4.23.2014

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 16

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 16.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Chasing vengeance through the night,
          the Kunlun saber tastes blood.
In a stand off afore the farmstead,
          the Langzhong valiant shows his might.


The rice shop had three storefronts and a large warehouse door to the side. Long Zhiqi entered through the large door. As soon as he came into the courtyard, he heard a round of cheering and looked up quickly to see what was going on. He saw a big crowd circling the courtyard made up of the men of Liu Jie, Black Tiger Zhang and Jiang Cheng. The old master was standing in the center, brandishing his Kunlun saber. He was performing the eighteen forms of "Driving the Stars and Moon," a sequence Long Zhiqi had been studying for three years but had not yet mastered. His blade flashed and his silver beard flittered about. The old master was a bit heavy, but his hands and feet were still at their most agile. Some of those watching stood entranced while others could not keep themselves from cheering on and on.

Shortly, the old master withdrew his saber stance and was breathing a bit heavily. Those watching him all threw him praise. One of them said, "The old hero's spirit is truly great, and your strength substantial. Those youngsters in their twenties and thirties have nothing on you. " Another said, "Never in my life have I seen saberwork such as the old master just performed!" Black Tiger Zhang was sitting in a chair with his thumbs extended, while Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God was turned aside, speaking to someone with a surprised look on his face. Even the tremendously arrogant Liu Jie had a blank stare in his eyes.

The old master held his saber and a pleased expression came to his face. He said, "In the martial arts of my Kunlun School, there are four staff sequences, eight of saber, and also fourteen secret techniques. My disciples are legion, but I have not passed everything onto everyone. Those considered to have learned ninety percent of my martial arts are Lu Zhizhong, Zhang Zhicai and my granddaughter Aluan. Those who've learned seventy or eighty percent are Ge Zhiqiang, Jia Zhiming, Long Zhiqi..." Stopping here, he turned suddenly and saw his high disciple Long Zhiqi's garments in tatters with his nose bleeding and an unfortunate look on his face. The old master was taken aback and all the others turned their attention over to Long Zhiqi. Bao Zhenfei approached him with his saber still in hand and asked urgently, "What's happened to you out there? What's got you looking so disheveled?"

Long Zhiqi gave his master a tug and said sullenly, "Master, come with me. I have something important to tell you." He'd intended to bring Bao Zhenfei elsewhere to speak. Unexpectedly, the old master became agitated and angry, widening his eyes and saying, "If you have something to say, say it here! Who are you afraid will hear you?" Long Zhiqi furrowed his brow and whispered, "Just now, a few of Jiang Cheng's men invited me to go drink with them. At the tavern, we encountered one called Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther. He was a violent man, and when he came to know that I was of the Kunlun School, he attacked me. Since I was injured, I was unable to beat him back and he ended up breaking my nose. He later left fuming, but before he did so, he said he was going to look for Jiang Xiaohe. He and Jiang Xiaohe had become friends a decade ago, on Trunk Mountain where they had been bandits together. He had even mentioned the master by name. He wanted us, master and disciple, to wait here for him. He said he was going to bring Jiang Xiaohe back here to kill us both!"

The old master heard this and couldn't help staring into space for a moment. The color of his face changed immediately, first to a pale white, and then slowly to a deep purple. Long Zhiqi whimpered, "Master! I think it's best if we go! If Jiang Xiaohe comes here, he will surely not let us be!" The old master suddenly slapped Long Zhiqi across his thick face. Smack, it rang out. Long Zhiqi cried out in pain. The old master then kicked him and yelled, "Even if Jiang Xiaohe let us be, I wouldn't let him be! When he comes, we'll set our sabers against his sword, old against young, and decide who lives and who dies. If you're scared, you may run away on your own and never henceforth call me master!"

At this point, Long Zhiqi had been kicked by his master onto the ground. Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God and the others all came near to help Long Zhiqi up and calm down Bao Zhenfei. Bao Zhenfei puffed and blew for a while with his eyes wide open, and then stroked his silver beard and feigned an relaxed laugh. He said, "There was one called Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther who just announced on the streets that he was going to bring Jiang Xiaohe here to fight me. How could anyone not know that I would wait here for him?" He then turned to Jiang Cheng and said, "Brother Jiang, when we were eating just now, you asked if I could go to Langzhong on the morrow to help you avenge an injustice you suffered ten years ago. I had agreed to do so. But now, since Wu is off to find Jiang Xiaohe, I must remain here and await him. I have no choice but to attend to your matter after Jiang Xiaohe and I have decided final victory and defeat!"

Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God replied, "My matter is not urgent. Ten years ago I was living in Langzhong. If it hadn't been for Jiang Xiaohe, I would not have suffered mistreatment at the hands of the Xia of Langzhong. Jiang Xiaohe is another whom I've sworn cannot stand while I do. When he comes, there is no doubt we will help you, old brother. I assure you he will not leave Yilong in one piece!" The old master cupped his hand with his saber still in it and said, "All I can do is rely on all present!"

At the moment, someone had helped Long Zhiqi into a nearby room. Bao Zhenfei went back inside with Liu Jie, Black Tiger Zhang and Jiang Cheng for further discussions. Bao Zhenfei entrusted the three of them earnestly with helping him when the time came. Other than Jiang Cheng, neither of the rest were especially interested in setting themselves against Jiang Xiaohe. They simply wanted to help Bao Zhenfei first to get rid of Jiang Xiaohe, so that they could use him and his Kunlun saber to do the same to the Xia of Langzhong and his son. For as long as Xu Lin and Yanyun, father and son, existed in this world, Black Tiger Zhang and Liu Jie were not free to become fully heroes in Northern Sichuan. The three all called Bao Zhenfei brother and they all became very close.

After having seen the old security escort's saberwork, Liu Jie the Eighteen-foot Spear's arrogance had diminished somewhat, as if he was particularly trying to connect with Bao Zhenfei. He said, "This building is narrow and there's a business in the front. If Jiang Xiaohe comes here, it would be no problem if he disrupted the business. But this courtyard and the streets outside its gates are too small to really unleash your saber skill. Brother Bao, when the time comes, it would be hard to avoid a defeat here. Why don't you move over to my place? I've got a large farmstead." Bao Zhenfei had also felt that Jiang Cheng's place was not the best. But it wasn't because he thought the building was too small. He felt that Jiang Cheng's men numbered too many. It would be hard to be on guard if Jiang Xiaohe were to come at night. So he liked very much what he was hearing from Liu Jie, and that very day he brought Long Zhiqi to stay at Liu Jie's residence.

Liu Jie's home was northeast of the city, at a distance of no more than three or four miles from Jiang Cheng's place. This residence had an expansive courtyard and a total of fifty long-term workers, servants and hired men. Seeing this, Bao Zhenfei felt safe here. Long Zhiqi was happy here as well, because as soon as he set foot inside, he took notice of the Liu household's several little maids and young servant women, coming and going often within the farmstead. It was only a pity that Long Zhiqi was staying in the same quarters as Bao Zhenfei. He dared not even peek out the window too many times in the presence of his master.

Bao Zhenfei was anticipating that Jiang Xiaohe would arrive soon, so he was particularly cautious. Neither master nor disciple left their quarters very often, and in the evening they slept with the doors shut tight. The Kunlun saber was always unsheathed and always in the master's hand. He had found a saber for Long Zhiqi as well and had him sleep in the outer area. At night, master and disciple took turns sleeping. If any small sound occurred outside, Bao Zhenfei would immediately awake, jump down from the bed with saber in hand, and put his ear to the window to listen. On the first night, four or five of these false alarms happened. Long Zhiqi could hardly endure the fear in his heart, or his frustration. Bao Zhenfei always kept his eyes open while Long Zhiqi was knocked out inside the room during the day. He hardly ever closed his eyes, often in the courtyard training with a saber, punching, ducking and sweeping with his leg.

On the second day, Black Tiger Zhang brought his family and his men over to stay at the Liu house as well. Jiang Cheng too spent the entire day there. Everyone came together to discuss martial matters, speaking of the goings-on in Jianghu, and in fact making the atmosphere rather lively. Three or four days went by, as Bao Zhenfei lived here safely and without incident. Liu Jie and Black Tiger Zhang sent men out daily to make discreet inquiries, and besides hearing of two prefectural officials arriving in the city to await the capture of Jiang Xiaohe, the fat bandit who robbed an official's family on Riversnail Ridge, there was no other news.

For the first two days, Long Zhiqi was afraid to go outside. Other than feeling momentarily different whenever he caught sight of Liu Jie's little maids and young servant women, he was constantly anxious and on edge no matter what time of day. However, nothing all happened in those two days. By now, the two sets of clothes Bao Zhenfei had made for him were finished and Long Zhiqi's wounds had gotten a bit better. Thus, he was in a much better mood and spent his entire day mixed among Liu Jie and Black Tiger Zhang's men, gambling, boozing and going outside to whore. There was nothing he did not do, except to conceal everything from Bao Zhenfei.

After idling for several days at the Liu house, Bao Zhenfei's brief enjoyment left him. At the same time, he amassed a number of worries. He thought longingly of his granddaughter Aluan and his grandson-in-law Ji Guangjie in Chang'an, and the rest of his disciples. So he asked Liu Jie to get him a well-traveled man. Bao Zhenfei wrote letters and put together travel expenses and entrusted the man with visiting Zhenba, Ziyang, Hanzhong, and Chang'an. Long Zhiqi also had the man take a letter to his brother Long Zhiteng. He had no other business than to ask his brother for several hundred taels of silver. He thought, Once the silvers get here, I'll depart. Even if the master wishes for me to stay, I cannot. This kind of existence is no life of happiness!

Before the courier was gone five days, he had sent back from halfway on his journey another man with a letter. It wrote, "While traveling through Tongjiang County, I encountered a man of the Fuli Security Firm in Langzhong. To his understanding, Jiang Xiaohe was here now and staying with Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God at an inn, as the two are old friends. I heard there was someone who'd met Jiang Xiaohe and he said that his martial arts were not very outstanding and that he was currently ill. Had he not encountered Jiao Dechun, it is likely he would have died." And so on and so forth.

Hearing this, Bao Zhenfei couldn't help becoming agitated again as a cruel idea suddenly crossed his mind. He said resolutely in a low voice, "Why should I not take this opportunity while Jiang Xiaohe has taken ill at a Tongjiang inn to hurry there on horseback, swing my saber and end his life? While he's sick, his martial skill will have reduced by at least half. That Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God is not likely to have the ability to protect him. Why shouldn't I go? Why should I not go at once?" While he spoke, there was no one nearby. He clenched his jaw firmly and closed his fist tightly. He looked out the window and saw that it was no longer early in the day. The window paper had already darkened in the twilight, and the crows and magpies outside were crying out. Bao Zhenfei then said, "This is the perfect time! Neither Liu Jie or Black Tiger Zhang are probably home, so they will not be able to stop me. If I ride through the night, I'll likely arrive by morning. When I get to Tongjiang and face Jiang Xiaohe, I'll eliminate the enemy that has forced the Kunlun School to scatter across the land!" Thus decided, he walked out with a bundle and his Kunlun saber in hand.

Just as he reached the stables and was about to call on someone to prepare a horse, he saw four men on four horses enter though the main gate. It was Liu Jie, two servants and a man of forty-some years in satin and officials' boots. Noticing the bundle in Bao Zhenfei's hand, Liu Jie quickly asked, "Old brother Bao, where are you off to?" Seeing an outsider among them, it wouldn't do for Bao Zhenfei to lay things plain, so he stood there with eyes agape. Liu Jie and the others dismounted their horses and handed them over to attendants. Liu Jie walked over toward Bao Zhenfei and waved his hand, saying, "Don't leave, don't leave." He had men nearby take the old master's bundle and sharp saber off his hands and motioned to the man wearing the officials' boots, "This gentleman is Eighth Sir Cheng, an official of the Langzhong prefectural government. He is in charge of the land tax and has been a commissioner in Langzhong for over twenty years. No one within a few counties of here does not know him. He is also a proficient martial artist, the accomplished disciple of Li Liansheng the Flower Fist of Bazhou. When those of Jianghu hear of Eighth Sir Cheng, there are none who do not pay him great respect!"

The old security escort cupped his hand and said, "It is a great honor to meet you!" Eighth Sir Cheng cupped his fist as well and smiled, saying, "Good brother Liu has talked me up. I am indeed a commissioner at the government office in Langzhong, this much is true, but it's been a long time since I roamed Jianghu. I have come from Langzhong especially to pay a visit to you, old brother. Not only because I wanted to meet an old hero whose might has subdued the north and south, but also because there are a few important matters I'd like to discuss with you, brother!"

Upon hearing this, Bao Zhenfei did not know what to say. Liu Jie invited them inside. At this time, Long Zhiqi was just coming back as well. Because he had drank a lot of wine, his entire body felt hot, so he stood in the courtyard to cool down in the breeze. When he spotted Liu Jie and his master approaching with a man in officials' boots, he was startled and retreated into his quarters.

Liu Jie led Bao Zhenfei and Eighth Cheng into the receiving room and ordered the servants to light lamps, make food and prepare wine. Bao Zhenfei paid close attention to the official named Cheng, unsure of what he wanted to discuss with himself. After a moment, the servants had lit several of the lamps and candles in the room, which had now become bright. He watched as Eighth Cheng detached a short, jade-rimmed smoking pipe from his belt. He filled it with tobacco and smoked it, saying, "Old brother Bao, were you aware that the Xia of Langzhong is on his way here?"

Bao Zhenfei shook his head, saying, "No, I was not. Ten years ago, Jiang Xiaohe brought him to Zhenba and set him against me. At the time, the Xia of Langzhong's reputation far preceded him. A host of my disciples were wounded by him when he came to my door and recklessly caused trouble. Though I was furious then, I did not want to start a feud with him, so when I fought him, I was measured with my Kunlun saber..." Bao Zhenfei got to here when Eighth Cheng waved his hand and said, "No. I hear that the Xia of Langzhong is seeking you out for a different purpose than before when he had wanted to compare martial skill with you. This time, it's because Jiang Xiaohe has come rampaging through Northern Sichuan, injuring officers on Riversnail Ridge and robbing the family of a Peng'an county official. This has angered the Xia of Langzhong. He spoke with others yesterday, saying that he wanted to see you, old brother. He said that though he hasn't roamed Jianghu in many years, he wants to work in concert with you this time to eliminate Jiang Xiaohe."

Bao Zhenfei was cheered at the sound of that. He said, "Good! With the Xia of Langzhong coming, I will have one more helping hand." Eighth Cheng said, "When he comes, he won't come alone of course. He has his son Xu Yanyun, whose martial arts are greater than his. And his daughter-in-law, Qin Xiaoxian, is the granddaughter of the Dragon of Shu. Her martial arts surpass those of either the father or son." Bao Zhenfei laughed, "If even his daughter-in-law is coming to help me, I'm afraid I must decline. I, Bao Zhenfei, have made my way through Jianghu for several decades now. That I am unable to put an end to Jiang Xiaohe with my single saber alone, that I've asked for help from others, is already a source of shame and embarrassment. If I were to then ask a woman to help me, then even if I were to triumph over Jiang Xiaohe, my decades-long reputation would be all but over!" When he said this, a thick wave of concern flooded his heart for his granddaughter Aluan and he let out a long sigh.

Eighth Cheng shook his head, "His daughter-in-law won't be coming. She's gone back to stay with her family. The young lady's been married for three years now, but every time she returns to her parents' home, she stays for two or three months, though it isn't actually very far away. She likes to venture about however, so whenever she goes back home, she'll set off for other places. She's been to all the places far and wide. No one knows who she knows out there, but the Xia of Langzhong and his son don't mind at all."

Bao Zhenfei said, "I couldn't stand for that if I were the Xia of Langzhong. I keep the strictest family decorum. I have two sons and they both married farmer's daughters. Those girls in Jianghu who walk slacklines and entertain are not allowed through my door. My granddaughter has learned martial arts from me, but she understands her proper place. She's now married to Ji Guangjie, the grandson of the Xia of Longmen. Brother Cheng, you may perhaps know this man."

Eighth Cheng took a puff of his pipe and nodded. Bao Zhenfei sighed, "I don't only manage my family in this way. When I accept disciples, I forbid them to take part in debauchery. Otherwise, I would not have made such a bitter enemy in Jiang Xiaohe!" By this time, the servants had prepared out the food and wine. Liu Jie invited Eighth Cheng to sit in the head position, while Bao Zhenfei sat in the second chair. The third chair was left empty for Black Tiger Zhang to return. Liu Jie accompanied them further down and they all offered drinks to each other.

After drinking some, Bao Zhenfei remained uneasy, remembering that he was to hurry to Tongjiang and take advantage of the fact that Jiang Xiaohe was lying sick at an inn to take his life. He had placed that letter at his breast and had not yet let anyone see it. Liu Jie asked, "Old brother, where were you going just now with that bundle in hand?" Bao Zhenfei smiled without replying and did not say much.

During their meal, Eighth Cheng was the only one to talk and drink a lot. He said, "You know, Jiang Xiaohe and I are old enemies as well. Ten years ago, he was nothing but a young lad. I don't know where he'd stolen the money, but he was dressed very extravagantly. When he came to Langzhong, he fell in with Fatso Jiao the Golden-armored God. Fatso Jiao probably wanted to make him his catamite, calling him brother and trying to curry his favor. This one time on Beauties Lane—ha ha, Jiang Xiaohe was a lecher even back then. He was whoring at the brothels even before he shed his fetal hair. I encountered him and a fight erupted. Afterwards, in the end...I employed a small trick and then I had my men trap him in the street and give him a beating. If it hadn't been for the Xia of Langzhong poking his nose into other people's business and rescuing him, that small fry would be a demon in another place. To even be able to—"

When Eighth Cheng reached here, they suddenly heard a scream from outside, startling all the men inside the room. Bao Zhenfei was the first to stand up and rush out the door. The day was now dark and the courtyard remained unlit. He spotted someone bursting out of his quarters and running two or three paces before collapsing onto the ground and rolling about groaning. This turned out to be Long Zhiqi. Bao Zhenfei was furious and made his hands into fists, yelling, "Jiang Xiaohe, you come out! If you want to fight us, then fight us. Why must you injure my disciple?" He then saw a dark silhouette come out of the room, leap onto the roof and run away. Bao Zhenfei cursed in anger, sprinted across and took a jump. Once on the roof, he felt unsteady and bent his waist to balance himself.

By now the dark silhouette was long gone, though Bao Zhenfei was now puzzled. The figure he'd just seen was very slight, nothing like the tall Jiang Xiaohe that Ji Guangjie described, nor the dark, fat Jiang Xiaohe with a big head that those in Northern Sichuan had detailed. There was now state of disorder below, lit brightly with lamps and candles, as Liu Jie directed his many workers to search high and low. Bao Zhenfei came off the roof and under the lamplight saw Long Zhiqi lying on the ground unconscious amid the crowd of people, his left arm severed halfway up. The bleeding flesh was a most dismal sight!

Bao Zhenfei couldn't help but stamp his foot and exclaim, "This disciple of mine has suffered so much on my account!" He instructed the men nearby, "Don't move him until he's regained consciousness!" He marched indignantly into his quarters, picked up his Kunlun saber and dashed out the gates. When he left the farmstead, he saw that outside it was also a loud, chaotic scene. Several dozen of the workers were on a hunt all around the farmstead holding sabers, cudgels and lit torches. Liu Jie too had his eighteen-foot spear in hand, angrily giving orders to his men, shouting, "Look everywhere! Even in the straw. Don't let the culprit hide!" The commotion went on for a while, but no one saw even a shadow of the perpetrator. Just then they noticed two lanterns approaching quickly from a distance. Bao Zhenfei and Liu Jie were both very surprised.

In a brief amount of time the lanterns drew near and they saw that it was six constables from the government office, all of them short of breath and holding polehooks and pronged batons. Their leader was surnamed Cui and he was acquainted with Liu Jie. After a greeting, he hurriedly asked, "So you have Jiang Xiaohe wounded and captured?" He then pointed back at two of the other officers, saying, "These two have come from the prefectural office; they arrived just a few days ago with specific orders to apprehend Jiang Xiaohe, the great outlaw responsible for robbing an official's family on Riversnail Ridge. Just now a child ran up to the government office shouting about how Jiang Xiaohe's already been captured here and that he was injured. That's why we've rushed over here."

Liu Jie was puzzled at these words. He thought perhaps this Constable Cui was drunk and didn't know what he was babbling about. Bao Zhenfei stamped his foot angrily and said, "The one who was injured is my disciple. He's now close to death! What is this Jiang Xiaohe nonsense? Go inside and look!" Thereafter, the men nearby continued their search. Liu Jie stared into space and Bao Zhenfei fumed as he brought the six officers into the courtyard. When they came to Long Zhiqi, they saw that Long Zhiqi had come to. He laid face up in a puddle of blood, moaning weakly without end. A few of the officers shined their lanterns nearer and the two that had come from Langzhong took a closer look. They saw a large head and a dark, bearded face. It was clear that his age and appearance matched the suspect described in their wanted notice perfectly. One of the officers looked up and asked, "What is his surname?" Bao Zhenfei replied, "His name is Long." The officer said, "This is him! The culprit in the robbery on Riversnail Ridge first called himself Jiang Xiaohe, and then told the carriage driver that he was the Great Second Sir Long!" Enraged, Bao Zhenfei sent the officer rolling with a kick. The lantern that was in his hand fell onto the ground and caught fire. Bao Zhenfei brandished his saber and was about to kill the officer when Liu Jie, Constable Cui and others grabbed him and held onto his arms.

Bao Zhenfei raised his saber high in the air and stamped his feet, yelling, "How dare you falsely accuse my disciple of being the bandit who robbed an official's family at Riversnail Ridge! You ask around and see if any of Bao Kunlun's disciples have ever committed any crimes or done bad things! You're unable to capture Jiang Xiaohe, so you want to exchange him for my disciple to get the reward? You are no better than Jiang Xiaohe in your maltreatment of me!" Liu Jie and six or seven others used all their strength to pull Bao Zhenfei back and take the Kunlun saber from his hand, persuading him to cool down in the receiving room. A racket still filled the courtyard as people ran back and forth even across the roofs.

When Bao Zhenfei was inside, Liu Jie and Constable Cui forced him to sit down in a chair, and someone poured him a cup of wine. Bao Zhenfei was still so angry his face glowed purple, his beard twitched, and his breath was heavy. Liu Jie talked him down, "Old brother, you needn't be angry. It looks to me your good disciple will live despite his serious injury." Bao Zhenfei waved his hand and said, "I'm not worried that he might die! But this grievance is not one easily borne! If any of my disciples take liberties with women, I, Bao Kunlun will put them into the ground. So it does not make sense to me that any of them would murder an official and rob his family! To say nothing of the fact that Long Zhiqi is my most seasoned disciple. He's been with me twenty years and he's never done anything the slightest bit wrong. A while ago, he often used to work protection through Northern Sichuan. You can ask around. Besides a minor tiff with the Xia of Langzhong, he's never done anything to bring shame to my Kunlun School!"

Constable Cui quickly smiled deferentially, saying, "Someone must have made a mistake! This is only because the suspect described in the wanted bill is similar in age and appearance to your honorable disciple. Please do not be angry, old bodyguard. I offer my sincere apologies!" Eighth Cheng took a puff of his pipe and asked Constable Cui, "What kind of person came to the government office and called on you?" Constable Cui said, "It was a child in his teens. He shouted at the gates of the government office for a while, but he left as soon as we went outside. I thought it must have been someone sent from here."

Liu Jie was perplexed, "It had just happened here. We'd sent no one to the police. Where did this child come from?" Bao Zhenfei simmered in his anger, thinking, Even children are now making fools of my disciples. This persecution of my Kunlun School has gone much too far. This may be the result of my turning to compassion in these recent years. The men of Jianghu do not listen to compassion. If I was still as ruthless as I had been in my youth, then perhaps no one would dare mistreat us!

It had settled down a bit in the courtyard, though one more person did come rushing through the gate. It was Black Tiger Zhang. Today, someone within the city had invited him for dinner, so he did not return until now. Upon entering the room, he asked hurriedly, "Has someone wounded Long Zhiqi? Was the perpetrator Jiang Xiaohe? You didn't capture him. Did you see what he looked like?" Liu Jie said, "We didn't see anyone! Jiang Xiaohe's nightwalking is powerful. He wounded a man and disappeared without a trace!"

Bao Zhenfei said, "Since I was the first one outside, I saw the culprit. I couldn't make out a face, but the figure was very small and slender. It's likely it was the boy who reported it to the government office. Do the lot of you know of any such young outlaw in the Northern Sichuan area?" Black Tiger Zhang stamped his foot and said, "It must have been them! I encountered them while I was on the main eastern road. Both sister and brother were riding small donkeys. They came out of an inn and departed northward!" Eighth Cheng jerked the pipe from his lips and said with wide eyes, "Was it Qin Xiaoxian and her brother?"

Black Tiger Zhang nodded, "That's right. It was Qin Xiaoxian, the Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law and her younger brother Qin Xiaoxiong. I haven't a clue how Long Zhiqi could have offended her to have her come for Long Zhiqi's life!" Eighth Cheng then asked, "Was Xu Yanyun not with them?" Black Tiger Zhang shook his head, "No, it was just the two of them, sister and brother. It was likely the sister came here and wounded Long Zhiqi, while her brother went to the government office to call over the officers, and then the two of them departed. Surely they will now ride through the night to get back to Langzhong, just as the Xia of Langzhong and his son are in fact heading this way to fight us!"

Eighth Cheng waved it off, saying, "No, that cannot be! The Xia of Langzhong spoke to someone only the day before last, saying he respected old brother Bao and detested Jiang Xiaohe, because what he did on Riversnail Ridge was too horrible!"

Black Tiger Zhang said, "But..." He glanced briefly at Bao Zhenfei. "At the dinner tonight in the city, among the participants were two security escorts who had come from the east. They had passed through Tongjiang and had seen Jiao Dechun, Jiao Rong and Jiang Xiaohe there. Because Jiao Dechun's nephew Jiao Rong had gotten into some trouble in Tongjiang, Jiao Dechun was wounded by the local kingpin and is lying in an inn there. So Jiang Xiaohe has stopped there for now, unable to continue west. One of them caught sight of Jiang Xiaohe and said that though his face was dark, he was not fat at all. He had already been taken into the Tongjiang County government office and shown to the carriage driver from the incident at Riversnail Ridge for identification. The man insisted that Jiang Xiaohe was not the brigand who robbed the official's family. The brigand was a fat man with a dark face, who though he called himself Jiang Xiaohe, had also cursed Jiang Xiaohe under his breath and later called himself Long. Since he..." Everyone looked over at Bao Zhenfei. Black Tiger Zhang continued, "Because of this, everyone wonder if Long Zhiqi is the one who did this, all the while pretending to be Jiang Xiao—"

Before he could utter the last syllable "he," all that was heard was a great din as Bao Zhenfei kicked over the table and all the cups and plates crashed onto the floor. Bao Zhenfei was like an enraged old tiger as he roared, "What the hell are you talking about? How could one of my disciples be capable of killing an official, robbing his family and engaging in banditry, all the while faking the identity of Jiang Xiaohe?"

At this point, Black Tiger Zhang, Liu Jie, Eighth Cheng and the others had all gotten out of the way. Constable Cui dropped his stern face and said, "Do not fret, old bodyguard Bao. This is all very easy to prove. The wife of the Peng'an county magistrate tried hanging herself in Jiangkou, but was rescued by an innkeeper and didn't die. The carriage driver too is in Tongjiang right now. Whether or not your honorable disciple is the bandit in question can be made clear by showing him to them. Personally, I don't think your good disciple should turn himself into the authorities. With some regard for the reputations of the Great Sir Liu, Second Sir Zhang and Eighth Sir Cheng, we can conduct our official matters in private. You should think of a way for your honorable disciple to go into hiding!"

Bao Zhenfei made fists of his hands and said, "My disciple has not broken the law. Why should he go into hiding? Tell your official friends to bring the wife of the Peng'an county magistrate here. If she recognizes my disciple as the bandit, then I leave you all to arrest him and give him an official death penalty. Otherwise, I don't care who it is, if anyone falsely accuses my disciples of anything, my saber will definitely show no mercy!"

Constable Cui stepped back a bit and scoffed, "Must we bring the Peng'an magistrate's wife here? The Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law must be familiar with the situation. Or else there would be no enmity between her and your disciple. Why would she come today to hurt your disciple, and then also send her brother to call the authorities? He very clearly said that the great outlaw Jiang Xiaohe was here and wounded, so it can be seen that your good disciple is the Jiang Xiaohe imposter. What that sister and brother did this time was nothing short of gallantry!"

Bao Zhenfei was so angry his entire body shook. His beard shuddered as if blown by the wind and his eyes were open wider than pears. He sent out flames of wrath and his face was frighteningly purple. He stamped his foot and said, "Fine! The Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law has likely not gone far. I'll chase her down and bring her back and ask her why she says that my disciple is the great outlaw Jiang Xiaohe!"

Upon hearing that Bao Zhenfei was going to bring back the Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law, not only did Black Tiger Zhang and Liu Jie not stand in his way, but both took delight in it. Liu Jie immediately instructed a servant to prepare Bao Zhenfei's horse. Eighth Cheng detailed the routes Qin Xiaoxian and her brother had to take on the way to Langzhong. Bao Zhenfei walked angrily back to his quarters to get his saber.

By now, Long Zhiqi had been carried back to his room and two people were applying medicine to the open wound on his arm. Bao Zhenfei was as a demon. He put his blade against his disciple's neck and growled viciously, "After I drag the Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law back here, we'll be able to know if you've been wronged! If you have indeed been violating the rules of my house behind my back, then...I will hack into meat paste!" Long Zhiqi cried out loudly in pain, though it was uncertain he heard what his master had said to him. Bao Zhenfei kicked open the door, went outside with saber in hand, and took large strides out through the main gate.

A servant of Liu Jie's household had already prepared his horse, so Bao Zhenfei mounted it without even a whip. With the reins in one hand, he struck the horse's thigh with the hilt of his saber in his other hand, and he hurtled out of the village as if flying. Following the directions given to him by Eighth Cheng, he went north, then west, and joined the main road toward Langzhong. By now, the day was black as ink, everything around dark and dreary.

Filled with anger, Bao Zhenfei rushed forth as his blood pumped and surged. Dadun dadun dadun, the hooves of the horse below him struck the hard ground. The sound it made resembled rapid firecracker explosions, unbroken and becoming more and more urgent. Bao Zhenfei's eyes glowed in the darkness like two lanterns as he shot his gaze in every direction. From his mouth, he spat irately, "The Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law! You bitch whore! Stand fast! Old Sir Bao has some questions for you!"

He didn't know how long he had given chase before he suddenly spotted two dark figures stopped in front of him and his mount. Two people with high voices called out, "Who are you?" Bao Zhenfei knew that he had caught up to them. He reined in his horse and held his saber out crosswise, saying, "I am Bao Zhenfei. I would like to meet the Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law, Qin Xiaoxian. Which one of you is she? Who?" Just as he finished, he saw a thin figure on top of a donkey who replied with a woman's voice, "I am! Old man Bao, for what reason have you pursued me? I spared you back there, because I saw that you were too far advanced in age and my heart could not have borne it!"

Bao Zhenfei growled, "You bitch whore!" That was all he said before he saw a white glimmer coming at him. Bao Zhenfei dodged it and jumped off his horse. The horse ran off to the side in surprise. Qin Xiaoxian jumped off her donkey as well and sent her sword down at him with a swoosh. Bao Zhenfei met it quickly with his saber. Clang, the sound rang out. The impact must have hurt Qin Xiaoxian's wrist, for she immediately turned tail and ran. Another one, a child came up behind Bao Zhenfei and swung a wooden cudgel at his head. Crack, the strike dazed him for a moment and then, enraged, he turned around with a swipe of his saber.

There was a wretched cry. The cudgel fell from the boy's hand as he tumbled to the ground. Qin Xiaoxian returned, brandishing her sword. She cried out, urgent and bitter, "You old cur! You murdered my brother!" Whoosh, her sword flew straight towards Bao Zhenfei like a flurry of lightning. She was out for Bao Zhenfei's life! Bao Zhenfei was now too as if possessed by a demon. He did not care whether his opponent was a man or a woman. His saber soared to meet Qin Xiaoxian's sword. They battled for ten or more exchanges before he knocked Qin Xiaoxian's sword from her hands. Qin Xiaoxian turned and fled, as Bao Zhenfei chased after her waving his saber. Before even a few paces of pursuit, he could not prevent himself from coming upon a black donkey sitting on the ground. Bao Zhenfei stumbled over it and he fell down, his two legs extended across the donkey's back. The frightened donkey bolted up, flipping Bao Zhenfei over, though luckily his saber remained in his hand. He expended quite a bit of energy getting up and was so furious he was gasping.

By now, Qin Xiaoxian had already fled to whereabouts unknown, and the two donkeys had disappeared without a trace. Looking down, Bao Zhenfei searched around for a while before he found the boy he had cut down. He gave him a kick with his foot. There was no moaning or movement. He bent down and reached out with his hand, touching something wet. Bao Zhenfei knew that it was blood, and he knew that this boy had been killed by him. He couldn't help a softness in his heart, a feeling of sympathy for this small, dead body. But then he thought, If I had killed Jiang Xiaohe ten years ago, what future misfortunes would I have had to deal with in the present? How can one roam Jianghu without being ruthless? Thereafter, he kicked the body again in anger and then whistled, calling his horse back to him. He mounted his horse and departed.

Atop his horse, he tore off a piece of his shirt and wiped his blade and hands of blood. Yet indignant, he pressed his horse on back to the Liu house. When he arrived, the officers had remained there, and Liu Jie and the others all fixed their eyes on him. Bao Zhenfei still did not set down the saber in his hand. He sat down in a chair and breathed heavily. Eighth Cheng thus asked, "Old bodyguard, did you manage to catch up with the Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law? Bao Zhenfei shook his head and panted before saying, "No, I didn't! I got lost!" Eighth Cheng, Liu Jie and Black Tiger Zhang all exchanged glances.

Bao Zhenfei sat and caught his breath for a while, and then without saying anything, he went back to his room with saber in hand. This time, his room was empty of other people and the lamps lit the room brightly. Long Zhiqi laid on the bed, blood covering his body and missing his left arm. In the bed and unable to move, he would have seemed dead if he wasn't moaning quietly. Bao Zhenfei set his saber down and couldn't help a wave of sorrow in his heart. He thought, My disciple is too pitiful! Not only has he been attacked and injured, he has suffered injustice and humiliation from others. He continuously shed some old tears before closing the door to his room, extinguishing the lamps, and then getting into bed to sleep.

This night, Bao Zhenfei did not have a peaceful rest. He woke up four or five times, and every time he would light the lamps. First, because he kept sensing activity outside, always as if Jiang Xiaohe or Qin Xiaoxian had come to do him harm. Second, because he was afraid that Long Zhiqi could die at any moment. It was like this up until it was light the next day. Bao Zhenfei awoke and checked on Long Zhiqi's wounds first thing. Long Zhiqi's eyes were barely open as he cried, "Master!" Bao Zhenfei couldn't help but feel compassion, saying with grief and anger, "Disciple! Rest easy and heal up. In future, your master will avenge you and right this injustice!" Long Zhiqi began to groan once more.

Someone knocked on the door. It was one of Liu Jie's servants. He said, "If it pleases you, sir, your presence is requested." Bao Zhenfei was taken aback. He thought, It's so early. What could Liu Jie possibly need me for? He followed the servant into the receiving room and saw Liu Jie and Black Tiger Zhang there, as well as Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God. Liu Jie's face expressed gloom. He turned to Jiang Cheng and said, "Please, you have something to say to old brother Bao!"

Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God was actually quite calm. He smiled and said, "Old brother Bao, please hold back your anger for now and listen to me! You did in fact catch up with Xu Yanyun's wife's brother, Qin Xiaoxiong, and you killed him at the side of the road. The incident has been reported and the authorities want to come and arrest you!" Hearing this shook Bao Zhenfei, and he was about to return to his quarters, grab up his saber and escape with Long Zhiqi over his shoulder.

However, Jiang Cheng waved his hand and said, "Don't worry, old brother! While you're staying at Brother Liu's place, the authorities would not be so brazen as to come here and take you in. Official business is easy to take care of, but private business is another matter entirely. Either today or tomorrow, it is certain the Xia of Langzhong and his son will arrive with the wife in tow. Not to mention that the deceased was the grandson of the Dragon of Shu. The Dragon of Shu left his home behind long ago to become a Daoist priest, but I hear he still remains a part of this world. If he finds out about this, he will surely come and avenge his grandson. Let us set the matter of Jiang Xiaohe aside for now. My brother, we invited you here because we venerated your reputation and wanted to become friends. I opposed the Xia of Langzhong merely to compare our skills and decide a winner and loser, not to become blood enemies with him. Old brother, do not worry about the authorities right now, we three brothers can take care of that for you. But what can we do about this private issue? We would like to hear something reassuring from you, brother!"

Bao Zhenfei finally realized that the three of them had invited him here and made friends with him for no other purpose than to use him against the Xia of Langzhong. But now that he had truly provoked the Xia of Langzhong, they were all afraid. Bao Zhenfei seethed inside and stared into the distance for a moment. He then smiled calmly and pounded his chest with a fist, saying, "This is nothing! Official matters or private matters, I, Bao Zhenfei, can shoulder both of them on my own. Surely I cannot involve my three brothers here in my own difficulties. If the authorities come for me now, I'll offer them my neck and go with them. I will gladly go to court, for murders must pay with their lives just as debtors must pay with money! To put down an old man of seventy or eighty years in compensation for a child in his teens is what is deserved! If the authorities do not come for me, then I will continue to stay here. There is no way I will go into hiding. No matter if it is the Xia of Langzhong, Xu Yanyun, Qin Xiaoxian, Jiang Xiaohe, or Jiang Xiaohe's master, or his master's master, or that master's master, no matter who it is, I have my Kunlun saber! I have a saber and I have a life! Let the weak fall by my blade!"

Bao Zhenfei was resolute and had ignited his fury like a roaring tiger. Liu Jie and the others were satisfied at what they heard. Liu Jie became immediately affable and said loudly, "Good. So saying, you prove truly that you are a veteran of Jianghu, an accomplished hero, an old fighting master! Do not concern yourself with the courts. Consider it nothing at all. When Constable Cui comes, he will back down with only a look. And when the Xia of Langzhong and the others arrive, we cannot stand by and watch while you face many. We will do all we can to help you." Bao Zhenfei shook out his anger and nodded, "All right! I will go back and polish my blade while I wait for them! My disciple's wounds are very serious right now. Which of you knows of a good apothecary here, bring back some to aid in his healing. If you are able to help him recover, my disciple will never forget this great favor as long as he lives!"

Liu Jie said, "Brother, you needn't be so courteous. I will send someone into the city now to get some from a well-regarded doctor. He specializes treating festering sores, traumatic lacerations." Bao Zhenfei nodded, "As long as he keeps his life, it's not important if he's short an arm and becomes a cripple. After everything is settled, I would like to clear his name. I'll take him to see the wife of the Peng'an county magistrate and ask her to identify if my disciple is the brigand who robbed her on Riversnail Ridge!" Liu Jie and Black Tiger Zhang laughed, "Then all forthcoming matters are easy to manage. Now it's just the Xia of Langzhong and his son and daughter-in-law. Today, I have already instructed my men and the ones that Brother Zhang has brought here from Bazhong, no matter who they are, they must remain here and keep their weapons at the ready. I've also sent several men to scout the area. If the Xia of Langzhong comes within ten miles of here, we will be the first to know."

Bao Zhenfei nodded and then went back to his room to wash up and drink tea. Afterwards, he checked up on Long Zhiqi's injury. Long Zhiqi appeared to be sleeping, though in his dreams he continued to moan. Bao Zhenfei sighed, picked up his Kunlun saber and was about to wipe it clean. He noticed there were still dark red blood stains on the blade and thought of the boy he'd killed the night previous. They must have finished examining the body by now. How deep a hatred could a boy with a cudgel have with me? Just as his heart was softening, he quickly steeled it once more and stopped thinking about it. He wiped his blade firmly over and over until it the large saber shone. Then he ripped one of his garments into strips and wrapped the fattier portions of his waist and legs tightly to make his movements more agile. Lastly, he put on fitted clothing before taking his saber and walking to the receiving room. He came upon Liu Jie and Black Tiger Zhang speaking to each other in hushed tones. Jiang Cheng had likely left, and Eighth Cheng had not spent the previous night at the Liu house.

When the two of them saw Bao Zhenfei enter the room, Liu and Zhang stopped talking. Liu Jie ordered a servant once more to bring wine. Bao Zhenfei set his saber down on another table and came over to drink with them. However, because he was now anxious, he didn't hesitate at all in raising large cups to gulp down. When most of the wine was gone, dishes were brought out, as well as rice. While they were eating, someone suddenly ran inside. It was one of Black Tiger Zhang's men. He didn't look like he was in a panic, but neither did his face look as if nothing was the matter.

Bao Zhenfei stood up at once and went to get his saber. Black Tiger Zhang remained quite collected as he asked, "What is it?" The man said, "Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther has returned. He's drinking at the Guo Tavern right now. We asked him if he was able to find Jiang Xiaohe, and where he's been the last few days, but he said nothing. He just shook his head and smiled." Black Tiger Zhang's face dropped, "Take some men with you and drag that little rat into the street for beating. You needn't take his life. It'll do just to beat him half to death."

The man was about to turn and leave when Liu Jie waved his hand and said, "No, that's not necessary! Don't mind him, as long as he doesn't leave. We'll revisit it in a couple days. We needn't concern ourselves with these trivial matters right now. Let us take care of the big problem first, then we'll have plenty of time for the small ones." Bao Zhenfei knew what this big problem was that they were talking about—the Xia of Langzhong—so he waved his hand and said, "We mustn't pay that Wu fellow any mind for now. Since he came back alone, we know that he must not have been able to find Jiang Xiaohe. I'm certain Jiang Xiaohe is momentarily held up for now and I know the place where he is staying. I hope the Xia of Langzhong and his son will come today, so that after our fight, I can go and find Jiang Xiaohe!" The man turned to leave the receiving room and they continued to drink and discuss. However, all of them held onto anxiety in their hearts, especially Bao Zhenfei, who sat with much unease.

At midday, one of the servants at the Liu house returned. His head was drenched in sweat and his body covered in dust, while a horsewhip remained in his hand. Upon entering the receiving room, he said in panic, "The Xia of Langzhong has arrived!" Liu, Black Tiger Zhang and Bao Zhenfei all shot up out of their seats. Bao Zhenfei took his saber in his hand. The man who gave the report stood in his way and said, "Old bodyguard, please do not be hasty. The Xia of Langzhong and the others have just reached the town of Shituo. When I said he'd arrived, I didn't mean right away!" Black Tiger asked him nervously, "How many is their party?" The man said, "There were a dozen or so, all on horseback and carrying weapons. There was the Xia of Langzhong, Xu Yanyun and that Qin Xiaoxian. The rest were workers at the Xu house. He hadn't called on anyone else for help."

Alarmed that they had all come, Liu Jie's face turned yellow. He hurriedly instructed the man, saying, "Go now and summon Second Sir Jiang and tell him bring more men with him. Then, go to the county office and find Eighth Sir Cheng. If he isn't there, then he must be at Madame Zhou's place on Rouge Lane. No matter what, you must locate him and tell him to bring additional officers, the more, the better! Go now! Hurry!"

Bao Zhenfei blocked the door with his Kunlun saber and shook his purple face. He stuck out his chest and said boldly, "I have no use for them! They are coming to avenge the dead boy from yesterday. I am his killer, and as long as I show myself, they'll not ask about anyone else. My two brothers, leave this to me. I'll go outside the farmstead and wait for them. Personal matters are personal. There is no need to bother the authorities!" So saying, Bao Zhenfei was at once like a ferocious tiger, and also a veteran general marching to the battlefield, as he went out with Kunlun saber in hand.

Hearing that the Xia of Langzhong had nearly arrived, Liu Jie's workers and the men that Black Tiger Zhang brought from Bazhong were all in a lather. Some wanted to find a place to hide, while others acted as brave men, brandishing their sabers, holding their cudgels and loading their crossbows in preparation for the battle with the Xia of Langzhong's family.

Bao Zhenfei carried his Kunlun saber to the farmstead gates and waved his hands at the crowd, "Don't lose your wits! This was all provoked by me, Bao Zhenfei, alone, so it will be Bao Zhenfei alone who will deliberate with them. If you do fight, do so outside of the farmstead. Bleed outside of the farmstead. If one blade of grass is harmed in the farmstead, I, the one named Bao, will not be able to face Great Sir Liu!" He marched forth boldly. He departed the grounds of the farmstead and when he came out of the entrance to the village, he looked to all side with eyes wide open. He saw only a landscape recently turned to autumn. The rice paddies remained tall, many farmers and village women were working the land, and water buffalo nibbled lazily on the grass by the road.

There weren't many people traveling on the wide path in front of the farmstead where Bao Zhenfei was standing. The mess of human voices continued, but in front of him, he did not see the Xia of Langzhong or his people coming. Bao Zhenfei found a large rock at the side of the road to sit on and leaned on his saber. He stared forward and couldn't help but recall the incident ten years past. At that time, I was at the gates of his own home, repelling the Xia of Langzhong in front of Bao Village. Back then my granddaughter was not much older than ten years. She'd been afraid that I wasn't a match for the Xia of Langzhong. She'd shouted, "Grandpa, watch out! He wants to hurt you!" The child was with Ji Guangjie now. I wonder how they're doing? Jiang Xiaohe is now in Northern Sichuan, but I haven't heard any news from them. Could it be they have both fallen in Chang'an at the hands of Jiang Xiaohe?

Just as a wave of sadness washed over him, he suddenly spotted two horses ahead of him. One in front and one behind, they galloped toward him like an arrow. Bao Zhenfei hurriedly raised his saber and stood up, stepping forward several paces to meet the two approaching horses. He looked and saw that it wasn't the Xia of Langzhong, but the scouts Liu Jie had sent out. Bao Zhenfei stepped to the roadside and flagged them down, asking, "What's the situation? Has the Xia of Langzhong arrived yet?" The two men on horseback said between gasps of air, "He is nearly here!" The two horses raced past Bao Zhenfei and galloped toward the farmstead.

It was as if a flame had been ignited in Bao Zhenfei's chest with a rumble and burned through his entire body. Excited, he took large steps forward to meet them. After fewer than thirty-some paces, he saw at a dozen or so horses turn toward him at the end of the road. The jumble of hoof sounds sent dust up into the air, though they were not riding so quickly. Bao Zhenfei boldly presented his saber with both hands as he stood in the middle of the road. The horses across from him drew closer and closer. He could see clearly now that the one on the horse in the front was the Xia of Langzhong. The Xia of Langzhong wore a large straw hat and green silk clothes. He was riding a white horse and a golden bell hanging off the horse tinkled. In no time at all, this horse of his was the first to close in. Bao Zhenfei saw that the Xia of Langzhong's appearance had changed little from ten years ago, just that he had gray stubble below his cheeks now. Bao Zhenfei cupped his fist and said, "Brother Xu, it has been quite a long time! Why don't you stay your horse?"

It wasn't until the Xia of Langzhong was at a distance of five paces from Bao Zhenfei that he reined his horse up. The first thing he did was pull a sword from his saddle, and then he said with a calm expression, "Old bandit, you have some nerve to wait here for me. I had quite the respect for you these last ten years, mistakenly thinking that you were an old man of Jianghu who understood righteousness. Thus I did not come back after you, nor did I pay heed to the matters of Jianghu. I was content to grant the Jianghu of Southern Shaanxi and Northern Sichuan to your Kunlun School. So it was up until a couple days ago, when I heard that you had been driven here by Jiang Xiaohe. I felt sympathy for you and wanted to come back out to intervene in the rancor between the two families of Jiang and Bao. Then yesterday, when my daughter-in-law returned to Langzhong in the dead of night, I discovered what a hateful person you were. Your disciple Long Zhiqi has rampaged through Northern Sichuan, killing an officer on Riversnail Ridge and then robbing an official's family. He acted as a bandit on Taiji Mountain and then harried my daughter-in-law at Jadestone Village. He engaged in all manner of base and despicable behavior, and he coldly pretended he was Jiang Xiaohe the whole time, framing and falsely incriminating him! Not only do you, the one named Bao, not turn your disciple into the authorities to face punishment, but you do not reprimand him yourself, instead shielding that lower-than-a-beast disciple of yours and murdering Qin Xiaoxiong, a boy of not yet fifteen years. What kind of man are you? You hoary cretin! You old thug!"

The Xia of Langzhong said these things with a ferocious glare, and then he swiftly sent a vicious chop at Bao Zhenfei with his sword. Bao Zhenfei hastily resisted it with his saber. By now the riders that had been behind the Xia of Langzhong had caught up in a tumult of hoof sounds and encircled Bao Zhenfei. The robust young Xu Yanyun and the vigorous Qin Xiaoxian both brandished their swords and came at Bao Zhenfei. The men that the Xia of Langzhong brought from his farmstead all drew their swords and sabers and went for Bao Zhenfei's life.

Bao Zhenfei shifted his saber up and down, blocking in front and protecting himself in the back. He was as if a devil fighting atop a mountain, or a yaksha thrashing through a sea of fire!


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