Zhang and the Three Devils watched the wolves swarm after Chen and the girls with great relief, although they felt a tinge of regret at the thought of two such beautiful girls being ravished by the animals. The four men sat down to rest for a while, then roasted and ate one of the dead wolves left behind. Gu noticed that the supply of tree branches was almost exhausted, and too lazy to go and get more, he threw piles of wolf's dung onto the fire to stoke up the flames. Before long, a column of thick, black smoke was rising towards the heavens.
Just as they had eaten their fill of wolf meat, they noticed a dust cloud approaching from the east. Assuming it to be another wolf pack, they frantically jumped up and ran for the horses. Only two horses were left, both of which had been brought by the Three Devils. Zhang stretched out his hand to take the reins of one of the mounts, but Hahetai lunged in front of him and grabbed them first, shouting: "What do you think you're doing?"
Zhang was about to attack him when he spied Tang and Gu with weapons in their hands closing in. "Why are you getting so excited?" he protested. "They aren't wolves."
The Three Devils turned to look and Zhang vaulted onto the horse's back. Only then did he notice that his lie was in fact the truth: in the midst of the dust cloud was a large herd of camels and goats. He galloped off towards the herd, shouting: "I'll go and have a look!"
After riding only a short way, he saw a rider coming towards him. The rider, an old man dressed in grey, raced up and stopped his mount instantly with a tug on the reins. Zhang marvelled at his horsemanship.
The rider saw Zhang was wearing the tattered uniform of a Manchu military officer and asked in Chinese: "What happened to the wolves?" Zhang pointed west.
By this time, the herd was upon them and in the midst of the dust and noise and confusion, Zhang noticed a bald-headed, red-faced old man and a white-haired old woman riding herd. He was just about to ask who they were when the Three Devils came over and bowed respectfully before the old man in grey.
"We are honoured to meet you again, sir," Tang said obsequiously. "How are you?"
The old man grunted. "Nothing to complain about," he mumbled. It was the Strange Knight of the Heavenly Pool, Master Yuan.
Zhang knew nothing of the old man, but he noted the respect with which the Three Devils treated him.
Master Yuan examined the four of them for a moment, then said: "We are going to catch the wolves. You will all come with me."
They started in fright and wondered if he was insane. But the Three Devils knew his kung fu was formidable and did not dare to refuse.
Zhang, however, emitted a "humph" of astonishment and said: "I want to live a few more years. Sorry, but I will be unable to accompany you." He turned to leave.
Absolutely furious, Bald Vulture grabbed for Zhang's wrist shouting: "So you refuse to heed Master Yuan's orders! Do you wish to die?"
Zhang deflected his hand deftly with a 'Dividing The Clouds and Moon' stroke, and the two fought closely for a while, neither gaining the upper hand. Then they leapt apart, both surprised that they should come upon such a master of the martial arts in the middle of the desert.
"What is your name, friend?" Zhang shouted.
"What makes you think you're good enough to be my friend? Will you or will you not do what Master Yuan says?"
Zhang knew he was as good a fighter as himself, and yet he still respectfully referred to the other old man as "Master Yuan", indicating Yuan's kung fu was probably even better. Who is this Master Yuan? he wondered. "What is your full name, sir?" he asked Yuan. "If you are my superior, I will naturally respect your orders."
"Ha! So you wish to question me, do you?" Master Yuan exclaimed. "It is I that does the questioning. I ask you: just now, you used a 'Dividing the Clouds and Moon' move. But what would you have done if I had replied with a 'Descending the Mountain to Kill the Tiger' stroke on your left while going for your Spiritual Yuedao point on your right?"
Zhang thought for a second. "I would have kicked out with an 'Arrow Shooting the Hawk' move, and grabbed your wrist."
"Then you are obviously a member of the Wudang School," Yuan replied, to Zhang's evident surprise. "Once when I was in Hubei, I sparred with Master Ma Zhen." Zhang went deathly pale. "Now then, if I used a 'Secret Hand' move to counter your attempt to seize my wrist, and then struck at your face with my left hand, what would you do? Master Ma Zhen was unable to avoid this move. Let's see if you can work it out."
Zhang thought deeply for a while. "If you were fast, I would naturally be unable to avoid the blow," he said finally. "I could aim a 'Yuanyang Kick' at your left ribs to force you to retract your hand to defend yourself."
Yuan laughed. "Not bad. Of all the fighters in the Wudang School, you are probably the best."
"I would then aim to touch your 'Xianji' Yuedao point," Zhang continued.
"Good! A master always attacks if he can. But I would then step into the 'Guimei' position and attack your lower body."
"I would then retreat to the 'Song' position and strike out for your 'Heavenly Spring' Yuedao point."
Gu and Hahetai listened in bewilderment to the strange words. Hahetai gave Tang's gown a tug and whispered: "What's this code they're speaking in?"
"It's not code, they're using the names of the Sixty Four Positions and the Yuedao points on the human body," Tang replied.
"I advance to the 'Ming Ye' positon and attack with a Qimen move," Yuan said.
"I retreat to the 'Zhong Fu' position and counter with a Phoenix Eye move," replied Zhang.
"I advance to the 'Jizhai' position and go for your 'Huan Jiao' Yuedao."
The pressure was begining to show on Zhang's face, and there was a pause before he answered: "I retreat to the 'Zhen' position and then to the Fu position."
"How come he keeps retreating?" whispered Hahetai, but Tang waved him to silence. The verbal sparring continued, Yuan smiling and obviously at ease, Zhang beginning to sweat and sometimes taking a long time to come up with a response. The Three Devils knew that in a real fight, he would have had no time for such thinking, and would have been beaten long ago.
After a few more moves, Zhang said: "I attack with a 'Xiao Shu' move and then strike at your wrist."
"That's not good enough," Yuan replied. "You lose."
"Please explain," said Zhang.
"If you don't believe me, I'll show you. Be careful!" Yuan's right leg kicked up at Zhang's knees.
Zhang jumped away shouting: "If you touch me…" but before he could finish, Yuan's right hand had shot out and touched a Yuedao point on his chest. He felt a surge of pain and immediately began to cough uncontrollably.
Yuan smiled at him. "Well?" he asked.
The others were amazed by this nonchalant display of such profound kung fu skills. Zhang, looking deathly pale, did not dare to continue his intransigence. "I will do as you say, Master Yuan," he replied.
"But your kung fu is first class," Bald Vulture added. "What is your name?"
"My surname is Zhang, my given name Zhaozhong. And may I ask your names?"
"Ah, so it's the Fire Hand Judge," Bald Vulture replied. "Brother Yuan, he's a martial brother of Master Ma Zhen."
Yuan grunted. "His brother is not as good as him. Let's go." He galloped off.
There were several horses mixed in amongst the camels and goats, and Zhang and Hahetai chose a mount each and began helping to herd the animals after Master Yuan.
As they galloped along, Zhang said to Bald Vulture: "Excuse me. These wolves are very numerous. How do you intend to catch them?"
"You just do as Master Yuan says," Bald Vulture replied. "What's so terrifying about a few little wolves?" Madame Guan, riding nearby, smiled to hear her husband bluffing Zhang.
They rode on. Suddenly Yuan wheeled his horse round and shouted: "The wolf droppings are very fresh. The pack passed here not long ago. From the look of it, we'll catch up to them in another ten miles or so. We'll ride another five miles and then all pick fresh horses. When we have caught up to them, I will lead the way. The six of you must divide up, three on each side to make sure the animals don't escape, otherwise the wolf pack will split up." Just as Tang was about to ask a question, Yuan turned and galloped off.
The wolf droppings around them became increasingly moist as they went.
"The pack must be just ahead," said Madame Guan. "With our camels and horses making such a noise, it's surprising they haven't turned back already."
"Yes, it is strange," her husband replied. A couple of miles further on, the topography began to change and they saw a cluster of hills ahead with a tall white mountain in their midst. The Twin Eagles had long lived in the desert, and had heard many stories about this beautiful mountain, sparkling in the bright sunshine.
"The wolves must have gone into the maze!" Yuan shouted. "Everyone whip the animals!" They raised their horses whips and began beating the camels and horses, and a great roar went up as the beasts snorted and neighed in pain and anger. Before long, a large grey wolf appeared, running towards them from the hills.
Yuan whirled his long whip about his head and cracked it sharply in the air. Then with a shout, he whirled his horse round and galloped off south, with the Twin Eagles, Zhang and the Three Devils driving the herd after him. After a couple of miles, the howls of the wolf pack arose from behind. Bald Vulture glanced back and saw the grey tide moving towards them across the desert. He spurred his horse on and caught up with the others. Zhang, Gu and Tang appeared to be having difficulty keeping their terror under control, but Hahetai was shouting and whistling crazily, driving the animals on and intercepting strays. He was a herdsman by birth and he made sure not one was lost.
The wolves were ferocious and persistent, but they lacked stamina. After four or five miles, they had already been left far behind, and another five miles further on, Yuan shouted: "Let's rest for a while!" They all dismounted and ate some rations while Hahetai herded the animals together. When the wolves began to close in, they started off again.
They continued south in this way, stopping occasionally to rest. Later in the day, two Muslim riders appeared, galloping towards them.
"Master Yuan," they shouted. "Did it work?"
"They're coming, they're coming!" he shouted back. "Tell everyone to get ready." The riders turned and galloped off ahead.
A short while later, they spied a huge circular wall rising up out of the desert, at least forty feet in height with only one narrow entrance. Yuan rode through the opening with the herd of animals close behind him. The Twin Eagles and the others drove them through the gate and then veered off to either side just as the first of the wolves arrived. The huge wolf pack charged into the enclosure and threw themselves at the animals. When the last wolf was inside, a horn sounded and several hundred Muslims sprang from trenches on either side of the entrance, each man carrying a bag of sand on his shoulders. They raced for the opening and in a moment, the gap was completely blocked.
As they clapped and cheered, Zhang wondered what had happened to Yuan inside the stockade. He saw several dozen Muslims standing on top of the wall, and jumped off his horse and ran up a flight of steps, arriving at the top just in time to see Yuan being pulled up by a rope. He glanced down into the pit and jumped in fright: down below were the hundreds of camels and horses, and thousands upon thousands of hungry wolves tearing and biting at them. The noise was terrifying, and blood flowed freely about the floor of the pit. The stockade was built with sand bricks, more than a thousand feet in circumference and its walls coated with mud to make sure there were no footholds available. Yuan stood with the Twin Eagles on the top of the wall laughing heartily, obviously very pleased with himself.
"This wolf pack has been terrorizing the Tianshan mountains for hundreds of years, but you have now destroyed it, Master Yuan," said Bald Vulture. "You have done the people a great service."
"It needed everyone's cooperation. How could I have done it by myself?" he replied. "Just this stockade alone took three thousand men half a year to complete. You have also been a great help today."
"I'm afraid it will take a long time before all these wolves finally die of hunger," said Madame Guan.
"Of course, especially after they've feasted on all those animals down there."
A cheer arose from the crowd of Muslims below and several of their leaders came up to express their thanks to Yuan and the others. The Muslims brought goat meat and horse milk wine for them to eat and drink.
"Mistress Huo Qingtong defeated the Manchus at Black River and we have defeated the wolves here," said one of the leaders. "Now that the wolves have been caught, we can go and look for her…" He stopped as he spotted Zhang, wearing the uniform of a Manchu officer, standing close by.
"Master Yuan, I have something important to discuss with you," Bald Vulture said later. "Please don't be offended."
"Ha! You've learned some manners in your old age," Yuan replied, surprised by his formality.
"Your pupil's moral character is very bad and he needs to be severely disciplined."
Yuan looked startled. "Who? Chen Jialuo?"
"Yes." Bald Vulture told him about how Chen had first won Huo Qingtong's heart, and then shifted his affections to her sister.
"He is very reliable," Yuan said firmly. "He would never do such a thing."
"We saw it with our own eyes," added Madame Guan, and related how they met Chen and Princess Fragrance in the desert. Yuan stared at them for a moment, then his anger exploded.
"I accepted the job of being his foster father," he exclaimed, "raised him from when he was small. And now this happens. How can I face Great Helmsman Yu in the other world? We must go and find him and question him face-to-face." He leapt off the wall and mounted his horse: "Let's go!" he roared, and galloped off, with the Twin Eagles following behind.
Zhang's spirits rose as he saw his enemies departing. The Emperor had sent him to find Chen and Princess Fragrance, and before he returned to the court, he wanted to make sure they had been eaten by the wolves. If they had, there was nothing more to be said. But if they were still alive, he would have to catch them. Chen's kung fu, he knew, was only marginally inferior to his own, and if Huo Qingtong joined Chen against him he would lose, so he decided to invite the Three Devils along as well. He gave Gu's sleeve a tug and the two walked off a few paces together.
"Brother Gu," he whispered. "Do you miss that beauty?"
Gu thought Zhang was sneering at him. "What's it to you?" he replied angrily.
"I have a score to settle with that fellow Chen, and I want to go and make sure he's dead. If you come with me, the girl is yours, if she's still alive."
Gu hesitated. "They've probably already been eaten by the wolves," he said slowly. "And anyway, I don't know if Brother Tang would be willing to go."
"If they've been eaten, then you're out of luck," Zhang replied. "But you never know. As to your Brother Tang, I'll go and talk to him."
He went over to Tang and said: "I'm going to look for that fellow Chen to settle accounts with him. If you would be willing to help me, his dagger is yours."
What student of the martial arts would not covet such a precious weapon? Even if Chen is already inside a wolf's belly, Tang thought, the dagger will not have been eaten. He agreed immediately. "Brother Hahetai, let's go," he shouted.
Hahetai was standing on the stockade wall animatedly discussing the wolf pack with the Muslims. Hearing Tang's call, he turned and shouted: "Where are we going?"
"To look for Chen and the others. If their bodies haven't been completely devoured, we can bury them properly. We owe them that much!"
Hahetai respected Chen, and he immediately agreed. The four obtained some rations and water from the Muslims, then mounted up and started northwards, back the way they had come.
At about midnight, Tang protested that he wanted to stop for the night. But Zhang and Gu insisted that they continue. The moon was high in the sky, making the scene look like a silvery painting. Suddenly, a figure darted from the side of the road and into a stone grave nearby.
"Who's that?" Zhang shouted, reining in his horse.
A moment passed, and then the laughing head of a Muslim appeared from a hole between the flagstones. "I am the corpse of this grave," he said. He wore a flowered hat and, to the great surprise of Zhang and the others, spoke in Chinese.
"What are you doing out here if you're a corpse?" Gu shouted.
"I just wanted to go for a stroll."
"Do corpses go for strolls?" Gu replied angrily.
The head nodded. "Yes, yes, you're right. I am wrong. So sorry." It disappeared back into the hole.
Hahetai burst out laughing, but Gu was furious. He dismounted and stuck his hand into the grave, wanting to pull the Muslim out, but he felt about inside without finding anything.
"Don't take any notice of him," said Zhang. "Let's go."
As the four turned their horses round, they spotted a small, skinny donkey by the side of the grave, chomping grass.
"I'm sick to death of dry rations," said Gu gleefully. "Some roast donkey meat wouldn't be bad at all." He jumped off his horse again and was about to take hold of the donkey's reins when he noticed the animal had no tail.
"Someone seems to have cut off the donkey's tail and eaten it already," he observed with a smile.
There was a whoosh of sound and the Muslim appeared on the donkey's back. He laughed and pulled a donkey's tail from his pocket and waved it about. "The donkey's tail got covered in mud today, which didn't look very nice, so I cut it off," he said.
Zhang looked at the man's full beard and crazy appearance and wondered who he was. He raised his horse whip and rode by the donkey, striking out at the Muslim's shoulder as he passed. The Muslim dodged to one side, and Zhang suddenly found himself holding the donkey's tail, which was indeed covered in mud. He also noticed a coolness on his head, and found his cap had disappeared.
"So you're a Manchu officer," the Muslim said, swinging the cap about on his finger. "You've come to attack us Muslims, I suppose. This cap is very pretty."
Startled and angry, Zhang threw the donkey's tail at the Muslim who caught it easily. Zhang leapt off his horse and faced him. "Who are you?" he shouted. "Come on! I'll fight you."
The Muslim placed Zhang's cap on the donkey's head and clapped his hands in delight. "The dumb donkey wearing an official's hat!" he excalimed. He twitched his thighs and the donkey trotted off. Zhang began to run after him, but stopped as a projectile flew towards him. He caught the cold, glittering object deftly and with a surge of fury, recognised it as the sapphire off the front of his cap. By now, the donkey was already a long way away, but he picked a stone off the ground and hurled it at the Muslim's back. The Muslim made no effort to avoid it, and Zhang was delighted, certain that this time he had him. There was a loud clang as the stone hit something metallic, and the Muslim cried out in despair.
"Oh no! He's killed my saucepan! It's dead for certain!"
The four men looked at each other dumb-founded as the Muslim and his donkey disappeared into the distance.
"Was that a man or a demon?" Zhang asked finally. The Three Devils silently shook their heads. "Come on, let's go. This place is evil beyond belief."
They galloped off, and early the next morning, they arrived outside the Secret City. The paths were many and confusing, but the trail of wolf droppings was a perfect guide which brought them unerringly to the base of the White Jade Peak. Looking up, they saw the cave-mouth that Chen had excavated.