The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 19

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 19.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.



His strength shaking the summits of Wudang,
          a single crane displays his might.
Clouds surround Zhanqi Peak, as two valiants match swords.

As he had been in pursuit of Daocheng and the kidnapped Aluan, Jiang Xiaohe had already arrived at Mount Wudang by now. He’d made inquiries in the vicinity and knew that the leaders of the “Seven Great Sword Sages” were Yu Xuanqing, Zhang Xuanhai and Ma Xuantao. Zhang Xuanhai had two disciples: Chu Jianxiong and Ni Jianchao. And Ma Xuantao had one disciple named Chen Jianfei. In addition, there was a Daoist priest from the outside called Lü Chongyan the Swordsman of Lingyun.

These seven Daoists were together called the “Seven Great Sword Sages.” But besides Lü Chongyan, who would often travel Jianghu and make friends with distinguished xia, and Chu Jianxiong and Chen Jianfei’s eagerness for martial contests, the rest of them were Daoist priests who adhered closely to their religious strictures and were not easily coaxed off the mountain. They lived separately at Zhenwu Temple atop the highest summit, Yuzhen Palace on Zhanqi Peak, Wulong Peak, Zixiao Peak, and other similar places. They were all heirs on a direct line of the true internal martial arts of the founder Zhang Sanfeng, so their martial arts were all very powerful. There were also more than six hundred Daoists on the entire mountain whose responsibility it was to oversee all of it. The incense burned abundantly and their influence was robust, but not a single one of them engaged in disrespectful or oppressive behavior. However, there was one thing. Regardless of whether you were an important official, a high-ranked general, a wandering xia of Jianghu, or a security escort of the various roads, when you came to the place called the “Shedsword Spring,” it was compulsory to remove your sword. If you carried a saber or a spear up the mountain, it was no matter to them, but they did not permit you to take a sword. If anyone dared to take their sword past Shedsword Spring, this was unforgivable to them.

From the very time Jiang Xiaohe discovered that Aluan was missing, he was certain that Daocheng must have abducted her. Fury filled his chest and he arrived here that very night. However, when he inquired, no one had seen a Daoist nun go up the mountain, and he was told that the Seven Great Sword Sages did not allow bandits to stay there, so he began to hesitate. After a moment, he decided on a plan. He thought that since he did not have a weapon on him, why not ascend the the mountain and pay the Seven Great Sword Sages a visit and inquire of them with the utmost respect. If they could ensure that there was no way that Daocheng could have abducted a woman and taken her there, then he would disturb the mountain no further. He could no nothing but search elsewhere.

It was early morning when he climbed the mountain and the sky was overcast. All of Mount Wudang was shrouded in the densest of fogs. A thick frost also covered the ground, turning the mountain completely white. The autumn wind whistled through and touched his body with a deep chill. Jiang Xiaohe was wearing a pair of blue, unlined, cloth pants with a blue, cloth short coat, and straw sandals on bare feet. He made his way step by step up the mountain, the vision before him an impenetrable drizzle. He couldn’t see anything and he couldn’t discern where the path was, so he was afraid to rush. Beside that, without mentioning other people, there wasn’t the sound of a single bird calling out.

After walking for a while, he had worn holes in his straw sandals, so he thought it better just to toss them. Fortunately, the callouses on his feet actually made walking barefoot easier for him than while wearing shoes. After walking a bit longer, the drone of bells pierced through the mist and into Jiang Xiaohe’s ears. It sounded very clear, as if there was a Daoist sanctuary nearby. Jiang Xiaohe quickly bent his ear to concentrate on figuring out what direction the bell sounds were coming from, and while he did this, he started walking slowly towards them. After a short distance, he came to the edge of a cliff. Below, the boundless mist looked a great sea, every single thing was hidden from view. The sound of the bells seemed to come from the bottom of the cliff.

If he had wanted to find a mountain path and slowly make his way down, it would have been impossible! Jiang Xiaohe stood for awhile perturbed atop the cliff. The bells had stopped, though their lingering sound spiraled up through the mist. Jiang Xiaohe steeled his heart, took a deep breath and leaning, took a sudden leap downwards. With a whoosh, Jiang Xiaohe’s body fell into a large pine tree. His hands and feet hurt from all the pine needles piercing at him, but he pulled the branches aside and landed his feet on a level surface. He was now inside a temple.

Just as Jiang Xiaohe straightened up, he saw the half window of the side hall flip open. Out leapt a spotted leopard, around whose neck hung a copper chain. He pounced at Jiang Xiaohe with teeth and claws out. With great alarm, Jiang Xiaohe flew up and climbed back into the tree. The leopard crawled up the tree after him. Jiang Xiaohe jumped down next to the main hall, upon which were laid iron tiles, black with rust, and the leopard followed closely behind him. It sprung at Jiang Xiaohe and he faced it directly by grabbing hold of its neck. The leopard was standing upright like a person as he opened his mouth widely, but his head was being held back so he wasn’t able to bite down. He clawed fiercely with his front paws and his tail thrashed about, as he roared impatiently.

Jiang Xiaohe quickly reached out with his right hand and jabbed the leopard’s snow white chest with his finger. The leopard yelped and fell supine onto the ground as if he’d died. Jiang Xiaohe ripped a couple tiles down from the roof of the hall and bashed the leopard’s head with all his strength, hitting it until it cracked open and his own anger subsided. Afterward, he used a tile to knock at the window of the side hall. Jiang Xiaohe yelled loudly inside, “Who’s the damned priest raising the leopard? Get yourself out here!” The window flipped closed once more. Jiang Xiaohe was afraid the hall might be concealing another creature, so he dared not charge inside rashly. He picked the two metal tiles up from the ground before approaching the door of the hall and cursing loudly. Someone inside replied, asking, “Where do you come from, bandit? How dare you stir up trouble in this sacred place?”

Jiang Xiaohe shoved the door open. Inside, a young Daoist priest brandished his sword and sent a chop his way. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly backed away a couple paces. The Daoist followed him out and thrust his sword at Jiang Xiaohe’s chest. Jiang Xiaohe darted to the left and dodged the attack. The Daoist swung his sword for another go and Jiang Xiaohe flung one of the tiles at him, striking him in the chest. The Daoist quivered in pain and Jiang Xiaohe took the opportunity to snatch his sword from him. The Daoist reached out to take it back, but Jiang Xiaohe extended a foot and kicked him, plop, bottom first onto the floor.

The Daoist was undeterred. He straightened his legs and stood up, and with hands bare tried to take the sword from Jiang Xiaohe’s hand. Jiang Xiaohe spun the sword with a glimmer and then swung it at the Daoist’s head, causing the Daoist to quickly lower his head and bend at the waist. At that point, another Daoist entered the courtyard and rebuked him, “Stop! How dare you come here to cause trouble?” Jiang Xiaohe pulled the sword in and stepped back one pace to carefully size up the situation. This Daoist’s appearance was particular. He was slender and handsome and looked to be of just over forty years. Jiang Xiaohe said, “Priest, please do not be unreasonable! I came to the mountain to find someone, and I did not carry a sword here with me, because I know the rules of your mountain. See that I come in good faith. It is you all who have acted oddly and viciously. At my arrival here, you sent a leopard out to bite me. If I were anyone but Jiang Xiaohe, I would’ve already been food for that leopard, and there would not even be a dead body to look at.”

Upon hearing Jiang Xiaohe declare his own name, the slender Daoist’s face shifted to surprise and said, “So you are Jiang Xiaohe. I have heard that you are also a descendent of the Wudang School. When you are here, it is even more important that you must abide by the rules, so as not to offend our founder!” Jiang Xiaohe said, “Even the founder should not be raising leopards. You were keeping it inside as if it were a dog. What kind of people are you?” The Daoist replied, “I am the one who raised that leopard, and it has never hurt anyone. It is very friendly!” As he said this, he caught sight of the dead leopard, covered in spots, lying on the ground with its head smashed up. Pain flashed across his face, followed closely by ire.

The young Daoist who had been kicked said, “This man jumped down from the cliff. He didn’t look like a good man, so I let the leopard out.” Jiang Xiaohe scoffed and asked the Daoist his name. The slender Daoist said, “I am called Chen Jianfei and he is my disciple.” Jiang Xiaohe said, “I know that you are one sage of the Seven Great Sword Sages, and that you are all good men with the exception of Lü Chongyan the Swordsman of Lingyun. I have gathered all this information while on the road and the reason I have come now is to find one person.” Chen Jianfei asked, “Who are you looking for?” Jiang Xiaohe said, “I am looking for the abbess of Jiuxian Abbey, Daocheng. She kidnapped my wife Aluan and brought her here!”

Chen Jianfei furiously castigated him, “Nonsense! Mount Wudang is a peaceful place. What’s this about a nun or woman coming here!” Jiang Xiaohe said, “Perhaps you do know the whole situation. There are many temples on this mountain. If Daocheng came and hid my wife somewhere else, you would have no way of knowing. You are but a junior member of the Seven Great Sword Sages. I wish to see Yu Xuanqing, Zhang Xuanhai or Ma Xuantao. Bring me to them! I will make my request to them and it will have nothing to do with you!”

Chen Jianfei took a glance at Jiang Xiaohe and then looked down at the dead leopard. He nodded, saying, “Fine! I am eating right now, so wait for me a moment and I will take you to Yuzhen Palace.” So saying, he turned and walked back into the inner courtyard. The young, beaten Daoist glared at Jiang Xiaohe for a moment before leaving to eat as well. Other than Jiang Xiaohe, there was no one else left in this yard.

Jiang Xiaohe tucked one of the metal tiles into his breast, and then looked around until he had completely investigated the main and side halls, but he found nothing suspicious. It was just the fact that a Daoist priest was raising a leopard caused maddened him. He paced back and forth around the courtyard for a moment before the temple gates were pushed open and five Daoists, none very old, came through to eat food, seeming to have heard the sound of the bells. After coming upon the dead leopard lying on the ground and Jiang Xiaohe standing nearby with a sword in hand, these five Daoists couldn’t help being startled. One of them asked, “What is your business here?” Jiang Xiaohe replied, “Tell Chen Jianfei to hurry up and finish eating. When he’s done, tell him come and take me to Yuzhen Palace already.” Encountering Jiang Xiaohe’s harsh manner, these Daoists dared not enquire further and all continued into the inner yard.

Jiang Xiaohe fumed as he paced another few circuits around the courtyard. Then he spotted Chen Jianfei and two young Daoists coming out of the inner yard. This time he was very courteous. When he saw Jiang Xiaohe, he took a bow and then said calmly, “We will take you up to Zhanqi Peak now. Once you’re there, no matter how angry you are, you must not meet the master with rudeness, otherwise even I would be guilty of it as well. You must also put down that sword. It is not only for outsiders. Not even those of us at temple may carry our swords out.” Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, “Alright!” He tossed the sword aside with a clatter. With the two younger Daoists walking ahead, Chen Jianfei accompanied Jiang Xiaohe out of the temple. The fog was still abundant, though it seemed a bit thinner than it had been. One could faintly see the trees and the mountain before them and the sound of birds chirping could be heard crisply in their ear.

As they walked north together, Chen Jianfei conversed with Jiang Xiaohe, saying, “Last year I had never heard tell of your name, but this year, the men of this mountain who leave to beg for alms hear your name being spoken often by others. It is said that you are the disciple of the elderly xia of Mount Jiuhua, but I don’t know if this is true or false. If your master still alive and well?” Jiang Xiaohe said, “Let’s keep the idle chatter to a minimum. I’ve come here solely to find Daocheng. As long as I find her, I will leave you be. I’m not here to cause you trouble.” Chen Jianfei said, “I am certain no one called Daocheng has come to this mountain.” Jiang Xiaohe said, “I cannot accept what you’re saying. I must meet with your master.” Chen Jianfei stopped talking after that.

The mountain road below this precipice was extremely hard to navigate, and became more and more difficult the further they walked. A little further on there was a mountain peak. It was uncertain how many feet tall it was, the top portion was cloaked in misty clouds and the bottom section looked like it had been chiseled out with a knife or axe. There were numerous stone steps beside which was hung a very, very long iron chain. If one did not take hold of the chain, it would be impossible to proceed up the steps. It was practically a straight up and down progression. The two younger Daoists were first to clutch onto the chain and head up. It seemed as if they walked this path often, so their advancement was very natural. Chen Jianfei said, “This is Zhanqi Peak. Once you go up, you will arrive at Yuzhen Palace. Would you like to go first, or would you prefer I did?” Jiang Xiaohe smiled and said, “After you!” Chen Jianfei grabbed hold of the chain and made his way up. He walked very slowly and would often turn around and say, “Be careful! Your life will be over if you fall!”

When Jiang Xiaohe first started climbing, he gripped the iron chain tightly with both hands, but later on, after he’d gone thirty or so feet up, he relaxed his grip and ascended the steps using only his bare feet. His body was upright and nearly stuck against the stone wall, as if he were a gecko. When Chen Jianfei saw this, his face showed astonishment and he said, “You cannot continue on like that!” Jiang Xiaohe said, “Pay me no mind. You walk however you like! If I fall from here, then consider it recompense for having taken the life of your leopard. I will not come looking for you as a ghost!” Just as he said this, Chen Jianfei, who was ahead of him, abruptly swung down while holding the iron chain with both hands and suddenly trampled on Jiang Xiaohe’s head. Jiang Xiaohe lost his balance and wanted to grab the iron chain, but it was too late. He immediately tumbled downwards.

Jiang Xiaohe, however, kept his body upright and landed on his feet with not even a scratch. He looked up furiously and saw Chen Jianfei like an ape, hurriedly rushing up the summit while holding onto the chain. Jiang Xiaohe yelled, “You sought to do me harm!” As he said this, he reached into his breast, pulled out the metal tile and flung it up with all his might. He heard a scream as Chen Jianfei fell all the way down onto the ground. The two younger Daoists who were turned back watching also cried out and ran up the summit like two small monkeys.

Jiang Xiaohe looked down and saw that Chen Jianfei had fallen to near death, his head bleeding profusely. The metal tile had fallen down as well, landing not far from him. At that moment he heard the urgent droning of a bell from the summit. Jiang Xiaohe fumed, “They will not be reasonable now! I have wounded one of the Seven Great Sword Sages. Would they be able to let that go?” Thereafter, Jiang Xiaohe picked up the tile and again tucked it in his breast. He took hold of the chain and flew straight up like a bounding tiger, and before long he nearly reached the mountain peak.

The bell sounds grew increasingly insistent and loud as it echoed across the mountain like a flood rolling in or a typhoon about to hit. Jiang Xiaohe sprung up onto the summit and saw a solid throng of thirty or forty Daoist priests, each of them wearing a short Daoist robe with sleeves rolled-up and holding a sword in his hand. The glimmer of their blades flashed amid the mist like countless silver snakes. As soon as Jiang Xiaohe took one barefoot step onto the rocky surface of the summit, he was met with three Daoists approaching him, brandishing their swords. One of them was a priest with ashen temples whom Jiang Xiaohe recognized: It was Chu Jianxiong. When Ji Guangjie had come here previously, he had been forced off a cliff by him. It was said that though he was one of the younger generation of the Seven Great Sword Sages, his martial arts were considered to be second.

Chu Jianxiong approached first and brandished his sword with a whoosh. The wind blew his gray temple hairs aflutter and glared angrily with his eyes. He asked, “Are you Jiang Xiaohe? How dare you come to the place of the founder of the Wudang School and stir up trouble? How dare you kill my disciple-brother?” Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, “Please do not be unreasonable!” Before he could finish speaking, Chu Jianxiong hacked at him with his sword. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly dodged to the right. A sword then came to the right and Jiang Xiaohe ducked to the left. Another sword sliced from the left, but there was nowhere to go behind him. The three swords were like lightning as they came at him together. Jiang Xiaohe growled and leapt upward, flying over the top of Chu Jianxiong’s shoulders.

Chu Jianxiong quickly turned around and brandished his sword. Jiang Xiaohe rushed toward the crowd of Daoists. The crowd was a mess of swinging blades that trapped Jiang Xiaohe in their midst. Jiang Xiaohe grabbed one of the Daoists and with a dart of his hand, stole his sword away. He then swung it, swoosh, swoosh, several times just as a flower, protecting himself front and back. He was surrounded by the crowd of Daoists as if he were a martial artist performing in the square to an audience. He pounded his chest and shouted, “If you dare advance on me then you’ll be first to die. Hear me out first! I, Jiang Xiaohe, would first like to confess my guilt to Lord Zhenwu and Founder Sanfeng. Please forgive me for using a sword on the mountain. I am about to eliminate every single one of these demons and help cleanse Mount Wudang!”

Just as he said this, Chu Jianxiong advanced with sword swinging. Jiang Xiaohe allowed him to continue step by step. After six or seven such exchanges, Jiang Xiaohe discovered the gap in Chu Jianxiong’s swordwork. He thrust the sword suddenly, his force like that of a ferocious tiger springing out of a forest. Chu Jianxiong retreated back urgently and flipped his sword to parry as blade met with blade. Jiang Xiaohe shifted and used the opportunity to slash crosswise with his sword. Chu Jianxiong blocked with his sword and a clang rang out immediately. It was louder than clearer than the sound of the bells and startled the others. Jiang Xiaohe pressed in a couple steps, the glimmer of his sword was at once above and at once below, here a slash, there a stab. Chu Jianxiong was still able to ward off his onslaught, but it looked like he was about to lose. Nearby, four Daoists approached waving their swords, as Chu Jianxiong switched his approach and advanced on Jiang Xiaohe slowly to attack. Jiang Xiaohe matched the five swords with his one, suddenly ahead and abruptly behind, quickly left and swiftly right. After another dozen or so exchanges, a terrible scream rang out. Jiang Xiaohe had cut down one of the Daoists. Chu Jianxiong waved his hand to direct the crowd and they came forward as a group, their swords like a forest to encircle Jiang Xiaohe.

Jiang Xiaohe used his blade to block in all directions, as he both walked and fought, and in an instant, he had made it to the edge of the temple. Jiang Xiaohe flew up onto its red wall. On the other side were waiting several Daoists carrying swords. Jiang Xiaohe jumped off the wall and engaged them. At the same time, Chu Jianxiong and the others had entered and surrounded them. Jiang Xiaohe again fought as he moved to next to the bell tower. Jiang Xiaohe sprung up and soared over the heads of the Daoist mob. He reached the top of the bell tower and came upon a Daoist in the midst of ringing the bell. Jiang Xiaohe went over, grabbed the bell-ringing Daoist and pushed him from the tower.

Afterwards, he inserted his sword into the decaying wood of the window, removed the large, one or two hundred catty metal bell, raised it above his head, and then hurled it downward. He heard an alarmly loud crash, as the roofing tiles on top of the building rattled and grisly shouting came from below. The bell was cast with pig iron and when it hit the ground, it broke into several pieces. After that, Jiang Xiaohe took his sword up again, slashed it with a whoosh, and bellowed below, “Who dares come up here?”

At this moment, the crowd of Daoists below had fallen back one after another in fright. Some had been injured by the broken bell and were pulled aside by others. The gray hair on Chu Jianxiong’s temples were standing on end, as he stood alone at the base of the structure. He pointed his sword up and said, “Jiang Xiaohe, if you do not come down and accept your death, I will fight through this temple and burn that clocktower down. Then we shall see where you’ll fly—“ Just when he got to here, Jiang Xiaohe fished out the iron tile and flung it downward. It struck Chu Jianxiong’s head with a crack. Chu Jianxiong’s body collapsed instantly, though a few of the others came forward to hold him up.

At this time, he saw all of the Daoist throng abruptly put down their swords and take a simultaneous bow. From outside entered four more Daoist priests, two of whom had white beards. One had a black beard and the other was around thirty years of age without a beard. Jiang Xiaohe said, “Good! You must be of the Seven Great Sword Sages, but there’s still one missing or you would all have arrived!” The one Daoist priest with fluttering silver temple hairs, who was tall and resembled Bao Kunlun a bit, pointed up at the clock tower and said, “Jiang Xiaohe, come down at once so we can have a discussion!” Jiang Xiaohe smirked and said, “What more is there to talk about? There are too many of you. Actually, I am not afraid even if you were to come at me all at once, but all of them are innocent here, and I couldn’t bear it on my heart. I am here only to battle the Seven Great Sword Sages.”

That same Daoist said, “My name is Zhang Xuanhai.” He referred to the elderly Daoist who was more of less the same age as he and said, “This is my disciple-brother Ma Xuantao.” He then pointed at the other two priests and said, “There, Ni Jianchao and Lü Chongyan. We are here to focus on our religious practice and have never bullied outsiders. The Seven Great Sword Sages is but a name the general Jianghu public chose for us. We do not consider ourselves that. In the past five hundred years, no one has dared come to this mountain to stir up trouble, but now you, Jiang Xiaohe, dare to come here and go on a rampage, and disturb the mighty spirit of Lord Zhenwu? You dare hurt the followers of the Three Pure Ones?”

Jiang Xiaohe stood above and scoffed, “How can the followers of the Three Pure Ones raise a leopard and send it to bite people? Or permit a savage nun to carry a married woman up the mountain?” Zhang Xuanhai was puzzled. “When did this happen? Jiang Xiaohe, why don’t you come down? We will not hurt you.” Jiang Xiaohe brandished his sword and leapt down, sneering, “Who’s afraid of you all hurting me? I just hope you are not seeking injury or death.” Zhang Xuanhai then asked, “You say that we’re raising a leopard. Where is this leopard?” Jiang Xiaohe replied, “Go down and take a look. There’s a dead one at Chen Jianfei’s temple. If I had not known martial arts, the leopard would have eaten me up and left not even a bone!”

Zhang Xuanhai was taken aback and anger shone on his face. Two Daoists came over and kowtowed to Zhang Xuanhai first before admitting, “Indeed there is a leopard at the lower temple. Uncle Chen raised it from a cub, but it never hurt anyone.” The anger on Zhang Xuanhai’s face subsided slightly. He said, “The lower temple is a bit out of the way. He was afraid of bandits coming to bother them, so he raised a leopard to guard the mountain. If you had not disturbed it, it would not have come after you. You also mentioned the abduction of a woman? To which household does she belong?” Jiang Xiaohe spat angrily, “This has to do with you all. Someone here is familiar with Daocheng of the Jiuxian Abbey on Cloudperch Ridge. She kidnapped my wife and took her here!”

Once he said this, Zhang Xuanhai turned around to look at Lü Chongyan. The fair-faced and handsome Daoist who was about thirty years, stepped forward and first bowed to Jiang Xiaohe and said very calmly with sword in hand, “You must have been deceived. The Abbess Daocheng did come here once last year, but she departed after she paid her respects at Zhenwu Temple, so she has nothing to do with us. There are many temples within a hundred miles of this mountain, and many villages behind it. You can go there to look for her, but you cannot cause trouble here!” Jiang Xiaohe thought this over and then said, “Fine. Then I will go look elsewhere, but if I do not find her, I will have to return here to inquire. Farewell!”

So saying, Jiang Xiaohe turned to leave. Unexpectedly, Zhang Xuanhai lunged at him from behind and jabbed at Jiang Xiaohe with a left-hand finger. Jiang Xiaohe flipped around and waved his arm, batting Zhang Xuanhai away. He scoffed, “Are you still going to try those tricks on me?” Zhang Xuanhai swung his sword down for a chop, but Jiang Xiaohe caught it horizontally with his sword. Zhang Xuanhai glared at him and said, “Jiang Xiaohe, you have wounded my disciple-nephew and caused a disturbance on Zhanqi Peak. Do you really think you can just stroll away?” Jiang Xiaohe glared back at him, saying, “What do you want to happen? Please say it!” Zhang Xuanhai said, “At the very least, you must kneel on the ground and pay your respects to the founder by burning incense. Then we will tie you up, carry you down the mountain and hand you to the authorities!” Jiang Xiaohe spat at them, “Pah!” He sent his sword for a chop at Zhang Xuanhai. Zhang Xuanhai brandished his sword to meet him. Ma Xuantao and Ni Jianchao rushed forward to aid with their swords. Only Lü Chongyan hid behind a mountain boulder and spectated.

Jiang Xiaohe’s single sword resisted the four “sword sages,” and he carried not an ounce of fear. However, Zhang Xuanhai and Ma Xuantao’s swordwork were both exceptional, and Ni Jianchao and Chu Jianxiong were both quite strong. More and more sword-carrying Daoists began to gather outside, in total no less than fifty or sixty. Ma Xuantao called out once more and the mob of Daoists brandished their swords and advanced together. Jiang Xiaohe used his sword to protect his body and carve out a path. He bounded back up onto the clock tower and then leapt from it, landing outside of the temple.

Chu Jianxiong and Ni Jianchao lead the crowd of Daoists out in pursuit. Jiang Xiaohe repelled them as he moved and eventually made his way back to the edge of the precipice. Jiang Xiaohe stood with his sword held crosswise and beckoned with his other hand, “Come on!” The throng of Daoists, each with their own sword, surged forward like the tide, and there were others who were firing crossbows. Jiang Xiaohe brushed away a few arrows, and then directed his attention to Chu Jianxiong and Ni Jianchao, battling them for several exchanges before cutting down Ni Jianchao with his blade. Then, he turned around and ran several paces, swinging his sword and howling with laughter. He threw his body down and, like an autumn leaf, darted quickly down the mountain peak.

When his feet landed on solid ground, a multitude of crossbow arrows and rocks still came flying from above. Jiang Xiaohe turned and ran, sprinting down one mountain ridge before stopping. The mist had dissipated and he could now see in all directions. There were already a few woodsmen here cutting wood. Jiang Xiaohe caught his breath and then walked over carrying his sword. He gave a careful look and saw that these woodsmen all had their hair pulled up into a Daoist’s topknot. Thus, Jiang Xiaohe threw his sword aside and then approached to ask these men while clasping his fist, “Are you lot busy?” The Daoists all stopped their chopping, and one of them bowed to Jiang Xiaohe and asked, “Might I ask what you’re looking for?”

Jiang Xiaohe sighed and said, “I’m a common man from Hanzhong who was living at my home in peace. To my surprise, a Daoist nun from Jiuxian Abbey on Cloudperch Ridge called Daocheng came seeking alms, but when she saw my wife, she wounded her and carried her away on her back. I reported this to the authorities and they conducted a search of Jiuxian Abbey and found nothing, but according to the people at the abbey, Daocheng took my wife here.” The Daoists heard this and couldn’t help their astonishment. One of them said, “Daocheng! We know her. She is the Iron Staff Monk’s sister-disciple. It is true that she is not a good person.” The men nearby went back to chopping at trees, tok tok, with axes in hand.

This particular Daoist said to Jiang Xiaohe, “It used to be, Daocheng went up the mountain quite frequently, but she never dared to ascend Zhanqi Peak, Wulong Peak or Zixiao Peak, for the good Sword Sages did not permit her to. When she did go she stayed around Shedsword Spring and the area behind the mountain. Yesterday, when I carried some wood into the city, I saw her on the main throughway.” Jiang Xiaohe quickly followed up with a question, “Where was it?” The Daoist nodded and said, “She’s likely somewhere inside the city, though I haven’t a clue where.” Jiang Xiaohe cupped his fist and said, “Many thanks!” And then he departed, picking his sword up along the way, and went all the way down the mountain.

Though the mist had disappeared, the sun remained hidden. All around him were ridges and peaks, one after another, and he couldn’t be sure of the direction. Jiang Xiaohe could only continue his way down. After a while, he caught the sound of a waterfall and knew that he had reached Shedsword Spring. As he walked, he spotted a Daoist standing halfway up the mountain waving his hand down at him, saying, “Benefactor Jiang! The way is here. Come up. I have some things I would like to say to you!”

Jiang Xiaohe looked up and saw that it was one of the Seven Great Sword Sages, Lü Chongyan the Swordsman of Lingyun. Jiang Xiaohe took a great leap up the mountain. Lü Chongyan laughed and praised him, “Such skill!” Jiang Xiaohe smiled and walked two paces closer, asking, “Sir Daoist Lü, when I was battling them just now, you were the only one who did not step up to help them. You are a true friend!” Lü Chongyan said, “I was never really one of them, just an outsider who was pulled in with the Seven Great Sword Sages. In actuality, I am very unhappy.”

Jiang Xiaohe said, “I can tell that your accent isn’t from these parts. Why are you with them?” Lü Chongyan replied, “Not only do I not belong with them, but I’m not even actually a Daoist priest. Three years ago, the authorities were after me after I accidentally killed someone in my hometown, so I came here. Before that, I didn’t know how to chant scripture or meditate.”

Jiang Xiaohe asked, “Where are you from?” Lü Chongyan said, “Weining County in Guizhou. Daocheng and I are from the same town. So if you’d wanted to find her, you should have come to ask me and saved yourself a lot of trouble. You went up to Zhanqi Peak for nothing today, except to sow enmity with them. Your martial arts are powerful, but you have not yet met Yu Xuanqing. Once that old Daoist appears, there would be no preserving your life.”

Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, “Don’t bother raising the first of the Seven Great Sword Sages to frighten me. I came here not to fight. I also know that though you are all arrogant, none of you are terribly bad people. Since you now know Daocheng’s whereabouts, please tell me. As long as I find her and she returns my wife to me, then all will be forgiven and that will be the end of it. I have no intention of harming her life.”

Lü Chongyan said, “If you did want to harm, that’d have nothing to do with me. She and I are from the same town, but while I am familiar with her, she does not recognize me. I’ll give you three possible locations: One is beside the Cao Sea of Weining County in Guizhou; one is the Taiji Temple on Mount Heng; and one is south of the Southern Mountains…” Jiang Xiaohe laughed inside, So smart you are, trying to waste my time on these far-flung places.

Lü Chongyan continued, “She does not often come to Mount Wudang, and when she does, she’s unable to go up. You will not be able to find her here!” Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, “You have my gratitude. I will continue my search at Mount Heng. Farewell!”

So saying, Jiang Xiaohe jumped back down, exited along this mountain path, and encountered a mountain peak. He climbed up to the top and looked down at Lü Chongyan. Lü Chongyan followed the road along the rock face heading up a ridge. He walked farther and farther away until gradually his figure grew out of sight. Jiang Xiaohe quickly learned the lay of the mountain and recalled that Ji Guangjie had come here before. He had gone up past Shedsword Spring and scuffled with the Daoist throng. Ji Guangjie had fallen off of that mountain. Where Lü Chongyan was heading to just now was filled with more trees, their red leaves covered the mountain, but it was clear that that was the place that Ji Guangjie had previously traveled.

Thus, Jiang Xiaohe calmly listened to the sound of a waterfall in the distance, worked out its direction and headed that way. Before going too far, he saw a cliff in front of him with water crashing down its face from a spot even further up. But because it was autumn, the force of the water was not as furious as it had been when he had come in the summer. He walked up. All along the path were sour date trees obstructing the way, so he hacked away at them with his sword and continued walking. After crossing another couple mountain ridges, he saw a Daoist temple and recalled how Ji Guangjie had previously come here and caused an uproar.

Jiang Xiaohe contemplated, Many lives have already been lost today. If all I, Jiang Xiaohe, do is bully Daoists and kill people on this mountain with little reason, when word gets out, I will be ridiculed. As things look now, Daocheng must be here somewhere, but outside of Lü Chongyan, no one else knows the situation and will just become aggravated. If I simply follow Lü Chongyan closely, I must be able to sniff out Daocheng’s whereabouts. Thus, Jiang Xiaohe backed away several paces, found a path up the mountain, and climbed back up to the mountain’s peak. He found a large boulder and sat for a rest. He lowered his head and peered down from there, and saw with complete clarity the layout of the temple below. It had two layers of halls, but not a single Daoist priest was in sight.

Jiang Xiaohe sat above and watched for a while, before he caught sight of a person coming out of the west hall of the inner courtyard. The man wore a long robe with big sleeves, a Daoist priest. When he looked closely, he could see that he walked nimbly with his head held high and his chest out. It was Lü Chongyan. Jiang Xiaohe thought, So he’s come to this place. I would like to see where this false Daoist is headed. He appears young and handsome and his words are polite, but I’m certain he is actually worse than the rest of them.

Lü Chongyan walked outside and Jiang Xiaohe followed along from above. Lü Chongyan didn’t move too quickly, and before he went far, he started up a mountain ridge, slowly reaching a mountain road that was at about the same height as the one Jiang Xiaohe was walking on. Jiang Xiaohe could only walk slowly behind as he was afraid of being seen. However, Lü Chongyan walked ahead of him without so much as glancing back. The further he traveled on the mountain road, the higher he went and the more rugged the terrain. He didn’t realize how long they had been walking, but above were thick clouds and mist. There weren’t even trees here, nor could he hear the sounds of birds.

Jiang Xiaohe grew suspicious and thought, Could it be that Daocheng isn’t here after all? Even if she were here, she could not bring Aluan to an altitude as high as this with her injured body. Has Lü Chongyan the Swordsman of Lingyun lured me up for some trap he’s prepared? Just as these misgivings surfaced, he then thought, But I have a sword in my hand, so what am I afraid of? Thus he strode forward with determination. He came to another Daoist temple, larger than all the rest, with three layers of halls. Jiang Xiaohe drew nearer and saw that the main gate was shut tightly and covered with a spiderweb. There were dragonflies and other insects with wings stuck on the web and a chestnut-sized spider crawling back and forth across it. By the looks of it, this gate had not been opened for quite some time, and it was unknown whether or not there people inside.

Jiang Xiaohe rapped the butt of his sword against the main gate a few times, but there was no response from inside. Jiang Xiaohe thought, What a great location for Daocheng and Lü Chongyan’s collusion. If she’s keeping Aluan hidden here, truly no one would be able to find her. Anger burned in his heart. He jumped over the wall and came to a completely silent courtyard. The windows and doors of the main and accompanying east and west halls were all tattered and worn out, but there was incense billowing up in spirals from within. Jiang Xiaohe walked further inside. There were no people in the second courtyard either, so he continued into the third courtyard. There, he came face-to-face with a Daoist priest holding a wood axe on his way out. Upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe, the look of surprised appeared across his face. He held fast and said, “Who are you?” Jiang Xiaohe cupped his fist and said, “I am surnamed Jiang, and there are matters that bring me to this mountain. I am looking to have a discussion with Lü Chongyan. I saw him climb up the mountain just now and come here, so I have come as well to find him.”

The Daoist said, “This is the Taixuan Temple on Zixiao Peak. I am only one here attending to the old abbot Xuanqing who is here practicing Daoism. There is no third person who can come up here. Lü Chongyan lives on Wulong Peak. Please go look for him there. Furthermore, how do you dare to bring a sword up the mountain?” Jiang Xiaohe spat, “I just saw him head this way. How dare you try to deceive me? I wish to meet Yu Xuanqing. He may be one of the Seven Great Sword Sages, but I am not afraid of him. Tell him to stop colluding with that evil nun to hide my wife from me.” So saying, he pushed the Daoist aside with one hand. He walked a few steps inward and saw an apricot-yellow curtain hanging inside the western hall. Someone inside directed a question outside, “What is it?” His voice sounded very old.

Jiang Xiaohe hurried over with his sword out and pulled the curtain aside with it. He saw an elderly Daoist priest inside, whose stature was not large, with a white beard longer than three feet. His hair was all white and he wore a blue cloth robe. His appearance was extremely odd. Jiang Xiaohe walked inside with his sword and cupped his fist, saying, “Daoist Yu, I have long admired your great reputation for you are the first of the Seven Great Sword Sages. Your Daoist skill is greater than all those others. My name is Jiang Xiaohe, and I am the disciple of the elderly gentleman of Mount Jiuhua. As my wife Aluan was abducted by the Abbess Daocheng, I have come to find out that she has been collaborating with your Lü Chongyan of this mountain and is hiding here—“

Yu Xuanqing did not wait for Jiang Xiaohe to finish before a scowl crossed his face and he said, “Jiang Xiaohe, I already know that you have caused much trouble today on Zhanqi Peak. Mount Wudang is the place where Lord Zhenwu attained the Dao, and Founder Sanfeng the Perfected Incarnation of Profundity still lives here to this day.” Jiang Xiaohe quickly offered up an explanation, “My purpose here was not to cause a disturbance. The truth is there are bad people hiding up here in your mountain. I understand the rules here. When I climbed the mountain today, I was did not bring a sword with me. This one was actually taken from the hand of one of your disciples!”

He handed his sword over for Yu Xuanqing to look at. Yu Xuanqing saw the apricot-yellow ribbon wrapped around the hilt of the sword and nodded, saying, “You are correct. This is a sword of our mountain, but you must put it down before I can speak with you!” Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, “Alright!” He tossed the sword down with a clatter. Unexpectedly, Yu Xuanqing took advantage of his unreadiness and lunged forward suddenly, poking Jiang Xiaohe on a spot in his ribs. It came as a complete surprise to Jiang Xiaohe that the old Daoist would do such a thing. He felt his entire body becoming rigid, as he fell to the floor with a plop. His head knocked right into the window and cracked through the rotten wood of the shutters. Jiang Xiaohe burst out laughing, “That’s fine! I now know who you Seven Great Sword Sages of Mount Wudang really are. You are all just disgraceful rats!” He hurriedly refocused his energy inside in an attempt to break free of the dianxue skill.

Yu Xuanqing went inside and retrieved two long, straw ropes and tied up his arms up behind his back, and then tied up his legs as well. Just then someone entered abruptly. It was the Daoist that Jiang Xiaohe had pushed over before. He said, “Master Founder! This man is very strong. I’m afraid straw ropes won’t hold him.” Yu Xuanqing replied, “Go find some more rope, and while you’re out, tell the others to come. There is no way he will be able to free himself and escape under my watch.” The Daoist assented and hurried off.

Jiang Xiaohe said through gritted teeth, “Yu Xuanqing, I caution you to be careful here! I am the disciple of Mount Jiuhua’s elderly gentleman. If you dare to provoke him, then I invite you to kill me!” Yu Xuanqing’s expression changed a little bit, but then went back to being taut. His wrinkles quickly disappeared completely as he said furiously, “Do not bring your master up to scare me! If he comes, then I will tie him up as well. I have been here for more than sixty years in religious practice and I have never harmed another. We will wait for my disciples to come. They will carry you down the mountain and hand you over to the authorities. You will be charged with disturbing the mountain forests and murdering priests!”

Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, “Good! You can make your accusations, but I warn you not to let me go free again, for when I do, I will level your Mount Wudang and leave nothing here!” At the same time as he was yelling loudly, he moved the energies around his body. Just as he was about to render his blood vessels flexible once more and break through the straw ropes so he could serve Yu Xuanqing a beating, three Daoist priests entered suddenly. One of them was the one who’d just left to find more rope, returning with several thick, hemp ropes, which he used to tightly bind Jiang Xiaohe’s hands and feet once more. The other two were Zhang Xuanhai and Lü Chongyan. Jiang Xiaohe cursed at Lü Chongyan.

Lü Chongyan pretended not to hear him and simply asked of Yu Xuanqing, “Master Founder! Will you give this man over to me to deal with? So as not to distrupt the Master Founder’s religious practice!” Yu Xuanqing replied sternly, “He may be able to kill people on the mountain, but we priests cannot violate the commandment against murder. Once we have subdued this violent and irrational man, what do you intend to do with him? Will you go behind my back and harm him?” Lü Chongyan quickly bent at his waist and kowtowed, saying, “I wouldn’t dare!”

Still lying on the floor, Jiang Xiaohe said, “Yu Xuanqing, I see that you remain very reasonable. You are an upright Daoist priest. As long as you release me, I will have no further quarrel with you. I seek only Lü Chongyan, so he can take me Daocheng and I can get my wife back.” Lü Chongyan’s expression switched to fear, saying, “We must not let him go! I know this man. There is no crime he hasn’t committed on Jianghu!” Jiang Xiaohe spat at him, “No crime I haven’t committed? I am nothing like you, colluding with Daocheng to drag an injured woman into the mountains!”

Yu Xuanqing asked, “Do you have any evidence for your claims?” Jiang Xiaohe said, “I do. I became enemies with Daocheng at Cloudperch Ridge, and she instructed me to come to Mount Wudang for a duel. That abbey is where I lost sight my wife. All the old nuns at that abbey affirmed that Daocheng had abducted my wife and taken her here. A moment ago, I asked some of your Daoists who were chopping wood, and they told me that Daocheng had been seen in town just yesterday. Lü Chongyan attempted to deceive me and send me to Guizhou. That’s when I knew that he was in league with Daocheng. He must know exactly where my wife has been hidden.”

Yu Xuanqing focused his glare at Lü Chongyan and said, “From now on, you are not permitted to descend the mountain. You will stay here and wait until I get to the bottom of this matter. If the words of Jiang Xiaohe turn out to ring true, you will become aware of the rules of this our mountain!” Lü Chongyan bowed deeply and kowtowed, saying, “There are all Jiang Xiaohe’s reckless lies. I do not know any Daocheng, and I have never spoken to Jiang Xiaohe before. I invite the Master Founder to carefully investigate the matter. If I, your disciple, have defied any of the Daoist strictures, I am ready for the Master Founder’s firm admonishment!”

Yu Xuanqing nodded and said to Xiaohe, “I put you in bindings because your temperament is fast and impudent, but we resolve not to hurt you. Wait here for three days. By then, I will have determined the situation. If what you say is true, I will set you free and punish Lü Chongyan in front of you. But this is nothing but a pack of your lies and you have come here only to cause trouble?” Jiang Xiaohe sneered, “I have been captured through your use of dianxue because of one moment of carelessness, so you may do with me what you like.” Yu Xuanqing nodded and said, “Good! Within three days, I am certain I will discover what is going on.” He then instructed his attending Daoist priest and Lü Chongyan to take Jiang Xiaohe away.

Jiang Xiaohe was carried to the eastern hall of the second courtyard, which contained three adjoining rooms. Inside there was a statue of a deity, an incense censer, a candle platform, and the like. Lü Chongyan and the other Daoist dumped Jiang Xiaohe onto the floor. At this, Jiang Xiaohe started to feel his legs coming back to life, but his hands and feet were bound very tightly and he was no way he’d be able to free himself. Lü Chongyan did not even glance back as he and the other Daoist left the hall. Jiang Xiaohe cursed angrily another couple times, but outside, Lü Chongyan did not say anything. The only sound was the click of the lock being secured onto the door of the hall. Jiang Xiaohe straightened his body and was actually able to stand up, but he was not able to walk with his feet tied together, nor could he use his hands to untie himself with them bound behind his back. Jiang Xiaohe plopped onto the floor and noticed the stone wall behind him. It was easy for him to rub the rope against the edge of a stone. He kept rubbing it until the evening, but he was not able to sever the rope.

By now it was already dark inside the room. Jiang Xiaohe sat on the floor to rest. He was anxious and furious as he thought, If only I could get out of these ropes, I would kill every last one of them. He suddenly heard the lock on the door click again. The door opened and someone entered, causing Jiang Xiaohe alarm, but Jiang Xiaohe watched as the person came in and completely ignored him. He simply walked before the platform, lit nine sticks of incense on the fire of the lamp, and then stuck them into the censer before kneeling and kowtowing.

By the light of the lamp before the deity, Jiang Xiaohe saw that this was the Daoist priest who had found the rope by which he’d been tied. Jiang Xiaohe said, “Hey! Friend, hurry and untie these ropes on my body. I will go to find Daocheng and Lü Chongyan. This has nothing to do with you. Otherwise, you all best be more careful with your lives!” The Daoist did nothing but concentrate on bowing to the deity statue, doing so nine times in succession. Then he blew out the lamp in front of the deity and turned around, leaving the hall and securing the lock on the door with a click. He did this all while not saying one word to Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe cursed angrily another few times, and then in the darkness of the room, he caught sight of the burning ends of the nine incense sticks inserted into the censer. Their light brightened and dimmed like a bunch of fireflies resting there.

An idea came to Jiang Xiaohe. He quickly exerted himself to extend his waist and stand up again. Though his legs were tied together, he was able to jump. He hopped a few times until he was in front of the incense platform. He stretched his head out and picked up one stick of incense with his mouth, using the low fire at the end of the incense to burn the rope on his body. Before it burned through the rope, the incense broke and the part with the fire fell onto the floor. He quickly pulled out another stick with his mouth and more carefully this time, lowered his head, using his mouth to aim the incense directly onto the rope and letting it burn slowly, going through five or six sticks of incense. As the straw rope had caught fire, it produced a lot of smoke. His clothes started burning as well, causing his chest pain, and his neck was also very sore. He suddenly heard another noise coming from the lock after which the door swung open and someone entered. This person shouted and shook a fire piston, revealing a face with a hawkish mouth and a raptor’s eyes and a saber in hand. It was Daocheng herself.

Heh heh heh, she laughed spitefully and sent her saber at Jiang Xiaohe for a chop. In an instant, Jiang Xiaohe crouched down, though the rope on his body had almost burnt through. He exerted both his arms and snap, the rope broke in two. He reached out and grabbed hold of Daocheng’s right wrist with incredible speed. She tried to strike him on the face with the fire piston, but Jiang Xiaohe rushed forward and sent Daocheng crashing down onto the ground.

Jiang Xiaohe held down Daocheng’s saber hand with one of his own and used the other to untie the rope binding his feet. Daocheng’s left hand was clutched at Jiang Xiaohe’s ribs, her five fingers digging viciously in between them. Her clothes were lengthy and with the fire piston beside her, it unexpectedly ignited and started burning with a whoosh. Daocheng screamed and dug in further with her fingers in an attempt to locate Jiang Xiaohe’s pressure points. Jiang Xiaohe snatched away her saber, straightened his body and leapt up. The saber swung down with a swoosh, but Daocheng rolled outside with clothes aflame. Jiang Xiaohe charged outside after her. The flames on Daocheng’s clothes grew even fiercer, making her look simply like a fox set ablaze. Jiang Xiaohe chased the firelight up onto the roof and swung the saber with a chop at it. He heard only a dismal cry as Daocheng fell off the roof.

Just as Jiang Xiaohe leaned back on the roof to catch his breath, someone behind him suddenly poked his spine with an object. Startled, Jiang Xiaohe himself fell from the roof and rolled onto the ground. The one on the roof was Yu Xuanqing. In his hand, he held a weighted bamboo pole. He jumped down and was about to press on another of Jiang Xiaohe’s pressure points, but Jiang Xiaohe had not yet lost the saber in his hand. He flipped over and brandished the saber, knocking away the bamboo pole. Using his advance, he sent over a vicious cut with his saber. Yu Xuanqing turned around and dodged, and swayed his pole especially to take advantage of this opening to dianxue. Jiang Xiaohe’s saber flew out, not allowing the bamboo pole near to his body.

After battling for thirty-some exchanges, the sound of people and lights and shadows from torches swarmed into the temple. Jiang Xiaohe dared not fight anymore and flew up onto the roof of the main hall. Yu Xuanqing hurried up after him and tried again to press on Jiang Xiaohe’s back with his pole. Jiang Xiaohe turned around with a saber move and shink, the bamboo pole was split in two by the saber. Jiang Xiaohe turned around again with another ferocious saber attack, but Yu Xuanqing jumped back down off the roof. Jiang Xiaohe leapt higher and higher and left the temple compound entirely. He looked down and saw only a few spots of light, all of them from torches headed up this summit. Jiang Xiaohe avoided the firelight and ran.

It was now vastly dark as the autumn wind whistled by. Jiang Xiaohe jumped across a mountain stream and traveled quite a distance before he put the saber down and found a place to lay down behind a boulder that blocked the breeze in order to catch his breath. He thought, I haven’t eaten a thing all day. With so many Daoists up on the mountain and Yu Xuanqing’s dianxue skill so powerful, what is the path to success here? How can I find Aluan’s whereabouts? After puzzling over this for a moment, the exhaustion in his body was too much and he fell into a deep sleep. By the time the chill woke him up, the day was already starting to get light and once again a thick fog had devoured the mountain peaks. He stood up and picked up his saber and then stood in a daze, not knowing where to go. He thought, There is no use in simply fighting against those Daoists. There would be much violence with very little to show for it. I should try to capture that Lü Chongyan. If Daocheng was not burned to death yesterday, it might be better to find her. I’d be in a better position to obtain Aluan’s location from her.

Thus he braved the dense fog and walked step by step with saber in hand. After walking a while and crossing over a few mountain ridges, the fog actually became thicker and thicker. It was then that he heard the sound of chanting coming from somewhere very close. Jiang Xiaohe said, “Who cares where this is? I need to find a bite to eat.” And so he ran toward the chanting and before long he caught sight of another Daoist temple. He bounded up onto the wall and noticed that the chanting was coming from inside the main hall. He thought, There’s no need to check in with them, and jumped gently down. The sound of a bellows came from the inner yard, and he found it coming from a kitchen. There was a Daoist there burning a fire and cooking a boiling hot pot of millet porridge on top of it.

Jiang Xiaohe rested his saber gently against the base of the wall and then pretending to be out of breath, he entered and held his fist, saying, “Sir Daoist! You must be busy! Today’s fog is quite thick!” The Daoist at the fire was taken aback, but looked directly at Jiang Xiaohe and asked, “Where did you come from?” Jiang Xiaohe said, “I hail from Jiangnan! I have come here to Wudang on pilgrimage to pay homage to Lord Zhenwu. I ascended the mountain yesterday afternoon but encountered an old Daoist fighting with a layman. It frightened me, so I ran and hid, spending the night in a cave. Another thick fog has descended today, so I begged the bodhisattvas to bless and protect me and I found my way here. I am so hungry now!” The Daoist took up a crude bowl and ladled a helping of millet porridge into it. He passed it over with a pair of chopsticks and directed him to a wooden stool placed on the ground, saying, “Sit and eat!” He then went back to pulling the bellows.

Jiang Xiaohe gulped the porridge down in big mouthfuls. It was cooked, though some of the grains were still very hard and not all the sand had been washed out of it. It would crunch when he bit down on it, but Jiang Xiaohe savored it all the same. After finishing one bowl, he helped himself to another. When he was eating his fourth, someone outside asked in astonishment, “Whose saber is this?”

Jiang Xiaohe was taken aback and quickly set his bowl and chopsticks down before standing up and walking out of the kitchen. In the courtyard he saw a Daoist priest of forty years or so who seemed to be one of the men he had exchanged blows with yesterday. This Daoist had already picked up the saber, but upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe, he took several steps back in fear. Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, “Don’t be afraid! I was hungry all of yesterday and have come here only to ask for some food. I have eaten my fill now and I offer you all my gratitude! Please do not worry. Unless you force me to, I will not cause trouble for you. I am only here to find Lü Chongyan and Daocheng.”

The Daoist bowed to Jiang Xiaohe and said, “As you say these things, Benefactor Jiang, I can tell you that it was not our choice to oppose you. But on the mountain, we have rules. If the alarm bells are sounded anywhere, we must hurry there and aid the situation, though actually we are all here expressly for religious study. We had no alternative though none of us wanted to struggle with a layman. For what happened yesterday, one side blames you for your reckless behavior, while the other side also blames Chu Jianxiong’s singular rashness for provoking this conflict. Were you not captured last night by old Master Xuanqing?” Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, “He took advantage of when I was unprepared and used dianxue skill to capture me, but he was only able to hold me for but a moment. Before long I was able to free myself.”

The Daoist nodded and said, “I have heard it said that the old master respects your exceptional martial arts, but you have caused a great disturbance on this mountain and upset five hundred years of monastic disciple, for which the old master cannot show you any mercy. I urge you to leave here as soon as possible.” Jiang Xiaohe said, “It’s very easy to get me to leave. Hand Lü Chongyan and Daocheng over. I will interrogate them until I find out where my wife is!” The Daoist then said, “It is certain the old master saw someone yesterday whose clothes were on fire. She rolled around on the ground to extinguish the flame and escaped. The old master could but scarcely tell that she was a Daoist nun, so there is some belief in what you’ve said. I’ve heard also that Lü Chongyan has already been placed under guard. The old master is fair in all his actions, so you need not worry! You may leave the mountain for now and wait within the county. Once we have found your wife’s whereabouts, I am positive the old master will send someone to notify you.”

Jiang Xiaohe furrowed his brow and sighed heavily, “You all move too slowly. How could you know of my urgency? Where is Lü Chongyan being held? I have some questions for him. I’ll leave this saber here and go there unarmed. You can rest assured that I will not cause any more trouble!” The Daoist pointed to the south and said, “Beyond two mountain ridges to the south is Zhanqi Peak. Ask around there and you will know where Lü Chongyan is.” Jiang Xiaohe nodded and cupped his fist, saying, “Farewell!” He ran towards the outside of the temple and jumped over the wall and then headed south.

At this time, everything was immersed in a thick fog. Adding to this Jiang Xiaohe’s impatience, he truly felt as if he was trapped inside a steam basket. The autumn winds were cold, but his body was running hot. He bared his back while the several light wounds on his body still hurt quite a bit. He sprinted over the uneven ground, crossing several ridges, climbing a few peaks, and jumping across several cliffs, but he was unable to find any temples, nor did he see any people. A cool rain had started falling, soaking Jiang Xiaohe’s entire body. The fog thickened further making it even harder to see things around him. He could truly run no further, so he found a spot on top of a cliff that was protected from the wind and rain and sat down on a large piece of blue stone. He waited here for the fog to clear and the rain to cease, but by the time it got dark, the rain had not yet stopped. He sat on that cliff all night, never eating and never sleeping either.

By the next day, the rain had become sparser. He stood up and started walking. The rainwater on the ground trickled down and the rocks were all very slippery. His feet were frozen stiff and his body was fatigued, but he remained impatient in his heart and continued walking in no particular direction. The further he walked, the more the terrain felt lower, and after walking an unknown distance, he felt the rain stop and the fog start to thin out as he came to the end of a mountain road. Further on, he saw a mountain stream and by the stream there was a short, red mangrove and a scattering of huts. They were built out of cogongrass and separated by a thin layer of muslin-like mist. Looking down, he could see them quite clearly. Jiang Xiaohe couldn’t help but say in astonishment, “Ah! There are people living here!” He found stones he could step on and jumped across them, and in an instant he had made his way down by the stream. Two dogs came over to bite at him, but Jiang Xiaohe used his hands to push them away while at the same time saying, “Is there anyone there?”

There were but three or four huts here. Jiang Xiaohe called out a few more times in succession and a couple of the doors opened. Several people came out. Some were a bent over old women and some were young men. Jiang Xiaohe cupped his fist at one of them and said, “Please do not be afraid! I have come to this mountain in search of someone. Because the Daoists of the mountain have gotten in my way, I have battled them for the last two days, and slept out in the open the last two nights. I’ve come here today to inquire, have any of you seen a Daoist nun?” One of the young men came forward and was about to say something, but was held back by one of the old women. The one the old woman grabbed onto in alarm was likely her son, and she said, “Don’t you say anything! We don’t know nothing!”

Jiang Xiaohe approached and cupped his fist at the young man, saying, “Brother! Do not be suspicious of me. I am not a bad man! My wife was kidnapped by a Daoist nun and brought here. You are all good people of the mountain. Do you know how tragic it is when a husband and wife are separated?” The young man angrily pointed to the south and said, “That wicked nun is staying at the Hou house. Look for her there!” Just as the young man said this, all the neighbors turned white in fear. His mother could only stamp her feet and weep, saying, “Now you’ve done and said it! You’ll bring disaster on us all! Would Sir Daoist Lü show you mercy when he finds out?” Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, “There is nothing to fear!”

So saying, he bounded over to the first hut to the south and leapt over its stone wall. He saw a man in his thirties come of the straw hut, asking, “Who are you looking for?” Jiang Xiaohe replied furiously, “I am looking for Daocheng. She is hiding in your home. Tell her to come out and see me now!” Before he could even finish, Daocheng rushed out of the hut, her hair so disheveled she looked like a witch. Holding a sword in her hand, she chopped viciously at Jiang Xiaohe.

Jiang Xiaohe dodged her sword and unleashed his fist skill in an effort to first take her sword away, though Daocheng was at her most ferocious. She had the burns and saber wound on her body from the night previous, but she was now fighting for her life. Her sword whooshed back and forth, all her moves underhanded. But Jiang Xiaohe’s eyes were quick and his hands dexterous, as he avoided them all. After a dozen or so exchanges, Jiang Xiaohe snatched the sword from her and flipped it over for a stab asking, “Where have you hidden Aluan?” Daocheng suffered an injury and fell over with a crash. She glared with her owl’s eyes and yelled, “Aluan was taken away by that mute brother of yours!”

Jiang Xiaohe was in shock and stood in a daze, holding the sword. He thought, Strange! Why has my mute brother come out into the world again? He stood in astonishment for a moment before he finally looked down at Daocheng. She laid spread out on the ground, having already breathed her last. At the side, that thirty-some year old woodsman-looking man was so terrified he was shaking. Jiang Xiaohe asked him, “When did this nun come here?” The man quivered and said, “She’s come many times before. This time she’s been here no more than a few days. She is related to this mountain’s Sir Daoist Lü. We are all afraid of Sir Daoist Lü…”

When he said this, he suddenly stared straight at Jiang Xiaohe, his face a panic. Jiang Xiaohe smirked as he turned around, brandishing his sword, and a clang rang out. As it turned out, Lü Chongyan the Swordsman of Lingyun had come in over the wall and was secretly trying to stab Jiang Xiaohe in the back with a sword. Their two swords were pressed against each other now. Lü Chongyan quickly flipped his sword about to chop at Jiang Xiaohe, saying, “If I do not avenge Daocheng today, then I am unworthy of the name Lü!” Jiang Xiaohe parried him with his own sword and said, “You false Daoist, I was just looking for you!” At once the swords swung and stabbed back and forth, as they fought like leaping apes and pouncing tigers, whoosh whoosh, two cold glimmers darting erratically about.

Lü Chongyan’s swordwork was quite good and his movements nimble, but after twenty-some exchanges with Jiang Xiaohe, he was no longer able to keep up, so he feigned with his sword, jumped over the low wall and fled. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly jumped out as well and hollered, “False Daoist! Do you still think you can get away with your life?” Lü Chongyan stuck his sword on his back and, climbing trees and cliffs, he went up the mountain like a monkey. He turned back and looked down with a sneer at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe hastily pursued him upwards.

Lü Chongyan had just gotten up onto the mountain when Jiang Xiaohe hacked at him from behind. Lü Chongyan turned and met it with his sword, and then ran up the ridge of the mountain with Jiang Xiaohe following closely behind. When he reached the top, Lü Chongyan turned abruptly and attacked viciously with his sword. Jiang Xiaohe warded it away with his own sword and tilted inward a step, reaching with his left hand to try to get at his pressure points. Lü Chongyan dodged away and swept his sword before quickly turning back around and running. Jiang Xiaohe again pursued him closely. The distance between the two was no more than a dozen paces, but since Jiang Xiaohe had two days of fatigue on him and was not wearing shoes, he chased him over two mountain ridges without being able to catch up to Lü Chongyan.

By now the fog had already gradually dissipated and before the peak a faint sunlight was coming out. Lü Chongyan carried his sword and pressed on hurriedly, going higher and higher, seeming to want to flee toward Zhanqi Peak. Jiang Xiaohe yelled at him loudly from behind, “False Daoist, if I let you cross one more mountain ridge, then I am not the one named Jiang!” Lü Chongyan looked back and said, “Come then, young one!” He rushed along as Jiang Xiaohe pursued even more insistently.

They had reached a place hidden by the mountain peaks when Lü Chongyan suddenly hid himself. With sword in hand, Jiang Xiaohe searched for him deliberately when he heard the urgent droning of bells coming from every direction. Stunned, Jiang Xiaohe stopped in his tracks and thought, Someone in a high place must have seen me chasing Lü Chongyan and sounded the alarm to summon the group to rescue him. Caring not if there was an ambush lying in wait, Jiang Xiaohe proceeded with his sword up.

Lü Chongyan plunged out of a mess of trees and sliced directly at Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe’s sword was as a flying snake. He leapt forward with a stab, causing Lü Chongyan to run once more. Jiang Xiaohe again gave chase. They twisted through this mountain range and before them was Zhanqi Peak. The bell sounds were even more urgent there, as many Daoist priests ran toward the summit. Lü Chongyan joined them in sprint over there. Jiang Xiaohe yelled at him, “Even if you run back home, I will come get you. I do not fear your numbers!”

The two headed directly to Zhanqi Peak, one on the run and the other in pursuit. However, a good many men were now teeming down from Zhanqi Peak, countless glimmers flashed about, all them swords. With Lü Chongyan in front and Jiang Xiaohe behind, they bounded up the ridge where Lü Chongyan was encircled by the throng of Daoists. Some of them rushed forward to take his sword away. Jiang Xiaohe continued his pursuit, but was met several Daoists who bowed to him, saying urgently, “Please do not be rash! The old master is crossing swords with someone right now. We will address this after that has finished.”

Jiang Xiaohe was surprised. Gasping for breath, he rushed at Lü Chongyan with a twist of his sword for another stab, but his sword was blocked by several others. They said, “Do not be rash! Our master will punish him according to our customs!” By now, Lü Chongyan’s arms were held tightly by a few of the Daoist priests. He looked much like a criminal who had been captured, his face pale as he looked up, breathing so heavily he was unable to speak. Jiang Xiaohe’s sword remained raised in his hand as he glared at Lü Chongyan angrily, also panting. It was then he heard someone calling from a higher place, “Sworn brother Jiang! Come up here quickly!”

Jiang Xiaohe looked and saw a young, fair faced man holding a sword. It was Li Fengjie. Jiang Xiaohe was confused but delighted as he went up the mountain with sword in hand. A crowd of Daoists, each with their own sword, was lined up in front of the summit temple, among them there were two men currently crossing swords. The sword skills of the two was not as pressing as theirs had been, as they were entirely employing soft martial arts. The swordwork was very slow, like the gentle ripples of autumn waters. The motion of their bodies also proceeded unhurriedly like fierce animals waiting on their prey. However, viewed through an expert’s eye, one would be amazed, because this was real martial arts, slow on the outside yet quick in reality. Each motion, each action was that of immense skill, difficult to obtain even after decades of intense training. Of the two men matching swords, one was the young-faced, white-haired master of this mountain, first among the Seven Great Sword Sages, Yu Xuanqing; the other was the crudely-dressed, straw-sandaled mute, glowering intensely.

That day, after Li Fengjie had made arrangements with Hu Erzheng, he called out to Ji Guangjie, “Brother Ji, let’s go!” Ji Guangjie gestured to the Mute Xia. The mute more or less understood, and the three of them, magnificent on their mounts, kicked up dust as they galloped forth. In his heart, Ji Guangjie could not shake the memory of his wife Bao Aluan, so he ran his horse particularly quickly and would occasionally look back to urge Li Fengjie and the Mute Xia on. With the Mute Xia accompanying him, his boldness had increased. He knew that having someone whose martial arts were as powerful as those of the Mute Xia was sufficient to challenge the Seven Great Sword Sages atop Mount Wudang. What’s more, with the addition of Li Fengjie, not only could they rescue his wife, but he could return the insult of once having gone to Mount Wudang and been forced off a cliff by Chu Jianxiong and a group of Daoist priests. Thus, with his elevated haughtiness, he shook his whip forcefully to impel his horse on and galloped swiftly to the east.

Seeing Ji Guangjie’s excitement, the Mute Xia and Li Fengjie too did not show softness, and the three horses sped on like three dragons, galloping forward upon the road as if flying. When travelers on the road saw them coming, they all hurried off the road to avoid them. The three went so fast that they covered a lot of ground before half the day was done. By the time nightfall approached, the three mounted men had already reached Yucheng county. Because Ji Guangjie was anxious and he was unable to let go of the memory of his missing wife Aluan, he did not care that it was almost nighttime or that he was hungry. He was resolute in wanting to press on to Mount Wudang.

Observing the situation, Li Fengjie spurred his horse on to impede Ji Guangjie. But Ji Guangjie turned around and swung his fist viciously at Li Fengjie, saying, “Huh? What are you afraid of now that we’re this far? If you fear death, you can wait for me here. When I finish my business, I’ll come back and find you!” Li Fengjie said, “I’m not afraid of anything, but it’s getting a bit late. If we recklessly charge onto the mountain, it may become inconvenient. Not to mention that we have already arrived here. Why must we be so impatient? Are you unable to exercise a little bit of restraint? Let us inquire and understand the situation, and then act. We will not be too late!” However, Ji Guangjie continued to call for climbing Mount Wudang.

By now the Mute Xia had also caught up to them. He waved his hands, shook his head, and cried out, “Ah! Ah!” Seeing the mute coming forward to persuade him as well, Ji Guangjie dared not rush headlong into action. He himself knew that traveling alone to Mount Wudang without the Mute Xia, he had no chance against Seven Great Sword Sages of the mountain. Thus, his anger subsided. He could only lower his head and dispiritedly follow Li Fengjie and the Mute Xia back to Yucheng.

The three of them found an inn on the west side and led their horses inside. It was growing late as Li Fengjie instructed an attendant to serve them a meal. When the attendant brought them their food, he noticed the three men’s baggage, that they all carried swords on them, and their faces covered in dust, and asked, “Where might our honorable guests be heading?” Li Fengjie repied, “We are on pilgrimage to Mount Wudang.”

The inn attendant appeared surprised, saying, “Honorable guest, if it’s not urgent, I encourage you to avoid traveling to Mount Wudang now or tomorrow. Some thug was causing trouble on the mountain yesterday! It was some man from who knows where, carrying a sword in his hand and extremely powerful. Not to mention, he had some guts. He actually started a fight with the Daoist priests on the mountain. He broke the rules of the mountain and provoke the anger of all the Seven Great Sword Sages. They were all trying to capture him, but the man was too strong. There was nothing even the Seven Great Sword Sages could do. I heard that one of the Sword Sages was wounded, the one named Chen Jianfei. The mountain is now in complete disorder. If you are not one of the Daoists of the mountain, no one is permitted to ascend.”

Li Fengjie quickly asked, “Do you happen to know the name of that man?” The attendant said, “That I don’t know. There was something about a crane.” Li Fengjie laughed, “Thank you very much.” The attendant left. Ji Guangjie became very anxious and pounded the table fiercely with his fist, yelling angrily, “Those fucking Daoists! Here they go again, using their numbers to bully one person. We must hurry up the mountain immediately, eradicate those damned Daoists, and kill those Seven Sword Sages or whatever. And then my fury will subside.” So saying, he turned around to pick up his sword and was about to go outside when both Li Fengjie and the Mute Xia pulled him back.

The Mute Xia took the sword from Ji Guangjie’s hands and Li Fengjie attempted to talk him down, saying, “Brother Ji! There is no need to work yourself into a lather. We must a little patient in all things. It is already dark now, and we are not familiar with the way. The mountain roads are also very difficult to navigate. If we are reckless in ascending, I’m afraid we will suffer misfortune.” Ji Guangjie’s eyebrows went straight as he stamped hit foot and said, “If we wait until tomorrow to ascend Mount Wudang, Jiang Xiaohe may have already been murdered by them, and my wife Aluan will lose her life as well!” Li Fengjie said, “Then you can rest assured, with our brother Jiang’s powerful martial arts, though he may face them alone, those Daoists will not be able to bask in success. As for Brother Ji’s wife Aluan, they will not harm her, because Mount Wudang is a sacred place. They wouldn’t dare act wantonly there.” Thereafter, the three of them started eating. At night, they each went to sleep in preparation for heading to Mount Wudang first thing the next day to battle the Seven Great Sword Sages and rescue Jiang Xiaohe.

That night, however, Ji Guangjie was not able to fall asleep. He wished it would become light immediately so he could ascend the mountain and find Jiang Xiaohe and Aluan. This time when I see Aluan, I must have her explain herself and ask her for a clear answer, if she had a previous relationship with Jiang Xiaohe. If she truly admits this to be the case, I, Ji Guangjie, cannot suffer their manipulations any longer or be a husband in name only. I will thereafter ignore the affairs of their two families. Though this was what he imagined, every time he brought to mind Aluan’s elegant features, he would be involuntarily concerned for Aluan’s safety.

Ji Guangjie couldn’t help clenching his teeth and thinking angrily, This will not do! This is simply too humiliating, for I am the grandson of Xia of Longmen! How can I hand my own wife over to another man? Would I, Ji Guangjie, be able live this down and continue to travel Jianghu? He sighed to himself, I, Ji Guangjie, have been too foolish! Why was I taken in by Aluan’s beauty, falling into Bao Zhenfei’s trap? This thought brought him wrenching sadness. He gave a long sigh and drifted into sleep.

When Ji Guangjie awakened, the Mute Xia and Li Fengjie had long since gotten up. He quickly washed his face, took up his sword and walked outside. By now Li Fengjie had already given his instructions to the innkeeper and finished preparing their horses, and he and the Mute Xia were sitting on their horses waiting. Ji Guangjie mounted his horse and said, “Let’s be off!” The three horses flew again, heading up Mount Wudang.

There was daylight, but because the weather was foul with dark clouds gathering and a light drizzle falling, it was particularly difficult to hurry along the road. It was quite a while before they reached the base of Mount Wudang. Now, as there was no sun, everything in proximity to the mountain was covered by a layer of dense fog. It was a vast expanse of whiteness before their eyes. They had no way of seeing distances much farther from them, and the rain was starting to pick up. All three of them wanted to continue on, braving the rain, but with the rainwater washing over the mountain rocks, their slickness made travel especially difficult. Atop the horses, they wouldn’t be able to walk three or four paces before slipping. Thus, the three men dismounted their horses and found a quieter area. They tied their horses to a tree and left them to continue on foot.

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