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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я


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2

'Scholar' Yu, under orders to investigate the whereabouts of Wen Tailai, made discreet enquiries along the road as he went. But he discovered no clues, and in less than a day arrived at Liangzhou, a prosperous busy city and one of the largest in Gansu province. He found a room in an inn, then went to a tavern and drank alone, bemoaning his fate. He thought of Luo Bing's voice and smile, and a tide of longing rose within him. He knew it was hopeless, and the more he drank, the more melancholy he became. He was just about to leave when two men came in. Yu knew he had seen one of them before and quickly turned his head away. He thought frantically and placed him as one of the Yamen officers he had fought at Iron Gall Manor. Luckily, the man and his companion paid no attention to him.

They chose a table near the window which happened to be just next to Yu's and sat down. Yu sat with his head on the table, pretending to be drunk.

The two men chatted for a while, then one said:

"Brother Rui, it's remarkable How you captured that fellow. I wonder what sort of reward the Emperor will give you?"

"I'm not concerned about the reward," Rui replied. "If we can get him to Hangzhou nice and safely, I'll be happy. When we left Beijing, there were eight of us bodyguards, and now I'm the only one left. It was that fight in Suzhou. I'm not selling myself short, but I still get the shivers just thinking about it."

"You're with Master Zhang now," the other said. "I'm sure nothing more will be wrong."

"That's true," Rui replied. "But it means that the Imperial Guardsmen get all the credit. What do we Imperial Bodyguards get out of it? But tell me, old Zhu. What are they doing sending him to Hangzhou instead of to Beijing?"

"My younger sister is from the family of Great Scholar Shi, as you know," Zhu replied, lowering his voice. "She told me quietly that the Emperor plans to go down south. Perhaps he wants to question him himself."

Rui grunted and drank a mouthful of wine. "So the six of you rushed out from Beijing to see that the Imperial command was complied with?"

"And to give the rest of you some help. The Red Flower Society is very powerful in the south. We have to be especially careful."

As he listened, Yu groaned inwardly at the sheer luck of it all. If he had not happened to be there and hear them, the Red Flower Society heroes would have been racing to Beijing to save Wen when he was really being taken to Hangzhou.

"Brother Rui," Zhu said. "Exactly what crime has this fellow committed that the Emperor wants to question him personally?"

"How would we know?" Rui replied. "We were just told that if we didn't catch him, we would all be removed from our posts. I just hope I can keep my head on my shoulders."

The two laughed and drank, and their conversation turned to the subject of women. Finally, they paid the bill and stood up to leave. Rui looked over at Yu prostrate on the table.

"Scholars," he said and laughed harshly. "Three cups of wine and they can't even walk."

Yu waited until they had gone, then hastily threw five silver coins onto the table and dashed out of the tavern. He spotted the men entering the city Yamen. He waited for a long time but didn't see them re-appear, and decided they must be lodging there.

He returned to his room and as soon as it was dark, he changed into a set of dark clothes, stuck his golden flute into his belt then ran over to the Yamen. Making his way round to the back, he clambered over the wall.

All was pitch black in the courtyard except for a shaft of light coming from a window in the eastern hall, and as he crept closer, he heard voices coming from inside. He wet the tip of his finger with a drop of saliva, then lightly moistened the window paper and made a small hole. Looking through, he started in fright.

The hall was full of people. Zhang Zhaozhong was seated in the middle with the bodyguards and Yamen officers on either side of him. A man standing with his back to Yu cursed angrily, and he knew from his voice that it was Wen Tailai.

"You can curse to your heart's content," a voice off to the side said darkly. "I may not be as proficient in the martial arts as you, but you will still get a taste of my hand."

Yu was distressed. "They are going to humiliate Fourth Brother," he thought. "He is the person Fourth Sister respects and loves most. How can I allow him to be insulted by these villains?"

He saw a tall, thin middleaged man wearing a blue gown advancing on Wen with his hand raised. Just as the man was about to strike Wen, Yu inserted his flute through the hole in the window paper, and with a puff, shot a small arrow into the man's left eye.

The man fell to the ground in agony and there was a moment of confusion in the hall. Yu shot another arrow into the right cheek of one of the bodyguards, then kicked open the main door of the hall and ran straight in.

"Don't move!" he shouted. "The Red Flower Society has come to the rescue!"

He raised his flute and struck the Yamen officers beside Wen, then pulled a dagger from his legwrappings and cut the ropes binding Wen's hands and feet.

Zhang Zhaozhong thought a largescale attack was in progress and immediately drew his sword and went to the hall door to prevent Wen and Yu from escaping and those outside from getting in.

As soon as Wen's hands were free of the bonds, his spirits surged. An Imperial Bodyguard lunged towards him and Wen struck him hard with his fist, sending him reeling away. The others were so afraid of Wen's power that for a while they did not dare to get too close to him.

"Fourth Brother, let's get out!" Yu said.

"Are the others here?"

"No," Yu replied quietly. "There's only me."

Wen nodded once. The wounds on his right arm and thigh had not yet healed, but he ran for the door with his right arm resting on Yu's shoulder.

Zhang strode foward a step. "Stop!" he shouted, and jabbed at Wen's stomach with his long sword. Wen was slow on his feet, so using attack as his defence, he struck out at his opponent's eyes with the index and middle fingers of his left hand, and Zhang was forced to retract his sword.

"Good!" he exclaimed. The two men were incredibly fast, but Wen only had the use of his left arm and after a few more moves, Zhang hit his right shoulder. Unable to keep his balance, Wen sat down heavily on the floor.

"I shouldn't have done this," Yu thought as he fought off the Imperial Bodyguards. "I will save Fourth Brother and then let the Eagle's Claws kill me so that Fourth Sister will know that I, Yu Yutong, am not an unchivalrous oaf."

He saw Wen fall to the ground and flipped round to strike out desperately at Zhang.

"Fourth Brother, get out quick!" Yu shouted. Wen rested a moment and then with difficulty clambered to his feet. The golden flute flew and danced, completely neglecting to defend or parry. Yu was completely unconcerned about his own safety. Even with his superb swordsmanship, Zhang was forced to move back several paces in the face of his suicidal attack. Wen saw an opening and shot out of the door, with the mob of the bodyguards and officers howling after him.

Yu blocked them at the door, ignoring his own safety.

"Don't you want to live?" Zhang shouted. "Who taught you that kung fu style?" Yu was using the traditional style of the Wudang School, the school to which Zhang belonged, and Zhang had so far spared him because of it.

"It would be best if you killed me," Yu said, smiling sadly. After a few more moves, Zhang's sword struck him once more, this time on the right shoulder, so Yu shifted the golden flute to his left hand and continued the fight without retreating a step.

The mass of the bodyguards charged forward again and Yu's flute danced, hooting strangely as the wind whipped through it. A bodyguard chopped at him with his sword, and gashed Yu's shoulder. His body was now covered in blood, but he continued the fierce battle, and there was a sudden crack as the jawbone of another bodyguard was shattered. The bodyguards pressed forward, knives, swords, whips and clubs all thrusting towards Yu simultaneously. Yu's thigh was hit by a club and he fell to the ground. His golden flute kept up its dance for a few moments, then he fainted away.

There was a sudden shout from the door: "Stop!"

The bodyguards turned and saw Wen walking slowly back into the hall. He ignored them and went straight over to Yu. Seeing his bloodied body, he couldn't stop his tears. He bent down and was relieved to find Yu was till breathing.

"Treat his wounds quickly," he ordered.

The bodyguards were so fearful of his power, that they did as he said. Wen watched them bind Yu's wounds and carry him through to the inner hall, then placed both of his hands behind his back.

"Tie me up," he said. One of the bodyguards looked over at Zhang, then walked slowly over.

"What are you afraid of?" Wen asked. "If I was going to hurt you, I would have done so long ago."

The bodyguard bound his hands and took him back to the dungeons. Two bodyguards were left to guard him.

Early the next morning, Zhang went to see Yu and found him in a deep sleep. He was told by a guard that the doctor had visited Yu and prescribed some medicine. Zhang visited him again in the afternoon and Yu appeared to be more alert.

"Is your teacher surnamed Lu or Ma?" Zhang asked him.

"My teacher is surnamed Ma, his given name is Zhen."

"So that's it. I am your martial uncle, Zhang Zhaozhong."

Yu nodded slightly.

"Are you a member of the Red Flower Society?"

Yu nodded again.

"Such a nice young man," Zhang sighed. "What a pity that you have fallen to such a state. What relation is Wen Tailai to you? What were you doing risking your life to save him?"

Yu closed his eyes and was silent. A moment passed.

"In the end I did save him, so I can die in peace," he finally said.

"Huh! Do you really think you could snatch him away from me?"

Yu was startled. "Didn't he escape?" he asked.

"How could he? Stop day-dreaming!"

Zhang tried to interrogate him, but Yu took no notice, and after a while he began to sneeze.

Zhang smiled slightly. "You stubborn boy," he said, and left.

He ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to organise an ambush with Wen as bait. After dinner, Wen was brought out of the dungeon and interrogated once more, in the same manner as the night before when Yu had unexpectedly burst in and disrupted the proceedings. This time, however, heavily-armed troops were hidden all around the Yamen, waiting to catch any Red Flower Society rescuers. But they waited in vain.

The next morning, Zhang received a report that the waters of the Yellow River were rising rapidly, and that the current at the point where they intended to cross was very strong and ordered an immediate departure. He had Wen and Yu placed in separate carriages and was just about to start out when Officer Wu and the Zhen Yuan Agency Lead Escorts raced into the Yamen. Zhang hastily questioned them, and Officer Wu breathlessly told him how they had been attacked and captured by the Muslims and the Red Flower Society, and how Lead Escort Yan had been killed by a young Muslim girl.

"Brother Yan was a very tough fighter," Zhang said. "Extraordinary." He raised his hand. "We will meet again in Beijing."

Zhang immediately went and told the Liangzhou Military commander that he wanted four hundred crack troops transferred to his command to help escort criminals wanted by the Emperor. The commander did not dare refuse and also dispatched Colonel Cao Neng and Chief-of-Staff Ping Wangxian to lead the escorting soldiers until they reached Lanzhou, the provincial capital, where provincial troops would take over.

Zhang's column surged out of the town, stealing and pilfering from the common people in the usual way as they went.

They travelled without incident for two days. Then, about ten miles from a village named Twin Wells, they came upon two bare-breasted men sitting beneath a tree by the side of the road with a pair of fine horses standing nearby. Two of the soldiers went over.

"Hey!" one shouted. "These two horses look like official horses. Where did you steal them from?"

"We are peaceful citizens," said one of the men. "We wouldn't dare to steal horses."

"We are tired of walking. Lend them to us," the second soldier replied.

The two men stood up, walked over to their horses and untied the reins.

The soldiers walked haughtily over and were just about to take hold of the reins when the two men kicked their behinds, leapt onto the horses and galloped over to one of the carriages.

"Is Fourth Brother in there?" one shouted.

"Ah, Twelfth Brother!" Wen answered.

"Fourth Brother, we're leaving," the man replied. "But don't worry, we'll be back to rescue you soon."

The two men galloped away before the carriage's guards could attack.

The column lodged that night at a town called Clear Water Shop. Early the following morning, while most of the soldiers were still asleep, a scream was heard, and there was a moment of confusion. The two troop commanders, Cao and Ping went to investigate and found the bodies of more than a dozen soldiers lying where they had slept, each with a gaping gash in the chest. There was no indication of who had killed them.

The next evening, they rested at Hengshi. This was a large town, and the column filled three inns and many private houses besides. During the night, one of the inns caught fire. Zhang ordered the bodyguards to guard Wen and to heed nothing else in order to avoid being tricked. The flames rose higher and higher.

"Bandits!" Cao Neng cried as he ran into Zhang's room. "They're attacking!"

"Please go and direct operations yourself, General Cao," Zhang replied. "I am unable to leave this place."

Cao nodded and left.

From outside the inn came the sound of screams and shrieks, galloping horses, the crackle of the flames and the smash of roof tiles as they hit the ground. Zhang ordered two bodyguards onto the roof to keep watch, but told them not to get involved unless the enemy attacked the inn. The fire did not get out of control, and before long it was extinguished. The agitated clamour continued for a while, then gradually died down to the point where the sound of hooves could be heard as horses galloped off eastwards.

Cao, his face covered in soot, grease and blood, ran in to see Zhang again.

"The bandits have retreated," he reported.

"How many of our men have been killed and wounded?" Zhang asked.

"I don't know yet. Several…several dozen."

"How many bandits were captured?"

Cao's mouth fell open. After a moment, he said: "None."

Zhang grunted.

"Their faces were covered with cloth, and their kung fu was horrendous," Cao added. "But it's very strange, they didn't steal anything. All they did was kill our brothers. Just before they left, they threw down two hundred taels of silver for the innkeeper saying it was compensation for starting the fire."

"So you think they were bandits, do you?" Zhang said. "Tell everyone to get some rest, General Cao. We will start out early tomorrow."

Cao retired and went to see the innkeeper, whom he accused of being in collusion with the bandits and responsible for the murder of the soldiers. The innkeeper kowtowed and begged for mercy and finally gave Cao the two hundred taels of silver.

The next day, the soldiers were busy until noon before finally making a start. They passed through beautiful country of blue hills and green water, surrounded by dense vegetation on all sides. After travelling for about four hours, the road began to grow gradually steeper and high peaks rose on either side.

A horse came galloping down the road towards them and halted about ten paces in front of the column.

"Listen to me, all of you," the rider called out. "You have offended the demons. Turn back quickly and you will be spared. If you continue eastwards, each one of you Turtles will surely die."

The soldiers shuddered as they looked at the man. He was wearing clothes made of rough hemp bound at the waist with grass rope. His face was pale yellow and his eyebrows slanted upwards, just like the images of life-stealing spirits in the temples. The man spurred his horse forward and galloped down the mountain, passing beside of the column, and was gone. Suddenly, one of the soldiers in the rear-guard gave a cry, and fell to the ground, dead. The rest started in fright and gathered round to look, but there was no wound visible on his body. Terrified, they all began talking at once.

Cao Neng assigned two soldiers to stay behind and bury the dead man and the column continued up the mountain. Before they had gone very far, another horse approached them from in front, its rider the same man they had seen earlier.

"Listen to me, all of you," he called out. "You have offended the demons. Turn back quickly and you will be spared. If you continue eastwards, each one of you Turtles will surely die."

The soldiers wondered fearfully how the man could have made his way round in front of them again. They had clearly seen him go down the mountain and one glance confirmed that there were no short cuts back up the slope. The man spurred his horse forward and the soldiers shrunk from him as if he was a real demon.

One of the Imperial bodyguards, named Zhu, stuck out his sword to obstruct the man. "Slow down, friend," he said.

The man struck Zhu's shoulder with his right hand, and the sword clattered to the ground. Then he sped off down the mountain. As he passed the end of the column, the last soldier gave a shriek and fell to the ground, dead. The other soldiers stood staring foolishly, scared out of their wits.

Zhang went down to the end of the column to investigate.

"What is this fellow, a man or a ghost?" Zhu said. He pressed his wounded right shoulder, his face deathly pale. Zhang told him to undo his clothes and examined the large black swelling on his right shoulder. He ordered the troops to strip the dead soldier bare and examine him for wounds. When they turned him over, they found a similar black swelling on his back from which the shape of a hand could be vaguely discerned. The soldiers broke into an uproar as a shout of "The Demon's Mark!" The Demon's Mark!" went up. Zhang ordered that two soldiers be left behind to bury the dead man. Two were chosen from the ranks, but even when threatened with death, they refused to carry out the order. Zhang had no alternative but to order a halt and wait until the body was buried before continuing.

"Master Zhang, this fellow is very strange," said Bodyguard Rui. "How could he pass us by and then make his way back in front of us again?"

Zhang stood deep in thought for a while. "Brother Zhu and the two soldiers were obviously victims of Black Sand Palm Kung Fu," he said. "There are very few masters of Black Sand Palm kung fu in the underworld."

"If it's Black Palm kung fu, then the best is naturally the Taoist Priest Hui Lu, but he's been dead for many years," Rui said. "Could it be that his spirit has re-appeared?"

Zhang slapped his thigh. "That's it! That's it!" he cried. "They're Hui Lu's pupils. The Twin Knights that people call Black Death and White Death. I was trying to think of one person, so I couldn't work it out. All right, so we're up against them as well."

He had no way of knowing that the Chang brothers were also members of the Red Flower Society.

That night, the column stayed at Black Pine Village. Cao posted guards all around the village to keep careful watch, but next morning, not one of the soldiers on guard duty returned to report, and a detail sent to investigate found them all dead with a string of paper money tied round each of their necks. The rest of the soldiers were terrified, and more than a dozen immediately deserted, slipping stealthily away.

They had to cross Black Scabbard Mountain, one of the most precipitous spots on the Liangzhou road. The air became colder and colder as the road grew steeper, and despite the fact that it was only September, snow flakes floated down around them. The road deteriorated to the point where there was a steep mountain face on one side and a sheer cliff on the other falling into a deep ravine. The soldiers moved slowly hand-in-hand, terrified of slipping on the snow. Several of the bodyguards dismounted and helped to support Wen's carriage.

Just as they were gingerly making their way forward, they heard a chirping sound coming from in front. A moment later, the sound turned into an unearthly howl, tragic and harsh, which echoed through the ravine causing everyone's hair to stand on end. The soldiers all stopped in their tracks.

Then came a shout: "Those who continue will meet the King of Hell – Those who turn back will survive."

How could the soldiers dare to continue?

A man appeared around a curve in the road ahead. "Those who continue will meet the King of Hell, those who turn back will survive," he intoned in a deep voice.

The soldiers recognised him as the demon that had appeared twice the day before and had killed with just a wave of his hand, and they turned and fled with squeals of fear. Cao Neng shouted to them to halt, but he had to raise his sword and slay one of the soldiers before some of them steadied. But sixty or seventy had disappeared.

"Guard the carriage," Zhang said to Rui. "I'll go and talk to these two." He leapt passed the soldiers. "Could that be the Twin Knights up ahead?" he asked in a loud, clear voice. "I, Zhang Zhaozhong, greet you. There is no enmity between us. Why are you playing this game?"

The man in front laughed coldly. "Ha! So, the Twin Demons meet the Fire Hand Judge," he said. He strode over and struck out at Zhang with such power that his hand made a whistling sound as it cut through the air.

The road at that point was extremely narrow and Zhang was unable to dodge to either left or right, so he countered the blow with his left hand, putting all of his Inner Strength behind it, while also attacking with his right palm. His opponent parried with his left hand. Their four hands met, and they stood almost motionless for a while as they tested each other. Suddenly, Zhang swept his left leg cross-wise in the 'Level Clouds Slicing The Peak' style. With insufficient time to evade the blow, the man brought his hands together and drove them viciously at Zhang's temples. Zhang leant to one side and hastily withdrew his leg, then moved forward, and with the precipice at their side, the two passed each other by. They had exchanged positions.

Zhang suddenly became aware of someone attacking him from behind. He dodged out of the way and saw his assailant was another pale, skeleton-like figure, his face exactly the same as the first.

Zhang had more than two hundred soldiers and bodyguards with him, but they were powerless to assist because of the narrowness of the mountain path beside the ravine.

The three fought more and more fiercely. In the midst of the battle, one of the Twin Knights hit the rock-face by mistake and a small avalanche of gravel rattled down off the precipice followed by a slab of rock which plunged into the ravine. A long time passed before they finally heard the distant crash as it hit the ground.

The battle continued for a long time. Suddenly, one of the twins struck out with his fist, forcing Zhang to move to one side to avoid it. The other twin then leapt over and occupied Zhang's former position beside the stone-face and both attacked him at the same moment, attempting to force him into the ravine.

Zhang saw one of his attacker's legs sweeping forward and stepped back a pace, so that half of his foot was over the edge of the precipice. A cry of fright went up from the troops. Then, Zhang felt a gust of wind as the other twin's fist swung towards his face. Zhang was unable to retreat, and knowing that there would be great strength behind the blow, was also unable to counter it. If he did, his opponent would simply be thrown back against the stone-face by the force of the collision while he himself would certainly fall to his death. So, with wisdom born of fear, he seized hold of his attacker's wrist, and with a great shout threw him into the ravine.

His body in mid-air, 'Black Death' stayed calm. He drew in his legs and performed a somersault in order to slow down the force of his fall. Half way through the circle, he pulled a Flying Claw grapple from his belt and threw it straight up. His brother 'White Death' had also taken out his Flying Claw and the two grapples locked tightly, almost as if they were shaking hands. 'White Death' jerked at the rope before the full force of his brother's fall returned, and swung him up and over bringing him back to earth more than a hundred feet along the mountain path.

'White Death' saluted Zhang with his fists. "Your kung fu is very powerful. We are impressed," he said. Then, without even bending down to concentrate his strength, he sprang into the air, and landed several dozen feet further away. He grabbed hold of his brother's hand and the two disappeared round the bend.

The soldiers clustered round, some praising Zhang's kung fu, others lamenting that 'Black Death' had not fallen to his death. Zhang said not a word, but leaned against the rock face and slowly sat down. He looked at his wrist and saw the jet-black impression of five fingers on his flesh as if he had been branded, and was struck by a wave of terror.


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