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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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3

The slopes of Lion Peak produce abundant quantities of tea, one of the most exquisite varieties of the leaf under heaven. The mountain itself is high and precipitous, and few people go to the very top.

Wang Weiyang, his great sword slung across his back, clambered up the steep slope and emerged through the tea bushes onto an expanse of open ground on the summit. He noticed walking towards him a tall, robust man wearing a short jacket. The man stared at him for a moment.

"Are you Wang Weiyang?" he asked.

"Yes. And you are the Fire Hand Judge, Zhang Zhaozhong?"

"I am. Do you wish to fight bare-handed or with weapons?" Zhang was a very thorough man. He had searched about carefully during his climb up the peak, but had found no sign of anyone lying in ambush.

Wang was startled to see Zhang's mouth and nose were swollen and with his right eye ringed in black, injuries caused by Chen the night before. "We have no great grudges against each other," thought Wang. "Why risk killing him with a sword-stroke? The consequences of killing an official of his rank are unthinkable. It will be enough to humiliate him with my Eight Diagram Kung Fu. I'll show him I'm not egotistical."

"I would be honoured to pit myself against your famous Limitless Occult Kung Fu, Master Zhang," he said out loud.

"Fine," Zhang replied. He brought his fists together in salute and waited for the other to attack.

"If I may…" Wang said, and as he spoke, his left fist shot out and his right hand sliced across towards Zhang's right shoulder. Then in a flash, his left fist flipped over and aimed for the right shoulder while the right hand went for the chest. Zhang retreated three paces and fended off the blows. The two circled around, surprised at the extent of the other's ability.

"His moves are fast and powerful," Zhang thought. "He's a strong adversary."

"He avoided those blows of mine with ease," Wang thought. "Fire Hand Judge is no misnomer."

Suddenly, Zhang stepped forward and swept his left leg across at Wang, who jumped clear off the ground to avoid it and countered with a fist aimed at Zhang's face.

They were evenly matched and fought close and fast. The sun was riding high and their two shadows danced on the ground, merging and separating in a flash. Wang knew that at his age, a long battle would finish him. So he quickly changed his style, and with one hand protecting his body and the other facing outwards, he raced round Zhang, his feet following the pattern of the Eight Diagrams.

The style dictated that he keep moving, circling round Zhang to the left and right, waiting for an opportunity to strike. It would make even a kung fu master dizzy after a few circuits.

Zhang knew how ferocious this style was, and lunged at his opponent. But Wang had already circled round the other way. Suddenly he struck at Zhang with both fists, one of which slammed into his shoulder. Zhang caught hold of Wang's wrist and struck out at his elbow in retaliation. With his free hand, Wang swung at Zhang's other shoulder and the two leapt apart.

Zhang had had the worst of the encounter. "Your kung fu is excellent," he shouted. "Let us duel with swords."

He drew his Frozen Emerald sword, Wang also drew his sword and the two stood facing each other.

Zhang's mind was bent on recovering face, and he struck out with a series of attacking sword strokes, fast and vicious. Wang could tell from the way the light glinted on the Frozen Emerald sword that it was a superb weapon, and knew that if the two swords clashed, his own blade would come off the worst. So he did not dare to directly parry the strokes.

They fought round and round. Wang began to sweat and he secretly worked a number of darts into his palm and then swapped his sword over to his left hand. He slashed out with a left-handed stoke, and simultaneously flung the darts at Zhang. Zhang managed to dodge both dangers, but he was becoming flustered by the onslaught. He swept his sword across at Wang's waist, and as the two swords clashed, Wang's blade snapped cleanly in two.

Wang roared and hurled the remaining half at Zhang, and followed it with his remaining three darts. With a cry, Zhang fell over backwards and the Frozen Emerald Sword dropped to the ground.

"Master Zhang, forgive me!" Wang cried out anxiously. "I have some Golden Scar Ointment here."

Zhang was silent. Wang feared he was dead, and killing a court official was no laughing matter so he rushed across and bent down to examine Zhang.

As he did so, he saw flashes of gold before his eyes. Cursing himself, he leant over backwards as fast as he could, but too late. He felt stabs of pain in his left chest and shoulder as the needles plunged home. He gave another angry roar and jumped up ready to fight Zhang to the death. But as he swung his sword, the pain in his chest and shoulder was so extreme that he fell back to the ground with a groan. Zhang laughed out loud. He pulled one of Wang's darts from his wrist, ripped a strip of cloth off his jacket, bound the wound then stood up.

"How could you attack me when I was coming to see if you were injured?" Wang demanded angrily. "What sort of man are you to do such a despicable thing? We'll see if you have the effrontery to face the rest of the fighting community after today."

"There's only the two of us here. Who else knows about it?" asked Zhang with a smile. "Having lived to such a ripe old age, it's about time you went to meet your forefathers."

He picked up half of Wang's snapped sword and dug a hole in the ground, then heaved Wang to the edge of it.

"So you're the North China Earth-Shaker," he said. "I'll give you some earth to shake." He kicked Wang into the hole and began to bury him alive.

As he worked, he heard a long, cold laugh from somewhere behind. He whirled round in fright and found Lead Escort Han standing there with an Iron Pipa in his hand.

"So that's it!" Zhang shouted angrily. "The Zhen Yuan Bodyguard Agency arranges a one-to-one duel and secretly sets up an ambush. Do you have no shame?"

"It is you that is shameless," Han replied pointing to Wang.

"All right, you can demonstrate your Iron Pipa kung fu for me," Zhang said. He flew at Han using Lightness Kung Fu and thrust his sword at him. Han retreated two steps and a sword struck out at Zhang from amongst the bushes. Zhang parried the stroke, and saw the swordsman was the other lead escort who had accompanied Han to see him earlier.

"Come on, fight me together. It is of no consequence to the Fire Hand Judge," he shouted.

Just as he was about to strike, he heard a noise behind and turned to see eight or nine men walking towards him led by the Red Flower Society's Great Helmsman, Chen Jialuo. A shiver of panic passed through him, and he glanced about, looking for some avenue of escape.

"Brother Han, go and look after Master Wang," said Chen. Han ran over to the hole and helped Wang out.

"Master Wang said he wished to have a private duel with no observers or seconds," Zhang shouted.

"My brothers and I came to admire the scenery and happened to come across the two of you," Chen replied. "It was a very artistic display, but you did not win very honourably, Master Zhang."

"We were matching our strength and our wits. What is wrong with such a victory?"

"You are wise indeed, Master Zhang." Chen walked slowly forward. "We want to rescue Master Wen."

"Well?"

"His manacles are made of the finest steel which no file could get through. I therefore have no alternative but to ask you to lend us your excellent sword. As a member of the fighting community, I am sure you will be happy to oblige."

Zhang looked at the number of his adversaries and knew it would be difficult to get away.

"If you wish to borrow my sword, you will have to take it by force," he said. He turned and sprinted towards the southern path down the mountain slope. Suddenly, he saw in front of him the one-armed Taoist priest, and slung two Golden Needles at him. He knew there was no chance of hitting the priest, but he hoped that the needles would occupy him long enough to get past. Priest Wu Chen, however, deftly dodged out of the way then crouched down and thrust his sword at Zhang's right leg. Zhang brought his own blade down to parry the stroke and the two fought fiercely. Zhang found his strength beginning to wane. The priest gave a shout and the Frozen Emerald sword was jolted out of Zhang's hand. For a split second, Zhang stared at it in surprise, and the priest aimed a flying kick at his groin, knocking him to the ground. Zhang Jin and two of the other fighters then jumped on him while Luo Bing pulled out some rope and bound his hands. Remembering Zhang had led the capture of her husband at Iron Gall Manor, she punched him smartly on the nose.

Chen walked over.

"You have only won because of numerical superiority," Zhang shouted angrily. "If you bandits are going to kill me then get it over with."

"He ought to be buried in the hole that he dug," suggested 'Melancholy Ghost' Shi. The others shouted their agreement, and Zhang broke into a cold sweat.

"What do you say?" asked Chen. "If you admit defeat and swear never again to go against the Red Flower Society, we will spare you for the sake of your martial brother, Master Lu."

"Stop wasting words!" Zhang shouted stubbornly. "After all your crafty tricks, how can you expect anyone to concede defeat to you?"

"All right," said Chen. "I will kill you to relieve you of the horror of being buried alive." He pulled out his dagger and walked over to Zhang. "Are you not afraid of death?" he asked.

"Do your worst," Zhang replied, and laughed bitterly. He closed his eyes and waited for death.

Suddenly they heard shouts from the mountainside below, and turned to see two men running towards them, moving as fast as the wind with superb Lightness Kung Ku.

As they approached, the heroes saw that one was Lu Feiqing, and the other a kindly-looking old Taoist priest.

Just as Lu was about to introduce the old man, Zhang went up to him and bowed.

"Brother, we have not seen each other for many years," he said. "How are you?"

The heroes realized that it must be Ma Zhen, 'Scholar' Yu's teacher. They all bowed before him.

"We came as fast as we could when we heard about the duel," Lu said. He looked round and saw with relief that no-one had been injured.

Ma Zhen had long heard of Zhang's unsavoury record, but seeing his blood-stained clothes and swollen face, he now found himself feeling almost sorry for him. "Brother Zhang, how did you get into such a mess?" he asked.

"With one against so many, how could I look any different?" Zhang replied indignantly.

The heroes were furious at his insinuation. "So you're blameless are you?" shouted Zhou Qi. She brandished her sword and made as to charge at Zhang, but her father held her back.

"His two martial brothers are here now," Lord Zhou said. "Let us see what they have to say." His words put the onus of dealing with Zhang squarely on Ma Zhen.

Ma Zhen looked at Lu, and then at Zhang. Suddenly, his knees folded and he knelt down before the heroes. Greatly surprised, Chen helped him up again.

"My brothers," he said, his voice choked with sobs. "This useless martial brother of mine has committed truly heinous crimes. To the shame of our school, we have failed to discipline him and have lost face before all our brothers in the fighting community…I…I…" He was overcome with emotion. "Brother Lu," he added. "Tell them what I mean."

"Brother Ma is very angry about Zhang's behaviour. But in memory of our late teacher, he wishes to ask you to spare him."

The heroes looked at Chen and Lord Zhou, waiting for their decision.

"Master Zhou will be the arbiter," said Chen. "We will do whatever he says."

"Considering he had Iron Gall Manor burnt to the ground, I should not rest until revenge has been gained," Zhou said, then paused. "But having heard your words, Master Ma, I will hand him over to you with all past scores forgotten."

"Father!" Zhou Qi cried, horrified.

Zhou stroked her hair. "Forget about it, child," he said softly.

"Out of respect for your wishes, Master Ma, the Red Flower Society will also let bygones be bygones," added Chen.

Ma and Lu bowed to the heroes. "We will be eternally grateful," said Ma.

"Brother Ma, what do you intend to do if he does evil again?" Priest Wu Chen asked sternly.

"I will insist that he turn over a new leaf," Ma replied. "But if he does revert to his old ways, then I will be the first to strike, unless he kills me first! I will now take him back to Wudang Mountain so that he can reflect on his misdeeds in solitude. Brother Lu, once Master Wen is out of danger, please write and inform me so that my mind can rest easy. By the way, where is my pupil, Yu Yutong?"

"He was separated from us at the Yellow River," Chen replied. "We later heard that he had been rescued by a girl, but we have no further information. As soon as we have rescued Brother Wen, we will go and investigate. Please don't worry, sir."

"That pupil of mine is very clever but he is not steady enough. Please give him whatever direction is necessary, Master Chen."

"We treat our brothers as blood relations," Chen replied. "Brother Yu is a capable man. We place great faith in him."

"I am very grateful for what you have done today," said Ma. "My brothers! Next time any of you are in Hubei Province, please come to stay at Wudang Mountain." The heroes all thanked him.

"All right, let's go!" Ma told Zhang curtly. Zhang noticed that Luo Bing had slung his Frozen Emerald Sword across her back, and he knew that to try to retrieve it would only result in more punishment. So he bit his lip and followed after Ma Zhen, his head bowed.

When they had gone, the others asked Lu what had happened to him since they had parted. He told them that for a time he had searched unsuccessfully for Yuanzhi. Then, realising that Zhang was the key to the affair, he went south and asked Ma Zhen to help him. They hurried to Beijing only to discover that Zhang had gone to Hangzhou, so they travelled south once more.

The heroes walked slowly down from the peak, talking as they went. Chen turned to Wang and Han.

"You are both free to go," he said.

"Master Chen, I will never forget how you saved my life," Wang replied.

Chen laughed. "I must ask your forgiveness, Master Wang," he said and related how they had stolen the jade vases and provoked the duel between himself and Zhang. Having just escaped from the jaws of death, Wang did not seem to blame him for the deception.

"You are certainly a born leader," he said to Chen, and laughed. "So young and already a hero. I may be old, but I still have a thing or two to learn."

"When our affairs have been successfully concluded, we will drink a few cups of wine together," Chen replied.

They arrived at the lake and returned to Lonely Mountain by boat. Lu Feiqing extracted the Golden Needles from Wang's wounds with the use of a magnet, and then treated them with Golden Scar ointment.

By this time, evening was approaching.

"Most of the work on the tunnel has been completed," Master Ma, the Hangzhou Helmsman, reported. "We should be finished in another six hours."

Chen nodded. "Good, thank you Brother Ma. Thirteenth Brother, please go and supervise the work." 'Crocodile' Jiang bowed and left.

Chen turned once more to Wang and Han.

"We have been looking after a few members of your honourable bodyguard agency," he said. "Why don't you take them to the lake for some recreation?"

Wang watched the Red Flower Society fighters hurrying to and fro and guessed they were preparing to rescue Wen Tailai. He decided that if he were to go out by himself now and the plan should go wrong, they could easily suspect that he had informed the authorities.

"I am getting old, and what with these Golden Needle wounds, I am not feeling at all well," he replied. "I would like to rest here for a day."

"As you wish," said Chen.


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