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8

Next morning, Chen and Princess Fragrance awoke to find the Twin Eagles gone, and were puzzled.

"Look, what's that?" Princess Fragrance asked suddenly. Chen turned and saw several huge characters drawn on the sand: "Your evil deeds cannot be forgiven. You will have to die." The characters were five foot square and looked as if they had been drawn with the tip of a sword. Chen frowned, wondering what the message meant. Princess Fragrance could not read Chinese and asked what is said.

"They had some other business and went on ahead," Chen replied, not wishing to worry her.

"Sister's teacher and her husband are really nice" Suddenly, she stopped in mid-sentence and jumped up. "Listen!"

Chen had also heard the distant, blood-curdling howl, and having lived in the northwest many years, instantly recognised it.

"There's a wolf pack coming," he said urgently. "We must go quickly!" They hurriedly packed up their tents and provisions and galloped away just as the wolf pack closed in on them. Luckily, they were both riding extremely fast horses and the pack was soon left far behind. But the wolves had been hungry for a long time and having glimpsed them, continued to track them, following the hoof prints in the sand.

After half a day of hard riding, they dismounted to rest, but just as they had prepared a fire to cook some food, the wolf howls neared once more, and they hurriedly re-mounted, and rode off again. Only when darkness had fallen and they estimated the wolf pack to be at least thirty miles behind them did they stop and rest. Around midnight, the white horse began to neigh and kick about, waking Chen. The wolf pack was closing in once more. With no time to pack their tents, they grabbed up their rations and water bags and jumped onto the horses. They travelled a great arc through the desert, never managing to shake off the wolves. The chestnut horse could finally take no more and dropped dead of exhaustion, and they had to continue with both of them on the white horse. The extra weight slowed the horse down, and by the third day, it was no longer able to outrun the wolf pack. They spotted a clump of bushes and small trees and went over.

"We'll stop here and let the horse rest," said Chen, dismounting. With Princess Fragrance's help, he built a low circular wall of sand and placed some dead branches on the top. When lit, the branches became a protective ring of fire for themselves and the horse inside.

Not long after, the wolf pack raced up. Afraid of the flames, the wolves milled around outside the circle howling, not daring to get too close.

"We'll wait for the horse to recover its strength and then break out," said Chen.

"Do you think we'll be able to?"

"Of course," he replied. But he had no idea how.

Princess Fragrance saw how thin and emaciated the hungry wolves were. "The poor things," she said. "I wonder how long it's been since they last ate?"

Chen laughed shortly. The long, sharp fangs of the wolves gleamed through the flames, the saliva dripping, drop by drop from their mouths onto the sand. They howled angrily, waiting from a slight opening in the flames through which they could leap.

Princess Fragrance knew the chance of them getting out alive was very slight. She moved closer to Chem and took his hands.

"When I'm with you, I'm not afraid of anything," she said. "After we die, we will live happily together in heaven forever."

Chen pulled her towards him and embraced her. She sighed, and was just about to close her eyes, when she noticed the flames were dying down in one section of the circle. She screamed and jumped over to add more branches, but three wolves had already slipped inside. Chen pulled her behind him. The white horse kicked its hind legs up and sent one wolf flying back out of the fiery circle. Chen grabbed another wolf by the scruff of its neck and slung it bodily at the third, a huge grey beast which dodged out of the way, then opened its mouth and reared up on its hind legs to go for Chen's throat. Chen picked up a burning branch and rammed it down the wolf's throat, and the animal leapt back out of the circle and rolled about on the ground in great pain.

Chen added more branches to the gap.

After a while, their reserves were getting low, and Chen decided he would have to risk going to get more from some bushes about one hundred feet away.

"I'm going to get some more wood," he told Princess Fragrance, taking out his shield and Pearl Strings. "Build up the fire a bit more until I get back."

She nodded. "Be careful," she said, but did not add any more wood to the fire. She knew that the branches kept the two of them alive, and that when the flames were extinguished, they would be too.

Chen leapt out of the burning circle and raced off using Lightness Kung Fu, fending off the wolves as he went. The wolves surged at him, but in three leaps he was already beside the bushes. He quickly collected firewood with one hand while protecting himself with the shield in the other. Several dozen wolves surrounded him, snarling fiercely, but the flashing hooks on his shield kept them at bay. He collected a large pile of wood and was leaning over to tie the branches up when a large wolf lunged forward. He swirled the shield, and the animal died instantly. But its carcass was caught on the hooks, and the other wolves barked even more frantically as it swung lifelessly before them. He dislodged the body and flung it to one side, and the wolves charged forward to rip it apart. He took advantage of this diversion to pick up the firewood and return into the ring of fire.

Princess Fragrance ran forward and threw herself into his arms. Chen smiled and embraced her, then threw the firewood on the ground. As he looked up, he started involuntarily: there was a third person in the circle, a large man whose clothes had been ripped to shreds by the wolves. In his hand was a sword. His whole body was covered in blood, but his face was calm. It was his enemy, Zhang Zhaozhong.

The two gazed at each other silently.

"He must have seen the fire and run over this way," said Princess Fragrance. "See how exhausted he looks." She poured a bowl of water from the water bag and handed it to Zhang, who grabbed it and slurped it down in one draught. He wiped the blood and sweat from his face with his sleeve, and Princess Fragrance gasped as she suddenly recognised him as the Manchu official Chen had fought with.

Chen rapped his shield with the Pearl Strings. "Come on!" he shouted.

Zhang's eyes glazed over and he fell forward onto his face.

He had been tracking Chen and Princess Fragrance with Prince Herda when he had met the wolf pack. Herda had been devoured, but with his superb kung fu, Zhang had managed to escape after killing several dozen of the ferocious creatures. He had fled across the desert for a day and a night, but finally his horse had dropped dead under him. He had no alternative but to continue on foot and kept going for another day without food or water. Finally, he had spotted the flames in the far distance and had fought his way over.

Princess Fragrance moved to help Zhang up, but Chen stopped her.

"This man is extremely dangerous. Don't fall for his tricks," he warned. He waited for a while to make sure Zhang really was unconscious before going closer.

Princess Fragrance wiped some cold water onto Zhang's forehead, then poured lamb's milk into his mouth. Zhang slowly revived, drank half a bowl of the milk, then fell back onto the ground, sound asleep.

Chen wondered what sort of devil's emissary had delivered this traitor into his hands. Killing Zhang now would be as easy as blowing away a speck of ash, but taking advantage of another's hardship was not a manly thing to do. What was more, Princess Fragrance would certainly be unhappy to see him kill a defenceless man. He decided to spare Zhang once more. In any case, he thought, Zhang would be a great help in killing wolves. Perhaps the two of them together could save Princess Fragrance. He knew he would never be able to do it alone. He drank a few mouthfuls of lamb's milk, then closed his eyes to rest.

After a while, Zhang woke again. Princess Fragrance passed a piece of dried mutton to him, and helped him to bandage several wolf bite wounds on his legs.

"Brother Zhang, all three of us are in great danger," Chen said. "Let us temporarily put aside our differences and cooperate."

Zhang nodded. "Yes, if we fight now, we will all end up inside a wolf's stomach." Having rested for more than two hours, his strength had partially returned, and he began to consider how he could kill Chen and escape with the girl.

Chen wracked his brain for a way out of their present predicament. He saw the many piles of wolf droppings outside the circle of fire, and remembered how Huo Qingtong had used them to fuel signal fires. Using his Pearl Strings, he dragged some of the piles over, formed them into one heap and lit it. A thick pall of smoke rose straight up into the heavens.

Zhang shook his head. "Even if someone saw it, they wouldn't dare to come to help us," he said. "It would take an army to chase away so many wolves."

Chen also knew it would probably do no good, but it was better than doing nothing.

The daylight faded, and the three gradually added more branches to the ring of fire and took turns to sleep.

"He is a very bad man," Chen whispered to Princess Fragrance. "When I'm asleep, you must watch him with especial care." She nodded.

Towards midnight, the moon rose and the wolves began to howl mournfully, a sound which made their skin crawl. Early next morning, they saw the wolves were still pacing around outside the ring with obviously no intention of leaving.

"The only thing that would draw these devils away would be a herd of wild camels passing nearby," said Chen. Suddenly they heard more wolf howls from the distance.

"It looks like more of the devils are coming," Zhang said.

A cloud of dust arose, and three riders galloped towards them with several hundred wolves on their heels. The wolves on that side of the ring of fire spotted them too, and surged forward, encircling the three riders, who fought them off frantically.

"Help them!" Princess Fragrance shouted.

"Let's go," Chen said to Zhang. They charged out of the ring, carving a path of blood through the wolf pack and led the three back into the circle. They noticed one of the horses was carrying a second person, apparently a Muslim girl, lying limply across the saddle with her hands were tied behind her back. The three riders jumped off their horses, and one of them pulled the girl down after him.

"Sister!" Princess Fragrance screamed, and threw herself onto the girl.

It was Huo Qingtong. She had run into the Three Devils again while searching for Chen and her sister and had had no strength to resist. Hahetai had wanted to kill her immediately to avenge the death of their brother, but Gu overruled him saying they should take her back and kill her in front of their dead brother's grave. They started heading back east, but after a day or so, they found themselves being chased by a wolf pack. As they fled, they happened to spot the column of black smoke started by Chen and rode towards it.

Huo Qingtong began to regain consciousness. Princess Fragrance looked at Chen beseechingly. "Tell them to let my sister go," she implored.

Chen turned to Gu. "Who are you and why have you seized my friend?" he asked. Tang strode in front of Gu and coldly sized up Chen and Zhang.

"We thank you two gentlemen for saving us," he said. "What are your names?"

Before Chen could answer, Zhang said, "He is the Great Helmsman of the Red Flower Society, Chen Jialuo." The Three Devils started in shock.

"And you, sir?" Tang asked.

"I am Zhang Zhaozhong."

Tang gasped. "It's the Fire Hand Judge. No wonder you're both so capable." He told them his name and those of his two colleagues.

Chen's anxiety immediately increased, and he wondered again how they were going to escape. With four tough opponents to deal with now, it would be even harder than before.

"Let us forget our differences for the moment," he said. "Do any of you have any idea of how we might escape?"

The Three Devils looked at each other. "We would welcome your suggestions, Master Chen," said Hahetai.

"If we face the wolves together, there is a chance we will survive. If we fight amongst ourselves, they will eat us all." Tang and Hahetai nodded slightly, but Gu just glared at him angrily. "Therefore, I ask Brother Gu to immediately release my friend, following which we can together work out a plan to beat the wolves."

"And what if I won't let her go?" Gu shouted back.

"Master Gu, if we start fighting, it doesn't matter who wins or loses, we will all die. Please reconsider."

"You'd better let her go," Tang whispered to him." Gu had gone to considerable trouble to capture Huo Qingtong and he was extremely loath to give her up again. "Brother, if you don't let her go, I won't be able to help you," Tang added.

Hahetai walked over and cut the bonds binding Huo Qingtong. As Chen walked over to her, Huo Qingtong suddenly shouted: "Watch out behind!" and he ducked down just as a wolf swept over him. It charged at Princess Fragrance, but Chen grabbed its tail and using all his strength pulled it to a halt. The wolf whipped its head round, snapping and snarling, and with a single blow, Chen broke its neck. Another wolf leapt towards him, and he quickly drew his dagger and thrust it at the beast, a huge, cunning animal which dodged the blade with ease.

Three more wolves jumped into the ring. Hahetai grabbed one by the neck and slung it back out, Zhang cut the second in two with his sword, while Tang fought fiercely with the third. Hahetai stoked up the fire to stop other wolves from entering.

On the other side, Chen feinted with the dagger to the left to throw his attacker off guard, then plunged the blade down towards its head. Unable to avoid the stroke, the wolf opened its huge mouth and bit hard onto the dagger. Chen pushed the blade in with all strength, but despite the pain, it hung on desperately. Chen tried to pull the dagger back out but the beast refused to yield. Increasingly anxious, Chen mustered his strength once more and punched the wolf right between its eyes, smashing its skull. The wolf fell back dead and the dagger came free, the blade glinting coldly as it reflected the flames.

But the dagger's blade was also still firmly lodged between its teeth. They were all perplexed at this: the dagger was obviously in Chen's hand and had not snapped. Where had the blade in the wolf's mouth come from?

Chen bent over and tried to pull the blade out of the beast's mouth, but although the wolf was dead, its teeth was still clamped tightly shut. He used the dagger to slit open the wolf's jowls, and the muscles and tendons on its face collapsed, freeing the blade. Chen examined it closely and saw that it was hollow, like a scabbard. He stuck the dagger blade inside, and found it fitted perfectly. Huo Qingtong had said when she presented the dagger to him that it was said to contain a great secret. If it had not been for this wolf and its strong teeth, who would have guessed that there was a blade within the blade?

Princess Fragrance took the dagger from Chen and examined it, marvelling at the design of the second scabbard and the precision of the workmanship. She turned the hollow outer blade upside down and a small white pellet rolled out. Chen and Huo Qingtong bent down to get a closer look and saw it was a small ball of wax.

"Let's open it," Chen said. Huo Qingtong nodded. He picked the ball up and lightly squeezed it, cracking the wax open, revealing a small piece of paper inside, which he spread out. On the paper was a map drawn as densely as a spider's web.

Zhang had seen them discover the piece of paper, and glanced at it stealthily. But he was disappointed to find it was covered in Muslim writing, which he could not understand.

Chen knew something of the Muslim written language, but he could not grasp the meaning of the classical characters on the piece of paper and handed it over to Huo Qingtong. She examined it closely for a long time, then folded it up and placed it in her pocket.

"What does it say?" Chen asked. Huo Qingtong did not answer, her head hung low.

Princess Fragrance knew her sister well and smiled. "She is trying to work out a difficult problem. Don't disturb her," she said.

Huo Qingtong sat down on the ground and began to draw lines in the sand with her finger. She drew a diagram then rubbed it out and drew another. After a while, she wrapped her arms around her knees, deep in thought.

"You are still weak. Don't overtax yourself," Chen said to her. "You can work it out later. The important thing now is to think of a plan for getting out of here."

"I'm working on a way to escape these hungry wolves and these human wolves as well," Huo Qingtong replied, pouting angrily at Zhang as she spoke. She continued her meditations for a moment, then said to Chen: "Please stand on a horse and look westwards. Tell me if you can see a mountain with a white peak."

Chen led the white horse over and did as she said. In the distance, he spied a cluster of mountains, but could see none with a white peak. He searched carefully for a minute longer then looked down at Huo Qingtong and shook his head.

"According to the map, the Secret City should not be far from here, and we should be able to see the White Jade Peak."

Chen jumped off the horse's back. "What secret city?" he asked.

"When I was young, I heard people talk about an ancient city that was buried in this desert," she replied. "The city was once extremely prosperous, but one day a great sand storm arose, and dunes as large as mountains buried it. None of the city's residents escaped." She turned to Princess Fragrance. "Sister, you know the story better than I do. You tell it."

"There are many stories about the place, but no one has ever seen the city with their own eyes. No," she corrected herself. "Many people have been there, but few have returned alive. It is said that there are huge amounts of gold, silver and jewels there. Some people who have lost their way in the desert have found their way into the city by chance and have been overwhelmed by the sight of such wealth. They naturally began to load the gold and jewels onto their camels to take away with them. But no matter which way they went, they found it impossible to get out of the city.

"Why?" Chen asked.

"It's said that all the people of the city turned into ghosts when they were buried by the sand, and that they bewitch visitors who try to take valuables away with them. But if you put down the valuables, every single piece, then it's easy to find your way out."

"I doubt if many people would be willing to do that," said Chen.

"Yes. Seeing such riches, who wouldn't want to take some? It is said that if you don't take anything, but even leave a few extra taels of silver in one of the houses, then the wells will spurt clear, fresh water for you to drink. The more silver you leave, the more fresh water there is."

Chen laughed. "The ghosts of this secret city sound very greedy."

"Some members of our tribe who were badly in debt have gone to look for the city, but only those who didn't find it have ever come back," Princess Fragrance continued. "Once, a caravan crossing the desert came across a man who was half dead. He said he had entered the city, but had found himself going in circles when he tried to get out again. Finally, his strength gave out and he collapsed, and the next thing he knew was the arrival of the caravan. The caravan leader asked him to lead them to the city, but he refused. He said he wouldn't take one step into that haunted place again even if he received all the riches of the city as a reward."

"It doesn't necessarily have to be that these people were bewitched by ghosts," said Chen. "If someone suddenly came upon a huge amount of gold and jewels, it could affect their minds and make it difficult for them to think clearly. But if they decided they did not want the riches, it could clear their heads, and make it easier to find the way out."

"The map hidden in the scabbard shows the way to the Secret City," Huo Qingtong said quietly.

"Ah," exclaimed Chen, suddenly understanding.

"The map indicates that the city was built around a high snow-capped mountain." she continued. "From the look of it, the mountain should not be too far from here. We should be able to see it. I cannot understand why we can't."

"Sister, you're wasting your time," said Princess Fragrance. "Even if we could find the mountain, what use would it be?"

"We could escape into the city. There are houses and fortresses in the city and our chance of escaping the wolves would be much greater than here."

"That's right!" Chen said. He stood on the horse's back once more looking west. But all he could see was a hazy white sky stretching to the horizon.

Zhang and the Three Devils could not understand a word of what they said, but they watched suspiciously as Chen stood on the back of his horse twice, and wondered what devilment he was up to.

Princess Fragrance took out some dry rations and divided them up amongst all of them. As she sat eating, she gazed out beyond the flames at the horizon. Suddenly, she jumped up.

"Sister! Look!" Huo Qingtong followed the direction of her hand and saw a black spot stationary in the sky.

"What is it?" she asked.

"It's an eagle," Princess Fragrance replied. "I saw it fly over from here. But how could it suddenly stop in mid-air?"

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I clearly saw it fly across."

"If the black spot isn't an eagle, what could it be?" asked Chen. "If it is an eagle, how could it remain motionless in mid-air? It's very strange." The three watched the spot for a while, then saw it move and become larger. A black eagle swept over their heads.

Princess Fragrance raised her hand to tidy her hair, which had been blown about by the wind. Chen looked at her snow-white skin and the white material of her dress next to it and realised the answer.

"Look at her hand!" he said excitedly to Huo Qingtong.

"Yes, her hands are very pretty," she replied absent-mindedly.

"Of course her hands are beautiful. But don't you see? Because her skin is so white, it's difficult at a glance to tell where the hand begins and the dress ends."

"So?" asked Huo Qingtong, puzzled.

"The eagle was sitting on top of a white mountain!"

"Yes! You're right," Huo Qingtong exclaimed. "The sky over there is white, the same colour as the peak, so from a distance, it can't be seen."

"Exactly," said Chen.

Princess Fragrance realised they were talking about the Secret City. "How do we get there?" she asked.

"That is what we have to carefully work out," Huo Qingtong replied. She pulled out the map again and studied it carefully again for a while. "When the sun starts to sink towards the west, we'll be able to tell if there's a mountain there or not by its shadow."

"We mustn't give ourselves away," said Chen. "We don't want the others to work out what we're doing."

"Yes. Let's pretend we're talking about this wolf," she suggested.

Chen pulled the wolf across and the three sat around it, now pulling out one of its hairs and examine it closely, now opening its mouth to look at its teeth. The sun gradually sank towards the west and the mountain's shadow did indeed appear, stretching out longer and longer across the desert like some giant lying down. Huo Qingtong drew a map on the ground, estimating the distances.

"From here to the mountain must be about twenty or thirty miles," she said, turning the wolf over.

Chen picked up one of its legs and played with its sharp claws. "If we had another horse apart from the white horse, the three of us could make that in one go."

"So we have to think of some way to get them to allow us to go," Huo Qingtong replied.

"Yes." He picked up his dagger and slit open the wolf's stomach.

"What's so interesting about that dead wolf?" Zhang shouted, annoyed at not being able to understand what they were saying. "Are you discussing how to bury him, Master Chen?"

"We are discussing how to get out," Chen said. "Look, the wolf's stomach is completely empty."

"Do you have a plan?" Zhang asked.

"When the firewood has all been burned and there is no more to collect, then we are all going to die, is that not so?" Zhang and the Three Devils nodded. "But if one of us were willing to sacrifice himself and ride out of the circle, the wolves would swarm after him like bees from a hive. Once they were drawn off, the others could escape.

"But what about the one who goes?" asked Zhang.

"If he comes across either the Manchu or Muslim armies then he will be all right. Otherwise he will die. But it is better than us all dying here together."

"It's not a bad idea," said Tang. "But who's going to lead the wolves away? It's certain death."

"What do you suggest, Brother Tang?"

Tang was silent. "Let's draw lots," Hahetai suggested. "Whoever loses, goes."

"Yes, let's draw lots," Zhang said eagerly. Chen had wanted to offer himself and then break out with the sisters. But he could not suggest it without arousing their suspicions, so he said: "Just the five of us will draw. Let us exempt the two girls."

"We're all people," Gu protested. "Why should they be exempted?"

"How could we live down the shame of being saved by a girl?" said Hahetai. "I would prefer to die here."

"I think that if we're going to draw lots, we should all draw," said Tang, wanting to lessen the chance of himself being chosen.

They all looked at Zhang, waiting to hear his opinion. Zhang had already worked out a plan and knew he could not lose. Moreover, one of the girls was wanted by the Emperor and he fancied the other for himself.

"I will not allow a lady to save my life," he said proudly.

"All right, then," said Gu. "We'll let them off."

"I'll collect some sticks to use," said Tang, but Zhang stopped him.

"No," he said. "It's too easy to cheat with sticks. We'll use copper coins instead." He pulled a dozen or so coins from his pocket and selected five. "Four of these are Emperor Yong Zheng coins and the fifth is from the reign of Emperor Sun Zhi. Please examine them. They are exactly the same size."

"And whoever picks the Emperor Sun Zhi coin leads the wolves away," Tang added, as he carefully examined the coins.

"Exactly," said Zhang. "Why not put them in your bag for the draw, Brother Tang?" Tang did as he said.

"Now, who will go first?" Zhang asked. He looked at Gu and saw his hands were shaking. "Brother Gu is afraid," he said with a smile. "Life and death are governed by fate. I will go first." He stretched his hand onto Tang's bag and pulled an Emperor Yong Zheng coin out.

"Oh, what a pity!" he exclaimed. "I won't be able to be the hero." He opened his first and showed the coin to the other four. The five coins were the same size, but the Emperor Sun Zhi coin was about eighty years older than the others and therefore slightly smoother and thinner, although not enough to be immediately obvious.

Chen's turn was next, and to his disappointment he chose an Emperor Yong Zheng coin.

"Brother Gu, if you please," Zhang said. Gu drew his sword and flourished it threateningly.

"It's a trick!" he shouted. "You already decided that it would be one of us three."

"What do you mean, a trick?" Zhang demanded.

"They're your coins, and you had first choice. How do we know you haven't marked them in some way?"

Zhang's face went white. "Then what do you suggest, Brother Gu?"

"One of those Yong Zheng coins in your pocket is lighter in colour than the others. Put that in with four dark ones, and whoever picks the light one goes."

Zhang hesitated for a second, then smiled. "Just as you say. But I fear it will still be you who goes to feed the wolves." He surreptitiously bent the light-coloured coin slightly before placing it with the others.

"If neither you nor I lose, I will fight you afterwards," Gu said threateningly.

"It will be my pleasure," replied Zhang. He put the five coins in the bag. "You three gentlemen choose first, then myself and lastly Master Chen, is that satisfactory?"

The Three Devils did not object. "Brother Hahetai, you first," said Tang.

Just as Hahetai put his hand in the bag, Huo Qingtong shouted out in Mongolian: "Don't take the bent one!" He started in fright. The first coin he felt was indeed slightly bent. He chose another one and pulled it out: it was dark coloured.

Huo Qingtong had seen Zhang bend the coin, and had warned Hahetai because he was the most decent of the Three Devils.

Next was Gu's turn. Hahetai told him in the thick, unintelligable dialect of northeast China not to take the bent coin. Gu and Tang both glanced angrily at Zhang and pulled out dark coloured coins. Chen looked questioningly at Huo Qingtong.

"Don't take the bent one," Princess Fragrance said.

Chen knew Zhang would certainly take the unbent coin, thereby giving him both the light-coloured coin and the chance to escape with the girls. But as Zhang put his hand into Hahetai's bag, Chen saw Gu looking covertly at Huo Qingtong, and realised they would never let him take the girls with him. Uncertain of what to do and with no time left to think, he suddenly blurted out: "Take the bent one! Leave the flat one for me!"

Zhang started in shock and drew his hand back. "What do you mean, bent?" he demanded.

"One of the two coins in the bag has been bent by you. I want the one that's not bent." He put his hand in the bag and pulled out the dark coin. "You've caused your own funeral," he said to Zhang with a smile.

Zhang's face went dark and he drew his sword. "We had agreed that I would choose first," he said, and swung the blade at Chen's neck. Chen ducked and thrust his dagger at Zhang's stomach. The two fought closely for a moment. Suddenly, Zhang flung his sword at Huo Qingtong. Chen was afraid she would be too weak to dodge it and raced over to intercept the weapon. But it was just a diversion. As Chen ran towards Huo Qingtong, Zhang jumped over to Princess Fragrance and grabbed her.

"Get out!" he shouted to Chen, who stopped in his tracks and stared dumbly back at Zhang. "If you don't get out, I'll throw her to the wolves!" He picked the girl up and swung her about above his head. Chen heart pounded and his brain whirled in confusion.

"Ride out and lead the wolves away!" Zhang shouted again.

Chen knew Zhang would do what he said and so he slowly untied the white horse's reins and mounted up.

"I'll count to three. If you're not out of the circle by then, I'll let her go. Onetwothree!" As he said three, the white horse bounded out of the ring.

Chen landed in the midst of the wolves, grabbed the first two that attacked him by the scruffs of their necks, then turned the horse round, soared back into the ring of fire and flung them at Zhang.

With two such ferocious animals flying at him, Zhang was forced to drop Princess Fragrance to protect himself. Chen threw two of his chess pieces at him, scooped Princess Fragrance up, then leapt out of the circle of fire once more with another horse close behind: Huo Qingtong had taken advantage of the fight to cut the reins of a horse and mount up without the Three Devils noticing.

She and Chen waded through the wolf pack, slashing right and left with their weapons as if chopping vegetables, and in a moment, the two horses were out in the open and galloping off westwards with the wolf pack chasing behind. The horses were much faster than the wolves, and before long, they had left the pack far behind. But Chen knew the hard part would be staying ahead of these tireless, hungry beasts.


| The Book and The Sword | c