did not apply force in her attacks, so Guo Jing escaped unscathed. "Rong'er, that was a brilliant palm technique!"

"You have such a capable father," said Hong Qi-Gong coldly. "Why would you want me to teach this silly boy kungfu?"

Stunned, Huang Rong thought to herself, This 'Palm of the Divine Sword' was created by father himself. Father says he has never used it against anyone, so how did Qi-Gong recognise it? Aloud, she said, "Qi-Gong, you know my father?"

"Of course I know him. He's the Eastern Heretic and I'm the Northern Beggar. Do you honestly think we lacked opportunities to fight?"

Huang Rong thought, He actually survived a fight with father! This person's abilities cannot be underestimated. No wonder the Eastern Heretic and Northern Beggar are mentioned alongside each other. Aloud, she asked again, "Then how did you manage to see through me?"

"Go look at yourself in the mirror and tell me your eyes and nose don't resemble your father's. At first I couldn't tell, though I kept thinking you looked familiar. But your kungfu was the dead giveaway. Would this old beggar not recognize the kungfu of Peach Blossom Isle? Though I have never seen this palm technique, I can see that there can only be one person in this world strange enough to create it – and that is your father. Heh heh, and those two dishes of yours named – what? – 'Amongst the jade flute's song, who hears the plum flowers fall' and 'Soup of Wooing'? They must have been your father's ideas."

"Elder, nothing escapes you!" laughed Huang Rong. "You said my father is very powerful, is that true?"

"Of course he's powerful, but definitely not the most powerful," replied Qi-Gong coldly.

Clapping her hands, Huang Rong exclaimed, "Then the most powerful person must be you."

"Not necessarily," replied Qi-Gong. "Over 20 years ago, the five of us – Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor, Northern Beggar and Central Divinity – met at the summit of Mount Hua to spar. After 7 days and 7 nights of dueling, Central Divinity emerged as the most powerful one and all 4 of us admitted as such."

"Who is this Central Divinity?" asked Huang Rong.

"Your father never told you?"

"No. Father said the pugilistic world was filled with more bad things than good, and it wasn't appropriate for a young girl to know of these things. So he never told me," said Huang Rong. "After that father scolded me and didn't like me anymore, so I secretly ran away. He will never want to see me again." At this, sorrow crept into her face and she lowered her head.

"That old devil is truly eccentric," he cursed.

Huang Rong shot back indignantly, "Don't you scold my father."

Hong Qi-Gong laughed. "Too bad no woman wanted to marry me because I was too poor. If I had such a good daughter like you, I wouldn't bear to send you away."

"Of course you wouldn't!" said Huang Rong, laughing. "If you ever sent me away, who would cook for you?"

Sighing, Hong Qi-Gong said, "Indeed." A few moments passed before he continued, "The Central Divinity is Leader of Quan Zhen Sect, Wang Chong Yang. Ever since he passed away, it's been extremely hard to tell who exactly is the most powerful pugilist in the world."

"Quan Zhen Sect? Oh, there's one named Qiu, another named Wang, and another named Ma. All of them are bull-nosed priests," Huang Rong said, clearly unimpressed. "They looked very average to me when I watched them fight. Within 2 or 3 moves they had already been poisoned."

"Is that so? All of them are disciples of Wang Chong Yang. I heard Qiu Chu Ji is the most powerful among them, but he still is no match for their Martial-Uncle Zhou Bo Tong." Huang Rong was slightly startled at the mention of Zhou Bo Tong's name and opened her mouth to speak, then thought the better of it.

Guo Jing, who had been listening intently to their conversation, interrupted at this point. "That's right, Priest Ma said that they had a Martial Uncle, but he didn't mention this Senior Priest's name."

"Zhou Bo Tong is not a Priest of Quan Zhen Sect, but a secular disciple. His kungfu was personally imparted by Wang Chong Yang," explained Hong Qi-Gong. "Heh, you're such a dim fellow. Your father-in-law is an unparalleled genius, so I'm guessing he doesn't like you too much, does he?"

Guo Jing never once thought of who his 'father-in-law' might be. Stammering, he found himself unable to reply.

"My father has never met him," she said, smiling. "If you imparted him a stance or two, my father will surely take a liking to him on your gracious account."

"Little devil, you haven't even mastered a tenth of your father's kungfu but you sure have mastered his slyness! I've never liked flattery and toadying," Hong Qi-Gong chided. "This old beggar never accepts any disciples, what more this dimwit? Only you would treat him like a piece of treasure. You even went to such lengths to get me to teach your silly husband kungfu. Heh heh, this old beggar will not fall for your tricks!"

Hearing this, Huang Rong hung her head in shame, going extremely red in the face. She had never practiced martial arts seriously; even with such a powerful father, she failed to learn from him properly. How could she now plot to learn Hong Qi-Gong's kungfu? She was just concerned that Guo Jing's kungfu was not up to scratch, and was deeply unhappy about being called a 'Little Demoness' by his 6 Teachers. Now that they'd met an Elder expert like Hong Qi-Gong, she had hoped that he would impart Guo Jing some kungfu, so that when Guo Jing next met his 6 Teachers and that bunch of bull-nosed priests, he need not behave like a mouse when it meets a cat. Who would've guessed that underneath his gluttonous and silly guise, Hong Qi-Gong actually saw through her intentions all too well.

After ranting for a bit, Qi-Gong stood up and left without so much of a goodbye. A few moments passed before Guo Jing spoke: "Rong'er, this Elder has a rather unique temper."

Huang Rong, however, was paying attention elsewhere. She heard a slight rustle in the foliage above their heads and guessed that Qi-Gong had went round some pine trees and back again, and was now on top of the tree. So she said, "Elder Qi-Gong is a really, really good person. His abilities rank way higher than my father's."

"But he never displayed his kungfu," said Guo Jing, a little confused. "How did you know?"

"Father said that in the pugilistic world today, the only person who can defeat him is the 9-Fingered Divine Beggar, Hong Qi-Gong. Unfortunately his whereabouts are always shrouded in mystery, so father seldom has the opportunity to spar with him."

Just as Huang Rong expected, after Hong Qi-Gong walked some distance away, he had used qing gong (lightness skill) to make a full circle back and advanced up a tree. He was now eavesdropping on their conversation, wanting to make sure that they were not sent by Huang Yao Shi to learn his techniques. Now listening to Huang Rong reveal her father's words, he couldn't help but feel smug. Though Huang Yao Shi has never verbally expressed admiration for me, deep down he actually thinks very highly of me!

How could Hong Qi-Gong have known that this was all Huang Rong's fabrication?

Huang Rong went on, "I never learned much of my father's kungfu. It's all my fault for being playful and lazy. Now that we've had the fortune of meeting Elder Hong, if he would just give me a pointer or two, wouldn't that be far more superior than my father's personal teachings? Instead, I failed to watch my mouth, said the wrong things and angered him..." She began sobbing noisily. At first she just pretended to cry but when Guo Jing tried to console her so gently, she thought of her mother's early death and her father so far away. Her fake tears turned genuine and she started weeping mournfully. Hearing this, Qi-Gong became confident that Huang Rong had no other hidden agenda.

After crying for a while, she said in a constricted voice, "I've heard father mention that Elder Hong has a truly powerful skill that has reigned supreme throughout the ages. Nothing even comes close to it, and even Wang Chong Yang of Quan Zhen Sect was fearful of it. It's called... it's called... how come I can't remember now? I recalled it just a while ago and wanted to plead him to teach you that palm technique called... called..." Actually she knew nothing of such a technique and was just making it up as she went along.

Listening to her pondering so hard, he couldn't help but exclaim, "It's called the '18 Dragon-Subduing Palms'!" He leapt down from the tree promptly and both Huang Rong and Guo Jing retreated a few paces in shock, just that one person's shock was genuine and the other's was contrived.

"Ah, Qi-Gong, why are you up that tree?" said Huang Rong. "That's right, it's called the '18 Dragon-Subduing Palms'. How could I forget? Father often mentions it and tells me it is the kungfu he admired most – the 18 Dragon-Subduing Palms."

Feeling extremely delighted, Hong Qi-Gong said, "So your father is actually willing to speak the truth. After Wang Chong Yang's death, I thought he would just assume the title of world number 1!" He turned to Guo Jing and said, "Actually, your foundation is not inferior to this lass'. You lost because your stances are inferior. Lass, you go back to the inn."

Knowing Qi-Gong was going to impart some palm techniques to Guo Jing, Huang Rong headed back to the inn joyfully.

"Kneel down and make a vow," said Hong Qi-Gong sternly. "If you don't have my permission, you are not to impart my kungfu to anyone, not even that crafty wife of yours."

Guo Jing hesitated: But if Rong'er wants me to teach her, how can I refuse? So he said, "Qi-Gong, I don't want to learn this anymore. I don't mind her having superior skills."

"And why is that?" asked Qi-Gong in surprise.

Guo Jing replied, "If she wants me to teach her and I refuse, I'll be letting her down. If I agree, then I'm letting you down."

"Silly fellow, you have a good heart. Simple-minded and honest," laughed Hong Qi-Gong. "Tell you what, I'll teach you one stance called 'The Proud Dragon Repents'. With Huang Yao Shi being so full of himself, I doubt he will stoop to the level of learning my specialty skill even though he admires it. Besides, we have very different styles of martial arts. I can't learn his kungfu, and neither can he learn my kungfu."

With that, he stooped his left leg slightly and bent his right arm inwards. His right palm moved in a circle and, with a huff, he stretched his arm and pushed it outwards so that it hit the trunk of a pine tree. That instant the contact was made, the pine tree snapped with a 'ke cha'.

Guo Jing was astounded. Never did he think that such a simple push could exert such great power.

Qi-Gong explained, "Trees are inanimate. If it was a real human, he would of course retreat and dodge. The difficulty of this stance lies in forcing the enemy into a position where retreat is impossible, where he cannot possibly dodge. With this one stance, your enemy will meet an unlucky end like this pine tree, collapsing with a 'ke cha'." He proceeded to demonstrate the stance twice, then explained in detail how the internal strength should be projected outwards, and how to end the stance properly. Though it was only one stance, the lesson took more than 2 hours.

Though Guo Jing was unintelligent, he did have a good foundation in internal energy. This made him perfectly suited to learn this stance with no complicated movements, yet required profound internal energy. He immediately began practicing hard and about 2 hours later, managed to grasp its essence.

Hong Qi-Gong said, "The false moves in that lass's palm technique greatly outnumber the real moves. If you play along to her nonsense, you will definitely be defeated because your movements are not as quick as hers. You'll think that after so many false moves, this move will surely be real, but she deliberately makes it false still. Then you'll think that the move after that will be false, but she'll hit you with a real move while your unawares. " Guo Jing nodded. Hong Qi-Gong went on, "Therefore, in order to defeat her technique, the only way is to stubbornly ignore if her moves are false or real. Whichever it is, just deal her this 'Proud Dragon Repents'. Seeing that your move is formidable, she'll be forced to withdraw her palm and dodge. That's how you crack her technique."

Guo Jing asked, "What happens next?"

"What happens next? Silly fellow, how skilled is she, to be able to dispel this stance I've taught you?"

"If she can't dispel it , won't she get injured?" Guo Jing said worriedly.

Hong Qi-Gong shook his head and sighed. "If this technique can only be projected and not collected, and if it is impossible to control the size of strength, how can it possibly be hailed as the uniquely supreme 18 Dragon-Subduing Palms?"

Expressing agreement, Guo Jing thought to himself, Until I learn how to project and collect the power at will, I mustn't use this stance when sparring with Rong'er.

Hong Qi-Gong said, "Don't believe me? Why don't you give it a try?"

Guo Jing got into position and selected an especially small pine tree. Mimicking Qi-Gong's movements, he aimed at the trunk and struck. The pine tree shook a little, but did not break.

"Silly boy, why are you shaking the tree? Trying to catch squirrels? Or trying to drop pinecones?" scolded Qi-Gong impatiently. Guo Jing went red in the face and smiled sheepishly. Qi-Gong continued, "I've told you this before: you must force your opponent into a position of no retreat. The power in your strike was not weak, but when the pine tree shook, it dispelled much of the power. You must first learn how to hit a tree without making it move, and then you can learn how to break a tree with one stance."

Suddenly it all dawned on Guo Jing, and he finally understood. He said happily, "So the force must be applied extremely swiftly, giving the opponent no time to resist."

Qi-Gong rolled his eyes. "What else can it be? Doesn't that go without saying? You've been practicing so long that sweat is dripping down your face, yet you just only understood this simple principle? You're really stupid. This stance is called the Proud Dragon Repents. Its essence lies not in the word 'Proud' but in the word 'Repents'. If it only focuses on projecting brute strength, then anyone with some muscle will be able to execute this. Why does Huang Yao Shi admire this stance? 'The proud dragon repents, but not for long'. Therefore, with projection must come collection. If you project 10 degrees of your power, be sure to have 20 degrees remaining within your body. The day that you grasp the essence of 'repent', you will have mastered 30% of this stance. Just like fine and mature wine, it does not sting at first taste but the aftertaste is extremely overwhelming, thus demonstrating the meaning of 'repent'. "

Guo Jing understood none of what Qi-Gong had just said, but he rigidly memorized his every word so that he could slowly ponder over it in future. His method of training had always been 'if people practice for one day, then I'll practice for ten days'. He then proceeded to engross himself in practicing the palm stroke. In the first ten or so palms, the pine tree invariably shook. Thereafter, as he applied more force, the tree shook less and less and he knew that it was an improvement. Delighted at this progress, he continued to practice hard without a single lax moment in spite of the swelling on the edge of his palms. Hong Qi-Gong, on the other hand, had long been bored stiff and was sleeping on the ground, snoring loudly.

After more practice, Guo Jing started growing closer to his objective. Little by little, he found himself more able to control the projection and collection of his power. Circulating the energy up to his dan tian, he struck out a violent blow and immediately retracted the power, and the pine tree remained motionless. Thrilled, he repeated this method but instead, concentrated the force in the edge of his palm. With a creek, the pine tree broke.

Suddenly, Huang Rong's cheers could be heard from afar: "Brilliant!" She strode towards them with a food basket in hand.

The fragrant aroma reached Hong Qi-Gong's nostrils before he even opened his eyes, and he cried, "Fragrant! Fragrant!"

He jumped to his feet and snatched the basket. Lifting the lid, it revealed a bowl of roasted frog legs, a fat Eight Treasures Duck and a heap of snow-white silk noodles. Hong Qi-Gong let out a hoot of delight and his two hands set to work busily, sending a steady stream of food from the basket into his mouth. As he munched away with abandon, he enthusiastically praised the food – just that his mouth was so full with food that his words were muffled and unintelligible. By and by, when there was neither skin or meat left of the roasted frog legs and Eight Treasures Duck, he at last remembered that Guo Jing had yet to eat. "Come, come, these silk noodles taste good," he said, beckoning to Guo Jing. Feeling a little guilty, he added, "This tastes even better than the duck!"

Huang Rong burst out laughing. "Qi-Gong, you haven't even tried my best dish yet."

"What dish? What dish?" he asked hurriedly, pleasantly astonished.

"There's too many of them to name all at once," she replied. "For example there's Fried White Cabbage, Steamed Toufu, Stewed Egg, Sliced Boiled Pork."

As a true connoisseur with refined taste, Qi-Gong knew well that only the best chefs could whip up miracles with the most common dishes. This ideology also applied in martial arts – only true masters could execute wonders with the simplest techniques. With this understanding, Huang Rong's words were music to his ears.

"Excellent! I always said you were a good lass," he coaxed, with the full intention of flattering her. "Shall I go buy the cabbage and tofu for you?"

"That won't be necessary," she replied with a laugh. "I might not like what you've bought."

"Right, right. How could another's ingredients suit your preference?"

Huang Rong said, "I saw him break a tree in one blow just now. His skills have become better than mine."

Hong Qi-Gong shook his head and replied, "His skills won't do yet, it's not up to scratch. He must be able to break a tree cleanly and neatly. Look at it, there are so many jagged edges where the trunk broke. What kind of bullshit ability is that? And that pine tree was as slender as a chopstick – no – more like a toothpick. His skills are still terrible."

"But if he hits me with this blow, I won't be able to dispel it. It's all your fault. If he bullies me in future, what shall I do?"

Though she was clearly being unreasonable, all Hong Qi-Gong cared about at the moment was getting into her good books. So he played along to her tune and said, "So according to you, how could we remedy this problem?"

"Impart me a technique that I can use to defeat him. Once I've learned it, I'll go cook for you."

"Very well," said Qi-Gong. "He's only learned one stance. How hard is it to defeat him? I'll impart you the Carefree Drifter's Fist technique." He leapt up immediately and traversed left and right, sleeves fluttering in the breeze; his movements were nimble and full of grace.

Huang Rong watched and memorized in silence. By the time Qi-Gong had finished displaying the entire set of stances, she had already mastered half of it. Under Qi-Gong's guidance and instruction, she fully mastered the entire set of 36 stances under 4 hours. She and Hong Qi-Gong then executed the technique simultaneously. Standing side by side, one sprang gracefully to the right and the other, to the left. They twirled back and forth in concert, looking like a jade swallow and great eagle taking flight. After all 36 stances had been executed, they landed at the same time, smiling at each other. Guo Jing applauded vigorously.

Hong Qi-Gong said to Guo Jing, "This lass has a hundred times your intelligence."

Scratching his head, Guo Jing replied, "But there were so many stances and variations. How is she able to memorize them all in such a short while? By the time I finished memorizing the second stance, I'd already forgotten the first."

Hong Qi-Gong laughed and said, "It's impossible for you to learn the Carefree Drifter's Fist. Even if you manage to memorize all the stances, you will execute it without a trace of the 'Carefree' spirit. Look at you, so glum and clumsy. You'll turn it into the Vexing Crawl."

Guo Jing laughed. "Isn't that so?"

Hong Qi-Gong said, "This Carefree Drifter's Fist is a technique I picked up in my youth, and I just fished it out just to suit her original style of martial arts. It is completely incompatible with the style of martial arts I use now, so I haven't used it once in over 10 years." Qi-Gong was obviously hinting that the Carefree Drifter's Fist was far more inferior to the 18 Dragon Subduing Palms.

Huang Rong, however, was glad to hear this. "Qi-Gong, I'm superior to him again. He must be very unhappy, why don't you teach him more stances?" Learning the Carefree Drifter's Fist was just to bait Qi-Gong into teaching Guo Jing more. If Huang Rong really wanted to improve her skills, she had a master pugilist in her own father that could teach her more than she could ever learn in a lifetime.

Hong Qi-Gong said, "This stupid boy is really slow and hasn't even mastered the one stance I've taught him. You can't chew thoroughly with too much food in your mouth. As long as you cook more tasty dishes for me, I guarantee you'll have your wish."

"Alright then," she said, a smile spreading across her face. "I'm off to the market!"

Hong Qi-Gong chuckled happily at the thought of her dishes and headed back to the inn. Guo Jing stayed behind in the woods to practice and it was dusk before he finally stopped.

That night, Huang Rong prepared a bowl of fried white cabbage and a plate of steamed tofu. Only the small, delicate portions found at the heart of the cabbage were picked, then fried with chicken oil and duck feet. But that was nothing compared to the extraordinary steamed tofu. First, she took a piece of ham and dug 24 cavities in it. Then, she carved and molded the tofu into 24 small balls and stuffed them into the cavities before beginning to steam. By the time it was steamed cooked, the succulent flavor of the ham had already seeped into the tofu balls and she discarded the ham, serving just the tofu.

Hong Qi-Gong tried it and was deeply impressed. This steamed tofu also had a name coming from a Tang dynasty poem – it was called "24 Bridges on a Clear Moon's Night". Huang Rong's family skill, the 'Orchid Brushing Fingers' made her fingers light and nimble and enabled her to exert force that was both soft and effective at the same time. Without it, the tender tofu would have crumbled upon handling, much less molded into 24 little balls. The precision and difficulty of this feat was really not second to carving words with rice or sculpting ships out of kernels. It would have been much easier to slice the tofu into square pieces, but where would you find a square moon on this earth?

After dinner, the trio retreated to their respective rooms to rest. Noticing that Huang Rong and Guo Jing were sleeping in separate rooms, he said in surprise, "Eh? Aren't you little ones married? Why aren't you sleeping in the same room?"

Huang Rong had been chatting in jest with him all this while, but to this she couldn't help but feel extremely bashful. Her cheeks a deep shade of red under the candlelight, she said angrily, "Qi-gong, I won't cook for you tomorrow if you talk some more nonsense."

Confused, he replied, "Why? Have I said something wrong?" After giving it more thought, realization finally dawned upon him. "I must be an old fool," he said in between laughs. "You dress up as a maiden, not a little wife. Both of you have promised yourselves to each other without your parents' consent, and have yet to go through the rites. Don't worry, this old beggar will be your matchmaker! If your father doesn't agree, this old beggar will fight him for seven damn days and nights in a life-and-death match."

Huang Rong had long been worried about this, afraid that her father would not take to Guo Jing. Her heart bloomed with happiness at Qi-gong's words and she retreated to her room with a smile.

---

(xfiberloss' translation)

As dawn arose the next day, Guo Jing was already in the forest practicing the first move of "The 18-Dragon Subduing Palms," "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse." He began to sweat heavily after 20 minutes of drilling but felt encouraged by his progress. Then he heard voices approaching him.

"Master, we walked over 30 miles this time, right?" one voice said.

"Yes, your endurance has improved slightly," the other voice said.

The spoken dialects sounded familiar to Guo Jing. Soon, four people came into view, lead by a young man with white hair. He was none other than Guo Jing's greatest foe, Liang Ziweng, the immortal ginseng fairy.

Silently cursing, Guo Jing turned to run away, but Liang Ziweng already recognized him. "Where can you run?" he said as he and his disciples began their pursuit. They broke up into three groups to catch Guo Jing.

"If I can get out of the forest and make it back to the inn, I'll be safe," Guo Jing thought as he started running faster.

Liang Ziweng's top disciple intercepted Guo Jing, crossed his palms and shouted, "Little thief, kneel to me!" Using a powerful technique taught by his master, the disciple tried to grab Guo Jing's chest.

As he shouted back, Guo Jing slightly crouched, bent his right arm and made a circle with his right palm, beginning, for the first time outside of practice, "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse."

The top disciple felt the powerful force approach, so he changed his attack and grabbed at Guo Jing's arm, hoping that would stop the palm. Instead, he lost consciousness as his arm broke and his body was thrown six to seven feet away.

Guo Jing couldn't imagine he possessed so much power. He stared in shock before starting to run again.

Startled and angry, the immortal ginseng fairy jumped out of the forest. When Guo Jing finally emerged from the trees, he found Liang Ziweng standing in front of him. He immediately crouched, bent his arm and made a circle with his palm, executing "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse" once more. Although Liang Ziweng did not recognize the move, he threw himself to the ground to escape its pure, powerful force. Guo Jing took his chance and ran. When Liang Ziweng began his pursuit again, Guo Jing had already reached the inn.

"Huang Rong! Huang Rong!" Guo Jing yelled. "That evil man is here to drink my blood!"

When Huang Rong came out of the inn, she saw that it really was Liang Ziweng. "How did this old, strange man get here?" she thought. "Well, this is a good chance to test out my 'Wandering Strides' kung fu."

"Brother Jing, don't be afraid of this strange, old man," she said. "You start the fight, and I'll come help you. We'll make him suffer."

"Rong-er doesn't understand how powerful this strange, old man is," Guo Jing thought. "That's why she's so relaxed." He attacked.

Recalling what happened before, Liang Ziweng recognized the force being thrown at him as "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse," so he twisted his body out of the way. But the palm slightly brushed across his right arm, burning him painfully. Guo Jing's unimaginable improvement in just a month convinced Liang Ziweng that the blood of the venomous snake really did bestow miraculous powers. He was filled with even more anger as he attacked again.

Guo Jing once again used "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse."

Liang Ziweng saw he could not stop the fierce attack. But then he observed Guo Jing never followed up the stance with another, accompanying strike. His fear quickly dwindled.

"You little idiot," he said. "Is that the only move you know?"

"You can't resist my only move," Guo Jing said without thinking. Then he once again used "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse."

But Liang Ziweng jumped out of the way and landed behind Guo Jing. Guo Jing turned on a dime and threw the palm again, but Liang Ziweng leapt behind him once more. After three more rounds, Guo Jing felt tired and confused.

Seeing him about to lose, Huang Rong said, "Brother Jing, let me fight."

Huang Rong leapt into the middle of the fight as Guo Jing once again unleashed "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse." Liang Ziweng leapt away from both attackers. In the meantime, Guo Jing retreated two steps to watch Huang Rong fight the immortal ginseng fairy.

Although Huang Rong learned the mysterious "Wandering Strides," she had just absorbed the knowledge and therefore did not possess absolute mastery. Against Liang Ziweng, whose skill level was far superior, she held her own because she was wearing the soft-hedgehog armor, which protected her from injury. Nevertheless, before she could complete all 36 moves of the "Wandering Strides" style, Liang Ziweng forced her into a bad position.

His two junior disciples, supporting their injured elder disciple brother, saw their master on the verge of victory and cheered him on.

Guo Jing prepared himself to help Huang Rong with an immediate strike, but Hong Qigong's voice emanated from the window.

"His next move is 'The Vicious Dog Blocks the Way,'" he said.

Surprised, Huang Rong noticed Liang Ziweng's legs were spread in the horse stance with both his fists forming "The Evil Tiger Blocks the Road." She couldn't help but giggle at how Hong Qigong changed the name of "The Evil Tiger Blocks the Road" to "The Vicious Dog Blocks the Way." Then she wondered about how he managed to predict the stance.

"Here comes 'The Smelly Snake Drinks the Water,'" Hong Qigong said.

Huang Rong knew he meant "The Black Dragon Drinks the Water," a fierce frontal attack that exposed the back. By the time Hong Qigong finished speaking, Huang Rong had circled around Liang Ziweng, putting him in the position of defender instead of attacker. But with his profound abilities, he managed to escape from danger by changing mid-movement and flying away. When he landed on his feet, he angrily shouted at the window, "Why won't the venerable master come out?"

He received no response. "How can this person predict my stances?" he thought.

Knowing that she possessed a powerful master on her side, Huang Rong fearlessly took the initiative and attacked. Liang Ziweng responded with a ferocious blow. Huang Rong knew she was in danger when she felt the powerful force approach.

"Do not fear," Hong Qigong said. "He will use 'The Little Monkey with the Rotten Bottom Climes the Trees!'"

Huan Rong giggled as she saw Liang Ziweng lift his fists and strike downwards with tremendous strength. He was indeed preparing for "The Ape Climbs the Trees." He jumped up into the air to strike Huang Rong, but she positioned her fist in such a way that if Liang Ziweng continued his jump, his head would be hit by her first. He had to change immediately. When an opponent approaches an enemy who has predicted what his next move will be and cannot change, then he will suffer a great defeat. Luckily for Liang Ziweng, his level of accomplishment in the martial arts was so much higher than Huang Rong's that he could quickly escape from his precarious position.

With another move broken apart, Liang Ziweng jumped away from the fight and shouted at the window, "If you don't show yourself, brother, then it's no wonder that I won't be merciful to this girl."

Liang Ziweng then attacked with stances that quickly flowed into one another like the pouring rain in a violent storm -- a new blow starting before the prior one finished. Huang Rong was pushed back by the flood as Hong Qigong could no longer shout out the moves early enough time for her to react.

Not being able to bear watching Huang Rong in a state of confusion as she dodged frantically, Guo Jing once again unleashed "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse" and forced Liang Ziweng to end his deluge and jump away.

"Brother Jing, attack him again three more times," Huang Rong said as she went back into the inn.

Guo Jing simply waited for Liang Ziweng to attack and, without any logic, returned all of the immortal ginseng fairy's stances with "The Proud Dragon Shows Remorse."

Both angry and amused, Liang Ziweng thought, "I don't know where this dumb kid learned this move, but no matter what I do, he uses it."

Although Guo Jing only knew this one move, Liang Ziweng couldn't tell for certain if Guo Jing actually knew more. The two men stood a few meters apart, motionless and rigid.

"Little fool, here I come!" Liang Ziweng said as he suddenly jumped into the air and attacked.

Guo Jing threw out his palm. Unexpectedly, Liang Ziweng twisted mid-air, raising his right hand to release three separate attacks to the top, the middle and bottom of the body. Guo Jing quickly dodged, but Liang Ziweng took advantage of the situation and grabbed Guo Jin's throat with a hand as fast lightning.

Startled, Guo Jing elbowed Liang Ziweng, but he felt like he just hit a wad of cotton.

Liang Ziweng prepared to deliver a killing blow, when he heard Huang Rong shout, "Old man, look at what I have!"

Aware of her cunning, Liang Ziweng grasped Guo Jing tightly before turning around to see Huang Rong approaching with a bamboo stick, greener than the finest jade.

"Hong ... Master Hong," he said shakily.

"And yet you still don't release him?" Huang Rong said.

When Liang Ziweng first heard the voice from the window predict his movies, he never expected it would be Hong Qigong, but once the bamboo stick appeared, he remembered the timbre of the voice and the dialect. He realized it was the man he feared the most, so he immediately released Guo Jing.

With both her hands holding the bamboo stick, Huang Rong said, "Qigong wants to know why you dared to cause trouble around here."

Liang Ziweng knelt and said, "This nobody really didn't know Master Hong was here. Even with all the courage in the world, I wouldn't have come if I knew Master Hong was here."

---

(sunnysnow's translation)

Huang Rong thought to herself secretly, " This person is so highly skilled, yet is scared out of his wits when he hears Qi Gong's name. And why does he address Qi Gong as Leader Hong?"

However, Huang Rong maintained a neutral expression and said, " How do you plead guilty?"

Liang Ziwong answered, " Lady, please put in a few good words for me, tell Leader Hong that I know my wrongdoings and plead for him to spare my life."

Huang Rong answered, " I can put in a good word for you, but to put in a few good words is tough. You must never try to find trouble with both of us again."

Liang Ziwong answered, " Humble one here was ignorant in the past and offended Lady and Sir, please forgive me. I wouldn't dream of doing it again."

Huang Rong was pleased and smiled, she pulled Guo Jing's arm and led him back into the hut. They saw four big dishes in front of Hong Qi Gong, whose left hand held a wine cup and right hand, a pair of chopsticks and was enjoying his meal.

Huang Rong laughed, " Qi Gong, he's quietly kneeling there and doesn't even dare move a bit."

Hong Qi Gong answered, " You can beat him up to let loose your anger and he'll not fight back."

Guo Jing looked out of the window and saw Liang Ziwong kneeling straightly and three of his disciples behind him were doing the same. He thought it a pitiful sight, didn't bear to do it and said, " Qi Gong, just spare him."

Qi Gong scolded, " Useless Bum, people beat you up and you do nothing to resist. I saved you and yet you ask me to spare them. What is the meaning of this?"

Guo Jing remained silent.
Huang Rong laughed, " I'll beat him then!"

She took the bamboo stick and walked out of the hut. Seeing a frightened Liang Ziwong kneeling in an upright position, she scolded, " Qi Gong says you go round creating havoc and was going to deal with you today. Luckily my brother Jing is kind enough to plead for Qi Gong to spare your life." Speaking, she raised the bamboo stick high and brought it slapping down onto his butt. She then said, " You can leave."

Liang Ziwong spoke through the window, "Leader Hong, a million thanks for sparing my life."

There was no response from the hut and Liang Ziwong did not dare move. After a while, Guo Jing came out and waved his arms, " Qi Gong is asleep, don't disturb him."

Liang Ziwong then stood up, glared at Huang Rong and Guo Jing before leaving with his disciples.

Huang Rong was delighted, she walked into the hut and saw Qi Gong leaning on the table. She immediately pulled his arm and said, " Qi Gong, Qi Gong, your precious stick is so powerful. Since you don't use it...why not give it to me?"

Hong Qi Gong raised from the table, stretched and laughed, " You are so highly skilled, people only have to hear your voice and they'll be afraid, what use has this stick to you?" He smiled, " Silly lass, hurry and prepare some nice dishes for me and I'll slowly tell you the story."

Huang Rong obeyed and went to prepare three dishes. Hong Qi Gong lifted a wine cup with his left hand and took a drumstick with his right hand and slowly savored it before saying, " There are different species of animals and plants and there are different groups of people. There are those who love wealth, there are those who rob and there are those like me who beg for scraps of leftover food..."

Huang Rong clapped her hands and said, " I know, I know already! That Liang creature called you 'Leader Hong', so you must be the leader of the beggar sect."

Hong Qi Gong answered, " Yes. We people who beg for food are often bullied by people and bitten by dogs, if we do not unite as one, how on earth do we survive? The north is controlled by the Jins and the south is controlled by the Song emperor, but all the beggars on this earth..."

Huang Rong cut in, " Be it north or south are all under you!"

Hong Qi Gong smiled and nodded before continuing, " Yes. This stick and wine bottle has been the trademark of the beggar sect leader, ever since a few hundred years ago, even before the start of the Tang dynasty, It's like the golden seal of the emperor's."

Huang Rong stuck out her tongue and said, " Luckily you didn't give it to me."

Hong Qi Gong asked, " Why?"

Huang Rong said, " Imagine how troublesome it would be if all the little beggars of the world come and find me and ask me to solve their problems."

Hong Qi Gong sighed, " Yes, you are right. I'm lazy by nature so it is troublesome to be the leader of the beggars, but they couldn't find a suitable candidate, so I had to accept the responsibility."

Huang Rong said, " That's why that Liang creature was so afraid of you, since it'll be terrible if all the beggars in the world come finding him. If every beggar picks a flea from their body and puts it on his head, imagine how itchy he'll be."

Hong Qi Gong and Guo Jing burst out laughing and after a while, Hong Qi Gong said, "He's afraid of me not because of that."

Huang Rong asked hurriedly, "Then why is he afraid of you?"

Hong Qi Gong said, " About twenty years ago, he did an evil thing which was discovered by me."

Huang Rong asked, " What was it?"

Hong Qi Gong said, " This old creature believed some superstitious nonsense and kidnapped many virgins and violated them, believing that it'll help him attain immortality."

Huang Rong asked, "How do you violate a virgin?"

Since her mother died after a difficult labor, Huang Rong was brought up by her father. After Chen Xuan Feng and Mei Chao Feng betrayed Huang Yao Shi and eloped, the latter under a moment's fury, severed the limbs of his other disciples and chased them out of the island. Only a few mute servants were left on peach blossom island. Huang Rong had never known anything about the relationships between man and woman. Ever since she had been together with Guo Jing, she always felt an unexplainable happiness and sweetness in her heart. She would feel lonely and sad whenever Guo Jing was not with her. Therefore, she thought that as long as she and Guo Jing were always together, they will be like husband and wife and thus, Huang Rong always thought Guo Jing to be her husband. But she didn't know anything about the sensual relations a couple had on the night of their wedding. Her question thus placed Hong Qi Gong in an awkward position.

Huang Rong asked again, " To violate them, is it to kill them?"

Hong Qi Gong said, " No. When a girl receives violation of this sort, it is even worse than death, as the saying goes, ' To lose one's honor is a grave issue as compared to just starving to death'."

Huang Rong still did not understand and asked, " Is it to use a knife to chop off their ears and nose?"

Hong Qi Gong laughed but scolded, " Peh! It's not that either. Silly lass, go home and ask your mother."

Huang Rong answered, " My mother's long dead."

Hong Qi Gong let out an "Ah" and said, " You'll understand when you go through your marriage night with this dumb boy."

Huang Rong reddened and pouted, " It's alright if you don't want to tell me." She then realized that it's a touchy subject and asked, " What happened after you found out what that Liang creature was doing?"

Hong Qi Gong saw that she wasn't probing into that matter anymore and thus asserted his stern torn again and sighed, " Then I naturally had to do something. I caught that fella and beat him up. I pulled off all his white hair and forced him to return those girls to their homes. After that, I forced him to swear that he would not do such stuff again and if I caught him doing it, he'll meet a fate worse than death. I heard that he didn't create trouble these couple of years and therefore spared his life today. Damn it, has his hair grown back?"

Huang Rong laughed and said, " It has grown back! But imagine how terribly painful it was for him to have all his hair torn out."

After the three finished eating, Huang Rong said, " Qi Gong, now even if you give me that stick, I wouldn't dare take it. But we cannot be together with you forever right? If we see that Liang creature again in the future and he says, " Alright you little rascal, you used Leader's Hong stick to hit me in the past, now it's time for my revenge. I'll pull out all your hair!" then what are we to do? Before, when Brother Jing fought with that old creature, he could only display the 'Proud dragon shows remorse' stance, which though is powerful, though is not spectacular enough right? That old creature must be thinking, ' Leader Hong's skills are so impressive but his disciple is however just an average performer.'"

Hong Qi Gong laughed, " You are just scaring and provoking me into teaching both of you more skills. Alright, you both don't have to worry as long as you cook more nice dishes for me."

Huang Rong was delighted and dragged Qi Gong into the forest. Hong Qi Gong passed the second stance of the '18 subduing dragon palms", called the 'Flying dragon in the sky' to Guo Jing. The stance falls in mid air and is a powerful one, which attacks one below from high above. Guo Jing only mastered it after three days. In the three days, Hong Qi Gong was able to taste more of Huang Rong's delicious cooking. She did not pester him to teach her any more skills, she was more than happy as long as he concentrated on teaching Guo Jing. In a month's time, Hong Qi Gong finally was able to pass fifteen stances of the '18 subduing dragon palms' to Guo Jing, from the very first 'Proud dragon shows remorse' to the ' Dragon battles in the wild'. The '18 subduing dragon palms' was Hong Qi Gong's specialty. Half of it was due to his teacher's guidance and the other half was his own experimental effort. Although the number of stunts were limited, each stunt carried with it immense force. During the last Hua Shan tournament with Wang Chong Yang and Huang Yao Shi etc, Hong Qi Gong had not fully mastered the skill and yet Wang Chong Yang and the rest were still in awe of it. Hong Qi Gong often lamented later on that if he had fully mastered the skill earlier, he would have gotten the number one title instead of Wang Chong Yang, leader of the Quan Zhen sect.

He was actually only willing to teach Guo Jing two or three stances, which would be sufficient for the latter to protect himself. But who would have guessed that Huang Rong possessed such wonderful culinary skills and was able to wipe up interesting and delicious dishes everyday such that he could not bear to leave. As the days went by, he had actually passed fifteen stances to Guo Jing. Although Guo Jing is not intelligent by nature, every time he learns a new stunt or advice, he would spend the whole time practicing and examining it, such that at the end of one month, he had mastered the fifteen stances perfectly, and would have improved even more if time had permitted it, his skills were totally different and tons more powerful compared to a month ago.

This morning, after Hong Qi Gong had his breakfast, he sighed, " You two babies, we three have accompanied each other for more than a month, thus it's time we parted now."

Huang Rong answered, " Ah, no way, I still have so much more dishes I haven't cooked for senior you,"

Hong Qi Gong answered, " There is no one banquet which doesn't end on earth, but yet, there are so much food which one cannot fully taste. Old beggar here has never taught anyone more skills for more than three days, and yet, this time I end up teaching someone for more than thirty days. It would really be terrible if I continue."

Huang Rong asked, "Why?"

Hong Qi Gong answered, " Very soon, all my skills will be learnt by you two."

Huang Rong answered, " Since you've started, why not pass the whole set of '18 subduing dragon palms' to him, it'll be a success then no?"

Hong Qi Gong sneered, " Yes, it'll be an accomplishment for you two but not for me."

---

(xfiberloss' translation)

Before Huang Rong could devise a scheme to make Hong Qigong pass on the remaining three moves of the "18 Dragon Subduing Palms" to Guo Jing, the beggar had already picked up his gourd and walked away without saying another word.

Guo Jing quickly pursued Hong Qigong, but the beggar was so fast that he was already out of sight. Guo Jing continued to chase after the beggar into the forest, all the while shouting, "Master Hong! Master Hong!"

Huang Rong ran into the forest and shouted after Hong Qigong too.

At the very edge of the forest, they perceived the shape of a man. It was Hong Qigong, approaching them once more. "What, you two stinky children want to entangle me -- make me teach you more?" he scolded.

"Master, you've already taught this junior so much, how would I dare to ask you for more?" Guo Jing said. "I just wanted to thank you." He promptly knelt down and kow-towed.

"Stop!" Hong Qigong shouted as his face colored. "I taught you only in exchange for the magnificent dishes the girl made. There is no master-disciple relationship between us." He then knelt down to Guo Jing.

Shocked, Guo Jing attempted to kow-tow back as per social custom, but Hong Qigong hit his acupuncture point, which left him without movement. Hong Qigong knelt four more times to Guo Jing before releasing the younger man's acupuncture point.

"This way, your bowing to me won't make you my disciple," Hong Qigong said.

Guo Jing understood Hong Qigong's strange conduct and decided not to press the matter.

But Huang Rong sighed.

"Master Hong, you have treated us so well that I am sorry to see you leave us," she said. "I fear ... I fear ... I just wanted to make you so more small dishes for you to enjoy, so that in the future, we would have no one to fear."

"Who do you fear?" Hong Qigong said.

"I am afraid we won't be able to deal with the immortal ginseng fairy," Huang Rong said. "I fear that we will die at his hands."

"Death follows death," Hong Qigong laughed. "Who doesn't die?"

"I don't fear death," Huang Rong reasoned. "I fear being captured and it being made known that I followed your teachings and made you food. They might compel me to make for them the same dishes I made for you -- the dishes I learned from the Jade Flute family on Plum Blossom island, including the '24 Bridges on a Moonlit Night.' Wouldn't you be embarrassed if others kept eating these?"

Hong Qigong knew Huang Rong was just trying to get him to teach them more kung fu. But when he thought about others eating her sumptuous dishes, he couldn't bear the thought. "Who are these people?" he said.

"There is the Yellow River ghost, Sha Tongtian, who might eat my dishes," Huang Rong said. "He would spoil all my little dishes."

Hong Qigong shook his head and said, "What can Sha Tongtian do? In another one to two years, Guo Jing can surpass him if he practices."

Huang Rong then suggested the Tibetan monk Ling Zhi and Peng Lianhu.

"Their techniques are like farts." Hong Qigong said. "What can they do?"

Then Huang Rong mentioned the master of White Camel Mountain, Ouyang Ke.

Shuddering, Hong Qigong asked about the styles employed by Ouyang Ke. After hearing Huang Rong's description, he said, "Yes, it's him!"

Huang Rong noticed Hong Qigong's serious expression. "This Ouyang Ke is very powerful?" she said.

"What can this Ouyang Ke do but fart?" Hong Qigong said. "No, it is his uncle, the old poison, who is very strong."

"The old poison?" Huang Rong said. "He might be strong to others but surely not to you."

Hong Qigong didn't answer and looked as if he were deeply contemplating the matter.

"We weren't too far apart over 20 years ago," he said finally. "But in the 20 years since then, he must have made great progress in his skills compared to me, given that he isn't lazy or gluttonous like me."

Hong Qigong laughed. "That isn't to say he would find me easy to deal with."

"He can't possibly defeat you," Huang Rong said.

Hong Qigong shook his head.

"That remains to be seen," he said. "Fine, old poison's nephew will certainly be difficult for you to deal with, but he's not that big of a problem. I will stay with you for another half month, and you will make me two dishes every day. But if you repeat one dish, I will immediately leave you."

After getting her heart's desire, Huang Rong proceeded to make a number of different dishes with skillful variations, including pot stickers, various dumplings, fried rice, lunar new year cakes, steamed rolls and rice noodles.

Hong Qigong taught them the essence of fighting by reacting to the enemy and changing the defense of the body. He did not teach the last three moves of the "18 Dragon-Subduing Palms"

Nevertheless, Guo Jing's understanding of the first 15 palms solidified under Hong Qigong's continued tutelage, as did the skills he learned from the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. His improvement was not negligible.

In over 35 years of training in the martial arts, Hong Qigong had learned a lot of diverse techniques. He passed on some of these strange fist techniques to Huang Rong Although the skills possessed many strange variations, the techniques were inferior to the simple power of the first 15 palms of the "18 Dragon-Subduing Palms." Furthermore, Huang Rong only learned them to amuse herself.

Guo Jing was practicing his palms one evening, when Huang Rong climed a tree to gather bamboo shoots and plums for an unconventional dish called "The Three Friends of Winter," which tastes of three distinct flavors.

Hong Qigong couldn't stop himself from drooling. He then suddenly bent into a thicket of grass and fished out a two-foot-long blue snake.

"Snake!" Huang Rong shouted.

With his left hand, Hong Qigong lightly pushed Huang Rong on her shoulder, forcing her a few feet away.

The thick patch of grass rustled again, revealing more snakes. Hong Qigong struck each snake with the doggy-beating stick on the center of its head. The blow immediately killed them.

Huang Rong shouted as her face colored. Two snakes didn't flee from Hong Qigong. They climbed the tree and bit Huang Rong.

Hong Qigong knew the blue snakes, although small, possessed a highly venomous poison without compare. He immediately wanted to cure Huang Rong, but suddenly a large hoard of blues snakes materialized. He grabbed Huang Rong by her waistband and took Guo Jing's hand before running back to the inn. There, he knelt to examine Huang Rong and discovered her complexion to be normal. "How?" he said.

"It's not a problem," Huang Rong laughed.

Fear struck Guo Jing when he saw the two snakes bite Huang Rong. He reached down to pull them off of her body.

Hong Qigong told Guo Jing to be careful. As Guo Jing prepared himself to remove the snakes, he noticed blood dripping from their heads. They were already dead.

Hong Qigong understood. "Your father gave you his soft hedgehog armor."

When the snakes bit Huang Rong, they were immediately killed by the spikes on her armor, which pierced their heads.

Guo Jing went to pull the other snake off of Huang Rong when more snakes emerged from the forest.

Hong Qigong placed a yellow herb in his mouth and chewed.

By this time, over a thousand snakes had emerged from the forest. Many more were out of the sight of the heroes.

"Master Hong, let's get out of here," Guo Jing said.

Hong Qigong didn't answer. Instead, he unstopped his gourd and took a large swig from it. He mixed the yellow herb with the wine, which he spit from left to right, creating an arc in front of the three.

When one blue snake attempted to cross the medicated wine, it immediately keeled over. None of the other blue snakes dared to cross the wine afterwards. Indeed, the ones in the front attempted to retreat, but more snakes were emerging from the forest. Both groups crashed into one another causing a great deal of chaos.

Huang Rong clapped her hands and shouted in pleasure.

The forest suddenly emitted a strange noise before three men dressed in white emerged from it. They used a pole to shepherd the snakes as if they were oxen.

Huang Rong found this all amusing. But then she suddenly felt like vomiting.

Hong Qigong struck at a snake with his doggy-beating stick. He then took the snake and used two fingers to extract its gallbladder.

"Quickly swallow this," he said to Huang Rong. "Don't bite or chew them, or you will feel pain."

After swallowing the gallbladders, Huang Rong's chest immediately felt at ease.

"Brother Jing, do you feel dizzy?" Huang Rong said.

Guo Jing shook his head.

Because he drank the blood of the giant snake, Guo Jing had become impervious to over a hundred poisons. The snakes also felt fear whenever they smelled the scent of the blood on Guo Jing. When they emerged from the forest, they were really after just Hong Qigong and Huang Rong.

"Master Hong, these snakes were raised by people," Huang Rong said.

Hong Qigong nodded and angrily glared at the three men in white.

The three men were also angry after they saw Hong Qigong feed the gallbladder to Huang Rong. They reorganized the snake line.

"You three bastards!" one of them shouted. "Are you tired of living?"

"No, you must be the three bastards who are tired of living!' Huang Rong shouted back.

Hong Qigong clapped Huang Rong on the shoulders in approval.

The three men became even angrier. The sallow-cheeked, middle-aged man standing in the middle thrust the long pole at Huang Rong with a surprising amount of force.

Hong Qigong pressed the doggy-beating stick against the pole, which immediately stopped.

Startled, the man pulled on the pole with both of his hands.

Hong Qigong shook the doggy-beating stick and shouted, "Be gone!"

The man stumbled and flipped over, landing right in the middle of all the deadly snakes. He had luckily eaten a herb earlier, so the snakes were unwilling to bite him.

Shocked, the other two men took a step back. "How?" they said.

Indeed, the other man had fallen so hard that he crushed 10 snakes and felt sore all over.

One of his companions, a fair-skinned man, held out the pole to the sallow-cheeked man to support him. They were reluctant to fight again.

"Who dares to stop our snakes with that herb?" the sallow-cheeked man said.

Laughing, Hong Qigong paid no attention to them.

"Who are you to send out so many poisonous snakes to injure people?" Huang Rong replied.

The three men looked at one another, trying to figure out how to respond when another man dressed in white appeared at the edge of the forest. He walked through a narrow path between the snakes while fanning himself.

Both Guo Jing and Huang Rong recognized him as Ouyang Ke, the master of White Camel Mountain, whose presence amongst their ranks caused the snakes to disperse.

The three men welcomed their master and told him of Hong Qigong's amazing ability and the situation that had just transpired.

Ouyang Ke was surprised. Then he nodded.

"These three brothers were ignorant and affronted seniors," he said. "They apologize."

Then he turned to Huang Rong and smiled.

"The lady is here," he said. "I am at your service."

Huang Rong turned her attention to Hong Qigong.

"Master Hong, you should take care of this bad egg," she said.

Hong Qigong nodded and said to Ouyang Ke, "How can you lawlessly herd these snakes through the country in broad daylight? You obviously intend to use these snakes for reckless acts. Who do you intend to use them on?"

"These snakes have traveled a long distance," Ouyang Ke said. "They can't feed themselves in the conventional manner."

"How many people have you hurt?" Hong Qigong said.

"We've herded the snakes though the country," Ouyang Ke said. "Not many people have gotten hurt."

Hong Qigong glared at the other man.

"Not wounded many people!" he said. "Your family name is Ouyang is it not?"

"That's correct," Ouyang Ke said. "The lady must have told you. And what is the venerable one's name?"

"This man's rank is a generation above yours," Huang Rong said. "If he told you, he'd scare you to death!"

But Ouyang Ke didn't get angry. He laughed instead and cast a sidelong glance at her.

"You are the son of Ouyang Feng, aren't you?" Hong Qigong said.

Ouyang Ke didn't respond, but the three snake herders shouted in anger, "Old man, how dare you use the given name of our master!"

"I say what others do not," Hong Qigong said with a smile.

The three snake herders continued to yell at Hong Qigong, when the beggar, who was on the ground with the doggy-beating stick, suddenly appeared in sky like a large bird. He struck down three times so quickly that the three men had no time to react. Before their bodies hit the ground, Hong Qigong had already jumped into the air again.*

(*While translating the next part, I discovered the three men might not have fallen. I was really confused by this. If anyone can clarify, please do so).

"Good move!" Huang Rong said. "Why haven't you taught it to me yet, Master Hong?"

The three men could not make a sound because Hong Qigong hit them on the tiny muscle near the chin that connects to the jaw.

Startled, Ouyang Ke said to Hong Qigong, "Senior knows my uncle?"

"You are Ouyang Feng's nephew," Hong Qigong said. "It's been over 20 years since I've seen the old poison. Is he still not dead?"

Ouyang Ke grew angry, but he knew the level of Hong Qigong's wugong was very high. And since he knew his uncle, he must also be a senior figure of enormous ability.

"Uncle has often said that he would never die before any of his friends," Ouyang Ke said. "So he dares not go to heaven before you."

Hong Qigong looked skyward and laughed.

"Good! You turn my words around and insult me!" he said.

"Now, why did you bring all these treasures?" he said, indicating the snakes.

"I have spent all my life in the West," Ouyang Ke said. "This is the first time I have ventured south of the Yellow River. The journey is lonely and solitary, so I thought I'd bring these snakes for some fun."

"That's a lie," Huang Rong said. "How can your journey be lonely and solitary with so many of your wives and concubines to accompany you?"

Ouyang Ke snapped open his fan and looked over it at Huang Rong. Laughing, he recited, "My distant heart held no one within, but today I have met its princess."

Huang Rong made a funny face at Ouyang Ke and laughed.

"I don't need your compliments, just as much as I don't need you to miss me," she said.

Ouyang Ke was speechless: He was enthralled by the goddess-like Huang Rong and her pleasant expression.

"Your uncle rules the western region tyrannically, so obviously no one has disciplined you," Hong Qigong shouted. "So you've come into central China with the same idea of doing as you pleased. Well, today, I will give your uncle face and leave you alone. Get out of my sight right now."

Ouyang Ke stopped himself from spitting out hateful words. Knowing himself to be no match for Hong Qigong, he began to retreat obediently, though his heart was full of distaste.

"Junior wishes senior a new year, free of any awful misfortune," he said. "If you should have any trouble, please come to the White Camel Moutain."

Hong Qigong laughed. "Little punk, you dare challenge me to a duel? If I come, it has nothing to do with an agreement. Your uncle isn't afraid of me, and I'm not afraid of your uncle. Twenty years before yesterday, in the early morning, a group of us fought one another and found ourselves to be evenly matched. We need not fight ever again."

His face abruptly changed. "You are still here in front of me instead of being far away!" Hong Qigong shouted.

Ouyang Ke was startled again.

"I've only learned 30 percent of uncle's wugong," he thought. "This man here doesn't seem to be lying. I'll accept this loss of face for now and get back at him later."

Ouyang Ke didn't respond, and the three men, with their chins still in pain, made no sound. Casting a glance at Huang Rong, Ouyang Ke turned and walked back into the forest.

The three men then made strange noises to order the snakes, but because of the injury to their chins, their voices at their loudest only came out as a weak rasp.

Like a wave, the snakes moved back into the forest, leaving a trail of gleaming slime across the ground.

"Master Hong, do you know where these snakes come from?" Huang Rong said. "Were they raised?"

Hong Qigong gave no response. He took a swig from his gourd, used his sleeve to wipe off the sweat from his brow and let out a sigh of relief.

"How dangerous! How dangerous!" he said.

"How so?" both Guo Jing and Huang Rong asked.

"Those poisonous snakes were only temporarily blocked by my efforts," Hong Qigong said. "They would have soon been able to come over. With so many snakes, they would have been like a flood. How would we be able to stop them? Luckily, those people were inexperienced and didn't realize my ruse since I scared them so much."

"If the old poison had come, you two kids would have been in a terrible position," he added.

"We wouldn't stay -- we'd run away," Huang Rong said.

"This senior wouldn't be scared, but you two kids would run away," Hong Qigong laughed. "But how would you flee if the old poison sent out one of his palms?"

"Is that man's uncle really that powerful?" Huang Rong said.

Hong Qigong laughed. "Not powerful? 'Eastern Heretic,' 'Western Poison,' 'Northern Beggar,' 'Southern Emperor' and 'Central Divinity': Your father is the Eastern Heretic, and Ouyang Feng is the Western Poison. The number one martial artist, Wang Zhenren, passed away. The remaining four of us, who fought against one another in eight pairs, were found to be equal.

"Is your father not fierce?" he added. "Is my own ability negligible?"

Huang Rong had secretly pondered these points before and was not able to put the pieces together. "My father is a good person, so why is he called 'heretical' and 'evil?' I don't like his nickname."

"Privately, your father probably likes his nickname," Hong Qigong said with a laugh. "That man possesses a strange, spirit. He follows his own unorthodox way -- is that not perverse? I am convinced that the proper ancestry of all orthodox wugong is through Quan Zhen's teachings."

"You've learned Quan Zhen's neigong haven't you?" he said to Guo Jing.

"Ma Yu taught me at length for over two years," Guo Jing said.

"Indeed, indeed -- you didn't learn that in any short span of time," Hong Qigong said. "Otherwise, how would you be able to learn my '18 Dragon-Subduing Palms' if you didn't possess a good nei gong basis?"

"Who is Southern Emperor?" Huang Rong said.

"Southern Emperor is indeed a king," Hong Qigong said.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were surprised.

"Do you mean the emperor of the Song?" Huang Rong said.

Hong Qigong erupted in laughter. "That kid emperor is only strong enough to eat from a golden rice bowl. If there are two, he wouldn't be able to pick it up! Southern Emperor is not the Song emperor. No, this Southern Emperor possesses very powerful kung fu. Between the three of us, your father and I were slightly inferior. But the southern fire overcoming the western gold? Indeed, the old poison, Ouyang Feng, was able to overcome his star."

Guo Jing and Huang Rong wanted Hong Qigong to finish his story, but the beggar was lost in thought and fell into silence. They didn't press him.

Hong Qigong looked skyward. His eyebrows creased as if were pondering some sort of difficult problem. He walked back into the inn alone.

Suddenly, Huang Rong and Guo Jing heard the sound of tearing. As Hong Qigong passed through the gate into the inn, a rivet got caught on his sleeve and tore a large hole into it. Huang Rong gasped in surprise.

But Hong Qigong didn't notice. He kept walking as if he were in a daze.

"I'll mend it for you," Huang Rong said.

Huang Rong went to the proprietress of the inn and borrowed a needle and thread. Then she fixed the hole in Hong Qigong's sleeve.

Hong Qigong shook himself from his reverie when he saw Huang Rong with the needle in her hand. He abruptly snatched the needle and ran outside the gate. Curious, Guo Jing and Huang Rong followed, only to see Hong Qigong throw the gleaming needle out. Huang Rong watched the needle arc and pierced a grasshopper. She shouted in delight.

"This will do," Hong Qigong said, looking satisfied. "This style will do nicely."

Guo Jing and Huang Rong waited for Hong Qigong to continue.

"Ouyang Feng, the old poison, loves to raise poisonous snakes and poisonous insects," Hong Qigong said. "Coming up with a way to deal with all those blue snakes is not an easy thing." He paused before continuing. "When I saw that younger Ouyang and found him to be no good, and knowing his uncle who opposes everyone, I realized that you two needed some way to disperse the snakes since I might not always be around to save you."

Huang Rong clapped her hands. "You would use the needles for the snakes to the ground."

Hong Qigong smiled at Huang Rong. "This girl is so clever," he said. "You say one sentence, and she already knows the next one."

"You don't want to use the yellow herb anymore?" Huang Rong said. "You just spit it out with the wine and the poisonous snakes will refuse to cross it."

"That will only work for so long," Hong Qigong said. "I have to practice this stance 'Blossoms Rain from the Sky,' which would use this needle. The snakes will approach in the future, and I will throw out these needles, hitting each snake, one by one. After I get enough needles, I will go kill all those snakes in about a fortnight."

Both Guo Jing and Huang Rong laughed.

"I'll go get you your needles," Huang Rong said, before immediately heading off in the direction of the town market.

Hong Qigong sighed in admiration. "Jing-er, why don't you have her split her intelligence and cleverness apart and give one half to you?"

"Split apart her intelligence and cleverness?" Guo Jing said. "You can't split those apart."

Huang Rong returned from the market around the next meal time. She removed from a food basket two packages of sewing needles, and, while smiling, said, "I searched all over the town to buy these needles, but all the men seem to let the women talk amongst each other till they die."

"How did you get them?" Guo Jing said.

"I yelled at them!" Huang Rong said. "I told them they were all useless. It's impossible to not be able to buy needles in a town."

Hong Qigong burst into laughter. "You are indeed very clever! Luckily, I have not married and it will spare me from having the torment of daughters," he said. "Come, come, come, we need to practice kung fu! You two kids won't get another opportunity to learn from this old man."

Laughing, Huang Rong followed him out.

"I don't want to learn Master Hong," Guo Jing said.

"Why?" Hong Qigong said.

"Senior has already taught me so much kung fu that I haven't practiced enough," Guo Jing said.

Hong Qigong understood: Guo Jing refused to be greedy. The beggar had said he would no longer teach anymore wugong to Guo Jing, but the recent emergency situation made teaching more techniques imperative. Nevertheless, if Guo Jing allowed Hong Qigong to teach him again, it would appear to be opportunistic.

Nodding, Hong Qigong pulled Huang Rong by the hand and said, "We practice."

Once alone, Guo Jing went out and practiced the first 15 palms of the "18-Dragon Subduing Palms," thereby increasing his understanding.

Huang Rong studied "Blossoms Rain from the Sky" for 10 days. She learned how to throw 10 needles to simultaneously hit a person's vital areas, but could not master hitting the vital points of multiple targets at once.

One day, Hong Qigong and Huang Rong were out practicing with the needles. The beggar threw them all at once. The needles fell to the ground in two groups -- each ten feet across. Satisfied, he looked skyward and fell into contemplation. But his thinking was dull, so he said aloud, "Old poison, why did you train all these snakes?"

"With his wugong already at such a powerful state, he can handle almost anyone near him," Huang Rong said. "So what would the snakes do?"

Hong Qigong slapped his head. "Of course!" he said. "It's to deal with the Eastern Heretic and the Southern Emperor. Both the beggars and Quan Zhen are numerous in manpower, and the Southern Emperor is an actual king with many bodyguards and soldiers protecting him. Your father is a cultivated intellect possessing many strange and powerful skills, which can help him face multiple enemies alone. When the old poison fights alone, no one in his generation can completely face him. But if his enemy brings a companion and so on, then the old poison facing them alone is in a terrible position."

"Therefore, the old poison has raised the snakes to help him," Huang Rong said.

Hong Qigong sighed. "Us beggars often catch snakes and raise them for the purpose of food," he said. "We've been able to do this for about 17 to 18 snakes. We sometimes even release them into fields at night to catch frogs. But the whole process isn't easy at all. Now, the old poison has actually had the time to catch innumerable amounts of snakes. Huang-er, the old poison has spent a great deal of time on this, which means he must be planning something."

"He is certainly planning something," Huang Rong said. "But luckily for us, his nephew revealed the snakes."

Hong Qigong slapped his head. "Of course, this Ouyang kid revealed with the secret with his frivolousness," he said. "But what does the old poison know about what others have? These thousands of snakes could not have come from the western region. They must have been collected from the mountains in the East. And though that Ouyang Kid betrayed a part of the plan, he might not have completely revealed the whole scheme in which he plays a part."

"That's not a good thing," Huang Rong said. "Luckily, this style prepares us in advance to take care of those snakes when we observed them, as opposed to having to deal with them while fighting with the old poison himself."

Hong Qigong hesitated. "But suppose he wraps me up and prevents me from throwing the needles," he said. "How would I deal with those thousands of snakes?"

Huang Rong thought for a while, "Just run away," she said.

"Bah!" Hong Qigong said with a smile. "What kind of method is turning around and running away?"

Suddenly, Huang Rong exclaimed, "I got it! I just thought of a good plan."

Joyful, Hong Qigong said, "What kind of plan is this?"

"Just keep the two of us by your side," she said. "Should we meet the old poison, you will fight him and brother Jing will deal with his nephew. I will simply use the sewing needles to kill all the snakes. The problem is brother Jing doesn't know three of the strikes in the '18-Dragon Subduing Palms' and might not be able to deal with those grinning bastards."

Hong Qigong stared.

"You are the grinning bastard," he said. "You just want to cheat me into teaching your brother Jing the last three palms. Regarding Guo Jing's moral conduct, I would teach him all 18 palms without any hesitation. But when did this boy become my disciple? He is so dull that if I took him as a disciple, I would be giving people the right to laugh at me!"

Huang Rong laughed.

"I'm going to buy some groceries," she said, knowing that would make it harder for Hong Qigong to leave.

She went to the market and purchased many different kinds of vegetables and meats while making sure she bought ingredients with sufficiently unique tastes. With the groceries held in her left hand and her right practicing the "Blossoms Rain from the Sky" technique, she leisurely strolled back to the inn. Suddenly, she heard the sound of a bell loudly approaching. In the distance, she saw a lone, female rider dressed in white approaching the inn very quickly. Huang Rong saw it was Yang Tiexin's daughter, Mu Nianci, whom Guo Jing's relatives wanted him to marry. Huang Rong's heart turned sour, and as Mu Nianci got closer, she refused to make a sound.

"What's so good about this girl?" she thought. "Brother Jing's six masters and that ox-nosed priest of the Quanzhen sect all want him to marry her."

After more thinking, Huang Rong grew angry.

"Let me go fight her and relieve some of my frustration," she thought.

But when Huang Rong went to place the groceries in the inn, she found Mu Nianci already sitting at a table.

An anxious-looking innkeeper asked Mu Nianci what she wanted to eat and drink.

"Bring me a bowl of noodles and some beef," Mu Nianci said. The innkeeper quickly left to fill the order.

"How is simple beef any good to eat?" Huang Rong said.

Mu Nianci looked at Huang Rong. At first she couldn't recognize her, but then she remembered it was the girl who so suddenly left with Guo Jing. She exhaled.

"Little sister is here too?" she said. "Please sit with me."

"Did that smelly scholar, the fat dwarf, or the other ones come too?" Huang Rong said.

"No," Mu Nianci said. "I came alone. They are all off together."

Huang Rong at first feared running into Qiu Chuji, but she felt joy after learning Mu Nianci was there by herself. At first blinded by the possibility of the taoist's presence, Huang Rong now examined Mu Nianci closely and noticed her small boots, dress and her hair entwined with a white flower, signifying that she was in mourning. And though she had lost weight and wore a sad expression, Mu Nianci remained elegantly beautiful as opposed to pitiable. Huang Rong then noticed a dagger worn at Mu Nianci's waist.

"This is the dagger exchanged by brother Jing's parents with her parents to mark their marriage," Huang Rong thought.

Unable to bear the thought, Huang Rong shouted, "Little sister, may I take a look at that dagger?"

The dagger was indeed the one Bao Xiruo gave away just before dying. It was recovered after she and Yang Tiexin killed themselves and served as a keepsake of the two adoptive parents.

Mu Nianci looked at Huang Rong and noticed her strange expression, but before she could do anything, Huang Rong had already reached out, taken hold of the dagger and casually removed it.

She looked at the weapon and noticed the two characters "Guo Jing" carved into its hilt.

"This belongs to brother Jing," she thought bitterly. "Why does she get to have it?"

She removed the weapon from its scabbard. A cold air immediately emanated from the weapon.

"Good dagger!" Huang Rong said.

She put the dagger back into the scabbard and placed it within her shirt.

"I'm going to go give this to brother Jing," she said.

Stricken, Mu Nianci said, "What?"

"The two characters engraved on the hilt proves the rightful owner of this dagger," Huang Rong said. "I'm going to give it to him."

Mu Nianci cried out angrily, "This is the only possession I have from my adoptive parents. How can you take it? Quickly give it back to me." She stood up and walked towards Huang Rong.

"If you have a problem, come and get it!" Huang Rong shouted as she ran out of the inn.

Huang Rong knew Hong Qigong was asleep in the forest, and Guo Jing was up in the mountains practicing his palms. She ran to the left.

Mu Nianci pursued anxiously, fearing Huang Rong would ride the red horse. She continued to chase until she heard a loud noise, which she followed.

Huang Rong had taken a bend to a clearing surrounded by tall, locust trees. She stopped there and laughed.

"You've won," she said. "You're the better horse. Now let us match against one another to see who gets the bride's dagger."

Mu Nianci's cheeks reddened.

"Don't joke little sister," she said. "When I see this dagger, I see my adoptive father. Why did you take it away?"

Huang Rong's brow dropped.

"Who is your sister?" she shouted.

She immediately jumped at Mu Nianci with her palm extended.

Mu Nianci tried to dodge, but Huang Rong used the "Falling Blossom Sword Palm." Employing the many and mysterious variations in the style, Huang Rong hit Mu Nianci twice in the ribs, causing a lot of pain.

Angry, Mu Nianci turned to the left before also returning her own palm stroke, which was a violent strike.

"This is the 'Wandering Strides' fist!" Huang Rong shouted. "How is this possible?"

Mu Nianci was surprised upon hearing Huang Rong's shout.

"This was the style Hong Qigong passed on to me alone," she thought. "How could she know about it?"

Mu Nianci watched as Huang Rong retracted her left palm and attacked with her right as a fist. After three moves, Mu Nianci recognized the style to be none other than the "Wandering Strides." Surprised, she jumped back.

"Stop!" she shouted. "Who taught you this style?"

"I just figured it out myself," Huang Rong said with a smile. "What's so special about this rough and crude kung fu?"

So saying, she attacked again with the "Wandering Strides," employing its two central moves, "Alms Bowl at the Door" and "Seeing a Benefactor," in a continuous attack.

Mu Nianci became even more bewildered after avoiding another rmove, "Traveling the Seas Without Worry."

"You know Senior Hong Qigong?" she said.

"He and I are old friends," Huang Rong said with a smile. "You can use this style. I'll use the kung fu I know, and then we'll see who'll win."

With a menacing chortle, Huang Rong immediately attacked. She did not use the "Wandering Strides" style. Instead, she employed the martial arts taught to her by her father to get the better of Mu Nianci, whose skills were taught to her by Hong Qigong. How could Mu Nianci block?

Mu Nianci tried to flee but she couldn't. She watched a palm rise like a sword slashing across with a roaring wind. Feeling the spear-like force, Mu Nianci twisted her body to the side to dodge, but then felt pain in her neck as Huang Rong successfully hit her with "Brushing the Orchid Blossoms from the Road."

The palm had struck the neck vertebrae precisely where the blood vessels regulate the body, hands and feet. After being hit, Mu Nianci's hands and feet immediately turned numb and weak.

Huang Rong then stepped forward and pressed an acupoint on Mu Nianci's waist. Mu Nianci immediately fell over.

Huang Rong took out the dagger and laughed, before slashing at Mu Nianci's cheeks with 10 different strikes. None of them hit -- they were only one inch away from striking flesh.

Mu Nianci closed her eyes, expecting death, but to her surprise, she felt a cool air near her cheeks that didn't hurt. When she opened her eyes, she only saw the dagger coming towards her eyes, only to see it stop next to her face.

"If you're going to kill me, kill me," she yelled in anger. "Why all the play and theatrics?"

"You are not my enemy, nor do I hate you," Huang Rong said. "Why would I kill you? You just have to swear one oath, and I'll release you."

Although they were indeed not enemies, Mu Nianci refused to consider even giving an oath. "Lady, you threaten to kill me because you want me to swear an oath," she shouted. "You must be dreaming."

Huang Rong sighed with admiration. "It would be a real pity to kill this beautiful lady of marriageable age," she said.

Mu Nianci closed her eyes and waited for death, but she heard not a sound.

After a moment, Huang Rong gently said, "Brother Jing and I have already shared our hearts. If you proceed to marry him, there is no way he would give you the same."

Mu Nianci opened her eyes.

"What did you say?" she asked.

"I know you won't promise not to marry him," Huang Rong said.

"Who is it that you like?" Mu Nianci said in confusion. "Who is it you think I want to marry?"

"Brother Jing, Guo Jing," Huang Rong said.

"Oh him," Mu Nianci said. "What do you want me to swear?"

"I want you to swear a heavy oath that you will not marry him," Huang Rong said.

Mu Nianci giggled. "You put a dagger to my throat when I already cannot marry him," she said.

"Is it true?" Huang Rong asked joyfully. "How can this be?"

"Although my adoptive father betrothed me to brother Guo Jing, honestly --" she said before lowering her voice. "-- Honestly, adoptive father, despite all his wisdom, neglected to prevent me from giving my heat to someone else."

"I've made such a bad mistake about you," Huang Rong said ecstatically before immediately releasing Mu Nianci's acupoints and massaging her numb hands and feet. "Elder sister, who have you matched yourself with?"

Mu Nianci blushed before cooing, "You've seen this person before."

Huang Rong tilted her head and thought for a moment. "I've seen him before?" she said. "What kind of person around this town is worthy of ascending to elder sister's level?"

Mu Nianci laughed. "In this world, this man is unrivaled by everyone except for you brother Jing," she said.

"Elder sister, is he crazy since he hasn't married you?" Huang Rong said with a smile.

"Is brother Jing crazy?" Mu Nianci said. "His character is honest, and his heart is chivalrous. I admire him very much. He treated my father and me very well that day when he helped us at the risk of his own life, which I am very grateful for. This grade of man is very small in the world."

Worried, Huang Rong pressed, "Did you say that you couldn't marry him just so I wouldn't put this dagger against your throat?"

Mu Nianci noticed how Huang Rong pressed the issue and concluded the imprudence she exhibited before wasn't far off. She grasped Huang Rong's hands and slowly spoke, "Little sister, your heart is already set on brother Jing. Finding another man his equal will be difficult even with all the thousands of men in the world, right?"

"Yes, I do believe it's very unlikely to find another his equal," Huang Rong said.

"If brother Jing heard your praises of him, his heart would be filled with joy," Mu Nianci said. "During the contest my father set up in Beijing, a man defeated me."

Huang Rong understood. "I know now," she said. "The person in your heart is the little prince, Wanyan Kang."

"Yes, it is the young prince," Mu Nianci said. "He is the one my heart wants. He's a good person underneath. I can make him stop being rotten. "

Though she spoke softly, Mu Nianci's expression was very firm. Huang Rong nodded her head when she suddenly realized she felt the same way about Guo Jing as what Mu Nianci said in such simple words. They grasped each other's hands and sat side-by-side below the locust trees with the sensation of shared feelings.

Huang Rong thought for a moment. Then she gave the dagger back to Mu Nianci.

"Elder sister, let me return this to you," Huang Rong said.

Mu Nianci did not take it.

"Keep it -- this is your brother Jing's possession," she said. "His name is carved there on the hilt. With it everyday, I ..." She paused. "If I should carry it everyday, it wouldn't be very good."

Huang Rong lovingly took the dagger and stowed it near her bosom.

"Elder sister, you are truly good," she said.

After receiving the valuable dagger, Huang Rong was momentarily distracted from her thoughts.

"Elder sister, what business has drawn you to the South alone?" Huang Rong asked. "Maybe little sister can help you?"

Mu Nianci blushed and lowered her head.

"I don't have any pressing matters at hand," she said.

"In that case, I will take you to see Master Hong," Huang Rong said.

Mu Nianci felt joy.

"Master Hong is here?" she said.

Huang Rong nodded before grasping Mu Nianci's hand and pulling her up. Suddenly, she heard a sound among the branches above. A piece of bark fell to the ground. In the distance, they could see one person's shadow jumping happily from locust tree to locust tree. After a while, they could tell it was Hong Qigong.

Huang Rong picked up the bark and saw characters carved onto its surface with a needle.

"Two dolls like this are very good," she read. "But if Rong-er deliberately causes trouble again, then Qigong will hit your eldest child on the ear." The bark was not signed at the bottom. Instead, a gourd was carved in its place.

Huang Rong knew Qigong carved the bark and couldn't help blushing. She knew Qigong had observed the whole fight and knew all about the particulars of the oath she wanted Mu Nianci to swear. Both people had entered the locust grove and did not even notice Hong Qigong. The pair walked hand-in-hand back to the inn.

Guo Jing, who was sitting inside after he finished practicing, was shocked to see Mu Nianci. He quickly said, "Sister Mu, did you see my masters?"

"Your respective masters and I left the capital together and went south to Shandong," she said. "We split up there, and I have not seen them since."

"Are my masters well?" Guo Jing said.

"Be at ease, brother Guo," Mu Nianci said with a smile. "They are not angry with you."

Guo Jing was indeed very worried, fearing his masters were very angry at him. He rose and fiddled with some tea and food as his simple mind was lost in thought.

Mu Nianci turned to Huang Rong and asked how they met Hong Qigong.

Huang Rong told the tale alone.

"Little sister, you are so blessed," Mu Nianci said with a sigh. "You spent so much time with Master Hong that you lived like a little family. But I only wanted to see him, and he is not here."

"He was looking after you," Huang Rong said comfortingly. "He would have revealed his true ability if I tried to injure you. If I had hurt you, how could he have not acted?"

Mu Nianci nodded in acceptance.

Guo Jing thought this was strange. "Rong-er, why would you want to injure sister Mu?" he asked.

"I cannot say," Huang Rong said quickly.

Mu Nianci smiled. "She feared ... feared I would," she said without finishing. Although she spoke of the matter, she felt shy about the subject.

Huang Rong reached out and tickled Mu Nianci's armpit. "You dare to speak of it?" Huang Rong said with a smile.

Mu Nianci stuck her tongue out and then shook her head. "How would I dare?" she said. "Don't you want me to swear an oath?"

Huang Rong spluttered as she recalled trying to force Mu Nianci into swearing to not marry Guo Jing. Both her cheeks turned a bright red.

Upon seeing their shared emotions, Guo Jing felt great happiness.

After eating, the three went into the middle of the forest and strolled as they idled away their day. Huang Rong asked Mu Nianci how she received instruction from Hong Qigong.

"It happened when I was very young," Mu Nianci said. "I followed father to a river in the Henan province. We stopped at an inn, and while I played at the entrance, I saw two beggars lying on the ground, bleeding profusely. No one was willing to help them because the sight of the beggars' internal organs disgusted them."

Huang Rong made the connection. "Oh, so you showed compassion!" she said. "You tended their injuries."

"I too could not do much for their injury," Mu Nianci said. "But I pitied them and took them father's room where I cleaned their wounds and bandaged them. When my father returned, he said I did the right thing, and then sighed and said how his former wife was kind hearted as well. Then my father gave the two beggars some money to help them with their injuries. They thanked him and left. After several months, we went to Xinyang, where we ran into those two beggars again, who had already recovered from their wounds. They took me to a temple, where I first met Hong Qigong. After praising me, he taught me the 'Wandering Strides' form, which took three days. On the fourth day, when I returned to the temple, the master had already gone."

TO BE CONTINUED...

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Translation Notes:

[1] Hong Qi-Gong says that he is the "7th in line". 7 translates to "Qi" in Mandarin. "Gong" is an address for a male senior. Thus, he tells both of them to call him Qi-Gong.

[2] This is the original poem in the Book of Odes (the 1st verse):
"关关雎鸠, 在河之洲. 窈窕淑女, 君子好逑."

[3] Palm of the Divine Sword: 落英神剑掌 in Mandarin.