Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Cook and the Assassin

Volume 1 – The Fire Within

Chapter 1 - Incarceration

“First, we were ambushed and many of our comrades were killed by the bandits. Our goods were hijacked, and now, we have to go to prison because we failed to protect the imperial shipment. Damn suay, lah!” muttered the men angrily. “If the shipment was so damn important, they should have sent more men to protect it! Why send only twenty of us?”

The men were Imperial Guards, tough, young and skillful fighters in the Palace Corps. They were specially selected by Chief Feng for the mission of escorting a pair of priceless jade lions in the south of the country to the capital. While journeying through the Fujian province, they were ambushed by five masked kungfu masters. The Imperial Guards recovered themselves and fought back, but Chief Feng was badly injured. The assistant to Chief Feng, a young man called Wen Yiji, shot two arrows into the body of the bandit chief, but the bandits managed to escape with their injured chief as well as the carriage containing the jade lions.

The assailants had prepared their groundwork well. Although Wen Yiji and the Imperial guards tried to pursue them, they were impeded by the numerous booby traps laid around the ambush area.

Just before he died of his injuries, Chief Feng had warned the men that if they returned to the capital without the priceless jade lions, there was a high possibility that they would be imprisoned by the Emperor for dereliction of duty. Yet if they run away, they would be suspected of having stolen the jade lions themselves. It was a wretched situation. Wen Yiji, being Chief Feng’s assistant, took charge of the remaining men and made the sad journey home. He had the unenviable task of cremating his fallen comrades and bringing the ashes back to their families. The men had nicknamed him “Arrow Eye” because of his uncanny ability with the bow. He was supposed to get married later that year after the mission, but the future looked bleak after the heist.

On the way back to the Imperial capital, Wen Yiji had passed through Fuzhou, and he had informed Governor Li of Fuzhou what had happened. Governor Li was a trusted old friend of the dead Chief Feng, and he vowed to search for the jade lions until they were found.

Of the twenty men who had gone on the mission, eight had died, five were seriously injured and only seven remained fighting fit. Among the twelve who journeyed back, two died from internal injuries along the route. Just before the ten remaining guards reached the capital, one of them vanished in the night, taking his belongings away with him. Wen Yiji did not blame the man who had disappeared. There was only punishment awaiting them in the capital.

At the capital, they were summoned before the Emperor. The ministers who were present poured scorn on the men, the way men of politics were wont to do. The Emperor was furious at the loss and sentenced the guards to prison indefinitely. Just before they were taken away, they were led to another smaller hall where General Shang, the commander of the Imperial guards, was waiting.

”General Shang. Please forgive us. We have done our best,” explained Wen Yiji. “Our group leader, Chief Feng, gave up his life in the fight. The five masked men who attacked us were not ordinary bandits but skilled kungfu masters.”

“I’m sure you did what you could,” said General Shang. “Lesser men would have run away, but all nine of you returned to face the consequences. The Emperor has decreed that you will serve your sentence in Li-Khor prison.”

The men stared at him. They could not believe the loss of honour. The Li-Khor prison was built to house the worst inhuman criminals of society, and it was a great dishonour to be incarcerated there. It was not a huge prison complex, but it was reputed to be the toughest of all prisons, managed by a cruel prison warden with his sadistic jailors. Those who had gone in there did not come out alive.

One of the wounded men gasped, “I know that I will not last very long and am not afraid to die. But to have our name associated with Li-Khor prison brings great shame to our families. General Shang, we have served you faithfully with our lives. We do not deserve the same dishonour as mass murderers. You could have pleaded for us.”

General Shang looked away, filled with shame that he could not protect his own men from the Emperor's wrath. They were selected Imperial Guards, not ordinary foot soldiers. Any one among could handle at least five different weapons skillfully. Yes, they were good men. Still, the Emperor’s royal edict could not be defied.

“I am sorry,” he said humbly. “When the appropriate time arrives, I will petition the Emperor to forgive you. Maybe you will get released.”

“If we survive the infamous Li-Khor prison!” muttered one of the prisoners.

The general gave an order to secure the hands of the mine men with chains. The prisoners were led out of the hall towards their new destination.

One of the Palace guards, a tall bearded man, escorting the prisoners whispered, “We are sorry to have to do this, brother Wen. We know you deserve better. The Li-Khor prison is for mad animals.”

Wen Yiji replied, “It is not your fault. I hope that none of you would ever be put in prison if you lose any shipment you are protecting in the future.”

“We are concerned,” said another guard. “What happened to the nine of you today can easily happen to us in the future. Is there anything we can do for you?”

“Yes, you can,” replied Wen Yiji. “We will get better treatment in prison if the jailors think that the Palace guards are interested in our welfare. You have to go to Li-Khor prison and demand to see us every now and then. The warden needs to know that the former Imperial guards are not to be sadistically treated like their other prisoners.”

“You are correct. It could be our turn to be imprisoned there one day if we are not careful,” said the tall bearded Imperial guard. “We are all brothers serving the same master. We need to look out for each other. Don’t worry. We will make sure that the prison warden behaves.”

“Thank you,” said Wen Yiji gratefully.

+ + + + + +

At the prison, the nine prisoners were herded into a prison cell. Their chains were then removed.

Wen Yiji noticed that one of the three Chin brothers in the group was whispering surreptitiously to a prison guard. When the guards had locked the prison cell and left, the eldest of the three Chin brothers, Chin Tua Kee said, “Don’t worry! One of the prison jailors is our distant cousin. He will look after us here and make sure we have enough rations to eat.”

Wen Yiji looked at Chin brothers. The eldest was Chin Tua Kee, the second was Chin Teong Kee and the youngest was Chin Jia Lat. They were in their twenties and he knew that their parents were dead. He did not know that they had a distant cousin.

“His name is Ah Keong,” said Chin Teong Kee. “Ah Keong will try to make our stay here as bearable as possible. But he does not want the other jailors to know that we are related. Otherwise he may get transferred to the other wing.”

“All right,” said Wen Yiji. “We will keep this to ourselves. We may need to use Ah Keong to bring us news from outside.”

The men nodded agreement.

+ + + + + +

Wen Xiang Xiang sobbed together with her elder sisters when they discussed the fate that had befallen their eldest brother Yiji. She was the youngest of seven siblings in the family. Wen Yiji was twenty-three years old and due to be married later in the year. On hearing that Wen Yiji was in Li-Khor prison, the fiancee’s family had promptly called off the marriage and subsequently engaged her to another family.

The prison warden had refused all family visits to her brother. However, he was willing to bend the rules for a hefty bribe, but the asking price was too high for their family to afford. Her second brother would be sitting for the Imperial Civil Service Exams in the following year and the family finances were marshaled towards this goal. There was no money left for bribes.

Xiang Xiang sobbed again. Her eldest brother Wen Yiji was not an ordinary man. He was good looking, well-built, and was a gifted archer. She personally thought that Yiji was too upright, too stuffy and a most boring character. But everyone else thought well of him. Everybody said that he had a golden future ahead. Everybody said so! Was everybody wrong? Even Chief Feng had picked her brother among hundreds of Imperial guards to be his assistant.

Wiping her eyes, she noticed that her mother was not crying, and so she decided to stop her sobbing. Strange, but she had never seen her mother cry.

+ + + + + +

Warden Sai had been in charge of the Li-Khor prison for the past ten years. He did not like his post and considered it a dead end job. In some prisons, rich people would be willing to pay good bribes just for the opportunity to visit relatives in prison. But not at Li-Khor. The country’s worst criminals were sent to Li-Khor to await execution and they were often shunned and disowned by their living kin. Opportunities to collect bribes were few and far between. It was frustrating, and Warden Sai often took out his frustrations on the prisoners.

Wen Yiji was brought before Warden Sai for questioning.

“I hear that you have fallen foul of the Emperor’s good graces because of a crime you and your men committed. So sad!”

The prisoner stared straight at the warden, unflinching and unperturbed by the line of questioning.

“I and my men did not commit any crime. We are here only because we have failed in our duty to the Emperor,” he said.

“Yes, yes, I believe in your words,” sneered the prison warden disbelievingly. “I have instructions to keep all of you here till you die. You were Imperial guards specially handpicked for the mission to guard the Emperor’s goods. There were twenty of you when your consignment was attacked by five bandits. Just five! I find it strange that you did not kill a single bandit when they attacked. You know what I think? I think that you were in cahoots with the bandits!”

“What?” roared Wen Yiji.

“Either that or there were no bandits,” continued the warden. “You killed off Chief Feng and some of his men. The remaining ones then improperly appropriated the Emperor’s goods and hid them somewhere else. You deserve to hang for what you did!”

Warden Sai was feeling pleased with him own theory. This could be the break he was looking for to improve his career.

“You are talking rubbish. Ta ma de. Be careful with what you say. If you fart in the wind, it will only blow the stink back to you,” said Wen Yiji.

“Tell me where you hid the Emperor’s valuables and I will make sure that your stay here is comfortable!”

“For the last time,” said the prisoner in disgust, “I am telling you that we did not commit any wrongdoing.”

“Very well,” said the prison warden in anger. “Have it your own way, you stupid dog. Most prisoners don’t last more than five years in this hellhole. Soon you will be like the rest of the prisoners; dying rats waiting to be fed on by snakes.”

“You may want to make sure that my men and I are comfortable,” said the Wen Yiji. “Perhaps one day, the Emperor may free us. When that day comes, you will wish that you had not made an enemy out of us.”

“You have fallen into my hands and I can treat you as I so wish,” sneered the warden. “Can the monkey ever escape from the palm of the Buddha?”

One by one, all the nine prisoners were interrogated by the warden. However, he was unable to make them say that they had misappropriated the Emperor’s jade lions. Finally, in anger, he had them all flogged mercilessly. Then, the jailors dragged their bleeding bodies back to the cell.

That evening, the Chin brothers sent a message through their jailor cousin Ah Keong to one of the Imperial guards in the city.

The next morning, the prison warden woke up to find fifty Imperial guards outside the prison gates demanding to see Wen Yiji and his men.

Warden Sai addressed the Imperial guards and shouted, “This is not a hotel or a whorehouse, where you can go in and visit whoever you like!”

“We only want to make sure that they have not been mistreated,” one of the Imperial guards shouted back.

“What we do here is none of your business!” Warden Sai snarled. “As long as I am the warden here, you will not be allowed to visit anybody here.”

“Fine!” countered a tall Imperial guard menacingly, “but don’t forget that we run the security in this city. You may be the authority in your prison, but if you ever step out of your prison walls, you had better wish that you have somebody guarding your back!”

With that, the Imperial guards left.

The following evening, Warden Sai decided that he would go with some of his men to visit a courtesan house nearby. It was already dusk and as soon as he walked out of the prison, a dozen arrows flew past his head and embedded themselves into the thick wooden prison door. Hastily, he ran back with his men into the safety of the prison grounds. He peered out through the prison ramparts, but could not see anybody in the semi-darkness outside. There was no sound, no movement, not even a stray dog, merely silence.

The warden was not entirely stupid. He knew what the arrows were a warning. All the arrows had been aimed too high. The men in the dark who had shot at him had deliberately missed. The knowledge that they could have killed him if they had so wished left him fearful and frustrated. He swore at the attackers. He swore at their grandfathers and grandmothers. He even swore at their pet fish.

Chapter 2 – The Mid Autumn blaze

Several days had passed since the first arrow attack. Warden Sai was in a foul mood. As long as Wen Yiji and his men were jailed in his prison, the warden would have to be careful. The Imperial guards patrol the city and each time the warden ventured out, he could feel their eyes boring a hole in his back. At night, arrows would fly near his head if he tried to step out of his prison complex. One night, if he was not careful, an arrow might just find its way into his neck.

But he had got the message. If Wen Yiji and his men were harmed, he might not be safe. It was only when he had allowed the Imperial guards to visit the nine men that the arrow attacks stopped. It vexed him to know that he, a prison warden of mean repute, was so vulnerable. However, he was not a prison warden for all those years without a few tricks up his sleeve.

“It is time that those nine men were split up,” he muttered to himself. “They think they may be freed one day, but no prisoner has ever left this facility alive. Just to make it even more memorable for Wen Yiji, I will make sure that he has an interesting cellmate. He will not last more than a few months in here! Hahahaha!”

Laughing mirthlessly to himself, Warden Sai went down to the cells and nonchalantly informed the nine men that their prison cell was in need of some repairing and therefore he would have to shift the prisoners elsewhere. The three Chin brothers and one other man were taken to another cell in the current wing of the building. Wen Yiji was moved out to share a different cell with an unfamiliar old prisoner in the same wing as the Chin brothers. The remaining four prisoners were shifted to a cell in another wing.

As Ah Keong led Wen Yiji to his new cell, he whispered, “Master Wen, please be very careful in your new cell.”

“Why?” whispered back Wen Yiji.

“Prisoners do not live very long in that particular cell. At most they last about three months. One day they are fine. The next morning, they are unable to wake up. They die in their sleep at night,” answered Ah Keong. “There is a white haired old man in the cell chained to the wall. He has been there for maybe forty years. That one can’t seem to die.”

“Why is he chained to the wall?” asked Wen Yiji.

“I don’t know,” said Ah Keong. None of us have worked here long enough to know. He was jailed during the previous Emperor’s reign and I think everybody has forgotten why he was sent here. There is a very old sign outside his cell that says that the chains are not to be removed from him.”

“He can’t go very far in chains.”

“He can’t even reach his food in his chains. It will be your task to take his food from the food hole and hand it to him.”

Wen Yiji nodded. Prisoners in the facility were handed their food through a small hole in the door which they refer to as the “food hole”. Sometimes, when the jailors were nasty, they would only put three platters of food through the food hole for a cell of five men. Often there were fights over the food.

Ah Keong unlocked the last cell at the end of the corridor. Yiji peered into the semidarkness and saw an old man with white hair and beard sitting cross-legged on the floor. Thick heavy chains fastened his hands to anchor points on the wall. The legs were shackled in chains as well. Yiji was surprised to see the size of the iron chains. They were strong enough to hold back a herd of buffaloes.

“This is your new cellmate,” said Ah Keong. Then he locked the door of the cell and left Wen Yiji facing the white haired man.

The younger man Yiji politely greeted, “Good morning.”

Old White Hair ignored him, so Yiji walked to another corner of the cell and sat down. When the food came on two wooden platters, Yiji took a platter and left it at the old man’s feet. Then he went and ate from the other one. The old man moved and started eating. When he had finished, he threw his empty platter towards the door. This went on day after day, with both cellmates not saying a word to each other.

A month later, the rations were reduced. Ah Keong explained to Yiji that sometimes when the food supplies were slow in coming, the rations to the prisoners would be reduced.

As usual, Wen Yiji deposited a platter of food at Old White Hair’s feet.

“Why is my food so little? Have you been taking my food?” the old man asked.

It was the first time that Wen Yiji had heard his cellmate spoke.

“I have not been taking your food,” he replied. “But if you like, I will exchange my platter with yours.”

“Why don’t you give me your platter as well?” the old man asked.

Wen Yiji hesitated. The food was nothing great, but still, he would like to eat it. However, he was the younger man, and the old prisoner probably needed the food more than him.

“All right,” he said, “you can have my share.”

While the old man ate, Wen Yiji went hungry.

The following day, the rations were back to normal and the old man was silent again.

+ + + + + +

A year had gone by.

In the group of Yiji's comrades, two men from among the original nine prisoners had died. They had sustained some bad internal injuries when trying to defend the jade lions against the bandits. The two did not have time to seek proper treatment, and so, while in prison, they had died from a combination of their old injuries and malnourishment even before one year was up. Wen Yiji did not see any of his former comrades but had heard the sad news from Ah Keong. He felt sad and depressed over the unfair fate of his men. Heaven must have been blind.

The visits from their friends in the Imperial Guards had dried up. Wen Yiji knew that they were already a forgotten lot. People have such short memories.

Warden Sai had Wen Yiji brought before him.

“You have been in here for one year. Are you willing to tell me now where your men hid the Emperor’s jade lions?” the warden asked. “Tell me, and I will try to get you your freedom!”

“Don’t you know how stupid you sound?” asked Wen Yiji in return. “I know that I am going to die in here. If there is a way that I can get my freedom, don’t you think that I will take it?”

“You were the deputy leader of the mission. You led your men into an ambush!” snarled the warden.

“I was the deputy to Chief Feng. He chose the route and I brought up the rear. If you want to know more about the route, why don’t you make your way to hell and ask Chief Feng?” smiled Wen Yiji politely.

“I offered you toasted wine, but you insist on punishment wine. Stupid pig!” cursed the warden. He had Wen Yiji whipped and beaten, and then dragged back into the cell. Maybe what the prisoner said was true and they had nothing to do with the missing jade lions. He cursed again.

Wen Yiji lay still on the cold cell floor, bleeding from the beating he had just received. Pain flooded his body and he tried to block it off mentally. It did not work; the pain was still persistently there.

There was a sound in the food hole. The day’s meal had arrived. Wen Yiji did not feel like eating. But Old White Hair needed to eat. With a supreme effort, he struggled to the food and painfully dragged a platter of food to the old man’s feet. Then he passed out.

He woke up. He did not know for how long he had slept, but it must have been long.

He coughed. A rasping cough. Red spittle flowed from his mouth. He was coughing out blood.

Looking around, he saw his own food still on a platter by the door. Slowly, he crawled towards it.

“I wouldn’t eat it if I were you,” the voice of the old man floated out to him. “The rats were feeding on it while you were asleep. You will die from disease if you touch it.”

The old man was right. It was the second time in prison that he had heard the old man speak.

“How long did I sleep?” he asked.

“About a day,” replied the old man. “Why were you beaten up like this?”

“The stupid warden wanted to know something about a crime that I did not commit,” said Wen Yiji. “He asked me the same stupid question last year. I did not know that it was possible to remain so stupid for so long.”

“Is he really very stupid?” asked the old man.

"Of course," Wen Yiji replied. “He is so stupid that he has become the definition for ‘stupid’. If he dies, the Emperor will have to remove the word ‘stupid’ from the language.”

There was silence in the cell. Then suddenly, the old man laughed. A creaky laugh that sounded like old hinges being moved. It was weird. The sound came out as a slow drawn-out cackle rather than outright laughter. Old White Hair laughed for a long time. Then all was quiet.

Three days later, the old man spoke again, “You are a strange man. You are definitely too righteous to belong here. What was the crime that you had committed that landed you in this prison?”

“My name is Wen Yiji. I was formerly an Imperial guard. We were protecting one of the Emperor’s consignment when we got robbed by bandits. The Emperor was angry with us and threw us in jail,” said the younger man.

“You risk life and limb fighting for your Emperor and this is how he repays you?”

“He is my Emperor.”

“Ahhh......the loyalty of a fool.”

“Please do not mock my loyalty.”

“You should not have come back to face punishment. It would have been wiser to run away while you still could.”

“It would have been dishonourable to run away.”

“Honour is not worth anything.”

“The sages say that if a man loses his wealth, he loses nothing. But if he loses his honour, he loses everything.”

“The sages have filled your head full with dog shit!”

“That may be so. But I choose to live my life with honour till the end.”

“A day will come when you will change your view of life,” declared White Hair.

“That day will never come,” declared Wen Yiji defiantly.

+ + + + + +

Wen Xiang Xiang was excited. It was the fourteenth night of the eighth month, and was the night before the Mid Autumn Festival. The streets were busy and brightly lit with lanterns. She wished her brother Yiji was out of prison so that the family could celebrate the occasion together. It had been a year since he was jailed and she missed him. The whole family missed him.

The second eldest in the family was twenty-one year old Yituo, who would be sitting for his Imperial Civil Service Exams later in the year. The third eldest was another male, eighteen year old Yifeng. After that came two sisters, and then Yisheng and Xiang Xiang. Yisheng was an eleven year old boy and just one year older than her. Among the siblings, she was the closest to Yisheng and they often sneaked out of the house together in the day. In fact, they did everything together.

For the past year, her mother had been teaching Yisheng how to handle the wooden pole, and Xiang Xiang had joined in the exercises. Sometimes, she would be asked to spar with Yisheng, but her hands were not as strong as her brother’s, so she often dropped the pole. That always earned her a scolding from her mother.

Tonight would be special. The Cheng brothers in the house down the road had promised to take her and her brother Yisheng to see the sights at night. They would have to sneak out. It would be the first time that they would be sneaking out at night, but then, there was a first time for everything.

At dinner time, Xiang Xiang whispered to Yisheng, “Don’t eat so much rice or else we will not be able to eat the sweets that the Yang brothers promised to get for us afterwards.”

“Don’t worry,” whispered Yisheng. “I can eat a lot now and still eat a lot afterwards!”

After dinner, there was radish cake for dessert. Each of the family members got two pieces. Yisheng ate his two pieces in a hurry but Xiang Xiang secretly kept her two pieces of radish cake in the room, intending to eat them later after her night out. When questioned by her father, she replied that she had already eaten the cakes. Then she and Yisheng went to the room and waited. They were the youngest children in the family and they shared the same bedroom.

Xiang Xiang heard the old maidservant, Luo Ma, bolt the front door. Then all was quiet.

“Time to move, Yisheng!” she whispered.

There was no answer.

“Faster lah, you pig!” she called.

Yisheng was fast asleep.

She tried to shake him awake, but it was of no use. He turned in his sleep and carried on sleeping like a baby. Xiang Xiang was faced with a dilemma. Should she sneak out alone without him? That would be a foolhardy thing to do for a ten-year old girl. But then, she had always been foolhardy. At least, that was what her father often said.

Making a quick decision, she opened the room window and crept out through it. She walked noiselessly to a tree in the garden, climbed it to reach the top of the garden wall, and then she jumped down to the other side. That was not so difficult. Then she made her way confidently to the house of the Cheng family where the four Cheng brothers were already waiting.

“Where’s your brother Yisheng?” asked one of the Cheng brothers.

“He’s not coming,” Xiang Xiang replied. “He’s sleeping like a pig.”

“Let’s not waste time then,” another brother said. “We should climb the small hill behind the next road. That will give us a good view of all the lantern processions along the road.”

“Alright,” said the eldest brother, “but we should get to Third Uncle’s house to collect the sweets. Then we can climb the hill and eat sweets while we watch.”

Xiang Xiang knew the hill. It was only as high as five floors and so it was not very high. But it afforded a good view of the entire neighbourhood.

She followed the boys to collect the sweets from the house of their third uncle two roads away and then they ascended the short hill. Sitting on the grass, they munched on sweets while they looked at the lantern processions meandering their way up and down the road.

Suddenly, one of the Cheng brothers asked, “Is that a house on fire?”

The rest stared at the direction that he was pointing at.

“Maybe it is just a lantern that caught fire,” said another brother. “Hahaha! Some careless idiot just lost a lantern!”

They stared for a while.

“The fire’s getting bigger,” said another Cheng brother. “It looks like ten lanterns are on fire.”

They stared more intently, and then the eldest Cheng brother shouted, “It is a house on fire, and it’s coming from the road where we live!”

Quickly, they made their way down the hill and ran to the road where they live. Screaming at the top of their lungs, the boys yelled “Fire! Fire!”

Xiang Xiang was shocked to discover that the house on fire was her own home. She ran to the gate and tried to open it, and then she realized that it was bolted from inside. She was too numbed to try to climb the wall or call out. The neighbors were alerted by the yelling of the boys and soon everybody got out to help.

Someone leapt over the wall and unbolted the gate from inside. Xiang Xiang ran through it to the house, only to be beaten back by the heat and smoke. She stood by helplessly as the neighbours tried to put out the flames. Buckets started to appear as the neighbours brought water from their houses to douse the fire. One of the men broke a flaming window, and through the broken window, Xiang Xiang saw her parents lying still on the bed even as the bed burned fiercely. She froze in shock as she saw the flames licked the two bodies through the smoke.

Then suddenly, she broke out of her shock and cried. Unthinkingly, she ran towards the flames but somebody grabbed her from behind to prevent her from attempting to get too near the fire.

She screamed.

She screamed and she screamed.

Chapter 3 – The Poison Field Inner Energy

Morning came.

Wen Xiang Xiang did not know how she made it through the night. She had crouched behind the garden wall the night before, numbed with shock. She woke up to find herself on the cold hard ground.

In the pale light of dawn, she looked at her house. What was once her family home had become a heap of charred rubble, with some parts still smoldering. The neighbours had gone back to their houses to sleep. There was nothing that they could save, except the old mare and the tiny stable behind the house. She would have to go through the charred remains of the bodies to identify them before they could be buried. She sobbed and wished that the fire had taken her along. The spirits of her family had taken another journey and she had been left behind.

“Where are you?” she cried. “Answer me, where are you?”

If only she had not sneaked out at night. She might have spotted the fire and alerted them.

If only.

She felt ridden with guilt and hated herself.

The Cheng brothers came with their parents in the early morning to take a look.

“There are a lot of dead bodies here. Even if you sell yourself, you will not be able to buy enough coffins for all of them,” said the father. “I suggest that you just wrap them in straw mats and then bury them in the ground here. You will need money to engage funeral workers to pull out the burnt corpses and a priest to perform funeral rites for them. If not, they may turn into fiery ghosts that wander aimlessly on earth without peace. It’s best to do it today. I think you will have to sell the horse to pay for the expenses.”

Xiang Xiang nodded in agreement and then requested the elder Cheng to help sell the horse quickly and make the funeral arrangements.

The hired funeral workers worked quickly. Nobody liked to be around charred bodies for too long. An old worker handed Xiang Xiang an unrecognizable piece of metal and said, “This was found on your father’s body. He must have been wearing it, but it did not melt in the blaze. It is made of iron and I don’t think it is valuable. Do you wish us to bury it with him or do you wish to keep it?”

It was a piece of shapeless iron that her father often wore around his neck. She knew that it was of no value, but decided to keep it as a memory to her father.

“Thank you,” she said. “I wish to keep it.”

The bodies were buried in the ground with wooden pillars to mark each grave. The wooden pillars served as headstones and the name of each dead person was carved on the wood. The hired priest saw that the only survivor was a young girl who did not know anything much, so he shamelessly cut short his normal ceremony in order to save time and effort.

People on the street came to pay their last respects to the dead. Some visited out of plain nosiness. In her moment of bereavement, the ten-year old girl overheard the neighbours making snide comments behind her back.

“Holding a funeral at Mid Autumn Festival......choi!”

“Only one daughter survived. You know arh, she sneaked out at night without telling anybody! So bold!”

“Where got ten-year old girls do something like this one? If her parents were alive, they have to properly properly thrash her!”

“Young girls nowadays got no respect for our traditions . Go out alone at night surrounded by boys. Who knows what they got up too!”

“We wait nine months then we know lor!”

Choi......she only ten years old!”

Aiyahhh......can or cannot happen, who can say one?”

Xiang Xiang tried to shut out the comments from her mind. When the funeral rites were over, she went into the tiny stable and lay down on the hay. Mercifully, the stable was not burnt and it afforded her some shelter. She had no blanket, so she covered herself with some hay. Then she cried herself to sleep.

+ + + + + +

Wen Yiji was sitting quietly when he heard the food being brought to his cell. It was not brought by Ah Keong but by another jailor.

“The food is early today,” he thought. “And where is Ah Keong?”

As usual, he took one platter of food and placed it in front of White Hair. He then took the other platter to his corner of the cell and started to eat. The food was better this time. He ate slowly, savoring his food, and soon the platter was empty. Old White Hair was deep in meditation and had still not touch the food yet.

Suddenly, Wen Yiji felt a burning sensation in his stomach. The sensation spread and he felt quite sick.

“Don’t touch your food!” he called out to White Hair.

“What’s the matter?” asked White Hair, opening his eyes.

Yiji could not answer except make gasping noises.

“You’ve been poisoned,” said White Hair. “Come over here.”

Yiji remained as he was, unable to move.

“If you wish to live, you must come to me,” said the old man.

With a supreme effort, Yiji crawled towards the old man while trying to overcome the pain in his body. Each step was tremendous effort and soon he lost all consciousness.

+ + + + + +

The next day, he woke up. The pain in his body was gone, but he still felt queasy. He sat up and stared around him blankly.

“Ahhh… are up,” the voice of White Hair floated to him.

“I’m not dead?” the younger man asked.

“No,” replied White Hair. “But you slept for one day. I saved your miserable life.”

“Thank you,” said Yiji weakly. “I seem to remember eating food and feeling pain. What happened?”

“You were severely poisoned and your face turned greenish blue. Luckily, you managed to crawl near enough for me to reach you. While you were unconscious, I imparted to you the Poison Field Inner Stance to save your life.”

“The Poison Field Inner Stance?”

“Yes. The Poison Field Inner Stance uses a poisonous energy to combat the poison. That way, the ingested poison in the body is prevented from spreading until you can clear it from your system by vomiting or by peeing it out.”

“You put poisonous energy in my body?”

“Of course. We call it ‘using poison to fight poison’. It’s like using fire to fight fire.”

“Oh…..I’ve never heard of fighting fire with fire. I usually use water.”

“I’m just telling you how it works!”

“I’m sorry. I’m forgetting my manners. Thank you for saving my life. Please accept three kowtows from me.”

Wen Yiji attempted to give three kowtows to the old man, but collapsed on the floor due to the effort. Somehow, he struggled and managed to complete the three kowtows.

“Don’t try to move around too much yet,” advised the old man. “You are still very weak. The Poison Field Inner Stance controls the movement of the poison only to a certain extent. It works only if you do not use more than one third of your maximum strength. If you do, the poison will be uncontrollable and then it will spread throughout the whole body. Always remember that if you are ever poisoned again in the future.”

“I think I exerted more than one third of my strength just now when I kowtowed to you,”

“Don’t worry. You urinated in your pants while you were sleeping, so the poison should have been already expelled out of your body by now. But you stink. More than usual.”

“I am most grateful to you, sir. You must be a kungfu ‘high hand’ to be able to impart the Poison Field Inner Stance to me. That will explain why you are bound by such thick iron chains. I should have known that I am in the presence of a great kungfu master. Please forgive me for having eyes that did not know the Tai Mountain.”

“Your battle is not yet over,” remarked White Hair. “For the next twenty-eight days, you will have to take great care with your own emotions. The poison may be gone, but there is still the Poison Field Inner energy to deal with. This poisonous energy is new to your body and it will attempt to exert control and alter your personality. If you can maintain emotional stability for one cycle of the moon, your personality will be unchanged.”

“It does not matter if my personality is altered.”

“It does matter. If you allow the poisonous energy to control you, you will lose your personality and end up with something else.”

“What is that something else?”


Wen Yiji stared blankly. He had never heard of poisonality.

“What is the difference between personality and poisonality?” he asked.

“With personality, if you walk to a stream where ten naked maidens are bathing, nine of them will willingly spread their legs wide open for you,” replied White Hair.

“And with poisonality?” asked Yiji.

“With poisonality, nine of them will want to bash you up,” replied the old man.

“All is not lost. There is still the tenth maiden who may be willing to spread her legs for me,” remarked Yiji.

The old man stared hard at him and said gravely, “The tenth maiden will be thinking how to shove a nine-ring broadsword up your ass canal.”

“ that case, I do not want poisonality,” declared Wen Yiji. “How do I prevent it?”

“You have to think happy thoughts for these twenty-eight days. What is the happiest memory that you have?”

“When I was young, my father once took me to the Shih Zhang Valley. I remember that the sun was bright, the food was good, the air smelt sweet and I saw a lot of goats jumping around. That was the happiest memory of my life.”

“Ummmh......that’s it,” declared White Hair. “If you feel sad, angry or depressed during this period, you have to shift your mind to the happy memory and think of the jumping goats.”

“I wonder who would want to poison us,” said Yiji. The thought of it made him angry. “If I ever get hold of the culprit, I’ll strip his skin from his body and dip him in boiling candle wax. Then I will smash his skull to pieces. Grrrrrrrr. After that I’ll…….”

“Stop!” warned White Hair. “Watch it! The Poison Field Inner Stance is trying to warp your personality. Don’t think about whoever is trying to poison us. You have to think happy thoughts. Quickly, shift your mind to the jumping goats!”

Wen Yiji thought of the goats and the happy times he had a long time ago. His anger gradually subsided.

A short while later, he declared, “Damn! I’m hungry.”

The old man glared at him and said, “Shut up. Just concentrate on the goats.”

Chapter 4 – The story of White Hair

Bowing low before her parents’ graves, Xiang Xiang asked for forgiveness. It had been two days since the funeral, and she had not eaten a thing. She was hungry. None of the neighbours had gone to the burnt down house to offer her food. She understood the situation. Many girls in the neighbourhood did not often get enough to eat. If parents could not even feed their own daughters sufficiently, how could they spare food to feed her, an orphan girl? She could not expect charity from her neighbours.

She looked at the graves around her. The family was gone. The only other kin left living was her eldest brother Yiji in prison.

“If eldest brother Yiji were here, he’ll know what to do,” she sobbed. “But they say that prisoners in Li Khor prison would never be freed.”

Perhaps she could take her own life and join her family. But if she did, who would look after the graves? The hunger in her stomach was getting too insistent to ignore. However, she would not beg from her neighbours.

Picking herself up, she walked out of the gate and headed towards the town. She did not know what she intended to do but it was better than staying put. Maybe she could obtain some food in town.

An hour later, she stood at a corner of a busy intersection. Holding out her hand, she tried begging for food. An old beggar saw her and chased her away with a stick.

“This is my spot!” he shouted angrily.

She was devastated. Her first attempt at begging had been a disaster. Passing by a vendor of steamed dumplings, she paused to take in the aromatic smell. How often in the past, her mother had stopped to buy her a dumpling to eat. It seemed like a long time ago.

She wanted a dumpling. Maybe two. But she had no money. She would have to steal. She wondered if she could grab a couple of dumplings and run away without getting caught. As she was pondering her move, two young boys passed by the cart of steamed dumplings. In a flash, they grabbed some dumplings and ran swiftly up the road. The vendor was enraged at the daylight robbery gave chase immediately, leaving his cart unattended.

Seizing the opportunity, Xiang Xiang grabbed two dumplings from the cart and ran in the opposite direction. She sneaked down a side alley, ran behind some houses and then stopped when she thought it was safe. Quickly, in her hungered state, she wolfed down a dumpling as quickly as she could.

"If you eat that fast, you will choke," said a voice nearby.

She looked up. It was a boy holding a basket. He was probably three years older than her. She stared at him.

“You are an opportunist,” he continued. “Stealing the dumplings when the chance presented itself.”

“What’s that to do with you,” she asked.

“Those two young boys who ran off with the dumplings were my gang members. They created a diversion so that I can grab these,” he replied. He showed her the basket, which was half filled with dumplings. “That vendor must be an amateur. Hahahaha!”

Xiang Xiang was about to bite into her second dumpling when the boy shouted, “Stop! That dumpling belongs to this basket.”

“What?” asked an indignant Xiang Xiang. “This is mine and I’m hungry!”

“You would not have got it if not for us,” replied the boy. “You have to share the loot.”

The girl thought for a moment. He was right. She might not have stolen the dumplings successfully if she had been on her own.

“What’s in it for me if I share?” she asked.

“You get to be part of our gang,” he replied. “You will not be able to survive out here alone without help and support.”

Again, he was right, she thought. Reluctantly, she put her second dumpling into the basket.

“Do you have a name,” he asked her.

“My name is Xiang Xiang,” she replied. “I’m an orphan.”

“Xiang Xiang? That is a dopey name. My name is Quickfingers.”

“Honoured to meet you, Mr Quickfingers,” she said.

“Ahhhh….. a girl of some manners,” he remarked. “But if you want to run with our gang, you’ll need a name that’s not so refined. Tell you what, I’ll change your name to Froggy.”

“All right,” she replied. Froggy sounded fine.

Quickfingers led her to his hideout and introduced her to the gang leader, a man called One Eye, because he had only one eye.

“This girl helped me stole the dumplings. She is fast on her feet,” said Quickfingers. “We can use her.”

One Eye looked at her. He was a master thief, but age had caught up with him and he was not as agile as he used to be. Thus he had to depend on the younger pickpockets to do his stealing for him. For that reason, he recruited young street kids into his gang and trained them. He looked over Xiang Xiang critically. A girl could be useful in distracting potential victims. She was young, and therefore easy to train.

“Okay,” he said. “We’ll take you in. The rule is that whatever you steal, you bring it back for me to keep. If you try to keep any loot for yourself, I’ll break your hands and then expel you from the gang. But if you learn your skills well, you can become a good pickpocket and you’ll never go hungry again for the rest of your life. Understand?”

She nodded and said, “Thank you. I will learn all I can. I am young, so my learning may be slow. Please be patient with me.”

“Every gang member here is young, but everyone is trainable,” declared the one-eyed man. “Children learn fast with the right training methods. In fact, I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier.....”

“Sir?” asked Xiang Xiang in bewilderment.

“Your training starts today,” he snapped.

That morning, Xiang Xiang became Froggy the pickpocket.

+ + + + + +

Wen Yiji moved his body slowly. He had recovered slightly and the queasy feeling was not as strong as before. He tried to get up.

“I suggest that you lie down,” said White Hair. “Whoever tried to poison us may attempt again. If he thinks that you are already on the verge of dying, he may hold off further attempts. It’s best that you pretend to be half-dead.”

“Maybe the food was unclean,” said Yiji.

“No, it was a deliberate attempt,” said the old man. “While you were unconscious with poisoning, the jailor who usually brings the food turned up with our normal rations. He was surprised to find out that somebody had brought us the food already. That means that somebody deliberately prepared two platters of poisoned food and gave them to us before we received our scheduled food.”


“Maybe they just wanted to poison me, but they are not sure from which platter I will eat, so they poisoned both platters to be sure,” said White Hair.

“Maybe,” said Yiji, “or maybe it was me they were after. How long have you been imprisoned here?”

“About forty years.”

“Judging from the chains on your hands and feet, the prison authorities must really be afraid of you. If you don’t mind my asking, what kind of kungfu do you use?”

“I use the Dark Fire Iron Palm.”

“The Dark Fire Iron Palm? Isn’t that supposed to be a myth about some diabolical martial art?”

“It is not a myth. And definitely not diabolical. It’s just that only very few of us know it and we don’t teach it to just anybody. It is so powerful that I once fell a tiny house with a single palm blast.”

“With tremendous power like that, you’ll be invulnerable and need not fear anybody.”

“That is not true. No matter how powerful you are, as long as your loved ones are under threat, you will become vulnerable. The obvious answer is not to love anything.”

“What a miserable life that is, not to love anything. One might as well not live.”

“Yet if you love, you become vulnerable. All your enemies have to do is to make a move on your loved ones and you will soon be begging for mercy. Even the strongest fighter will turn into the meekest puppet.”

“That is true. There must be a solution to this.”

“Of course there is, young man. One must be outwardly weak, so as not to attract undue attention, yet secretly strong enough to smash one’s enemies.”

“But every pugilist yearns for the respect of others. No one will want to be secretly strong when there is so much more respect and face to be gained for being publicly known as a powerful fighter. What is the use of having great power if no one knows about it?”

“A power in secret is much more potent than a power that is publicly known. The powerful attract powerful enemies. It is when your enemies underestimate you that you can hope to defeat them.”

Wen Yiji pondered over this for a while and then asked, “If you do not mind my asking, with the power of your Dark Fire Iron Palm, you should have been able to evade capture easily. How did you get thrown into prison? And what was the nature of your crime? Your accent is not of here. From which province did you come from? And why were you taken to a prison in the Imperial capital?”

“So many questions,” remarked White Hair. "Let me tell you my story from the beginning. I was originally from the seaside town of Shantou in the Guangdong province. More than forty years ago, I was living happily with my mistress in Shantou in a house along a beautiful beach. It was a peaceful life. All we do is make love, walk along the beach, make love, swim in the sea, make love, come back to the house, make love.....”

“Mistress?" Wen Yiji interrupted him. "You were not officially married?”

“Well, no. She was married to someone else. Her husband owed some people a big gambling debt, so he sold her to me. Well not exactly. I paid a sum of money for the usage of her for three years with an understanding that at the end of three years, if I was happy with her, I could pay another sum to keep her for good. It was like a short-term lease with an option-to-buy arrangement.”

“How is this arrangement better than the normal hire-purchase agreement?”

“With a hire-purchase agreement, the woman would be mine as soon as I made the first payment. With leasing, the woman was still his wife even while I was paying. The advantage was that in case I did not enjoy his wife, I did not have to purchase her later. Obviously you do not know much about modern financial instruments.”

Yiji was embarrassed to find out that he did not know much about modern financial instruments, so he said abashedly, “I’m sorry. Please carry on.”

“Well, one day while my mistress and I were at the market buying cabbage to boil soup when a stupid humsap moron grabbed her ass. I bashed him up with a salted fish. He wasn’t hurt much, but he went off and returned with a group of men later. They attacked me. I bashed them all up.”

“That was good.”

“No, that was bad. It turned out that the man was the son of a visiting magistrate. The son learned where I lived and sent some of the magistrate’s goons at night to my house to attack me. In the dark, I killed a lot of them, but the son managed to escape. The magistrate was livid. In the morning, he and his son had my house surrounded by soldiers. But they were no match for my Dark Fire Iron Palm. When the battle was over, most of his soldiers were dead and the magistrate had to flee for his life. His son was not so lucky. I captured him and cut off his left ball and sawed off one leg. He kept screaming throughout the day.”

“That must have been terrible!”

“Oh yes it was! I could not make love to my mistress with all that noise going on. And then he died before I could remove the other ball. Yau mou gau chor ah? Unfortunately for me, a prince of the Imperial family was also in the province at that time. The magistrate reported the matter to him and the prince sent a team of high hands to deal with me.”

“What happened then?”

“I smashed their skulls in. You should have seen them after I worked their heads. They looked so funny and flattened when they died. But one of them managed to escape to inform the prince. A prince would have resources. I was afraid, not for me, but for my mistress. I knew that it was not safe anymore at Shantou. So I fled with my mistress to Fujian Province. But one day, the magistrate, the prince and his soldiers caught up with us. In the battle that followed, I killed the prince and soldiers. However, to my horror, my mistress died under a hail of arrows. I was enraged with her death. I caught hold of the magistrate alive, and then carefully, I poured oil to one half of his body and set him on fire. You should have seen the unburned half trying to put out the fire on the burning half. He took a long time to die. I watched him suffer painfully till the end.”

Yiji took a moment to digest this. The old man’s viciousness could be explained by the diabolical nature of the Dark Fire Iron Palm. The wrong martial art could affect a man’s character. Or maybe it was the presence of the Poison Field Inner energy. That was something Yiji had to watch out for. He was a righteous upright man and wished to die righteous. Looking warily at the old man, Yiji remarked, “You can be very brutal.”

“Oh, thank you!” replied the old man. “I buried my mistress at a suitable spot. But by killing a prince, I had attracted the attention of the former Emperor, who dispatched a team of kungfu masters to capture me. They managed to locate me and secretly dropped a tasteless odorless poison into my wine. When I drank it, I knew I was poisoned. But before I had time to expel the poison from my body, I was attacked. I had to fight using only one third of my strength so that the poison could not spread throughout my body. At one third strength, I was not a match for my enemies. Thus, the kungfu masters managed to capture me. They locked me in these specially made chains, forged by the legendary Iron Master of the Northern Plains. Later, I managed to expel the poison, and I was able to use my maximum strength again. But I was still not able to break through these tough chains.”

“Why did the Emperor not execute you?”

“He was interested in the martial arts but could not fight. So he wanted me to teach him the Dark Fire Iron Palm. I laughed in his fat face. He kept me here while he figured out how to make me teach him. Then he passed away.”

“And so you were forgotten after his death!”

“I guess so.”

“What about your family. Surely they did not forget you?”

“I did not have a family. There was an older brother who had passed away earlier. He had a disciple. When my brother died, I took his disciple under my wing, intending to train him in the Dark Fire Iron Palm. He was not a natural and his training took longer than expected. He managed to reach Level 7 in the year that I was captured. The highest level was Level 8. But Level 8 exerts a most brutal energy and one should not attempt this if one is not ready. The pugilist has to remain at Level 7 for one full year before attempting Level 8. Otherwise, he will ‘run fire enter demon’ and become crazy. My disciple bribed the jailors of this prison and visited me shortly after I was locked up here. I took the opportunity to impart the knowledge of Level 8 to him in this cell. Since he had just reached Level 7 in that year, I warned him not to practice Level 8 until one full year had passed. But I guess he did not listen to my advice. Impatient fool!”

“What happened then?”

“He practiced Level 8 too early and very soon he ‘run fire enter demon’. He became a crazy maniac, hunting down his enemies and cooking them for pleasure.”

“That must have been a great disappointment to you.”

“Not exactly. He hunted down those kungfu masters who had captured me, roasted and ate them one by one. For years he terrorized the Guangdong, Jiangxi and Fujian Provinces. He became known as the Shantou Devil Ngai Chung. I kept abreast with the news from outside. New prisoners who entered this prison would tell me stories about how the notorious Shantou Devil cooked his enemies. Every kungfu clan was afraid of him. The Wu Tang Clan even sent a team of swordsmen against him.”

“Then what happened?”

“The Shantou Devil had a very big supper.”


“Then some Shaolin masters went to fight with him.”


“He had dessert.”


“Then finally all the clans wised up, pooled their resources together and sent their best martial artists to fight him. The Shantou Devil had to flee. About thirty years ago, he disappeared, and no one has heard of him ever since.”

“And so, the Dark Fire Iron Palm disappeared from the landscape and became a myth. If you had not taught your disciple Level 8, he might have been able to lead a normal life.”

“True. It does appear that all of us who learned the Dark Fire Iron Palm did not have a good ending,” remarked the old man. Then he kept quiet.

For days, both men kept up the pretense that they were dying, lying on the floor half-curled up, and there were no further poison attempts in the food.

More than twenty days later, Warden Sai visited the cell and shouted merrily, “Fantastic news! Guess what I just heard, Wen Yiji. Your family’s house was burnt down during the Mid Autumn Festival and everybody perished! Your father died! Your mother died! Your brothers died! Your sisters died! The horse died! Everybody died! There were no survivors! Muahahahahahah!”

Wen Yiji listened in shocked horror.

His body suddenly turned cold and he could not breathe normally. The cell appeared to spin drunkenly around him.

He did not hear White Hair shouting, “Think of the goats! Think of the goats!”

Chapter 5 – Froggy the pickpocket.

Warden Sai had expected a violent reaction from Wen Yiji. Instead, the prisoner sat unmoving, kept quiet, and stared blankly at the wall. The warden kept on talking but the prisoner did not appear to hear. On the other hand, the older prisoner with white hair kept shouting something about goats.

Goats. The warden hated goats.

When he was a young man, he had visited a farm and a young goat had maliciously butted him in the balls. The pain was excruciating and the warden had hated goats ever since. The old man’s shouting reminded him of that awful time and it irritated him no end.

“They are mad, both of them!” the warden muttered angrily. In frustration, he walked off.

Old White Hair knew what was happening. The mental shock had rendered the younger prisoner unable to control his emotions. Wen Yiji was in the grip of the Poison Field Inner energy that was taking control over his personality. He was no more listening.

The old man broke off a loose bit of harden clay from the wall. He took aim and threw the clay projectile at Yiji.

“Shit! I missed!” he cursed. “I am getting old!”

He threw another one and this time it hit the younger man on the head. Yiji turned to face the old man.

“You of surname Wen! Snap out of it!” White Hair shouted. “That damn ugly warden was obviously lying!”

“He was?” asked Yiji stupidly after a long pause.

“Of course!” replied White Hair. “Have you ever known a fire where everybody died? Including the horse?”

An internal struggle manifested inside Wen Yiji’s mind and finally he said, “You could be right.”

“Of course I am right! Think of the goats! The valley you visited. The good food you had! The air that you breathed! How it smelt so nice!”

With a strenuous mental effort, Wen Yiji focused on the happy memory he had when he was much younger. Slowly, he regained control of himself. Finally, when he was much calmer, he asked, “What happened? I felt a sudden change overtaking me.”

“You were under the control of the poisonous energy. Had you not snap out of it, you would be saddled with poisonality.”

“Thank you once again for your kind interference.”

“I was thinking for my own interests. If you developed poisonality, you would be impossible to live with. Then I would be forced to kill you.”

“You saved my life. Therefore it is yours for the taking anytime you wish.”

“I have no wish to take your life. You are the only cellmate I had that has not tried to steal my food rations. I would rather have you than any other prisoner as a cellmate.”

A thought occurred to Wen Yiji. Ah Keong had once told him that prisoners did not live long in this particular cell. That at most they lasted about three months before dying in their sleep. Suddenly, he understood.

“You killed off all your former cellmates, didn’t you?” he asked the old man.


“But why?”

“Every one of them started taking my food allocation as soon as they got here,” White Hair replied. “They saw that I was in chains, and took my food, carelessly assuming that I was helpless. One should not go around assuming things.”

“That is true. When one goes around ASSUMING things, one makes an ‘ASS’ out of ‘U’ and Ah ‘MING’. That’s not so good.”

“And if I did not kill them, I would have starved to death. It was a case of survival. I must have killed more than a hundred prisoners in this cell already. You were the only one who left my food alone. You are so righteous that you don’t belong in here.”

“How did you manage to kill a cellmate? You were in chains. You would not be able to reach him.”

“Sooner or later, he would come near enough.”

“I was told that your former cellmates died in their sleep,” said Yiji. “How did you manage to make it appear that they died naturally?”

“I used the Uber Slow Walk Heart Stopping Strike.”

“I have never heard of that.”

“Actually, it is merely the Dark Fire Iron Palm, delivered by one finger tap to the back just right behind the heart position. The effect is delayed and the victim dies in his sleep in his corner of the cell about one day later when his heart stops functioning. That is why nobody ever suspected that I had anything to do with the deaths of my former cellmates.”

“Brilliant! If you have to kill me, I would rather that you use the Uber Slow Walk Heart Stopping Strike and let me die in my sleep.”

“Shut up. I do not intend that matters reach that stage. Just concentrate on the goats.”

“Do you think that I have poisonality already?”

“I don’t know,” replied the old man. “The shock from the warden was a lot for you to handle and you lost control for some time. I suspect that you may already have partial poisonality. There are still two more days to go before one moon cycle is up. Do not talk to anybody, including me. Just think of the goats. If you do that, you can still avoid full poisonality.”

“All right,” agreed Wen Yiji. Not only were they silent for the next two days, they did not talk at all for the next one month.

It was the old man who first broke the silence. One morning, he asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” replied Wen Yiji sullenly.

“You sound different!”

“So what?”

“ used to have a positive outlook. Definitely, your attitude has changed.”

“Do I look like I give a shit?”

“Huh? You never used to show such apathy to life before.”

“Says who? I used to be apathetic. But now I couldn’t care less.”

“That sounded nonsensical,” remarked White Hair. “I have a sudden urge to bitchslap you silly. This can only mean one thing; that you have partial poisonality.”

“Yeeehaa!!! It could be full poisonality for all I care!”

“It’s only partial. If you had full poisonality, I would have the urge to bash you up thoroughly. Or slide a nine-ring broadsword up your ass.”

“My entire family could already be dead and all you can do is to threaten me?” said Yiji. “Your attitude is not that fantastic either.”

“Look, young man,” said White Hair. “You are in Li Khor prison. What happens in the outside world is none of your concern anymore. If I were you, I’ll just forget the whole thing.”

Yiji kept quiet.

A day later, when Ah Keong brought the food, Yiji looked at him and asked, “Ah Keong. You know what goes on in the outside world. Tell me truthfully; did my entire family perished in a fire?”

Ah Keong looked away, unable to face Yiji. The jailor merely muttered, “I am sorry that you heard the bad news, Master Wen.” Then he left.

So it was true! For a short while, Wen Yiji was quiet. Deathly quiet.

Then a huge rage came upon him and he knelt down and screamed, “This was not supposed to happen! This was not supposed to happen! I gave my life in the service of my country! This was not supposed to happen! When I was told to go to jail, I did so without question! This was not supposed to happen! This was not supposed to happen!”

He cried unashamedly.

White Hair looked on in disgust.

In the months that followed, he was silent, and White Hair did not attempt to speak to him.

+ + + + + +

A year passed.

It was a cold day in late autumn in the city. Xiang Xiang, now known as Froggy, waited along the street just at the mouth of an alley. She had been with the gang of young pickpockets for just a year but was already streetwise. She looked nonchalantly up the street and noted that Quickfingers and another older gang member called Big Worm were tailing a man who looked wealthy. The two boys often worked as a team to relieve potential victims of their money pouches. Their intended victim this time was browsing the wares of a street peddler. He turned to walk away and in doing so, banged into the two boys. The boys apologized and walked off in opposite directions each. Then, suddenly, the man realized that this money pouch was missing.

“Stop thief!” he shouted and ran after one of the boys. The boy, who was Quickfingers, ran speedily down the street followed closely by the man. Xiang Xiang moved into the alley and got into position.

Turning into the alley, Quickfingers almost banged into Xiang Xiang, but passed by her without stopping. The man kept up his chase. When the man had passed her, Xiang Xiang walked out into the street and swiftly made her way back to the hideout with the victim’s money pouch hidden in her sleeve. She was a carrier, meaning that the pickpockets would pass on their ill-gotten gains surreptitiously to her when possible. She wore the loose sleeved clothing that girls normally wore, and that made it easier to hide things up her sleeves. The whole maneuver had to be executed in perfection, and she had been trained to receive the pass such that even people standing nearby would not know that the loot had changed hands.

The man was faster than expected and he caught hold of Quickfingers in the alley with a strong grip.

“Steal my money, would you?” he snarled.

“Please sir,” said Quickfingers in a tremulous voice, “if you are thinking of robbing me, may I pray that you have the goodness of heart to stop. I have only two coins on my body and I need that to buy my poor sick mother medicine for her illnesses.”

“You stole my money pouch, you brat! If you were innocent, you wouldn’t have run away!”

“I ran because you were chasing me! Obviously you were trying to rob me of my coins and I would be a fool not to run!”

“I don’t want your coins! I just want my own money pouch! If I find it on your body, I will cut off your hands!”

The man was strong and ignored the protestations of Quickfingers while searching him. To his frustration, he found nothing.

When the man had finished searching, Quickfingers felt about his own body and exclaimed, “Where are my two coins? Give me back my two coins!”

“Look, I did not take your coins! Damn, now I remember. There was another boy who banged into me at the same time you did. Maybe he took your coins and my money pouch. Oh, shit! I chased the wrong boy!”

“What other boy?” asked Quickfingers. “I did not notice any other boy. Give me back my coins! My sick mother depends on them for her medicine. She has pain in her legs. And in her back. Frequent headaches. Inconsistent heartbeat. Chest pain. Urinary problems. Loss of hearing. Arms….. ”

“Shut up!” snarled the man. He turned and left. Behind his back, Quickfingers grinned triumphantly.

When Quickfinger got back to the hideout, Xiang Xiang, Big Worm and the other boys were already there, waiting for him to show up. She teased him, “You got caught today. I think you are getting slower as you grow up!”

“Shut up, Froggy,” said Quickfingers. “The man was much faster than I anticipated.”

“I didn’t think that he was that fast. Did he beat you up?”

“Of course not! Someone as brilliant as me can always avoid a beating. The man apologized to me profusely before he left.”

“He did?” asked Xiang Xiang disbelievingly.

“Of course he did! Not only that, he kowtowed to me ten times and asked for my forgiveness for chasing me without cause. Then he humbly wiped my feet and asked me if I had eaten.”

“Did he also kiss your ass?”

“He wanted too. But I farted loudly in his face and told him that I was having none of that shit! Even though he begged and he begged.”

“You are so swollen headed!”

“If you do not believe me, Froggy, you can go and ask him!”

“Please check your neck. I bet it aches.”

Quickfingers felt his neck and said, “Yeah, it aches a bit. I must have slept in the wrong position last night.”

“Nahhhhh,” remarked Xiang Xiang. “Your head has swollen so much that it is getting way too big for you. Such a big, heavy head supported by such a thin wonder your neck aches!”

Quickfingers laughed good-naturedly. In the gang, young Xiang Xiang was known for her subtle sarcasm.

“A swollen head is not a bad thing,” interjected One Eye. “Confidence is the key to a successful hit. You have to walk down the street and act as if you own it. And if you are caught, act as if you know the magistrate. If it was the magistrate who caught you, act as if you know the general! I have been in this business long enough to know that if you do not have confidence; you have failed even before you start.”

“But occasionally we do get caught and get beaten up,” piped up Big Worm.

“True,” said One Eye. “This is why you should strive to improve your skills and have an optimistic outlook. Your mental attitude is important. I wake up every morning and I think positively. Each day I live I want to be. A day to give the best of me. I'm only one but not alone. My finest day is yet unknown.…..”

“One moment, sir,” interrupted Xiang Xiang. “I think it is going to rain. Should I prepare dinner early?”

One Eye nodded. The haul for the day was good, and the gang leader was in a good mood. He decided that they would have chicken for dinner. So he gave some money to a boy who was dispatched to buy a chicken if he could not steal it. Since Xiang Xiang was the only one who could cook the rice without burning it, the gang members had let her do all the cooking the moment she joined the gang.

Xiang Xiang loved to cook. As a kid, she had often watched her mother at the kitchen table, and learned. She had a natural ability to know how much salt and water to use. While her two older sisters were busy playing in the front of the house, she would be helping her mother to prepare the meals. She was fascinated by the way her mother handled the kitchen knife, flashing the weapon rapidly and dicing the vegetables evenly, with a cutting action that was too fast for the eye to follow. Her mother had trained her to pick up a fruit, weigh it with her hand and instantly say how heavy it was. Xiang Xiang had always thought that her mother was unusual, not at all like the other mothers in the neighbourhood.

Cooking for the gang was always a challenge. Besides One Eye, there were eight young boys in the gang. The meal would depend on what the boys stole for that day. There was a time when they stole a big bag of brinjals and ginger, and so for the next few days they had brinjals fried with ginger. Sometimes, the boys would steal a fish, a head of cabbage, two potatoes or some other weird combination. Everything would be mixed together and cooked in one pot. It tasted horrible but the gang was used to horrible food. Besides, One Eye had lost his taste buds and believed that the purpose of food was just to fill the stomach, so he did not encourage elaborate meals.

However, Xiang Xiang was not one who enjoyed serving horrible food. She had to cook everything that came her way, so she experimented with various methods of cooking and by the end of the year, she could whip up something edible from the most unusual combination of food ingredients. She loved cooking rice porridge as she could throw in bones, peanuts, frog parts, odd pieces of vegetables inside the pot and the porridge would still turn out tasty. The young gang members appreciated her culinary ability and gave her the lightest assignments. Even so, she was expected to go out and help pick a few pockets and earn her keep.

In the evenings, One Eye would train the young pickpockets to perfect their nifty moves, pick locks with metal pins, master the rope knots, escape after being tied up with ropes and everything that a good thief was supposed to know. He was a strict trainer, and those who did not perform the moves to his satisfaction would be hit hard on the legs with a cane.

Every few months, without the gang knowing, Xiang Xiang would quietly go back to her family home to sweep the graves of her departed family. Each time, when the neighbours saw her, they would say nothing, not even a greeting. They had seen her on the streets in town and knew that she was running with a gang of young pickpockets.

During the Qing Ming festival, when she was twelve, she managed to pick up a number of unburned joss sticks from the floors of nearby temples. There were always joss sticks to be found because of careless worshippers dropping them. After she had collected sufficient joss sticks, she took the long walk to her family house. The front gate was bolted as usual from the inside to keep intruders out, and she climbed the garden wall to get inside.

Standing in front of the graves, she called out respectfully, “Wen Xiang Xiang greets her parents, her elder brothers and her elder sisters.”

Diligently, she swept the family graves until they were tidy and after having done that, she burnt the joss sticks for the dead.

Then, kneeling in front of her father’s grave, she whispered, “Father, please forgive the fact that your daughter has become a thief. I can think of no other way.”

Chapter 6 – The cycle of life

Xiang Xiang watched as the fat man walking towards her direction. She was already thirteen years old and had developed the ability to pick a mark wisely.

Picking the wrong mark could be disastrous. Ten days ago, her gang member, Big Worm, had picked the wrong person to pickpocket, and ended up being badly beaten. The intended victim was a vicious kungfu pugilist, and he caught the pickpocket red-handed. Without hesitation, the man gave Big Worm a flatter face and a few broken ribs. Then he stomped on the hands of the pickpocket until the bones were broken. One Eye was too stingy to call a daifu to treat any of the boys who got beaten. Poor Big Worm might not be able to recover totally because of internal injuries. Because of his broken hands, the boy would never be able to become a good pickpocket, and might have to beg for a living. It was an ugly fact of life that many street kids did not often live long enough to see adulthood.

The fat man was getting closer to where Xiang Xiang was standing. He was busily looking around at the tradesmen plying their wares along the noisy street. He was probably a stranger in the city. She studied him stealthily as a cat would study a prey. Then she moved forward nonchalantly and at the appropriate moment, she banged into him.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized.

“No problem,” the girl replied.

She then walked away over to a young boy selling unhusked rice in a basket by the roadside. She stopped and reached her hand inside the basket to feel the grains. Apparently not satisfied, she walked over to another peddler selling fruits.

Just as she was bending over to pick up a fruit, a heavy hand gripped her on the shoulder and spun her around. The fat man whom she had banged into earlier stood before her, looking very angry.

“You took my money!” he said. “Give it back!”

“Sir, excuse me. I don’t know what you are talking about,” she replied innocently.

“You must have taken my money pouch when you banged into me,” he hissed. “If you pretend any longer, I will search you right here on the street.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Xiang Xiang saw that the boy who was selling the unhusked rice, had already picked up his basket, and was disappearing through the crowd.

Confidently, Xiang Xiang stared back at the man and said, “If you search me, I will scream that you are molesting me. Then the soldiers will throw you into prison.”

“That’s what you think. I brought help. Female help. My servant girl will search you.”

A sullen-faced servant girl, whom Xiang Xiang had not noticed before, appeared by his side and got ready to search Xiang Xiang.

”Wait!” admonished the pickpocket, “If you simple search me without reason, I will complain to the court and then you will be imprisoned. And then they will make you eat curry rice.”

The servant girl looked shocked and cried, “I don’t want to eat curry rice! Don’t want! Don’t want!”

“Shut up," snarled the fat man. “Just search her!”

“Fine,” said Xiang Xiang. “If I let you search me and if you find nothing, you must pay me 5 taels of silver for falsely accusing me.”

“I’m paying you nothing. Nobody steals from Fatty Kuek and gets away with it.”

While Fatty Kuek held firmly to Xiang Xiang, the servant girl made a thorough search. She was very clumsy and rough.

“You enjoyed feeling up females, don’t you,” said Xiang Xiang to the servant girl. “I get it! You must be a lesbian. Actually, I am under aged. So that makes you a pedophile. A lesbian pedophile!”

The sullen faced servant girl grabbed Xiang Xiang hard.

“Owww!” cried Xiang Xiang. “That was painful! You really must enjoy dishing out pain. You know what that makes you? A dominatrix. A lesbian pedophile dominatrix!”

The servant girl searched and searched but found nothing and Fatty Kuek was embarrassed.

“Now pay me my 5 taels, Mister Fatty Kuek,” demanded Xiang Xiang.

“I did not agree to pay you anything. And besides, I have no money because my money pouch was stolen, remember?”

“Maybe you were careless and dropped it on the street, Mister Fatty Kuek. Maybe you never had any money at all, Mister Fatty Kuek. You had me harassed and searched publicly on the street. You humiliated me in front of everybody, Mister Fatty Kuek. I am entitled to compensation!”

“Fine. Go complain to the magistrate then!” said Fatty Kuek bravely. But he knew that he was on dangerous ground and that it would be wise to make a quick retreat before things escalated. He walked off quickly.

The sullen-faced servant girl obediently followed him and asked, “What is a lesbian pedophile dominatrix?”

“Shut up, stupid!” he snapped.

Xiang Xiang suppressed a grin and walked in the opposite direction. She made her way down a side alley where the boy, who had been selling unhusked rice, was waiting for her.

She smiled and asked, “Was it worth our effort?”

“It sure was,” the boy replied with a grin.

He was her gang member and while pretending to inspect the rice, she had dropped the fat man’s money pouch from her sleeve into the basket. Then she had pushed the stolen pouch into the rice grains and deftly swept the top of the rice in one swift motion to hide the merchandise.

The boy whispered, “He had ten taels in his pouch. You are fantastic, sister Froggy!”

“That is enough for us to eat for more than half a month. Go take the money to One Eye. I’m taking a break for the rest of the day,” she said, “but I’ll be back to cook dinner.”

When the boy had left, Xiang Xiang made her way quietly to her family home. As usual, she climbed the wall to get into the house compound, since the wooden gate was bolted shut from inside. Taking an old broom, she swept the family graves. Then she lit some joss sticks.

There was a knock on the gate. She went to take a look. A shaven headed Buddhist monk was standing outside with a begging bowl. She only had a biscuit on her, which she intended to eat for lunch. Nevertheless, she took it out, broke it into two and gave the bigger half to the begging monk.

“Here you are, Master,” she said.

“Thank you, child,” he murmured.

As he turned to walk away, she stopped him and said, “Sir, can you come in and say a few words of prayer for the departed souls of my family?”

He looked at her quizzically and she led him inside to the graves. He then understood.

“How long ago did they die?” the monk asked.

“Three years ago,” she replied. “They died in a fire and I was the only one left. I hope that their afterlife is comfortable. I do not know what level of hell they are in now. I hope it is not the dreaded eighteenth level.”

“The dead do not experience hell. Only the living do,” he said.

“Huh?” she asked, “My family is not in hell? What do you mean, Master?”

“People go through an endless cycle of birth, aging, death and rebirth. Your family members are already reborn by now.”

“Reborn? Oh good! But if dead people are reborn, why then do people still say prayers for the dead?”

“Only the living can hear those prayers. In effect, the prayers for the dead are meant for the ears of those who are living. Life can be difficult. Especially in the event of the loss of a loved one. All rites and ceremonies are to help the living cope with life. They are crutches. Useful at times, impediments at other times.”


A flash of understanding struck Xiang Xiang.

The monk looked at her kindly and said, “Young girl, I can see that you carry a big load on your mind. Let it go. Nature takes care of the living and the dead. Liberate your mind and see Nature as it is, and not as you want it to be. Life goes in a circle. And it moves us all. Through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place, on the path unwinding, in the circle.”

“Master, the pain I bear is heavy. I wish that it would go away.”

“Pain is part of being alive. Do not seek to get rid of it. Trying to push it away aggressively will give it more power than it deserves. But if you acknowledge it with an equanimous mind, it will lose its hold over you.”

“An equanimous mind?”

“An equanimous mind. Each time you feel your pain, say to yourself that pain has a temporal nature and that even the most intense pain shall pass. And indeed the pain shall pass.”

As the monk walked out of the gate, he turned around and called out, “Your family has moved on. They are in a different existence now. When you sweep their graves, you are not doing it for them. You are doing it for yourself. There is a reason why death took your family but spared you. Find that reason, and live it!”

Xiang Xiang stood there digesting the words for a long time after the monk was gone.

+ + + + + +

In Li Khor prison, Wen Yiji shifted his weight on the floor. He was thin, but reasonably healthy. He had stopped speaking to Ah Keong the jailor to find out news about his friends. He just did not care any more. It had been four years since he had been incarcerated and three years since his family perished in a fire.

Every day, when the jailor brought the food, Yiji would place one platter of food near White Hair. They seldom spoke to each other. Of late, he noticed that White Hair was eating less and less.

One day, White Hair spoke, “Young man, I am dying.”

“You can’t be,” said Yiji in surpise. “The jailors said that you can’t die. You have outlived every cellmate you ever had. You must be mistaken.”

“Don’t be foolish,” the old man retorted. “Everybody dies.”

“But you have the power of the Dark Fire Iron Palm in you.”

“That does not make me an immortal. The Dark Fire Iron Palm is a two edged sword. Every one of us who practiced it ended up badly. The past few years, I have tried to analyze why this is so and I believe I finally know the reason why.”

“Wrong kungfu practice perhaps,” suggested Yiji. “Maybe too much kung and not enough fu.”

“No, it was Level 8,” replied the old man. “Every one of us was all right when we were at Level 7. The moment we reached Level 8, our lives turned for the worse. Level 8 allows us to exert a quarter of strength more than Level 7. But Level 8 also generates much mental negativity and this attracts bad vibrations that screwed up our lives.”

“If that is so, then one should not practise Level 8.”

“That’s easy for you to say. But when people reach Level 7, they become greedy for more power. Even if someone as self-righteous as you were to train in the Dark Fire Iron Palm, you will also want to go into Level 8 without hesitation.”

“Don’t worry about me. I have no interest in a dark martial art like the Dark Fire Iron Palm. ”

“It is not a dark martial art. You are so boring and stuffy. I should have been your sifu so that I can teach you not to form ignorant opinions.”

“Oh, thank you for the honour. However, you are not my sifu.”

“Actually, since I bequeathed the Poison field Inner Stance to you, I can be considered your sifu. Therefore, all your opinions belong to me! I have the right to tell you what does or does not constitute a dark martial art!”

“This is so silly. Both of us are imprisoned here with no chance of getting out, and we are discussing these things as if they are important.”

“Cannot meh?” asked the old man. “Young man, you are not only boring. You are very boring.”

Yiji politely kept quiet.

In the days that followed, they did not speak to each other. Wen Yiji noticed that on some days, the old man finished his food, but on other days, he did not touch his food at all.

A month later, the old man spoke again.

“Young man. Before I die, I have a favour to ask of you.”

“If it is within my power to fulfill it, I will do so,” said Yiji airily.

“I told you before that my mistress was killed and I buried her. She had always loved the seaside. I should have taken her body back to Shantou for burial. But I was on the run at that time, so I buried her on top of a hill.”

“And what is the favour that you ask?”

“Should you ever get out of this prison, I would like you to go dig and up her bones, and then cart them to Shantou to be reburied there.”

Wen Yiji thought over it for a moment. It was a macabre request, but he owed the old man a debt of life. So he nodded, “I suppose I can do that.”

“Do not merely suppose. I want……you to…..promise me that you will do that!”

“All right. You saved my life once and so I owe you a debt of gratitude. If Heaven sees it fit to release me from prison, then I promise I will go to the grave of your mistress, dig up her bones and take them to Shantou.”

“Thank you.”

“You have to tell me how to locate her grave.”

“You need to go to the Fujian Province. South of Changchow city, there is a town called Changpu. From Changpu, walk along the road that leads to Yunxiao. Halfway between the two towns you should come to a small village called Xi An. It is about a day’s walk from Changpu. Go just past Xi An…….you should see a hill on your right that has two peaks. Climb the eastern peak My mistress was buried somewhere near the top of the eastern peak. There is a stone slab marking the gravesite with the inscribed words ‘Seow Char Bu’. That’s her name.”

“Seow what?”

“Seow Char Bu.”

“Ohhhh…...I assume that she was crazy.”

“Will you stop making an ass out of you and Ah Ming? You have no right to form negative opinions about my mistress. And besides, didn’t you hear me say before that all your opinions belong to me?”

“Ooooops, I’m sorry!”

“Okay, now can you remember the directions to the place?”

“Sure. It is on the eastern peak of a hill that has two peaks, and the hill is just past Xi An village, which is halfway between Changpu and Yunxiao. Both towns are in the Fujian Province.”

So saying, Wen Yiji picked up a tiny stone from the ground and scratched the directions on the prison wall. He turned around to hear the old man mumbling to himself, “Level 8 has cursed my fate….. Level 8 has cursed my fate…....”

Eight days later, when Wen Yiji deposited a platter of food at the old man’s feet, White Hair feebly whispered something. Yiji could not hear what he was saying, so he put his ear close to the old man’s lips. The old man smile weakly and gasped, “”

With that, White Hair closed his eyes and passed away.

Wen Yiji stared in astonishment and murmured, “My actually he can die!”

Then he got down on his knees and bowed as a mark of respect.

“Old man,” he said. “We had been cellmates for many years, and yet I did not know your name. By an event of fate, I had received the Poison Field Inner Stance from you, so in a manner of speaking, you are my sifu. Therefore, in your passing away, it should be fitting that I accord you the due respect that a formal disciple accords a teacher. By the traditions, I should burn for you three joss sticks and toast you three cups of wine. But in truth, I know that I will not be able to obtain joss sticks and wine in this prison. All that I can do is express my thanks. Sifu, please accept the deep gratitude of Wen Yiji.”

So saying, Wen Yiji bowed low.

The old man opened his eyes one more time and murmured, “You’re welcome.”

Then he died again. This time he really died.

Chapter 7 – The Restaurant Fatty Kuek

Xiang Xiang stood along the busy street at the entrance of a side alley. Quickfingers was working the street and it was her turn to be the carrier. It had been a long wait and she was bored. Quickfingers was skillful, and he seldom required the services of a carrier to make a getaway. Most of the days, he would pick a pocket without being noticed, then walk up to her to tell her to relax. After that they would go back to the hideout.

Xiang Xiang noted an unusual movement among the street movements. Her alert eyes told her that Quickfingers was running fast towards her. He had been spotted, which was rare. Without wasting time, she moved back into the alley, and positioned herself in readiness for the pass. Peeking round the corner, she saw him running rapidly. Then, to her horror, she saw his pursurer, a man in a black cape, leaping high in the air with lightness kungfu. There was no way Quickfingers could outrun the man.

She moved back out to the street and made the hand signal that he should drop the merchandise.

“Drop the loot!” she mouthed wordlessly.

Quickfingers saw her hand signal but he was reluctant to part with what he had stolen. He looked back even as he ran, but he could not detect any pursuers behind him. The man in the black cape, who was high up in the air above the street, was swooping down towards the head of the unsuspecting pickpocket, like an eagle swooping down on a day-old chick. There would be no escape.

Quickfingers was hit from behind, five steps before he reached Xiang Xiang. He crashed down onto the ground and the package that he was holding slipped from his grasp and rolled pass her. Xiang Xiang retrieved the package from the ground and promptly held it out to the man in the black cape. She hoped that he would let Quickfingers go.

The man took the package from Xiang Xiang and said, “Thank you. This boy has just made a very big mistake. The price for stealing from Prince Jin is death.”

There was the sound of heavy footsteps and more men arrived at the scene. Among them was an opulently dressed man who had an air of importance about him. “Red Wind, you let the boy run for so long before you could catch him,” screamed the opulently dressed man. “What am I keeping you dogs for? And where is the stuff he stole?”

“Here it is, Highness,” replied Red Wind as he handed the stolen package to the prince, who examined it. He open the small package, took out something that looked like a seal and examined it thoroughly.

“If the royal seal had been damaged, you and the other guards will pay with your heads,” the prince shouted. “Nobody fools with me!”

One of the guards went over to the fallen Quickfingers and gave him a hard kick. “What do you want us to do with this pickpocket?” he asked.

Prince Jin snarled in reply, “What a stupid question. You have no more brains than a diseased pig! Kill him of course. Make sure he dies slowly.”

The man drew his sword and Prince Zin snapped at him, “Not here you fool! Take him to the outskirts and do it there!”

Xiang Xiang tried to help Quickfingers up and get him away. One of the guards slapped her and growled, “Mind your own business, girl!”

She knelt down and begged, “Please spare him kind sirs!”

“She must be a friend of his,” snarled the prince. “Tie her up. Make sure that she sees him die. It will be an experience that she will never forget!”

“Highness, she had nothing to do with this,” suggested Red Wind.

“Shut up!” screamed Prince Jin. “When I want your opinion, I will give it to you!”

Two riders on horses rode up. Xiang Xiang and Quickfingers were both tied up and then thrown over the two horses in front of the riders. They were then taken to the outskirts of the city. The two riders dumped Xiang Xiang and Quickfingers onto the grass.

In a flash, one of the riders sliced both Quickfingers arms off.

It happened fast, so fast that Xiang Xiang did not register what had just happened. She stared stupidly at Quickfingers arms on the ground. She looked at her friend and saw blood spurting out of the arm sockets where there used to be arms.

The stupor lifted

She tried to scream. There was no sound. She screamed and screamed but no sound flowed out, just a straining of her throat wrapped in silence.

Quickfingers moaned in pain, determined not to cry out loud and give satisfaction to his tormentors. He clenched his teeth tightly, eyes shut, even as the intense pain flooded his body. The blood oozed out of his body onto the ground and he could feel his life ebbing away. Soon, he stopped moaning.

All was quiet.

“Damn! This is boring!” commented one of the riders in displeasure. “You would have thought that there ought to be a lot of screaming by now.”

“I’m thirsty,” remarked the other rider. “Do you want to wait here until he dies while I go back to the city for a drink?”

“I wait? I’m not going to wait!” came the reply. “I’m coming with you.”

“Check that the girl is securely tied up. She is supposed to stay her and watch him die”

“Don’t worry. He has lost a lot of blood and is almost dead. She is so securely tied up that she will take at least half a day to free herself.”

Both riders got on their horses and headed back towards the city.

Xiang Xiang waited till the riders were out of sight. Her hands were tied in front of her, with a rope that appeared to be full of knots. Curling her tongue, she produced a tiny copper blade that she had kept hidden under her tongue. It was an unusual trick that One Eye had once taught her. Holding the blade between her teeth, she quickly sawed through the rope that tightly bounded her hands together.

Once her hands were freed, she cut the ropes that bound her legs. Tearfully, she crawled over to where Quickfingers laid dying.

Quickfingers,” she cried, “Quickfingers!”

He opened his eyes and said painfully, “Froggy, I am about to go.”

“No, you are not going anywhere,” she said. “We’ll find you a herbal daifu to heal you.”

“And then what? The daifu will not be able to fix back my arms.”

“Wait for me! I’ll run back for help!”

Xiang Xiang got up from the ground, but Quickfingers moaned, “Stop. It is no use…..a pickpocket is useless without his arms. I would rather be dead.”

“What kind of negative talk is that? Just wait till I get back.”

“No don’t go. I want you to listen to me. If you go now, I may not have the opportunity to speak to you again.”

“Please don’t say that, brother Quickfingers… will recover.”

“Listen, I don’t have much time left. I can feel my spirit leaving. When I am dead, I wish to be cremated. And then I want my ashes to be thrown into the sea.”

“Cremated? Only barbarians and Buddhist monks are cremated! And why do you want your ashes thrown into the sea?”

“When I was a very young boy, my parents died at sea leaving me an orphan. All those who die at sea go down to the underwater Kingdom of the Sea Dragon King. In death, I wish to join back with my family. I missed my parents.”

Xiang Xiang bawled. She, too, missed her parents. Wiping her tears back on her sleeve, she argued, “Are you sure that is how it works? I met a Buddhist monk once who told me that when my parents died, they were reborn. Because of this thing called the cycle of life.”

“Did the monk say anything about my parents?”

“No. We only talked about my family.”

“Then my parents are with the Sea Dragon King. Froggy, I have a favour to beg of you.”

“Don’t say that, brother Quickfingers,” sobbed the girl.

“Go to the South Gate Temple and look for old Ah Fook. He is my friend. I have a standing arrangement with him about my cremation in case I should die prematurely. Should you need any expenses, go to my bank.”

“Bank? What bank?”

“Behind the South Gate Temple is a stone wall. Get behind the wall. At one end of the wall hidden by the bushes you should see a stone that is redder than the rest. The stone next to the red one is loose. That is my bank. Pull out the loose stone. I have a secret stash of money hidden behind it. Use the money to pay for my cremation and keep the rest.”

“Forget that. I will ask One Eye to get a daifu to heal you. We’re wasting time. I have to go for help now.”

“Wait! If I don’t talk to you now, I will not have the opportunity later. One Eye will not spend a single coin to keep me alive. He makes use of us, takes our money and spends it all on himself. That was why I needed my own secret stash.”

“That is not true. One Eye will save you!”

“Listen, Froggy. Promise me that you will throw my ashes in the sea.”

“And you listen, Quickfingers. I will not let you die. But if you should die before I can come back with help, then I shall do as you asked. I shall throw your ashes in the most beautiful part of the sea.”

“Thank you,” he whispered. “There is one more thing. You are different from us. You have refined manners, and a sophistication not seen among pickpockets. I think that you are not meant to be a pickpocket all your life. Leave this trade, Froggy. If you don’t leave it now, you never will.”

“Stop hallucinating. If I leave this trade, what will I do?”

“Listen to me Froggy. Go to a different town and begin life anew. If you stay here, you will end up like all of us. Either maimed or dead. You were meant for something better than this.”

“We are wasting time, brother Quickfingers,” cried Xiang Xiang. “Wait for me while I go for help. Don’t you dare die!”

She ran off quickly as fast as she could. The distance was long but she dared not stop to rest. She was exhausted and dusty by the time she reached her gang’s hideout. Hurriedly, she spewed her story to One Eye.

“Hurry!” she cried. “We have to get a daifu to him quick!”

“No,” he said.


“You heard me. This is Prince Jin we are talking about. If he finds out that we are connected with Quickfingers, all of us will lose our arms. And our heads.”

“Quickfingers is our brother! We need to help him!”

“No! He is without arms now. If we help him, we will have to feed him for the rest of our lives!”

“And what is wrong with that? He was the best among us. It was his skills that kept us all from starvation during last winter! I begged you, please go with me to help him!” she pleaded.

It was no use. One Eye was adamant. She looked around at the circle of young pickpockets. They looked down, unable to meet her gaze. She realized that she would not be able to get help from this group of thieves. She was wasting precious time while Quickfingers was bleeding to his death.

Xiang Xiang cursed them all loudly and ran away in fury. She ran to the South Gate Temple where Quickfingers’ friend, Ah Fook, worked as the temple caretaker.

“Ah Fook,” she cried, on seeing him. “Quickfingers is injured very badly. He needs help. I need to bring him to see a daifu.”

“Where is he?” asked Ah Fook. He was an old man and very simple minded.

“At the outskirts of the city,” she replied. “Can you bring a horse and carriage to fetch him?”

“No,” he replied. “But I have a donkey and a cart. We’ll use it to transport him.”

Quickly, Ah Fook harnessed the donkey to the cart and then followed Xiang Xiang to the outskirts of the city. The donkey was old and slow and by the time they reached Quickfingers, they discovered that he was already dead. Tearfully, they brought his body back to the temple to be cremated.

Xiang Xiang found the loose stone behind the stone wall at the back of the temple. Behind the stone, she found eight taels of silver. She handed six taels of silver to Ah Fook as expenses for the cremation and kept two for herself. She watched as the body burned on a pyre of firewood. That night, she slept at the temple.

In the morning, Ah Fook brought out a tiny urn and asked her, “Do you wish to pick up his ashesand put into the urn, or shall I do it?”

“I will do it,” she replied.

She sobbed as she picked up his bones from the burnt out fire and placed them in the little urn. Carefully, she sealed it. She still had one more thing to do. She had to throw the ashes in the most beautiful part of the sea so that Quickfingers could join his parents in the underwater Kingdom of the Sea Dragon King.

“Where is the nearest sea, Ah Fook?” she asked.

“That will be in Tianjin, about five days walk from here,” he replied.

“I will go there then,” she said.

“Will you come back,” he asked.

“No,” she said.

The city held painful memories for her. Quickfingers had asked her to go to a different town and begin life anew. She thought of her departed family. A Buddhist monk had once assured her that her family had been reborn, so she need not sweep the family graves any more.

No, she would not be back.

+ + + + + +

At the Li Khor prison, Wen Yiji sat quietly in his cell. When the old man, White Hair, had died, Yiji was left alone in his cell without a cellmate for some time.

He heard the jailors walked up to his cell. They had a prisoner with them, a foreign looking dark man with curly hair. The jailors opened the door and pushed the new prisoner in.

The foreign looking man spotted Wen Yiji, smiled and said, “Yo muthafucka, wassup?”

“You look strange and different,” remarked Wen Yiji. “You must be one of those foreign barbarians. What’s your name.”

“I’m Amos, and don’t call me no barbarian or I’ll karng foo your ass so hard that you won’t be able to sit down for a month.”

Karng what?”

Karng foo… know………heeeargh ……aaacharrrr……hoooooit ……hoooooit……..heeeargh!!!!!”

Yiji sighed. Foreigners were so ignorant about kungfu. He asked, “What was your crime that got you sent here?”

“Crime? I didn’t commit no crime!” replied Amos. “I came on a pirate ship and they arrested all of us for no fucken reason. All we ever did was loot and burn, rape and pillage… know…….normal stuff that pirates do. Soldiers do that kind of shit alla time and I don’t hear no mention `bout no crime.”

“Well, as long as you are here, you can take that corner.”

“Why? Cos you sprayed your doggie essence in this here corner to mark your territory already? Wokay dokey, no problem.”

“Oh heavens! Can you barbarian talk normally, please?”

“Hey, I resent that! I am talking normally!”

“Welcome to the cell. Now just leave me alone.”

“You leave me alone as well. Nobody, and I mean nobody, messes with me. Cos I got karng foo so shit-kickin’powerful that even I am afraid of mah ownself. I’m tellin’ ya, when it comes to kicking ass, I da man.”

“Oh, really? What kind of martial art do you use?”

“The best kind,” replied Amos. “It’s called the Black Widow Tiger Chomping Chop.”

“Black Widow Tiger Chomping Chop? Never heard of it. What kind of three-legged cat kungfu is that?”

“It’s so powerful that I once chop down on an elephant’s head with just my bare right hand. And guess what? I cracked its skull wide open! Then the father came to look for me.”

“The father? Whose father?”

“The elephant’s father. So I chopped down with my left hand and……heeeargh….I cracked the father’s skull as well. There were elephant brains everywhere!”

“You are exaggerating. If you are that powerful, you wouldn’t have got yourself caught by soldiers and thrown into prison.”

“I do not exaggerate! I only got caught because I was outnumbered.”

“By how much were you outnumbered?”

“By 5 million to one.”

Wen Yiji sighed. With a cellmate like that, it’s going to be a long, long year.

+ + + + + +

Xiang Xiang had reached Tianjin. She had walked for five days eastward following a group of travelers. The urn containing Quickfinger’s ashes was slung over her shoulders and it was heavier than she originally thought. Still, she made the journey without trouble, but her money had run out. She would have to find something to eat fast.

Tianjin was not a very big city. It was a seaport filled with sailors and fishermen. And restaurants. She knew that restaurants sometimes had food that could not be sold, so they had to be thrown or given away. She would go by the back door and beg for some food.

At the first two restaurants where she tried, luck was not with her. The third restaurant she approached was slightly smaller than the first two. Going in by the back gate, she saw a fat man working at the kitchen table, and so she asked, “Please sir. I have not eaten for a day. Can you spare me some food?”

The man turned around, stared at her and said, “You! I recognize you!”

Xiang Xiang stared back at him. It was Fatty Kuek. She was in the Restaurant Fatty Kuek!

Chapter 8 – A stupid duck became a dead duck

Fatty Kuek ran a small but popular restaurant. His customers liked him, but the sentiment was not shared by his servants. If truth be told, his servants hated him one and all, because he was extremely stingy.

Recently, three of his kitchen helpers resigned, another two got sick and one servant went on long leave to get married. The remaining one left was the sullen-faced servant girl. She was as strong as an ox, but unfortunately, she was also an idiot. Fatty Kuek often thrashed her either for allowing the fire in the stove to go out, or for allowing the soup to be boiled until it was totally dried out.

Thus, when Xiang Xiang walked in the back gate to ask for food, Fatty Kuek was not in the best of moods.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Fatty Kuek.

“I am looking for something to eat. Can you spare me a steamed bun, or some rice?”

“Why should I give anything to you?”

“You publicly searched me on a busy street last month, causing me great humiliation. And you were supposed to pay me 5 taels for searching me. You never did pay me the money. You owe me!”

“I did not agree to pay you the five taels.”

“We’ll talk about this later. I’m hungry. Can you give me some food?”

“I have a steamed bun here somewhere. But I am running a restaurant, and the rule we have here is that nobody eats until he has done some work.”

“Alright, what do I have to do?” asked Xiang Xiang graciously.

“I need some ginger sliced straightaway. Can you do it?”

“Sure,” she replied. She saw that he had been trying to slice a pile of ginger. Picking up a knife, she took the nearest ginger and promptly sliced it.

“Is this thin enough for you?” she asked, holding up a slice of ginger.

“Yes,” he replied.

Xiang Xiang continued slicing the ginger.

Fatty Kuek was impressed. He could tell by the way she handled the knife that she had done this often before. The speed by which she sliced away was faster than he had expected.

“What are you cooking?” asked the girl.

“Steamed fish. But my main fare in this restaurant is duck.”

“Duck? I love duck. But they are difficult to prepare. And also, there is the smell to deal with.”

“You appeared to have done some cooking before.”

“Yes I have. I used to work in a small eating place in the Imperial capital,” she lied.

“Why did you leave?”

“Are you kidding me? After you searched me publicly in the street, I became the laughing stock of the entire neighborhood. I had to find another place to hide my face,” she lied again with a serious expression.

“Even so, you need not journey this far to Tianjin.”

“Tianjin is by the sea, and people say that the sea air is good for health. So I decided to come here and see for myself.”

“How old are you? And didn’t your family object to your coming here?”

“I’m thirteen. And I am an orphan,” she explained.

Fatty Kuek looked down at the sliced ginger and was impressed. The girl had looked at him while she was talking to him. She did not have to look down to see what she was doing, slicing the ginger rapidly by touch alone. The knife was very well controlled, resulting in even thicknesses of the sliced pieces. Not many people could do that. Certainly not any of his workers. And she was only thirteen.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Froggy,” she answered. There was little sense in letting him know her real name. She did not intend to stay long under his roof if she could help it.

“What are your plans, Froggy?” he asked.

“I think I’ll look for a job as a servant girl in one of the rich homes around here,” she replied. “I’m fit and healthy, and I work fast.”

“Why don’t you work for me?” he said. “I am hiring workers now.”

“Work for you?” she asked. “What are the benefits?”

“Well,” he replied. “I can give you a place to stay and three meals a day.”

“Do you also contribute towards a provident fund for me?” she wanted to know. “Or provide some form of worker compensation insurance scheme? And maybe a paid vacation overseas every year?”

“Uh, no,” he replied. “But I can give you free clothes to wear.”

His daughters were already grown up and there were some old clothes still lying around in a trunk somewhere. The clothes would be suitable for a thirteen year old girl and would cost him nothing extra.

“I want to have my mornings free, so I am only willing to work part-time,” said Xiang Xiang.

“If you work part-time, you will not get any wages, but you will still get the meals and a place to stay. And also the free clothes,” he said.

Fatty Kuek liked having workers, but did not like paying out wages. He did a quick mental evaluation of costs. It would cost him nothing for her to sleep with the other servants. She did not look like she could eat very much. And she looked like she could work faster and better than most of his other workers. It was a good deal for him.

Xiang Xiang looked back at him steadily. She knew that it was a rotten deal for her. But she had stolen his money pouch the month before and she felt that she owed him something. Besides, her mornings would be free for her to do whatever she wanted. And she need not stay long with him if she did not like it.

“All right, I agree,” she said.

Smiling inwardly, Fatty Kuek called the sullen faced servant girl in and said to her, “This is Froggy. She will be joining me as a new worker. Take her to the servants’ room and show her a place to sleep.”

“Hi, Dominatrix,” said Xiang Xiang brightly.

“My name is not Dominatrix,” Dominatrix replied in her usual sullen tone.

+ + + + + +

The next morning, Xiang Xiang took the urn containing Quickfinger’s ashes and walked towards the sea. She headed for the waterline and dipped her finger into the seawater. Then, she tasted her finger.

“So, the sea actually is salty!” she thought to herself. “How very strange!”

She stopped to admire a long wooden jetty that stretched out into the sea. It was built to serve the Imperial navy, but nobody appeared to be about. Hesitantly, she walked along the wooden jetty until she reached the end. Standing on the wooden platform above the water, she looked all around her and then down into the crystal clear waters below. She could see fishes darting to and fro. It was an exhilarating feeling.

Taking the urn in her hands, she said, “This is a most beautiful spot, Quickfingers. This is where I will have to say goodbye to you.”

Then, breaking the seal on the urn, she poured the contents into the waters below and said, “Goodbye, Quickfingers. I do hope that you find your departed parents.”

She threw the empty urn out into the sea, and watched it sink beneath the waves. It was done. She had accomplished what she had promised Quickfingers. In life, he had taken care of her. In death, she had brought him along his last journey. It had been a sorrowful journey. Brushing aside her tears, she walked back along the jetty to dry land.

Strolling solemnly along the beach, she saw some children swimming in the water. She paused to watch them in fascination. At that moment, she wished she could swim.

+ + + + + +

Winter passed. And then came spring.

Xiang Xiang had settled down well at the Restaurant Fatty Kuek. She was naturally good with knife work, something that she had inherited from her mother. The restaurant was known for many dishes, but it was the stewed and roasted duck that drew the crowd.

Fatty Kuek cooked the ducks himself using a family recipe that he jealously guarded. He would prepare the duck sauces using ingredients known only to himself. The servants would slaughter the ducks, pluck the feathers, chopped up the ingredients, watch the fire, and wash the utensils. They never knew what Fatty Kuek put in the sauces. He hoped to pass the restaurant to his only son when the time came. However, his son was not interested in cooking but more interested in playing and gambling. He was about a year older than Xiang Xiang and although he had a proper name, everybody called him Oily Face.

Fatty Kuek was a demanding father. Every month, he tested his son and demanded that Oily Face cook him a dish. No servant was allowed to help Oily Face when it came to Test Day. Woe betide Oily Face if the dish was not up to expectations.

One day, when Fatty Kuek was out, Oily Face approached Xiang Xiang and said, “Froggy, you’ve got to help me with this one.”

“Help you with what?”

“Help me stew a duck.”

“I’m a part time worker. My mornings are my time off. You want help, go ask another worker.”

“The other workers are occupied with other work. They don’t have mornings off like you. You have to help me.”

“Why can’t you do it yourself?”

“I have a previous engagement.”

“You mean that you want to go gambling with your pig friends and dog pals.”

“Hey, what I do is my own business. Will you help me or not?”

“No. Your father wants you to do this by yourself. If I help you, he will not like it.”

“My father has gone to look up some stupid duck supplier. He will not be back till this afternoon. If you don’t say and I don’t say, who will know?”

“The other servants will know.”

“No, they will not know. My father is always getting you to help him do some experimental dishes. The other servants will just assume that you are doing yet another experimental dish this time.”

“That may be true, but I have nothing to gain by helping you.”

“You want payment, is that it?” asked Oily Face. “No money no talk, is it? All right, how much?”

“I don’t want your money!”

“Oh come on. Everybody has a price. Just tell me how much you want!”

Xiang Xiang thought for a moment and said, “There is something that I want.”

“What is it?”

“I want to learn how to swim!”

Oily Face stared at her in astonishment. Then he thought for a while and said, “I can’t teach you how to swim. But I can teach you something better. Like the secret Tiger Claw kung fu.”

“I don’t want to learn any dumb Tiger Claw kung fu. I want to learn how to swim.”

“I can teach you the secret Beggar Clan Dog Beating Stick Technique if you like. Then all the dogs in the world will dare not chase you.”

“You know fart about the Beggar Clan Dog Beating Stick Technique. So don’t bluff. I want to learn how to swim.”

“I’ve got it!”


“Buddha Palm! I’ll teach you the secret Buddha Palm kung fu that will make you invincible!”

“Stop it! Every time you get into a fight, you get beaten up like the head of a pig! And still dare to try to teach me. Don’t you know how the ‘shame’ word is written?”

“No. How is it written?”

“Never mind. If you want my help, you have to pay my price. I just want to learn how to swim.”

“Oh, all right. I have a friend who lives down by the beach. His sister can swim. I’ll get his sister to teach you to swim. Now will you get on with the duck?”

“Good! Okay, but you must first tell me how you want the duck gravy prepared and the manner by which I should proceed.”

Without even the slightest bit of hesitation, Oily Face told Xiang Xiang the secret family recipe. Then he went off to his gambling session while Xiang Xiang got to work.

She went out to the yard where the ducks were kept. In front of the ducks, she muttered, “What a moron! Simply anyhow tell people his family secret recipe. Who is the most stupid idiot in the world?”

The ducks answered her, “Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek!”

“Very good!” she smiled, “But the complete answer should be ’Oily Face Kuek’. Now tell me, who is the stingiest employer in the world?”

Again the ducks answered, “Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek!”

“Correct again!” she said, “Although the complete answer should be ‘Fatty Kuek’. Never mind, just tell me this. Who is the ugliest person in the world?”

Once more, the ducks went, “Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek! Kuek!”

Xiang Xiang laughed. She noticed that there was one duck that did not make a sound. “You don’t know the answer, you dunce!” she admonished the silent creature. “You are too stupid to be a duck. It is better that you become a dead duck!”

She caught hold of the offending duck and took it to the kitchen to be slaughtered.

When she had finished cooking the stewed duck, she tasted it and commented silently, “Hmmmmm, perfect! But Fatty Kuek will not believe that his lazy son would be capable of such a masterpiece. I will need to make it less perfect!”

Thus, she added more salt to the duck and boiled it again. Oily Face came back later, inspected the stewed duck, and made a great show of stirring the pot. He also added more salt.

In the afternoon, when Fatty Kuek came back, Oily Face presented the stewed duck as his own effort. Fatty Kuek took a taste and commented, “Not bad actually, but it is a little too salty. Still, it is an improvement over your previous effort.”

The next morning, Oily Face kept to his word and took her to his friend’s house by the beach and Xiang Xiang learned how to swim.

In the months that followed, Xiang Xiang helped Oily Face in many dishes, and in the process, she got Oily Face to find people to teach her how to row a boat, dive, ride a horse or do anything that she found interesting.

The seasons passed. By the time she was fifteen years old, she knew all of Fatty Kuek’s dishes by heart. She was happiest when she was cooking. She was also happy about one other thing; during the two years she was in Tianjin, she had followed Quickfingers’ advice and had not returned to her former life as a thief. Quickfingers would have been so proud of her.

+ + + + + +

At the Imperial Capital, Governor Li, the governor of Fujian Province, stood before the Emperor. Six years before, Wen Yiji and his men had lost a consignment of jade lions in his province. The jade lions had been found and the governor was presenting them to the Emperor. The Emperor was pleased.

Governor Li took a deep breath and then said, “Your Majesty, I have a request to ask.”

“Speak!” ordered the Emperor.

Governor Li then said, “Six years ago, when the two jade lions were robbed, Chief Feng and many of his Imperial Guardsmen gave up their lives trying to protect the consignment. After the loss, the deputy chief, Arrow Eye implored me to keep on searching while he and the remaining men came back to the Imperial Capital to report the loss. They were subsequently imprisoned for failing to protect the consignment. Lesser men would have run away, but these men have a sense of honour that would not allow them to do so. They have always been loyal to your Majesty. Now that the jade lions have been recovered, Governor Li would like to request that Arrow Eye and his compatriots be freed and given back their old positions.”

The Emperor thought for a while, “I cannot give them back their old positions. Positions are only given to people who have proven that they can hold on to them. I will however free them from prison.”

After the governor had left, the Emperor turned to a eunuch who was standing by the side and said, “Prepare the list of names. I will issue the edict for their freedom.”

The eunuch said, “Your majesty. These men have been held in Li-Khor prison for the past six years. They may not have survived. Even if they are not dead, they should be very weak by now.”

The Emperor thought for a while and sighed, “Take whoever among them who is still surviving from the prison to the East Courthouse. Clean them up. Then give them fresh clothes as well as thirty taels of silver each.”

+ + + + + +

At the Li-Khor prison, the eunuch came with a group of palace guards, handed a list of names to Warden Sai and announced, “By the Emperor’s orders, these men are to be taken to the East Courthouse building.”

Only four men in the list of nine names were still alive. They were Wen Yiji and the three Chin brothers. They were only alive because the jailor Ah Keong, the cousin of the Chin brothers, worked in the same wing where they were locked up, and he had made sure that they had enough food to eat and fresh water to drink.

Four jailors were sent to fetch Wen Yiji.

“Get up,” shouted one of the jailors rudely. “The Emperor has sent a eunuch to take you and your gang to the East Courthouse building.”

“The East Courthouse building? Why?” demanded Wen Yiji.

“We don’t know,” replied the jailor. “But we know that that is the place where most criminals are executed. I suspect that you will be executed there.”

Wen Yiji got up and said, “If they are going to execute me today, so be it. I’ve had enough of this shit dump.”

As they led him away, his cellmate Amos called out, “Goodbye, ya lousy piece of shit. I’m gonna miss you!”

Win Yiji turned his head and replied, “Goodbye muthafucka. Don’t wait up for me.”

“It was nice knowing you, even though you’re full of horse shit,” Amos shouted.

Wen Yiji managed a smile and shouted back, “Really? I feel the same way about you too. Now go fuck yourself.”

At the prison gates, Wen Yiji saw Warden Sai and the eunuch waiting for him. Then he saw the three Chin brothers brought out to where they were. They were weak and could hardly walk. The prisoners were often fed food that had turned rancid, and the toxic rancidity had weakened their systems. Wen Yiji was lucky. By using the Poison Field Inner Stance, he was able to isolate and expel the rancid food before any damage was done. After six years in prison, he was weak, but was still able to walk normally.

“That’s it,” said Warden Sai. “There are only four of them. The rest did not survive.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Wen Yiji. “Nine of us came in here.”

“Do your sums,” sneered the warden. “Obviously five have died. Now go with the eunuch to your fate at the East Courthouse.”

Wen Yiji walked past the warden. As he did so, he lashed out with his leg and delivered a kick on the warden’s balls. The warden screamed in pain as he dropped to the ground.

“Kill him,” he shouted, while still on the ground.

Two jailors drew their broadswords and Wen Yiji remarked dryly, ”I wouldn’t do that if I were you. The Emperor has summoned me to the East Courthouse, and if you kill me, you will interfere with his plans. He will have your heads chopped off.”

The two jailers promptly sheathed their broadswords.

“You should not have kicked him in the balls. Better not do it again or he will not be able to carry out his manly duties in future,” said one of the jailors.

“Are you certain of that?” asked Yiji.

The jailor nodded and said, “My brother-in-law was on one occasion kicked twice in the balls. After that, he could not go to a courtesan house anymore for pleasure.”

“Twice? Oh dear! You better help the warden up,” suggested Yiji.

The two jailors helped the heavy warden to his feet, and just as Warden Sai was struggling to stand up, Wen Yiji kicked him hard in the balls again. The warden fell shrieking to the floor once more, writhing in intense pain, and unable to speak.

“Enough!” cried the eunuch. “The Emperor has issued an edict. Get ready to receive it!”

The men all knelt down. Warden Sai was still in great pain and could not kneel, and so he had to be held in a kneeling position by his men.

The eunuch read out the edict, “By order of the Emperor, the following men are to be freed from prison and taken to the East Courthouse where they will each be given thirty taels of silver so that they can begin a new life.”

As the eunuch read out the names of the Wen Yiji and the Chin brothers, the writhing warden fainted.

Chapter 9 – Borrow knife to slaughter people

Exhilarated at the news, Wen Yiji and the Chin brothers remembered to thank Ah Keong for his role in ensuring their survival through prison. They then followed the eunuch to the East Courthouse to collect their thirty taels of silver each.

They found Governor Li waiting for them there. Wen Yiji recognized him and said, “Governor Li! It is good to see you. The fact that you are here and we are being freed leads me to infer that somehow, the jade lions have been recovered. Am I correct?”

“You are correct, Arrow Eye,” replied Governor Li.

“I am no more Arrow Eye,” said Wen Yiji regretfully. “I know I am not strong enough to draw a bow now. Please call me Wen Yiji.”

“As you wish. I am glad to see that you are well,” said the governor.

“How were the jade lions recovered?” asked the eldest of the Chin brothers, Chin Tua Kee.

“The jade lions were snatched by the Sky Dragon Clan and were then buried on an uninhabited island,” replied Governor Li. “Some clues were left as to their whereabouts and a young girl, called Yue Pei Pei, came into possession of the clues. The son of my in-laws, a young man called Wu Chuan, met the girl and he solved the clues. We went and dug it up, and I brought them to the Emperor as fast as I could. I managed to secure your release but to my regret, I was unable to get you reinstated to your old positions as Imperial Guards.”

“To you we owe our freedom,” said Chin Tua Kee. “I had already given up hope of ever breathing the air outside prison. Let me give you three kowtows to thank you.”

Chin Tua Kee knelt down and the other released prisoners followed suit. The four of them kowtowed three times to the governor.

“Please rise,” said Governor Li. He looked at them. They were thin, very thin. In fact they were like walking pieces of skin hanging loosely on bony frames. Yet he knew that they were men of skill and honour, having been specially selected by his dead friend Chief Feng. Chief Feng had a good eye for fighting men, and would not choose any man who could not handle at least five weapons. It would take at least a few months before the four released prisoners could become fighting fit again.

“It feels good to be free,” said Chin Tua Kee. “It’s been a long time since I breathed the outside air.”

“Yes,” said Chin Teong Kee, the second of the Chin brothers. “It’s been a long time since I had some wine.”

“It’s been a long time since I have some roast chicken,” remarked Chin Jia Lat, the youngest of the Chin brothers.

Wen Yiji contributed, “It’s been a long time since I had a woman.”

The others stared at him. It was so unlike Wen Yiji to make such a remark. The prison must have affected his personality.

“How about ordering some goat tonight?” asked Governor Li.

“No thanks,” said Wen Yiji. “A goat will be too hairy and also difficult to spread out on a bed in the missionary position. A woman is much better.”

“I was talking about food, like mutton soup, to fortify your health,” said the shocked governor. “What are your plans, now that you are no more Imperial Guards?”

“Our parents passed away a long time ago, so have no family to go back to,” said Chin Tua Kee. “We will have to recover back our health first and then get jobs later to support ourselves. I would very much like to thank Wu Chuan and Yue Pei Pei for finding the jade lions. Can you take us to them?”

“No problem,” replied the governor. “I am leaving for Fuzhou tomorrow. You can come with me if you like. What about you, Wen Yiji?”

“I do not know,” said Wen Yiji. “I heard that my family was destroyed by a fire five years ago. I will go to my family home first and take stock of the situation. Then I will make my plans. I do not even know where I will sleep tonight.”

“Where are you staying, Governor Li?” asked Chin Teong Kee.

“I am staying at the Red Gate Inn,” answered the governor.

“Then we shall stay there as well,” said Chin Tua Kee. “We will leave the capital with you tomorrow morning. But tonight, please allow us to toast you three bowls of wine to express our gratitude to you for securing our release.”

“I will like to join you tonight at the Red Gate Inn,” said Wen Yiji. “But I will have to leave you now as I need to find out what had happened to my family.”

Wen Yiji hurried to his home and found that the gate had been bolted from inside. He went to the neighbour’s house to ask for help. The neighbour’s old manservant, Chan Pak, came to the door and barely recognized him.

“I am glad that you are out of prison, Master Wen Yiji,” he said. “I wish I have better news to tell you than this. But while you were away, your family was destroyed by a fire five years ago.”

“I heard about it,” said Wen Yiji. “Tell me what happened.”

“It was the night before the Mid Autumn festival,” narrated Chan Pak sorrowfully. “A fire broke out in the house and killed the whole family, including the servants.”

“What happened to their bodies?”

“Young Miss Wen arranged to have the bodies buried in the grounds.”

“Young Miss Wen? What young Miss Wen?”

“Miss Wen Xiang Xiang, your youngest sister,” replied Chan Pak. “She was not in the house at that time and so she escaped the blaze. She was the only survivor.”

“Xiang Xiang survived?” he asked excitedly. “Where is she now?”

“I do not know,” replied Chan Pak. “On the night of the fire, she had slipped out of the house quietly to go see the sights with the young boys from the Cheng family down the road. When they got back, the house was already on fire. The neighbours tried to put out the fire but it was too late. All the family members had died in their beds. Young Miss Wen sold the family horse to help pay for the funeral expenses. After the funeral, Miss Wen disappeared.”

“Where did she go?” asked a puzzled Yiji.

Chan Pak looked apologetic as he said, “She was spotted in town running with a gang of street kids.”

“Street kids? What street kids?”

“Thieves and pickpockets,” replied the old manservant uncomfortably.

“My sister became a thief?” asked Yiji incredulously.

“Please do not think too badly of her, Master Wen. She must have done that in order to survive,” said Chan Pak. “Few people know it, but she would quietly come back to the house occasionally to sweep the graves and burn incense. Then she would be gone again for months.”

“How do I find her?”

“I do not know. I wish I can be of more help, but nobody I know has seen her in town for the past two years. Either something has happened to her or she has left.”

Wen Yiji thanked the old man and borrowed a ladder to climb the wall into the garden of his house. He saw the simple graves of his family members and he wept silently. They were there, his parents, his brothers and his sisters. Even the house servants were there. Everyone of them dead. In anger, he lifted his face to the heavens and cursed the gods roundly, not caring if they heard him or not.

“Send down your ugly Cow Head Horse Face minions,” he thundered. “Ta ma de! We’ll see who die first! I will chop up their heads into minced meat. And stuff their useless empty carcasses with shit!”

Then he heard a distant thunder.

“Is that it?” he shouted. “One lousy squeak from you? Give me a real thunderclap! Come on, I dare you, come on!”

In a moment, lightning flashed down from the skies and he heard the booming crash of a loud thunderclap nearby.

“Hah, you missed! Come on, throw your thunderclap at me and I’ll use it to wipe the shit off my ass!”

He did not know how he was going to perform such a thing, but it sounded poetic.

He raged on, blaming the gods for the fate that befell his family. Suddenly, he realized that it might rain soon. Kneeling in front of his father’s grave, he said, “Father, the duties of the household has passed to me. I will go and look for Xiang Xiang. We are all that remain of the Wen family.”

He gave a final look at the graves before leaving. Then he returned the ladder to Chan Pak.

On an impulse, he went to the Cheng family house down the road to ask for the Cheng boys. They had grown up into teenagers, and were surprised to see Wen Yiji.

“Tell me,” asked Wen Yiji, “How was it that my sister was out with you boys on the night of the fire?”

“We had invited both Xiang Xiang and your youngest brother, Yisheng, to join us to see the sights at night,” said one of them. “Xiang Xiang turned up alone and she said that Yisheng was sleeping and could not be woken up. So she joined us and later we climbed the small hill behind the next road and saw a house on fire. We ran towards the fire and discovered that it was your house. We are sorry about your family.”

Wen Yiji was quiet for a moment. Then he spoke, “Do any of you know where Xiang Xiang is right now?”

The boys were silent for a while. The youngest of them spoke, “She was seen with a group of young boys in town for a while. But she has not been seen lately.”

Yiji was disappointed. He sighed and turned to go away.

“Wait,” said the eldest boy. “Last year, I traveled with my uncle to Tianjin and we went to a waterfront restaurant for a meal. I remember seeing a girl on the road who looked like Xiang Xiang. She was wearing an apron and carrying a bucket, and looked like a restaurant worker. It could be her.”

Yiji thanked the boys and left. He was not sure what to do next, so he headed to the Red Gate Inn and met up with the Chin brothers. He told them that his family had indeed perished in a fire but his youngest sister survived, and that he did not know where she had disappeared to.

“What do you wish to do next, Yiji?” asked Chin Jia Lat.

Wen Yiji looked at him. The eldest Chin brother was called Chin Tua Kee and the second called Chin Teong Kee. Wen Yiji had often wondered why the youngest brother was not called Chin Suay Kee, but called Chin Jia Lat instead.

“I do not know,” he replied. “I suppose I must start looking for my sister, but I do not know where to start. In fact, since she must have grown up a lot in these six years, I do not even know what her face looks like right now.”

“You might even bump into her on the street and not know each other,” said Chin Jia Lat.

“Let the fates decide,” said Chin Tua Kee. “Why don’t you come to Fuzhou with us instead?”

“All right then,” replied Yiji. “I should go and give my thanks to Master Wu Chuan and Miss Yue Pei Pei. Which route are we taking?”

“Governor Li said that we’ll walk to Tianjin. That takes about five days. At Tianjin, we’ll then take a boat to Fuzhou,” answered Chin Tua Kee.

“Tianjin,” said Wen Yiji. “One of the Cheng brothers said that my sister could be in Tianjin. I’ll look for her when we reach there.”

“Come. Let us order some decent food. It has been a long time since I had chicken. I hope the prison food had not damaged my taste buds,” said Chin Teong Kee.

That night, Governor Li arranged to have a soup of fortifying herbs boiled for the four of them to drink.

As the four of them were still too weak to walk the whole distance to Tianjin, Governor Li hired a carriage to take them. And every night when they stopped to rest, the four of them had to drink a concoction boiled from herbs. Governor Li had good reason to take good care of them. He hoped that when they recovered their strength, they would work for him in Fuzhou. These men were good fighters looking for a new master. The three Chin brothers were good martial artistes individually. But when they fought together as a team, they were a highly formidable force. In the Fujian Province, some of the local magistrates and prefects had gotten corrupted and Governor Li needed a good team of inspectors to instill some discipline in those wayward officials. If the Imperial court would not take back these four released prisoners, then Governor Li would gladly take them.

+ + + + + +

Xiang Xiang was in a happy mood. She had just come back from her morning walk by the beach. Along the way, some friends had met her and suggested setting up a stall to sell breakfast porridge along the waterfront. It was a worthwhile suggestion. The Restaurant Fatty Kuek had expanded because of increasing business and she knew that the food business was one thing that she could do successfully. The restaurant had a private dining room next to the kitchen and she entered it to clean the tables. She was still thinking about the suggestion when Oily Face Kuek walked in while squeezing a fat pimple on his face. He leered at her and then tried to brush up against her. She hated it whenever he did that.

“Froggy,” he said, “I’ve been thinking.”

“Well, don’t!” admonished Xiang Xiang. “Thinking only gets you into trouble.”

“Oh, shut up and listen,” he scowled. “You are fifteen years old and an orphan. One day you will have to get married. I think I will marry you.”

“That is very generous of you, I’m sure.”

“I know. Luckily you are not ugly like the other maids, or I will definitely not look at you twice. But you are quite beautiful, so I am willing to consider you. However, since you are not from a high class reputable family, I cannot take you as an official wife. But I can still take you as a concubine. I’m sure, my father will not object.”

“A concubine? That is a rare honour. Don’t strain your brains any further.”

“Of course, as a concubine, you will have to serve all my official wives. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do. I will give you a list of duties.”

“Is that so? What do I get in return?”

“In return, you get three meals a day and a place to sleep. But you can only eat after everybody has eaten. The best thing is that you get the opportunity to serve my needs at night.”

Xiang Xiang had enough of the conversation. She said, “Excuse me. I have work to do. And you should be making yourself useful around here by checking the stewed ducks instead of doing nothing.”

“This is going to be my restaurant one day,” he said haughtily, “so I can do whatever I please.”

As Xiang Xiang turned to get away from the pimply son of her employer, he boldly put out a hand and crudely grabbed her nice rounded ass.

“Will you stop that, you revolting lump of dog shit!” she said angrily. “Stop molesting me or you’ll regret this day!”

“You are only a part-time servant here, so I can do with you whatever I wish,” he smirked arrogantly as he stretched out both hands and grabbed her.

With a struggle, she pushed him away furiously. He tried to grab her again but at that moment, the sullen faced girl Dominatrix walked in and saw what was happening.

“This is not right!” she exclaimed. “Not right!”

“Why not right?” demanded Oily Face. “And mind your own business!”

Dominatrix screwed up her sullen face and said, “This is my business! You molest her but you don’t molest me......where got right?”

Then she smiled hideously and placed herself invitingly in front of Oily Face. He took a look at her face and felt like retching. Quickly, he said, “I suddenly remembered.....I have an urgent appointment some place that I have to go to!”

The girls knew that he was going to a gambling session. They also knew that to support his many vices, he often took money from the restaurant when his father was not looking.

As Oily Face left, Xiang Xiang muttered softly, “You thoroughly need a good lesson, you smelly shit! Simply molest me like that. But I won’t have to punish you myself. Instead, I will borrow knife to slaughter people. You better pray your gambling luck is good this afternoon. If not, you will not forget this day.”

Fatty Kuek was not in as he had gone out earlier to meet one of his suppliers. When he came back to the restaurant, he asked, “Where is my son?”

“He has gone out,” replied Xiang Xiang airily. “I told him that he should be checking the stewed ducks, but he said that this is going to be his restaurant one day, so he can do whatever he pleases.”

Fatty Kuek scowled angrily.

+ + + + + +

At the gambling session, Oily Face had a losing streak. In the end, when the other gamblers insisted that he settled his accounts, he reached into his clothes for his money pouch.

“That is strange,” he said. “My money pouch is missing!”

The other gamblers stared at him stonily. One of them, a big sized seaman, said, “You have the nerve! Coming to the gambling table without bringing money. Obviously you don’t know how the “die” word is written!”

“No, I don’t,” said Oily Face. “How is it written?”

After that, he got beaten up. The angry gamblers marched a nervous Oily Face to his father’s restaurant.

Fatty Kuek was inside busily persuading his customers to order more stewed ducks when the sullen faced Dominatrix approached him and said loudly, “Boss, got some ‘not three not four’ people outside the door.”

“What ‘not three not four’ people?” he demanded.

The sullen faced girl replied, “You know.....people who don’t look like people.”

Fatty Kuek went outside to investigate. He saw a group of rough-looking men who was holding on to his battered son. They rudely demanded that Fatty Kuek settled his son’s gambling debts. The irate father cursed, paid the men, and dragged his son to the family’s ancestral altar.

Oily Face was forced to kneel down before the ancestral altar while Fatty Kuek produced a thick cane and the book containing the Kuek Family Law.

Turning a page of the book, the furious father announced, “By the Kuek Family Law, the punishment for ignoring your duties and going out to play is five strokes of the cane!”

Oily Face winced. Five strokes was a lot more than he wanted, but maybe he could bear it.

Then his father turned to another page and read, “For indulging in gambling activities without parental permission......ten strokes!”

Oily Face sweated on his forehead. This was much more than he could bear.

But his father was not finished yet. Fattty Kuek turned yet another page and read, “For bringing ‘not three not four’ people of dubious character to the house to create trouble......fifteen strokes! That’s thirty strokes in total.”

A terrifying panic gripped the wayward son, but there was no escaping the father’s wrath.

Fatty Kuek swung the thick cane and delivered all thirty strokes of the cane as required by the Kuek Family Law. One by one the strokes rained on down on the body of Oily Face, with each stroke hitting a fresh area. Oily Face howled loudly and painfully with each stinging stroke. The howls of pain could be heard even five houses away.

From the kitchen, Xiang Xiang counted thirty howls.

She muttered under her breath, “I did advised you not to molest me, Oily Face. You have brought this all on yourself!”

She felt the money pouch hidden in her clothes. It had not taken very much effort to remove it from Oily Face while he was molesting her. It had been a long time since she had stolen a money pouch but the skills were still intact.

“Damn you, Oily Face,” she fumed angrily. “I had wanted to stop being a thief. For two whole years, I have been honest and kept my nose clean. You forced me into breaking my clean record, you worthless worm!”

Then she remembered the thirty noisy howls of pain from Oily Face and she smiled, “But it sure was worth it!”

Late that afternoon, Wen Yiji and his friends reached Tianjin. Without wasting time, he went around to the restaurants to inquire about Xiang Xiang. At the Fatty Kuek Restaurant, he walked into the customer dining area and was immediately accosted by Dominatrix. As usual, he asked for his sister.

“Wen Xiang Xiang? No such person here,” replied Dominatrix to his inquiry.

“She is fifteen years old,” said Wen Yiji.

“I told you that there is no such person here,” said Dominatrix indignantly. “You want to look for fifteen year old girls, go to the nearest courtesan house! Twelve year old girls also got!”

Wen Yiji walked out. As he was walking out, Xiang Xiang came out of the kitchen and saw his retreating back. There was something familiar about him. She asked Dominatrix, “Who was that man?”

“I dunno,” replied the sullen faced girl. “He looked like he had not eaten rice for years. So thin! Man not like man. Ghost not like ghost. Half man half ghost. He was looking for young girls. Aiyahhhhh.....dunno why today I see so many ‘not three not four’ people. I think I must go bathe in virgin urine afterwards.”

Wen Yiji searched the whole evening, but nobody appeared to have heard of a Wen Xiang Xiang. Regretfully, he went to bed. In the morning, he would have to sail off to Fuzhou.

Early at dawn the next morning he woke up. Governor Li was already awake.

“Governor Li,” said Wen Yiji. “The men will take some time to load the boat with supplies. Do I have time to make one last search for my sister?”

Governor Li nodded. “Make sure you come back fast. We have to set sail early.”

Wen Yiji changed tactics this time. Instead of going to the front dining areas of the restaurants, he went round to the back kitchens to ask the workers directly. At the first four restaurant kitchens he visited, he drew a blank.

At the fifth one, which was the kitchen of the Restaurant Fatty Kuek, he asked a worker for Wen Xiang Xiang. Before the worker could answer, Dominatrix who was nearby, shouted, “Look, I told you yesterday that there is no Wen Xiang Xiang around here. Didn’t you hear? No Wen Xiang Xiang!”

Xiang Xiang was in another room when she heard her name being mentioned loudly. It was strange. She was known as Froggy there and nobody knew her real name. Quickly, she peeped into the kitchen and saw a gaunt stranger by the kitchen tables. He was more skin and bones than flesh. But there was something familiar by the way he held himself. The man said “Thank you” to the workers and then walked out of the kitchen. Even the voice was familiar.

As he walked, Wen Yiji looked up at the brightening sky. He had time to make only one more inquiry. After that he would have to make his way to the jetty. He heard footsteps hurrying behind him. He turned around and saw a young girl following him. She stared at him. He stared back. Something about her appearance reminded him of his mother.

She was the first to break the silence. “Brother Yiji?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “Is that you, Xiang Xiang?”

She nodded.

Their appearances had changed much over the years and they could not truly recognize each other in the early morning light, but instinctively they knew that they were family.

Chapter 10: The facts of fire

Wen Yiji heaved a sigh of relief. He had found his youngest sister and she did not look sick or starving. He was glad that she appeared all right.

“I thought you were in prison!” exclaimed Xiang Xiang, She was excited, but not quite sure what to say to a brother that she had not seen for six years.

“I got out a few days ago,” he explained. “The Emperor’s consignment that we lost in the Fujian Province has already been found. So the Emperor decided to free us former Imperial Guards.”

“You look frail, brother Yiji,” she said. “You are very thin. Not at all like your former self.”

“I know,” he said. “Prison life is not pleasant. You look much better than I had hoped. And you have grown up. How have you been?”

“I am alright, I suppose. I am working in the restaurant that you just came out of. Nobody calls me Xiang Xiang there, which was why nobody could tell you that I was working there.”

Wen Yiji stared at her for a while. She was fifteen years old, and almost a woman. She would be of marriageable age soon. As the head of the Wen family, he would have to arrange for her marriage to a suitable family when the time came.

“Xiang Xiang,” he said, “I have to go to Fuzhou for a while. I need to express my gratitude there to some people who are responsible for my freedom. I will come back to find you when I am done.”

“You are going away? But I just found you!” exclaimed Xiang Xiang. She came to a quick decision. “No, brother Yiji. If you leave now, I know that I may not see you ever again. We are of the same family. I should come with you.”

“I do not know how I will take care of you. Also, there is no time for you to pack. The boat is leaving now.”

“Heaven will take care of me as it has done for so many years. I don’t need to pack. Everything I have is right here with me.”

“Don’t you need to inform your employer and collect any wages that he may owe you?”

Xiang Xiang laughed. Fatty Kuek had never paid her a single coin. She patted her clothes and felt Oily Face’s money pouch that was still with her. There were ten taels of silver in there and she did not have time to get rid of it yet.

“I already got paid!” she said brightly.

A young boy hurried by them and Xiang Xiang saw that he was one of Fatty Kuek’s restaurant workers. She called out to him, “Sar Chu, where are you going?”

The boy replied, “I am going to the suppliers to collect a sack of onions.”

“Okay,” said Xiang Xiang. “When you get back, please tell Fatty Kuek that I will not be working for him any more. I am resigning. My brother here is taking me away.”

Sar Chu was nonplussed to find out that Xiang Xiang was resigning. Gathering his wits, he said, “Oh…..don’t you have to give a month’s notice? Otherwise Fatty Kuek will deduct one month’s salary.”

“It’s all right,” she replied. “He can deduct all he wants. And another thing. Tell Oily Face to go eat himself.”

Sar Chu said a sad goodbye and went gloomily along his way.

“We had better go now,” said Wen Yiji to his sister. “We can’t keep the boat waiting for us.”

They hurried to the jetty and found Governor Li waiting for them.

“I thought that you had lost your way,” remarked the governor.

“I have found my sister, Governor Li,” said Wen Yiji. “She is my only living kin. If it is not too much trouble, I would like to take her along with me on the boat. ”

“You’re welcome to do that,” replied the governor. “We are sailing now. If the wind keeps up, we should be in Fuzhou in twenty days.”

Xiang Xiang saw the Chin brothers and noted that they were even more frail than her brother. She had met them before when she was much younger. They had visited her brother Yiji in the Wen family home in happier times. It was sad to see what had become of them.

The boat sailed out of the Tianjin harbour in fine weather. The vessel was a big sailing junk and there was enough space for everybody. There was not much to do on deck so Xiang Xiang asked the cook if she could help out with the cooking. He assented, and she took the opportunity to learn how to cook on a moving boat. It took a while for her to get used to slicing and dicing with the slow rocking motion of the deck.

Xiang Xiang chatted politely with the Chin brothers, but she often was not quite sure how to talk with her own brother. She had remembered him as a stuffy but upright person and not one given to talking nonsense. But he had changed. At times he talked as if he was a foreign barbarian.

Seven days out of Tianjin, they rode into a storm. The boat was tossed around by the waves and everybody fell seasick. The sailors sailed the junk into a sheltered cove to wait out the difficult weather. Wen Yiji appeared to be the only one not affected. He wandered around aimlessly on deck lending a hand here and there. Weak as he still was, he managed to help out with the lighter tasks.

The cook had hit his head against the mast during the storm so there was no one to cook the dinner that evening, but since most of the men were seasick, it really did not matter if they went hungry.

However, Xiang Xiang was determined that her thin brother did not miss a meal, so she cooked up a pot of salted egg rice congee. She thought that the sailors would be too seasick to eat but she cooked a full pot anyway, reasoning that any leftover congee could be warmed up later if anybody felt hungry. When the congee was cool enough, she dished out a bowl for Wen Yiji and the Chin brothers.

“This is the best congee that I have ever tasted,” remarked Chin Jia Lat. “I think I’ll go get some more.”

One by one, the seasick sailors made their way to the pot to help themselves to the congee. And one by one, each sailor went back for a second helping. Before long, the pot was empty.

“Where did you learn to cook like that?” asked Chin Tua Kee.

“I worked in a restaurant in Tianjin,” Xiang Xiang replied. “I am used to cooking all types of dishes, but our speciality is duck.”

“It is strange that the speciality is duck,” remarked Wen Yiji. “I would have thought that it would be seafood, since Tianjin is by the sea.”

“My employer was going for a niche market,” she replied. “Every other restaurant served seafood, but we served duck. Many seamen frequent our restaurant. They have been eating fish on board their sailing vessels and when they walked into our restaurant, the last thing they wanted to eat is fish. The locals too, ate a lot of fish at home, so the main reason they patronized us was to eat duck. We had no competitors in this particular market segment. Thus my employer made a lot of money.”

“A niche market?” mused Chin Tua Kee. “A niche market is a focused portion of the overall food market. A highly defined, small niche market can insulate you from competition.”

His brother Chin Teong Kee interjected, “Choosing the right niche market can be considered essential to business success. You can have a natural competitive advantage because no one else serves that market segment except you.”

The youngest brother, Chin Jia Lat spoke, “A good niche market is one in which you are highly visible and easily accessible to the people who are most likely to benefit from your cooking, including prospective customers, prospective suppliers, and others with whom value-adding activities are most likely to be mutually beneficial.”

Then they looked in the direction of Wen Yiji to see if he had anything to say about the topic.

Without having to think, Wen Yiji declared, “In any market, the customer is always right. In a niche market the customer is always wrong. So you can set any price you want and the customer will have to pay it.”

“What if the customer doesn’t want to pay your price?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“Then you beat the shit out of the muthafucka until he pays,” answered her brother. “This is the new economics theory. In a niche market, the businessman is always right. And right makes might.”

Chin Tua Kee and his brothers stared at Wen Yiji open-mouthed. They could not understand what he was talking about. After they had been released from prison, the Chin brothers found that they had trouble comprehending Wen Yiji. The man had definitely changed.

The next day, while still waiting for the storm to abate, the sailors fished up a lot of fish from the cove. Xiang Xiang cooked fish porridge for breakfast, sweet and sour fish for lunch and fish steamed with ginger for dinner. She filleted the rest of the fish and turned them into fishballs and fishcakes. Her cooking was fast but the food tasted great. The men eagerly awaited the mealtimes.

Two days later, the fierce storm had abated and they could sail again. By then the old cook had recovered and was able to resume cooking. The men groaned.

On deck one evening, after they had anchored for the night, Wen Yiji suddenly turned to his sister and asked, “Xiang Xiang, who was Tsinkiang Yee?”

“Tsinkiang Yee?” asked Xiang Xiang, wondering where she had heard the name.

“When I was at our home looking at the graves of our family, I noticed a grave that had the names of our old female housekeeper Luo Ma and a certain Tsinkiang Yee marked on it.”

Xiang Xiang remembered.

“Tsinkiang Yee was a visitor to the house. I do not know her name but know that she came from Tsinkiang,” explained his sisiter. “She was a friend of our parents. We referred to her as the auntie from Tsinkiang, hence we called her Tsinkiang Yee. She visited us the day before the fire and slept in the same room as the housekeeper Luo Ma.”

“Why did she share the same grave as Luo Ma?” he asked.

“After the fire, we had to identify the bodies to put in the proper graves. The funeral workers pointed out a woman’s body to me and I was not sure if it belonged to Luo Ma or to Tsinkiang Yee. So we buried her in the grave and then put both names on the grave.”

“The neighbours manservant, Chan Pak, told me that all the family members had died in their beds,” said Wen Yiji.

“That is so,” said Xiang Xiang sadly. “That was how I was able to identify the bodies. Even if the bodies were burnt beyond recognition, I noted the position that they slept and could tell who they were. Except for the case of Luo Ma and Tsinkiang Yee. We found one burnt body on the wooden platform where they both slept and I could not tell who it belonged to. So I marked the grave with both their names.”

“Tell me about the night of the fire, Xiang Xiang. Chan Pak told me that you were out with the Cheng boys.”

“I am sorry, brother Yiji. I should not have been out with the Cheng boys. It was an action that I regretted all these years. If I could undo that action, I would. You do not have to tell me that I am not fit to be a member of the Wen family. I already know that.”

“Will you just tell me what happened on that night?” demanded her brother impatiently.

“It was the night before the Mid Autumn Festival. The Cheng boys had invited our youngest brother, Yisheng, and me to join them to eat sweets and see the lantern processions at night. Yisheng and I planned to sneak out of the house together. But when the time came, Yisheng was sleepy and I could not get him up. So I sneaked out alone. Later the Cheng boys and I climbed a hill and we saw a house on fire. We rushed back shouting, but it was too late to save anybody.”

“So, Yisheng and you planned to sneak out quietly. That boy was not one to give up an opportunity to eat sweets. I find it very unusual that you sneaked out but he did not.”

“I think he ate too full and thus became sleepy.”

“How can Yisheng be ever too full? That boy has the appetite of a horse.”

“Well, I remembered that he ate a full plate of rice and later ate two slices of radish cake. He would be full.”

“Radish cake? I have never eaten radish cake. How did it taste like?”

“I don’t know. I never got the chance to find out. Tsinkiang Yee made the radish cake and each of us was given two slices. Yisheng ate his immediately, but I kept my two slices in the room.”


“The Cheng brothers promised us that there would be sweets for us later, so I thought that it would be better if I did not go with too full a stomach or I would not be able to eat any sweets. I was greedy. I’m sorry!”

Wen Yijj thought silently for a few moments and then said, “And so, that was how my family perished.”

He stiffened and a cold fury enveloped his face.

“I am sorry, brother Yiji,” sobbed Xiang Xiang. “I am truly sorry! I should not have stepped out of the house.”

Wen Yiji looked at his sister sternly and spoke sharply, “Will you stop blabbering like an idiot? There was nothing you could have done. Our family did not die in a fire. They were murdered. If you had been there, you would have been killed as well. The fates kept you alive for a reason.”

Xiang Xiang looked up and stared stupidly at her brother. She could only mutter, “Murdered? What do you mean?”

“Consider the facts,” said Wen Yiji. “The first strange fact; Yisheng was always the last to drop off to sleep in our family. Even as a child, he would stay wake at night longer than any of us. You, on the other hand, were usually the first to go to sleep. Don’t you find it strange that Yisheng could be asleep earlier than you?”

“Yes, it is strange,” she agreed.

“The second strange fact,” continued Yiji. “In any fire, there is no such thing as everybody dying in their beds. There is usually a few who wake up and struggle to the door, then get overcome by the fire and collapse on the floor. Don’t you find it odd that with so many people in our house, not a single person even managed to step out of the bed?”

Xiang Xiang was nonplussed.

“The third strange fact involves our third brother Yifeng. He had the ears of a dog,” said Yiji. “Do you remember the time before I was imprisoned, two days before I went on my mission to escort the jade lions, our house was broken into by a group of robbers?”

Xiang Xiang remembered. A group of robbers had entered the house at night and Wen Yiji had shot at them in the dark with his arrows. None of the robbers survived. In the family, it was known that while third brother Yifeng had the ears of a dog, eldest brother Yiji had the eyes of a cat. With insufficient light to see, the robbers simply did not stand a chance against the arrows.

Yiji continued, “Yifeng heard a strange footfall in the garden in his sleep and got up to warn me. He had an amazing hearing ability. He would have heard the fire cackling in any fire. In fact, he would have heard you trying to sneak out and caught you. It was highly strange that he did not.”

Xiang Xiang digested all this silently.

Wen Yiji carried on, “Then there is the case of Luo Ma and Tsinkiang Yee. If only one body was found, then one of them was missing. So, one of them must have got out alive. It was either Luo Ma or Tsinkiang Yee. I am willing to bet that it was Luo Ma’s body you found, and that Tsinkiang Yee was not there at the time of the fire. She must have either drugged or poison the whole family, set the house on fire and then got out.”

“Drugged? How?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“The radish cake,” he explained. “She made it and laced it with a drug. You were the only one who did not eat it. It would explain why Yisheng was so sleepy but you were not. It would also explain why Yifeng did not hear you sneaking out and why nobody got up during the fire. They were lying either dead or unconscious in their beds. Our family was murdered.”

“It is rather far-fetched to think that Tsinkiang Yee would do such a thing.”

“Far fetched? There is one other thing that you do not know. Five years ago, on Mid Autumn Festival day, a jailor that I had not seen before put poisoned food in my cell. It was so fast to act that I almost died. But my cellmate saved me.”

“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed his sister. “Sometimes poison has long lasting effects. Are you all right?”

“I think I am all right, but my cellmate seemed to think that I had partial poisonality.”

“Partial poisonality? What is that?”

“It is a personality effect and is difficult to explain. It has to do with naked bathing maidens wanting to bash me up and not willing to spread their legs wide open for me, or whatever. I forgot. But isn’t it strange that my poisoning came one day after the fire? Somebody wanted the whole family dead!”

“If somebody wanted the whole family dead, then why was I not killed?” asked Xiang Xiang. “True, I was out during the night of the fire. But they could have killed me during the funeral.”

“We are dealing with a very surreptitious person or persons here,” he answered. “In the forest, when a tiger pounces, it roars and the whole forest knows that it is on the hunt. But when a leopard hunts, it kills silently and nobody would be any wiser. Some people are like tigers, others are like furtive leopards. This case has the operational profile of a quiet assassination, done by a group of people. Tsinkiang Yee was probably just of them. If my guess is correct, then they would have tried to kill you after the funeral when you were alone and everything has quieted down. But you disappeared from the scene soon after that. I was told that you had become a thief in town.”

Xiang Xiang was embarrassed, “I am sorry, brother Yiji. I had to eat and did not know what else to do.”

“Forget it,” he said. “What I want to know is how Tsinkiang Yee came to stay at our house.”

“I do not know. She turned up one day, and our parents allowed her to stay. They said that she was from Tsinkiang and would be staying a few days.”

“I am guessing that she is now back in Tsinkiang. Can you recognize her if you see her again?”

“No,” said Xiang Xiang regretfully. “I don’t remember what she looked like. I only remembered that she had some sort of odd-looking scar on her left ankle that I saw when she was washing her feet. Or was it the right ankle? I can’t remember.”

“It will be difficult to find her then,” he muttered. “But we are going to Tsinkiang. I will have to take revenge for our family.”

Xiang Xiang kept quiet. She did not really want revenge. Her brother was in prison for six years. He was already twenty-nine years, past his youth, without a job and looked like a starved bamboo pole. A grown man should start a family. She only wanted her brother to be able to live a normal life and start a family so that the Wen family can have descendents. But he was the head of the household now and she would have to listen to what he said.

In silence, she mulled over what her brother had just told her, and a heavy weight lifted from her shoulders. For years, she had gone to bed blaming herself that somehow it had been her fault that her family had perished. She heaved a sigh of relief. It was not her fault.

Suddenly, she felt glad. Glad that she had found her brother. Glad that he had explained things to her. Glad that it was not her fault that her family perished in the fire. The guilt lifted. Tears of relief glistened in her eyes.

Wen Yiji spoke again, this time with a chilling coldness of purpose, “I will find out who murdered our family, and when I do, even the gods will not be able to help them."

Chapter 11: The wedding feast at Pingchen

After the storm, the weather held up sufficiently well and the sailing junk soon reached Fuzhou. Wen Yizi and the Chin brothers went to thank Governor Li’s young relative, Wu Chuan, who had helped to recover the Emperor’s missing jade lions, thus ending their six years of imprisonment.

“I am glad that you managed to survive the notorious Li-Khor prison,” said Wu Chuan. “I am getting married soon, and will be taking my bride Pei Pei from Ningshiang village to my hometown in Pingchen. Why don’t you come along and join in the festivities?

“Thank you,” said Wen Yiji graciously. “We will be honoured to attend.”

Xiang Xiang and the four former Imperial guards then went to Ningshiang village on the outskirts of the city to thank the girl called Yue Pei Pei who also had a hand in helping to recover the jade lions. Pei Pei was due to be married to Wu Chuan so she was busy getting the house into shape.

After thanking Pei Pei for her part in recovering the Emperor’s jade lions, Wen Yiji and his friends wandered around like tourists in the little fishing village. Xiang Xiang stayed behind and chatted with Pei Pei for a while.

“Are you coming along with the bridal procession to Pingchen?” asked Pei Pei.

“Yes, Miss Yue” replied Xiang Xiang. “They say that it is a beautiful town.”

“I hope so. I have not been there,” said Pei Pei. “I hope I will be able to get used to the life there. The big difference will be the weather and the food. I am used to eating fish.”

“I am sure that they have freshwater fish there.”

“I have never eaten freshwater fish. What does it tastes like.”

“It is about the same as any other food. If it is not eaten raw, then it is the cook’s ability that will bring out the flavour of the food. In the hands of the right cook, even the most difficult ingredient will turn out into a masterpiece.”

“You speak as if you have done some cooking before.”

“I worked in a restaurant for two years. My speciality is duck. But I would rather cook porridge. Unlike porridge, ducks take too long to prepare.”

“Duck? I love duck! You must cook a dish for me one day. I have heard a lot about the northern cooking.”

Xiang Xiang laughed, “When we get to Pingchen, I will cook you a duck dish.”

“Listen, I need to go into town to buy some things,” said Pei Pei. “Would you like to come with me?”

“Oh yes,” replied Xiang Xiang. “I have no clothes to wear for your wedding. I need to get something.”

Xiang Xiang located her brother beside an old fishing boat and told him that she needed to go to town to buy some clothes. Wen Yiji decided to go with them.

While Pei Pei and Xiang Xiang were inside a shop, Wen Yiji hovered outside and looked at vendors along the street plying their wares. He heard a vendor across the street shouting something about radish cakes, and his curiosity was aroused. He crossed the road to buy some radish cakes to try. Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by a group of five men.

“Friend, hand over your money,” said their leader, a bald man with a scar on his face.

“Why should I?” asked Wen Yiji. “And I’m not your friend.”

Kanineh,” said Scarface, “Limpeh ask you polite polite and you don’t respond. Kanasai like that. Hand over your money or we’ll beat you up like a sick dog.”

“Oh yeah? Let me warn you first that this dog can bite. So why don’t you walk away politely, muthafuckas,” replied Wen Yiji.

“Looks like if you don’t see the coffin, you will not shed tears. You are thin like a walking stick of bamboo. You will fall down like a useless lump of shit if I just blow on you lightly with my breath.”

“Listen, even if you blow me, I am still not giving you my money. If you want to blow, go blow a goat. I am sure it will be grateful!” said Wen Yiji. There was no way he would be parting with his money.

The bald Scarface stared at him fiercely and said, “You talk like a stupid barbarian. Maybe your father is a barbarian.”

“That is my business.”

“And your mother is a whore.”

“Leave my mother out of this. You are a bald ugly creature, but I did not ask you if your mother was a shaven frog, did I?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Are you always this retarded? Look, I have no time to entertain you. Good day.”

Wen Yiji tried to walk away but one of the thugs came forward and punched him in the stomach. Wen Yji saw the punch coming and tried to avoid it, but he was too slow. There was a time when he could have avoided the blow easily, but six years in prison had weakened him and slowed him down considerably. He fell down to his knees. Another man cuffed him on the head, and he fell on all fours. Then, as four of the men held him down, Scarface reached into Wen Yiji’s clothes and extracted the bag containing his money.

“Stop that,” said Wen Yiji. “That’s my money!”

“I know,” said Scarface with an evil grin, “and it’s mine now. Look at you. You are like a pathetic dog on the ground.”

“At least I look much better than you. I bet that when you were born, you came out as a tadpole.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Scarface angrily.

“How can you not know what I mean? Oh, you must be severely retarded! Your mother probably mated with her brothers and you were the grand result. Congratulations.”

“Are you insulting me?”

“No. I was congratulating you on your illustrious family. Now give me back my money!”

“Beat him up,” said Scarface to his four companions. They punched and kicked at Wen Yiji.

“Give me back my money, you thieves!” shouted Wen Yiji.

The men sneered at him and walked off.

Xiang Xiang was at that moment walking towards Wen Yiji and she had seen what had happened. As Scarface turned to walk off with his four companions, Xiang Xiang bumped into him accidentally.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Never mind,” Scarface smiled. “Pretty girl, you can bump into me one more time if you like!”

His companions guffawed crudely.

Xiang Xiang passed them and continued walking. The thugs too, continued along their way. Xiang Xiang then turned back to where Wen Yiji was lying on the ground.

“Do you need help in getting up?” she asked. It was obvious to her that her brother was not much of a fighter anymore. There was a time when he could have handled five thugs without any problems. The six years in prison had weakened his system.

“They got my money!” gasped her brother.

“Quiet,” she whispered. “I got your money back!”

“How?” he wanted to know.

“I stole it back for you,” she answered. “In your weakened condition, you should not go out looking for a fight! Now let’s get out of here before those men come back.”

She helped him to his feet and they went to collect Pei Pei.

“What happened?” asked Pei Pei, looking at the battered form of Wen Yiji.

“Some men tried to rob my brother,” answered Xiang Xiang. “They may come back. We had better leave fast.”

The gang of thugs had discovered that the money was missing and was trying to find out where the money had gone to.

“We saw you took his money,” said one of them to Scarface.

“Did I hand it to any one of you?” asked Scarface.

They looked at each other and shook their heads.

“Wait,” said Scarface. “A young girl bumped into me. Do you suppose….”

“Maybe she stole it from you,” said one of the thugs. “Let’s go back there and find out.”

The five thugs retraced their steps and soon spotted Xiang Xiang walking with Wen Yiji and Pei Pei.

“After them!” shouted the gang leader.

Wen Yiji turned around and saw them. “Move away, girls. I’ll handle this.” He bent down and picked up a rock from the ground.

However, Pei Pei nonchalantly moved towards the five thugs. She was an exponent of the Seven Stars Internal Stance kungfu, so she was quite confident of kicking their asses. She breathed. The Seven Stars Inner Energy filled her entire being, begging for a powerful release. As the thugs drew level with her, she stuck out with both her hands and fell two of them at the same instant. However, three of the thugs had passed her and were intent on rearranging Wen Yiji’s face.

Quickly, Pei Pei turned and grabbed the clothes of two moving thugs from behind. As they turned to face her, she crashed their heads together and they fell down unconscious. Only the bald Scarface managed to reach Xiang Xiang and Wen Yiji.

“So,” he sneered. “You must have taken back the money and then thought that you could get away with it. I and my brothers will have to teach you a hard lesson.”

“What brothers?” asked Wen Yiji.

Scarface turned around and was shocked to see his four companions lying on the ground unconscious. While Scarface was trying to comprehend what had happened, Wen Yiji walked up to the bald ugly man and smash the rock down on his head. Scarface stumbled and fell to his knees in pain, and once more, Wen Yiji smashed his head with the rock. The bald man fell down flat backwards and Wen Yiji stomped on his balls.

Scarface cried out in pain.

Wen Yiji continued stomping.

“Maybe we should let him go,” suggested Xiang Xiang.

“He called our mother a whore,” grunted Wen Yiji as he stomped the balls relentlessly.

“Oh.....stomp him harder, then,” said Xiang Xiang.

Scarface wheezed, “You…called…my…mother…a…shaven…frog…”

Wen Yiji paused. He had forgotten what he had said to Scarface earlier on. He looked at Pei Pei with a question on his face.

“In Fuzhou, calling somebody’s mother a shaven frog may not be very polite but it is not a punishable act,” answered Pei Pei to the silent question. “But if an ugly person calls somebody’s mother a whore; that is definitely a stompable offence.”

Wen Yiji said to the fallen gang leader, “You heard that? It is a stompable offence!”

He continued on with his vigorous stomping and Scarface yelped in terrible agony.

“Actually, in some places, being ugly is by itself a stompable offense,” added Pei Pei.

Wen Yiji inspected the face of the gang leader and decided that Scarface was highly qualified in being ugly. So he stomped harder with all his strength.

Finally, the bald gang leader fainted from the excruciating pain and he stopped yelling.

But Wen Yiji carried on with his stomping.

“Don’t you think he’s had enough?” asked Pei Pei after a while.

“I don’t know,” answered Wen Yiji.

He continued stomping unabated.

The girls waited.

Finally, they said that they would like to continue with their shopping and so Wen Yiji reluctantly ended his stomping of Scarface's balls. He turned his attention to the other four fallen thugs.

Ta ma de! Not a good looking one among them. All also look like shit,” he muttered angrily as he stomped hard several times on the balls of each one of the thugs in turn before walking off after the girls.

He was limping badly because of all the stomping. “Damn!” he swore. “I’m not as strong as I used to be!”

One thing was not lost on Wen Yiji. He had noticed the speed and power that Pei Pei employed to knock down the four thugs. “Very powerful inner energy that one has,” he murmured to himself.

Much later, Wen Yiji met up with the three Chin brothers and he saw that they were also limping badly. He wondered if they had met bad people as well.

“What happened to you?” asked Chin Tua Kee.

Wen Yiji replied, “I met some very bad people.”

He then related the whole story to them. The Chin brothers were sympathetic. Noticing that the three Chin brothers were also limping, Wen Yiji asked, “What happened to you? Why are you three limping? Did you meet bad people as well?”

“In a way,” answered Chin Jia Lat sheepishly.

“What kind of bad people?” asked Wen Yiji.

“Actually, we met some very bad girls,” replied Chin Teong Kee in embarrassment. “We went to this courtesan house called the House of a Thousand Pleasures. By the time we came out, we could not walk properly.”

“You had sex?” asked an astonished Wen Yiji. “You can hardly walk! Your backs are even weaker than mine and you could have sex?”

“The girls were very skillfull,” said Chin Teong Kee. “We lay down on our backs and the girls did all the moving. Even so, it was exhausting. But very good!”

“Damn,” muttered Wen Yiji. “Here I am limping because of bad men and you are limping because of bad girls. What kind of stupid justice am I getting?”

He looked up at the sky and snarled, “!@#$%”

“You shouldn’t scold the sky, Brother Wen,” advised Chin Jia Lat. “Or you may get beaten up by women one day.”

Wen Yiji stared hard at him and Chin Jia Lat shut up.

The sky rumbled.

+ + + + + +

The following day, Pei Pei put on a silk bridal gown that had been given by the Emperor as a gift and brought by Governor Li. She got into a carriage for the long journey to Wu Chuan’s ancestral home in Pingchen. The bridal procession started from Pei Pei’s old house in Ningshiang village. Her uncle and three blood brothers sent her off amid the sound of cymbals and drums. The whole village turned out to see the proceedings. The carriage procession was accompanied by Governor Li and his troops and they took three days to reach Pingchen. Xiang Xiang, Wen Yiji and his compatriots tagged along.

When they reached Pingchen by the end of the third day of traveling, Xiang Xiang was tired. A feast awaited them and she was impressed by the quality of the food. The Wu family was the richest family in Pingchen and so they could afford the best. Wen Yiji and the Chin brothers took the opportunity to get drunk.

The wedding feast lasted seven days in Pingchen.

Xiang Xiang was happy that her brother ate a lot at the feast. She wanted to see him put on some flesh. He had been traveling practically every day since he was released from prison a month ago. From the Imperial city to Tianjin, from Tianjin to Fuzhou, and from Fuzhou to Pingchen. A rest and plenty of food was what he needed to gain back some weight.

At Pingchen, Xiang Xiang had nothing to do and she was soon bored with sitting around eating and drinking. So she went into the kitchen to help out, claiming to be a part-time volunteer helper brought over from Fuzhou. The kitchen was busy during the wedding and the staff was shorthanded, so nobody questioned her. Seven days of feasting meant that a lot of food would have to be cooked. In the few days spent in the Wu’s family huge kitchen, she learned a lot about Fujian cooking.

One day, she cooked a big bowl of duck and brought it to Pei Pei.

“This stewed duck with mushrooms is delicious,” remarked Pei Pei after eating for a few moments. “I have heard that people from the north are very good with ducks, and this is the first time that I have tasted northern cooking. It smells good and the taste is wonderful. The stimulating smooth gravy glides down the throat. And the flesh is so smooth.”

“Ducks are not as easy to prepare as chickens,” said Xiang Xiang. “It has a strong aroma and has to be brewed to the right stimulating consistency. But with the right cooking method, the eating experience is not easily forgotten.”

“It’s a pity that you do not run a restaurant in this town, or I will patronize you everyday. I assume that you will be returning to the Imperial city after this.”

“Well, no. My brother and I wish to journey on to Tsinkiang.”

“Tsinkiang? Why?” asked Pei Pei.

“My brother is looking for some old woman there. I do not know her name but she is someone who is able to use drugs and poison.”

“I know of one woman who does things like that. Horrible creature! She drugs young girls and sells them off to a pimp who supplies courtesan houses.”

“Sounds like a nasty character. What’s her name?” asked Xiang Xiang with interest.

“I don’t know, but I heard people referred to her as the Borrowing Hag. Maybe because she has a habit of borrowing stuff and not returning them.”

“Where does she live?”

“I don’t know the name of the place.”

“Who would know?”

“Let me see,” said Pei Pei thinking. “In Tsinkiang, there is a courtesan house called the House of Noble Delights. Two girls, who work there, Ah Lian and Ah Huei, came from the same area as the Borrowing Hag. It is a small village or town along the coastline, and about a day’s journey by carriage south of Tsinkiang.”

“You mean it’s not in Tsinkiang? Then this Borrowing Hag will not be the person whom we are looking for. The person we want lives in Tsinkiang,” said Xiang Xiang.

“I’m sorry,” said Pei Pei. “I can’t help you then. How do you intend to get to Tsinkiang.”

“My brother intends to walk from here.”

“It will be a better idea to go back to Fuzhou and then sail down the coast to Tsinkiang. It will be faster than walking from here,” advised Pei Pei.

Xiang Xiang thanked her and went to look for her brother. She did not know how they would be able to find Tsinkiang Yee since she had already forgotten how the old woman looked like. It would be a fruitless exercise. But there was one thing that she did know; she would not be able to stop her brother from going to Tsinkiang.

Chapter 12: The search for Tsinkiang Yee

On the fifth day of the wedding feast, Governor Li arranged for his son Li Daifu to conduct a medical examination of Wen Yiji and his compatriots. Li Daifu, the fifth son of Governor Li, had a thriving practice in the town of Pingchen. His herbal medicine store employed eight workers to dry and cut up the herbs. By business standards, he was considered quite successful. He had married Wu Chuan’s elder sister, Jade Flower, and settled down in Pingchen to become a doctor.

Looking at Wen Yiji, the daifu remarked, “As far as I can tell, you are still undernourished, but on your way to recovery. All your organs appeared to be functioning. However, there is a strange poisonous energy residing in your body. I suggest that you eat more bitter gourd. It may help to keep the energy under control.”

“Will I die?” asked Wen Yiji.

“Everybody dies. Including you if you are not immortal,” replied the daifu.

When Wen Yiji stepped out of the daifu’s treatment room, Xiang Xiang accosted him and asked, “Well, what did the daifu say?”

Looking at his sister sorrowfully, he replied, “He said that I am going to die!”

A shocked Xiang Xiang said, “I will go in and ask for a second medical opinion.”

“You can’t ask for a second medical opinion from the same doctor. He’ll think you are a fool!” he admonished her.

“True,” she said, “but one who asks is a fool for just two breaths, but one who does not ask remains a fool forever.”

So she walked into the treatment room and inquired from Li Daifu the nature of her brother’s condition.

“His systems are functioning but he is malnourished,” Li Daifu told her. “He is stronger than the Chin brothers and should be fully recovered in less than two months. There is some kind of poisonous energy inside him, so I told him to take bitter gourd frequently to control it. It will cool his system, temper his personality and calm him down.”

“My brother does not like to take bitter things,” she said.

“Boil him a soup from bitter gourd,” he suggested. “Then find a way to make him drink.”

Xiang Xiang nodded. She was resourceful. She would find a way and her brother would not be able to escape the bitter gourd.

As Xiang Xiang left the treatment room, Li Daifu’s wife, Jade Flower came by and addressed her, “You must be Xiang Xiang. Pei Pei just told me that you cook a very good duck dish.”

Xiang Xiang replied shyly, “Pei Pei is most kind with her compliments!”

Jade Flower laughed and commented, “Men value good cooking skills. When you become of age, I am sure that the young men in town will queue up to marry you!”

Xiang Xiang blushed and said, “When I become of age, my marriage will be decided by my brother, who is the head of the Wen family now.”

+ + + + + +

Later, Li Daifu reported to his father, “The men seem to be all right, but it will take two more months of nourishment before they can become fighting fit. They won’t be able to do strenuous exercises for the time being. Are you going to offer them employment?”

“I would like to,” replied his father. “These men have fighting skills. They are unlike the worthless crap that I keep getting from the Imperial ministers, who keep the best men for themselves and send me the useless rejects. If I want good fighters, I will have to look for them myself.”

“This is the first time that I have heard of a prospective employer conducting medical examinations on prospective employees,” remarked his son.

“I am an administrator and I know what has to be done. One day, perhaps hundreds of years from now, all prospective employees will have to go for medical examinations before they can be offered a job. Mark my words!”

+ + + + + +

At the end of the seven days of feasting, many guests offered their final toasts to the Wu family before returning home.

A merchant friend of the Wu family had traveled all the way from the city of Changchow in the south for the wedding feast. After toasting the Wu family, the merchant raised his bowl of wine and made a toast to Governor Li. After the toast, he politely said, “Governor Li, there are men collecting toll at the Tiger Crossing Bridge again.”

Governor Li looked troubled.

“What is the Tiger Crossing Bridge?” asked Wen Yiji.

“The Tiger Crossing Bridge is one of the longest bridges in the country and it spans across the Nine Dragon River outside Changchow,” explained the governor. “There is a legend concerning the building of the bridge. When the bridge was being built, the swift current washed away the huge foundation stones time and again. One day, the builder was surprised to see a tiger cross the river without much difficulty. He re-sited the position of the bridge to the route taken by the tiger and succeeded in laying the foundation for the bridge. To this day, the bridge is known as the "Tiger Crossing Bridge". It was built for the usage of the citizenry and nobody is supposed to collect toll on the bridge.”

“You are right,” said the merchant. “Many traders have to use the bridge and the illegal toll collectors push up the cost of doing business. Those thugs are so daring as to throw people off the bridge, so everybody pays.”

“I have sent troops there to prevent illegal toll collection, but once the troops leave, they start collecting again. Either that or they killed the troops. I once had a whole team of soldiers who died there. From poisoning, I believe.”

“What about the local Prefect of Changchow?” asked Wen Yiji. “Surely he can take some action?”

“He’s in cahoots with the thugs,” piped up the merchant’s young son. “They say that the toll collectors collect the money and pass it through middlemen to the Prefect’s father-in-law who runs the whole operation.”

“Keep quiet!” said his father sternly. “You should not say such things without proof!”

There was silence. An awkward silence. Tension filled the air. Each one waited for the others to speak, but nobody spoke. Nobody, except Wen Yiji. He suddenly stood up and shouted drunkenly, “This is a great wedding feast! If ever the Wu family is in trouble, just let us know, and my brothers and I will come to your aid!”

In his idiosyncratic way, he broke the tension and everybody breathed easily again.

+ + + + + +

After the wedding feast, Governor Li stayed for a few more days in Pingchen in order to spend a few more days with his grandchildren. Then they journeyed back to Fuzhou.

Once they were in Fuzhou, Wen Yiji informed the Chin brothers and Governor Li that he had to leave to attend to a personal matter. He then booked a boat passage for him and Xiang Xiang to Tsinkiang. Governor Li offered the Chin brothers employment in his constabulary and the brothers accepted.

The evening before Wen Yiji was due to leave Fuzhou, the Chin brothers took him to the House of a Thousand Pleasures.

Madam Song greeted them warmly in the front parlour. “Gentlemen,” she gushed. “You are back! And you brought a friend.”

“This is Master Wen Yiji,” introduced Chin Jia Lat.

“My friends tell me that your girls are trained to do all the moving. Is that correct?” asked Wen Yiji to Madam Song.

“That is correct,” answered the madam.

“Yours is the first courtesan house that I have heard that trains the girls,” said Wen Yiji. “Most of the other courtesan houses just tell the girls to spread out on the bed. They have the idea that this type of thing has no need to go for training.”

“That is where we are more advanced than them. In the House of a Thousand Pleasures, we constantly invest in training. Our human resources are our greatest assets and we constantly seek for ways to improve.”

“You do?”

“Of course. We don’t stay stagnant. We believe that if you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got."

“How true!”

"The difference between failure and success is doing a thing nearly right and doing it exactly right."

“Beautifully said!”

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best!”

Wa piang......enough, okay? Just show us the girls!” Wen Yiji was getting impatient.

The girls were brought in. One of them remarked, “We hear that you want us girls to do all the moving. You’re in luck. We all have Ai Ga Lop secret training!”

“What iGallop secret training?” asked Wen Yiji.

“It’s not iGallop. It’s Ai Ga Lop,” she replied. “It is a revolutionary training that can help you shape and tone your tummy, hips, seat and thighs. The secret is in its zero-impact, tri-axial riding action. Your body automatically responds to its multidirectional movements to maintain balance. This constant balancing by your body engages certain muscle groups, and may help improve balance, coordination and posture. And yada yada. That’s what the brochure said.”

“How does this secret training work?”

“It’s a secret,” she replied haughtily. “If I tell you, I will have to kill you.”

“Ha ha ha! You’re killing me already! Now let’s go to your room for some serious Ai Ga Lop.”

The girl led Wen Yiji to a room upstairs. As she performed her Ai Ga Lop routine on him, the years of pent up anger and frustration in him begged for a release. He tried to hold back, but he could not. It was like trying to hold back a tsunami. He erupted explosively in her with a series of moans. The pleasure was short and sweet, but it was over much too soon. He felt weak in the knees, but managed to put his clothes back on unassisted. He stumbled downstairs to the front parlour and discovered that the Chin brothers were not finished yet. So he sat down and waited for them to appear.

A well-dressed man walked up to him and said, “You must be Master Wen Yiji, also known as Arrow Eye.”

Wen Yiji looked at him and asked, “I am no more Arrow Eye. I am unable to draw a bow anymore. Just call me Wen Yiji. May I ask your high surname and big given name?”

“My name is Tseto,” replied the man.

“You must be Potion King Tseto. I have heard of your big name. But how did you know who I was?”

“The House of a Thousand Pleasures values its clientele highly and in our business, we make it a point to know who our customers are,” replied Tseto graciously.

Wen Yiji thought for a moment. Then he asked, “I have heard that you are knowledgeable in the art of poisons. I am going to Tsinkiang tomorrow. Do you know of any woman who is an expert in poisons over there?

Potion King Tseto thought for a while and said, “There is no expert in poison in the city of Tsinkiang as far as I know. You probably can buy poisons from any medicine shop proprietor, but I would not call them experts. Are you looking for someone in particular?”

“Yes,” replied Wen Yiji. “I am looking for a woman, but I do not know her name.”

“I cannot help you, I am sorry. However, if you want information in Tsinkiang, the best place to go to is the House of Noble Delights. It is run by a certain Madam Hau.”

Wen Yiji thanked him.

The Chin brothers then appeared with satisfied smirks on their faces.

“Let us settle your bill for you, brother Wen,” said Chin Tua Kee. “We do not know when we will see you again after tomorrow.”

“Thank you” said Wen Yiji. “You have decided to stay on to work for Governor Li?”

“Yes,” replied Chin Teong Kee. “He treats us well. We have no wish to return to the Imperial capital. In fact, we like it here.”

“I wish you all the best then,” said Wen Yiji. “Let us drink to your health.”

“To your health,” the Chin brothers toasted.

+ + + + + +

When Wen Yiji returned from the courtesan house, Xiang Xiang questioned him.

“Where have you been?”

“I went to do some research,” he answered.

“I was told that you went to an orh kwee keng! We are looking for an old woman in Tsinkiang and you are here doing research with young girls in Fuzhou?” she questioned. “Obviously you do not know what you are doing!”

He replied exhaustedly, “If I knew what I was doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?”

She conceded that he had a point there.

+ + + + + +

The next morning, they boarded the boat for Tsinkiang. It was a merchant sailing junk, built for carrying goods, but large enough to carry passengers as well. The weather was fine and there was nothing to do on deck. They were told that the journey would take two to three days depending on the wind.

Wen Yiji was in high spirits. He passed the time by singing the Ai Ga Lop song.
(Sung to the tune of the song “Stand by Me”)

“When the night has come
And my thing is hard,
But my back is weak when I’m on top

No I won't, be afraid,
Oh I won't be afraid,
Cos I know, what I need is Ai Ga Lop

So darlin' darlin' Ai Ga Lop,
Oh....... Ai Ga Lop,
Oh move now, move for me, Ai Ga Lop,

If the spine that we look upon
Should crumble and fall,
Or the muscles, should fail to do the job.
I won't cry, I won't cry,
No I won't shed a tear,
Just as long, as I have, Ai Ga Lop.

And darlin' darlin' Ai Ga Lop,
Oh...... Ai Ga Lop,
Whoa move now, move for me, Ai Ga Lop.”

Xiang Xiang had no idea what her brother was singing about. Whatever it was, she was certain that it was not decent.

At the end of the day, all the sailors could sing the song.

At the end of two days, even the children on board could sing the song.

On the third day when the boat docked in Tsinkiang, she found herself singing the song. She stopped herself. “Damn,” she muttered. “Why can’t I have a normal brother like other people?”

On their arrival at Tsinkiang, one of the sailors recommended Wen Yiji a cheap place to rent. It was more like a hut with just a kitchen and a living room, but it was very cheap.

When they were settled in, Xiang Xiang said, “We do not know how long it will take to find Tsinkiang Yee. We need a plan. How are we going to find her, anyway?”

“Simple. Every woman needs to go to the market to buy stuff. We will go to the market and stand there every day. If you see her, you tell me and I nab her.”

“What if she beat you up?” she asked.

“That is a chance that I will have to take,” he replied. “Do you know any kung fu?”

“After you went to prison, mother taught me some moves with the wooden pole so that I could spar with Yisheng. I have not practiced it constantly, but I can still remember the moves.”

“Good, we will have to practice everyday from now on. Every morning, we will go to the market to look for Tsinkiang Yee. In the afternoons, the market is closed, so we shall use the time to practice kung fu. You will need training.”

“You will train me?”

“Of course! This is the way of our ancient Chinese cultural philosophy.”

“What does the philosophy say?”

Wen Yiji quoted,
“Those who can do, teach.
Those who can’t do, learn.
Those who can’t teach and can’t learn, eat shit.”

“So that is our ancient Chinese cultural philosophy!”

“Yes. What can you handle best of all?"

"A wok."

"I don't know any wok kung fu. But I can handle five types of weapons including the pole. It will be at least a month before I can reach my peak, but my strength is growing back day by day. Since you were taught the pole when you were young, I will train you first in the pole.”

+ + + + + +

Every morning, they stood at the market scanning the faces of women shoppers. After a few days, Xiang Xiang complained, “This is not working. I am standing in the market everyday hoping that one of the faces will trigger a memory in me. And each day we spend money. One day our money will be used up!”

“What do you suggest then?” asked her brother.

“Since I am going to stand at the market all day, I may as well make some food to sell. Maybe I should boil a pot of porridge to sell there.”

“No,” said her brother after some thought. “Porridge is messy and we have to think of bowls to wash. What we want to do is something that is dry, fast to sell and good to eat. We should sell biscuits.”

“But I don’t know many types of biscuits. It is not my specialty. I am not a baker.”

“When I was in prison, I shared a cell with a foreign barbarian called Amos. He passed to me a secret biscuit recipe that he said was the best in the world. I can still remember it.”

“Let me try it. If it is any good, I will name it after him and call it Famous Amos Cookies,” said his sister.

“Why not call it Famous Amos Biscuits?”

“I’ve already told you that I am not a baker. I am a cook. Therefore I want to call it a cookie.”

Wen Yiji gave Xiang Xiang the recipe and she baked the cookies in the modest kitchen. The cookies came out better than she dared hope for. On that day, the original Famous Amos Cookies were born in the modest kitchen of a hut in the town of Tsinkiang.

Everyday, the siblings stood at the market and sold cookies while trying to spot Tsinkiang Yee. The cookies were a hit, and they were always sold out by mid-morning. Xiang Xiang was tempted to produce a bigger batch for sale, but her brother reminded her that they were in that town not for profits but for vengeance. Thus, they hung around the market even when they had finished selling the cookies. In the afternoons, when there were only a few shoppers around, they would go back to practise on their kung fu skills.

After ten days, Xiang Xiang felt that what they were doing did not make sense. She said, “This is hopeless! Tsinkiang Yee could have grown so old and haggard that if she were to come up to me, I may not even know that it is her. We can be here for the next fifty years doing nothing but selling cookies at a street corner. We need some fresh leads!”

Her brother knew that she was right. However, he did not have a better plan. “There can’t be that many women who know how to use poison. We will have to ask around. When I was in Fuzhou doing my research, I heard Potion King Tseto say that if you want information in Tsinkiang, the best place to go to is the House of Noble Delights. It is an orh kwee keng run by a certain Madam Hau,” he said.

“Did you mention the House of Noble Delights?” his sister asked in surprise.

“Yes. Why?”

“Pei Pei talked about it once. She knew of one woman who drugs young girls and sells them off to a pimp who supplies courtesan houses. She called her the Borrowing Hag. I asked her if she knew how to find this Borrowing Hag and she told me that there were two courtesans working in the House of Noble Delights who came from the same area as the Borrowing Hag. Their names were Ah Lian and Ah Huei.”

“Where did they come from?”

“Pei Pei did not know. She only said that it is a small village or town along the coastline, and about a day’s journey by carriage south of Tsinkiang.”

“I think I will have to go to the House of Noble Delights to do some research.”

“What sort of research?’

“I will need to pump Ah Lian and Ah Huei for information.”

“Do you think that they will talk?”

“I will pump them till they talk,” he said ominously.

That afternoon, they went to the House of Noble Delights.

“This is a courtesan house, Xiang Xiang. Only men are expected to enter,” said Wen Yiji. “You have better wait outside while I go in and work on Ah Lian and Ah Huei.”

She nodded.

He entered the courtesan house. Madame Hau greeted him in the front parlour, introduced herself and brought out some girls. When she saw that Wen Yiji was insistent on wanting only Ah Lian and Ah Huei, she sent for them.

Aiyahhh......ask for us by name. You really know good stock, mister,” said Ah Lian on greeting him. asked for two courtesans at one time. You must have lots of energy, mister,” added Ah Huei.

Wen Yiji studied them. Ah Lian had big tits. That promised possibilities. Ah Huei had a rounded ass. Also possibilities. They took him to a table of food and plied him with drinks and then made small talk. After a while, Wen Yiji decided that it was time to extract the information he had come for.

“You two speak in exactly the same manner,” remarked Wen Yiji. “You must have come from the same village. Am I correct?” that also you can guess,” said Ah Lian brightly. “You are so brilliant!“

“We are from the village of Weitou” tittered Ah Huei. “It is a big village, almost like a small town.”

Wen Yiji pondered the information. Weitou? He had never heard of the village, but it must be where the Borrowing Hag lived.

Aloud he said, “I have heard that a woman called the ‘Borrowing Hag’ lives in Weitou. She likes to sell girls to the pimps to supply to courtesan houses.”

He looked at the girls up and down meaningfully.

Ah Lian said, “Choi! We were not bought from the Borrowing Hag!”

“Hey, it is all right!” said Wen Yiji in a condescending tone. “To be sold by the Borrowing Hag is nothing to be ashamed of!”

“It was not us who was sold by her. It was the other girl,” blurted Ah Huei.

“Other girl? What other girl?” asked Wen Yiji with curiosity.

“After the pimp, Orh Kwee Thau, fetched us from our homes, we went in the carriage to this house where the Borrowing Hag lived. The pimp’s men then took a strange girl from the Borrowing Hag and locked her up in chains before putting her in the carriage with us. She slept throughout the whole journey,” explained Ah Huei. “I think she was drugged until she went into deep sleep. When we got to Tsinkiang, Madam Hau put us three in a room for the night. In the middle of the night, she disappeared.”

“Disappeared? What do you mean?” he asked.

“In the morning, when we woke up, she was just not there!” said Ah Lian in a conspiratorial manner. “I think she must have been a ghost.”

“Don’t be silly,” he said. “There is no such thing!”

“The door was bolted from outside. The room had no windows. The roof was too high to climb without a ladder. Yet she disappeared. I’m telling you she was a ghost!” insisted Ah Lian.

“Maybe she jumped out through the roof?” he suggested.

“The tiles of the roof were still intact,” explained Ah Huei. “Besides, a sixteen year old girl could not have jumped out through such a high roof. Even our chief of security, Killer Flying Dagger Kong, could not do such a thing! We have clients who are kungfu masters, and after they had seen the roof, they all said that no sixteen year old girl could have jumped through it from the ground and still leave the roof tiles intact.”

Wen Yiji was lost in his thoughts. He knew it could be done. It was just a matter of moving the roof tiles to one side and shifting them back into place later, but one would have to be up in the air to do it. A sixteen year old girl who could have done a thing like that had to have superior kung fu.

Suddenly, he understood. The only sixteen year old girl he knew with that level of kung fu skills was Pei Pei. She must have been drugged by the Borrowing Hag and sold to the House of Noble Delights. He had seen the ease by which she had dispatched off four thugs in Fuzhou. With her high level of kung fu, she could have escaped easily through the roof. This Borrowing Hag must be sufficiently skilled in drug preparation to be able to send Pei Pei into deep sleep. He would have to check her out.

Ah Lian’s voice crept into his thoughts, “She was a ghost, I am telling you.”

“In such a case, the madam could get compensation from the pimp who supplied the girl,” said Wen Yiji.

“Here’s another strange thing; the pimp, Orh Kwee Thau, fell into the toilet hole in the middle of the night. All his money went missing and his head was covered with shit!” informed Ah Huei.

“That is strange indeed. Where does this Borrowing Hag live in Weitou?” he asked.

“Why do you want to know?” a suspicious Ah Lian questioned him.

“For my own safety,” he replied. “In case I am in Weitou, I do not wish to go to her house by mistake. She may drug me and sell me to a courtesan house.”

“Hahahahah!” laughed Ah Lian. “Nobody will want you! You don’t have a sexy chest like mine! Pai seh, pai seh!”

Wen Yiji stared at her chest. Her breasts were big, but he was not in the mood.

“Will you tell me where she lives or not?” he demanded.

“All right,” said Ah Huei good-naturedly. “She stays in a house along a stream on the north side of Weitou. It is the last house towards the sea. The door is painted a garish red. Everybody is afraid of her because she can cast spells. But a lot of people also say that her spells don’t work. Cheating one.”

“That’s right!” said Ah Lian. “My uncle once bought a love spell from her, hoping to get a beautiful second wife. Two days later, a female goat found its way into his room and was unable to leave!”

“That must have been terrible!” exclaimed Ah Huei.

“Oh yes, it was!” said Ah Lian. “We had to pry my uncle’s naked body off the goat so that it could leave. What a stupid spell!”

Nao hiah! This is too bloody much!” exclaimed Wen Yiji. “You let the goat leave? You could have made mutton soup for the whole family!”

The girls stared at him. to eat the thing after what my uncle did to it?” asked a shocked Ah Lian. “And besides, my uncle would not let us cook the goat!”

“That is easily solved,” remarked Wen Yiji. “Just cut out the goat’s rump and hand it to your uncle for his enjoyment. Then you can boil the rest into mutton soup! Win-win situation for your entire family!”

Kanineh!” exclaimed Ah Lian. “This type of nauseating thing also you can suggest. Like give my family no respect. If you had not booked my services, I would have beaten you up! Bo tua bo suay!”

“Actually, I did not book your services. I just came in to talk,” Wen Yiji explained in all honesty.

“What?” yelled the two girls in surprise. “You talk to us for so long and never book our services? You want to die, is it?”

“This type of thing must depend on the urge. My younger sister is waiting outside,” he said, “so I can’t get into the proper mood. I had better be leaving now. Goodbye.”

Si beh tu lan! He came in here to ji seow us. Let’s beat him up!” said Ah Lian to Ah Huei.

“Ya hor,” said Ah Huei. “He got no moral. Some more condemn the goat like that! He’s asking for a beating from us!”

Wen Yiji guffawed. The idea of two courtesans beating him up was so weird that he bent over with laughter. He had never heard of anything so ridiculously funny.

In the midst of his laughter, Ah Lian and Ah Huei converged on him and bashed him with wild abandon. Even the parlour maids joined in the bashing. Suddenly he was getting whacked left, right and center. His strength had grown sufficiently to defend himself against the women, but he thought that it might not be wise to retaliate and injure the women. If the House of Noble Delights was a center of information, he might want to come back later.

Xiang Xiang was still waiting outside the courtesan house when she saw a group of women came out and threw the body of her brother on the ground. Then they kicked him a few more times before walking away.

Wen Yiji picked himself up from the ground and shouted at the backs of the retreating courtesans, “I’ll be back!”

He looked up at the sky and was about to swear when a thought suddenly occurred to him. A month ago, he had sworn at the sky and Chin Jia Lat had told him that he would be beaten by women. “Damn that Chin Jia Lat!” he muttered. “His stupid mouth so dirty. And so suay. Simply say also can come true!”

He stared hard at the sky, but this time, he did not swear.

The sky rumbled.

Kanineh! You make noise for what?” he shouted, “I didn’t swear at you this time!”

The sky rumbled again, this time even louder.

Xiang Xiang approached her brother and asked, “Why were you shouting “Kanineh” at the sky just now?”

Wen Yiji paused and then muttered, “Oh......shit!”

She saw that he was not badly hurt, so she asked, “So, how was the orh kwee keng research?”

He rubbed his slightly bruised head and muttered, “We’re going to Weitou.”

Chapter 13: The Fire Mountain Sect

Xiang was apprehensive about going to Weitou. With her brother not in fighting form yet, it could be dangerous in case Tsinkiang Yee turned out to be the woman they were looking for. But Wen Yiji was determined.

“We will go to Weitou to scout around first. It should be about one day’s walk from here. If this Borrowing Hag is Tsinkiang Yee, she may recognize you. I will get you some male clothing so that you can disguise yourself as a boy,” he told his sister. “I don’t want her to recognize you until we are ready to deal with her.”

“It has been six years since Tsinkiang Yee last saw me,” noted Xiang Xiang. “I have grown up a lot since then. I doubt if she will be able to recognize me.”

“We are not going to take that chance,” he said. “It is best that you dress as a boy. We will pose as peddlers selling cookies. Then we will go to her house to look around.”

“If the Borrowing Hag is not the woman whom we are looking for, we would have walked all the way there for nothing. To walk there takes one day. To walk back takes another day. That is a lot of walking.”

“We will be walking much more than that. There is a place that I have to go to pay a debt.”

“Are you serious? You just got out of prison and you already have debts?” asked Xiang Xiang incredulously. “Brother Yiji, our finances are not that good.”

“It’s not what you think,” explained her brother. “I have two debts of gratitude to pay. One of them is to Governor Li for getting the Emperor to release me. The second debt is to a dead cellmate for saving my life. When I was in prison, I was poisoned and my old white-haired cellmate imparted the Poison Field Inner Stance to me. I do not know why he saved my life, but he did. Before he died, he made me promise that if ever I was freed, I would go to the grave of his mistress and dig up the bones and rebury them in Shantou.”

“You are going to dig up some unknown woman’s bones?”

“Yes. I have a promise to keep. It is the least that I can do for old White Hair.”

“This is morbid. Where is her grave?”

“It is located on a hill near Xi An. She must have been dead for more than forty years. I will unearth her bones and then carry them to Shantou in the next province.”

“We can’t afford horses. So that will mean a lot of walking.”

“That is right. We will have to make our preparations now.”

Early the following morning, Xiang Xiang dressed herself in male clothing and followed Wen Yiji out of Tsinkiang. She was fifteen years old and in her disguise, she could pass for a youthful boy. It was late afternoon by the time they reached Weitou. It was a big village, more like a tiny town, but they quickly located the stream on the north side.

They walked past the houses along the stream, ignoring them all. As they reached the second last house, Wen Yiji decided that perhaps they could gather some information while on the pretext of selling cookies.

Stopping at the house, they called out. An old man came to the door but he declined to buy any cookies. “No thank you,” he said. “I have to watch my carbohydrate intake.”

“It’s all right,” said Yiji. “We will try our luck at that last house by the stream.”

“Oh, you better not,” replied the old man. “The Borrowing Hag stays in that house with her daughter. She borrows stuff without returning them. You will not get paid if you try to sell her anything. And if you ask for payment, she will scream at you!”

“Thank you for your tip,” Yiji said. “We are peddlers. We don’t mind a little screaming.”

“Don’t be so sure,” the old man replied. “You have not heard them scream yet. When they quarrel, both the mother and daughter scream so loudly at each other that the fish in the sea go deaf. And they quarrel everyday!”

Walking along the stream towards the sea they reached the last house with its door painted a garish red, just as the courtesan Ah Huei had described.

On the door was some large writing that Xiang Xiang could not figure out. Staring at the writing, a perplexed Xiang Xiang remarked, “I can’t understand what this writing on the door is trying to say.”

“That’s because it is written in modern script,” explained her brother. “My former cellmate, Amos, once taught me how to read this kind of special calligraphy.”

Wen Yiji then tilted his head to the right and read sideways. He swore, “Ni nabeh! These are not a very friendly people!”

They could not see anybody about. Clearing his throat anxiously, Wen Yiji announced in a loud voice, “Cookies for sale! Very cheap, very cheap!”

There was a sound. Then a big sized woman in her late twenties opened the door.

She took a look at the two peddlers before her and sneered, “How cheap? Give me a free sample first!”

“Free sample?” asked Wen Yiji stupidly. Nobody had ever asked him for a free sample. It was unheard of.

“Free sample means free sample lah” shouted the woman. “Ask you for one free sample and you act dumb. Ah chee ah chor like that! You know how to do business or not?”

Obligingly, he handed her a cookie. She popped it inside her mouth and munched it. “The cookie is so lousy!” she exclaimed. “Not even worth the trouble eating! Give me another free sample!”

He gave her another one. She gobbled that up and then asked for a third sample.

“If not worth eating, why you eat so much?" he asked. "I cannot keep giving you free samples. If there are other people in the house, then I will consider giving out more samples!”

The fat woman called to somebody inside the house, “Oi, old woman! Move your fat ass and come out to get some free cookie samples!”

An old woman came to the door and scolded, “Si gin nah! How many times must I tell you not to call me ‘old woman’? I am your mother! Chau chee bai!”

WenYiji noted the way the old woman moved. She must be the Borrowing Hag. She did not move in the balanced manner that a good kung fu exponent would. Good. That meant that she would be probably easy to handle. He was about to address the old woman when he felt Xiang Xiang’s fingers gripping his arm hard. He heard his sister whisper, “Let’s go, quick!”

He turned and walked away, much to the annoyance of the big sized woman who was still trying to get more free samples. She harangued her mother rudely, “See, you come out only and people want to leave! Face like cock only!”

“Shut up!” yelled the mother. “From morning till night, you think of eating only! Hor kao kan lah!”

The two women screamed at each other, much to the surprise of Xiang Xiang and her brother.

When they were out of sight, Xiang Xiang said, “I recognize her! That old woman is Tsinkiang Yee! The Borrowing Hag is Tsinkiang Yee!”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“I am almost sure! There should be a scar somewhere on her ankle. It’s a big scar. Like a triangle. We will have to find a way to get her to show us her ankles.”

“I have a better idea,” said her brother. “It will be dark soon. We will wait until it is dark. Then we will go to her house and tie her up and then question her.”

“She will be sure to say that we are mistaken and that she did not kill our family. Who will admit to such a thing?”

“That is true. She looks like the nasty type who will lie without flinching. We will have to trick the truth out of her.”


“I have a strategy,” he answered. “We must pretend to be assassins on an assignment.”

At dusk, Wen Yiji and his sister wore black cloth to hide the lower parts of their faces. They crept to the house and saw the Borrowing Hag and her big sized daughter inside doing something by candlelight. Holding a heavy stick, Wen Yiji pushed open the door and swiftly knocked the big sized daughter senseless. The Borrowing Hag had a shock, but before she could scream, he knocked her senseless as well.

Xiang Xiang quickly removed the shoes of the Borrowing Hag and checked the ankles by candlelight. On the left ankle was a huge triangular scar.

“That’s the one! That’s the scar I saw!” she said excitedly. “This is Tsinkiang Yee!”

“Then she will die,” her brother said coldly, “In the most painful manner.”

He tied her to the vertical wooden column in the centre of the house with a rope. Then he pulled a table near to the captive and Xiang Xiang set on the table a pot of oil and a thick brush that she had brought along. Carefully, he wiped the face of the old woman with cold water until she revived.

When the old woman regained consciousness, Yiji quickly tied a piece of cloth over her mouth to gag her. Then he carefully took the thick brush and dipped it into the pot of oil. Deliberately, he painted the old woman’s left shoulder with the oil. The old woman made gagging sounds but he ignored her. Taking the brush again, he painted her left shoulder with oil one more time.

“You have to do it slowly and make sure that only one side is coated with oil. Otherwise both sides will burn,” he said to his sister through the mask.

“Are you sure this oil will burn?” Xiang Xiang asked.

“Of course it will. Try on a small piece and see.”

“All right!”

Xiang Xiang brought a candlelight to the left shoulder of the Borrowing Hag and it lit up immediately. The old woman’s shoulder went up in flames. Wen Yiji paused for a short moment and then hastily beat the fire out. There was a smell of burning in the air. The Borrowing Hag felt the intense pain in the shoulder but her screams were muffled by the gag.

Wen Yiji stared at his sister and said slowly, “When I said to try on a small piece, I meant that you should tear out a small piece of her clothes and try! I didn’t mean that you should burn her body so soon before I am ready!”

The old woman tried to speak through her pain, but the gag stopped her. It appeared that the two masked strangers meant to burn her alive.

“Oooops…..sorry,” said Xiang Xiang. “But I am still not sure if this oil will burn brightly enough. This is not the normal oil you use.”

Her brother took the pot of oil and inspected it slowly. Then, deliberately he tugged at the sleeve off the Borrowing Hag’s clothes and tore a piece off. Slowly he dipped it in the oil. Then he placed the cloth on the floor and said “Watch!”

He lit it. The piece of cloth burned instantly with its flame dancing fiercely.

“See? I told you that it will burn well!” he said. “Afterwards when we roast her with this oil, I am confident that, she will make a very good fire!”

The old woman made desperate muffling sounds through her gag. She struggled and gestured with her head violently.

“I think she is trying to say something,” remarked Xiang Xiang. “Hahahah! They always want to speak before dying.”

“I should remove the gag and let her say her few last words,” he remarked.

“If you remove the gag, she may scream,” she said. “Then you will be forced to do a rushed job and burn her before you are quite ready.”

“You are right,” he said and continued painting the left side of the old woman’s body with oil.

The Borrowing Hag again made muffling sounds.

Wen Yiji looked at her and said, “If I remove the gag to let you say your last few words on earth, will you promise not to scream?”

The old woman nodded vigorously.

He removed her gag and she asked, “Sirs, may I ask who you are and why you are treating me like this?”

“It does not matter,” he replied. “We are just here to do a simple job. Don’t worry, it won’t take very long.”

“What simple job?” asked the old woman.

“We are here to kill you,” he replied.

“What? But why?”

“In our line of work, we do not bother about the reasons why. As long as the money is good, we do the job. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but your life ends here, tonight.”

“No! You have the wrong person!”

“I think not. You are the Borrowing Hag. We have positively identified you. Now shut up or I will drag your death out even more slowly and painfully.”

He took some oil and brushed it over the left breast of her body.

“What are you doing?” Terror filled her voice.

“Turning an old molehill into a fiery mountain,” he replied. “Relax! Your death will be spectacular. This will be my most memorable work!”

Turning to his masked sister, he remarked, "You must always make sure that you put oil only to the half you want to burn fast. Those areas without oil will burn more slowly. The effect on the victim will be more interesting to watch. Observe how carefully I apply the oil!"

“If half her body burns, she will still die, because no one can live with half a body,” laughed Xiang Xiang.

“The fun part starts when the ropes burn through. Then you can see the unburned half of the body feebly trying to put out the flames on the burning half. It can be very entertaining!” he said. Then he laughed roughly.

The Borrowing Hag begged, “No! Please don't kill me!”

“Hahaha! Of course I have to kill you! I have already received the payment for your death! And I always deliver. My employer wants you dead without delay!”

“Who is your employer?”

“I’m sorry I can't tell you. I am a professional assassin and we don't talk about our employers. I only know that he wants you dead. Do you have any last words that you wish to say?”

“Tell me the name of your employer!” she begged. “Is it One Eye Snake? I will return him the money I owe him, I promise! Is it Botak Long? Tell him that the potion will eventually work!”

“It is not One Eye Snake, or even Botak Long.”

“Then who is it?”

“You are not an assassin like us so I can’t tell you anything,” said Yiji seriously. “But if you are a professional killer like us, then I will extend a professional courtesy to you and tell you what you wish to know. But since you are not a killer, you will die in ignorance. That is your fate.”

“I am a professional killer just like you. So tell me what I wish to know,” said the Borrowing Hag.

“She is bluffing,” remarked Xiang Xiang. “How can she be a professional killer? Her kung fu is practically nonexistent. Nobody will be stupid enough to contract her to do a killing. She’s trying to waste time. ”

“I am not bluffing,” said the Borrowing Hag. “I have killed before on behalf of the
Fire Mountain Sect.”

“The Fire Mountain Sect?” asked Wen Yiji. He had heard the name mentioned before in the past. It was the name of a shadowy organization. He had no idea what it was.

“She is lying,” remarked Xiang Xiang loudly to her brother. “She is trying to impress us by mentioning the Fire Mountain Sect. Put her gag back on and let us continue with what we were doing. She has delayed us long enough.”

“Wait!” he cautioned. “If she is really with the Fire Mountain Sect, then we will have to thread very carefully here. Let her talk.”

Turning to the Borrowing Hag, he said, “The Fire Mountain Sect has activities in many provinces. Their killers go everywhere to kill people. I don’t think you have even been out of this province!”

“Yes I have,” said the Borrowing Hag. “I have even been as far as the Imperial Capital on a job for the Fire Mountain Sect!”

Now they were getting somewhere, thought Xiang Xiang.

“The Imperial Capital? If you are bluffing me, then I will cut out your tongue!” threatened Wen Yiji.

“Tell us,” asked Xiang Xiang. “What is the most famous dish in the Imperial Capital?”

The old woman thought for a few moments and said, “Bak Kut Teh!”

Wen Yiji slapped her across the mouth and said, “Wrong! Each wrong answer will earn you a slap!”

“I have only been once in the Imperial Capital, and that was five years ago,” protested the old woman. “I don’t know what the famous dish is.”

Wen Yiji slapped her across the mouth again. He said coldly, “You don’t appear to know anything. Yet you claimed to be in the Imperial Capital to do a job for the Fire Mountain Sect. Are you trying to make a fool out of me?”

“No, no!” she replied. “I did go to the Imperial capital to kill a family.”

“What is the name of the family you killed?” he asked. “Don’t tell me you don’t know that as well.”

“The Wang family,” she replied.

Yiji’s family name was Wen, not Wang. The Wang family was not of interest to him, but he decided to play along.

“How many people were there in this Wang family?” he asked.

“About ten,” she replied.

“You would not have traveled all the way to the Imperial capital to kill ten people,” guessed Wen Yiji. “There must have been a team of you.”

“There were three of us,” the old woman replied.

“Who were the other two?” he asked.

“I can’t tell you that,” she answered.

“That’s because you are making up this whole story,” he said. “I hate people who lie to me about how great a killer they are. And when they are asked to provide details, they can’t.”

Deliberately, he picked up the brush and started brushing oil on the left side of her face.

“I am not making this up!” the old woman exclaimed. “All right, the other two were my brother-in-law and Master Gojisan, the leader of the Fire Mountain Sect.”

“Who the heck is your brother-in-law?” he asked.

“His name is Simit and he is an agent for a number of killer organizations,” the old woman replied. “You may have heard of him. He is known as Agent Simit. The foreigners called him Agent Smith.”

Wen Yiji had never heard of Agent Smith. He ignored the fact for the moment and questioned her, “All right. Let’s say I believe you. Tell me, how you kill the Wang family.”

“Sleeping potion. I used a sleeping potion. I was a guest of the Wang family and I made a radish cake laced with sleeping potion. They ate it and fell asleep. Once they were asleep, I opened the door of the house and let in my brother-in-law and Master Gojisan. Master Gojisan killed the head of the Wang family, his wife and sons. Simit killed the daughters and servants by slitting their throats.”

Xiang Xiang felt sickened to hear the old woman describing the killing in such a casual manner.

“What a messy murder,” the girl remarked. “There are a lot of security people in the Imperial City. I am surprised that the constabulary did not catch you.”

“We were very professional,” bragged the Borrowing Hag. “We set the house on fire after that and nobody knew that a murder had taken place.”

Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang felt a slight shock. The murder of the Wang family sounded very much like how their family was killed.

“Did you manage to kill the whole family?” asked Yiji.

“Yes, we did.”

Without warning, he slapped her across the face. “Don’t test my patience. In a large family, there is usually somebody out of the house. You could not have killed everybody in the family. You are lying to me. I can feel it!”

Taking up the brush again, he painted more oil on her clothes. She was all wet with oil on her left side.

“Who was not in the house at that time?” asked Xiang Xiang. She was beginning to suspect that the Wang family was the same as the Wen family.

“The Wang’s eldest son,” blurted the old woman. “He was in prison.”

“Who else was not in the house?” Yiji asked, raising his hand in preparation to slap her.

“The youngest daughter. She had disappeared in the night and we could not find her.”

“Maybe she went to the toilet. Did you check?”

“We did check. But she was nowhere to be found. So we set the house on fire and got out. The following day, there was a funeral at the Wang family home. We found out that the daughter had been out with friends while we were killing her family.”

“So, she escaped. And you did not bother to go back to kill her later? How shoddy! That was a very weak assassination attempt.”

“We wanted to. But at the funeral for the Wang family, a lot of neighbours were around and asking questions. We decided to lie low for a while and waited for things to quiet down. We went back to kill the girl a few days after the funeral but by then she had disappeared. Gojisan made discreet inquiries but the neighbours did not know where she went. We even waited for one month for her to show up but she did not. We think that she committed suicide.”

“Why would she do that?”

“She was only nine years old. Her family had perished. There were no relatives. What was she to do? She probably threw herself into a river. Such things are common.”

“What about the eldest son in prison? Did you manage to kill him?”

“Security in this prison was very tight, but Master Gojisan managed to bribe two jailors to smuggle him inside. He was shown the cell where the eldest son was. The cell door could not be opened without an order from the warden. So Gojisan put some poisoned food in the cell and saw the Wang family’s eldest son eating it.”

“Did he see the prisoner die?”

“He did not need to. The poison he used was the Humpalang Si Khiaw Khiaw Poison. It is very potent. Once taken, even if the victim is a top kung fu master and does not die immediately, the organs will rot and the victim will be sure to die within two months.”

Xiang Xiang looked at his brother. It was obvious to them both that the Wang family was the same as the Wen family. They did not know why the Borrowing Hag kept calling them the Wang family. Maybe she had got the names mixed up. Wen Yiji recalled the poisoning incident and old White Hair, and suddenly, he had a newfound respect for the Poison Field Inner Stance. The strange energy in him had saved him from being killed by the Humpalang Si Khiaw Khiaw Poison.

Staring at the Borrowing Hag, he said, “As an assassin, Gojisan should have gone into the prison again to make sure that the victim is really dead.”

“He tried to, but the jailors were unable to smuggle him in again. They told him that the victim had died and that he should believe them.”

“And he believed them?”

“Of course! He trusted the effects of the Humpalang Si Khiaw Khiaw Poison. Besides, poison or no poison, every prisoner dies after spending just a few years inside the Li-Khor Prison. There was no necessity for Gojisan to act. He should have saved the money instead of bribing the jailors.”

Wen Yiji thought over this for a moment. The jailors must have taken the bribe but were probably unable to smuggle in Gojisan for a second time and so they bluffed him by telling him that the prisoner was dead.

“Something is not quite right with your story, old woman,” he snapped. “What was the name of the eldest son in prison?”

“Yiji,” she answered. “His name was Wang Yiji.”

Yiji had heard enough. Now that he knew that his family was killed by the Borrowing Hag, Agent Simit and Gojisan, he did not need to question her anymore. He had found out what he wanted to know.

He slapped her and snarled, “Something in your story did not ring true to me. We have heard enough. It is time that I send you to hell. ”

Roughly, he pulled the gag over her mouth. The old woman tried to speak but the gag cut her off. He brought a lighted candle near the body in readiness for what he was about to do.

Turning to his sister, he said, “Do you wish to burn her or shall I do it?”

“Maybe we ought to get her to tell us the whole story,” remarked his sister.

“Why? What good will it do? We will still burn her in the end.”

“I don’t know. There is something in her story that makes me think that we should not kill her.”

“What? Are you serious? We have a job to do here tonight!”

“Look, indulge me, all right? It is a strong feeling I have. Something in her story is strangely odd. Let us hear that story first before deciding on killing her.”

“But I want to kill her now!” said Yiji.

“Hear her story first!” insisted Xiang Xiang.

Wen Yiji wrestled with the decision. Finally, he put aside the lighted candle and removed the gag on the Borrowing Hag.

Staring straight at the old woman, he said, “For some reason, my comrade wants to hear your story first before making a decision to kill you. Tell us the whole story of the assassination of the Wang family. Start from the beginning.”

“From the beginning?” asked the Borrowing Hag. “That will take a long time to tell.”

“You are right,” remarked Wen Yiji. “I should stop wasting my time like this. Your assassination story is not important. What was I thinking?

He tried to gag her back again, but she shouted, “No, no, it does not take a long time! Let me tell the story.”

Xiang Xiang shouted to her brother, “Will you please be patient and let her tell her story?”

Wen Yiji paused in his actions and said, “All right. You have one chance. That’s all. If you leave out any detail, I will burn you without warning.”

“Start from the very beginning,” said Xiang Xiang to the Borrowing Hag. “I want to hear all the details.”

The Borrowing Hag nodded meekly and said, “I’ll start at the beginning. Thirty years ago, in Tsinkiang, there was a rich and powerful family called the Wang family. It was headed by Patriarch Wang, who controlled much of the waterfront areas. For some reason, he made a lot of enemies.

The Fire Mountain Sect, a band of hired killers, received a contract to kill Patriarch Wang. However, Patriarch Wang was not an easy man to kill. He stayed in the manor all the time and hardly ever ventured out.

One night, Master Gojisan sent an assassination team to the Wang Manor. The manor had a lot of guards and booby traps and so the assassination team was unsuccessful. Gojisan knew that if his men could get into the manor undetected, they would be able to kill Patriarch Wang. He needed to get somebody inside to disable the alarms and booby traps.

At about this time, the seventh son of Patriarch Wang was getting married. The young man, Wang Yuan, was the resulting offspring when Patriarch Wang impregnated a common maid in the household, so he was obviously not an important son. Through a matchmaker, they got him a girl from a common household to be his bride. Nobody in the Wang household had ever seen the intended bride. They only saw her horoscope provided by the matchmaker.

At that time, Master Gojisan had a very skillful young female assassin in the Fire Mountain Sect called Lady Red Leaf. She was quite young but could kill with ruthless efficiency. So he planned to surreptitiously kidnap the bride and then get Lady Red Leaf to take the place of the bride. Since the bride would be wearing a bridal veil, nobody would guess that it was not the same girl. Once inside the Wang Manor, Lady Red Leaf’s job was to disable the alarms and booby traps at night. Then she would open the door and allow the assassination team to enter the manor to kill Patriarch Wang.

Master Gojisan had two sons. The elder son was due to marry Lady Red Leaf later, so he did not like the idea of Lady Red Leaf getting married to Wang Yuan even though it was only a sham. By the traditions, for a marriage to go through, a couple must bow to Heaven as a couple. Then, in the bridal room, the bridegroom has to pour the bridal wine for the bride for her to drink. Then they will lie together so that he can deflower her to consummate the marriage. After that, they are considered married.

Master Gojisan instructed Lady Red Leaf that she should only bow to Heaven in front of the wedding guests. Once in the bridal room, she would have to kill the groom quietly before the drinking of the bridal wine ceremony. After that, she would have to disable the trip wire alarms and booby traps and open the main door of the manor from inside. Gojisan’s elder son and a band of killers would be waiting outside to carry out the assassination. It was a very good plan.

So, on the day of the wedding, the real bride was fetched from her home in a sedan chair to be delivered to the Wang Manor. Some of the hired sedan chair porters were actually men from the Fire Mountain Sect. I do not know how they did it, but halfway during the journey, a big group of horsemen from the Fire Mountain Sect rode through the wedding procession and created a diversion. In the confusion, Lady Red Leaf entered the sedan chair, and the real bride was immobilized and spirited out without the matchmaker knowing. Thus when the bridal procession finally reached the Wang Manor, the groom, Wang Yuan, came to the sedan chair and received the veiled Lady Red Leaf, not knowing that she was not his intended bride.

In the hall of the Wang Manor, Lady Red Leaf and Wang Yuan bowed to Heaven as man and wife. Then, during the evening, Patriarch Wang brought out the bridal wine. It was the custom of the Wang family that the bride should drink the bridal wine in front of the in-laws. This was something that Master Gojisan had not foreseen. Lady Red Leaf had no choice but to drink the bridal wine in the hall in front of everybody. The wine was no ordinary wine but a potent brew concocted by the Wang family and brought out only on special occasions. Lady Red Leaf had never been much of a drinker, and the brew was much too strong for her. She got tipsy very soon and Wang Yuan took her to the bridal room. He did not waste any time in deflowering her virginity while she slept through the night.

Meanwhile, Gojisan’s elder son was waiting outside the manor with his team of killers. He was nervously waiting for Lady Red Leaf to appear. The team waited for a long time before they realized that something had gone wrong. They guessed that since many of the guards would have got drunk during the wedding, they would have a good chance of success in attacking the manor. So, without waiting any further, they leapt over the wall of the manor. One of the killers got careless and triggered a string tied to a bell. That woke up a few of the guards who were supposed to be on duty. The guards then fought against the intruders.

Wang Yuan was naked in the bridal room when he heard the sound of fighting. Quickly he took out his bow and arrows. Gojisan’s son had located the bridal room from the red cloth hanging outside, and he burst into the room. In the faint light of the moon coming through the window, he saw his Lady Red Leaf lying naked on the bed with her legs spread out. His future wife had already been deflowered. In anger, he raised his sword to kill the groom, but Wang Yuan shot him through the heart with an arrow at close range instead.

Still naked, Wang Yuan crept out of his room and saw the assassins killing the guards. He was a very remarkable bowman and had the ability to shoot accurately in even very poor light. Under the pale moonlight, he shot the assassins one by one.

The rest of the assassins fled. Wang Yuan was wide-awake from all the excitement, so he went back to his bridal chamber to see what else he could do to his new bride. Unknown to him, the men in the Wang manor had captured one wounded assassin alive. They tortured the shit out of him until he talked.

In the morning, Lady Red Leaf had just woken up with a hangover when Patriarch Wang had her brought before him. The captured assassin had blurted out the truth on the whole assassination plot under torture. Patriarch Wang wanted to put Lady Red Leaf to death for being a party to the plot.

However, the groom Wang Yuan said that Lady Red Leaf had already bowed down to Heaven as his bride, drank the bridal wine and consummated the marriage in bed with him. Thus, by the laws and the traditions, she was already a member of the Wang household. Being her husband, he could not let her die.

This angered his father who said that the bride was a member of the Fire Mountain Sect and therefore deserved to be put to death. Wang Yuan argued back that his bride had not yet killed anybody in the manor nor even injured an ant. By the laws of Heaven, he was duty bound to protect his bride. If his father insisted on killing her, then he, as her husband, would die with her.

Patriarch Wang then gave his son a choice. If he wished to take sides with his new bride, then he would have to leave the Wang family forever. Wang Yuan then replied that if that was what he had to do, then he would do it.

Thus, the day after his wedding, Wang Yuan was banished from the Wang family. His troubles were only starting. Master Gojisan had learned how Lady Red Leaf had failed in her mission and how his elder son had died at the hands of Wang Yuan. The members of the Fire Mountain Sect were ordered to find Wang Yuan and kill him.

Since it was a sham marriage, Lady Red Leaf wanted Wang Yuan to end the marriage. He refused to hear of it, saying that they were already a married couple. Word got to her that the Fire Mountain Sect was out to kill her new husband. She could not allow it to happen so they went into hiding. Lady Red Leaf knew that Gojisan’s men were watching all the escape routes from Tsinkiang, so it was not possible to leave the town yet. They hid in a little known inn to wait until it was safe to leave.

However, one night, a team headed by Gojisan’s younger son found them. The younger son wanted to avenge his elder brother, and he asked Lady Red Leaf to step aside. She drew her sword instead, saying that he was already her husband and had stood by her when Patriarch Wang wanted to kill her. Therefore, she was obliged to defend him. The men attacked the couple. Lady Red Leaf fought back fiercely and injured many of her former comrades. There were too many of the attackers, so the couple retreated into their room. Gojisan’s younger son broke down the door of the room and entered. The room was dark inside and in the darkness Wang Yuan killed him with an arrow. Then they escaped through the window into the night. With that, both of Gojisan’s sons died at the hands of Wang Yuan.

On hearing that even his second son had been killed by Wang Yuan, the enraged Master Gojisan vowed revenge. The master of the assassins put out a huge reward for the capture of the couple.

At that time, my husband was a friend of Wang Yuan. Wang Yuan’s money had run out and he secretly approached my husband for help. Knowing that a lot of people were looking for the couple, my husband hid them in a small house that we owned on a beach.

My husband, Si Kark, was very square. He could have sold out the couple to Master Gojisan for the reward money but he did not. I have never seen anybody so stupid. Instead, he tried to arrange a safe passage out of Tsinkiang by sea for the couple. At that time, Lady Red Leaf was already showing signs of pregnancy with her first son, Yiji, inside her belly. Wang Yuan was grateful for my husband’s help. In gratitude, Wang Yuan took out a coin and broke it in two and he gave one half to my husband. He said that he would be unable to repay the gratitude, but in case my husband ever needed help, he needed only to present the broken half coin to Wang Yuan’s descendants. He would bind his descendants to give help to anyone who presented the matching half coin.

Si Kark’s brother, Simit, had some contacts with the martial underworld. If you wanted anyone killed, he would be able to find a killer for you. Simit found out that my husband was trying to arrange a boat passage for two friends. He guessed that the two friends must be Wang Yuan and Lady Red Leaf. He knew about Gojisan’s reward money for the couple so he asked Si Kark if he knew where the couple was. Si Kark denied any knowledge, but Simit knew that he was lying, so he approached me instead. He promised to give the lion’s share of the reward money to me, so I told him where the couple was hiding.”

“You sold out Wang Yuan and his wife?” asked Wen Yiji. “But they were your husband’s friends!”

“Yes,” replied the Borrowing Hag. “It was nothing personal. Business is business, you understand? The reward money was just too good to pass up. Simit rushed to the hiding place with Gojisan’s men but Wang Yuan and his wife had already left. Some people nearby reported that a sailing junk that was traveling south had landed on the beach for some reason, and the couple had taken the opportunity to hitch a ride on it. We were too late.

For years, Master Gojisan’s men scoured the southern provinces for Wang Yuan and Lady Red Leaf but they could not be found. What we did not know was that they had gone north to the Imperial Capital instead by another route.

In the years that followed, my husband Si Kark incurred a lot of debts. By the time he passed away, we had already sold all our properties to settle the debts. Yet my husband’s creditors kept hounding me for payment. I had to leave town. My brother-in-law, Simit, had this little house here in Weitou that he could not rent out. He allowed me to use it, so my daughter and I left Tsinkiang and came here to settle down.

Five years ago, my brother-in-law Simit approached me. It seemed that the year before that, Gojisan’s nephew and a team of men were in the Imperial City. By accident, they located Wang Yuan and Lady Red Leaf. They sent word to Master Gojisan by a pigeon post letter that they would be making an attack. After that, there was no more word from them for a year, so Gojisan knew that something had gone terribly wrong. All seven of them must have died in the attack.”

“Did you say seven of them?” asked Wen Yiji.

“Yes,” replied the Borrowing Hag. “Seven men. One of them was Gojisan’s nephew and newly appointed heir. So Gojisan not only lost his two sons, even his appointed heir was gone.”

Wen Yiji remembered. Two days before he was due to go and escort the jade lions, their family house was broken into by a group of robbers. His younger brother Yifeng had woken him up. As the group of robbers entered the house, he had challenged them. One of the robbers had lit a candle, and as they rushed at him he shot out the only candle light in the room with an arrow. Then he had continued shooting in the darkness. In the brief moment of candlelight, he had memorized where each assailant was standing. He killed six of the robbers easily as they stood there in the dark. One of the robbers had better kung fu than the rest and was probably the leader. This fighter could hear the arrows coming towards him in the darkness and he avoided each arrow targeted towards him. Wen Yiji then threw a chair onto the ground. As the chair crashed noisily about, thus interfering with the robbers’ leader’s hearing, Wen Yiji took the opportunity to shoot the leader. The intruder fell down and Yiji put two more arrows through him. None of the robbers survived. There were seven of them altogether. So, those men were from the Fire Mountain Sect!

Wen Yiji asked the old woman, “Why did Agent Simit approached you, of all people? Surely there a lot of people more capable than you.”

“I was able to deliver a unique service. Simit did not know what Wang Yuan looked like. Neither did Master Gojisan! Both of them had never seen him before. Simit knew that I had seen Wang Yuan. He also knew that I was carrying the broken half coin piece that would obligate Wang Yuan to help me in whatever I need. Meaning that I could recognize him and I could also get close to him. Gojisan had promised Simit a thousand taels of silver to help him carry out his revenge. Simit promised me a half share. That was a lot of money.

When we got to the Imperial City, we went to the area where Gojisan’s nephew’s letter said that Wang Yuan was. We knew the general area but did not know which house of which street that he was staying. So I stood in the streets everyday until I spotted him. He had grown much older and he had changed his surname from Wang to Wen. Once I knew where he lived, the rest was easy. I arranged to bump into him in the street one day as if by accident and then I brought out the half coin he had given to my husband to remind him of his debt of gratitude. I told him that my husband Si Kark was dead and I needed a place to stay temporarily. He invited me to stay in his house. The next day, I made a radish cake for the whole family and drugged them. After that, I opened the gate for Simit and Master Gojisan to come in. Thus Master Gojisan had his revenge.”

“Did you say Wang Yuan changed his surname from Wang to Wen?” asked Xiang Xiang. “Why did he do that?”

“He said that since the Wang family had cast him out, he decided not to carry the Wang surname anymore,” replied the Borrowing Hag. “He used back his given name of Yuan, but changed the surname to Wen.”

Xiang Xiang pondered the information. Her father was called Wen Yuan. What the Borrowing Hag had just said was believable.

“What happened to Patriarch Wang? Was he assassinated in the end?” she asked.

“Yes,” replied the old woman. “I heard that he got killed outside his manor. I do not know the full details, but I bet it was the Fire Mountain Sect that did it.”

“So, you must have made a pile of money from helping to kill the Wang family,” commented Xiang Xiang. “Why then, are you living so poorly? Your place is cluttered up like a pig sty.”

“Simit did not give me my share of the money. Kanasai. Instead, he claimed that Master Gojisan had disappeared without paying him. I told him he should still pay me because it was he and not Gojisan who approached me for help. So finally he asked me to take this lousy hut as payment. Stingy bastard! He can’t rent out this house and he asked me to take it. That piece of dog shit!”

“Wang Yuan must have a mother. Where is she?” asked Xiang Xiang.

The Borrowing Hag looked at her intently before answering. “You mean the maid? I do not know. She is not important.”

“Where is the Wang family staying now?” asked the girl.

Again, the Borrowing Hag looked at her intently. Then she answered, “Everybody knows where they are staying in Tsinkiang. They are not so rich ever since Patriarch Wang died, but they still have property. Why are you so interested in the Wang family?”

“Nothing,” replied the girl. “I was just asking.”

“I have something important from Wang Yuan that is supposed be seen by his descendants only,” said the old woman.

“Where is it?” asked the young girl.

“Go to the cupboard and open it. On the top shelf, there is a letter. Bring it out,” the Borrowing Hag instructed.

As Xiang Xiang made to move, Wen Yiji stopped her and said, “I’ll do it.”

He went to the cupboard, opened it and peered into the top shelf. “I don’t see anything,” he remarked.

“Put your hand inside and feel around for it,” said the old woman.

As Wen Yiji did so, something sharp sprang out and pricked his hand. “Ow!” he shouted as he withdrew his hand immediately. “Something sharp pricked me. You must have placed a needle there!”

The Borrowing Hag cackled with laughter, “I tricked you! That shelf is booby trapped with a poison-tipped needle. You have just been poisoned with the Kin Kin Holland Venom!”

“Shit!” shouted Yiji. “Shit! Shit! Shit! I have been poisoned by the Kin Kin Holland Venom already! Er…...what the fucking hell is that?”

“The Kin Kin Holland Venom is made from the venom of a five species of poisonous sea snakes,” replied the tied up old woman. “You will not have long to live. If you want to have the antidote, you will have to free me first and pray that I can make the antidote in time.”

“You are an evil, evil woman!” cried Xiang Xiang.

“And you are a young woman,” said the Borrowing Hag to her. “Beneath that mask and male clothes, I can tell that you are not a male but a female. From your voice and size, I would say that you are about fifteen years old. I think I know who you are. When you expressed great interest in the family of Wang Yuan, I should have guessed that you are the last daughter of the Wang family, the girl I failed to kill five years ago! Now, untie me!”

Xiang Xiang ignored her and asked her brother, “Brother Yiji, are you all right?”

The Borrowing Hag looked at Wen Yiji in surprise and asked, “Yiji? You are Wen Yiji? But that is impossible! He was killed by the Humpalang Si Khiaw Khiaw poison!”

He stared angrily at her and said, “What you do not know, you stupid bitch, is that I have the Poison Field Inner Stance in me. That allows me to isolate the poison until I can expel it from my body. As long as I do not use more than one third of my maximum strength, the Humpalang Si Khiaw Khiaw poison or your Kin Kin Holland Venom will not kill me. Damn, now I can slap you with only one third of my strength. But once I have expelled the poison, I can use back my maximum strength again.”

Both Xiang Xiang and Yiji had been intently talking to the Borrowing Hag that they did not notice that her big sized daughter had regained consciousness. She got up stealthily, then picked up a wooden stool and crept behind Wen Yiji.

The expression on the Borrowing Hag’s face told Yiji that somebody was behind him. Quickly he jumped to one side even as he turned. The stool that was supposed to come crashing down onto his head crashed into the table instead. The pot of oil fell off the table and smashed down on the floor creating a big pool of oil. The momentum of the big sized daughter carried her forward and she fell down onto the pool of oil. As she fell, she grabbed Xiang Xiang who fell down on top of her. The candle that Xiang Xiang was holding fell into the oil and the whole area went up in flames.

To his horror, Wen Yiji saw that his sister’s clothes had caught fire. When she had fallen, she had landed on some oil thus making her clothes highly flammable. Quickly, he pulled his sister to one side and tried to beat out the fire with his bare hands. She had hit her head on the ground and was barely conscious. It seemed like each time he helped to put out a fire on one part of her clothes, another part caught fire. Finally, he managed to help her put the flames out.

“You are no more on fire, so stop screaming,” he shouted at her.

“I am not screaming,” mumbled back Xiang Xiang. Her head hurt and she felt dizzy.

They turned around and saw the Borrowing Hag’s daughter in one giant ball of flame. The big sized woman was stumbling around the room and setting fire to anything flammable in her path. She was screaming loudly. And so was the Borrowing Hag still tied to the pole. Half of the old woman’s body and face was on fire. It was the other half of the mouth that was screaming.

“Save me! Save me!” shrieked the old woman.

“I can’t,” replied Yiji calmly to her as he tried to help his sister weakly to her feet. “I can only use one third of my maximum strength until I can expel your stupid Kin Kin Holland Venom from my body. Right now, I need to conserve my energy to help my sister.”

“Your father owed a debt of gratitude to my husband Si Kark,” screamed the old woman as the smell of her burning flesh filled the air. “You are his descendant and you are obliged to help me!”

“No! No! No!” said Wen Yiji easily. “You got it wrong! I am only supposed to give help to anyone who presented the matching half coin to me.”

“I don’t have the matching half coin anymore!” screamed the Borrowing Hag in great pain as her hair went up in flames. “I threw it away after your father was killed! I did not think that I was going to need it again!”

“What? You threw it away? Oh......too bad,” he replied. “What a waste! As they said, ‘waste not want not’. Let this be a lesson to you. Don’t you ever do it again, okay?”

“You are wasting time!” the old woman babbled with difficulty. A tear formed on the right eye that was not burning, but the heat of the flames turned the tear into steam.

“It’s amazing how you can still talk with half your face burning away,” Wen Yiji said conversationally. “How do you do it?”

The old woman screamed something unintelligible.

Suddenly, the flaming daughter lurched madly towards Wen Yiji and her nearness sparked another fire on Xiang Xiang’s oily clothes. He put out the fire and decided that it was too dangerous for Xiang Xiang to remain where she was. Quickly, he helped her stumble through the door way towards the stream outside. He was prepared to throw her into the water if her clothes caught fire again.

“What is going on there!” a man’s voice shouted in the dark. It was the neighbour; the old man who stayed in the second last house some distance away. Wen Yiji and his sister crouched very still in the darkness by the stream and hoped that they were not noticed. The neighbour stood there not moving, just listening to the screams of the Borrowing Hag and her daughter.

The old man shouted again, “Will you stop screaming at each other! Ni nao hiah! Every night you two quarrel while other people are trying to sleep! If you don’t stop screaming, lim peh will come over with a cane and feed you shit!”

The Borrowing Hag quieted down. So did her daughter. Wen Yiji, looking through the open doorway, could see why. “I think they are both dead,” he whispered to his sister. Xiang Xiang looked in the same direction. Both of the flaming bodies were unmoving, and the inside of the house was all aflame.

The flames got bigger, and the roof caught fire. Again, the old neighbour just stood rooted at his spot.

“I don’t think that the Borrowing Hag and her daughter are very popular in this area,” whispered Xiang Xiang. “Otherwise the neighbour would be rushing to help put out the fire.”

“The old man probably wished them dead. But we had better move away,” whispered Wen Yiji. “If we stay here too long, we may get discovered.”

They took one last look at the house. The inside of the house was already burning wildly out of control and the roof was on fire. Quietly, they crept down the stream towards the sea. Then they walked along the beach away from the village. In the distance, they could detect the brightness of the burning house.

The siblings were silent as they walked; digesting the information that they had learned recently.

Their mother was a lady assassin.

Their father was a Wang and not a Wen.

And Tsinkiang Yee was dead.

Chapter 14: The Tiger Crossing Bridge

Wen Yiji concentrated his attention on his finger that had been pricked by the needle with the Kin Kin Holland venom. He allowed the Poison Field Inner Energy to push the venom out from within. Slowly, the venom oozed out of his finger, together with some blood.

“That’s it all out,” he muttered. “That old bitch thought she could poison me, did she?”

Xiang Xiang looked at him in wonderment. She did not understand how the Poison Field Inner Stance worked, but she was glad that her brother was fine. At the Borrowing Hag’s house, had he not stopped her in time, it would have been she who would be the one getting pricked by the poisoned needle. She just missed death by a few steps. For that, she was grateful to her brother.

“Brother Yiji,” she asked, “do you think our parents died horribly?”

“Nah......don’t think so,” he replied. “They died while sleeping. After eating carrot cake.”

“Will the fact that they were murdered prevent them from getting reborn? Or will they become wandering ghosts?”

“They will undergo rebirth,” her brother answered. “I have heard it said that the next life is determined by what was in the mind at the last moment of this life. Since their last moment was a peaceful sleep after eating radish cake, their next life will be peaceful, with lots of radish cakes to eat.”

Xiang Xiang was relieved.

Out of curiosity, she asked, “What is the worst way to die?”

“To die with a mind full of terror,” he replied, “and a body full of pain.”

His sister pondered this for a while. Death was not a subject that she wanted to dwell too much on. So she asked, “Where are we going after this?”

“We are going to look for the grave of the mistress of White Hair, my former cellmate. I promised to transfer her bones to Shantou.”

“How are you going to locate the grave?”

“Easy,” he replied. “The grave is marked by a headstone that says Seow Char Bu on it.”

“Seow Char Bu? That can’t be right. It’s either Seow Bu or Seow Char Bor. You must have made a mistake.”

“Look, I only know what my ugly old cellmate told me before he died. I did not ask too much because I thought that he could not die.”

“Which route shall we take to the Seow Po?”

“It’s not Seow Po, but Seow Char Bu. Damn, weren’t you listening? We need to go first to Changchow, then to Changpu and then south to a small village called Xi An.”

“To reach Changchow from here we may have to walk for at least four days.”

“Yes,” said Yiji easily after consulting his map. “By the third day, we should come to the Nine Dragon River. We shall use the Tiger Crossing Bridge to get across.”

+ + + + + +

Three days later, they saw the Tiger Crossing Bridge. It was a majestic structure, being one of the longest bridges in the country. The river was huge.

“Once we cross this bridge, the next town will be Changchow,” noted Wen Yiji.

As they approached the bridge, they spotted a group of men standing on the bridge. Two men were actively kicking a beggar on the ground at the end of the bridge.

“Walk some distance behind me, Xiang Xiang,” instructed Wen Yiji. “I sense trouble ahead. But we still need to use the bridge to get across the river. I will go and see what the problem is. If I am attacked, you should not try to help.”

“Why not?” she asked. Both of them were carrying wooden poles as weapons.

“Your kung fu is not up to the mark so you won’t make much of a difference,” remarked her brother. “In fact, you will be a liability. I won’t be able to fight and protect you at the same time. In case things go awry, it will be best if you pretend that you don’t know me. So stay behind.”

Dutifully, she dropped thirty steps behind her brother. She hoped that her brother would not get into trouble. He had recently recovered much of his health, but was still not in top fighting form. The past few days, he had been subjected to violent mood swings. It was most probably caused by the Poison Field Inner Energy swirling in his body after being stirred up by the Kin Kin Holland venom. She remembered that Li Dai fu had said that her brother needed to consume bitter gourd to control it. However, her brother had been stubbornly refusing to take bitter gourd. She sighed at the thought.

Wen Yiji walked on until he reached the bridge. He walked past the two men kicking the beggar and stepped onto the Tiger Crossing Bridge. As he did so, a voice called out, “Where do you think you are going?”

He turned around. The voice belonged to one of the two men kicking the beggar.

“To the other side of course,” replied Yiji.

The man stopped kicking the beggar and walked towards Yiji. He was fair and bucktoothed, and despite the late autumn chilliness in the air, he was bare-chested, revealing his skinny ribs on both sides of his body.

“Pay the bridge toll first!” he shouted at Yiji. “Or you will not be allowed to use this bridge.”

“Oh yeah?” asked Yiji in annoyance. “Who are you?”

“I am your father! Kanineh! Ask you to pay toll and you ask so many questions!”

“If you are my father, then this is my father’s bridge. So I don’t have to pay anything,” growled Yiji. He was getting annoyed at the rudeness of the man.

The skinny man was not happy with the reply. He examined Wen Yiji from head to toe and sneered, “I just had to teach a lesson to a beggar for trying to run across the bridge without paying toll. Everybody pays! No exceptions. That is our rule.”

“What if I am your grandfather?”

“Must pay!”

“What if I am the Emperor?”

“Also must pay!”

“This bridge was built with government funds for the people,” said Wen Yiji. “Nobody is supposed to collect toll here!”

Buck Tooth wagged a finger at Wen Yiji and said, “We own this bridge. This is our bridge. It belongs to us. Anything that walks on it also belongs to us. So don’t mess with us.”

“Why should I listen to you? You are illegal toll collectors. Other people build this bridge with blood and sweat and you people come along trying to make a profit from it. You are a bunch of bloodsucking leaches and you own shit,” remarked Wen Yiji coolly. “And you belong to shit. Actually, you are shit!”

“You have an arrogant attitude! Turn it off! Turn it off or you’ll regret it, stubborn fool!” shouted the skinny man. “And suffer the Fists of Fury! Hahahahahaha!”

“Listen,” said Yiji. “I am a friend of Governor Li, the provincial governor. He has said that there is to be no illegal toll collection on the Tiger crossing Bridge. I should arrest you on his behalf. However, I’m in a hurry so I’ll let you go this time”

Buck Tooth struck up a fighting pose, “You think you bring up the name of Governor Li we’ll be afraid, is it? Kanineh! We treat him like small mouse only! ”

A voice boomed out from the group of men standing on the bridge, “What’s the matter, Buck Tooth? Is he refusing to pay?”

“Yes, Big Brother Sah Mi,” Buck Tooth shouted back. “I threatened him with the Fists of Fury but the stubborn fool says that he is a friend of Governor Li!”

“Bring him over here!” shouted Sah Mi. “We know how to deal with Governor Li’s people.” He was a dark man with a strange hair cut. Obviously, he was the “big brother” in charge of the illegal toll collection.

Buck Tooth made an attempt to grab Wen Yiji’s collar. Yiji avoided him instead.

Buck Tooth tried again.

Wen Yiji ducked under the grabbing hands.

Buck Tooth tried once more.

Wen Yiji ducked once more.

Buck Tooth aimed a roundhouse kick that glanced off Yiji’s elbow. Wen Yiji lost patience and lashed out with his right fist. It caught Buck Tooth on the face and he fell down flat. His mouth was bleeding all over and his face looked flatter.

“Damn! I think I just improved your looks tremendously!” Yiji exclaimed. “But don’t worry. There’s no charge!”

All of a sudden, he was surrounded by a group of nine men. At a signal from Big Brother Sah Mi, they attacked him. Wen Yiji defended himself with the wooden pole. His pole work was effective and two men went down immediately. The fighting turned furious. Xiang Xiang watched from a short distance as her brother fell another three more men.

“Move aside!” yelled Sah Mi. “Let my Super Invincible Spear technique take care of him!”

The men moved aside and Sah Mi fought Yiji one to one, spear against pole. Yiji did not think very highly of Sah Mi’s Super Invincible Spear technique. However, Yiji had been walking the whole day and he was tired. Nevertheless, he put up a good fight until Sah Mi hit his pole away and brought his spear head against Yiji’s neck.

“Hold the pole also got no strength!” sneered Sah Mi. “Cannot fight but want to fight!”

The men shouted, “Sah Mi ho liao! Sah Mi ho liao!”

“All right, I’ll pay the toll,” replied Yiji in resignation.

“You’ll pay all right,” remarked Sah Mi. “With your life! We have an interesting way of dealing with Governor Li’s people.”

A man appeared with a heavy chain attached to a rock. He shackled Wen Yiji’s left leg to the heavy metal chain, such that if Yiji walked, he would have to drag the rock along. The man kept the key to the shackle inside his clothes.

Xiang Xiang saw the happenings from a distance as she walked towards the bridge. A group of travelers had appeared and they were paying the toll. She joined the group and paid the toll to one of the illegal toll collectors. Then she walked on the bridge trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible.

“What do you intend to do?” asked Yiji to Sah Mi, the chief toll collector.

“I’m going to get rid of you the same way that I got rid of See Vah,” Sah Mi replied. “I’ll sink you into oblivion.”

“Who the fuck is See Vah?” asked Yiji. “Your sifu’s pet tortoise?”

“See Vah was an irritating thorn in the side of our Big Brother Sah Mi,” replied Buck Tooth, wiping his bleeding mouth. “We threw him off the middle of the bridge to feed the fishes. When he landed in the water, he managed to come up for air three times. He was a good swimmer, but the metal chain and rock attached to his leg made it impossible for him to stay afloat. So he drowned like a salted fish. Hahahahaha!"

The pain in Buck Tooth’s mouth made laughing difficult, but he laughed anyway.

“I think this one will come up for air only once!” laughed another man.

“Or maybe none!” laughed another. “Let’s lay bets.”

“Did Governor Li send you here to spy on us?” asked Sah Mi.

“Why are you wasting my time with the stupidest question in the history of this dynasty?” asked back Wen Yiji. “If I am the spy of Governor Li, do you think that I would say that I am a friend of Governor Li?”

Sah Mi reached inside Yiji’s clothes and took his bundle of money. “You won’t be needing this in hell,” he said.

“That’s my money, muthafucka!” yelled Yiji. “Give it back!”

The men laughed. A few men searched Yiji all over, but there was nothing else to take.

“Enough!” yelled Sah Mi. “Let’s not waste time. The day is getting late! Take him to the middle of the bridge.”

“Let’s cut off his hands before we throw him in the water!” suggested Buck Tooth brightly.

Wen Yiji turned towards Buck tooth and snarled, “Hey, flat face! I find you very irritating! I think I will kill you first.”

The men forced Yiji to walk while Buck Tooth carried the rock weight and walked beside him. The heavy metal chain that was shackled to Wen Yiji’s leg on one end and the rock on the other end trailed noisily on the ground. Along the way, Sah Mi’s henchmen made bets among themselves to see how often Wen Yiji could come up for air once he was thrown into the water.

The man who had kept the key to the shackle turned and at that moment Xiang Xiang bumped into him.

“Watch your step!” he growled.

“Sorry,” she said apologetically. She walked away from him with his key inside her sleeve. Stealing the key was easy. She now had to figure out how to get the key to her brother.

The men reached the middle of the bridge and stopped. Sah Mi turned to his men and instructed, “Let the other travelers watch what we do to people who don’t pay the toll. I want them to spread the message.”

Xiang Xiang and the other travelers on the bridge were invited to witness the execution. As the men got ready to force him off the bridge, she saw her opportunity.

“Wait,” she said. “He may have more money on him.” She rushed his side and searched him all over. Her brother felt her put something inside his clothes. “The key,” she whispered. He understood.

“Move away from there!” one of the men yelled.

Xiang Xiang moved back and nonchalantly remarked, “There is nothing. You men have taken everything.”

“Of course!” sneered the man. “Do you think that we will leave anything for you? Dream on! Now stand aside and watch the action.”

The bridge was lined by a low wall on each side to prevent people from falling off accidentally. Wen Yiji was forced to the wall on the downstream side of the bridge. Using his spear, Sah Mi prodded Yiji and shouted, “Climb up to the top of the wall and stand there!”

“This is not the end of the matter, Sah Mi,” said Wen Yiji. “My vengeful spirit will come to haunt you. Then you will regret what a thorough shithead you have been.”

“I have a Taoist priest at my disposal that will lock up your vengeful spirit,” replied Sah Mi with unconcern. “He will put you in a spiritual prison and then throw away the spiritual key.”

“The fact that you can try to openly collect toll in broad daylight means that you probably have political protection. I’ve heard that the Prefect of Changchow is the one enforcing the toll illegally. Or is it his father-in-law?”

“If you must know,” replied Sah Mi, “the Prefect’s father-in-law uses me to enforce the toll and the Prefect closes one eye.”

“In any case, your master will not be pleased to know that you are throwing people off the bridge.”

“Ha ha ha!” laughed Sah Mi. “My master is the one who insists that I throw people off the bridge every now and then to remind the people that they have to pay the toll, legal or not! I am in this for the fun and entertainment. You will soon be fish food. Maybe I will get to eat the fish that eats you. Big fish eats small fish. Small fish eats you. Ha! That is good!”

“You should stick to vegetables,” remarked Yiji. “I can give you the name of a vegetable that you desperately need up your ugly ass. And your hair can use the services of a good barber.”

“Shut up and climb, you dead monkey!” snarled Sah Mi as he threatened Yiji with the spear. He hated anybody making fun of his hair.

As Wen Yiji climbed slowly onto the low wall, he noticed that Buck Tooth was still holding on to the rock weight attached by the chain to his leg. Yiji guessed that Buck Tooth would throw the weight over the bridge first and then let the weight drag him off the bridge while the men watched. Even if he persisted in clinging onto the bridge, he would be eventually forced off it with spears, thus providing entertainment for one and all.

He thought fast and furiously and decided that action was far better than reaction. As he put his feet on the top of the wall, he grabbed hold of the chain and yanked it. Buck Tooth, who was holding tightly onto the rock, was jerked forward towards him.

Wen Yiji grabbed his collar and arm, pulled upwards and said, “Hey, you irritating shit! Remember me saying that I will kill you first?”

Before any of the men could intervene, Wen Yiji flexed his legs and propelled himself backwards over the bridge, carrying Buck Tooth with him.

Buck Tooth screamed. In mid air, Wen Yiji twisted his body and held the terrified Buck Tooth under him. He would have to avoid getting knocked unconscious by the impact with the water if he were to have a chance of surviving. He would use Buck Tooth’s body as a cushion.

The water loomed nearer and Yiji, riding on top of Buck Tooth, filled his lungs and braced himself.


Buck Tooth took the brunt of the impact with the water and was knocked into a semiconscious state.

Wen Yiji felt his body almost torn apart. He fought the urge to panic as the rock chained to his leg dragged him slowly downwards. Quickly, he took out the key that his sister had placed in his clothes. It had been raining upstream so the river water was muddy and he could not see a thing. By touch alone he slipped the key into the keyhole of the shackle on his left leg.

He turned the key.


He turned again.

Again nothing.

He was almost out of air and prayed that Xiang Xiang had not stolen the wrong key for him.

He turned the key in the opposite direction. This time he felt rather then heard the click as the shackle unlocked. Freedom!

Freeing his leg, he swam upwards towards the light. A shadow floated over him and he swam towards it. It was a branch floating down the river. He came up underneath the branch and held onto it. His mind was screaming for air, but he forced himself to cautiously poke his mouth above the water under the shade of the floating branch. Quickly, he took in a gulp of air before disappearing into the muddy water again, camouflaged by the branch. There was no doubt in his mind that if the toll collectors knew that he was not dead, they would come after him. Or shoot at him with arrows from the bridge. He would have to stay hidden underwater until he had floated further away from the bridge before taking his second gulp of air.

Up on the bridge, there was commotion.

“Do you see him?” shouted Sah Mi.

“I see him! I see him!” yelled one of the men. He pointed wildly. All eyes followed where he was pointing. They saw Buck Tooth coming up for air and struggling in the water.

“This is bad! Buck Tooth can’t swim!” shouted another man.

“We have to save him!”

“How? None of us can swim!”

“Did you see the other guy?”

“No. I did not see him come up.”

Buck Tooth went underwater and did not surface again.

The men scanned the waters anxiously and after a while, they realized that Buck Tooth was gone.

“Poor Buck Tooth. We should not have let him hold on to the rock. Then he would still be alive,” remarked a man.

“Nobody’s to blame. It was an act of God!” said Sah Mi. The men stared at him incredulously. Sah Mi, the chief toll collector, did not sound convincing.

Xiang Xiang sped to the other end of the bridge. She had not seen her brother surface. But while everybody’s attention had been glued to the drowning Buck Tooth, she had seen a floating tree branch move unnaturally. She knew that something was under it. Her brother was formerly a selected Imperial Guard. He would know what to do in a situation like this. If it was her brother under the floating branch, she would have to follow the branch.

She walked quickly downstream along the bank of the river. There was nothing she could do except pray that Yiji had survived.

There were a few branches on the river, floating downstream with the current. Slowly, one floating branch moved closer and closer to the shore until it came to rest under the branches of a tree overhanging the water surface. There, safe from any prying eyes, Wen Yiji emerged from the water to rest under the shade of the drooping branches of the tree.

“Damn!” he muttered. “I made it! I’m gonna come back some day and make all those stupid thugs pay heavily! And that includes the Prefect’s father-in-law!”

Chapter 15 : The Dark Fire Iron Palm

Walking swiftly along the bank of the Nine Dragon River, Xiang Xiang wondered if her brother was still alive. There were a few branches floating along the river and she did not know if Yiji was hiding under any one of them. It would get dark soon. She dared not shout out to her brother as that could attract the attention of the toll collectors still on the bridge. Although she was already some distance from the Tiger Crossing Bridge, she knew that sound could travel long distances over the water.

There was a way she could communicate with her brother, but she did not know if Yiji remembered it. A long time ago, her mother had taught all the children in the family how to hoot like an owl by forming a hollow enclosure with the palms and then blowing across it. If executed properly, the resulting sound resembled that of an owl. By working the palms, two notes were possible. And by varying the two notes according to a pattern, coded messages could be sent off. It was a simple binary code but it worked.

She stopped along the river bank and hooted. It was a note of greeting; three low notes with the fourth note rising in pitch.

There was no answering hoot.

She walked on further and hooted again.

Again, no answering hoot.

She walked further down river and a voice called out, “I heard you. You can stop hooting now.”

She stared. Under the shade of a small tree beside the river, she could see her brother half hidden among the sweeping branches. Excitedly she went to him.

“Brother Yiji! Thank the fates that you are alive!”

“Thank you for stealing the key for me. Your street skills came in handy after all!”

“Are you injured in any way?”

“No. But those bastards took my money!”

“Never mind. I have some money with me. It should be enough for our journey if we spend prudently.”

“Damn! I should go back and crack a few heads open!”

“Please don’t go looking for trouble, brother Yiji. Your luck has not been good lately, so it is not wise to stir things up.”

“I do not believe my luck is that bad!”

“It is bad. Today you were thrown off a bridge.”

“One lousy incident does not mean that my luck is bad. It’s only a small mishap”

“In the house of the Borrowing Hag, you were poked by a poisoned needle.”

“That was another small mishap!”

“In Tsinkiang, you were beaten up by some courtesans.”

“Don’t remind me of that mishap!”

“In Fuzhou, you were beaten up in the streets and robbed.”

“What can I say? It’s yet another small mishap!”

“Before that, you were jailed for six years.”

There was no way that Wen Yiji could call that a small mishap, so he was silent.

Xiang Xiang then said, “When you were in prison, mother visited a fortune teller to ask him to calculate your bazi horoscope. After reading your Eight Pillars of Destiny, the fortune teller said that you were going through a difficult phase in your life. Such is your Heaven luck.”

“This bazi readings cannot be trusted. They are not always correct. Don’t put your faith in such things.”

“You are the only male that is left of our family. If opportunity permits, then I would like to go to a temple to pray for your safety. And maybe seek out another bazi reading for you,” said Xiang Xiang.

+ + + + + +

Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang reached Changchow the next day without incident. Changchow was a huge city and it was known for its fruits. Xiang Xiang would have liked to stay for a few days in the city but her brother was in no mood to dally around. They left Changchow and reached Changpu two days later.

Changpu was not a very big town. On passing through the town, the siblings came across a temple by the side of the main thoroughfare.

Outside the temple there was a young man with a shaven head shouting, “Kua siong, sng mia! Kua siong, sng mia!

“Look! There is a bazi reader!” exclaimed Xiang Xiang excitedly. “Let’s calculate your Heaven luck!”

Reluctantly, Wen Yiji allowed his sister to persuade him to approach the young shaven headed man.

“Tell me the day, hour and the year you were born,” instructed the young man."Then I will read your fortune."

Wen Yiji told him. The young man consulted a calendar and then wrote down the eight characters, or bazi, that charted out Wen Yiji’s destiny as determined by Heaven. The eight characters were arranged in four pillars, known as the Four Pillars of Destiny.

Wa piang! Looking at your four pillar chart, you were born on a wood day in spring. That makes you a strong wood. Like a very big block of wood!”

“Is that good?” asked Wen Yiji.

“No,” replied the young man condescendingly. “How can a big block of wood be good? Your wood element is too strong! In the productive cycle of the five elements, wood produces fire, fire produces earth, earth produces metal, metal produces water and water produces wood. You need more fire for your wood to have an outlet.”

“What do I do?” asked Yiji respectfully.

“You will have to carry fire with you wherever you go,” replied the young man.

“Is there anything else?”

“In your chart, there is no water element,” replied the young man. “It is a very dry chart. Can catch fire anytime. You need water to complete the cycle. Otherwise, it will be a broken cycle. Very disastrous.”

“So, what do I do?”

“You need to carry water with you wherever you go.”

“How can I carry both fire and water?” asked Wen Yiji.

“Easy,” replied the young man. “One hand carry a fire torch and the other hand carry a bucket of water.”

“And I have to take them wherever I go?”

“Yes! Everywhere!”

“Even to the toilet?”

“Especially to the toilet,” replied the man. “The fire gives you light so that you don’t fall into the toilet hole. Then after you shit your shit, you can use the water to wash your backside. Normal people have to carry both fire and water when they go to the toilet. You, on the other hand, will have to carry fire and water everywhere you go.”

Kanineh!” said an irritated Wen Yiji. “If I carry fire with one hand and water with the other hand, everybody will think that I am going to the toilet all the time! This is the most ridiculous advice I have received. I should not pay you.”

However, Xiang Xiang calmed her brother down and paid the man. While Wen Yiji went down the street to look around, Xiang Xiang went into the temple to pray for her brother.

As she was leaving the temple, a voice called out to her, “Would you like to have your bazi read?”

The voice came from an old man with a thin beard. The shaven headed young man was standing beside him.

“No thanks!” said Xiang Xiang. “My brother had his bazi read by that young man beside you and he was advised to carry fire with one hand and water with the other. I understand your need to make a living, but I also think that you people should not anyhow give advice.”

The old man glared at the young man and scolded, “Si gin nah! How many times must I tell you not to give bazi readings when I am not around? Your knowledge of bazi is weak and you will end up doing people more harm than good!”

Turning to Xiang Xiang, the old man apologized, “I am sorry. This young man is my apprentice. If you will allow me, I will read your brother’s bazi. May I know what time, what season, and what year was he born?”

Xiang Xiang told him.

The old man wrote out eight characters and examined them. Then he cleared his throat and said, “Your brother is currently in a period of very bad luck. But this bad luck period is coming to an end. If your brother makes it through, he will become very powerful.”

“Powerful as like being a general?” she asked hopefully.

“No,” he replied. “He does not get along well with people. He will be powerful like a kungfu master. You need to keep a check over his character because he can be very vengeful. Those who cross him will suffer a horrible fate.”

“Your apprentice crossed him just now. Does that mean that your apprentice will die horribly?”

A look of fear crept over the face of the young apprentice.

The old man brought out a wrapped packet, handed it to Xiang Xiang and said, “Please forgive my young apprentice. A sifu is responsible for the actions of the disciple. This packet of sweetcakes is very tasty and I had bought it earlier to take home. Please give it to your brother as a token of my apology. I do not wish that your brother have any vengeful thoughts towards us.”

“Your fears are groundless,” said Xiang Xiang. “My brother is not that vengeful.”

“Your brother has a unique chart. I know enough of the charts to know that I should not take chances with this man,” replied the old man. “Please accept my gift.”

“All right then,” she replied, taking the packet of sweetcakes. “Thank you. I will convey your apologies to my brother.”

Xiang Xiang went down the street, found her brother and told him what the old man had said.

“This is a damn good sweetcake,” remarked Wen Yiji on eating one. “And you got it for free? The old man must be right; my bad luck period is coming to an end.”

+ + + + + +

The next day, they walked south until they reached a large hamlet called Big Mist Hamlet. That night, they stayed at an inn. In the morning, they bought a hoe and then proceeded on towards Xi An village. The road curved towards the sea and occasionally, they could see the sea in the distance.

By noon, they reached Xi An Village. It was deserted, totally deserted. There were some old broken down houses around but they had been abandoned a long time ago. A gloomy melancholy hung in the air.

“Are you sure that this is Xi An village?” asked Xiang Xiang. “It appears deserted.”

“The woodcutter we met along the road told us that Xi An village was abandoned for the last twenty years because of attacks by coastal pirates and wandering gangs,” said Wen Yiji. “This is the only abandoned village we have seen. It must be Xi An.”

“All right,” remarked his sister. “Where are we going to dig for the Seow Char Bor’s bones?”

“It’s Seow Char Bu. Not Seow Char Bor. The grave should be on the eastern peak of a hill that has two peaks.”

Walking past the abandoned village, they soon spotted a hill with twin peaks. They headed towards the eastern peak and started the laborious climb. By mid afternoon, they reached the top of the peak. Xiang Xiang was exhausted by the walk and the climb. She sat on the ground to rest while Wen Yiji looked around. Her brother had no luck in locating the grave so she went to help him look.

“There......out there on the ledge,” she gesticulated. “Do you see it?”

“Surely that could not be a headstone,” he replied. “It’s more like a small piece of rock.”

Nevertheless, he climbed down to the ledge and examined the piece of rock. He brushed the rock with his hands and sure enough, he could see three characters staring up at him.

“Seow Char Bu,” he read. “Yes! This is it!”

Taking the hoe, he started digging. Xiang Xiang felt squeamish. The digging up a dead woman’s bones was something that she wished she was not witnessing.

Suddenly, she heard it.


“What was that?” she asked.

“I must have hit the wooden coffin,” he answered.

Digging the earth more carefully, Wen Yiji soon unearthed a wooden box.

“It’s not a coffin,” commented Xiang Xiang. “Seow Char Bu was buried in a wooden box. She must have been a small person.”

“I’m going to open it,” her brother said.

Using the hoe, he cracked the box open. Then they stared. Inside the box was another smaller box.

“Your cellmate’s mistress must have been really, really small,” she said.

“Maybe she was a midget!” her brother suggested.

Wen Yiji picked up the smaller box with both hands and placed it on the ground beside the grave. It was latched shut. He opened the latch and swung the lid open. Inside was a third box. It was even smaller.

“That can’t be right!” commented Xiang Xiang. “Nobody can be that small!”

Wen Yi Ji opened up the third box. In it was a book.

Xiang Xiang looked over his shoulder and read the words on the cover of the book, “The Dark Fire Iron Palm Manual!”

“This is strange,” Yiji muttered. “Why is the Dark Fire Iron Palm Manual here? White Hair told me that his mistress was buried here. Did he make a mistake?”

“Nobody can make a mistake like that,” she said. “What is the Dark Fire Iron Palm?”

“It is a type of kungfu that is supposed to be very powerful. Many people think that the Dark Fire Iron Palm is a myth that existed only in legends. But old White Hair was a master of this martial art. Before he died, he made me promise that I would come out here to dig up this grave. If he knew that the grave contained only the manual, why couldn’t he have told me that straightaway?”

“I think I understand,” Xiang Xiang remarked. “It was a test of your character. White Hair wanted you to have the manual, but only if you were a trustworthy man. For only a trustworthy man would have kept his promise and come up here to dig up the grave, and thus gain the manual. There was no mistress. White Hair cooked up that story to test you. He must have really liked you to pass this manual to you.”

“We did not talk much. But he did say that he liked me and that he considered himself to be my sifu,” said Yiji. “He said that all my opinions belonged to him. I thought that he was a crazy old coot and so I left him to say what he liked.”

“Are you going practice this Dark Fire Iron Palm?” she asked.

Wen Yiji thought for a while.

“I do not know. It has a reputation of being a dark martial art. The highest level is Level 8. White Hair said that the practitioners were all right when they were at Level 7. The moment they reached Level 8, their lives turned for the worse because Level 8 generated much mental negativity and this attracted bad vibrations that screwed up their lives.”

“Is Level 8 very much different from Level 7?”

“No, Level 8 is only one quarter stronger than Level 7.”

“Then the difference is just very slight.”

“Unfortunately, those who reached Level 7 will not rest until they learn Level 8 as well. That is the problem. Level 7 is already very powerful, but man’s greed knows no bounds,” he said.

“The inability to control greed soon leads to doom,” she remarked. “It is late in the afternoon. I think we should be getting down from this hill before it gets dark.”

He grunted in agreement and kept the manual in his clothes. They climbed down the hill and checked the abandoned houses. It was too late for them to walk back to Big Mist Hamlet, so they decided that they would spend the night in one of the abandoned houses. The houses were broken down and the walls hardly kept the wind out. They found a small hut that was still partially usable and Xiang Xiang built a fire inside.

While she ate some dry bread, her brother read the Dark Fire Iron Palm Manual.

“The Dark Fire Iron Palm can only be practiced after one has attained the Dark Fire Foundation,” he said.

Xiang Xiang looked up, “You need to go through a foundation course?”

“Yes, the manual says that the foundation course will take thirty years to complete!”

Xiang Xiang did a quick calculation. Then she remarked, “If you start now, you will be able to finish the foundation course by the time you are fifty nine years old!”

“What a stupid martial art!” he exclaimed. “Who has all that time to spend on the foundation course? This is a fast paced world. We want to graduate as soon as possible. If I practice today, I want the results by yesterday!”

“Let me see that!” she said.

Wen Yiji handed the manual to her.

“You are right,” she said. “It will take a long time. For the first year, you will have to bathe in cool clear mountain stream waters to purify the skin. For the second year, you will eat nothing but cucumber and carrots to condition your organs. For the third year, you will lie down in a meadow of some unknown flower.”

“I guess if people are desperate enough for power, they will even try to go through all that. I can’t imagine anybody who can be that stupid as to waste thirty years of his life, but there is a sucker born every moment.”

“It also says here that all sex is to be avoided during these thirty years,” she said.

“What!” roared Yiji. “No sex? What a stupid manual! Throw it into the fire!”

Xiang Xiang read on, “In the fourth year, you will eat one frog head a day. There is even a recipe on how it is to be cooked. Hey, I can cook this!”

“Didn’t you hear me tell you to throw it into the fire? At least the fire will keep us warm.”

She flipped rapidly to the end of the book and said, “Level 8 looks like a recipe as well.”

“Will you close that stupid book and chuck it into the fire?” he said, losing patience.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Of course I’m sure!” he replied.

She tore off a few pages from the end and threw them into the flames. The paper caught fire and burned brightly. She turned the book around and tore off a few more pages. While enjoying the fire, she read on.

“It says here that instead of spending thirty years of training, the foundation can also be passed on by a sifu to a disciple. The Foundation course is also known as the Poison Field Inner Stance. Hey, that name sounds familiar. Didn’t you mention it to me before?” she asked.

As she was about to throw the rest of the book into the fire, Wen Yiji shouted, “Wait! I have the Poison Field Inner Stance! That means I already have the foundation!”

Both brother and sister stared at each other stupidly for a moment.

Then Yiji said, “Give me that manual!”

She passed the remaining portion of the manual to him. He examined it in silence and then commented, “Well, you have burned most of the Foundation portion and also Level 8. But Level 1 to Level 7 is still intact. It says here that it will take only ten days to master those seven levels. Good!”

“Do you intend to practise the Dark Fire Iron Palm?” she asked.

“Of course! I am getting tired of getting beaten up and thrown off bridges! I am so going to do this!”

Quickly, he went through the exercises of Level 1 as prescribed by the manual. By the end of the next day, he felt an energy stirring within him. His fitness had returned, and he felt as strong as he was before he entered prison six years ago. He sensed that the Poison Field Inner Stance was creating new forces within him. He had mastered Level 1.

He ran. It was a wonderful feeling to have regained his fitness. In the dusk, he came across a wandering pangolin out searching for food. Without hesitation, he leapt upon it. It curled into a ball with fright. Picking up the creature, he passed it to his sister. That night, they had pangolin soup.

At the end of five days, he reached Level 4. While practising Level 4, he heard a small herd of wild boars somewhere in the vicinity. Picking up a huge rock, he ran towards the noise. He sprinted up into the air with lightness kungfu and spotted the herd below him. Swooping downwards, he tried to bring the rock down on the head of a medium sized boar. However, he overshot the boar and missed.

“Damn!” he swore. “I’ve yet to get the hang of this Dark Fire energy! It is definitely not that easy to control!”

The herd dispersed in panic but one huge male boar snorted and charged at Wen Yiji. He sidestepped the charge and hit the side of the boar with his palm as it passed him. The boar flew sideways, and when it landed, it was dead.

“Holy geomancy! What power!” he remarked, staring at his hand. “And it is only Level 4!”

Picking up the dead boar, he lifted it over his head and brought it to Xiang Xiang.

“This is one huge boar. I don’t think we can eat that much!” she said. Nevertheless, she was glad for the fresh meat. It was the beginning of winter and food would soon be scarce or expensive. Over the days, the dead boar became fried boar, roasted boar, boar soup, stewed boar and smoked boar.

While her brother was training in the Dark Fire Iron Palm, Xiang Xiang kept herself busy by training in the long pole. From time to time, Wen Yiji would take time out from his training to spar with her and correct her pole strikes. He did not think that fighting with a long pole was her natural disposition, but he trained her nevertheless.

In ten days, Wen Yiji had reached Level 7.

As he went through the Level 7 routine as prescribed by the manual, a raging energy formed inside his arms, begging for release in the most ferocious way. He jerked his right hand savagely upwards and the hand released a furious Dark Fire Iron Palm Blast into the sky.

A seagull flying overhead had the feathers of its left wing blown off by the palm blast. However, it continued along its flight path, thus obeying the Law of Conservation of Momentum.

But flying with one wing using feathered flight, and the other wing using unfeathered flight was impossible. It went into a dizzy tailspin thus obeying the Law of Kinetics.

Unable to maintain its altitude, it dropped out of the skies and plummeted fatally to the ground, thus obeying the Law of Gravity.

A civet cat charged out of the bushes and grabbed it. The civet cat was not even hungry, but it was feeling mean and nasty that day. It bit the fallen bird into two, thus obeying the Law of Fucking Bastards.

Wen Yiji was ecstatic. He had been surprised by the palm blast coming out of his right palm. Holding his hands in front of him, he stared at them for a moment and uttered, “Cool!”

He had mastered Level 7.

Chapter 16: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The next morning, Wen Yiji went through his Level 7 exercises again. He was happy. In fact he was a lot happier than he had been for a long time. But for some reason, he was still not satisfied.

“Xiang Xiang,” he addressed his sister. “Do you remember what the instructions in the manual for Level 8 was before the portion was burnt? I remembered that you said that it resembled a menu.”

Xiang Xiang thought hard. The thing that she dreaded had happened; her brother was lusting hungrily after Level 8. The hunger was starting to gnaw at him. From what her brother had told her, Level 8 generated much negativity and destroyed the fate of the past practitioners of the Dark Fire Iron Palm. It was up to her to prevent the same fate from happening to her brother.

“Well, think hard!” continued Wen Yiji, unsatisfied with her silence. “What were the Level 8 instructions?”

She thought hard. The truth was that she had not finish reading the portion and she did not know what Level 8 was about. A germ of an idea occurred to her. The month before, in Pingchen, Li Daifu had told her that there was some kind of poisonous energy inside her brother and that Yiji ought to eat more bitter gourd to keep the energy under control.

Keeping a solemn face, she said, “I cannot remember much. The only thing I can remember is that the menu was about bitter gourd. But I can’t remember if it was bitter gourd soup or stir-fried bitter gourd.”

Wen Yiji was taken aback.

“You mean I have to eat bitter gourd?” he asked warily.

She nodded, still keeping a solemn face, “I do not remember any other instructions.”

Quickly, he came to a decision. “From today onwards, I want to consume bitter gourd,” he said.

“Stir-fried, soup or both?” she asked.

”Both,” he replied. “One of them ought to work.”

Still keeping a solemn face, she smiled inwardly. Everything had turned out all right.

Lusting after Level 8 was wrong.
Lying to her brother was also wrong.
But then, two wrongs did make a right.

“What are our plans, Brother Yiji?” she asked.

“Hmmmmm......we will go back to Tsinkiang. I have a score to settle with Agent Simit. He should be easy to find. However, we do not know where Gojisan is. Maybe it will be better to find out where Gojisan is before disposing off agent Simit. I don’t know. I have to think more about this.”

“We are not going to stay here in this deserted village throughout the winter, are we?”

“Of course not! Pack your stuff. We are leaving now.”

“But I am wearing my female clothes. My male attire is not yet dry from yesterday’s washing.”

“It does not matter. Just pack everything and leave,” he instructed.

Moments later, the siblings were on the road and walking northwards the way they came.

They had not walked for very long when they heard the sound of hoofbeats behind them, coming from the south.

“Horsemen are approaching, Xiang Xiang. It is best that we step to the side of the road to avoid the dust,” Yiji said.

They stepped to the side of the road and waited for the horsemen to pass. Four horsemen passed them, galloping at a furious pace and raising dust. One of them turned his head and stared at Xiang Xiang as he went by. The four riders rode for a distance, and then turned back. Slowing down to a trot, the horsemen approached Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang.

“There!” cried one of the horsemen, “Didn’t I say that she was beautiful?”

“You are right, Number Three!” another horseman replied. “This one will do nicely.”

Pointing to Xiang Xiang, the first horseman shouted, “You, girl! Come with us!”

Wen Yiji stared at the four men and said coolly. “I am this girl’s brother. Who are you and what do you want?”

“We are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” said Number Three. “We want your sister to serve us for a while.”

“The Four Horsemen of Ah Pokai Lips?” said Yiji calmly. “I don’t believe I have heard of you. You cannot take my sister.”

“Listen well. I just told you that we are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! We rule this area. We own this road. Every village here is under our protection. What we want, we take. Don’t make me say this again,” said Number Three.

“Listen,” Wen Yiji retorted. “Nobody owns this road except the Emperor. Just because you collect protection money from some miserable villages does not mean that you can take my sister, Mr. Ah Pokai Lips!”

One of the riders had been keeping quiet all this while suddenly spoke, “Stop wasting time, Number Three. Get down and grab the girl.”

“Yes, Number One,” answered Number Three.

Number Three leapt from his horse and, with lightness kungfu, flew towards Xiang Xiang. She was ready for him. As he approached, she swiftly swung her wooden pole at him. In mid air, he twisted and averted the pole strike. But Xiang Xiang stepped to one side and thrusted with her pole again. It caught Number Three by surprise on the ankle. He dropped to the ground and got up immediately. He was unhurt, to her disappointment.

“That was a good move, girl,” remarked Number Three casually. “But you are dealing with an expert fighter here. I will show you some great moves after I catch you and strip you naked. Hahahahaha!”

He approached her again, but this time more warily.

Wen Yiji noted that Number Three did not draw his sword. Yiji did not come to the aid of his sister. It was the first time he had seen Xiang Xiang in a fight and he wanted to know the extent of his sister’s fighting ability. So, he watched from the sidelines as she did battle with the unarmed Number Three. She gave a good account of herself, moving with speed and dexterity, counter attacking with a combination of pole strikes that prevented Number Three from approaching too close. However, it was painfully obvious that she would not stand a chance against the more experienced fighter, even unarmed as he was. Her pole strokes had elegance, but lacked the power required to subdue him. She had only trained for one month under his tutelage.

As Wen Yiji was about to interfere in the battle, the leader of the four horsemen, Number One, spoke, “Number Three! Stop toying with the girl! Use your sword to subdue her! This one is too fierce to come quietly. We will have to ravish her here!”

“And when we are tired of her, we will make both of them beg for their lives,” laughed Number Four sitting on his horse. “They always beg!”

“I suggest that you get away while you still can,” warned Xiang Xiang. “You do not know who you are messing with. If you do not leave now, it will be too late.”

Number Three drew his sword.

“Stand back,” Yiji advised his sister. “I will deal with this Pokai Lips.”

“Pokai? You dare to call me names?” snarled Number Three. “Your words are very insulting. Ni nabeh! You will taste the sharp end of my sharp sword, you pathetic lump of dog shit!”

“I don’t like the tone of your voice,” remarked Wen Yiji. "Like chicken calling, like that!"

Number Three rushed at Wen Yiji and delivered a swift combination of killing strokes in a fiery swordplay. Yiji avoided all the sword strokes with a speed that surprised his attacker. Number Three tried again using another combination of thrusts, but just could not land a strike on the fast moving Yiji. A sword thrust moved past Yiji who hit the side of the blade with his fingernail. The blade vibrated, causing it to drop out of the hands of the attacker.

Wen Yiji was in no hurry to subdue his attacker. He was still discovering the capabilities of the tremendous energies of the Dark Fire Iron Palm.

On the horses, Number Two and Number Four had drawn their bows. Two arrows sped swiftly from them towards Yiji who swerved away safely and caught one of the arrows in mid-flight with his right hand.

Number Three took the opportunity to retrieve the sword that he had dropped. As he bent down to do so, Yiji moved to his side and stuck the arrow into the back of the neck of Number Three. The horseman was momentarily stunned as he knelt on the ground with the arrow sticking out from the back of his neck and the steel barb of the arrow buried somewhere inside his throat. The tip of the arrowhead could just be seen protruding out from the front of the throat. He screamed in pain but his screams came out muffled.

“You do not sound too good,” remarked Wen Yiji. “I did not like the tone of your voice before, and quite frankly, there does not seem to be any improvement. Damn! I must have placed the arrow a bit too high!”

Number Three made choking sounds. All movement was painful to him, so he kept still, hoping that the other horsemen would kill Wen Yiji and come to his aid later.

“Kill the son of a worm!” shouted Number One. “Kill him!”

Using lightness kung fu, Number Two and Number Four flew from their horses towards Wen Yiji. They drew their swords in midair and slashed together at Wen Yiji. He moved to one side in a rapid movement and grabbed hold of Number Four’s ankle as it flew past over his head.

He swung Number Four around like he was swinging a hammer and threw him towards Number One still seated on the horse. As Number Four hurtled towards him, Number One leapt from his horse with lightness kung fu and flew up high into the air. Number Four sailed over the horse and landed in the bushes.

“You appear to know a bit of kungfu. But even kungfu masters who have tangled with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse do not live to relate their experience!” said Number One as he landed on the ground.

Wen Yiji snorted, “What Four Horsemen? Your Number Three Pokai Lips is speechless on the ground, still kneeling to me, neither dead nor alive. The most you have now is three of you, counting the one still wetting himself in the bushes. can’t count? You have never been to school, is that it? You dumb shits don’t know what your fingers and toes are for!”

Without waiting for Number Four to join them, Number One attacked in tandem with Number Two and Wen Yiji had to quickly take defensive measures. Moving fluidly, he avoided the slashing blades that appeared from all directions. The horsemen were good swordsmen, and they understood each other’s moves thus allowing them to combine and fight.

Number Four had picked himself up from the bushes and was about to join the fight when Wen Yiji landed a slap on the cheek of Number Two with his right hand, using the tremendous power of the Dark Fire Iron Palm behind it. The head of Number Two flew abruptly sideways and snapped away from the spine. All that held the head to the body was the skin, stretched to its limit. He stood there for a moment with his head hanging down lolling uselessly and his eyes still opened and staring in shock. Then he toppled over like a sack of rice. Wen Yiji had made his first kill with the Dark Fire Iron Palm.

“Oh......look at that Pokai!” laughed Wen Yiji merrily. ”His Pokai head is out of position!”

Number One was infuriated and he attacked Wen Yiji relentlessly with his sword, joined by Number Four. Wen Yiji carefully avoided their killing moves. Suddenly, Number One broke away from the attack and leapt towards Xiang Xiang using lightness kung fu. Wen Yiji immediately guessed Number One intended to grab Xiang Xiang as a hostage. Wen Yiji leapt in the air after the leader of the horsemen, and delivered a palm blast that blasted Number One off course causing the horseman to land in a thorny bush.

Number Four paused in his steps. Wen Yiji turned around in midair and palm blasted Number Four as well. The poor horseman flew back several steps and fell down, but did not die.

“The palm blast may be useful,” thought Wen Yiji. “But its force is dispersed and the effect is not as powerful as a direct blow using physical palm contact.”

He leapt over to the bush and grabbed hold of the left leg of Number One that was sticking out of the bush. He twisted the leg and broke it in two places. Then he swung the horseman by the broken leg and threw him over to where Number Four was.

Number Four had just gotten up from the ground when the body of Number One landed heavily on him. The two of them crashed onto the ground in a mass of tangled limbs.

Coolly, Wen Yiji walked over to the two fallen horsemen and addressed number One, “Hey, muthafucka! Do you still want to ravish my sister?”

Number One was silent as he tried not to cry out due to the excruciating pain in his broken left leg.

“Why are you silent?” asked Yiji. “An absence of denial means that you must be still thinking about it! Kanineh! Die die also still want to think about sex!”

He dragged Number One’s right leg, hit it with his palm and twisted it with both hands. There was a series of cracking noises as the horseman’s right leg was being broken. The horseman yelled and cursed loudly in his agony. He swore colourfully at Wen Yiji’s parents. This angered Wen Yiji and he worked the horseman’s arm as well. There was another series of cracking noises, and Number One’s right arm also broke in several places. Not content with that, Wen Yiji work on the left arm and after another round of bone cracking noises, both arms of Number One hung uselessly by his side.

“I have a question to ask of you,” said Wen Yiji to Number One. “You people are from the martial underworld black society. You must know a lot of assassin organizations. Can you please tell me where I can locate the Fire Mountain Sect?”

Number One could not speak, being in too much of an agony to do anything except breathe.

Wen Yiji was angered at the lack of response, so he lambasted, “Ni nao hiah......I talked to you nicely nicely but you don’t answer me. I may as well kill you!”

The other horseman, Number Four, was about to get up when Wen Yiji said, “Don’t you dare move, muthafucka! If you want to get up, you have to put up your hand and get permission from me first, you understand?”

Number Four nodded his head in fear. The fight had gone out of him. He knew that they had met a higher mountain. The short battle had signaled the end of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Number One’s face was full of hatred when Wen Yiji pulled his body to face Number Four. Grabbing the head of Number One with one hand and the neck with his other hand, Wen Yiji asked Number Four, “Tell me, do you think I am strong enough to pull your leader’s head off from his body? Shall I demonstrate this remarkable feat for your benefit?”

“Wait!” said Number Four. “I believe you are strong enough! You do not have to demonstrate the fact!”

“You are only saying it,” said Yiji. “But actually you don’t believe that I can do it! It is best that I demonstrate.”

“No! No! No! Do not demonstrate! I believe you!”

“There is as saying that says “Seeing is believing, and believing is seeing”. That means that you believe it and want to see me do it.”

“No! No! No! I don’t want to see you do it!”

“Ahhhhh......people are always standing on ceremony. When we say “No”, we are merely being polite. You know, it is just like when we give people angpow, their mouths say “No” but their hands still take. You people are all like that.”

“No! No! No! I actually mean ‘No’!”

“All right then. Since you do not wish me to pull off his head, I will pull yours instead!”

“No, don’t pull mine!”

“Make up your mind! Pull yours or his?”


“Well, if you say so.”

Wen Yiji jerked the head upwards. The vertebra in Number One’s neck separated with a snapping sound that drove chills into the body of Xiang Xiang. Wen Yiji dropped the head, and it hung lifelessly from the neck, with its eyes staring at Number Four. The eyes blinked, sending shivers down the spine of Number Four.

A gagging sound attracted their attention. Number Three had gotten up and was stumbling around. The arrowhead buried in his throat had blocked off a major portion of his windpipe, thus cutting off the air supply, He tried to pull the arrow out from behind the back of his neck, but it was not possible. The arrowhead was barbed, and pulling at it only resulted in the barbs digging into the flesh. The only method for removing a barbed arrow was to push it forward. He would have to remove the arrow from the front.

However, the lack of air going through the windpipe was killing him slowly by asphyxiation and prevented him from thinking clearly. He clawed at his throat desperately while stumbling around. Wen Yiji, Xiang Xiang and Number Four watched in fascination as Number Three moved around drunkenly before he keeled over and died.

Out of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, three had lost their lives. Wen Yiji turned his attention towards Number Four and said, “It’s your turn now, hor?”

“No, big master. Please do not kill me! I beg you!” cried Number Four.

“Hey,” said Wen Yiji. “Wasn’t it you who said just now that you will make both of us beg for our lives?”

“No! No! No! It wasn’t me! It most certainly wasn’t me!”

“Do you think you could possibly tell me how to locate the Fire Mountain Sect?”

“I do not know where it is! Nobody knows! The Fire Mountain Sect has not been active for the past few years!”

“Oh......then you are useless to me. I may as well kill you now!”

“Wait! If I can tell you how to get in touch with them, will you let me go?”

“If you do that, I will not kill you today. Perhaps the next day, but not today. Now speak!”

“In Changchow, I know of a man who has contacts with many assassin organizations. He accepts contracts from people wishing to kill other people. Then he farms out the contracts to the assassins. He may be able to help.”

“Who is this man? Where does he live?”

“His name is Pak Chew Cheng. He stays in a house with a red roof in Phoenix Lane.”

“What does he look like?”

“He is about twenty-five years old.”

“If he is so young, how can he be an agent for assassins? Are you bluffing me?”

“No! No! No! A thousand times no! He is only a small timer in the assassin business doing it part time. His main business is selling flowers.”

Nabeh......a flower seller trying to become an agent for assassins. What is this world coming to?”

“It makes perfect sense. When people get killed, he would go around and asked if people wanted to buy flowers for the funeral.”

Wen Yiji searched the dead body of Number One and found some money.

“I say! This Pokai Lips had so much money. I should confiscate it, but then it would not be right, would it?” he asked Number Four.

“No, it wouldn’t!” said Number Four, also eying the money.

“However,” said Yiji slowly. “If you were to die suddenly, then this money would belong to no one. In that case, I should pick it up and use it instead of leaving it to rot on the ground. That would be the proper thing to do. Don’t you think so?”

“Take the money! Take the money!” yelled Number Four in fear.

“Oh, I can’t do that. It would not be morally right. Not unless you die first.”

“No! No! No! It is all right. Since I am the only survivor, all the assets of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse belong to me. I am giving them to you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes! Yes! I’m sure. Just take what you wish. I’m begging you.”

“All right then. Since you begged me, I will do so. But only because you begged me!”

Wen Yiji instructed his sister to search the other dead bodies and gather all the weapons and anything that was valuable. Xiang Xiang searched the other dead bodies and found some more money. “Damn!” she called out to her brother. “These crooks must have been very active in their collection of protection money. If you had not destroyed them, they would have continued terrorizing the villages.”

Wen Yiji helped the injured Number Four to his feet, and as he did so, he tapped Number Four on the back with his finger. The finger tap was delivered just right behind the heart position. It was the method of which he had heard White Hair described the Uber Slow Walk Heart Stopping Strike many years ago. He did not know if it would work, but he did not intend to hang around to find out.

Wen Yiji led his sister to the horses. Turning around, he addressed Number Four, “Listen! I am taking all four of the horses since you begged me to take what I wish. However, I have not taken the money that you have on your body. My advice to you is to enjoy yourself today. Eat and drink! Call a chicken and enjoy it tonight. Because tomorrow, you may die!”

“You are going to let him live?’ asked Xiang Xiang.

“I did promise him that I will not kill him today,” replied her brother. “Maybe tomorrow, but not today. Let the fates decide.”

He helped her climb onto a horse before climbing on one himself. The remaining two horses were hitched to his horse and they rode away with all four horses.

Number Four was left without a horse or a weapon. He was injured, but not severely enough to prevent him from walking. Slowly, he straggled along as best as he could, stopping to rest every now and then. By mid afternoon, he straggled into Big Mist Hamlet. He was exhausted. He reached an inn and asked for a room. The innkeeper recognized him as one of the feared Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and so gave him the best room available.

Number Four slept. He woke up at dinner time and shouted to the waiter to bring him some wine. After drinking, he slept again. In the morning, he woke up.

“Ah,” he said as he got out of bed and walked towards the door, “What happened yesterday must have been a bad dream! I will find three more fighters and we will soon become the new Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! I will be the new leader and we will collect lots more protection money! If I ever see those two again......uh......”

He did not finish his sentence nor did he reach the door. All of a sudden, his heart had stopped functioning and he collapsed clumsily onto the flooring.

The Uber Slow Walk Heart Stopping Strike had worked.

Chapter 17: Incident on the bridge

It had been many long years since Wen Yiji last rode a horse. He rode unsteadily, almost as unsteadily as Xiang Xiang did. Wisely, he decided to pace the horse at a slow trot until he could get used to the motion. The four horses with their two riders passed through Big Mist Hamlet without stopping. A group of boys stared at them open-mouthed and bowed in fear.

In the early afternoon, they stopped beside a stream to water the horses. Wen Yiji took the opportunity to examine the assortment of weapons that his sister had taken from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Picking up a bow and arrow from the pile, he drew the bow easily and took aim. The arrow hit a distant branch just as he had intended. This startled a bird on a nearby tree and it started cackling noisily.


Wen Yiji drew his bow a second time.


The unfortunate bird fell off the tree, pierced right through by the arrow.

Yiji smiled, “Say, this is a remarkably good bow!”

Xiang Xiang remarked, “You still have your archery skills, Brother Yiji. But I think we should not kill game unless we are really in need of food.”

“All right,” he growled. “I was just testing out the bow. There is no sense in carrying so many weapons with us. Keep any weapon you want and dump the rest in the bushes. I’m keeping this bow.”

“If we keep the weapons, other people may recognize them and then they will know that you have killed the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If we are to maintain a low profile, it is best that we throw them all away.”

“Don’t worry. This bow is very ordinary looking and has no distinguishing marks. Nobody will recognize it. But you can get rid of the rest.”

Xiang Xiang inspected the other weapons and then picked one up. She remarked, “I like this knife. It is short and sturdy. I think it will be good for chopping chicken or even dicing ginger.”

“Let me take a look at that,” said her brother.

He examined the blade, felt it, swung it around and tapped its side to hear the tone of its vibration before saying, “The blade looks ordinary, but I can feel that the steel is exceptionally good. I suspect that this blade was forged by a master swordsmith. It can be converted into a long kitchen knife if you just change the handle to a shorter one.”

Using his immense power, he wrenched off the ornate long handle and handed the blade to his sister, “Keep the blade. When we reach a big town, I’ll have a craftsman make you a suitable handle for it.”

“Thank you, brother Yiji,” she said. She walked behind some trees and threw the rest of the weapons down a ravine.

As they rode through a few villages, they noted that the villagers cowered in fear as they passed. This puzzled Wen Yiji, but it was none of his business. By dusk, they reached the town of Changpu and decided to stay at an inn for the night.

They left the horses at the inn stables and instructed the stable boy to feed the horses. The stable boy looked at them warily and nodded. At the inn, Wen Yiji ordered dinner from the innkeeper. It was getting chilly, so he ordered wine as well.

“Brother Yiji, are we going straight back to Tsinkiang?” asked Xiang Xiang at dinner time.

“No,” he replied, drinking the soup with a grimace. “Although we have a blood score to settle with Agent Simit in Tsinkiang, he was only an accomplice. It was Master Gojisan of the Fire Mountain Sect who was responsible for the deaths in our family. We can perhaps force Agent Simit to tell us how to locate Gojisan. But Simit is not part of the Fire Mountain Sect, and may not know at thing. Since we will be passing through the city of Changchow, we shall stay a few days there and look up this Pak Chew Cheng who perhaps may know something about the Fire Mountain Sect.”

“We should reach there by noon tomorrow.”

“What is this strange stuff that we are eating?” he asked suddenly.

“Bitter gourd stir fried with chicken and black beans.”

“And this other dish?”

“Bitter gourd with onions fried in egg.”

“The soup tastes lousy.”

“It’s bitter gourd soup.”

“Didn’t we order anything else besides bitter gourd?”

“No, we didn’t.”


“You did the ordering, brother, not me. You insisted on bitter gourd. Frankly, I think you got carried away with this bitter gourd thing. Next time, let me do the ordering.”

Yiji sighed and ate in silence while Xiang Xiang tried to keep from laughing. While she pitied her brother, she knew that it was good for him.

The innkeeper approached their table and said in a soft hushed voice. “My honourable guests,” he said. “The stable boy tells me that you have four horses that looked like that of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

“It must be a coincidence,” remarked Xiang Xiang calmly. “A lot of horses look alike. Such things happen.”

“That may be true,’ said the innkeeper with a worried tone. “But the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have killed a lot of people and made a lot of enemies in this town. From your horses, some of the enemies may mistakenly think that you belong to the same gang as the Four Horsemen. I do not want to court trouble. It will be bad for business. I suggest that you leave at early dawn tomorrow before first light!”

A light went on inside Wen Yiji’s brain. He finally understood why the villagers cowered in fear as they passed. They must have recognized the horses.

“I am not afraid of a little trouble,” Yiji remarked coolly. “Any man who is fool enough to attack me will find himself undergoing an immediate sex change.”

“No, brother,” said his sister. “I do not feel good about this. Let us not give the innkeeper any trouble since we are only passing through.”

“All right then,” Yiji said. “We’ll leave before daybreak tomorrow.”

Early the next morning, they left Changpu. Wen Yiji realized that the horses could attract trouble so he decided to free them in stages. After traveling for some distance, he freed two horses. Just before they reached Changchow, he freed the remaining two horses as well. Thus, Yiji and Xiang Xiang entered the city of Changchow on foot.

They stopped at an eating place to have a quick lunch. The menu was severely limited to only rice, cabbage and salted fish. Wen Yiji asked for bitter gourd, but it was not available. They were hungry, so they did not bother looking around for another place to eat. They asked for food and the waiter brought out two bowls of rice, a dish of fried salted fish and a plate of stir fried cabbage.

As Xiang Xiang was about to take the salted fish, she noticed a dead fly in the dish.

“Waiter,” she beckoned. “There is a dead fly with the salted fish!”

The waiter came over and took a look. He sniffed and said, “Oh, don’t worry. We are only charging you for the fish. The fly is free.”

“Hey,” said an exasperated Xiang Xiang. “How was there a dead fly with the salted fish?”

“You want an explanation?” asked the waiter, leering at her. “Okay. I think the fly must have died from eating the fish.”

Yiji’s hand shot out and grabbed the waiter’s throat in a vice-like grip. “Ni nao hiah,” he exclaimed. “A fly died while eating your fish and you served the same fish to me? You must think that your life is too long!”

The waiter made gagging noises and his eyes widened in fear. He frothed at the mouth as he struggled for oxygen. The proprietor of the stall appeared and apologized profusely.
Wen Yiji released the waiter and he promptly fell to the ground. The proprietor immediately had the fish replaced.

“I can’t imagine how people like these can set up an eating stall,” remarked Xiang Xiang to her brother. “The food is tasteless and the standards of hygiene are practically non-existent.”

Her brother concurred, “On top of that, they don’t serve bitter gourd.”

“I want to set up a restaurant,” said Xiang Xiang.


“I’ve been thinking about it. I am a fantastic cook. I want to do something.”

“You can get married. I’ll marry you off to a restaurateur if you like.”

“No, no, no. I want to start my own restaurant! Nothing fancy. I’ll serve porridge.”

“Go get married.”

“I’ll serve duck also.”

“Go get married.”

“I’ll call it the “Wen Family Restaurant” to mark our family name.”

“Go get married.”

“I’ll serve bitter gourd as well.”

“Say… should start a restaurant!”

“I want to, but I don’t have the capital.”

“If you will feature bitter gourd on your regular menu, I’ll get you the capital.”

“Yes, thank you Brother Yiji.”

Wen Yiji looked cautiously at his sister. He knew that she was far more intelligent than anybody suspected. She would be sixteen soon and of marriageable age. He wondered how he would pick a suitor for her. In all probability, he would have to make use of the services of a matchmaker.

After the meal, they went in search of the Phoenix Lane where Pak Chew Cheng was supposed to be staying. They did not find a Phoenix Lane, but found a Phoenix Road instead. They searched the whole road but had no luck in locating Pak Chew Cheng.

Dusk approached.

Wen Yiji decided to end the search and go look for an inn to stay. Xiang Xiang walked some distance behind him.

Suddenly, Yiji found himself surrounded by a small group of men. Xiang Xiang was several steps behind Yiji and thus escaped notice.

“Well, well, well,” a familiar voice boomed out. “So, you did not die after all!”

Wen Yiji turned his head in the direction of the voice.

“Sah Mi!” he cried. “I remember you! Ah yes, you tried to drown me by throwing me off a bridge the last time we met. How are you?”

“Can do lah,” replied Sah Mi. “No complaints.”

“Are you still doing the donkey work for the Prefect’s father-in-law?”

“Oh yes, I am still collecting toll illegally for Lord Tai.”

“In that case, what are you doing in the city? Shouldn’t you be at the Tiger Crossing Bridge collecting some more illegal toll? Getting lazy, is it?”

“Oh no! I’ve come to hand the toll collections to Lord Tai. I do that every few days. How have you been?”

“I have been very well, thank you. My stomach has enough food and I am sleeping well. And every night I have a roof over my head as well as a blanket to cover me.”

“If I remember correctly, you were a spy sent by Governor Li.”

“Some things never change. Every time you open your mouth, I hear stupid things. It’s no use telling you that I am not a spy, is it? You must be very disappointed that I am not dead.”

“Oh yes, I am severely disappointed. I lost a good man, Buck Tooth, because of you. And now, as it turned out, I did not manage to kill you after all. I can’t understand it……my work is usually of the highest quality. I run a zero-error operation. What the hell went wrong?”

“I think your quality standards need to be tightened. Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. What let you down was the poor execution. And of course your poor leadership skills.”

“Is that right? Still, that does not explain how you were able to escape from drowning. A big weight was attached to your leg. That should have prevented you from surfacing.”

“True. But what you did not know was that a giant fish swam by at that moment and it grabbed me by the ankle. Then it swam down the river with me holding my breath as best as I could,” replied Yiji in jest. “Finally, it got tired and deposited me on a sand bank and I was saved.”

“Ah….that explains it,” said Sah Mi. “Well, as long as you are here, we can try again.”

“What do you mean by ‘try again’? You tried to kill me once but failed. That should tell you that Heaven is on my side. You should not even think of trying again.”

“That is where you are wrong. If at first you do not succeed, you should always try and try again. I run a zero-error operation. If I killed somebody, he has to stay killed. Now follow me to the bridge.”

“I’m busy right now. Can I ignore you some other time?”

“Just follow me to the bridge.”


“I’m going to throw you off the bridge again.”

“Forget it. The Tiger Crossing Bridge is very far from here. I’m not walking that distance.”

“Oh, don’t worry. There are lots of other bridges in Changchow city that we can use. We’ll use one that is nearby. The water there is deep enough for our purpose. You should be able to drown in comfort.”

“Wa lau eh,” remarked Yiji. “You talk of death as if it is the most common thing in the world to you.”

“You’ll be surprised at the number of people that I have already killed. I’ve drowned all sorts of people. Men, women and children. They’ll all the same to me. Once they sink into the water, all you can see are bubbles.”

“You are truly a most horrible person,” remarked Yiji. “I think I shall enjoy terminating your existence.”

“Shut up and walk!” commanded Sah Mi. His men drew their swords and forced Yiji to walk to a nearby bridge. There were only six of them in total. Xiang Xiang followed unnoticed at a discreet distance.

In the middle of the bridge, the men stopped. One of Sah Mi’s hirelings produced a thick steel chain and attempted to lock it onto Wen Yiji’s ankle. Yiji stepped away.

“You are not thinking of resisting, are you?” remarked Sah Mi. “You are not my match, remember?”

In answer, Yiji brought his palm down hard on the head of the man holding the steel chain, killing him instantly. Immediately, two blades flashed towards him. He stepped neatly aside to avoid the blades and killed both swordsmen with some rapid palm strikes.

Sah Mi looked around him. In an incredibly short span of time, three of his men were dead and now there were only three of them left. Obviously, Wen Yiji had improved much since he last saw him. The three of them circled their quarry nervously.

Wen Yiji had picked up a fallen sword. Swinging it a few times, he said, “It has been a long time since I last fought with a sword.”

The men attacked him and he deflected their sword strokes so powerfully that they were in danger of having the swords knocked off their grips. With a quick move too fast to see in the semi darkness, Yiji plunged the sword into the heart of one of the men, and at the same time, his left hand delivered a deadly palm strike to the heart of another. Now only Sah Mi remained alive to fight. The toll collector read the way the battle was going and decided that it was wiser to flee. He managed to run a few steps before a palm blast from Yiji sent him sprawling.

Without hesitation, Wen Yiji took the heavy steel chain and locked it to Sah Mi’s ankle. Then he kept the key to the lock in his hand. Xiang Xiang came closer to watch the proceedings.

“Let’s see if you can swim better than I could when I throw you over this bridge,” he said to the toll collector.

Bravely, Sah Mi snarled, “You wouldn’t dare. I am Lord Tai’s operative, and nobody messes with him in this city.”

“I am not afraid of Lord Tai. In fact, given the slightest excuse, I will even go and assassinate him.”

“Many people have tried to assassinate him and failed.”

“What do you know about Master Gojisan of the Fire Montain Sect?”

“Why should I tell you anything?”

“I will throw the key to you if you cooperate,” replied Yiji holding up the key to the lock that fastened the heavy chain to Sah Mi’s ankle.

“The Fire Mountain Sect is dead. Master Gojisan has disappeared for five years. Rumour has it that he is being held prisoner somewhere and that his tendons were pierced by steel barbs to prevent him moving. His situation is such that he live also cannot, die also cannot. But that is only a stupid rumour. Master Gojisan is a top kungfu master and no one will be able to treat him that way. Now unlock me.”

“Can you swim?”


“Then now’s the time to learn!”

In a swift movement, Wen Yiji heaved the body of Sah Mi over the bridge. He landed with a huge splash in the water below.

In the light of the moon, Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang waited for Sah Mi to surface, but there was no unusual movement on the water.

“Maybe he was telling the truth when he said that he could not swim,” remarked Xiang Xiang.

“Let’s wait a little while longer. Maybe he will come up to the surface.”

So they waited silently.

Xiang Xiang grew tired of waiting and she broke the silence.

“What are we going to do with the rest of the other five dead bodies?” she asked.

“We throw them over the bridge, of course.”

“The men appear to be carrying a sum of money.”

“Oh, that must be the toll collection that they were going to hand over to Lord Tai.”

“Are you going to throw that over the bridge as well?”

“Nah…...I will need the money for some orh kwee keng research later.”

“What orh kwee keng research?”

“Oh, you know…..pumping the courtesans for information and stuff like that. The operational details are not necessary for you to know.”

Xiang Xiang was silent. They waited for a while longer for Sah Mi to come up for air, but again there was no movement.

“Hey! I suddenly remembered!” she said. “You told the toll collector that you would throw him the key!”

“Oh, ya hor,” he said, looking at the key still in his hand. “Do you remember where Sah Mi’s body landed?”

“I think it is somewhere towards the left.”

“Are you sure?”


Wen Yiji squinted his eyes and took careful aim. Then he threw the key to the far right.

Chapter 18: The offer at the flower shop

The fight with Sah Mi and his men had hyped up Wen Yiji. It was not much of a fight as he had totally outclassed his opponents with his Dark Fire Iron Palm. He needed to work off his excess energy or he would not be able to sleep.

After checking into an inn, he had dinner together with his sister. This time, they managed to order bitter gourd soup. After dinner, Wen Yiji asked the innkeeper, “What is the best courtesan house in the city?”

“That would be the ‘House of the Hovering Butterfly’ just around the corner. All the top people in town patronize it. However, it is expensive.”

“Good things often come with a price,” remarked Yiji. "Cheap is not good and good is not cheap."

Turning to Xiang Xiang, he said, “You sleep first. I have a lot of work to do.”

“Don’t work too hard,” advised Xiang Xiang. “We have traveled a long distance today. You don’t want to strain yourself.”

But Wen Yiji intended to strain himself. Leaving Xiang Xiang to sleep at the inn, he headed to the House of the Hovering Butterfly. Wine was brought out to him and he was happy that the taste suited him. After he had his fill of fluids, he was ready for some action.

A beautiful courtesan dressed in red walked by and he asked the waiter if she was available. The waiter told him, “I’m sorry, that girl is Passion Flower and our Madam has already reserved her for Prefect Chou’s party. I’ll see if she can arrange another girl for you.”

“Who is Prefect Chou?” asked Wen Yiji. “I should be able to book any courtesan I like as long as I have the money. What’s the matter? My money not big enough, is it?”

“You must be new to this city,” said the waiter. “Prefect Chou Bang Sat is the Prefect of this prefecture and is therefore the most important man here. His money is bigger than anybody else’s.”

“He is not here yet, is he? You can have Passion Flower sent to me first while waiting for him to arrive.”

“I’m sorry, but he is already here.”

“You are bluffing. I don’t see him.”

“I am not bluffing. Here, let me show you.”

So saying, the waiter led Wen Yiji to the outside of a nearby room reserved for private parties. The door was slightly ajar and they peeped inside. There were four men seated around a table inside and the waiter pointed out Prefect Chou to him.

“The one with the red robes is Prefect Chou,” he whispered.

“Who is the man with the white beard?” Wen Yiji whispered back.

“That is Lord Tai, the father-in-law of the Prefect.”

Wen Yiji suddenly picked up interest. So that old ugly sonofabitch was Lord Tai.

“And the other two?” he asked.

“The one dressed in white is Lord Tai’s son, Tai Lan Ngong. The one in purple is a friend.”

“What kind of friend?”

“I don’t know,” whispered the waiter. “Come, let’s go!”

There was something about the man in purple that intrigued Yiji. The man was young, in his mid twenties, and he had an odd-looking face. He exuded an intense atmosphere of killing qi. His complexion was smooth and very fair, almost like that of a woman’s. The four men were laughing merrily in the company of courtesans.

“Who is at the door?” suddenly asked the man dressed in purple. “Since you are already here, why don’t you come in?”

The room fell silent.

Nervously, the waiter opened the door wider and said, “Oh, please excuse me. I came to see if you needed more wine.”

“Ah.….it’s only the waiter,” remarked Prefect Chou. “No, we don’t need more wine. Now close the door and leave.”

The waiter closed the door. He looked around him. Wen Yiji had vanished mysteriously.

At the front parlour, the Madam of the establishment was in the process of allocating a courtesan to Yiji.

“I will send you our top courtesan, Little Prawn,” she gushed.

“I don’t want a little prawn,” growled Wen Yiji. “I want a big fish.”

“Aiyahhhh…..Little Prawn is just her name,” explained the Madame. “She is the only one available at the moment. No fish, prawn also good mah.”

Wen Yiji assented. A maid was summoned to take him to one of the bedrooms upstairs.

“I’ll take this room,” he said as they passed by a room.

“But this room is not very good,” commented the maid. “I’ll take you to a better one.”

“No,” insisted Wen Yiji. “I want this one.”

“All right then,” said the maid. “Wait in there and I’ll get Lady Little Prawn to come.”

“Tell Little Prawn to take a shower before coming. There is no hurry. I want to take a nap first.”

“Yes sir,” replied the maid.

As soon as the maid left, Wen Yiji got down on the floor of the room. He had a good reason for wanting this particular room. It was directly above where Prefect Chou and Lord Tai were having their private party. He did not know why he was interested in them, but a very strong instinct told him that it would be in his interest to find out more. Without making the slightest sound, he placed his ear against the floor and eavesdropped on the going-ons below.

He heard a faint voice said, “That rascal Sah Mi is taking his own sweet time to bring me my money.”

“Be patient, father,” said Lord Tai’s son, Tai Lan Ngong. “He would not dare to be late with your money. Perhaps he was delayed because he had to throw another person off the bridge.”

“Father-in-law,” said Prefect Chou. “You have better instruct Sah Mi not to throw so many people off the bridge. One of these days, it will attract the attention of Governor Li.”

“Don’t be so scared, brother-in-law,” said Tai Lan Ngong. “Governor Li is in Fuzhou which is a long distance from here. Besides, you have friends in the Imperial Court who will make trouble for him if he tries to remove you as the Prefect of this prefecture.”

“It is better to be careful,” said the Prefect. “My spies tell me that he is preparing a team of inspectors to disrupt our operations.”

“Do you know the caliber of these inspectors?” asked Lord Tai.

“No, but I know that they are brothers, the Chin brothers from the north,” replied the prefect.

“When they get here, I will kill them quietly. No one will know,” said the young man in purple.

“Thank you, Brother Si Fatt Guai,” said Tai Lan Ngong. “Your Dark Energy will be more than a match for them, I’m sure. But it will not be necessary to bother you. Three inspectors should be easy to handle.”

“Since I am a guest of your father, it is only right that I do something for you,” replied Si Fatt Guai. “When the Chin brothers arrive, please tell me where to find them, and they’ll be gone. Permanently.”

“In that case, we shall take you up on your offer,” remarked Lord Tai. “Come, let us drink.”

In the room above, Wen Yiji wondered who Si Fatt Guai was. “So Governor Li is going to send the three Chin brothers here to sort things out, is he? I don’t think they are in fighting form yet,” he thought silently to himself. “The last time I saw them, they were as thin as bamboo sticks. If the wind were to blow too strongly, they would fall down. It will take them many months before they can be ready for action. They will be in danger here. I will have to kill Lord Tai first.”

Another thought occurred to him, “This Si Fatt Guai uses the Dark Energy. Can this be the same kind of Dark Energy that I use? I have to find out what kungfu he uses.”

There was a sound at the door, and Wen Yiji flipped silently from the floor into the bed using lightness kungfu. A young lady walked in and introduced herself, “I am Little Prawn!”

“Ah, Little Prawn,” he said. “I waited for you till I’m full of suffering!”

“I hope I will be able to please you.”

“Don’t worry. As long as you have an oyster, you will please me. “

As she came into the light, Yiji saw that she was quite young. “Hey, you are very young. More like a cockle than an oyster. Do you know what to do?”

“Don’t worry,” answered the young girl cheekily. “I have an experienced cockle. I know enough for whatever you have in mind.”

“I don’t need anything fancy,” said Yiji. “Just the fundamentals. Can you handle that?”

“Listen, mister. You’re talking to an expert. I put the ‘fun’ in ‘fundamentals’. You look like the type of man who knows what he wants.”

“Of course. While you were still learning how to put the ‘fun’ into ‘fundamentals’, I was already putting the ‘cock’ into ‘cockles’.

Little Prawn was nonplussed by his retort. Then she giggled, “You must be a poet.”

She was not bad looking. Quickly, she disrobed and joined him on the bed. Within moments, Wen Yiji started working hard on her.

“Urgh……urgh……urgh……urgh……urgh……urgh……” she cried continuously as Wen Yiji pumped her for fun. He would pump her for information later. He could not understand why a lot of people think that work came before pleasure. As far as he was concerned, pleasure should come before work.

When he was finally exhausted from the release of pent-up energy and pent-up fluids, he felt that it was time to question the girl. He gave her a huge tip to impress her.

“That was a good session,” he said softly. “I have not had one like that since the Yellow River overflowed.”

“Don’t be silly,” said the girl, admiring the size of the tip. “The Yellow River has not overflowed in years. But thanks anyway.”

“I was told by one of the waiters that the very best girls are always picked to serve at Prefect Chou’s table. I would have thought that a girl of your talents would be required by the Madam to sit at Prefect Chou’s table tonight. Why did she not pick you?”

“I sometimes sit at Prefect Chou’s table. But tonight, Prefect Chou wanted only five girls. So I guess I was left out.”

“That is strange. There are only four men in Prefect Chou’s party tonight. Why would he want five girls?”

“That’s easy. Two are for Prefect Chou. Two are for Lord Tai. One is for Master Tai Lan Ngong. Altogether five girls.”

“What about Si Fatt Guai? Doesn’t he get a girl?”

“Oh, you mean Lord Tai’s guest, Master Si? No, he does not want a courtesan.”

“You must be joking. How can any man not want a courtesan?”

“I am not joking! He has no interest in women!”

“What about goats?”

“Ha ha ha! He has no interest in goats either!”

“He’s got to be interested in something.”

“Well, I have seen him looking at the waiters in a certain hungry way. But you did not hear this from me, you understand?”

“I understand. What an odd person you have in this city.”

“Oh, he is not from this city. I think he is from Tsinkiang.”

Wen Yii sat up and took notice. Someone of the surname ‘Si’ from Tsinkiang could be related to Agent Simit.

“To be a guest of Lord Tai must mean that he is not an ordinary person. He must be probably good in kungfu. Do you know what kungfu he uses?” he asked.

“He uses the Iron Palm. With Fairy power.”

“There is no such kungfu. You are making this up!”

“I am only telling you what I overheard. I was present during one of Lord Tai’s drinking session. Lord Tai was holding a conversation with Master Si and they thought that I was drunk and fast asleep. I heard the “Fairy” power of his kungfu mentioned. If I were you, I’ll drop all interest in that man. Something about him is dangerous.”

“Dangerous? How?”

“I don’t know. But Lord Tai treats him with a respect that is not shown to many others.”

Wen Yiji thought over this for a moment. Dark Energy……Iron Palm…..Fairy power……where had he heard this before? He searched his memory but drew a blank.

Meanwhile, Little Prawn’s fingers were busy between his legs. Before he knew it, he grew hard again. He climbed on top of her and gave her another pounding. Then he rested.

“You have the energy of a horse,” she remarked.

“Thank you.”

“Are you in the city on business?”

“Actually, I came to look for somebody who stays in Phoenix Lane. However, I could not find the damn place.”

“Phoenix Lane is a very small lane off Lau Hor Road. Near the famous White Cloud Temple. That is the place to go if you want to buy flowers.”

“Oh, thank you.”


+ + + + + +

The next morning, a sleepy Wen Yiji greeted his sister at lunchtime.

“Well, sleepyhead,” she greeted. “Did the orh kwee keng yield any results?”

“Of course,” he replied. “Phoenix Lane is off Lau Hor Road. Near the famous White Cloud Temple. A place to go to buy flowers.”

“It is good that you are willing to frequent such a place in order to obtain road directions.”

“Are you suggesting that I went to the orh kwee keng to enjoy myself?”

“Of course not! You went there to ask for road directions!” smiled his sister.

+ + + + + +

That afternoon, they located the flower shop of Pak Chew Cheng. They knew that they had came to the right place because the sign said,

“Pak Chew Cheng Flower Supplies.
We sell only good flowers
For live people and for dead people.
Everything also got.”

Wen Yiji was not comfortable in going into a flower shop so he told his sister, “Go in and try to find out some background information for me while I remain outside.”

Xiang Xiang nodded. But instead of going into the flower shop, she entered the shop next door. She came out again and walked to her brother.

“You went into the wrong shop!” he exclaimed.

“Relax!” she said. “It is always easier to obtain information from a nosy neighbour! I learned that Pak Chew Cheng was killed and has been dead for a month. However, he has a younger brother, Pak Puay Kee who helped him run the shop. A few days after Pak Chew Cheng was killed, some of Lord Tai’s men came and took Pak Puay Kee away. So now, the business is run by Pak Puay Kee’s wife, Mrs Pak.”

“Hmmmm…..let’s go into the shop,” he said. “Buy some flowers. I want to take a look around.”

They walked into the shop. A young woman of beauty came towards them.

“Hi,” she smiled. “Can I be of service?”

“Yes,” replied Xiang Xiang. “We are looking for some flowers.”

Xiang Xiang did all the talking while her brother kept quiet. He thought that Mrs Pak looked remarkably sexy. Her breasts were big and jiggled slightly as she walked. He found himself wondering what her nipples were like. At the same time, he was curious why Lord Tai would take her husband away. After his sister bought some flowers, they left the shop.

That evening, after dinner they retired for the night. Instead of sleeping, Wen Yiji dressed himself in black and left his room.

Xiang Xiang was resting in her own room when she heard him go out. She thought, “I wonder which courtesan house he is going to hit tonight!”

However, Wen Yiji went straight to Pak Chew Cheng’s flower shop. The shop had already closed for the night. That did not bother him. He tied a black cloth over half his face and leapt to the roof of the building and then landed in the inner courtyard.

Mrs Pak happened to be there and she was holding a kitchen knife in her hand. Again, he was fascinated by the jiggling of her breasts.

“Do not make a sound,” warned Yiji. “I do not wish to kill you.”

“What do you want,” she asked after the initial shock was over.

“I came looking for Pak Chew Cheng,” he said. “He is an agent for assassins.”

“What are you, an assassin?”

“What I am is my business.”

“My brother-in-law Pak Chew Cheng is dead.”

“How did he die?”

“Killed by Lord Tai’s men.”


“Some people wanted to hire an assassin to kill Lord Tai. My brother-in-law accepted the commission to find somebody. It was stupid of him. Lord Tai’s people captured the assassin and forced him to tell out the name of the agent. Then they came here to kill Pak Chew Cheng. Not content with that, they took my husband away.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

“If you are Pak Chew Cheng’s friend, you may want to avenge him.”

“I am not his friend. I came here because I thought that he may be able to help me contact Gojisan of the Fire Mountain Sect.”


“I am a top assassin,” he replied. “I want to join the Fire Mountain Sect.”

“Too bad. Gojisan has disappeared for five years.”

“Do you know anything that might help me?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

Wen Yiji was silent for a while. He doubted if she would know anything useful. The whole effort of locating Pak Chew Cheng was wasted.

“I apologize for troubling you,” he said as he turned to leave.

He sensed rather than saw the kitchen knife hurled in his direction. Neatly, he whirled aside and struck out with his hand. He tapped the kitchen knife as it flew by him, shattering the weapon into a dozen pieces.

“Are you trying to kill me?” he demanded.

“No,” she replied. “The knife was aimed to fly past you. I needed to know how good your kungfu was.”


“I need to hire an assassin. He has to be someone of remarkable skills. Your kungfu appears to be magnificent.”

“Who do you wish to kill?”

“Lord Tai.”

He stared at her breasts as he thought hard. For the whole day, he had been contemplating killing Lord Tai. He would have done it for free. But he also needed to find the money for Xiang Xiang to open her restaurant. Perhaps there was a fat fee involved.

“What is the fee for killing Lord Tai?” he asked casually.

She looked at him steadily in the eye and replied, “A wild night of mindblowing sex with me.”

Chapter 19: The contract on Lord Tai

Wen Yiji stared at Mrs Pak. He had not expected her to make such an indecent proposal to him. She was a fine lady, not one of the average painted courtesans. There was grace in her movement and a certain class in her manner. He was tempted, greatly tempted. And he had good reason to kill Lord Tai. A month ago, Sah Mi threw him off the Tiger Crossing Bridge. Just before he did so, Sah Mi told him that it was Lord Tai who insisted that he threw people off the bridge every now and then to remind the people that they had to pay the toll, legitimate or not. Yiji had a narrow escape and he swore that he would come back to make Sah Mi and his master pay. It was time to make Lord Tai regret being born.

However, killing Lord Tai might not be easy. He needed to negotiate for better terms.

“I have no doubt that you will be a most fantastic lay,” he said. “The offer is tempting. However, Lord Tai is not an ordinary target. To expect that his life is worth only a night of love would be too naive.”

“You are right, Mr Assassin,” she said after some consideration. “I shall up my offer to three nights.”

“Three nights with you will be a most unforgettable experience, I’m sure. But the world of an assassin is merciless. We need to train every day and our expenses are high. To keep our bodies in top condition, we eat only the best. Like shark’s fins with abalone. And when we are not drinking the best wines, we are drinking bird nest soup. If you want my services, you will have to pay me in cash.”

“I do not have money.”

“Much as I would love to fuck you, I have to be realistic. No money no talk.”

“I can consider giving you more nights.”

“No money no talk.”

“What if….”

“No money no talk.”

Mrs Pak kept silent for a moment. She was running out of options. She played her last card.

“If you will accept the assignment, I will tell you how you can be very rich,” she said. “I know where Lord Tai keeps his valuables.”

“I also know. He keeps it in his house.”

“You do not know which part of his house he keeps it in.”

“I know. He keeps it in his bedroom. Sure like that one.”

“But you will not know how to find it. It is very well hidden.”

“True. But where he keeps his valuables is none of my business.”

“Will you hear me out?”

“Okay, speak.”

“In Lord Tai’s bedroom, there are two stone buddhas facing the door. You have to turn the stone buddhas towards each other. Turn the smaller buddha first. When the two buddhas are facing each other, the picture of the tiger on the wall will swing outwards to reveal a secret compartment behind. That is where he keeps his money.”

“How do you know so much about his bedroom?”

“That is my business.”

“If you do not tell me the truth, there will be no deal.”

“Take off your face mask first.”

“No. If I do that, I will have to kill you.”

“In that case, I will not tell you a thing.”

“Suit yourself. You will not find many assassins willing to go against Lord Tai. Especially since you have no money to pay.”

“All right,” said Mrs Pak. “I’ll tell you. Swear to heaven you will never reveal this to anybody.”

“I swear to heaven.”

“When Lord Tai’s men took my husband away, I went to seek Lord Tai to beg for his mercy. He laughed in my face and told me that he had a use for my husband and that I should not expect to see my husband home again. Then he pulled me into his bedroom. After that, he raped me till I passed out. When I came to, I kept quiet and he did not know that I had regained consciousness. Through half-opened eyes, I saw him turning the two stone buddhas in the room. The painting of the tiger on the wall swung open to reveal a compartment recessed into the wall. From where I was, I could see that the compartment contained gold and other valuables. Lord Tai placed some artifact inside the compartment before closing it.”

“Ah…….he raped you. No wonder you want him dead!”

“I hate him for taking away my husband and for what he did to me.”

Wen Yiji mulled over the facts for a moment. The idea of entering Lord Tai’s house to steal his valuables did not appeal to him. He was an assassin, not a thief. Perhaps he should just kill Lord Tai and get it over with. The fate of Mrs Pak’s husband bothered him.

“Why does Lord Tai want your husband? “

“He is using my husband for some evil purpose. One of my secret contacts has informed me that my husband is not expected to live for long as Lord Tai’s prisoner.”

“Shouldn’t you be thinking about how to rescue your husband?” he asked.

“Lord Tai and Prefect Chou have this city sewn up pretty tight. If my husband is rescued, his life will be colder than water. Lord Tai’s men will come here first to look for him. Then they will kill him and me.”

“You can always flee with him.”

“We will have to abandon this shop. My husband will not do such a thing. This shop carries the history of the Pak family. It was my brother-in-law’s idea of making fast money by becoming an agent for assassins that got us into this mess. My husband will rather die than to leave this flower shop.”

“It does look like your options are limited.”

“Yes. I will be satisfied with the death of Lord Tai. Once he is dead, I will try to persuade his son to release my husband.”

“If in the attempt to kill Lord Tai, I fail and get captured, they will force me to reveal the fact that you hired me for the assassination. Then they will come to kill you. Have you thought of that?

“Yes. That is a risk that I will have to take. When I married into the Pak family, I swore that I would take care of my husband and his interests. I intend to do just that.”

“All right then,” said Yiji. “I accept your terms. I’ll take my three nights of pleasure first and then kill Lord Tai.”

“No, I’ll give you one night first.”

“Let’s compromise. I’ll take two nights. Then after I have killed Lord Tai, I’ll take the third night. Is that agreeable to you?”

“All right,” replied Mrs Pak.

“And another thing,” said Yiji. “You must not attempt to find out my true identity.”

“What do I call you?” she asked.

“You can call me the One Eye Snake.”

“But you have two eyes!”

“It’s just a name. I’ll take my first night of sex with you tonight.”

Mrs Pak nodded and led him to her bedroom.

Yiji stared at her swaying ass as he followed her. In the bedroom, she undressed before him. The voluptuousness of her body took his breath away. He would have loved to look some more but she blew out the candle. Yiji undressed in the dark and joined her on the bed. He removed his mask, reached out for her and caressed her breasts. They were as round and large as he had expected. She lay back with her arms above her head and allowed him easy access to her smooth chest. He mouthed her tits gently until her nipples grew long and hard. He took his time. Her smooth skin quivered as he sucked. Soon he felt her hand snaking down between his legs to grab his hardened member. She gasped at the size of his girth.

“My goodness, this can’t be possible!” she exclaimed in shock. “You are huge.”

“Are you worried?” he asked.

“No,” she replied confidently. “Let your horse come.”

He clambered over her head and pressed his member to her lips. She opened her mouth and wetted him thoroughly. When he could no longer hold off the action, he laid on top of her and she opened up. He thrusted, slowly at first, and then quickened the pace. She arched her back gracefully as he flailed away. Soon, she lost all sense of grace and moaned loudly as he moved violently in her. The bed creaked rhythmically under their movements.


He brought her to orgasm after orgasm.

That night, within limits, he pounded her non-stop.

+ + + + + +

Just before daybreak, he left the flower shop and went back to the inn. Xiang Xiang was just waking up when she heard him come in. She went to greet him.

“Good morning, Brother Yiji!” she chirped. “What are we going to do today?”

“I am going to sleep,” he said. “I’m exhausted.”

“Oh, you must be working too hard,” she commented. “Were you up all night doing research?”

Yiji could tell that she was sarcastic, but he was too tired to care. “Go shopping,” he told her. “And don’t wake me up for lunch.”

“Yes, brother,” she replied. She had plans to visit some of the more successful food places to get ideas for her restaurant. She was not sure where her capital was coming from, but she was confident that Yiji would find a way. Her brother was not an ordinary person. If he told her that he would get her the money for her restaurant, he would get it. A fifteen year old girl opening a restaurant was unheard of, but there is always a first time.

+ + + + + +

Wen Yiji woke up in the afternoon. He stumbled out of his room and a waiter brought him a bowl of bitter gourd soup. The waiter explained, “Your sister said that you are to drink this when you wake up.”

Holding his breath, Yiji downed the soup. The events of the previous night came back clearly to him.

“That Mrs Pak sure is some fine woman!” he muttered to himself. The enormity of his assignment soon asserted itself in his brain. “Damn! I have promised to kill Lord Tai,” he murmured. “The best time to do so is to kill him when he is visiting the courtesan house. I’ll do it tonight.”

It was not difficult to find out where Lord Tai was staying. The Tai mansion was huge, as befitting somebody important in the city. The distance from the mansion to the House of the Hovering Butterfly was not too far and he familiarized himself with the route.

Wen Yiji went back and strung his bow really tight. With his Dark Fire energy, he was shooting better than he was six years ago. He needed some arrows that were untraceable to him. While on the streets, he spotted a soldier walking to a backlane to piss. As the soldier was spraying a tree indiscriminately, Wen Yiji came from behind and knocked him unconscious. When the soldier got up unsteadily later, he was glad that his money was not stolen. He did not count the arrows in his quiver, or he would have discovered that he had some arrows missing.

That evening, Wen Yiji waited near the House of the Hovering Butterfly. As regular as clockwork, Lord Tai’s entourage made their way to the courtesan house as dusk approached. Wen Yiji spotted them before they reached their destination. He leapt up to the rooftops, pulled a cloth mask across his face, prepared his bow and arrow, and waited for the opportunity to strike. Looking down from the rooftops in the semidarkness, he saw the carriage stopped just outside the House of the Hovering Butterfly.

A man got out.

Yiji aimed his arrow and waited for the right moment to release it. The fading twilight, revealed that the man was not Lord Tai. It was Tai Lan Ngong, the son. Yiji relaxed his bow.

Then another figure was seen getting out of the carriage. Again Yiji pulled his bow and prepared himself.

This time it was Lord Tai. As Lord Tai slowly alighted from the carriage, Wen Yiji released the arrow from his bow.

The arrow had everything; power, speed and accuracy. There would be no escape.

Si Fatt Guai was in the vicinity when he heard the incoming arrow speeding towards Lord Tai’s heart. He was holding a folded fan, and he threw it in the path of the arrow. The fan managed to knock the arrow off its course by an arm’s length from the heart. Lord Tai was still holding on to the carriage with an outstretched right hand when he felt the arrow pierced his forearm.

“Assassin!” shouted Si Fatt Guai and placed himself in front of Lord Tai. Other guards quickly surrounded Lord Tai.

Wen Yiji was surprised to see his arrow knocked off course.

“That Si Fatt Guai has more power than I suspected! Horng kan lah!” he muttered. He could not get off a second shot because the guards had already surrounded Lord Tai. For a short moment, he considered going down to the ground to fight with them. However, the presence of Si Fatt Guai impressed upon him the need for caution. He would have to try again another day.

Quickly, he ducked down below the roof skyline and disappeared into the night.

Si Fatt Guai shouted to the guards, “Guard your master. I’ll find out who this assassin is.” He leapt to the top the roof to challenge the assassin, but he found no one.

“Damn!” he cursed. “The assassin escaped.”

He leapt down to the ground and went to check on Lord Tai’s condition.

“Thank you, Master Si,” gasped Lord Tai in pain. “You have saved my life!”

“I am sorry that your hand got injured,” said Si Fatt Guai. “I was not able to deflect it far enough. That arrow had a lot of power behind it.”

The arrow had pierced right through the forearm and its metal head had penetrated through to the other side of the forearm.

“This is a standard army issued arrow!” exclaimed Tai Lan Ngong. “The archer must be a military man.”

Lord Tai was in great pain and he barked, “Take out the arrow and send me home! We’ll talk about this later.”

The son tried to yank out the arrow causing his father to howl in pain. “You don’t pull out an arrow,” he yelled. “You have to push it through to the other side! Stupid tai lan ngong!”

His son tried to push the arrow through and that earned another harsh scolding, “Break off the tail end first! How do you expect the tail end feathers to go through the flesh?”

Finally, a soldier took over from the hapless son and broke off the tail end of the arrow. Then he pushed the arrow right through the forearm of Lord Tai until it came out completely on the other side. A cloth was tied around his forearm to stench the flow of blood. The entourage made its way back to Lord Tai’s mansion with everybody at full alert.

Wen Yiji made his way to the Pak Chew Cheng flower shop. He appeared before Mrs Pak to claim his second night of lovemaking.

“After tonight, you will have to make an attempt to kill Lord Tai,” she said.

“I have already made an attempt tonight,” he told her. “I shot an arrow towards Lord Tai on the street but somebody deflected away my arrow. That somebody is Si Fatt Guai. What do you know of him?”

“Si Fatt Guai?” she asked. “I remember that name. He was a guest of Lord Tai. My brother-in-law, Pak Chew Cheng, mentioned him once.”

“What is his school of kungfu?”

“Nobody knows. That man is mysterious. He is not from any of the mainstream kungfu schools like Shaolin, Wu Tang or the other known sects. However, my brother-in-law did mention once that Si Fatt Guai’s specialty is the iron palm and that no other kungfu can match his power except for the Buddha Palm. This is bad news!”

“The Buddha Palm? I don’t know the Buddha Palm! I will have to kill Lord Tai when that interfering Si Fatt Guai is not around. I managed to injure Lord Tai tonight.”

“If Lord Tai is injured, he will not leave his mansion.”

“That’s right. He will stay inside his mansion for greater security. I will have to kill him there. However, his mansion is large and I do not know where he sleeps.”

“I can provide you with directions to his bedroom in his mansion. You will need to disable the alarm.”

“He has an alarm?”

“Of course. He has a lever in his bedroom that he can pull to summon his guards. That night when I was raped, I pulled the lever by accident when I was struggling with him in his bedroom. A bell rang in the hallway outside and within moments, the place was swarming with guards. The mansion is well guarded with guards patrolling constantly. The kitchen corridor is not so well guarded. Use that route. I’ll draw it out for you.”

Mrs Pak had a good memory for details. She drew him a rough map and filled him with enough information about Lord Tai’s abode for him to craft out a plan.

“After you have killed Lord Tai, you can come to me and claim your final night,” she said. “But after that, there will be no more contact between us. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” he replied. “Do not worry. No one will know. I will miss your tits.”

“And I will miss your cock. It is bigger than Lord Tai’s worm.”

“Is it also bigger than your husband’s cock?” he asked, curious to know.

“Yes,” she smiled. “Very much bigger.”

He laughed and followed her to her bedroom where he watched her stripped naked. She jiggled her tits, got into bed and he blew out the candle light. He undressed quickly and was hard immediately. Lovingly, she toyed with his hardness, admiring the feel of his warm spear. He rode her slowly, taking his time. He was about to undertake a dangerous assignment and if he got caught, he might not be able to experience a woman in his bed again. He rode her throughout the night till he heard an early cock crow. Then he left quietly in the early morning darkness, thoroughly satiated.

+ + + + + +

He woke up in the afternoon and Xiang Xiang showed him something.

“Look!” she said as she showed him a knife.

“What is it?” he asked.

“My new kitchen knife!” she replied excitedly. “We took this blade from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, remember? I located a blacksmith yesterday and got him to make a new handle for it.”

“It looks a bit like a very long kitchen knife. But to be honest, it looks more like a butterfly sword because your blacksmith has fixed a crossguard that protects the user's hand from the opponent's sword. A kitchen knife should not have a crossguard at the hilt.”

“I know,” said Xiang Xiang. “He mistook my intentions so now my kitchen knife looks like fighting knife. I did not have the heart to tell him to change it. It feels nicely balanced in my hand so I’ll just use it as it is. If I have the metal guard removed, the feel may not be as good.”

“That is true. Butterfly swords come in pairs. Maybe you ought to make another one just like it and I’ll teach you how to wield butterfly swords.”

“I intend to use it as a kitchen knife,” laughed his sister. “While you were asleep, the whole city has been in uproar. Apparently, someone tried to assassinate Lord Tai last night. Then this morning, the corpses of Sah Mi and his hirelings were found down river. The whole city is abuzz with the news.”

“Oh,” replied Yiji, “What do the people say?”

“They say that the archer was a lousy shot. He aimed at Lord Tai’s heart but got his hand instead.”

But Yiji knew the truth of the incident. If Si Fatt Guai had not intervened, Lord Tai would have been dead. Thinking of Si Fatt Guai reminded him of something.

“Iron Palm with Fairy power……..Buddha Palm…..where have I heard this before?” he asked.

“In Pingchen,” replied his sister. “There was this story about how Li Daifu won the hand of Jade Flower by defeating his opponent who used the Five Fairies Iron Palm.”

“That’s right!” exclaimed Yiji. “And it was said that the Five Fairies Iron Palm is next in power only to the Buddha Palm! Li Daifu could not match his opponent in power, but he had the advantage in speed! He immobilized his opponent by striking a yuedao nerve point. It was a lesson of speed versus power!”

“What is this about, Brother Yiji?”


Yiji went into deep thought. So Si Fatt Guai used the Five Fairies Iron Palm. That meant that it would not be wise to try to match power with him. Both the Five Fairies Iron Palm and the Dark Fire Iron Palm used the Dark Energy. He did not know which was the more powerful kungfu.

“When are we leaving this city?” asked his sister.

“In a few days time,’ he replied. “There is something I have to do first.”

“Why don’t you come with me and see the sights of the city? There are a few eating places that I wish to try out. It would be unseemly for a single girl to eat at those places. Will you accompany me?”

“Oh, all right then,” he replied. He might as well act the tourist while he was planning how to assassinate Lord Tai.

+ + + + + +

In the Tai Manor, Prefect Chou was having a meeting with his father-in-law.

“We have to smoke out this assassin,” commented Prefect Chou. “As long as he is out there, we do not know when he will strike.”

“And how do we intend to do that?” asked Lord Tai.

“We will have someone dressed as you and sit in your carriage. Then we will have your carriage go around town. The assassin will be tempted to strike. I’ll have a team of fighters follow the carriage secretly. When the assassin strikes, we’ll nab him.”

“I like the idea. I’ll ask Master Si Fatt Guai to dress up as me. His Iron Palm kungfu is near invincible. The assassin is in for a nasty shock!”

Chapter 20: The ruse

Tai Lan Ngong walked through the passageway to the underground dungeon cells. He nodded to the two guards standing there and asked, “Is Master Si still inside?”

One of them grinned naughtily and said, “He’s not finished yet.”

The other one commented, “He’s still moving steadily. Like sawing timber.”

Tai Lan Ngong walked over to a cell where sounds were coming from and peeked in through a hole cut in the door. The sight nauseated him. Si Fatt Guai was busy sodomising a male prisoner held in there. Tai Lan Ngong could not understand why Si Fatt Guai preferred men to women.

There were three male prisoners held in three cells. One was Pak Puay Kee and another was a young waiter kidnapped from a courtesan house. The third was a young man visiting the city who wandered to the wrong place at the wrong time and was promptly kidnapped by Lord Tai for the pleasure of his guest. All three were good looking young men and Lord Tai had kept the three prisoners clean and healthy solely for the entertainment of Si Fatt Guai.

Tai Lan Ngong waited until Si Fatt Guai had finished satisfying his lust. Then he knocked on the cell door and said, “Si Fatt Guai. My father wishes to speak with you if it is not too inconvenient for you.”

Si Fatt Guai grunted and said, “Tell him I will be up in a short moment.”

Tai Lan Ngong took one final look at the scene, screwed up his nose, and then left in disgust.

In the front sitting hall, Lord Tai was having a discussion with his son-in-law Prefect Chou.

“I see that Si Fatt Guai has been useful to you after all,” the prefect remarked. “Such a young man…..and with such a high level of kungfu…..that is unusual.”

“Yes,” said Lord Tai. “He is unusual.”

“Still, I feel that we should beware of him. A young man reaching great heights of kungfu too fast is in danger from the “run fire enter demon” syndrome. You don’t want Si Fatt Guai to run amok here.”

“Don’t worry,” said Lord Tai. “He is totally under my control.”

“If his father, Agent Simit of Tsinkiang, could not control him, what makes you think you can?”

“His father wanted him to get married and start a family, but he does not like women. That is why he left Tsinkiang. I, on the other hand, am giving him what he wants. This one will make a most loyal dog.”

“For your sake, I hope you are right.”

“I know I am right,” insisted Lord Tai confidently.

“Agent Simit has three sons. The eldest son, Si Fatt Guai, is already a powerful fighter. I heard that the second son, Si Liu Thung, is also strong in kungfu. But no one knows who their sifus are! Don’t you think that is strange?”

“That is a mystery. The Si family has never been one of the great kungfu families. Suddenly in the past few years, it produced two powerful kungfu exponents without a known sifu and with no name for their brand of kungfu. I have not been able to find out what type of kungfu they employ.”

“If that is not strange enough, I have heard that Agent Simit forbids his third son from learning any kungfu. Something is decidedly odd here!”

The two old men pondered upon the strange facts for a while in silence. A noise at the door alerted them that Si Fatt Guai had arrived.

“Ah, Master Si,” beamed Lord Tai. “I have a favour to ask of you.”

“Please do not be courteous,” said Si Fatt Guai. “If you need anything done, just open your golden mouth and it will be done.”

“We are going to smoke out the assassin. We need you to disguise yourself as me and sit in my carriage. We will then send the carriage around town in the hope that the assassin will attack it.”

“And when he does, I’ll take care of him!” said Si Fatt Guai. “It is a good plan.”

“I’ll have men posted along the route of the carriage to capture the assassin in case he tries to escape,” added Prefect Chou.

“If you have too many soldiers around, he may not be tempted to take the bait,” remarked Si Fatt Guai.

“Don’t worry,” said Prefect Chou. “The men will be in disguise as street vendors and beggars.”

+ + + + + +

Wen Yiji and his sister were sitting by a roadside stall eating a light lunch.

“This is not bad,” he commented. “We ought to make this for our restaurant.”

“This is made from tofu only,” she said. “It’s a simple dish.”

“We ought to give some thought as to where we are going to set up a restaurant. I don’t think I want to set it up in this city.”

“Tsinkiang,” she said. “We’ll set up in Tsinkiang.”

“Why Tsinkiang?” he asked.

“Because the Borrowing Hag said that our parents came from there. Our roots are in Tsinkiang. I do not wish to go back to the Imperial City. There are too many painful memories there.”

“Hmmm….you have a point there,” he said. “I’ll have to go back to the Imperial City and dig up the bones of our family members and rebury them in Tsinkiang.”

He looked up. Two street vendors walked by the stall selling candy. They reminded him of the time when he and Xiang Xiang were both selling their Famous Amos Cookies. He looked further down the road. Lord Tai’s ornate carriage could be seen making its way along the street. It was a striking carriage, and bore the impression that someone important was inside.

“Whose carriage is that?” Xiang Xiang asked the stall keeper.

“That’s Lord Tai’s carriage,” came the reply. “Strange, I thought he was injured. That’s what the whole city said. Obviously he must be well enough to travel.”

“Maybe it’s empty,” remarked Wen Yiji. He noted that the carriage was guarded only by six guards.

The carriage stopped near a shop near where Yiji was eating and one of Lord Tai’s guards went into the shop to buy something. He came out with a package. The window flap of the carriage opened and the white bearded face of a man could be seen inside. The guard handed the package through the window to Lord Tai. The carriage moved off.

“So, the carriage is not empty!” remarked Yiji. “Lord Tai is inside.”

“Those beggars following Lord Tai’s carriage must be hoping for alms,” remarked Xiang Xiang. She nodded in the direction of three beggars walking in the same direction as the carriage. She noted that they had stopped when the carriage stopped.

“If so, they will have a long wait,” said the stall keeper. “Lord Tai is not known to view beggars favourably.”

“Lord Tai must be very young,” noted Xiang Xiang. “Not more than thirty years of age.”

“How could you tell?” asked her brother.

“From his eyes. I saw him through the carriage window. He had very young eyes,” she replied.

“He had a white beard like a lot of old men. Why did you not think that he was an old man?”

“Beards do not always tell the true age. When I was living on the streets in the Imperial City in winter, almost every man had a beard to keep the chin warm. I was trained to look at the eyes of a potential victim. We had to be able to quickly spot the difference between young men and old men.”


“Because young men will give chase if you snatch their money pouch. Old men are less likely to run after you.”

“Xiang Xiang, I am telling you that Lord Tai is an old man.”

“Well, in that case, the one sitting in the carriage is not Lord Tai.”

Wen Yiji was jolted to the spine. Why would there be a young man in a white beard inside Lord Tai’s carriage? He put it out off his mind. He would be attempting to assassinate Lord Tai in a few days time when the moon was not so bright. Wen Yiji had the inborn ability to see decently well under poor light conditions and he intended to use this ability to his advantage. Stealing into Lord Tai’s mansion during a dark night will give him an advantage over the guards. However, if Lord Tai was traveling about in his carriage, then Wen Yiji need not steal into Lord Tai’s mansion after all.

He put Lord Tai out off his mind and concentrated on his food.

+ + + + + +

The following day, Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang were at another section of the city. They went into a new-fashioned eating place called the 'Kan Tuck Kee Fried Chicken Shop' to check it out.

“I was told that the food is very fast here,” said Xiang Xiang. “I want to see if their concept works.”

“Fast is good,” remarked her brother. “Fast food service means fast money.”

The food came and they took several bites.

“This food tastes like shit,” declared Wen Yiji.

“You are right,” agreed his sister. “I won’t even give this away for free. This food has been cooked by someone who does not take pride in his work. He is only after easy profits.”

Ni na beh. This chicken is older than me!” complained Wen Yiji.

“It’s probably an old hen that they bought cheaply from the market,” said Xiang Xiang. “The herbs and spices do not appear to be sufficient.”

Wen Yiji screwed up his face as he tasted the coleslaw.

“This is a lousy dish,” he declared loudly. “The vegetables in here must have been inferior.”

The stall holder came over to investigate.

“There is nothing wrong with our vegetables,” he protested. “We use the best vegetables from the best farms using only organic fertilizer passed by the best farm workers.”

“The chicken is tough and stringy,” said Yiji. “It’s probably an old mother hen that could not lay any more eggs. Maybe the hen was blind and deaf as well.”

“No, no, no,” exclaimed the stall holder. “We use only the best free range chickens! Our chickens are happy chickens!”

“Don’t bullshit me,” retorted Wen Yiji. “Any chicken that ends up getting killed cannot be all that happy!”

Their attention was momentarily distracted. A family was seated at the next table and the matronly mother suddenly asked loudly, “Isn’t that Lord Tai’s carriage heading this way?”

Yiji looked in the direction up the street. Lord Tai’s carriage could be seen some distance away. Then he noticed the same street vendors selling candy who were walking some distance in front of Lord Tai’s carriage the day before. Could it be a coincidence?

Forgetting his food, Wen Yiji got up and walked out to the street.

Then he saw them; the same three beggars who were following Lord Tai’s carriage the day before. They had kept their distance so that nobody could make a connection between them and Lord Tai’s carriage. But Yiji knew that something was not right.

Suddenly, he understood. It was a ruse! Lord Tai had somebody impersonate him inside the carriage in the hope that the assassin would show himself. Xiang Xiang had said that the man with the white beard inside the carriage could not be Lord Tai. The street vendors and beggars must be part of the security detail. There were probably more men hidden in the alleys along the route. They were there to trap the assassin.

One of the kids at the next table suddenly pointed at the street vendors selling candy, and bawled that he wanted to buy some candy. His mother was trying to shut him up with little success. The kid was loud and insistent.

Yiji got irritated.

“Shut up kid!” he said sharply. “Those men will not sell you anything. You are too ugly. Too yong suay.”

The mother took offense to Yiji’s statement and said, “My kid is not ugly! People will be willing to sell him anything.“

Yiji looked the mother in the eye and pointed to the two street vendors and said, “If your kid can persuade those two vendors to sell him their entire stock of candy, I will pay for them!”

“Are you sure?” asked the mother. “You don’t simply talk big, you know!”

“Yes, I’m sure!” replied Yiji. “But he must buy the entire stock. Not one candy less. Send the kid out!”

“It will cost you a lot of money!”

“Send the kid out!”

The kid needed no further urging. He ran out to the street and accosted the two street vendors who were part of Lord Tai’s security detail. Then, he loudly told them that he wanted to buy up their entire stock.

“Go away, kid,” hissed one of the vendors. If he sold his entire stock, his disguise as a street vendor would be untenable. He would be punished later on for making such a mistake.

“I want your entire stock!” yelled the boy. The street vendors ignored him and walked on. The kid bawled and came back to his mother.

“Told ya he was too yong suay,” said Wen Yiji smugly. The incident confirmed his thoughts that those men were part of Lord Tai’s security apparatus.

“Will you stop it?” demanded Xiang Xiang, exasperated by her brother’s behaviour. “He is not yong suay. Please don’t say such things to that really ugly kid.”

She dug into her bag and brought out some sweets. She handed them to the bawling kid and he promptly stopped crying. The grateful mother mumbled her thanks.

Yiji sat down to eat again. Lord Tai’s carriage trundled past.

“Damn, these buns are more than two days old,” complained Yiji loudly. "Hard like rock!"

The stall holder came over and said, “Sir, please do not complain so loudly. My buns are comparable to the best in the city. The dough was kneaded by virgin maidens with the softest hands.”

“I’m not talking about how it was made. I’m complaining about it being old and hard!” commented Wen Yiji. “You should learn to improve your food preparation, especially your fried chicken.”

“We use ten herbs and spices in our preparations,” said the stallholder.

“Only ten? You should use more. Your concept may work if you use eleven herbs and spices.”

“Eleven will be too much. And anyway, anybody who eats our food will say that it is good.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course! Our quality is well-known.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Yiji. “If you can persuade those three beggars to come in right now to eat a meal, I will pay for them. They can order anything, even your most expensive dishes. But if they are not willing to come in to eat your stuff, then you should not charge me for my meal.” He then pointed to the three beggars following Lord Tai’s carriage.

“Are you sure?” asked the stall holder. “Those beggars look like a hungry lot. They will eat you into the poorhouse.”

“It’s my money. Go bring them in! But if they don’t want to come in, do you agree that my meal should be free?”

“If they don’t want to come in, then your meal here is free.”

The stall holder went out to the streets and stopped the three beggars and said, “Sirs, I will like to invite you three to a course of fine dining in our establishment. It will be free of charge!”

The beggars stared at him and then at Lord Tai’s carriage. They were part of the team protecting the carriage and there would be trouble if they let the carriage get out of their sight.

“I have fried chicken… famous ‘Kan Tuck Kee’ fried chicken.”

There was no answer.

“You can have Spicy or Original Recipe. Even both! Free of charge!” said the stall holder.

“No thank you,” they said.

“I have coleslaw and mashed potatoes. Also free of charge!” tempted the stall holder.

The beggars shook their heads and walked away.

“Wait!” the stallholder shouted after them. "If you want something new, I can fry you some ‘Kan Tuck Kee’ Fried Duck! I have never tried it before and you will be the first to experience it. Also free of charge!"

The beggars ignored him and walked away even faster.

The stall holder was puzzled. He had never known beggars to turn down free food. Disappointed, he walked into his stall and told Yiji, “Alright. Your meal is free.”

Xiang Xiang dug into her bag again. She produced some sweets and handed them to the stall holder.

“What are those for?” asked the stall holder.

“Oh sorry,” she replied. “I thought you were going to cry.”

“Get out of here!” said the exasperated stall holder.

Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang tried not to laugh as they left. As they were walking out, Yiji turned his head back and said in a loud voice, “I think it was your ‘Kan Tuck Kee’ Fried Duck that frightened them off the most!”

Chapter 21: Luring the tiger from the mountain

On the day that Wen Yiji planned to carry out the assassination, he left Xiang Xiang to her own devices while he went to make his preparations. He knew that there would be uproar in the city once Lord Tai was dead, so Yiji planned to leave early the following morning.

He came back to the inn in the afternoon and told his sister, “Sleep early tonight. We’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning.”

“How early?” she asked.

“Before daybreak,” he answered. “We’ll be leaving by boat on the river and sailing downstream to Amoy.”

“Amoy is not that far away. If we leave at mid morning, we’ll be in Amoy in the early afternoon in time for lunch.”

“I want to leave before daybreak.”

“This is already winter. The boatmen will not leave so early in the morning. It’s too cold so early.”

“I know. But I have already found a boatman willing to take us.”

“That’s not possible. How did you do it?”

“I was asking around a river jetty for a boatman to start before daybreak. None of them wanted to start so early. Just as I had given up, one man approached me and said that he had a boat and would be willing to take me anywhere I wished to go. Then he took me to see his boat and after that I paid him a deposit “

“Well, he had better be there early tomorrow morning.”

“Don’t worry. He was most anxious to do my business. He’ll be there.”

Xiang Xiang suspected that her brother was planning something, or else he would not be leaving the city at such an unearthly hour in winter. However, she decided not to probe further. Besides, she wanted to see Amoy as well. The two cities of Changchow and Amoy were not very far from each other and were connected by a river. She had heard that Amoy was a historic port and would be a most interesting place to visit. Deep in thought, she curled her tongue.

“What’s that?” asked Yiji.

“What’s what?”

“What’s that thing under your tongue?”

“Oh….that’s just a copper blade” she replied.

“Make sure you don’t swallow it by mistake,” he admonished. “You’re too old to be playing with stuff like that.”

After an early dinner, she went up to her room to pack. It would be dusk soon. Her brother’s room was next to hers. She did not hear him moving about next door, so she suspected that he had already gone out for the night.

“He’s probably out doing some more research,” she thought. “He should get married and settle down.”

+ + + + + +

Si Fatt Guai was getting restless. He had been seated inside Lord Tai’s carriage disguised in a white beard and acting as bait for the assassin for several days now. Prefect Chou’s soldiers were all around and in disguise. However, the assassin had not taken the bait. There was no way that the assassin could have failed to notice the carriage. Si Fatt Guai knew that if the assassin wanted to strike, he would most probably strike at night under the cover of darkness. So, he had the carriage move about at night in the hope of luring out the assassin.

Tonight, the moon was just a thin crescent. It might not be enough for the assassin to shoot an arrow. Still, he had to be careful each time he got out of the carriage and exposed himself. As the carriage moved along the street, he heard the tiny whistle of an incoming projectile. It was just a tiny sound, barely audible to even the most alert of dogs. But he did not waste time. In a flash, he held up a bronze shield just in time. The next moment, an arrow had pierced through the window flap of the carriage and headed for his head. The speeding arrow bounced off the bronze shield with a loud noise and fell down to the carriage floor.


“Assassin!” yelled one of the soldiers accompanying the carriage.

The soldiers spotted a figure dressed in black and wearing a mask reloading his bow with another arrow. The masked man was standing in one of the dark alleys, barely visible in the pale moonlight. He shot another arrow and again it was blocked effectively by the shield.


From the opposite side the street, Prefect Chou’s archers appeared and they released a stream of arrows immediately at the black figure.


Ayaaaks!” yelled the assassin, Wen Yiji, as one of the arrows appeared to hit him. He dropped down to the ground.

More arrows followed.


Ayohhhmahai..…” the assassin yelled again as he crawled into the darkness of the alleyway.

“We got him!” shouted one of the archers. “Bring light!”

Several men with lighted torches raced into the alleyway. The assassin was nowhere to be found. Instead, they found their unconscious comrades who were supposed to be guarding that particular alleyway with their faces bashed in.

“Shit! He got away. And he knocked our men out cold!” exclaimed one of the soldiers.

“No wait!” shouted another excitedly. “There is a trail of blood! He is wounded. I think we got him with at least two arrows!”

The men ran after the trail of blood and soon they spotted the assassin limping badly and headed towards a stand of trees in a heavily wooded area.

“There he is! Don’t let him get away!” they shouted.

However, the assassin managed to reach the trees with a struggle and then disappeared from sight. From the safety of the trees, the assassin shot arrow after arrow at his pursuers. A few of the soldiers got shot and that forced the rest of them to stop in their tracks.

Wen Yiji had done his homework well. He had bought a pot of pig’s blood just for the occasion. When dusk came, he had knocked unconscious the Prefect’s disguised soldiers hiding in the alley. He was not sure if they were soldiers or not, so he just knocked out anybody whom he found in the alley. Then he had waited for the carriage to pass. As the carriage passed, he shot at it. The archers in the alley on the opposite side of the street had sent a volley of arrows after him which he neatly avoided. But he yelled out and pretended to be wounded. Twice. Then he took his pot of pig’s blood and started marking a trail of blood, leading the men to the stand of trees.

The captain of Prefect Chou’s men arrived at the scene and asked, “Where is he?”

In answer, an arrow flew towards his direction and fell the man on his right.

“Stay out of range!” the captain shouted. “He may be wounded, but he is still dangerous.

Si Fatt Guai and Tai Lan Ngong reached the scene guided by the shouting of the men.

“Your men were supposed to wait for the assassin to come up to the carriage and kill me! Then I could have taken him out!” fumed Si Fatt Guai. “Instead, they attacked him, causing him to flee!”

“All is not lost,” said Tai Lan Ngong. “He is hiding in that wooded stand of trees. Shall we go in and flush him out?”

“No,” said the captain. “It is a big stretch of wooded area and there are too many places to hide. The night is dark. My men may not be able to find him even with lighted torches. It is better to keep him bottled up in that area and then flush him out after daybreak. Right now, he is injured and losing blood. He can’t go far.”

“He may even be dead before dawn,” said Si Fatt Guai, looking at the bloody trail. “He is losing a lot of blood. Let’s not give him a chance to escape.”

“I’ll get my men to cordon off the wooded area,” said the captain. He barked out an order and the men spread themselves out and surrounded the trees.

“This is a big area,” noted Si Fatt Guai. “Your men are spread too thinly. He may escape in the night. We need more men.”

“I have already asked for reinforcements to come. However, it will be better if I have lots more men. It will be a shame if we cannot bottle him up here.”

“I’ll go back and get some more men,” volunteered Tai Lan Ngong.

In the wooded patch of trees, Wen Yiji readied himself. He saw a spot in the cordon where the soldiers were spread too thinly. He ran in the darkness towards the spot and leapt upwards using lightness kungfu. He sailed high over the soldiers’ heads without them noticing. Depending only on the feeble light from the lighted torches, the soldiers did not notice a shadow passing overhead against the black inkiness of the night sky.

Wen Yiji chuckled, “That should keep Si Fatt Guai and his gang occupied for the whole night!”

He ran towards Lord Tai’s mansion and arrived there before Tai Lan Ngong. He leapt high over the mansion walls and landed noiselessly on the roof of the building. He crouched low and listened. All was quiet. He had not been noticed.

As he was pondering his next step, Tai Lan Ngong arrived home.

“Father!” he yelled. “We have the assassin cornered! He is wounded and is hiding in a clump of trees!”

From the rooftop, Wen Yiji heard Lord Tai speaking with his son. There was great excitement in the Tai household.

“We need more men,” said the son. “Or the assassin may get away.”

“Take some men with you,” ordered Lord Tai. “And bring me the assassin’s head!”

Tai Lan Ngong left the mansion importantly, followed by a large group of men. The mansion was eerily quiet after that.

“Just as I expected!” smiled Wen Yiji. “That Tai Lan Ngong must have taken away almost everybody! And leaving the mansion insufficiently guarded! Who is there left to fight me? Is he stupid of what?”

Wen Yiji left the long bow and the arrows on the rooftop. Armed only with a sword that he had bought in the market in the morning, he made his way towards the general direction of the kitchen. From there, following Mrs Pak’s directions to the letter, Wen Yiji soon located the door of Lord Tai’s bedroom. There were no guards to be seen. In the corridor, about twenty steps from the bedroom, he found a bell with a string attached to it.

“Ah….this must be Lord Tai’s alarm!” he muttered. The string ran along the wall and then through a hole to Lord Tai’s bedroom. Pulling out a dagger, he cut the string and grinned, “There, the alarm has been disabled.”

Stealthily, he crept to the door of Lord Tai’s bedroom and listened. There was no sound. He pushed the door gently. It opened inwards with a creak. He leapt inside and pulled out his sword in readiness for a fight. However, all was quiet.

The room was empty. The inside was lit by oil lamps and in the yellow light, Yiji could see that it was a large room. The bed occupied one end of the room and was exceptionally big.

“So,” he whispered. “That must be the bed where he took many a women against their will. I can put five women in it!”

Wen Yiji closed the room door. Then he spotted the two stone buddhas on the floor near the wall at one end of the room. On the wall, there was a picture of a huge tiger.

“Mrs Pak was not bluffing,” he noted. “There are two stone buddhas and a picture of a tiger!”

He looked around a bit more and discovered the lever near the bed that operated the string for the alarm bell outside. For good measure, he sliced away the rope attached to it just in case it was connected to a second unknown alarm.

His sharp ears picked up the sound of footsteps. Quick as a flash, he hid behind a wooden screen. The door opened and Lord Tai entered. He bolted the door and then proceeded to undress. When he was down to his underclothes, Lord Tai suddenly found a sword held to his throat.

“Don’t make a sound,” warned Wen Yiji. “Most of your guards are gone. And besides, I can kill you faster than anybody can arrive here to save you.”

“Who are you?” demanded Lord Tai.

“I am the assassin that you are trying to catch.”

“That can’t be! My son said that you are wounded and hiding in a clump of trees!”

“Your son is stupid and easily fooled. He did not realize that I was luring the tiger away from the mountain. In the Thirty-Six Strategies of Sun Tzu, the Fifteenth Strategy states that one should never directly attack a well-entrenched opponent. Instead lure him away from his stronghold and separate him from his source of strength.”

“Ahhhh…..but you are in this mansion, my stronghold. I too, have studied the works of SunTzu and I know all his rules by heart.”

“Really? Your stronghold is the people working for you. If I cannot lure you out of this mansion, I can at least lure your people out. That way, I have separated you from your source of strength. What I am applying is a variation of the Fifteenth Strategy. A good student may know the rules, but a true master knows the variations.”

“Your saliva is more than tea. What do you want?”

“It should be obvious by now that I am here to kill you. You have been collecting toll illegally and stashing your ill-gotten gains here.”

“I do not know who has been telling you stories, but I have not been collecting toll illegally.”

“Oh save it! The whole city knows what you have been up to. The Tiger Crossing Bridge was meant to be a toll-free bridge. The money you collected over the years must be quite a hefty sum by now. I have been told that you have a big hoard hidden somewhere in your mansion.”

“That is a lie!”

“I am sure it would not be very difficult to find.”

“There is no hoard, I’m telling you!”

“What if I find it?”

“If you find it, then it is yours!”

Wa lau eh! I did not expect you to be so generous… your entire hoard to me! I thank you from the bottom of my heart! For that, I will let you have a quick death. You see, I can be generous too!”

“Why don’t you put away your sword so that we can talk?”

“I did not come here to talk. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you. Oh…..fuck all that. You are obviously immoral. So let’s make it short. You have the right to remain silent……permanently!””

“You are an assassin, so you must be hired by someone for a price. If you forget about killing me, I can offer you double what your employer is paying you!”

“I don’t think so,” answered Wen Yiji. He was reminded of his payment. Mrs Pak had offered him three nights of mindblowing sex. Lord Tai was doubling the offer. But the idea of having six nights of mindblowing sex with Lord Tai did not appeal to him. He said, “You can shove your stupid offer up your own ass.”

“Alright, three times! And that’s my final offer!” countered Lord Tai. “Now tell me, who was it that sent you to kill me?”

“The Fire Mountain Sect,” lied Wen Yiji.

“That’s impossible!” said Lord Tai. “I know Master Gojisan. He has done some assassination jobs for me in the past. I thought that he is being held a prisoner somewhere.”

“What makes you say that? Have you seen him recently?”

“No, I have not seen him for a long time. But two years ago, a man claiming to be a jailor of Master Gojisan approached my second son to give me a message. He told my son that Gojisan was being held a prisoner in a private prison somewhere. The jailor was fearful at being found out. But Gojisan had promised him a big sum of money if he would betray his master and bring word out to me. The jailor told my son that Gojisan had not touched the ground in years. All his major tendons had been pierced by big barbed hooks and the hooks were suspended by chains from the ceiling. He lay there suspended in mid-air not able to move his limbs. However, the jailor refused to tell my son where Gojisan was being held, wishing to divulged that information to me alone.”

“Why did the jailor choose you to contact?”

“Because he thought that I was powerful enough in this region to win Gojisan's release.”

“Then what happened?”

“My son took me to meet the jailor but by the time we got to the meeting place, the jailor had been killed. He was tortured before he died.”

“That’s just a story. This so-called jailor could have been bluffing.”

“I thought so at first. But then the so-called jailor got himself killed, so obviously something very serious was going on. That incident happened two years ago. Master Gojisan is still missing despite all my efforts to locate him. He seems to have vanished from the face of the earth.”

“That does not make much sense to me. For all I know, it could be you who is keeping Gojisan a prisoner.”

“I assure you that I am not keeping Master Gojisan a prisoner here. Believe me.”

“How did you contact Master Gojisan in the past?”

“Through an agent here in Changchow. The agent has disappeared as well. The Fire Mountain Sect has become defunct. You can’t possibly be from the Fire Mountain Sect. I think you must have been sent by Governor Li.”


“Was it you who killed Sah Mi and his men?”

“Yes. He gave me a lot of interesting information about you before he died.”

“The stupid pig!”

“He said that you were a rotten stingy bastard.”

“That lying fool!”

“He also said that you only have a tiny worm between your legs.”

“The lump of smelly dog shit!”

“It’s time for you to die. Now say your prayers.”

Kan ni nah bu chow chee......”

“That’s a stupid prayer,” Yiji interrupted him. “But it’ll do.”

“Wait! I have something to show you!”

Lord Tai ignored the sword at his throat and walked towards his bed. He reached down to pull out a box. As he did so, he stealthily pushed down on the alarm lever. He expected a bell to ring outside, and when it did not, he was surprised.

“What is it?” asked Wen Yiji.

Lord Tai opened the box and showed him some silver pieces inside.

“I am giving these to you. Take them. They are yours!”

“No thank you,” said Wen Yiji. “You have already given me your hoard. That should be good enough for me. I’ll give these silver pieces away to charity if you like.”

Wen Yiji noted that Lord Tai was working the alarm lever more vigorously.

“Hey, muthafucka! Why are you yanking that lever up and down?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing,” lied Lord Tai. “Sometimes I yank things up and down for fun.”

“I understand,” commented Yiji. “Most men do such things for fun at one time or another in their lives. But this is the first time I have seen someone wank an inanimate object. You are abnormal.”

Lord Tai stopped moving the lever and stared at him. He could not understand why the alarm bell did not sound.

Wen Yiji read his thoughts and commented drily, “I took the liberty of cutting the rope that connects the lever to the alarm bell. I hope you don’t mind.”

Lord Tai looked shocked for a moment, and then he acted. From the inside of the box, he flipped open a secret compartment and pulled out two daggers.

“You may not know it, but I used to be called the Super Amazing Flying Daggers from Hell!” he said. “My amazing flying daggers always find their mark. Always!”

He lifted up a dagger to throw. The next moment, he stared stupidly at his chest where Wen Yiji had buried the sword to the hilt. Wen Yiji had moved so fast that Lord Tai did not have time to even think of evading the sword thrust. The sword had gone straight through the heart and blood oozed out steadily from the body. Lord Tai fell to his knees, not even comprehending that his life was about to end.

“I did promise you a quick death, O’ Super Amazing Flying Daggers from Hell! What an amazingly stupid name!” Yiji told him.

Lord Tai toppled over backwards. He finally understood that his end had come.

As the dying man took his last few breaths, Wen Yiji bent down towards him and said, “Hey! You did say that if I could find your hoard, it would be mine. Thank you once again! I already know that the hoard of valuables is in the wall behind that tiger painting!”

With great effort, Lord Tai mouthed the words, “How...…did………know…..?”

“Mrs Pak told me,” replied Yiji. “Remember her? Pak Puay Kee’s wife. Sexy body, great tits, fantastic lay. You refused to release her husband. So she hired me to bump you off! Never underestimate what a woman can do!”

Lord Tai’s eyes widened in shocked disbelief. He made gasping noises as he died.

Chapter 22: The River Standoff

Wen Yiji was puzzled. The information that Lord Tai had provided regarding Master Gojisan did not make sense. Why would anyone want to suspend an old kungfu master in midair? Why not just kill him straightaway?

Deciding that he would not get any answers by just standing there in Lord Tai’s bedroom, Wen Yiji turned his attention to the silver pieces in the box. There were about thirty taels there; not much by Lord Tai’s standards. He rolled the silver pieces in a piece of cloth and put them inside his clothes.

Having done so, he addressed Lord Tai’s dead body, “You don’t worry. I’ll donate them away to charity for you.”

He wished Lord Tai had told him why he was keeping Mrs Pak’s husband prisoner. But it was too late now. Lord Tai was already on his way to hell, accompanied by the bull-head horse-face spirits. A burning thought nagged at him. He should make an attempt to free Pak Puay Kee. After all, he had slept with the man’s wife. That would make them both sex-buddies-in-law. Or whatever.

Yiji came to a quick decision. He picked up one of Lord Tai’s daggers and blew out the room lights. Quietly, he left the room and made his way to the kitchen. There were only three people still working there and one man was barking out orders to two servant girls.

“That’s probably one of the cooks on duty,” noted Wen Yiji. Keeping to the shadows, Wen Yiji put out some of the lights in the corridor to give him a greater cover of darkness. Then he waited until the cook had left the kitchen. He followed the cook down the dimly lit corridor and then tapped him gently on the shoulder. As the cook turned around, Yiji pressed the cold blade of the dagger to his neck.

“You make a sound and I will slice off your head,” he warned.

The cook’s face went white with fear.

“There are some prisoners held in this mansion. Where are they?” continued Yiji.

The cook kept silent.

“If you don’t talk now, you will not have a chance to talk again. Ever!” Yiji threatened. He made a small movement of the blade against the skin and the blade drew blood.

“Please, I’ll talk,” said the cook nervously. “They are kept in the basement.”

“Lead me to them!” commanded Yiji. “If you attempt to attract attention, I will cut your balls off, you understand? You better pray that we do not meet anybody along the way. Now move!”

The cook led him to a room. In the corner of a room was a flight of stairs leading down to the basement. Yiji forced the cook to go down ahead of him. The basement was lighted by candles and there were no guards on duty.

“What? No guards?” asked Wen Yiji. He was itching for some fighting action.

“The guards were here, but I think Master Tai Lan Ngong called them away for some important operation,” the cook replied.

“Where are the prisoners?” Yiji asked.

“They are in those cells over there,” came the reply. “There are only three prisoners altogether.”

“Why are they here?”

“I do not know.”

“Of course you know! You better speak before you lose your balls!”

“I heard rumours that they are for the pleasure of Lord Tai’s guest”

“What sort of pleasure and for what sort of guest?”

“Sexual pleasure for Master Si Fatt Guai,” said the cook. “Er......they say that he likes men.”

It took a while for the information to sink into Wen Yiji’s brain.

Kanineh! Like that also got!” he muttered at last. “Where are the keys to the cell doors?”

The cook pointed to the keys hanging on the wall.

“You do realize that when Lord Tai’s men find out that you led me to the prisoners and showed me where the keys are, they will kill you, don’t you?” asked Wen Yiji.

The cook trembled in fear, “No, please don’t let them know, I beg you!”

Wen Yiji grinned beneath his mask and knocked the cook unconscious. The cook slumped down heavily to the floor. Yiji took the keys from the wall and unlocked the doors of all three occupied cells. Then he kicked the doors wide open.

He peered inside one of them. A young man was lying on the huge bed inside. The room resembled more like a love nest than a prison cell.

“Come out!” Wen Yiji called to the prisoners.

There was no response.

“If you don’t come out now, I’m going to come in with a thick wooden pole!” he threatened.

This time, all three prisoners rushed to the doors of their cells.

Wen Yiji scrutinized them. So, these were Si Fatt Guai’s bitches. They had been kept clean and tidy, all spruced up for whatever pleasure Si Fatt Guai wanted.

“Listen,” Yiji addressed them. “I am looking for a Master Gojisan. Do you know if he has been held prisoner here?”

The three prisoners remained silent. However, they noted their usual guards were not around and the body of the cook was lying on the floor. The man addressing them was wearing a mask. They could feel that something had happened but were unsure as to what had happened. They stared at the masked man and then at each other.

“Master Gojisan,” Yiji repeated. “He is an old man. Do you know if he was a prisoner here?”

“There are no old men kept here,” answered one of them. “Who are you, may I ask?”

“I am One Eye Snake, an assassin,” replied Wen Yiji. “Who are you? Where are you from?”

“I am Tong Sart Lo from Guangdong,” came the reply. “I was kidnapped and brought here for…..for…...”

“For the pleasure of Si Fatt Guai,” Yiji continued for him. “Do you wish me to lock you back inside or do you wish to go free?”

“Can I go free?” asked Tong Sart Lo.

“I suppose you can,” replied Wen Yiji. “I have just assassinated Lord Tai. Most of his guards are not in the mansion. If you wish to leave, you must get out of the city by tonight. Otherwise Si Fatt Guai will capture you back in the morning.”

“What about me?” asked a second prisoner. “My name is Saw Fook. I was working as a waiter in a courtesan house before I got kidnapped.”

“Saw Fook,” replied Wen Yiji. “You cannot go back to the courtesan house. You cannot even go back to anybody you know. Or Si Fatt Guai will kill them in the morning. You will have to leave the city tonight before Si Fatt Guai discovers that you are gone.”

“I’ll do that,” Saw Fook nodded. “I don’t have a family here.”

“What about you?” Yiji asked the third man. “Do you wish to leave or shall I lock you back in?”

“My name is Pak Puay Kee,” the man said. “I have an ancestral home and a wife here in this city. I want to go home.”

“You know that you cannot stay at your home if you escape, don’t you?” Wen Yiji told him. “The moment they found that you have escaped, they will go to your house the first thing in the morning. Then they will kill you and your wife and burn down your ancestral house.”

“Looks like I cannot go back to my home,” said Pak Puay Kee regretfully.

“All right then. I’ll lock you back in your cell and you can pretend that nothing had happened tonight,” offered Wen Yiji.

“No wait!” protested Pak Puay Kee. “Once these two guys are gone, I’ll be the only one left! Si Fatt Guai will train all his attention on me!”

“He’ll train all his juices on you,” said Wen Yiji crudely.

“Brother Pak, with us two gone, you’ll have to work three times as hard,” remarked Saw Fook. “Great will be your responsibility.”

“Your hole will get three times as big,” said Tong Sart Lo. “Great will be your cavity.”

“But you’ll shit three times as fast,” said Wen Yiji. “Great will be your efficiency.”

Pak Puay Kee panicked and said fearfully, “Great is my worry. I have to escape!”

“What about your ancestral home?” asked Yiji. “They’ll burn it down.”

“Let them!” replied Pak Puay Kee.

“What about your wife?” asked Yiji.

“I’ll go back home and fetch her,” said Pak Puay Kee. “We’ll pack our stuff and leave the city tonight.”

“Pack your stuff? You don’t have time to pack! You have at most a few hours’ lead. I think most of you will probably be caught before tomorrow evening,” said Wen Yiji disparagingly.

“Can you help us get away?” asked Tong Sart Lo hopefully. “My father will give you a good reward if you can deliver me safely to my family home in Guangdong.”

“I cannot help you there,” replied Yiji. “But I can get you out of these mansion walls. Once out there, you are on your own. The moon is dark tonight, so don’t lose your way.”

“I know a little known route out of the city,” volunteered Pak Puay Kee. “By using the back roads, we can avoid all the known checkpoints. No one will know where we have gone.”

“Good,” said Wen Yiji. “You will have to lead your two fellow prisoners to safety.”

“We’ll need horses,” said Pak Puay Kee. “Once in the countryside, our speed will be much faster with horses.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure I can get you horses from Lord Tai’s stables,” said Wen Yiji. He then took out the silver pieces that he had taken from Lord Tai’s room. He divided up the silver and handed them each some silver pieces.

“I’m supposed to give these to charity,” he said. “You three looked like charitable cases to me.”

They knelt down on their knees to thank him. Then they waited while he went out and took care of the sentries. One by one, he knocked out any sentry that was still awake. After that, he went to the stables, knocked unconscious all the stable boys and selected four horses. He led the horses to the front gate of the mansion and tied them there. Then he went back to the basement and led the three prisoners to the front gate.

“The extra horse is for your wife,” he told Pak Puay Kee. “Tell her not to spend time packing stuff. There is no time!”

“My wife is not the type of person to hurry much,” remarked Pak Puay Kee.

“Then tell her that the assassin wants her to know that there is a time and place for everything. But tonight, she has to leave immediately!” said Wen Yiji.

The three prisoners thanked him one last time, and Wen Yiji opened the gates to let them out to freedom. He then locked back the gates of the Tai mansion. As a precautionary measure, he went back to the stables and knocked the remaining horses unconscious. “That should give them a headache for a day or two,” he muttered. “Tai Lan Ngong won’t be able to use them to chase anybody.”

Next, he went to the basement and carried the unconscious cook to the kitchen and left him there. “They will not know that it was you who led me to the prisoners!” he chuckled. “Not unless you are stupid enough to tell them!”

There was only one last thing to do. He went back to Lord Tai’s bedroom and lit a candle. Then he stared at the two stone buddhas on the floor. He turned the small stone buddha to face the larger buddha. Then he turned the larger buddha to face the smaller one. When both buddhas faced each other, the tiger painting swung away from the wall to reveal a secret compartment behind.

Wen Yiji stared at the contents in the secret compartment set in the wall. “I see that the old fart has lots of money. Good! I bet even his sons do not know of this secret cache! It is a good thing that I came prepared with a large sack.”

He took out a sack and proceeded to fill it with gold and silver pieces. When the sack was full, he tied it up with a string. The sack was heavy, but to a kungfu exponent with the Dark Fire Iron Palm, it was nothing challenging. He kept Lord Tai’s daggers inside the secret compartment. Then, carefully, he closed back the secret compartment with the tiger painting and moved the stone buddhas to their previous positions.

His sword was still inside the dead body of Lord Tai and he decided to leave it there. It was a cheap sword bought at the market and would be untraceable to him.

“Thank you, Lord Tai, for giving me your whole hoard,” he murmured. “You can keep my cheap sword.”

Taking the sack of valuables, he leapt to the roof and collected his bow and arrows. Then he fled into the night.

+ + + + + +

Mrs Pak was sleeping when she was woken up by a sound of someone calling her name. She went to the door and was overwhelmed with joy to see her husband. She was glad to see that he was well and not hurt in any way.

“Husband,” she said. “Were you freed or did you escaped?”

“An assassin came for Lord Tai,” replied Pak Puay Kee. “Then he came to the cells to look for a Master Gojisan. We asked him to help us escape.”

Mrs Pak was ecstatic. So, One Eye Snake must have killed Lord Tai. However, they were not safe yet.

“Lord Tai’s men may come to look for you here in the morning,” she said with concern.

“I know!” he replied. “We have to leave now, or it will be too late.”

“Leave now?” she asked. She owed the One Eye Snake Assassin one more wild night of mindblowing sex. She did not know if it would be proper to leave without paying her final debt.

Seeing her hesitation, Pak Puay Kee said, “The assassin said that he want you to know that there is a time and place for everything. But tonight, you have to leave immediately!”

“He said that?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

Mrs Pak understood. The message was for her. The assassin meant that it was not the time and place for him to claim his third night with her. He wanted her to leave the city immediately. His concern for her safety meant that he would have to forego the third night. She felt grateful for his concern and hastily packed her stuff, taking only the minimal amount. Then, after locking up the door of their ancestral home, the Pak couple left in the quiet of the night, followed by Tong Sart Lo and Saw Fook.

High up among the rooftops, Wen Yiji saw the four figures leading the four horses slowly out into the night. He smiled in satisfaction.

“Goodbye Mrs Pak,” he murmured.

+ + + + + +

Early in the morning, just before dawn, Xiang Xiang and Wen Yiji made their way down to the river. She noticed that he was carrying a huge heavy sack and asked him what it was.

“That’s just some of my things,” he replied. “Come, let’s go look for our boatman.”

At the river, they stopped to see the sunrise.

The boatman arrived and led them to his boat. It was a flat-bottomed sampan and was big by normal standards. A large family could fit inside the on-board shelter without problems.

Yiji saw that there was another man nearby who was untying the rope that tethered the sampan to a tree on the river shore.

“Who is that?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s my brother,” replied the boatman. “He helps me to man the boat.”

Carefully, Yiji placed his sack of valuables on the deck inside the on-board shelter. The sack was heavier than a grown man. The boatman came to push the sack out of the way. He noted that he sack was heavy and felt the familiar shapes of gold pieces through the sack cloth. His eyes widened imperceptibly for a short moment. However, he said nothing.

Working the yuloh skillfully, the boatman rowed the boat out to midstream and then they floated gently downstream with the water.

Soon, the boat moved past the city limits.

+ + + + + +

At the cordoned off wooded area, Tai Lan Ngong was discussing tactics with Si Fatt Guai and the captain of Prefect Chou’s soldiers. The early morning sun threw a pale sunlight over the trees and the men were getting ready for some action.

“The morning sun is in the east. So we will send in dogs and soldiers into the stand of trees from the east and drive him towards the west,” said the captain. “In this light, we should be able to spot him.”

“I shall go to the western fringe of the trees and wait for him,” said Si Fatt Guai. He had been up all night and the lack of sleep was telling on his face.

“I shall stay here and watch the action,” said Tai Lan Ngong. He had snored noisily all night in the carriage. The other two looked at him with ill-disguised disrespect.

The captain took some dogs and men and combed through the wooded area slowly from east to west, but failed to uncover the assassin. They tried again a second time, but the result was the same; no assassin.

Before they could sweep the wooded area for a third time, a servant from the Tai household arrived in a distressed state and informed Tai Lan Ngong that his father was dead. The body had been discovered in the morning and he had died a long time.

Tai Lan Ngong was terribly shocked at the news, and then he wailed loudly. Si Fatt Guai tried to calm him down.

“The assassin killed your father while we were all occupied here! We were tricked!” said Si Fatt Guai angrily. “However, with your father dead, you are now the head of the family. You need to be brave and remain calm. A grown man should never ever weep!.”

The servant then spoke again, “Master Tai. Some of our horses were missing and the rest were all unconscious or injured. Not only that, I was told that the three young male prisoners whom we kept in the basement had also escaped in the night.”

A weird rasping sound came from his side and the servant turned his head. Si Fatt Guai was weeping.

+ + + + + +

At midmorning, the Xiang Xiang was feeling bored. Her brother was spending his time fiddling with his bow and arrows at the back of the boat while enjoying the morning sun. She was sitting inside the on-board shelter, relaxing. The scenery was not much to look at. Still, she was glad that it was not raining. The Fujian Province had a mild winter; more rainy than cold as compared to the Imperial City in the north.

Wen Yiji was pleased with his powerful bow. It had performed well the night before. Using a large river stone that he had picked up, he had passed the time by using it to polish away the many scratch marks on the bow. He knew that the stone was not the ideal tool for the job but he could not care less. The boatman was handling the yuloh near him and Yiji did not pay him much attention. An uncharacteristic sound put him on alert. He paused.

The next moment, a broadsword swung swiftly towards him. In reflex, Yiji deflected the blade with the stone he was carrying. The stone shattered on the impact. But it had done its job. The broadsword was swiftly retracted and then it came in swinging again. But Yiji was not wasting time hanging around. He leapt upwards onto the top of the shelter.

However, the boat’s movement caused Yiji to land awkwardly. He almost fell off the shelter into the cold waters below, but managed to grab the side of the shelter to swing himself back up again. The boat rocked, and Yiji landed on the opposite side of the curved flimsy rattan shelter and again almost lost his footing.

“Damn!” he cursed while trying hard not to fall. He wished the boat would remain stationary. It was too small to do the maneuvers he usually did in on solid ground. Any error in motion could result in him falling into the water. It was best not to leap around too much.

The boatman, who had swung the broadsword, was surprised to see Wen Yiji moved so fast and standing on the roof of the chest-high shelter. He swung his broadsword again with a swift powerful chopping motion to slice off his quarry’s lower body. However, Wen Yiji was not going to hang around waiting to be chopped into pieces. He barely avoided the stroke and leapt down to the front of the boat. This time he landed better. He was still carrying his bow and wearing his quiver of arrows. Even before he had landed, he had fitted an arrow to his bow and trained the weapon on his attacker who was still at the back of the boat. He could see the boatman’s chest and head above the top of the on-board shelter. He aimed at the head and fired the arrow quickly. At such a short distance, it would be impossible to miss. The arrow sped over the top of the rattan shelter towards the attacker’s head.


The boatman jerked his head sideways and the arrow sped past him.

“Shit! He moves fast!” muttered Wen Yiji as he reached for his quiver to take out another arrow. He did not have the time to do so as his attacker had jumped onto the shelter and was bearing down swiftly on him with the broadsword.

Using the inner energy of his Dark Fire Iron Palm, Wen Yiji threw a palm blast. The force of the blast blew the boatman backwards to the back of the boat. The boatman would have fallen overboard but he managed to cling to the yuloh for support.

Yiji fitted a second arrow to his bow to finish him off.

“You may as well stop wasting your effort,” said the boatman, a bit out of breath, but apparently unhurt by the blast. “I can avoid an arrow shot from a distance of eight steps.”

Wen Yiji paused. He estimated the boat to be of a length of fifteen steps. The on-board shelter took the middle one third of the boat. He would have to move nearer.

“Thanks for telling me,” he said. “I’ll just move nearer to shoot.”

He took a step towards the center of the boat.

A voice from the shelter stopped him, “If you take one more step, your sister dies!”

Yiji paused. He looked inside the shelter and saw the boatman’s brother crouching near Xiang Xiang and holding a sword to her throat. With his sister being held hostage, Wen Yiji knew that his options were limited. He had no doubt that his opponents were swift and surefooted on deck. They outnumber him two to one. He, on the other hand, was certain that he had greater power. What bothered him was the incredible speed of his attacker and the fact that his sister was their hostage.

“You are not my match,” said Wen Yiji. “This is a complicated standoff.”

“No, it’s not,” replied the boatman from the back of the sampan. “You are clumsy on board this boat. And we have your sister.”

“You caught me by surprise,” remarked Yiji. “Yet you did not manage to kill me. On the other hand, I think I may have injured you with my palm blast.”

“I am alright,” said the boatman, walking about nonchalantly at the back of the boat. “I am tougher than you think.”

“From the way you move, I can tell that you are not an ordinary fighter. You have the movements of a skillful kungfu master. Why did you try to kill me?” asked Yiji.

“Because we wanted that big sack of treasure that you possess. Even without opening the sack, our experience tells us that it is either full of gold or silver. That sack itself is worth a fortune and is therefore worth killing for.”

“So this is a robbery! You are martial artists posing as boatmen in order to rob the unfortunate. You bring great shame to your martial arts, you immoral bastards!”

“It is only a shame if it becomes a habit. But we do not rob everyday. Only occasionally. We wait until someone prosperous enough boards our boat. Then only do we rob and kill. Killing just once in a while is not considered immoral. ”

Wa lau eh! I must say that your concept of morality defies all decent logic. But today, you picked the wrong person to be your victim. I have more power than you can imagine!”

“It’s true that we did not expect you to have such great power. But nothing has changed. On this boat, you are as clumsy as a pregnant cow. We are faster and more surefooted than you in a battle on board. And besides, we still have your sister. We call the shots here. So, listen, I want you to jump off this boat.”

“Why should I?

“If you don’t jump off the boat, we will kill your sister.”

“If I jump into the river, I will drown,” retorted Yiji. “And after that you will still kill my sister.”

“You don’t know that. We may let your sister live. But if you don’t jump, we will definitely kill her.”

“Do you think that I am stupid? You need my sister alive as a human shield. The moment my sister is dead, I will move closer to you and kill you both. No matter how fast you are, there are only so many places you can run on this boat. Even if you are fast enough to avoid me on deck, with my great power I can destroy this boat. Then all of us will be in the water. The sack of valuables will sink to the bottom of the river and you will also end up with nothing.”

There was a moment of silence.

Then the boatman spoke, “Looks like we are in a complicated standoff.”

Yiji stared coldly at him over the top of the rattan shelter between them and growled, “That was what I just said.”

In the morning sunlight, Yiji and the boatman stared at each other, with each wondering how to break the impasse to gain the upper hand.

Chapter 23: The Whiz Twins of the Fire Mountain Sect

As the boat drifted along with the current, Wen Yiji thought furiously on how to get out of the situation. It became obvious to him that these two men were much more formidable opponents than the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The fact that the boatman did not appear to be hurt by his palm blast implied a mastery over impact absorption techniques as well as a superior bodily toughness. Wen Yiji had to find a weak spot in them. Perhaps he could frighten them into a more obliging behaviour.

“Listen,” he said. “You do not want to mess with me. I am an assassin from the Fire Mountain Sect and we are not to be trifled with. The consequences of your actions will be most horrifying.”

“You can’t be from the Fire Mountain Sect!” said the boatman from the back of the boat.

“Why not?”

“Because we are from the Fire Mountain Sect!” the boatman exclaimed.

Yiji was shocked for an instant. He had not really expected to meet anybody from the Fire Mountain Sect. It was a most weird scenario that nobody could foresee. In the light of this new situation, Wen Yiji decided that threats would not work. He changed his tactics and decided to try subterfuge.

Swiftly, he collected his thoughts and said, “Oh… we are all from the Fire Mountain Sect! In that case, we are comrades and should not be fighting among ourselves.”

However, the boatman said, “You are not from the Fire Mountain Sect. We know everybody from the Fire Mountain Sect.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Yiji countered. “The Fire Mountain Sect has many members. How can you possibly know everybody?”

“The Fire Mountain Sect now has only two members; I and my brother here. Even during its peak, our strength only numbered thirty assassins! Throughout our history, we have always been a small and shadowy organisation. Every member knew every member. So how can you claim to be a member of the Fire Mountain Sect?”

“What you did not know was that I was personally recruited by Master Gojisan,” Yiji lied. “He had not introduced me to the rest of the members yet.”

“Impossible! We know that Master Gojisan is dead!”

“How do you know that?”

“The chief of the Fire Mountain Sect cannot be absent from his post for more than four years. That is the law of our sect. Master Gojisan has been absent for longer than that. We know that he must already be dead otherwise he would have returned to our secret headquarters!”

Yiji thought fast. “Master Gojisan recruited me before he died,” he said. “He was in the Imperial City five years ago when he met me.”

“Oh! That is right…..he did go to the Imperial City five years ago.”

“See? I was not bluffing you! I am of the Fire Mountain Sect. We are all brothers. May I ask you high surname and big name?”

“I am called Whirlwind. My brother here is called Blizzard. We are known in the martial underworld as the Whiz Twins because of our speed.”

“But you don’t look like twins.”

“It’s just a name! We don’t have to be twins to be Twins. As long as we are able to do things together in a complementary manner, we will exhibit what is known as the Twins Effect!”

“Okay, Whiz Twins who are not twins……you said that the Fire Mountain Sect has only two members. How can that be possible?”

“After Master Gojisan disappeared five years ago, there were about twenty of us but we were left without proper leadership. There was a sect to maintain but we had no income. We could not take on assassination contracts because under our law, only the chief could approve such deals. Slowly, our financial resources were drained by constant expenditure and the members became dissatisfied. By our constitution, if the chief disappears for four years, he is presumed to be dead and a new chief has to be chosen. So last year, we were set to elect a new chief. However, everybody had their own ideas about who should be the chief. Soon, the sect separated into Team A and Team B.”

“Did Team A and Team B fight?”

“Of course! What do you think? It was inevitable. Team A was the stronger team and it killed everybody in Team B. To celebrate their victory, the victorious Team A members broke open Master Gojisan’s special stock of wine and toasted each other thoroughly. However, they did not know that one member of team B had secretly poisoned the wine beforehand. Soon, every member of Team A was dead on the floor.”

“That’s an interesting story. But that does not explain why everyone is dead but you two are still alive.”

“Oh……Blizzard and I had a secret pact. I joined Team A while he joined Team B. On the day of the battle, I pretended to fight with him. Then he pretended to flee while I pretended to give chase. We left the battleground to hide somewhere. When the battle was over, we crept back quietly and spied the Team A members celebrating with the poisoned wine. One by one they collapsed on the floor and died. I forgot what the poison was called, but it was very effective.”

“It was probably the Humpalang Si Khiaw Khiaw Poison,” commented Wen Yiji. “Gojisan introduced it to me.”

“That’s right!” exclaimed Whirlwind. “Now I remember! You must be quite familiar with Master Gojisan to know this. With everybody dead, it was up to me and Blizzard to save the sect. We needed new members, new blood, and a fresh start. However, we needed money to put our plans into motion. A great deal of money.”

“And so you turned into a life of crime. From assassins to robbers.”

“An assassin is no different from a robber. Both kill for money. We then got this boat and kept our eyes opened for any rich folks who needed to travel. Once they got on board, their life and belongings were ours to take. And when we killed them, it was an easy matter to get rid of the bodies by dumping them overboard. The fish in this river are hungry. Hahaha! This is much better than going to people’s houses and assassinating people for a fee.”

“Well, all right. Since we are all from the Fire Mountain Sect, you should release my sister,” demanded Wen Yiji.

“Not so fast!” said Blizzard, still holding his sword to Xiang Xiang’s throat. “You claimed to have met Master Gojisan. Did you know why he was in the Imperial Capital?”

“Of course,” replied Wen Yiji. “He went there to kill off the family of Lady Red Leaf. Didn’t you know?”

“Of course we knew,” answered Whirlwind. “Lady Red Leaf was our senior. Our si jie. She was the beauty of the Sect and was supposed to have become the daughter-in-law of Master Gojisan. She was part of the team sent to assassinate Patriarch Wang in Tsinkiang. She pretended to be the bride who married Wang Yuan, the son of Patriarch Wang. Who could have foreseen that she would betray our sect to follow Wang Yuan? Master Gojisan never forgave them and hunted them for years.”

“Oh, so you knew Lady Red Leaf personally,” noted Yiji.

“That’s right,” said Whirlwind. “She was a highly accomplished assassin. She used to help us train. She would still be with us if the Patriarch Wang fiasco had not occurred.”

Xiang Xiang had a burning question. “Did you manage to kill Patriarch Wang in the end?”

“Of course we did. When he left his manor to attend a friend’s funeral, Blizzard and I went to the same funeral. Patriarch Wang did not expect anyone to kill him there. You know how we took his life? I plunged a sword through his heart from the back with such suddenness that his bodyguards could only stand there and watch! Ha ha ha! We are the Whiz Twins!”

Wen Yiji took the information calmly. The fact that Patriarch Wang was his biological grandfather did not perturb him in the least. His father had left the Wang family and he was no more a Wang but a Wen. A thought fleeted through his mind that he should at least be outraged a bit. Even a tiny bit. However, he controlled his feelings and concentrated on trying to secure the safety of his sister.

“You have no cause to threaten my sister since I am a member of the Fire Mountain Sect,” he demanded. “Please release her.”

“Certainly,” said Whirlwind. “But we will need to exchange passwords first.”

“Passwords? Why?”

“If you are a member of the Fire Mountain sect, then you will know our secret password,” replied Whirlwind. “Lia-ma-fu-lat!”

“What?” asked Yiji, unable to believe his ears.

“I said “Lia-ma-fu-lat”. That is the password.”

“Oh…..err……correct!” said Yiji. “Very good. Excellent.”

“Now’s your turn to give me the corresponding password!” demanded Whirlwind.


“The corresponding password! When I say “Lia-ma-fu-lat”, you must give me the corresponding password in return!” insisted Whirlwind.

Wen Yiji did not know the corresponding password. He would have to guess and hope that he was correct.

He took a wild guess and said, “Lia-pa-fu-lat!”

“That’s not correct!” said Whirlwind, slightly shocked. "Try again!"

“Oooops……sorry. I mean “Lia-mooi-fu-lat”,” Yiji said.

“Again incorrect!" said Whirlwind. "That was preposterous! You have one last try!”

Yiji took a deep breath and said hesitantly, “Lia-por-fu-lat!”

Whirlwind glared at him and shouted, ““Wrong! You do not know the answer!”

Blizzard spoke up from inside the shelter, “You are not a member of the Fire Mountain Sect! Or you would know that when we say “lia-ma-fu-lat!” you are supposed to say “sama sama!””

“Sama sama?” asked Yiji.

“Yes, “sama sama”! It is obvious that you are an outsider, or you would have known our password!” said Blizzard with a sneer. “You are a bullshitter, and a hopeless one. I’m not releasing your sister!”

Wen Yiji breathed out slowly in frustration. Subterfuge did not work. He would have to try something else.

Xiang Xiang’s voice piped up, “Will you just shoot the idiot?”

“I can’t,” replied Yiji. “He’s too fast. He can avoid my arrows.”

“I don’t mean that idiot! I mean this idiot! He’s holding me very tight. So damn humsap!”

Yiji crouched down slightly and trained his arrow into the on-board shelter in Blizzard’s direction. “I can’t shoot him either,” he said. “He’s hiding behind you.” Then he straightened up again.

“You can shoot anything you want to. Shoot him, Brother Yiji!”

Yiji crouched low again, pointed his arrow in Blizzard’s direction and said, “I can’t. The boat is moving and I may hit you. You are my only sister. I will not take the risk.” He straightened up and in the same motion cunningly shifted slightly to his left.

“I am willing to take the risk. Just shoot, Brother Yiji!” said Xiang Xiang.

“That’s right, Brother Yiji,” Blizzard mimicked her. “Just shoot, Brother Yiji!”

Again, Yiji crouched down to look at her properly and said, “I cannot take that risk. I can’t shoot accurately from this position. I do not wish to kill you by mistake. How will I explain to our dead parents if I kill my only sister?”

“They intend to kill us both, Brother Yiji,” said Xiang Xiang. “You can still save yourself. This idiot’s body is bigger than mine. He can’t hide very well behind me. I am sure you can find a spot to shoot.”

“No!” said Yiji.

“Forget about me! Just shoot!” cried Xiang Xiang.

“Yes, why don’t you just shoot?” taunted Blizzard again.

From his awkward half-crouching position, Yiji fired off the arrow. The arrow went wide and sped past Xiang Xiang’s head by an arm’s length.

“Oh, you missed!” taunted Blizzard. “By a huge distance! You were not even close!”

Xiang Xiang was surprised at how wide Yiji’s arrow had gone. She looked at her brother’s stance and she was aware that it was a very deliberate shot. She knew her brother well enough to know that he could hit anything with an arrow. She had seen him in practice and had marveled at his ability to shoot in any position from any angle and still hit with pinpoint accuracy. If he missed, then he must have missed intentionally.

But Yiji did not miss. The arrow sped past Xiang Xiang, through the shelter, out the other side, and headed towards Whirlwind.

Whirlwind, standing at the other end of the boat, could not see where Wen Yiji had crouched and aimed. He assumed that Wen Yiji was shooting at Blizzard in the shelter. It was a bad assumption that would cost him his miserable life.

It was when the arrow emerged out to his side of the shelter that Whirlwind had a sudden realization that the arrow was meant for him. He was positioned next to the yuloh and four steps away from the on-board shelter. By the time he detected the arrow’s flight, it was too late for him to take evasive action. If he had been eight steps away from the shelter, he could have avoided the arrow. But at four steps away, he simply had no chance.

The arrow pierced into his abdomen, severed an intestine and punctured his organs. He staggered a half-step and clutched the yuloh for support and gasped inaudibly, “Chow chee bai…..”

Without wasting time, Wen Yiji swiftly loaded another arrow to his bow. He drew his bow again.

Blizzard did not realized that behind him, Whirlwind had been shot in the abdomen, and when he saw Yiji drawing his bow again, he sneered, “Surely you are not thinking of trying again? Frankly I think you should not use a bow. You won’t be able to hit the side of a house! And if you come any nearer, I will slice her throat!”

“I do not wish to get nearer to you any more than I can help it,” retorted Yiji. “Frankly, you smell. Like last year’s fish.”

Lim peh ka li kong, you should give up archery and take up needlework!” Blizzard taunted him.

Yiji aimed the arrow towards Xiang Xiang. Then he lowered his weapon slightly and said, “You are a coward, hiding yourself behind my sister’s dress. And please move your head away from my sister’s head. Chee ko pek.”

“So what if I am cheek-to-cheek with your sister?” sneered Blizzard. “She has very soft cheeks. Like tofu.”

“I can’t stand this smelly dog next to me!” said Xiang Xiang to her brother. “Will you just kill him?”

“I can’t take the shot,” replied Yiji. “His body is behind you and his head is too close to your head. It is too risky.”

“In that case, just kill me already,” she said. “Death is far better than being this close to this smelly piece of fermented scum. Take the shot!”

“Yes, take the shot!” taunted Blizzard. “Maybe you can hit the side of the boat!”

Yiji was surprised to see Xiang Xiang signal him with a slow wink. Then she opened her mouth and curled her tongue. The little copper blade she kept under her tongue appeared magically and she gripped it with her teeth. Yiji was not sure what she intended to do, but he pulled back his bow and got ready.

Xiang Xiang rotated her head suddenly and the little copper blade held between her teeth flashed across Blizzard’s cheek, slashing it painfully. Blizzard snapped his head in a reflex action. At that short instant, Bizzard’s head had jerked away from Xiang Xiang’s head. It was the moment of opportunity that Yiji was waiting for, and he took it. He shot without hesitation and the arrow sped straight into Blizzard’s head, driving into his brain cells and killing him instantly. Quickly, Xiang Xiang moved away the hand that held the sword to her throat and freed herself from her assailant’s grip. Blizzard toppled over backwards.

Whirlwind had just hit several yuedao points on his abdomen to block out the nerves. He felt much less painful but was still bleeding internally. At least the pain has been blocked. As he was pondering his next course of action, the body of Blizzard toppled over backwards to the rear of the shelter. The dead Blizzard stared upwards with opened eyes and with an arrow buried deep in his forehead.

Whirlwind froze. He knew that he and his brother had been defeated by their intended victim with superior archery skills. They had underestimated him. Whirlwind guessed that Wen Yiji would kill him soon. However, if he could get to the girl and hold her hostage, he might have a slim chance to escape with his life.

He leapt forward, intending to reach the girl inside the shelter. From the front of the boat, Wen Yiji noticed Whirlwind’s actions and he too raced forward towards the shelter.

“Duck down!” he shouted to his sister.

She ducked downwards as her brother threw a palm blast. Whirlwind had almost reached the girl when the Dark Fire Iron Palm blast caught him at full blast and he was blown out of the shelter. He landed on the deck against the yuloh and collapsed in a painful heap of flesh. The violent movement had caused the arrow lodged inside his abdomen to swish wildly inside him and create more internal lacerations. The red patch of blood on his clothes spread rapidly. He was oozing blood like a mountain spring.

Wen Yiji and his sister appeared beside the fallen Whirlwind.

“You are as good as dead,” remarked Wen Yiji. “You might have been able to withstand my first palm blast. But with my arrow inside your stomach, the second palm blast will cause the internal bleeding to become one huge horrifying mess. I think your innards have ruptured and your organs are hemorrhaging severely. You will be dead even before the boat reaches the shore.”

Whirlwind knew that his end had come. It was not only the end of his life; it was also the end of the Fire Mountain Sect.

Xiang Xiang spoke, “If it is any consolation to you, since you are now the last member of the Fire Mountain Sect, you are automatically the chief of the sect. There is no one else.”

“Yes,” smiled Whirlwind with great difficulty. “I……..the…..chief….”

“Are the former chiefs of the Fire Mountain Sect buried in a special place?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“They…..are…..buried……..sacred….ground …..behind…..main……hall ….at…..Sect…..headquarters…..”

“Do you wish to be buried there? Among the chiefs?”


“How do I get there?” she asked.

“Chongyang town…..follow Taidong River …… upstream……. fifty li ……..will…..come to…..dry tributary bed…..follow…..dry bed…...three li….On left……cliff……look for hole………hidden by vegetation……high up…..”

“How high?” she asked.

“Above roof level……place hand……top right of rock ……. push….. rock swings open…… cave passage……to hidden enclosed valley …….. inside mountain …….there secret headquarters …… of Fire Mountain Sect …….behind main hall …….sacred burial ground…… for chiefs…….”

Wen Yiji interjected, “You have the nerve……asking us to take you to your sacred burial ground. After what you did to my family.”

“Your……family?” asked the dying Whirlwind.

“Yes, my family!” replied Wen Yiji. “Remember the Patriarch Wang you killed? He was my biological grandfather. Lady Red Leaf was my mother. That old bastard Gojisan had my family killed in cold blood. I swore to destroy the Fire Mountain Sect. With you and Blizzard gone, the Fire Mountain Sect is finished. This will be a day to remember!”

Xiang Xiang asked, “What are you going to do with their bodies, Brother Yiji?”

Yiji answered, “I remember this moron saying that it was an easy matter to get rid of bodies by dumping them overboard. That was very good advice. I shall follow it!”

“No……...” gasped Whirlwind weakly.

“Oh yes,” said Wen Yiji to the bleeding man. “Didn't you say that the fish in this river are hungry? So okay, maybe I will let you die first before I throw you into the water.”

Yiji then went to the on-board shelter and dragged out Blizzard’s dead body. He lifted it up and tossed it high into the air. It landed into the water with a loud splash. Hearing the splash, Whirlwind winced uncomfortably.

Yiji then dragged the body of Whirlwind close to the edge of the boat and said, “Remember that I said that maybe I will let you die first before I throw you into the water?”

Whirlwind nodded slightly.

Wen Yiji smiled and continued, “Well.….I was only joking.”

With that, he tipped the horrified Whirlwind into the water and watched the body sink down out of sight, struggling feebly all the way down.. The fish swarmed around and slowly, the river turned red.

“You have taken revenge for grandfather,” noted Xiang Xiang.

“Yes,” said Yiji after a long moment of silence. “Nice move with that blade in your mouth.”

“Oh….thank you….and nice shooting!”

“By the way, why did you want to know where all the chiefs of the Fire Mountain Sect were buried?” he asked.

“Oh that!” she replied. “Actually I was not interested in their burial place. I merely wanted Whirlwind to tell us where the secret location of the Fire Mountain Sect was.”

“Why didn’t you ask him directly?”

“Would he have told us?”

“I doubt it. Your tactics were correct. The way to deal with crooks is through crooked ways.”

“So now we know the secret location of the Fire Mountain Sect.”

Yiji was reminded how intelligent his sister was. Even at only fifteen years old, she was smarter than most people. He would have to marry her to a good family soon, but he knew that most rich men were idiots. Finding a compatible match for her would not be easy. But he would think of it only when the time came.

“There is no point in going to the sect headquarters since Gojisan is obviously not there,” he said. “We are going downstream to Amoy as we planned. Shit, I don’t know how to handle this boat.”

“Don’t worry!” said his sister. “I know how to handle the yuloh. It’s one of the many things I picked up in Tianjin. We should get to Amoy soon.”

“Good. We’ll go to Amoy first, and from there to Tsinkiang.”

“Where did you get that huge sack of valuables, Brother Yiji?” Xiang Xiang asked. “You did not steal it, did you?”

“Of course not!” he replied truthfully. “It was given to me freely.”

Chapter 24: The Celestial Dragon Claw assassin

The river widened out into the sea and Wen Yiji could see the island of Amoy in the distance. Amoy was an island in a sheltered bay surrounded by the mainland on the west and north. The boat headed towards it with Xiang Xiang working the yuloh. The wind was coming from the northeast and it slowed down the progress of the boat.

“Let’s go past Amoy and head towards the mainland in the north,” said Yiji. “We can then join up with the road towards Tsinkiang. With luck we will reach Tsinkiang by tomorrow night.”

“That will not be possible, I think,” she commented. “It looks like a storm will hit us in the afternoon.”

“You could be right,” said her brother, looking at the ominous signs in the sky. “We may have to stop over at Amoy. A stopover will slow us down by one day.”

“We are in no hurry,” she said. “The sea is getting choppy. Will you take over the yuloh? My arms are tired.”

Yiji took over the yuloh and Xiang Xiang showed him how to manipulate the rope attached to the yuloh with one hand and the wooden handle with the other hand in order to propel the boat forward.

“It’s not an easy motion to master,” she said. “But once you are able to coordinate the actions of both hands, the boat moves forward fast.”

Yiji tried and soon he got the hang of it.

“The huge heavy sack that you brought on board looks like it will tear any moment, Brother Yiji,” his sister told him. “The weight of the contents is probably too much for the fabric to bear.”

“I will need to transfer the contents to a stronger container. Like a box.”

“There are two wooden boxes on board containing the Whiz Twins’ personal effects.”

“The Twin effects? They won’t be needed any more. Go empty out the boxes and then transfer what is in the sack to the boxes.”

“Yes, Brother Yiji.”

Dutifully, Xiang Xiang did what she was told. She emptied the boxes and threw the contents into the water. Then she opened up the huge heavy sack and her eyes opened wide.

“There is a lot of money here!” she exclaimed. “Enough to last a few lifetimes. What do you intend to do with it, Brother Yiji?”

“I am thinking of starting a business. Maybe a courtesan house. And call it ‘The Quivering Pleasure Palace’. I like the name.”

“The Wen family is not going to start a courtesan house!” gasped a horrified Xiang Xiang.”I am sure that our dead parents would be thoroughly shocked at this suggestion. Thoroughly shocked!”

“Relax! I was only joking,” said her brother with a grin. “There is no necessity for us to work at all in this lifetime. I’ll buy up some land and houses and then collect rent.”

“But you said that we were going to start a restaurant in Tsinkiang!”

“That’s a good idea. It’s respectable. If people ask me what I do, I can say that I am a restaurant owner. What type of food can you cook?”

“Duck. I am good with ducks…..whether stewed, roasted or in soup.”

“Good. We’ll sell ducks. And we’ll call it ‘The Quivering Duck Restaurant’.”

“No, no! That name is not respectable.”

“All right, call it what you want. We will have just a simple restaurant with only ten tables. That should be enough to keep you busy. You will run it in any way you see fit. When the time comes for you to be married, that restaurant will be your dowry.”

“I can’t take that. It’s supposed to be the Wen’s family restaurant.”

“Forget it! I’m not looking after it once you get married. Remember that I have lots of money and I do not need to depend on a restaurant for income. Once you are married, that restaurant will belong solely to you.”

“Yes, Brother Yiji,” she said. “And thank you.”

Yiji divided the gold and silver into the two recently emptied wooden boxes. The boxes were sealed shut and tied with ropes so that they could be slung across the two ends of a short wooden pole.

As the boat was passing the western side of the island of Amoy, drops of rain fell on deck and the sea got rougher.

“I do not think we will be able to reach the mainland in the north, Brother Yiji,” remarked Xiang Xiang. We will have to land on Amoy to avoid the storm.”

“You are right. We had better hurry,” he replied. “Amoy is not exactly a civilized place. I have been here before. It is supposed to be a center for the Imperial navy to fight the coastal pirates. All sorts of rough people can be found here. Better change into your peddler clothes and disguise yourself as a boy.”

Xiang Xiang nodded and quickly changed her clothes on board while her brother looked out into the sea. Yiji also changed into his peddler clothes later, so they looked like a couple of tradesmen.

They rowed towards the island and landed near a place that looked like a settlement. Powerfully, Yiji pulled the boat high up on the beach all on his own. Slinging his two boxes of valuables on the two ends of a pole, he then walked towards the town, followed by his sister. They managed to reach an inn just in time. The rains came and beat down mercilessly, drenching anyone unfortunate enough to be caught outside without a shelter.

+ + + + + +

In Tsinkiang, Agent Simit drummed his fingers on the table. There had been no word from his second son, Si Liu Thung. He had sent his second son to Amoy for an important assignment. A group of men had offered him a large sum of money to find an assassin to kill an admiral in Amoy. He knew that the men were pirates and that the admiral had been conducting very effective any-piracy operations against them. Killing an admiral could bring long term repercussions, but the financial reward from the pirates was too good to ignore.

Ordinarily he would have sent his eldest son, Si Fatt Guai to do the job but Fatt Guai had turned gay, left the family home and was staying as a guest in the house mansion of Lord Tai in Changchow. So Agent Simit sent his second son to perform the assassination in Amoy instead. His second son, Liu Thung, was also a powerful kungfu fighter, far stronger than anybody could ever suspect. Although he was not gay, something was wrong with him sexually. Agent Simit cursed at the situation. His first two sons were not capable of producing heirs for him. Luckily he still had his third son, Si Mm Chut, whose only problem was constipation.

+ + + + + +

The rain finally stopped towards evening. Like most inns, the inn had the dining hall on the ground floor and the guest rooms upstairs. As they were hungry, the Wen siblings decided to come downstairs to the hall to eat dinner. Xiang Xiang was still in her peddler disguise and she looked like a young boy. They looked for an empty table and noted that only a few of the tables in the eating area were occupied.

A group of men were arguing among themselves at one table, so Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang decided to take an empty table on the other end of the hall.

The waiter came over to take their order.

“Do you think that those men will fight?” asked Xiang Xiang, gesturing at the group of quarrelling men.

“Oh, don’t worry,” smiled the waiter. “This inn belongs to ‘Whispering Spear’ Shih. Our master is known for his spear kungfu and his short temper. No one will dare to create disorder here.”

“Then why are they making so much noise?” asked Yiji.

“It’s just an act,” the waiter whispered. “They are having some ‘table talk’. But they all talk big only! Chiak pah boh sai pang. When it comes to real fighting, those men will hide under the table first!”

“All right then, I am hungry and want food. Good food,” said Yiji.

“What do you want to eat? We’ve got everything.”

“I want a pot of hot bitter gourd soup.”

“The bitter gourd soup will be very bitter. The last group of people who ordered it threw it onto the floor. May I recommend the carrot soup instead?”

“No, I really want hot bitter gourd soup. And I mean hot, not lukewarm!”

“Alright, but if you don’t like it, please do not throw it onto the floor. What else do you want?”

“Fish. Steamed with ginger. And some stir fried vegetables.”

“Do you want crabs? We have fresh big crabs. Fried in chillies,” said the waiter.

“No thanks.”

“What about sartei?”

“What is that?”

“It is three pieces of meat skewered on a thin stick, barbequed over slow charcoal embers, and served with peanut sauce. Then it is eaten with raw onions and cucumber.”

“Only three pieces of meat?”

“Yes, three. That is why it’s call sartei….three pieces. One stick will not be enough for you. Try twenty sticks.”

“All right. Bring it fast, we’re hungry.”

The waiter moved away. The table of noisy quarrelling men at the other side of the room got noisier.

Suddenly, Xiang Xiang heard one of the men stood up and shouted, “Ni nabeh! You talk like that and see me no up! Better watch your dirty mouth or you will answer to my Infallible Sword!”

Another man stood up and shouted back, “So what? I am the power! I will say what I like!”

“I offer you toasted wine but you want to drink urine! Go and eat shit!”

“Don’t talk big! Or I’ll slice off your head to wipe my feet!”

“Not if I slice off your hands first!”

The next part of the verbal slugfest became unintelligible to Xiang Xiang as the men kept up the slanging match.

“Kan ni nabeh chow chee bai!”

“Lu hor lang kan!”

“Lu hor kau kan!”

“Hor tu kan!”

“Hor goo kan!”

“Hor beh kan!”

armadillo kan!”


At that moment, a voice boomed out from the top of the stairs, “Who has that big gall to pour chaos in my territory?”

The men looked up.

After a pause, one of them said, “Ahhhh…...Master ‘Whispering Spear’ Shih! I give face to you and will stop arguing with this dog here.” He promptly sat down.

The other man who was still standing sneered rudely, “Ni nabeh, you so scared of the innkeeper then you may as well not come here for table talk! Go back and drink your mother’s milk, lah, you!”

The innkeeper got ready his spear. He would brook no nonsense from those who misbehaved. Before he could act, another voice came across the hall, “Why are you people disturbing my meal?”

The men turned in the direction of the voice. The quarrelling man who was still standing turned pale suddenly and said, “I am sorry, Admiral Liang, I did not realize that you are here!” He promptly sat down and peace reigned in the hall.

The waiter brought the tea and Wen Yiji took the opportunity to ask in a hushed tone, “Who is that Admiral Liang?”

“He is the head of the naval unit on this island. His job is to catch the pirates that have been raiding the southern coastline,” came the reply.

“And the four men with him?”

“Those are his bodyguards, the famous Fu Fighters!”

“Famous? I’ve never heard of them!”

“They are also known as the Fabulous Four.”

“Sorry….doesn’t ring a bell.”

“They are sometimes called the Four Heavenly Kings.”

“Ahhhhh………no, never heard of them either!”

“Ohhhh..….but they are very good. The pirates kept sending assassin after assassin after Admiral Liang and the Fu Fighters killed them all. None escaped. So much so that for the past one year, no assassin dared to come to attack the admiral. The supply of assassins must have dried up.”

Yiji nodded. The Fu Fighters looked very capable.

“The pirates must be very desperate to send assassin after assassin to attack the admiral,” remarked Xiang Xiang. “He must be having an effect on them!”

“Oh yes he has! The level of piracy along the coast has dropped. The pirates tried sending him gifts but our Admiral Liang is a very upright official and cannot be bought to look the other way. He is not a 'close one eye' official. So they finally sent assassins after him. However, he has survived them all. People say that Heaven looks out for him,” whispered the waiter. “I think your soup should be ready. I will go to the kitchen to bring it out for you.”

The waiter left. There was nothing for Wen Yiji to do except wait. Suddenly, the door of the inn opened and a gust of wind blew inside. A masked figure stood at the door and surveyed the people in the hall. He walked in and announced, “My business today is with Admiral Liang only. Those passing by; please do not get involved!”

A moment of silence greeted him.

Then ‘Whispering Spear’ Shih spoke, “Are you here to create chaos? You treat me like I am not present, is it?”

Admiral Liang spoke up, “Please do not trouble yourself, Master Shih. This man is obviously after something from me. I will take care of my own affairs.”

The masked man looked at the admiral and said, “Your time has come, old man. I will be taking your life here this evening.”

“May I know why?”

“Someone has paid well to have you sent on a journey to hell. The reason why does not concern me,” answered the masked figure.

“You are a paid assassin. It is you who will die here, as with the previous assassins who tried to attack me.”

“You will find out very shortly that I am different! Very, very different!”

“Talk about assassins and an assassin arrives,” Xiang Xiang said softly to her brother. “But this masked man is not carrying any weapons.”

“He must be supremely confident of his kungfu,” Yiji replied. “This fight should be interesting to watch!”

The masked man attacked and was immediately met by a wall of Fu Fighters with swords drawn. They slashed at him from all sides but he was fast enough to get out of trouble.

Wen Yiji watched in fascination. The masked man had swift body movements and avoided the slashing blades. He never allowed himself to be caught in a vulnerable position, always moving around so that the Fu Fighters could not tie him down to one spot. At one point, he seemed to grasp two blades with his bare hands, catching them in midair. He had to let go the blades when he was attacked from another direction by the other Fu Fighters.

“Fingers of steel,” noted Wen Yiji. “Even I can’t do that!”

The waiter arrived and placed an open pot of soup on the table. “Your bitter gourd soup,” he announced. “Boiling hot. Just nice for a cold evening like this!”

“I thought you said that nobody will dare to create disorder here! How are we supposed to eat with a fight going on?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“Oh don’t worry,” replied the waiter. “It’ll be over very fast. The Fu Fighters cannot be beaten. By the time I bring out the rice for you, the fight will be over.”

Wen Yiji looked at the fight as the waiter left. He knew that the masked man was having the upper hand. Sooner or later, he would whittle down the Fu Fighters one by one.

A Fu Fighter came too close and the masked man grabbed his forearm. There was a crunching sound and the Fu Fighter dropped his sword. An iron palm strike on the ribs sent the unfortunate fighter collapsing on the floor. The Fu Fighters were down to three.

The masked assassin leapt towards Admiral Liang pursued closely by the three Fu Fighters. He turned aside and caught a blade headed in his direction with his steely fingers. He brought down his other hand onto the arm of the man wielding the blade. Again there was a crunching sound of bone shattering, and the blade dropped to the floor.

“Avoid his fingers!” shouted the innkeeper, Master Shih. “His strength is in his fingers!”

“Shut up!” snarled the masked man. “I hate interfering busybodies! Anybody who interferes will die!”

There were only two Fu Fighters left capable of putting up a fight.

“Run, admiral!” one of them shouted. “We will delay him!”

The admiral got up and walked away swiftly. However, the masked man was not about to let his quarry escape. The remaining two Fu Fighters were more careful in their stroke placements, slashing at the masked man’s feet and body while avoiding the fingers. Even while occupied, the assassin managed to grab a bowl of rice from a table and hurled it towards the fleeing admiral. It hit the admiral at the back of the head and sent him sprawling to the floor, next to where Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang were waiting for their rice.

“The fight is getting closer, Xiang Xiang,” Yiji said. “We had best shift to a safer position.”

Gingerly, he held the pot of boiling soup by the side handle to avoid burning his fingers and got up from his seat. His sister also got up. She looked down at the admiral lying on the floor near them and then she looked up. The masked assassin had leapt high up into the air and away from the two remaining Fu Fighters and headed towards the admiral’s direction. She knew that masked man would land on his quarry and Admiral Liang would be dead in a short moment. There was no way that the remaining two Fu Fighters could prevent it.

“Move quickly away, Xiang Xiang,” Yiji said urgently.

Making her mind up swiftly, she pushed her table forward over the fallen admiral. The masked assassin crashed onto the table that suddenly appeared between him and the admiral. He toppled clumsily onto the floor and the admiral took the opportunity to scramble quickly away to momentary safety.

The assassin got up, glared at Xiang Xiang furiously and snarled, “I hate interfering busybodies! I have just said that anybody who interferes will die! I’ll send you to the western sky first!”

He rushed towards Xiang Xiang who ducked behind her brother for protection. As the assassin rushed in with a hand raised for an iron palm strike, Wen Yiji did the only thing he could think of. He threw the pot of boiling soup at the attacker. The masked man tried to swerve and he held up one hand to ward off the pot. The boiling soup splashed onto half of his face, scalding him painfully and momentarily blinding one eye. He leapt away howling and waving his hands where some of the boiling soup had landed. He was also dancing a funny dance so Yiji guessed that the soup must have scalded his legs as well.

The two remaining Fu Fighters sensed an opportunity and moved in to attack. However, the masked assassin knew that luck was not with him that night, so he leapt up high and towards the door for an ungracious exit into the night.

“My bitter gourd soup!” cried Wen Yiji, looking at the wet floor with bits and pieces of bitter gourd lying around.

Admiral Liang approached and said, “Thank you, you two, for saving my life.”

“It was nothing, admiral,” said Wen Yiji. “We are only simple peddlers and all we did was sacrificed a pot of soup.”

“Nevertheless, had you not interfered, I would now be dead.”

"Do you know who your attacker was?"

"No. But we know now that he has been scalded on the face. I will ask my men to keep a lookout for a man with blisters on the face."

The innkeeper approached and asked, “Admiral Liang, are you all right?”

“I am all right,” replied the admiral. “But I fear that two of my men have been injured. This assassin was different from the rest. He is much more powerful.”

“Yes. I think he is using the bone shattering Celestial Dragon Claw kungfu,” said ‘Whispering’ Spear Shih. “By just clutching the body part, he sends in a dark energy and can break the bones beneath the skin! It is a very secretive martial art and I have never seen it until now. But I have heard my sifu described it once.”

“I have never heard of any Celestial Dragon Claw kungfu,” remarked Wen Yiji. “This may be a bad situation. He may come to attack the admiral again. To defeat the enemy, one must know the enemy. Does the Celestial Dragon Claw kungfu have a weak point?”

“According to my sifu, the Celestial Dragon Claw kungfu has great strength in the fingers,” replied the innkeeper. “One must be a virgin to learn this type of martial art.”

“What happens if one is not a virgin?”

“Then he will become sexually impotent after mastering the Celestial Dragon Claw kungfu. But whether impotent or not, the Celestial Dragon Claw practitioner has great power. A great deal of his power is concentrated in his fingers. But that does not mean that he is slow. In fact he is quite fast. His only weak point would be in his iron palm strikes. They have the power to kill, but they are not in the same league as a top kungfu master.”

“That does not appear much of a weak point as long as his strikes can kill,” remarked the admiral.

“True,” agreed the innkeeper. “And also, who is to say that he will not shatter the bones in the hand of his opponent when matching iron palms? In fact, anything that he touches will be in great danger.”

“The only way to fight with him is to grip his wrists to prevent him from bringing his fingers into play,” said one of the Fu Fighters. “We will have to take special care from now on, admiral. There could be more of these assassins using the dark martial arts. I wish we know what we are dealing with. Master Shih, any information you can provide us would be most helpful.”

“The effects of the dark martial arts are not often documented,” said the innkeeper. “My sifu is dead now or he would be able to tell us more. However, I remember him saying that that I would have to walk away from a fight if I encountered the following three martial arts; Celestial Dragon Claw kungfu, Five Fairies Iron Palm and the Dark Fire Iron Palm.”

Wen Yiji was surprised to hear the Dark Fire Iron Palm mentioned. He muttered quietly and incoherently to himself, “Kanineh, simply call the Dark Fire Iron Palm a dark martial art! Old White Hair would not be pleased.”

“I beg your pardon?” asked the innkeeper.

“Oh nothing,” said Wen Yiji. “What are the weaknesses of the other two?”

“In the Five Fairies Iron Palm kungfu, each finger has the power of a Fairy,” replied ‘Whispering Spear’ Shih. “No other kungfu can match the level of power except for the Buddha Palm. You should never try to match power with the Five Fairies. However, this martial artist is reputed to be slow, as what he gained in power, he lost in speed. A really fast fighter can still kill him. Here’s something interesting; a Five Fairies Iron Palm kungfu exponent will undergo emotional changes and turn feminine-like. He will prefer men to women.”

Wen Yiji thought of Si Fatt Guai whom he knew used the Five Fairies Iron Palm kungfu. At last he understood Si Fatt Guai’s interest in men.

“What about the Dark Fire Iron Palm?” asked Admiral Liang.

“That one is known for both speed and power,” answered the innkeeper. “The last person known to have used it was the very evil Shantou Devil. Since he disappeared, there has been no other case of the Dark Fire Iron Palm. I think it has disappeared for good.”

“Does one have to be a virgin to learn the Dark Fire Iron Palm as well?” asked the admiral.

“Yes,” replied Master Shih. “Otherwise he would become extra horny. Damn horny.”

At that point, the waiter brought out the rice. He took one look at the remnants of bitter gourd soup on the floor and commented, “Wa……piang! The soup not good also you don’t have to throw on the floor!”

Shaking his head and sighing, he walked to the kitchen to get the broom. On passing by the table of quarrelling men, he looked under the table and saw the men hiding there.

Oi!” he shouted. “The fight is over! You can come out now and continue your ‘table talk’!”

+ + + + + +

At his secret hideout on the island, Si Liu Thung cursed. He had failed to assassinate Admiral Liang with his first attempt. He would have to try again. He could have killed the admiral if not for the interference of the two peddlers. He checked his face in the bronze mirror and could see an angry red swelling. Parts of his face were numb and those parts that were not numb were painful. He knew that blisters would soon form on his face. The vision in one eye was blurry. He cursed again. He could remember the face of the younger peddler; a young boy of around fourteen years of age. The face of the older peddler who threw the hot soup on his face eluded him. He had not paid attention to the older peddler at that time, which was his big mistake.

The anger within him grew. He would have to postpone the assassination until his eye and face healed. There was nothing to do except inform his father about it and then go back home to see a daifu.

Lying on the bed and trying to sleep, he came to an angry decision; he would kill the two interfering peddlers before he leave and make them die a slow death. Assassins made it a point of principle to kill only for money. This time, he would make an exception and slaughter the two defenceless peddlers for free.

+ + + + + +

In the early morning the following day, Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang left the inn and made their way to the boat that they had arrived in. They half expected to find the boat stolen, but it was still there. Yiji pulled it down to the water and they got on board. Soon, they were on the way to the mainland in the north.

Not long after they had gone, Si Liu Thung approached the inn where they had been staying. He waited outside until an inn waiter came out. Taking out some money and giving it to the hotel waiter, he made some discreet inquiries as to the room where two peddlers were staying.

“Oh, those two,” said the waiter while pocketing the money. “You are too late! They left early this morning!”

“Do you know where they went?”

“They said that they were headed for Tsinkiang.”


“They will go by the overland route as it is too difficult to go by sea in this season.”

“How were they dressed and what were they carrying?”

“They were dressed in dark blue and the older one was carrying two wooden boxes slung on a pole. It looked rather heavy and I asked if I could help. But he said that it was only scrap metal and that he could manage. Say, what happened to your face? All red with blisters!”

“Oh….it’s nothing.”

“You looked like a lobster with pimples.”

“Shut up! And mind your own business!”

As Si Liu Thung walked away, he saw a man pasting a notice on the wall. He stopped to read. The notice announced that if anybody saw anyone with a scalded face, he was to report the matter immediately to the authorities. Damn! He pulled his hat lower over his face and walked on. It would not be easy to get off the island if the authorities were looking for him. Luckily, he had a way of getting out a message to his father.

+ + + + + +

At midday, Agent Simit received a message by courier pigeon from his son, Si Liu Thung. Flying from Amoy, it took the pigeon only half the morning to reach Tsinkiang; a distance that would take one to two days for a person to walk. Simit’s face clouded over when he read the details of the failed assassination.

“What is the matter, father?” asked the third son, Si Mm Chut. “You looked furious! Si mi tai chi?

“Your second brother has been injured. Apparently, somebody threw boiling water at him and scalded his face!”

Kanineh! I thought he was very fast. He stood there for people to throw boiling water at him for what? Siam siam a bit mah! Anyway, who would dare to do such a thing?”

“Two peddlers. One of them is a boy about fourteen years of age. They are scrap metal collectors or something like that. Dressed in blue and carrying two heavy wooden boxes. They are on the way here to Tsinkiang. They should reach here tomorrow.”

“Coming to Tsinkiang? Perhaps we can arrange a fatal reception for them.”

“Nobody scalds my son and gets away with it. I want them dead!”

“I’ll take some men and wait for them along the main road into Tsinkiang. Don’t you worry, father. I’ll make sure their fate is a horrible one!”

“No, you stay at home. I want you safely here.”

“Why scared? I’ll take some strong fighters with me and intercept the peddlers coming to town. Then I'll beat the shit out of them. Until they lao sai. Then when they got no more shit left, I will scald them to death! Trust me!”

“I said I want you to stay at home! I will send some men to deal with the matter.”

Si Mm Chut sulked and left the room. He would do something about it whether his father liked it or not. He was already eighteen but his father still treated him like a little child. If there was one thing that he enjoyed doing, it was beating people up. There was only one main road by land from Amoy to Tsinkiang. He would go and intercept the two peddlers without his father’s knowledge. Then he would take their lives. He smiled crookedly at the idea.

Chapter 25: What other people do to other people

On reaching the mainland, Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang abandoned their boat and walked to a little hamlet. There, they bought a horse and cart and loaded the two wooden boxes onto the cart.

“This cart looks like it will fall apart any moment. Also, it does not have a roof to keep us dry if it rains,” commented Xiang Xiang.

“I know, and the horse looks like dying too, but that was the best I could get,” said her brother. “I’ll be glad to get to a big town. The shopping choices are much better.”

“Do you think we will reach Tsinkiang by tomorrow?”

“We will, if it does not rain. If it does, the roads would be muddy and slushy and the travelling difficult.”

“You are assuming that the horse will not die on us halfway, aren’t you?”

“It had better not die on me,” Wen Yiji growled. “Or I will kill it.”

“It looks so pitiful. We will have to get a stronger horse at the earliest opportunity.”

A storm broke out in the late afternoon and they got caught in the ensuing rain. There was no shelter nearby to hide from the cold and wet weather. Drenched to the skin, they managed to reach a little town and settle themselves in an inn.

“Better change out of your peddler attire before you catch cold,” advised Yiji.

“My other clothes are all female clothes,” said Xiang Xiang.

“You may as well dress back as a girl,” said Yiji. “I’m also a bit tired of looking like this. The last time I left Tsinkiang I looked like a poor peddler. This time, I want to enter Tsinkiang looking like a highly successful trader. With an air of nobility. With some style. Let’s change into our newest clothes.”

+ + + + + +

The following morning, Wen Yiji made inquiries around the little town and found out where he could get a better horse and carriage. He took his horse and carriage to the merchant and asked if he could make an exchange.

“Ah… you want to trade in your horse and cart,” the merchant grinned affably. “I have the latest model in carriages that you might be interested in.”

“I only want the covered carriage,” said Yiji. “No open carts. It must be able to keep the rain out.”

“You understand that we take cash only. No payment by installments.”

“Do I look like I cannot afford to pay?” asked Yiji with a touch of irritation in his voice. His sister caught the tone with concern. It had been several days since her brother last consumed bitter gourd. The strange energy within him was starting to act up. She hoped that the merchant would not say anything stupid.

“No, no, no! I don’t mean that!” said the merchant. “The way I trade is to make known all my conditions upfront. So that there will be no misunderstanding later on.”

“That’s fine with me,” said Wen Yiji. “But I would want a fair trade-in value for my horse and cart.”

“Your cart looks old and your horse looks like it has died a long time ago but is still walking,” the merchant commented.

“As long as it is still walking, then it has not died. Just show me your carriage models.”

“I have just the model you want. Take a look at this carriage. It has been regularly serviced and its last owner was an old lady who only took it out a few times a year.”

“That is what all used-carriage salesmen say. This is the sorriest looking carriage I have ever seen. It looks more like a cart converted to a carriage. The conversion job is not even seamless, with joints sticking out here and there.”

“It does a good job in keeping the rain out. It is stronger than it looks.”

“Damn… even looks ugly.”

“It looks unusual, not ugly! It is an imported design and is very functional. That is all that matters. We should not bother if the cat is black or white. As long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat!”

“I am not buying a cat. I am buying a carriage. Show me something else.”

“This is the only carriage I have in stock. I’ll sell it to you cheap!”

“Hmmmmm……. all right. Show me your horses.”

Wen Yiji inspected the horses and selected a healthy looking animal. He bargained over the price, then paid the merchant and loaded his stuff in his new carriage. Leaving his old horse and cart with the merchant, he and Xiang Xiang then climbed on top of his newly purchased vehicle and set off for Tsinkiang. The horse trotted merrily, strongly pulling the carriage behind.

“My, this horse can certainly move!” remarked Xiang Xiang, impressed.

“Yes, of course,” said her brother. “This horse has a greater horsepower.”

+ + + + + +

In Tsinkiang, Agent Simit called six of his men to the hall and gave them instructions.

“Listen,” he said. “There are two peddlers coming to Tsinkiang from Amoy. They should reach here today or tomorrow. They are dressed in blue and carrying two wooden boxes of scrap metal. One of them is a fourteen-year old boy. I want you to go to the Amoy road and intercept them. Then bring them here.”

“And if they do not wish to come?” asked a bald man called Bor Tak.

“Then you will have to tie them up and take them here by force. Take a horse cart along with you. But be very, very discreet. I do not want this thing to be known by outside people. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

“Yes, master,” the men replied.

Si Mm Chut watched the men leave with the horse cart. He waited a while, then took a horse and rode to the south road to Amoy. He caught up with the men at the outskirts of Tsinkiang. The men did not expect to see him and were thus surprised.

“My father sent me here to see that you men are doing what you should be doing,” he announced importantly. They nodded sullenly. In their hearts, they became wary. There was always trouble when Young Master Si was around. The last time Young Master Si got into a fatal fight, the men held the victim down and Si Mm Chut beat the shit out of him with a metal bar. The unfortunate victim died from the beating. The victim’s family demanded justice and refused to accept compensation. Agent Simit had to bribe the city magistrate heftily to keep his youngest son out of jail. After paying the hefty bribe, Agent Simit became furious at the monetary loss and thrashed some of his men. From that day on, the men became wary whenever Si Mm Chut was with them.

Positioning themselves at an empty stretch of road, the men stood there in the chilly air as travelers passed by them. There were not many travellers about in early winter. Those who passed by were not wearing blue or carrying wooden boxes. By midday, Si Mm Chut was getting bored and tired. He had not had a chance to beat anyone up yet.

“Is there some place that I can go to eat?” he asked. “Preferably a place that sells wine?”

“We passed an eating shop just now,” said Bor Tak. “About three li from here. You may want to go there to eat.”

“I do not wish to eat alone. Bor Tak, you come with me. The rest of you stay here and look out for the two peddlers.”

“Yes, young master!” said Bor Tak, obviously delighted. “But you are riding on your horse and I have no horse to follow you.”

“Yes you have. Go to the horse cart and uncouple the horse from the cart,” ordered Si Mm Chut. “Then use that horse to ride with me.”

Bor Tak grinned from ear to ear. He unhitched the horse from the cart and then rode the horse to Si Mm Chut. He was only too glad to get out of the boring task of looking for peddlers.

Not long after they had gone, Wen Yiji’s carriage turned around the corner.

“There are five armed men up ahead, Brother Yiji,” noted Xiang Xiang.

“Get your weapon ready in case they are robbers,” he said. “Keep your butterfly sword nearby.”

She took out her long kitchen knife and said, “It’s not a butterfly sword. It is merely a long knife for chopping chicken. I have decided to give it a name.”

“What name?”

“I’ve decided to call it ‘Chicken Knife’.”

Wen rolled his eyes upwards and remarked sarcastically, “You are so imaginative when it comes to names!”

As they neared the five men, they moved to the road and blocked his path. Wen Yiji was tempted to speed up his horse and mow them down. However, he stopped the horse and asked, “What is the meaning of this? Why are you blocking my path?”

“We are looking for somebody,” said one of the men.

“What has that to do with me?” Wen Yiji asked.

Agent Simit’s men examined Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang. They looked like prosperous people and not at all like the two peddlers that they had been asked to look out for.

“I’m sorry,” one of them said. “You may pass.”

“Wait,” another one said. “We are looking for two peddlers who left Amoy yesterday morning. They were dressed in blue and one of them is a fourteen year old boy. They were carrying two wooden boxes of scrap metal. Have you seen them?”

“No, never saw them,” replied Yiji. He clucked his tongue and the horse moved forward.

Out of earshot of the men, Xiang Xiang asked, “Do you suppose that those men were looking for us?”

“The description certainly fitted us,” her brother replied. “When we left Amoy, we were dressed in blue. You looked like a fourteen year old boy. I was carrying two wooden boxes that I told the inn waiter that it contained only scrap metal. Maybe it was just a coincidence.”

“Or maybe these men are actually looking for us. In which case we may have to be careful.”

“Why would anyone be interested in us? We kept a low profile in Amoy.”

“Except on the occasion when you scalded the assassin’s head.”

“Do you think this has anything to do with the assassin in Amoy?”

“I don’t know. Do you want to turn back and ask them?”

“Nah……..let’s not waste time. I am hungry and wish to get into town as fast as possible.”

However, Xiang Xiang knew that her brother just wanted to visit a courtesan house as fast as possible. There was a fire in him that was starting to manifest itself in his behaviour. She made a mental note to herself to order bitter gourd soup for him the moment they reach an inn.

Wen Yiji remembered the two courtesans who had beaten him up the last time he was in Tsinkiang. He recalled their names; Ah Lian and Ah Huey. Yes. He would book their services one by one and show them no mercy all night long.

+ + + + + +

At the eating shop, Si Mm Chut and Bor Tak had just finished their meal and were walking to their horses. The food was lousy and the wine was even worse. The owner of the shop was the cook and also the waiter. He was deaf most of the time. It was little wonder that the eating shop had no other customers apart from them. Si Mm Chut was in a foul mood and he swore that he would never patronize the shop again. He opened the door of the shop and walked out into the chilly weather.

It was a cold day and the road was devoid of travelers. He looked idly up the empty road and then he pointed, “There! Up the road! Two men dressed in blue! How could our men let them pass?”

Bor Tak looked in that direction, squinted his eyes and said, “They are not what we are looking for. One is an old man and the other is a boy who looks about eleven years old. They are not carrying boxes. The old man is carrying a basket. I think he’s a farmer.”

“But they are dressed in blue!” insisted Si Mm Chut.

“All right, if you like, we will go and ask them if they had come from Amoy.”

The two men rode their horses up the road and towards the two figures in blue. They stopped their horses just in front of the two figures and Si Mm Chut got down from his horse.

“Stop!” said Si Mm Chut. “Where did you two come from?”

The man in blue clothes looked quizzically back at him and answered, “We live around here,”

“Don’t try to bluff me!” said Si Mm Chut angrily. “You came from Amoy! Admit it!”

“Amoy? Yes, I have been there a long time ago. What exactly are you asking?”

“Aha! So you have been to Amoy.”

“Yes I have. What is this about?”

“You scalded my second brother in the face with hot water in Amoy two nights ago!”

“I couldn’t have! The last time I went to Amoy was eight years ago! And I did not scald anybody!”

“Liar! Show me what you are carrying.”

“No! I don’t like your manners!”

But Si Mm Chut snatched the basket from the man rudely before the man could do anything. The basket fell to the ground and the contents emptied out. Two ducks with bound feet stared up at him.

“Where is your scrap metal?” he asked. “You are supposed to be carrying scrap metal!”

“Are you insane?” asked the man in anger. “I am a farmer taking these two ducks to sell to an important family in town. You not only wasted my time, you almost injured my ducks! They are very expensive ducks. You won’t have the money to pay for them!”

Kanineh, you see me no up, is it? I cannot afford, is it? The Si family has lots of money!”

“Which Si family is that?”

“My father is the well-known Master Simit. Everybody fears him! I can whack anybody without choosing an auspicious date to do it!”

“Master Simit? Your father may be well known but his reputation is not savoury. No matter how well-known you are, that does not give you the right to act like a ruffian. Simply speak like got no family education. Got mother born but no mother teach!”

Chao chee bai!” cursed Si Mm Chut. “I’ll teach you to show me some respect!”

Meanwhile, the two ducks flapped their wings trying to get away. The little boy quickly caught one of them. As he was about to catch the other one, Si Mm Chut caught it first and held it up. Then, to the horror of the boy, Si Mm Chut bashed the duck onto the ground and stamped on its neck.

“Stop that!” yelled the farmer. He pushed Si Mm Chut down to the ground and then picked up his duck. However, the duck was dead.

“My duck is dead!” the farmer shouted. “Compensate me! My duck is dead!”

“Never mind about the duck, uncle,” said the boy named Grasshopper. “These people are not reasonable. Let’s just go!”

“No! I want him to compensate me!” insisted the farmer.

Si Mm Chut was furious at being pushed down to the ground. He got up and started beating the farmer. Bor Tak got down from his horse and was about to intervene when he thought better of it. It never pays to interfere when his young master was beating somebody up. Everybody in the Si household knew that. However, the old farmer was not going to allow himself to be beaten up. He grabbed hold of Si Mm Chut’s body and wrestled with him. In the ensuing struggle, Si Mm Chut pulled out a dagger and stabbed the farmer three times in the stomach. The farmer collapsed onto the ground, bleeding profusely.

The little boy dropped the duck and ran to the farmer and shouted, “Uncle! Uncle! Are you all right?”

“I am dying, Grasshopper,” gasped the farmer.

Bor Tak came over to take a look. Then he turned to Si Mm Chut and said, “Well, Young Master Si, I don’t think this farmer will live for long! Your father will have to pay compensation to his family.”

Si Mm Chut said nonchalantly, “He is only a stupid farmer. Not an important person. We don’t have to pay compensation.”

“But the little boy will tell everybody, and sooner or later, somebody will come and ask your father for compensation. I am sure that the local magistrate will use this opportunity to blackmail your father for money.”

Si Mm Chut looked all around and said, “The road is empty of people and there is no one around. So nobody knows what has happened here. Kill the boy before he tells anybody!”

“I can’t kill the boy without direct orders from Master Simit, your father,” said Bor Tak.

“If you kill him, I will present you with a courtesan tonight.”

Bor Tak grinned. A humsap grin.

“Run, Grasshopper, run!” gasped the dying farmer. “Or they’ll kill you!”

The little boy stood up, unsure what to do. Bor Tak reached out to grasp hold of him, but the little boy nimbly evaded the grasp. Bor Tak lunged at him and the little boy ran.

“Run, quick!” gasped the old farmer. “See you in the next life!”

The little boy ran up the road. He wept as he ran and valiantly tried to fight back the tears.

“Kill him!” yelled Si Mm Chut to Bor Tak.

Then he kicked at the old man’s head and cursed, “Stupid farmer!” He did not bother to chase after the boy, leaving the task entirely to Bor Tak.

Bor Tak pulled out his sword as he ran after Grasshopper. He could not understand how it was so difficult to catch up with such a young boy. His hat dropped off to the ground during the chase, revealing his bald head, but he did not stop to pick it up. The boy was fleet of foot certainly, but it would only be a matter of time before he got caught. Grasshopper ran around a bend in the road with sword-wielding bald man in hot pursuit.

Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang were approaching the bend in the road when they saw the young boy running in the middle of the road and heading towards them.

“Damn!” Wen Yiji muttered.

“Better stop, or you may hit the boy,” advised his sister.

“You are right! I don’t want to have to clean his blood from the wheels. I just bought the carriage this morning!”

He reined in the horse and the carriage came to a halt. He waited impatiently for the boy and Bor Tak to pass him.

“This is the second time that I have been forced to stop along this stretch of road! There better not be a third time or I’ll be beating somebody up!” he snarled.

“Stay cool, Brother Yiji,” said his sister. “I think there is some trouble here. That man with the sword is trying to kill the boy!”

“So? Don’t be nosey! What other people do to other people is other people’s problem.”

Bor Tak was getting out of breath, but the boy was finally within reach. Just as he was almost caught, the boy dashed behind the horse and dived under Yiji’s carriage.

Bor Tak stopped for breath beside the carriage and shouted, “Come out! You can’t hide from me! Come out!”

“Come out? You think I am stupid enough to come out to be killed?” yelled Grasshopper.

Xiang Xiang took out her Chicken Knife and shouted at Bor Tak, “You! Why are you running after a little boy with a sword?”

“That’s my business!” said Bor Tak. “Now move the carriage out of the way!”

“He was trying to kill me for no good reason!’ shouted the boy from under the carriage.

“I have a reason,” said Bor Tak.

“It’s a stupid reason!” yelled the boy.

“In that case we are not moving!” said Xiang Xiang.

“Oh yes we are!” said Yiji. “I hate being delayed.”

“But he’s going to kill the boy!” protested his sister.

“Hey! People die everyday!” said her brother testily. “Weren’t you listening to me? What other people do to other people is other people’s problem!”

“The boy looks a bit like Yisheng, our dead youngest brother.”

“So what? He is not Yisheng. And anyway, I cannot remember how Yisheng looks like. Probably thin body, black hair, yellow skin and slitty eyes. All boys look alike.”

“No, they don’t!”

“Yes, they do!”

Bor Tak was getting impatient. He shouted, “Don’t talk so much! Move your carriage out of the way! This is not your father’s road!”

Wen Yiji glared at him and spoke slowly, “Listen, you ugly muthafucka, I don’t know who you are, but you are fucking rude! I am like this close to having your facial features rearranged! Don’t tempt me!”

Something about Wen Yiji’s glare made Bor Tak avert his eyes. There was an unmistaken venom in Wen Yiji’s tone that made him cautious. He looked at the ground in silence.

Slowly, Wen Yiji turned his head away, flicked the reins at the horse and the creature moved forward at a trot. As the carriage moved off, Bor Tak expected to see the boy exposed on the ground. However, all he saw was an empty spot on the road. He looked around and could not understand where the boy had gone. On the carriage, Xiang Xiang looked back and was just as perplexed.

Suddenly, the thought hit her, “The boy is clinging to the underside of the carriage!”

The carriage moved over the ground fast, pulled strongly by the trotting horse. Grasshopper had managed to find handholds and footholds on the underside of the carriage and he clung on for dear life. Bor Tak soon realized what was happening and ran after the carriage shouting, “Stop! Stop! Stop!”

Oh shit!” muttered Grasshopper. “He’s discovered my stunt!”

However, Wen Yiji ignored the bald man’s shouting and continued driving on. Up ahead, Si Mm Chut noticed the carriage trundling towards him. Bor Tak saw Si Mm Chut some distance ahead standing by the road and he shouted out to his young master, “Stop the carriage! They have the boy!”

Si Mm Chut immediately pulled his horse to the center of the road and blocked it.

Once more, Wen Yiji was forced to rein in his horse. He snarled in anger, “This is the third time that I have to stop! Ni nabeh! What the hell is the fucking matter with these muthafuckas? I think I will have to get down and bitchslap a few faces!”

Bor Tak caught up with the halted carriage and panted, “The damn boy is clinging to the bottom side of the carriage!”

From under the carriage, the boy’s voice was heard to yell, “Drive on, mister! These men have just killed my uncle! They want to kill me to keep this matter a secret! They will kill you also! Drive on!”

Then Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang noticed the inert body of the farmer lying on the ground by the side of the road with blood flowing out from stab wounds in the stomach. They could not help noticing Si Mm Chut cleaning a dagger with a piece of cloth.

Bor Tak got down on his hands and knees on the ground to look at the boy under the carriage. Then he drew back his sword in readiness to plunge it into the boy.

“You! The ugly one with the smooth head! If you kill the boy, I will make sure that you will not leave here alive!” Xiang Xiang shouted. She leapt down from the carriage and moved towards Bor Tak while pointing her Chicken Knife at him. Fearful that she might stab him while he was on the ground, Bor Tak got up immediately to face her with his sword.

Wen Yiji was amazed. This was the first time that he had heard Xiang Xiang threaten anybody. It was so unlike her character.

“Little friend,” she called out to the boy. “Why did these men kill your uncle?”

“Because of a mistaken identity!” the boy shouted back. “These two stupid pigs were looking for two peddlers from Amoy who were carrying scrap metal. I think the peddlers scalded the younger pig’s second brother in the face with hot water in Amoy two nights ago. We kept telling them that we did not scald anyone in Amoy but they were just too dumb to understand!”

A flash of understanding hit Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang. Yiji had scalded the Celestial Dragon Claw assassin with a bowl of boiling soup two nights ago in Amoy. Somehow, the assassin must have found out that the Wen siblings were headed for Tsinkiang and had asked his brother and comrades to waylay them here.

“Ahhhhh……I understand the whole thing now!” said Wen Yiji. “But if the brother was scalded in Amoy two nights ago, how could the news have reached Tsinkiang so fast?”

Si Mm Chut looked at Wen Yiji and decided that he did not like him. He sneered sarcastically, “You never heard of courier pigeons? From what tiny mountain village did you village yokels come from?”

“You must be the one whose brother got scalded,” remarked Wen Yiji to Si Mm Chut. “You have just killed an innocent man without good cause.”

“What I do is none of your business.”

“I do not like your attitude,” said Wen Yiji. “Now that we also know that you have just killed a man, what are you going to do? Kill us as well?”

Si Mm Chut paused. He was not sure if he and Bor Tak would be able to overcome Wen Yiji and the girl. The girl appeared to know how to wield a blade. He could not decide what to do.

The voice of Grasshopper floated out from under the carriage, “Better not ask that pig such a complicated question. He is too stupid to decide anything smart. Drive on, Mister!”

This infuriated Si Mm Chut and he shouted, “Bor Tak! Why is that boy still alive?”

“These people are in the way!” Bor Tak replied.

Si Mm Chut looked intently at Xiang Xiang holding her Chicken Knife. He was struck by her good looks and so he spoke to Wen Yiji with a changed tone. “Your daughter is very pretty! I am from a reputable family in town and I think it will be a good idea for us to be friends, uncle!”

“Don’t listen to him, Mister,” the voice of Grasshopper called out. “He is an evil person and he comes from an evil family. Only a snake can befriend him!”

“You are an insolent boy,” said Si Mm Chut. “Afterwards, I will feed shit to your mouth.”

“You are an evil beast,” retorted Grasshopper. “One day a snake will crawl up your ass to say ‘Good morning’ to your head.”

“Carriage driver,” said Si Mm Chut to Wen Yiji. “Tell your daughter to stand aside so that my man can pull out the boy!”

“She is not my daughter,” said Wen Yiji coldly. “I am not that old!”

“Ah….so you must be her husband then,” said Si Mm Chut. “It is not right that such a beautiful young girl is married to someone so much older than her!”

“You have a most disrespectful tone. Maybe I will report your crime to the authorities,” said Wen Yiji, his anger rapidly rising.

“The authorities? Hahaha! I will buy up the authorities!”

“Good. I’ll tell every authority I meet and you can spend a vast fortune buying up every authority.”

“You are a stupid fool,” cursed Si Mm Chut. “I will have you killed. And then that young lady of yours will be spending her nights in my bed. After that she will know what a real man can do!”

Wen Yiji paused in his breathing. Then a cold fury enveloped him. Glaring at Si Mm Chut, he snarled, “I will have to slap you silly to discipline that nasty mouth of yours!”

In a flash, he leapt off the carriage. Before Si Mm Chut could react, Wen Yiji had slapped him hard across the mouth.


Si Mm Chut fell down to the ground.

Bor Tak screamed, “Do you know what you just did? That is Young Master Si Mm Chut!”

“Si Mm Chut? How can he have a constipated name like that when he is so full of shit?” asked Wen Yiji.

“He is the youngest son of a reputable family! You are as good as dead!”

The voice of young Grasshopper came from under the carriage, “That pig comes from a family of retards, Mister. The whole town knows that!”

Bor Tak swore colourfully at the boy and threatened Yiji, “Nobody in town dares to fool with us. You are as good as dead!”

“Do I look like I am scared?” asked Yiji.

“No, but you should be.”

“Just shut your mouth, muthafucka, and move away from my carriage!”

Bor Tak stood there unmoving.

“If you do not move away from the carriage, I will slap him again!” warned Yiji again.

Again, Bor Tak stood there unmoving.

From the underside of the carriage, Grasshopper called out, “The bald pig does not understand you, Mister. His brains used to be stored in his hair. When the hair fell out, he became brainless. Go ahead and slap the other pig!”

Wen Yiji was astonished that the small boy had so much to say. At that moment, Si Mm Chut got up unsteadily from the ground. Without hesitation, Wen Yiji slapped him a second time, this time harder.


Si Mm Chut fell down with a bleeding mouth and spat out two broken teeth onto the ground. His tongue was coated with his own blood and he did not like the taste. With a painful struggle, he got up again, but this time, he held a dagger in his hand. In blind rage, he lunged at Wen Yiji who grabbed his wrist easily with one hand, twisted upwards, and broke the offending wrist. Then Yiji slapped him once more.


Si Mm Chut promptly fell down a third time, spitting out more teeth.

Wen Yiji turned to Bor Tak and said, “I can keep this up all day until your young master has no more teeth to lose. He will have an eating problem. In addition to his shitting problem. No eat, no shit.”

“You will die at the end of my sword,” said Bor Tak, moving towards Wen Yiji. “Let us see how well you do against someone who is trained in fighting dirty!”

“Think before you act,” Yiji warned. “My policy is that if you try to kill me, I will kill you. If you use your sword against me, you will surely lose your life.”

The bald fighter ignored the warning and swung his sword at Yiji using a combination of killing strokes. Using his superior speed, Yiji weaved and ducked the sword patterns and then he suddenly tapped the back of Bor Tak with the Uber Slow Walk Heart Stopping Strike. Then he moved back.

“Listen,” said Wen Yiji. “I did warn you that you would lose your life. You have only one day to live. Do whatever you need to do today because tomorrow your life will be gone.”

The bald fighter was not sure what Yiji was talking about, but he was aware that his opponent was much faster than him. He moved warily around Yiji.

The sound of a horse snorting made Yiji turn his head. Si Mm Chut had painfully clambered on top of his horse and was riding away. With one wrist broken, he had to control the reins with only one hand. The horse sensed that the rider was weak and galloped off in the direction it chose.

Thinking that Wen Yiji was being distracted, Bor Tak took the opportunity to attack. The next moment, he flew unceremoniously into the air from a kick by Yiji and landed on the cold hard ground.

Grasshopper slowly extricated himself from under the carriage. He had just crawled half out from the bottom of the carriage when he caught the attention of the bald man. A thrust from the sword into the young boy would end the matter, thought Bor Tak. He leapt towards the boy with his sword thrusting out towards the defenseless boy.


Xiang Xiang looked at her Chicken Knife in amazement. She had seen the danger to the boy and swung her knife upwards to parry Bor Tak’s sword, but had not expected her weapon to break the sword into two. Bor Tak stared at his own broken blade, unable to comprehend the unexpected outcome. Yiji reached the bald man and kicked him in the ribs.


The sound of broken bones could be heard painfully clear in the chilly winter air. Bor Tak dropped his broken sword and crawled away in agony towards his horse.

“I was right when I first said that this blade must have been forged by a master swordsmith,” remarked Wen Yiji.

“You mean Chicken Knife?” asked his sister.

“Yes,” he replied. “It is not an ordinary blade. And another thing; you were trained in pole work but not in swordplay. Yet you jumped down from the carriage with your knife and not your pole! What in Heaven's name were you thinking about?”

“I do not know,” she replied. “I did not stop to think about it.”

“In the martial arts world, there is this concept called “affinity”. I think you may have a natural affinity for butterfly swords.”

“Why butterfly swords?”

“Your Chicken Knife is actually of the same shape as a butterfly sword. I had long suspected that the pole was not your natural weapon. From now on, I will train you to handle the butterfly swords.”

She nodded. Then she turned the boy and asked, “Are you all right?”

Grasshopper nodded.

Wen Yiji looked at him critically and said, “I didn’t think it was possible to cling to the underside of a moving carriage. You are a survivor, aren’t you? What is your name?”

“My name is Grasshopper," the boy replied. "And thank you for your help. I would have been dead if not for you two. Let me give you three kowtows.”

“You don’t have to do that,” said WenYiji.

The sound of a horse galloping made them realized that Bor Tak had climbed onto his horse and escaped.

Grasshopper got down on his knees and prepared to render the three kowtows to his two benefactors. Xiang Xiang stood there in embarrassment, unsure how to react. Wen Yiji ignored the boy and went to take a look at the dead uncle. He knelt down and bent over the dead body.

Grasshopper’s uncle opened his eyes.

Wen Yiji gasped, “What..….you’re still alive?”

The old farmer whispered in a weak voice, “Will…..die…..soon….. If Heaven……was kind…… send you…….to save Grasshopper…….. then Heaven……..would also……..grant me two favours.”

“What two favours?” asked Yiji.

“Grasshopper.… relatives…….take him.…….as your servant……he's resourceful…….eat little…….work fast……trust me.”

“What is your second favour,” Wen Yiji asked.


“Forget it. I’m not killing your killer for you.”

“Si Mm Chut…….very bad man……he……will……kill…….others.”

“What other people do to other people is other people’s problem.”

“His family……..does……..bad things.”

“What other people do to other people is other people’s problem.”

“His father…….Master Simit…….. threatens everyone.”

“What other people do to other people is other …….did you say his father’s name is Simit?”


“What the……alright……that certainly changes things!”

“I…..want……justice……..” whispered the old man, getting weaker and softer.

“I can’t kill Si Mm Chut for you for free,” said Wen Yiji. “It’s against my professional etiquette. You have to pay me something.”

The old farmer gasped with his last breath on earth, “Fine….take my ducks….”

Chapter 26: The Relativity of Grasshopper

Wen Yiji looked away from the body of Grasshopper’s deceased uncle. He had been around dead people long enough to know that death was always ugly. Xiang Xiang and Grasshopper approached him from behind.

“Why were you talking to the dead man, Brother Yiji?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“He wasn’t dead just now. So I had a casual chat with him,” replied her brother. “But halfway talking, he died.”

“He wasn’t dead?” asked Grasshopper in surprise. “What were his last words?”

“He requested me to take you as my servant,” replied Yiji to the boy. “He said that you work hard and eat little. He also said that I should take his ducks. I do not need a servant, so I will take you back to your family. However, I will keep the ducks.”

“I have no family now, benefactor,” said the boy. “But you are welcome to the two ducks.”

“Two ducks? Is that all?”

“Yes, benefactor. We only had two ducks. One of them is dead as well. I’m sorry.”

Xiang Xiang asked the boy, “Where do you live? Where do you want the body of your uncle to be buried?”

“Don’t be nosey, Xiang Xiang,” scolded Yiji. “That’s none of our business.”

“He has no family now,” said Xiang Xiang. “We should help him bury his dead uncle.”

Wen Yiji groaned. But he agreed to transport the dead body to Grasshopper’s house in his newly-bought carriage. He originally had plans to enter Tsinkiang on an auspicious note, wearing his best clothes and riding on a good horse and carriage. All his plans had been shredded to pieces. He dumped the dead body at the front of the carriage and hoped that the blood would not be difficult to wash off afterwards. Grasshopper’s house was not far away. It was only a small house with very few pieces of furniture.

Grasshopper went behind the house and started digging a hole in the ground. Wen Yiji looked at the surroundings and remarked, “There are a lot of graves here.”

“Yes,” replied Grasshopper. “Somebody is always dying. It is like a bad joke played on us.”

“A bad joke? Why don’t you tell us what happened?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“My name is Zhen Qong Ming but everybody calls me Grasshopper,” said the little boy. “My father was a simple farmer but my mother was from one of the top families in Tsinkiang. When I was two years old, my father died in a landslide and we could not find the body. When I was four, my mother remarried and my stepfather moved in with us. Not long after that, my stepfather’s sister and her husband moved in to stay with us. When I was five years old, my stepfather tripped over a chicken and fell into a well. He died, and that is why we don’t rear chickens anymore.”

“First your father died, then your stepfather died…..that must have been shocking to your mother,” remarked Xiang Xiang.

“Yes,” replied Grasshopper. “When I was seven, a pig fell on top of my stepfather’s sister and she died. A year later, my mother died of sickness. For a while I was staying in this house with only my stepfather’s sister’s husband for company. One day, two friends of his came from another town to visit him. They stayed in the house and refused to leave because they said that they had nowhere else to go. When I was nine years old, my stepfather’s sister’s husband went to the bushes to shit but a snake bit him on the ass and he died. After his death, his two friends treated this house like their own house. Of the two friends, one was an incorrigible gambler and whenever I went with him to sell some ducks, he would drop by in a gambling den. I think I know all the gambling dens in town as well as all the gangs and bad hats. His gambling debts got more and more and three months ago, some bad hats came here to collect their debts. He could not pay, so they beat him up and he died. Today, the other friend got stabbed to death. Although I called him “uncle”, he is actually not related to me.”

“What a pitiful story,” said Xiang Xiang. “It seems like people in this house are always dying. Something appears not to be right.”

Wen Yiji was lost in thought for a moment and then he spoke, “Highly unusual….I suspect that this house is a ‘Death and Emptiness’ house.”

“What is a ‘Death and Emptiness’ house?” Xiang Xiang wanted to know.

“Certain houses, because of the direction they are facing, have bad fengshui and can become ‘Death and Emptiness’ houses. In such a case, everyone in the house will die within a twelve year period.”

“But almost every house here is facing south.”

“Some houses are more south than others. The external landform plays the biggest part. This house faces a sharp barren hill. Not good. Behind is a duck pond full of duck shit. Not good. Very bad qi. Add them all together, sure die.”

“Sure die?” asked Grasshopper, completely stupefied.

“Yes!” replied Yiji. “Sure die. Even the snake will die.”

“Well,” said Grasshopper. “I have not died yet.”

“You have not died because it was not your turn yet,” said Wen Yiji. “How old are you?”

“I am eleven,” announced the boy.

“Eleven years……..and the cycle for such things is twelve years,” said Yiji. “In your case you will die next year.”

“Oh, no,” said Grasshopper.

“Oh, yes,” said Wen Yiji nonchalantly. “You may as well get used to it.”

“Luckily, I am moving out,” said the boy brightly. “Since I am now your servant, I will come and stay with you.”

“Hey!” exclaimed Wen Yiji. “I did not say that I would take you as my servant!”

“Oh, never mind, Brother Yiji!” said Xiang Xiang. “We will need workers when we open our restaurant. Surely we can find a place for him to stay. He is small and it would not cost us much to feed him.”

“Alright, fine!” said her brother. “He can stay in the firewood storage room. But you will take charge of him. If he gets out of line, I will cane him hard. Very hard!”

“Thank you, benefactors!” cried the boy. He knelt down and gave Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang three kowtows. Wen Yiji rolled his eyes at the sky.

“There is something you should know, benefactor,” said the boy to Yiji. “The young man you slapped this afternoon was Si Mm Chut, the youngest son of Master Simit. Rumours in the martial underworld has it that if you want a man killed, Master Simit is the one who can arrange it for you. The family is bad news. It is better to avoid them while you are in Tsinkiang.”

“You seem to know something about the martial underworld,” remarked Wen Yiji. “Tell me what you know about the Si family.”

“I hear a lot in the gambling dens. Master Simit has three sons. The youngest son, you have already met. The second son, the one they say got scalded, his name is Si Liu Thung. And the eldest is called Si Fatt Guai.”

“Si Fatt what?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“Si Fatt Guai. He quarreled with his father over something and left Tsinkiang. People say that he is in Changchow. They say that he likes men.”

Wen Yiji was stunned for a moment. So Simit’s eldest son was Si Fatt Guai of the Five Fairies Iron Palm martial art. And his second son was Si Liu Thung who was the Celestial Dragon Claw assassin. Both were powerful. He would have to play the situation carefully.

“Listen,” he said. “We will not tell anybody of what happened between me and Si Mm Chut today. If Simit gets pissed off, he might send some assassins our way. I don’t wish you two to get hurt, you understand?”

They nodded.

“Si Mm Chut and the bald guy may recognize us. But no one else would,” remarked Xiang Xiang. “Still, it is best not to attract attention unnecessarily.”

After they had buried the dead ‘uncle’, Xiang Xiang instructed Grasshopper to pack his things so as to follow her to the city. As he was packing his things, she noticed that he carefully included an odd piece of metal among his possessions.

“Where did you get that?” she asked.

“It belonged to my mother,” Grasshopper answered. “She said that it was part of an arrowhead. Her brother was an archer. He broke the arrowhead in two and gave her one half while he kept the other half. When my mother died, she passed it to me.”

“Can I see it?”

“Of course.”

Grasshopper passed her the piece of metal. She examined it carefully and then she asked him,

“What were the names of your mother and her brother?”

“My mother’s name was Wang Ying. I do not know the name of her brother.”

“What about the names of your maternal grandparents?”

“I never knew my maternal grandparents. But my mother used to tell me that when she was a little girl, everybody referred to her father as ‘Patriarch Wang’. He’s been dead a long time now. More than twenty years already. My grandmother died before my mother was married.”

Xiang Xiang had a slight jolt. However, she kept her calm demeanor, took the piece of metal and went out to where her brother was busy cleaning the carriage.

“Why is it taking so long for that kid to pack?” he growled.

“He is packing some of his mother’s stuff to take along,” she said. “And that kid is our cousin.”

“What? Are you kidding me?” asked her brother in surprise.

“I kid you not,” she replied. She held up a piece of metal and said, “This piece of metal came from his mother who got it from her brother. It was part of an arrowhead that got broken into two. Grasshopper’s mother’s brother kept the other piece.”

“So what about it?”

“Remember that our father often wore a piece of shapeless iron around his neck? I have it here with me. I have kept it with me since the day he died.”

“What is your point?”


Xiang Xiang took her own piece of iron and placed it against the piece she had taken from Grasshopper. She put them both together and said, “A perfect fit! Grasshopper’s mother’s name was Wang Ying. Our father’s name was Wang Yuan. They were both siblings!”

“Oh heavens… I am the monkey’s uncle!”

“Not uncle……but cousin……on his mother’s side. And he is not a monkey! I knew that we could be connected when I saw how much he looked like Yisheng! I felt compelled to stand up for him today.”

“All right..….so I am the monkey’s cousin. Does he know that we are related?”

“No, I have not told him yet.”

“In that case, let us not tell him anything. I don’t want to have anything to do with the Wangs. And I do not wish to acknowledge any relationship through the Wangs. You understand me? I am a Wen. That kid is my servant and will be treated as such.”

“All right, Brother Yiji,” she replied. “But because he is also a relative, we cannot treat him as we like.”

“Why not? Anyway, treatment is all relative. What some say is good, others will say is bad. I can treat a relative as a servant if I so wish. There is no law against it. ”

“There may not be a law, but there is a theory.”

“What theory?

“The Theory of Relativity.”


“It says that although treatment may be relative, a relative merits better treatment.”

Wen Yiji tried to digest this for a few moments.

Xiang Xiang continued, “We cannot make him sleep in the firewood storage room. He will stay in a proper room.”

“All right. Just make sure that he does his share of work.”

“I’m sure he will. He must also be allowed to eat with us at the same table on special occasions.”

“What? All right. As long as it is a special occasion.”

“And I get to choose the clothes he wears.”

“If you like.”

Xiang Xiang smiled quietly. Wen Yiji had a sneaky suspicion that his sister had just bested him in some form of negotiations, but he was not sure what the implications were. She had taken a liking to Grasshopper, not just because he looked like Yisheng, but because of his pugnacious character.

Grasshopper came out of the house and Xiang Xiang returned him the piece of metal. They climbed into the carriage and made their way into the city of Tsinkiang. It was late in the afternoon when they reached an inn.

+ + + + + +

Agent Simit was furious. The sun was low in the sky when Si Mm Chut returned home. The horse had taken a roundabout route through the city and got itself lost. Finally, Si Mm Chut had got onto the right track and managed to maneuver the horse home. Simit questioned his youngest son repeatedly, “Where have you been?”

“Arhhhh…….ooooh …arhhhh……ooooh……” his son replied.

“Don’t you arhhhh ooooh arhhhh ooooh me!”

“Arhhhh…….ooooh …arhhhh……ooooh……knkkhhhhhdhx.”

“What did you say?”

“Arhhhh…….ooooh …arhhhh……ooooh……shhhhkkknnnhhh.”

Simit could not understand what his son was saying through a mouth of broken teeth, so finally he gave up and sent for the daifu.

Moments later, a servant came to inform him that Bor Tak’s body was found lying on the ground some distance from the Si manor. The bald man was suffering from internal injuries and broken ribs. He had fallen off his horse some distance from the manor but was too weak to crawl the rest of the way. The horse had disappeared.

Master Simit had Bor Tak brought before him and thus he learned bits and pieces of the whole story.

“This carriage driver. You said that he slapped my youngest son?” Simit asked.

“Yes master,” Bor Tak replied. “Three times. And then….. he broke……young master’s wrist.”

“I will have him killed!” vowed Agent Simit.

“I think…… he is highly skilled……in kungfu,” commented Bor Tak. “He managed to evade…….all my sword strokes.”

Bor Tak’s body was wracked in pain and when he spoke, blood dripped out of his nose onto the floor.

“So what?’ shouted Master Simit. “Your sword strokes very the fantastic, is it? Kanasai liddat! Simply whack here whack there! Any fish on land can also evade your sword! And you are dripping low quality blood all over the floor! Go get cleaned up! I will question you tomorrow morning!”

+ + + + + +

The first thing that Xiang Xiang did when reaching the inn was to order a pot of bitter gourd soup for her brother. Then she asked that the two ducks be cooked while she went to her room to clean herself up. Grasshopper followed Wen Yiji to his room and was told that a good servant should sleep on the floor while the master slept on the bed. The boy put his bedding on the floor without question.

When they all met at the dinner table later, the ducks were already cooked and the soup was ready. The waiter brought out the food and laid them on the table. Wen Yiji sat down at the table, followed by his sister.

“Aren’t you sitting down, Grasshopper?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“I am a servant, so I am not supposed to sit down at the master’s table,” the boy replied. He had seen the manner by which Wen Yiji had slapped Si Mm Chut until the mouth was bloody and knew that Wen Yiji was a man not to be trifled with. The sound of Bor Tak’s ribs breaking was still fresh in his ears. However, he sensed that Xiang Xiang was highly protective towards him.

“Grasshopper, you are expected to sit down with us on special occasions,” she said.

“What is this special occasion?” asked a perplexed Wen Yiji.

“Why, the celebration of our return to Tsinkiang, of course!”

“All right, sit down Grasshopper,” commanded Wen Yiji. “And eat.”

Grasshopper did not waste time after that. Even when both Xiang Xiang and Yiji were full, Grasshopper was still eating away.

“My, you certainly can eat,” remarked Yiji. “You must have eaten a whole duck by yourself.”

Grasshopper paused in his eating and asked, “Oh….sorry…..should I stop?”

“Carry on,” commanded Yiji, “Finish the duck.”

The boy needed no second urging.

“This duck is not bad,” remarked Xiang Xiang.

“The waiter claimed that it is the best in these parts,” said her brother. “Do you think your cooking can beat this?”

“Easily!” she replied. “If this is the best, then we will not have much competition once we start our duck restaurant. We will need to find a suitable place.”

Wen Yiji was thoughtful. He did not know how long it would take him to track down Gojisan. Maybe one year, maybe ten years. He knew that he could not take Xiang Xiang along on his quest. She was getting nearer to the marriageable age and he had to act the part as the head of the family. He would settle her down in Tsinkiang and then he would marry her off to a decent family. Gojisan may have to wait. However, he had an obligation to kill Si Mm Chut to avenge the death of Grasshopper’s ‘uncle’. He would do it fast.

“I will look around for a suitable house to buy. Then we will operate a quiet little restaurant there. We do not want too many customers. Just enough to make it appear that we are doing a respectable business. Two tables will be enough.”

“Two tables is not respectable, Brother Yiji. It should be at least ten. Get a house that can be operated as an eating shop in front but has living quarters upstairs and a courtyard inside,” she suggested.

“Madame Qian has a few properties for sale,” said Grasshopper. “She has lots of properties. When her husband died, she wanted to sell off all those properties that were too close to one courtesan house, the House of Noble Delights.”

“That is a good location!” said Wen Yiji excitedly.

“How can that place be a good location, Brother Yiji?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“Errr….well…..ummm….if we were to start a small restaurant, that place will have lots of people walking by. Clientele will be easier to find.”

“That is true,” she agreed. “But who is Madame Qian?”

“Some rich lady,” Grasshopper replied. “My dead uncle used to sell poultry to the ugly woman in charge of her kitchen. The staff there liked to gossip in my uncle’s presence. If Master Wen wishes, I will point out where the Qian residence is.”

“Do you know what the price of the property is going to be?” Yiji asked.

“Of course I know,” replied Grasshopper. “I even know the circumstances of the death of old Master Qian, how he died fully naked and why his widow wanted to sell the houses.”

“Fill me in on the details,” Yiji commanded.

+ + + + + +

The following morning, Simit sent a servant to bring Bor Tak to him for questioning. The servant went to Bor Tak’s bed to wake up the injured man.

“Bald Head, wake up!” the servant shouted.

Bor Tak painfully sat up on his bed. He felt dreadful and knew that something was very wrong with him. He reached out for a cup of water on the table. Slowly, he drank it.

“Hurry up!” the servant urged. “Don’t keep Master Simit waiting!”

Bor Tak took another sip of the water and at that moment, his heart stopped functioning. Wen Yiji’s Uber Slow Walk Heart Stopping Strike had claimed another victim.

+ + + + + +

Wen Yiji stood outside the Qian Residence and requested a meeting with Madame Qian. She was the widow of a very rich landowner and was surprised that a young man who she did not know would turn up at her doorstep to inquire about property.

Madame Qian was a respected member of Tsinkiang society. When her husband passed away sometime during the year in the arms of a courtesan at the House of Noble Delights, she was furious. The man had three wives but was still visiting a courtesan house. Her eldest son was only sixteen years old and still too young to take over the running of the family assets. She swore that she would get rid of the few properties nearest to the House of Noble Delights because she did not wish to pass the courtesan house each time she go to inspect her property. Thus she was glad that someone had express some interest in her properties.

“Master Wen, my late husband was very meticulous in his properties,” she announced. “He would only acquire land that had good incoming qi before building the houses. So consider it your good fortune that I am ready to sell my property.”

“I am aware that the Qian family is a well respected family in Tsinkiang,” he said humbly. “I am already fortunate to be in your presence.”

“We have three houses that are newly built and are suitable for dwelling as well as for business. I had many people asking about them already.”

Wen Yiji knew that it was all a sales ploy. Nobody would be asking to buy properties towards the middle of winter.

“I am sure that your houses must be suitable for dwelling, which was why I came to see you before visiting other places. However, I understand that you have property all over town. I was thinking of acquiring a house near the waterfront where it is possible to do big business.”

“My waterfront properties are fully tenanted and therefore not for sale. What I intend to sell are just these three new houses located along a busy street. My late husband acquired a good piece of land to build these houses to collect rental. However, he passed away before the houses were completed. Now that he is gone, I just wish to sell them off. I’m an old lady, so I wish to take things easy. Rest assured that the buildings are constructed with superior workmanship and superior materials. And they are all houses that followed the concept of the Three Harmonies.”

“The Three Harmonies may be well and….uh…..harmonious, but what I really want is a house with the Three Excitements. Something that is stimulating, functional and can also make money. I intend to open a restaurant and business is all about location, location and location. I also wish to acquire three buildings at once, so a proven location is what I have in mind.”

Madame Qian perked up. Selling all three buildings at once was what she wanted to do. She invited, “I will give you a man to bring you to my property so that you can take a look. If you think they are suitable, we can negotiate the price later.”

A manservant was summoned to take Wen Yiji to inspect the properties for sale. The manservant took Yiji in a carriage and on the way to the property, they drove past the House of Noble Delights. The property for sale was further up along the same road around a bend. There were three buildings for sale, newly built and next to each other. Wen Yiji liked what he saw, and the sale was concluded that afternoon.

“We will stay in one of the houses and rent out the other two later,” he told his sister later. “We will need to acquire some furniture.”

‘Don’t worry,” she said. “I can have everything done up within ten days. We should be ready to welcome the New Year in our new home soon!”

+ + + + + +

The day had not gone well for Agent Simit. Early in the morning, Bor Tak had died on getting out of bed.

“What a useless fighter,” he cursed. “First he gets beaten up, then he lost my horse, and then he died in my house. Kanineh! What am I rearing that dog for? Chiak sai lah!

From the little the dead Bor Tak had told him the day before, a carriage driver travelling with a young woman had slapped his son until several of his teeth fell out. He had questioned the other five men looking out for the two peddlers, but they said that many carriages had passed their way and they could not recall any particular carriage.

Si Mm Chut had slept most of the day. When he got up in the afternoon, his father was in his room to question him. However, questioning his son proved more frustrating than expected.

“Who was this carriage driver who slapped you?” he asked. “Tell me his name!”

Lo lo,” replied his son.

“So…..his name is Lo Lo is it? At least we know his surname is Lo.”

“No, no, lo lo!

A servant preparing the medicine by the side intervened and said, “I think that when Young Master said “Lo lo” he actually meant to say “Don’t know!”. He can’t pronounce the words properly because of the loss of his teeth.”

Si Mm Chut nodded in agreement.

Kanineh! This carriage driver can slap anybody’s son but not my son!” swore Simit. “I will kill him! Lin peh si beh tu lan. What does this carriage driver look like?”

Ae e ar ee un,” uttered his son.

“What did you say?” asked the father.

The servant interpreted again, “He said ‘Very ugly one’.”

“That does not tell me anything!” Simit almost screamed. “Does he have any outstanding facial features?”

Od ngo ngar an ngo eard,” mumbled Si Mm Chut.

“Got no scar and no beard,” interpreted the servant obligingly

“What about the girl?” the father asked.

Ang an oo ee oo eed ngear ngin,” replied the son.

Simit looked at the servant inquiringly.

“Young and beautiful with clear skin,” said the servant.

“Like that also you can understand? Wa piang! I’m impressed!” Simit praised the servant.

Then he turned towards his son and asked, “When Bor Tak was fighting with him, did you manage to see what type of kungfu the carriage driver was using?”
In eh goo ee ee un in a ei o in eh ad o ai goo gook!” his son answered.

The servant looked puzzled.

Simit looked at the servant and said, “Well?”

The servant asked Si Mm Chut to repeat and he did, “In eh goo ee ee un in a ei o in eh ad o ai goo gook!

The servant furrowed his brow and then shamefacedly said, “I’m sorry. I can’t make out what you are saying. This level is really too deep for me!”

Chapter 27: The fate of Gojisan

From under the shelter of a tree, Wen Yiji examined the Si mansion in the cold bleak morning. Agent Simit’s home stood alone surrounded by a high wall and the nearest neighbouring house was at least two hundred steps away on its right. Behind the mansion and on its left were forested areas. This was a place meant for seclusion.

He walked unobtrusively around the mansion, reconnoitering the layout of his enemy’s abode. It was a big place. There were three guards stationed outside the main gate of the mansion. Simit was not a man who took his own security lightly. Inside, the sound of dogs barking revealed the presence of a huge number of guard dogs. This was not a place to easily enter unnoticed.

Wen Yiji muttered to himself inaudibly, “Three days ago, Si Mm Chut killed Grasshopper’s uncle. Now, for a payment of only two ducks, I have to deliver justice to Grasshopper’s uncle by killing Si Mm Chut. A life for a life. Now how do I want to do this?”

He thought about the people he had killed for the past half a month and was surprised that so much had happened in so short a time.

“Just fifteen days ago, I reached Level 7 of the Dark Fire Iron Palm,” he muttered again. “Fourteen days ago I destroyed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Thirteen days ago, I killed Sah Mi and his five men. Twelve days ago, I met Mrs Pak. Eleven days ago, I made my first assassination attempt on Lord Tai in Changchow. The assassination attempt was screwed up by the interfering Si Fatt Guai. Six days ago, I finally assassinated Lord Tai. Five days ago, I killed the Whiz Twins, Whirlwind and Blizzard, of the Fire Mountain Sect. The very same night, I scalded the Celestial Dragon Claw assassin, Si Liu Thung in Amoy. Three days ago, a bald fighter attacked me and I hit him with the Uber Slow Walk Heart Stopping Strike. So many men have come to a violent end on meeting me. What does it all mean?”

He mulled over it for a long time and then he finally concluded, “I understand now! I must be living life on the fast lane!”

He scratched his chin thoughtfully and looked at the mansion walls. He could leap over it in a flash, then search room by room for Si Mm Chut before disposing of him. However, the dogs would detect his presence. Also, if the mansion had booby traps and hidden rooms, the whole operation could get complicated. He did not want to kill more people than he had to. Perhaps the best way to kill his quarry was to wait until Si Mm Chut came out of the mansion. Which could take a few days. Or maybe a long time. He did not know.

“No,” he decided. “Agent Simit had a hand in killing off my family. I want him to know what it feels like to have a family member killed. I want him to know what’s coming, and feel totally helpless at not being able to prevent it! I want him to experience dread every day in everyway, knowing that death will strike at any moment, but not knowing the exact time it will occur!”

Another idea struck him and he mulled over it for several moments.

“On the other hand, a wise man will kill two birds with one arrow. This may be the perfect opportunity to trick Simit to lead me to Gojisan!”

He pulled a cloth mask over his face and then purposefully, he walked up to the three guards at the main gate and greeted, “How do you do!”

“How do you do!” one of the guards answered back. “What is the nature of your business here?”

“I have come to deliver death to Simit’s youngest son, Si Mm Chut!” Wen Yiji replied.

“Oh, you mean that you want to kill that stupid useless Young Master Si Mm Chut,” asked the guard with a grin. “Half the town wants to kill him, but dare not voice it out aloud. You are very brave, mister. But why do you want to kill him?”

“I am a paid assassin. I don’t ask the reason why I should kill a target. However, you can tell him that the reason he is going to die is because he has been beating people to death indiscriminately and also because he is extremely ugly. Very yong suay. His ugly face is lowering the standards of beauty in this city.”

“Hey, who are you? Where are you from?” asked another guard as he pointed his spear at Yiji.

“I am One-Eyed Snake from the Fire Mountain Sect,” answered Yiji.

“The Fire Mountain Sect has good connections with our Master Simit,” said the third guard. “They would not send an assassin after his family.”

“Is that right?” asked Yiji. “Then your Master Simit can easily tell our chief to call off the assassination, right? Well, if the assassination is not called off before I kill your young master, then……..too bad!”

“I think you are bluffing. If you are really an assassin thinking of killing our young master, why are you giving us an advance warning?” asked the guard with the spear.

“Master Simit is known to have a long association with professional assassins. I am extending a professional courtesy to Master Simit by giving him a chance to contact the Fire Mountain Sect to call off the assassination,” replied Yiji. “After I kill Si Mm Chut, it will be difficult to bring him back to life. Very, very difficult.”

“You certainly can talk big,” commented the guard with the spear. “We see people like you all the time. Talk more than can fight. Saliva more abundant than tea. Empty vessels make the biggest cacophony.”

“Trust me,” replied Yiji. “I can kill Si Mm Chut easily. I spit on him also he will die.”

“Listen, you arrogant assassin,” said the guard with the spear. “You don’t have a chance in hell while I am on duty today! I can handle three fighters at any one time! So can my two colleagues here! Together, we can fight off……three times three equals……seven attackers!”

Wen Yiji looked nonplussed for a moment and then he remarked, “Your mental arithmetic is very impressive! Tell me, which is of higher standard? Your kungfu or your arithmetic?”

“They are both equally high standard,” replied the guard. His other two friends nodded in agreement.

Yiji bent over in laughter and said, “In that case, I will try not to hit you too hard!”

The three guards did not like his laughter, and anger crept into their faces.

“Although I do not know what you mean, I sense that you could be trying to insult us,” said one of the guards.

“Oh,” laughed Yiji. “Please excuse me! How about if I bribe you, and you go inside and bring out Si Mm Chut for me to slaughter? I shall give you seventeen taels of silver to divide among yourselves. That should work out to one hundred and forty two taels each if my mental arithmetic is as good as your mental arithmetic.”

The guards looked at each other and then whispered among themselves. Finally, one of them turned to Wen Yiji as said, “We will need to confirm first with an abacus to see if it really works out to be that much!”

“What, you can’t work out that sum in your head? Everybody knows that seventeen divided by three is one hundred and forty two!” said Yiji. “Don’t you trust my mental arithmetic?”

“No,” replied the guard. “We think the answer should be nearer to three hundred and twelve!”

Wa lau eh,” swore Wen Yiji. “The first time….your arithmetic was funny. The second time around… became unfunny and boring. The sum of your three brains added together is less than that of a beetle’s brain divided by two thousand and two.”

“I still think that you are trying to insult us!” remarked the guard.

Aiyohhhh!!!” sighed Wen Yiji. “Of course I was insulting you! Do you really think that I really need to bribe you three pathetic sausages with actual money?”

There was a moment of awkward silence.

Then the guard with the spear shouted in fury, “Die like a dirty dog, you!”

He thrust his spear at Wen Yiji who avoided it deftly and leapt over the guard. Just as he was passing overhead, Yiji kicked the guard in the head and the guard collapsed heavily to the ground unconscious.

The other two guards drew their swords. The next moment, they flew into the air and their bodies crashed into the mansion door. They fell down in an untidy heap, one atop another.

Wen Yiji walked up to them and grinned behind his mask, “Hey, tell that muthafucka Simit not to wait too long to call off the assassination! I can wait one day at the most. After that, his youngest son will be dead!”

Wen Yiji then vanished from the scene quickly. He would keep a close watch on the Si mansion and hoped that Simit would try to make contact with Gojisan. With luck, Agent Simit would lead him to his family’s main murderer.

The two guards slowly picked themselves up painfully from the ground. Moments later, they were in the presence of their master, Agent Simit.

“You said that the masked man turned up at the main door to announce that he was going to kill my son?” asked Simit. “That he was from the Fire Mountain Sect?”

“Yes,” answered a guard. “He said that he would only be willing to wait one day at the most. If the assassination is not called off by then, young master Si Mm Chut dies.

“It is not possible that he is from the Fire Mountain Sect,” murmured Agent Simit. “Not possible!”

“Why not possible?” asked the guard.

“Shut up! I am trying to think!” rapped Simit. “The ease by which this man in the mask beat the crap out of you useless dogs tells me that he is obviously a kungfu master. Damn! I wish my other two sons were here.”

After a long pause, one of the guards ventured a question, “What do we do now, master?”

“We will lock down this mansion. All booby traps are to be set for activation night and day. Nobody is to get in and out unless absolutely necessary. I am unable to contact my second son. However, I will try to contact my eldest son to come home.”

Hurriedly, Simit wrote three notes and took it to the pigeon loft. Moments later, three pigeons flew from the Si mansion and headed west. Their flight activity did not escape Wen Yiji’s sharp eyes. As they flew over the forested area, three arrows came in quick succession out of nowhere and pierced them through their bodies. All three pigeons fell down to the ground one after another.

Thud! Thud! Thud! Croak!

The last arrow that bore a dead pigeon fell down onto an unfortunate frog and skewered it as well.

Wen Yiji grinned and waited for more pigeons, pleased with his own marksmanship. However, there were no further pigeons from the Simit residence. Removing the notes from the dead pigeons on the ground, he read them. All three were addressed to Lord Tai of Changchow requesting him to persuade Si Fatt Guai to return home because of urgent family matters.

“Simit is getting panicky and calling his eldest son back,” he laughed to himself. “He must think this is highly urgent as he sent three pigeons bearing the same message just in case one or two pigeons don’t make it through! He is aware that his son is staying at Lord Tai’s place, but he does not know that Lord Tai has already been dead for six days. Well, eldest son Si Fatt Guai is definitely not getting these messages!”

He tore up the notes into tiny little pieces, threw them into the wind and continued observing the Si mansion. However, all was quiet.

+ + + + + +

Agent Simit descended down a flight of steps to the dungeon beneath his mansion. It was a place for keeping special prisoners and only one trusted henchman was allowed inside.

“Open the door, Siao Kau,” he yelled.

The door of the dungeon opened from within and Siao Kau peered out at his master. The man was not very bright, but he was trustworthy and obeyed instructions without question.

“Stay here, and keep the door locked,” Simit instructed Siao Kao. “I need to have a few moments alone with the old prisoner.”

Walking along a passageway, he made a turn and came across a cell. Using a key, he unlocked the door of the cell and walked in. In the middle of the room, an aged male prisoner hung suspended face downwards horizontally from the ceiling by chains, with each chain ending in a giant hook that pierced through a part of the prisoner’s body.

“Master Gojisan,” Simit greeted. “I trust that you are well!”

“Curse you to hell,” replied the suspended prisoner slowly. “Have you come to free me?”

“No, I will keep you here longer as my guest,” said Simit.

“You are untrustworthy. You promised to give me my freedom.”

“Did I?”

“It has been five years since you kept me here. You promised to free me if I taught your sons kungfu of the highest level. That I have done. You have not kept to your part of the bargain!”

“You taught my eldest son, Si Fatt Guai, the Five Fairies Iron Palm, knowing that it would cause bodily changes in him. The Five Fairies Iron Palm has turned him into a gay! Now I cannot persuade him to get married. This is your fault!”

“You forced me to become his trainer while being suspended by these hooks. I did as best as I could. Don’t blame me. He wanted to learn the Five Fairies Iron Palm.”

“But you must have known the effects! Then you taught my second son, Si Liu Tung, the Celestial Dragon Claw, which turned him into an impotent man. Now even if he wanted to get married, he would not be able to produce children. You are very vicious.”

“I am not as vicious as you. I thought you were my friend. You invited me for a drink in your home, but you drugged me with the Beh Ting Tang potion and I was unable to move. Then you use these hooks to pierce through the thirty six gates of my body causing me to become immobile. All my tendons have been perforated. You kept me alive for the purpose of passing my kungfu to your sons. It is you who are vicious!”

“You cunning old bastard! You almost ended my bloodline. By the time you started instructing my youngest son in a new type of kungfu, I knew that something was wrong. Fortunately, I managed to stop his practice before you can do any damage.”

“So, you are now depending solely on your youngest son to father descendents of your lineage. Who knows, he may die tomorrow.”

“He will not!”

“Who is to say what can or cannot happen? Your other two sons are not capable of sex. Neither are you. Ah yes, I injured your balls, five years ago, didn’t I?”

They both remember the incident. After Gojisan was drugged, his thirty six gates of movement had been rendered useless by metal hooks pierced through his tendons. The wrist tendons of Gojisan’s right hand had already been pierced by hooks, but the job was not properly done. Agent Simit had stood near to Gojisan who suddenly flicked his palm and slapped Simit’s balls. The pain in the balls was so intense that Agent Simit could not walk for the next ten days. When he recovered, he discovered that he could no longer perform the sex act. The sexual injury was permanent. The unfortunate man who had performed the badly done job of piercing Gojisan’s wrist tendons, was brought before Agent Simit and then beaten to death.

Gojisan continued, “I take it that no daifu could cure your condition yet! Ha ha ha!”

“You have a most dirty mouth!” snarled Agent Simit. “I should kill you now!”

“Why don’t you?”

“No. I will leave you hanging there. Live cannot. Die also cannot. That is the price you pay for trying to end my bloodline. You have no one to blame but yourself. I helped you exterminate Lady Red Leaf and her family. You owe me big. Yet you originally refused to take my sons as your disciples. I would not have taken you prisoner if you had been more cooperative. You forced my hand, Master Gojisan. Consider this fate as the result from the karma that you have earned!”

“I have killed many a man in my time,” remarked Gojisan slowly. “Perhaps this is my karma. Maybe I should not have killed Lady Red Leaf and her family.”

“It is too late to think of such things now,” remarked Simit. “Tell me, do you have an assassin in you sect called the One-Eyed Snake?

“Every man has a one-eyed snake between his legs. Except maybe you.”

“I mean as a name.”

“No. Why do you ask?”

“An assassin who called himself the One-Eyed Snake and claiming to be from the Fire Mountain Sect just appeared at the main door and threatened to kill my youngest son. Since you have not heard of him, he could be bluffing.”

“He could be speaking the truth. It has been five years since I have been absent. The Fire Mountain Sect must already have a new leader. Probably there are now new members whom I have not heard of. The One-Eyed Snake will kill your son.”

“That is what he thinks. I will keep my son secure behind these walls and set a trap for him. Every corner of this mansion is booby trapped with poisoned darts. Once a poison dart hits him, the assassin will be rendered harmless, and I will then deal with him thoroughly and most painfully.”

+ + + + + +

Something was happening. Wen Yiji could feel it. Some of Simit’s henchmen were up on the roof of the mansion, doing something.

“Probably setting their booby traps!” guessed Wen Yiji.

He picked up a stone. Then running swiftly to the wall, he threw the stone powerfully into the air. The flying projectile hit a henchman on the head and he slipped. However, he managed to cling tightly onto the roof.

Yiji heard somebody shout out, “Hey! Are you all right?”

He heard the henchman exclaim, “I think I poked myself with a poison dart! Oh…..shit!”

There was a silence.

Then the next moment, the henchman’s grip on the roof weakened and he fell down to the ground.


“Woof! Woof! Woof! Wou! Wou! Woof! Woof! Woof! Wou! Wou!” the noisy dogs within the mansion walls swarmed around the fallen man.

Wen Yiji sped back to his hiding place. He had heard enough. Poison darts! He had a high regard for poison darts. If ever he was poisoned, his Poison Field Inner Stance would be able to prevent the poison from spreading until he could expel it. But in the meantime, he would be vulnerable as he would not be able to exert more than one third of his strength. The strategy was obvious. He would have to kill Si Mm Chut without getting inside the mansion.

Dusk came. No one had left the mansion. Wen Yiji was disappointed. Agent Simit had not sent anyone to make contact with the Fire Mountain Sect. Either the agent did not know how to contact Gojisan or there was some other reason.

“If Simit is not going to lead me to Gojisan, I may as well kill Si Mm Chut first,” he murmured. Gathering his stuff, he went back to the inn.

It was dark when Yiji got back. Xiang Xiang was waiting for him at the inn and she asked, “Brother Yiji, where have you been? We were waiting for you for dinner.”

“I was out hunting,” replied her brother.

“I see that you have shot three pigeons and a frog,” she commented. “How did that arrow go through both a pigeon and a frog? One flies in the sky and the other hops on the ground!”

“Either the frog was jumping too high or the pigeon was flying too low,” guessed Grasshopper. “What would you like me to do with them, Master Wen?”

“Take them to the kitchen and ask the cook to cook the pigeons and frog legs,” replied Yiji. “We’ll have them for supper.”

“Pigeons! I love pigeons!” exclaimed Grasshopper.

“Good,” remarked Xiang Xiang. “Then you can sit down with us afterwards to eat them.”

Grasshopper remained silent. He was not supposed to sit at the same table as Master Wen unless it was a special occasion.

“What’s the special occasion?” asked Yiji.

“Shooting a pigeon and a frog with the same arrow is a special occasion,” replied Xiang Xiang airily.

+ + + + + +

For the next two days, Wen Yiji went with Xiang Xiang to book new furniture for their new house. Although Yiji had bought three houses, he decided to just furnish one unit and leave the other two units empty.

The men in the Simit mansion were on edge. They were told to expect an assassin night and day but so far, there did not appear to be any visible threat. A constant state of alertness was very tiring when one did not know when to expect the enemy. The dogs were freed to run around at random. If there was an assassin, they would provide an early warning.

“Young master is shitting a lot these past two days,” remarked a servant to Simit.

“That is good!” beamed the father. “His constipation problem must be getting cured at last.”

“I think this condition is caused by fear,” said the servant. “Young master is so scared of the assassin that he is unable to hold his shit. Kia ka lao sai.”


“He is shitting non-stop. It would be best to bring in the daifu,” suggested the servant. “Young master may shit himself to death.”

“All right. Tomorrow, you will go to town and get the daifu to come with his acupuncture needles.”

+ + + + + +

The next day the daifu was brought to the mansion to treat Si Mm Chut. When the treatment was over, the main door was opened for a short moment and the daifu was let out. He walked for a distance towards the city centre before he was stopped by a masked Wen Yiji who placed a dagger to the daifu’s throat.

“You just came out of the Si mansion. You must be carrying a lot of money!” suggested Wen Yiji, pretending to be a robber.

“No no no!” cried the daifu. “I have no money!”

“What were you doing in the Simit mansion then?”

“I was treating the young master, Si Mm Chut. He had a problem with loose shit. Hampalang chut ka liao.”

“Are you a daifu?”

“Yes, yes! I am only a simple daifu!”

“I will let you go if you tell me what I want to know.”

After some thorough questioning, Wen Yiji found out Si Mm Chut’s daily habits and which room he was in. He released the daifu with a warning, “I am going to kill Si Mm Chut based on the information you have given me. For your own safety, make sure that nobody knows that you have talked to me. If Simit knows that his son was killed because of the information you have provided, he will slaughter your whole family. Do you understand?”

The daifu nodded in fear and hurried off.

Wen Yiji approached the Si mansion from the forested western side.

He looked at the sun.

“It’s the hour of the horse,” he murmured. “The daifu said that Si Mm Chut is usually in the inner courtyard around this time. I will have to approach fast, take a shot and then withdraw swiftly.”

From the forested area, he ran towards the wall and took a giant leap upwards. He sprang through the cold air and was soon above the rooftop level of the Si Mansion while still remaining outside the mansion walls. From the high altitude, he peered over the roof into the inner courtyard and spotted Si Mm Chut in the inner courtyard, partially blocked by a young tree.

Wen Yiji dropped back onto the ground. He would kill his target with an arrow. It was going to be an extremely difficult shot. Without landing on the roof, there was only one angle by which a shot was possible. For a moment he contemplated leaping to the roof to shoot, but the thought of the booby traps of poison darts on the roof made him exercise prudence. There could be booby traps in the inner courtyard as well. No, he would have to shoot from outside the mansion.

He shifted his position on the ground, fitted an arrow to his bow and got ready. A dog within the walls had already detected his presence and had started barking. He would have to hurry.

Si Mm Chut was handling a bamboo pole trying to disturb the pond turtles out of their hibernation. It was a daily ritual with him. It was not as much fun as beating someone up but tormenting turtles kept him busy until he could find someone to beat up. While he was thus engaged in poking a turtle with his bamboo pole, a masked figure leapt up high outside the mansion walls. A lone arrow sped over the wall, over the rooftop and into the inner courtyard, through between the branches of a young tree and buried itself into Si Mm Chut’s head. He was still holding on to his bamboo pole when he died.

“Si Mm Chut,” breathed Wen Yiji as he dropped down to the ground. “Killing someone as useless as you was like killing a useless rat. I did not enjoy doing it, but still, it had to be done. Grasshopper’s uncle is waiting in hell to greet you. In a town where justice can be perverted by gold and silver, justice can also be delivered for the price of two ducks.”

The barking of the dogs grew noisy and the men came to investigate. They were shocked to discover their young master Si Mm Chut’s dead body. Wen Yiji had vanished as silently as he had come and nobody saw him.

Agent Simit went into shock and had to be helped to his bed. He broke down and sobbed in the privacy of his bedroom. With the death of the only son who was capable of fathering descendents, his lineage had ended. He blabbered uncontrollably.

Wen Yiji felt obligated to inform Grasshopper’s uncle about what he had done. He made a detour to Grasshopper’s house and stood before the grave of Grasshopper’s uncle.

“Old man,” he said. “You asked me for two favours before you died and I have fulfilled them both. You asked for justice, and so I have sent Si Mm Chut to accompany you in hell. You got more than your money’s worth for your two ducks. My duty as your assassin ends here. I have also taken Grasshopper as my servant, as you have requested. You can now move on in peace.”

He stared at the grave for a long moment. He felt a bit foolish talking to a cold grave that could not talk back, but he had come to present his accountability report and this he had done. It was time to leave.

He turned away from the grave and as he did so, a movement caught his eye. It came from another grave. He was about to ignore it, then he changed his mind and walked towards it. It was only a squirrel. It scampered away from the grave as soon as Yiji approached.

Seeing that it was only a squirrel, Yiji was about to turn and leave when he realized that the grave was that of Grasshopper’s mother.

He stared at it for a long time and memories of his father flooded his mind. He knelt down in front of the grave and whispered, “Auntie, if you are truly my father’s sister, then I should greet you as Auntie Ying. My father must have been really close to you to have given you half of his arrowhead. Wen Yiji has taken your only son as his servant. He will be well taken care of. My sister treats him like a younger brother. When your son is old enough, I shall give him one of my houses to call his own. May you rest in eternal peace.”

He stood up. Perhaps he should have brought some joss sticks to burn at her gravesite. It was the proper thing to do. He would have to come again with the joss sticks, perhaps within the next two days.

+ + + + + +

That evening, Xiang Xiang noted that her brother was quiet and solemn.

“We should be able to take delivery of the furniture tomorrow afternoon,” she said. “Tomorrow night, we can move in.”

“Not yet, be patient,” said her brother. “We will have to consult the Chinese Almanac, the Tong Shu, before we can select an auspicious date to move in.”

Grasshopper was sent to borrow the Tong Shu from the innkeeper. After pouring over the dates, they selected one that was deemed highly auspicious. They would have to wait for three days before moving in.

That night, Wen Yiji went to pay a visit to the House of Noble Delights. He remembered how Ah Lian and Ah Huei had beaten him up the previous month. Ah Huei was with another customer, so Wen Yiji booked the services of Ah Lian for the whole evening. A servant girl led Wen Yiji to Ah Lian’s room.

“You look familiar Master Wen,” noted Ah Lian after all the perfunctory greetings were over.

“Of course I look familiar,” Yiji replied. “You and Ah Huei beat the shit out of me the last time I was here.”

“Where got?”

“Got lah!”

“We did arh? Oh, please forgive us Master Wen. You big man with a big pardon please do not place this inside your big heart.”

“I told you girls that I’ll be back. Tonight I want my revenge.”

Kanineh! You want to beat me up, is it?”

“I want to fight with you.”

“Come lah… think I scared arh.”

“I fight naked.”

“I also!”

Moments later, they were both naked on the bed and wrestling away. Ah Lian had big tits and he was almost smothered by them. He fought them well but they came at him from all directions. Finally, he pinned her down and impaled her with his hardened tool. It took a while before he got it all in. He stroked her slowly, very slowly. She writhed sensuously under him. He pounded her with long strokes and increased the tempo.

She screamed, “Oh my Tao! Oh my Tao! Oh my Tao!”

While continuing to rock her powerfully, Wen Yiji asked, “Why can’t you say “Oh my God! Oh my God!” like everybody else?”

“I’m a Taoist!” she replied breathlessly.

“Oh, all right then, please carry on.”

“Oh my Tao! Oh my Tao! Oh my Tao! ……………..”

Chapter 28: The battle with the Five Fairies Iron Palm

Agent Simit was unable to get out of bed, being too overcome with sorrow to do anything except wallow in misery. To lose a lineage was to lose everything. At noon, a servant entered the room and brought him news that his second son had returned.

Si Liu Thung’s face still bore the marks of someone who had been scalded badly. The skin was peeling off and the facial landscape was marred by broken blisters. He had decided to make one more assassination attempt on Admiral Liang before coming home, but finally he had to give up on hearing that Admiral Liang had already left Amoy for some reason. When Si Liu Thung got back to his home in Tsinkiang, he was shocked to hear that his youngest brother had been killed the day before.

“This is not the way things should happen!” he shouted in the presence of his father. “Only we are allowed to kill others but nobody is allowed to kill us! What kind of bastard could have done such a dastardly deed?”

“His name is One-Eyed Snake and he is from the Fire Mountain Sect,” replied his father glumly. “I have lost my only son.”

“You still have two other sons, father,” Si Liu Thung reminded his father.

“Of what use are my other sons?” shouted his father angrily. “You are impotent. And your elder brother is gay! Both of you will not sire any children!”

“Are you angry with us because you are impotent as well?” asked his son.

“Shut up!” snapped the father. ”Did you manage to kill Admiral Liang in Amoy like I instructed you to?”

“No father,” replied his son in embarrassment. “I was thwarted by a peddler who threw boiling soup on my face. I was going to make another attempt but then Admiral Liang had already left Amoy. I will try again when he gets back.”

“So, you failed like a miserable dog! Well, we will think about Admiral Liang only after the funeral of my youngest son.”

“We will have to ask eldest brother Fatt Guai to come back for the funeral.”

“Fatt Guai has become a stranger to me since he last quarreled with me over my arrangement for his marriage. He is not impotent. But he is screwing the wrong sex. I do not like the idea of him being a guest at Lord Tai’s home in Changchow. However, Lord Tai and I are on good terms as we have had business dealings before. Luckily, he had exchanged some courier pigeons with me so that we can communicate by pigeon post whenever the need arises.”

“You should have asked eldest brother to return home immediately when there was trouble with One-Eyed Snake.”

“I did. I sent three messages to Lord Tai by courier pigeon four days ago asking that my eldest son return for some urgent family matter. He has not turned up yet. I think he is ignoring me.”

“Maybe not,” said Si Liu Thung. “While I was on the way back here, I heard disturbing rumours that Lord Tai had been assassinated ten days ago. His funeral was reportedly carried out just three days ago after a seven day mourning period.”

“Lord Tai assassinated? No! That cannot happen. He is a most powerful man!”

“I know, father. The rumour was that he was killed inside his manor with a cheap sword. And no one saw the assassin.”

“If this is true, then this can be bad! It implies that there is a powerful assassin whom we have no knowledge of.”

“How was youngest brother killed, father?”

“With an arrow shot from somewhere. Mm Chut was standing in the inner courtyard. The archer has to be somewhere near enough to shoot. Most probably from the roof.”

“But wasn’t the roof booby trapped?”

“It was. That was a most puzzling thing. None of the booby traps were activated. The whole mansion was locked down and no one could get in and out without us knowing!”

“Could the assassin have shot from outside the mansion?’

“That’s an impossible shot, and you know it.”

“You are right, father. This is most puzzling.”

+ + + + + +

Si Fatt Guai was bored. After the funeral of Lord Tai, he had no reason to stay at the Tai residence any further. While Lord Tai had welcomed him whole heartedly, his heir and son, Tai Lan Ngong treated him with ill-concealed contempt. Perhaps it was time to find somewhere else to stay. He had not had sex ever since Lord Tai’s prisoners had escaped on the night of the assassination. This matter irked him greatly. He would need to find a man soon. Or perhaps a boy.

A servant bearing a note approached him and said, “This just came by courier pigeon for you, Master Si. It is from your father in Tsinkiang.”

Si Fatt Guai read the note and was shocked to hear of his youngest brother’s death. It was already evening and too late to start the journey to Tsinkiang. He would start first thing in the morning. If he rode his horse hard enough, he should be able to arrive home by late afternoon the next day.

+ + + + + +

Wen Yiji woke up early. He felt grumpy. The heavy rain the previous night had spoilt his plans of visiting the House of Noble Delights. Finally, he had no choice but to go to bed having a lot of money but feeling poor.

“What is the use of having money if the rain prevents me from spending it on orh kwee keng research,” he grumbled.

He looked out of the window at the morning sky. The weather looked promising. Maybe it would not rain. He remembered that he had to make a trip to the grave of Grasshopper’s mother with some offerings of joss sticks. He would do so in the afternoon, come back, have dinner with his sister and then go to the House of Noble Delights. It was a good schedule.

At breakfast, Xiang Xiang asked Grasshopper to sit with them. Wen Yiji was too preoccupied with his thoughts to ask what the special occasion was. And even if he did, Xiang Xiang usually had some answer to that.

“Something big is about to happen today. I can feel it in my marrow,” he murmured to himself.

“I beg your pardon, Master Wen?” asked Grasshopper.

“Uh….nothing,” Wen Yiji replied. Looking at the boy, he asked, “There is something that I do not yet understand. If your mother was of the well-known Wang family, how did she end up getting married off to a poor farmer like your father?”

“I do not quite know the reason,” replied Grasshopper. “My mother did not talk much about her past and she died when I was only eight years old. My stepfather’s sister’s husband once told me that my grandmother was a maid in Patriarch Wang’s household. She bore a son and then a daughter later. When the son, who was my uncle, got married, there was some kind of assassination attempt on my grandfather which failed. It turned out that the bride who married my uncle was an assassin. My uncle was forced to leave the family even though it was he who killed most of the assassins. After he left, my mother and maternal grandmother were held in contempt by the rest of the family.
A few years later, my grandfather got assassinated. The first wife had no sons, so the second wife’s eldest son, Master Wang Pa Tan, took over the reins of the household. The Wang family did not arrange to have my mother married off when she reached marriageable age. My grandmother, who was a maid, then died and my mother was then treated like a maid.
When my mother was almost thirty years old, Wang Pa Tan decided that he did not need that many people in the house because he wanted to conserve rice. He decided to marry off my mother to anyone who would be interested. However, at her age, there were no takers from the better families. So she was married off to a poor farmer, who was my father. My parents then moved to the present house where I was staying. My father died when I was two. The Wang family is quite large in Tsinkiang. I was told that my maternal grandfather, Patriarch Wang, had fathered something like thirty children. Or maybe more. Yet I have never met any of my cousins, uncles and aunties from the Wang family. I don’t remember my mother saying anything about them. We did not even visit any of them during the Lunar New Year.”

“It seems to me that the Wang family did not treat your mother too well,” remarked Xiang Xiang.

“No,” said Grasshopper. “And I think my mother did not like them as well. The only one whom she liked was her brother, the one who was forced to leave. She said that he was a good archer, and could shoot in the dark.”

Xiang Xiang kept silent. To hear of her dead father being mentioned by another party stirred up certain emotions in her. Wen Yiji was similarly quiet.

After a while, Yiji spoke, “I do not like the Wangs. We shall not have anything to do with them, understand?”

“Yes, Master Wen,” replied Grasshopper, while wondering why Wen Yiji did not like the Wangs.

“We shall be operating a restaurant in Tsinkiang in the future. If you see any of the members of Patriarch Wang’s family come into the restaurant, it will be your duty to chase them out with a broom!” Yiji said.

“We can’t do that, Brother Yiji,” protested Xiang Xiang. “We have to follow the ethics of business. If they come for a meal, and are willing to pay, then we will have to serve them.”

“All right,” remarked Yiji. “But make sure we overcharge them! If other people pay one tael, we charge the Wangs twenty taels!”

“We can’t do that either,” she said again. “Everybody pays the same amount for the same food. It’s called ‘fair pricing’ in business.”

“To hell with business ethics,” said Yiji. “I have no wish to treat the Wangs fairly.”

“Why don’t we do it this way,” suggested Grasshopper. “When we sell our food to the Wangs, we make sure that they get the toughest parts. Like the duck feet, duck wings, duck throat and duck head. I mean, they are bony and tough, but somebody has got to eat those.”

“All right, that is acceptable” said his sister. “Of course, the Wangs will not patronize our business after that.”

“I can live with that,” said Yiji smiling broadly. “You will do well in business, Grasshopper!”

After breakfast, Wen Yiji went to the market to purchase some candles and joss sticks that he intended to burn at the gravesite of Grasshopper’s mother. He did not tell Xiang Xiang and Grasshopper what he intended to do.

At the market, a man was selling swords, bows, arrows and an assortment of weapons by the roadside. Wen Yiji stopped to inspect the arrows. He needed to replenish his diminishing stock.

“These are very good arrows,” the vendor said. “I once killed a big hairy bear with one. Very good arrow.”

Wen Yiji remained silent as he inspected the barbs of the arrowheads.

“Another time, I even shot a fierce tiger through the head,” continued the vendor. “Only one shot was all it took. Very good arrow.”

Again, Wen Yiji remained silent and looked unimpressed.

“Please buy, mister. I need the money to conduct research on the effects of wine on my brains afterwards,” beseeched the vendor.

Wen Yiji grinned at the sales pitch and said, “I support wholeheartedly your noble efforts in wine research. Give me a full quiver of arrows.”

Wen Yiji paid for the arrows and left. He would test out the arrows in the afternoon. But first, he had to get back to the inn to collect his bow.

That afternoon, Wen Yiji took his bow and his new set of arrows with him when he rode his horse to visit the gravesite of Grasshopper’s mother. He lit some candles and joss sticks and planted them on the ground before the grave.

He bowed low before the grave and said, “Please accept these humble offerings from the Wen family. Much as I do not like the Wang family, I cannot deny that what is blood will forever be blood. And not only are we related by blood, fate has also chosen to deliver your son, Grasshopper, into my path. If my father were alive, I am sure that he would have wanted me to take care of your family.”

Having done what he had come to do, he took his bow and arrows and started his target practice in the wooded area behind Grasshopper’s house. The new arrows worked well at short distances. At longer distances, only a few of them were accurate enough to be an assassin’s arrows. He cursed the vendor for selling such poor quality arrows and hoped that the vendor would choke on poor quality wine during his research.

The sky rumbled.

Kanineh…..make noise for what?” Wen Yiji swore. “I have not finished my practice yet lah!”

He remembered too late that he was not supposed to scold the sky.

It was getting late in the afternoon and he thought it was best that he got back to the inn before it rained. A storm was brewing and it grew darker suddenly. He collected his arrows, said a hurried goodbye to his auntie’s grave, mounted his horse and headed towards town.

The few drops of rain on his face told him that he might not be able to outrun the storm. At the same time, he also desperately needed to shit.

“Early don’t come, late don’t come, now only you want to come!” he scolded the lump of shit inside his ass. “You are what I call a lousy piece of shit!”

He had just passed the place where he had slapped Si Mm Chut just eight days ago. There was an eating shop nearby. He decided to go in to borrow the use of the toilet. Rain or no rain, he had to shit. There was no arguing with the demands of his asshole.

Opening the door of the eating place, he walked in. The place was not small but it was practically deserted. The inside was lit by a single lantern that hung on a hook on the ceiling. Business was bad because the place had acquired a reputation for lousy food and lousy wine. A young lad was swatting flies on the counter aimlessly and was obviously bored out of his skull.

“Greetings! Are you the proprietor of this place?” asked Wen Yiji.

“No,” the lad replied. “That one is my uncle. He very sick today. So he asked me to look see look see this place for him. If you want tea, I can make. If you want food, I cannot make. You can only order what I can make. If cannot make means cannot make. What you want me to make?”

“I want to borrow the toilet,” replied Wen Yiji.

“Borrow, cannot. The toilet is for paying customers only.”

“Okay, I will come back here to order some tea from you after I have used your toilet. That makes me a paying customer. So now, can I use your toilet?”

“How do I know that you will come back? Maybe you leave quietly after using my toilet?”

Wa piang! Use toilet also you don’t trust me? What kind of place is this?”

“This is a family restaurant. We have our rules. Cannot means cannot.”

“All right. I’ll leave my bow and arrows by the wall. I will be sure to come back for them later.”

“Okay lah,” said the lad. “The toilet is behind the shop. Go out by the back door and walk twenty steps. You should find it easily from the smell. There is a jug of water there for washing after you have finished.”

Yiji walked out the back door of the shop and along a path. He soon located the toilet. He undid his trousers, squatted down and sighed in contentment.

Si Fatt Guai was riding his horse hard when the rain pelted down on his face. He would not be able to make it to his home without getting thoroughly wet. Up ahead, he saw an eating shop and he decided to take shelter there.

He opened the door of the eating place and walked in. There was nobody around except for the lad. A young lad of smooth skin; the type of male he liked.

“Hello there,” Si Fatt Guai said with a lusty smile. He sat down promptly at an empty table.

“What you want?” the lad asked.

“Some wine would be nice,” remarked Si Fatt Guai.

The boy took a pot of wine and walked towards Si Fatt Guai. He placed the wine on the table and walked back to the counter unaware that Si Fatt Guai was admiring his retreating butt.

Si Fatt Guai looked around and asked, “Are you alone in here?”

“Yes,” replied the lad.

“Good,” said Si Fatt Guai. “Bring me an empty bowl for the wine.”

The lad brought a bowl to the table and as he turned to leave, Si Fatt Guai grabbed him by the ass.

“Hey!” the lad exclaimed. “What you think you doing?”

Si Fatt Guai laughed, “Just having a little fun, honey. Don’t be shy!”

“Well, stop it, you dirty fellow! And don’t you honey me! Eeeewwwwwww!!!”

The lad hurried back to his counter.

Si Fatt Guai got up and walked to the main door. He bolted the door shut because he did not want to be disturbed. Then he smiled and walked towards the lad. The nervous lad sensed that something was not right and he brought out a dagger.

“Come any nearer and I will cut you up!” he threatened.

Si Fatt Guai merely laughed and walked right up to him. The boy lunged with the dagger. Si Fatt Guai caught the blade easily with his right hand and wrenched the weapon away. He grabbed the lad who struggled violently. Finally, he walloped the head of the lad hard and the boy fell down unconscious. Si Fatt Guai then lifted the body easily and flipped it across one of the tables. He promptly started removing the lad’s trousers.

“Nice!” he admired the smooth naked butt of the unconscious lad. He gathered the cheeks in both hand and massaged them gently. The sensation sent his hormones racing. Impatiently, he undid his own trousers and positioned himself behind the exposed butt of the lad. He was hard and ready for action.

As he was about to plunge in, Wen Yiji walked in through the back door.

Wa piang.....I can’t believe this is happening!” exclaimed Wen Yiji. “Doing this kind of thing in the middle of an eating place is not very nice leh. This one is a family restaurant, you know? Why don’t you two get a room?”

Si Fatt Guai stared at Wen Yiji open mouthed in shock.

Wen Yiji stared back, and then proceeded to stare downwards. Si Fatt Guai felt embarrassment, and then anger. His hardness had subsided and his mood was gone. He pulled up his trousers quickly.

“I say…….did I spoiled your party?” asked Wen Yiji. “Your face looks familiar. I may have seen you before somewhere. But where?”

“You are a nosy busybody!” snarled Si Fatt Guai. “Many men have died for spoiling my good time. I will have to teach you a lesson.”

“Why isn’t that lad moving?” asked Wen Yiji in a puzzled tone. “Did you knock him out cold? Hey! That is not consensual sex! Nabeh……this type of thing also you can do! Have you no shame? I will have to tell your family about your improper behaviour. It’s simply not socially acceptable!”

“What I do is none of your business,” shouted Si Fatt Guai. “Interfering busybody! You won’t be telling anybody! Now die!”

Si Fatt Guai lashed out at Wen Yiji with an iron palm strike. Yiji automatically countered the strike with his own iron palm and matched palms with Si Fatt Guai.

It was the power of the Five Fairies Iron Palm against the power of the Dark Fire Iron Palm.

They had both used only a fraction of their strength, and had expected each other’s opponents to fall down hard.

On seeing that Wen Yiji was not so easily subdued, Si Fatt Guai increased his strength. He snarled, “So, you know a bit about the iron palm as well! No matter! Your insignificant life will be over within three breaths!”

“Is that right?” countered Wen Yiji. “He who talks big often does not know with whom he is dealing with!”

Si Fatt Guai suddenly hit out with his other hand and Wen Yiji met it with his free hand. Two palms against two palms in a combat of dark energies. The power of the Five Fairies was brought out into full play attempting to blast Wen Yiji into an exploding mass of gory flesh. Wen Yiji’s Dark Fire Energy pushed back Si Fatt Guai’s energy equally forcefully, seeing to overpower the opposing force.

The air crackled with energy pulsating through the bodies of both men and filtering out into the atmosphere. The raw energy so released lifted up both men into the air and they swirled around each other joined at the palms. The wind howled noisily outside and the rain fell heavily. Thunder boomed at great frequency but both men did not notice the weather, being totally intent on destroying one another. For a long time they kept swirling. Then the energy weakened and they slowly floated down to the floor.

The moment they reached the floor, the energy broke them both apart with a powerful explosive blast. Si Fatt Guai crashed bodily into the wooden wall while Wen Yiji crashed hard into a table before tumbling onto the ground and ending up at the wall on the opposite side of the room.

“Who are you?” gasped Si Fatt Guai. “What kungfu are you using?”

“I’m someone better than you,” gasped Wen Yiji.

“You are not better than me,” croaked Si Fatt Guai. “Nothing except the Buddha Palm can match my Iron Palm!”

At that moment, Wen Yiji suddenly realised that his opponent was none other than Si Fatt Guai. He had seen Si Fatt Guai in Changchow from afar. This was the first time he had seen him at close quarters.

“Shit!” Wen Yiji muttered silently to himself. “I should have recognized him. And I should not have matched iron palms with him! He uses the Five Faries kungfu….known to have powerful hands, but slow in feet. I should have used my superior speed to defeat him! Shit! Shit! Shit!”

He tried to pick himself up. The pain in his body told him that he had suffered serious internal injuries. He could not get up. Peering at the other end of the room, he saw Si Fatt Guai was already sitting up in a cross legged position.

Si Fatt Guai also had suffered internal injuries. However, he managed to get into a sitting position. Ignoring his pain, he clasped his palms together and attempted to heal himself. He concentrated his awareness inside his body and the inner energy swirled in him as the cells worked to repair the damage. Soon, smoke came out from his head.

From the ground on the other side of the restaurant, Wen Yiji was trying to heal himself internally. The Dark Fire energy swirled within slowly in the healing process. Slowly. Much too slowly.

Wen Yiji started to understand, “So, the Dark Fire Iron Palm is actually a match for the Five Fairies Iron Palm. Although my Dark Fire energy may be fast in recovering from the effects of poison, it is very slow in recovering from the effects of internal injuries! Can’t be good in everything, I suppose. Damn! If Si Fatt Guai recovers faster than me, he will come over here and I will be dead!”

He stared at the smoke trails floating out from Si Fatt Guai’s head for a few moments and thought, “That bastard is recovering too fast for my own comfort. I have to slow down his recovery pace! Maybe I can try being friendly.”

Aloud, he shouted, “Hey! Si Fatt Guai! Si Fatt Guai!”

Si Fatt Guai opened his eyes in surprise. “How do you know my name?” he asked. The smoke stopped coming out from his head as his attention was distracted.

“We have met before in Changchow,” yelled Wen Yiji. “I am Master Tai Lan Ngong’s friend. We sat down at the same table for food and wine one day, remember?”

“I don’t remember.”

“How can you not remember? I paid for the meal that day, remember?”

“No, I don’t remember.”

“We have met before! If not, how do I know your name? Try to think back!”

Si Fatt Guai tried to think back, searching his memories for a shred of evidence that they had met before. Wen Yiji carried on with his struggle to move. He managed to recover sufficiently to push himself up to sit cross-legged. He breathed rhythmically, and concentrated his awareness within

After a while, he noticed that smoke was coming out from Si Fatt Guai’s head again. It was time to try more delaying tactics.

“Si Fatt Guai!” he shouted. “Are you still trying to remember where we met?”

“No,” replied Si Fatt Guai. “Please don’t disturb me. Even if we have met before, I will still have to kill you afterwards.”

“Why do you have this great need to kill me?”

“I kill anyone who interferes with my good time. Nothing personal. The iron palm you use was better than I had expected. What kungfu are you using?”

“I am not using the Five Fairies Iron Palm like you,” replied Wen Yiji.

“How did you know that I am using the Five Fairies Iron Palm?”

“Easy. The Five Fairies Iron Palm slowly turns the exponent more and more feminine. You look every inch a fucking faggot!”

“Thank you. This may be flattering, but I will still kill you!”

“Not if I kill you first. You don’t want to mess with me, Si Fatt Guai. I know many of the big shots in Tsinkiang.”

“Is that all? I have killed many of the big shots in Tsinkiang. And let me tell you this; I have killed more people than I can count.”

“If you can’t count, try using all your fingers and toes. That usually helps. Don't let the fact that you are retarded slow you down.”

“Go to hell.”

“You first.”

“Go suck on a goat’s ass.”

Wen Yiji fumed. He could see that friendliness was not going to work. He would have to try something else. Like lust.

“Hey, Si Fatt Guai!” he shouted again. “There is something strange about that lad’s butt. I think one butt cheek is bigger than another!”

Si Fatt Guai turned his head and looked. The lad was still flopped over a table with the naked butt visible to him. Mentally, he compared both cheeks. They were about the same size. For a long while he admired the smooth fair skin of the ass while Wen Yiji proceeded on with his internal healing.

In time, Si Fatt Guai got tired at just looking at raw butt. He needed to heal himself first before he could do anything about it. He concentrated within himself and soon, smoke started flowing out of his head again.

Wen Yiji opened his eyes and noticed the smoke coming out of his opponent’s head. Lust might have worked for a while, but he would have to try something else. Something like anger. If he could get Si Fatt Guai angry enough, it might prevent him from concentrating on internal healing.

“Hey, Si Fatt Guai!” he shouted.

Si Fatt Guai ignored him.

“Hey, Si Fatt Guai, I know you can hear me!” he shouted. “You used to have three men in Lord Tai’s private prison to serve you sexually!”

The smoke stopped coming out of Si Fatt Guai’s head. No smoke meant no concentration, so Wen Yiji knew that he had his opponent’s full attention.

“On the night that Lord Tai was assassinated, they escaped. One of them blabbed about what happened to them. He said that your dick was so small that when you raped his butt, he never felt a thing!”

Si Fatt Guai was silent.

Wen Yiji continued, “He also said that he did not even know that he was getting buttfucked all those times until many months later when the guard told him about it!”

Si Fatt Guai remained silent.

Wen Yiji rambled on, “He actually thought that you were massaging his ass with a dickless groin! Ai yaaahhhhh…….imagine that!”

Leaving Si Fatt Guai to stew in anger, Wen Yiji concentrated on his own internal healing. The pain was still in him, but the feeling of numbness he had earlier was gone.

Si Fatt Guai forced himself to concentrate on the job at hand. It was a long and difficult struggle to control his anger, but he finally settled his thoughts. He ignored all of Wen Yiji’s jibes after that.

Wen Yiji was dismayed. He watched the smoke wallowing out from Si Fatt Guai’s head and he knew that Si Fatt Guai was recovering at a much faster pace than him. He looked out of the window. The afternoon had turned to night and it had stopped raining. It was a good thing. From the light of the single lantern hung in the ceiling, he could see that Si Fatt Guai was already going through some hand exercises while still seated on the floor.

Wen Yiji shouted out, “Say, Si Fatt Guai… you have a vagina?”

Si Fatt Guai opened his eyes and stared coldly at Wen Yiji. He sneered, “The sound of you voice tells me that you are still struggling to recover from your internal injuries while I am almost totally recovered. You miserable bucket of shit. I think I shall cut out your tongue before dismembering you!”

He stood up and stretched himself confidently.

Wen Yiji got up unsteadily and grabbed the nearest chair.

With a nasty expression on his face, Si Fatt Guai took two steps forward and Wen Yiji lifted up the chair in readiness to throw.

“That stupid chair is not capable of hurting me and you know that!” sneered Si Fatt Guai in contempt. “You even have trouble standing up! In your weakened condition, I only need one little finger strike to kill you!”

He swirled his body into a kungfu stance, felt his Five Fairies energy circulating in him, and then he rushed at Wen Yiji to deliver a blow.

Wen Yiji threw the chair, not at Si Fatt Guai, but at the lantern in the ceiling. The chair knocked the lantern violently off the ceiling and the candle flame within went out, plunging the whole restaurant into darkness.

Si Fatt Guai’s Five Fairies Iron Palm landed in empty air. Wen Yiji had taken advantage of the darkness to move aside surreptitiously. The delaying tactics were successful. Wen Yiji had managed to prolong Si Fatt Guai’s recovery from late afternoon till night. He hoped that with his superb eyesight, he would have an advantage in the darkness.

Both men were standing near to each other and they knew it. Both kept quiet without making a sound, waiting for the other to reveal his position in the blackness of night.

There was a very tiny glow near the counter where the tea kettle was sitting on a stove. The light from the old fading embers was not helpful but low light level was nearly enough for Wen Yiji. His eyes adjusted quickly to the dark and he tried to see where his opponent was. He needed just a movement to tell him where Si Fatt Guai was so that he could focus onto the spot.

Wen Yiji waited silently.

Then he noticed the faintest dark shape of a movement just to his front. The next moment, he had to move fast to avoid a powerful iron palm strike from Si Fatt Guai. Wen Yiji swerved his body away just in time and leapt backwards. He stumbled awkwardly behind a table and retreated further away.

“How did he know I was in front of him?” he asked himself. “Does he have the same good eyesight as me?”

He focused on where Si Fatt Guai was, and in the darkness, he saw Si Fatt Guai looking in his direction.

Si Fatt Guai took two steps forward towards Wen Yiji and promptly banged into a table.

“He did not see the table,” thought Wen Yiji. “His eyesight cannot be as good as mine. If so, he must be depending on his hearing to locate me!”

Another thought occurred to him, “Since he could not have seen me, how did he know that I was in front of him just now? I was not moving and I did nothing except breathe. Oh shit….he heard my breathing……his hearing must be acutely sharp!”

Si Fatt Guai spoke, “Do not think that you can hide from me in the darkness for very long. I can easily locate you! Faster than you can sing a hokkien song!”

In the darkness, the two men were only five steps apart. Wen Yiji took great care to breathe slowly so as to be as noiseless as possible. The fact dawned on him that he could not kill Si Fatt Guai in his present condition.

“My arrows!” he thought. “They are by the wall. If I can just get to my arrows, I’ll have a chance! But I have to first get past Si Fatt Guai. The bastard probably can hear my every step! This is going to be a contest between good eyesight and good hearing.”

Very, very gently, Wen Yiji removed his fur hat. Then, with a gentle flick of his hand, he tossed it three steps to his right. It felt on the floor softly. The sound was soft enough to pass for the sound of a footfall.

Si Fatt Guai turned his head and tracked the sound. He tiptoed towards the fur hat step by step. Wen Yiji was already prepared for that. He tiptoed to his left to detour past Si Fatt Guai. Each time Si Fatt Guai lifted up a foot, Wen Yiji did the same. He timed his steps to synchronize with Si Fatt Guai’s steps to avoid being heard. That way, the sound of his footfall was masked by the sound of Si Fatt Guai’s footfall.

Si Fatt Guai reached the spot where Wen Yiji’s hat was. He pulled back his hand and delivered the Fire Fairies Iron Palm in the direction where he thought Wen Yiji would be. The blow landed in empty air. He tiptoed forward one more step and tried again. And again his blow landed in empty air. He took a step to the right and felt around. There was no Wen Yiji as usual. Each time Si Fatt Guai took a step, Wen Yiji took one step towards his arrows.

Si Fatt Guai waited in the darkness for some time, hoping that his opponent would give his location away. Wen Yiji remained motionless. He would move only if Si Fatt Guai moved.

Finally, Si Fatt Guai lost patience. He spotted the faint glow coming from the tiny embers at the stove. He decided that he would go to the stove and throw in some tinder. The resulting fire should be bright enough to allow him see where his quarry was. Quietly, he moved towards the stove, and at the same time, Wen Yiji moved towards his arrows.

Wen Yiji reached his bow and arrows just as Si Fatt Guai reached the stove. Picking up the bow, Wen Yiji swiftly retrieved an arrow. The sound of the arrow being pulled out of the quiver alerted Si Fatt Guai who immediately turned around.

Swiftly, Wen Yiji loaded the arrow to his bow.


The arrow was released. It sped through the darkness towards Si Fatt Guai who tracked its flight with his sharp hearing. Unlike a slow projectile that is almost soundless, a fast projectile rushing through the air sends out more sound.


Si Fatt Guai had caught the arrow in his right hand! Although he could not see it in the dark, he knew it was an arrow.

“So, you managed to get your hands on a bow!” Si Fatt Guai said. “With my kungfu, I can keep on catching your arrows until you run out of them!”

Yiji was surprised that Si Fatt Guai had been able to intercept his arrow at that short distance. He remembered that during his first assassination attempt on Lord Tai in Changchow, Si Fatt Guai had also caught his arrow. His hands were certainly fast. Yet Yiji had been told that the Five Fairies Iron Palm kungfu was supposed to be powerful but slow.

“A normal kungfu exponent would rather move to avoid the arrow rather than catch it.” Wen Yiji reasoned. “The fact that Si Fatt Guai chose to catch the arrow may mean that he is slow on his feet!”

“Hey, muthafucka,” shouted Wen Yiji as he quickly reloaded his bow. “Since you like catching arrows so much, why don’t you just stand there and not move while I keep shooting at you?”

“I am not that stupid! The only reason you can see me to shoot is because I am standing too close to the stove and its embers. Once I move away from it, you will not know where to shoot. Even a skilled archer will not be able to shoot in the dark!”

In answer, Wen Yiji fired his second arrow. Si Fatt Guai heard it coming through the air towards his right foot. He attempted to lift his leg safely away, but he was too slow.


The arrow pierced through his foot and pinned it to the ground.

Si Fatt Guai screamed silently. While forcing himself to bear the pain, he wrenched his foot off the ground.

Swiftly, Wen Yiji fitted three arrows into his bow. He would fire all three together. It was a difficult trick that few archers could master. The arrows would lack the power and accuracy of a single fired arrow, but at that short distance in the darkness, they might just prove effective.

Si Fatt Guai hopped as noiselessly as he could away from the stove. He had to stop when he came up against a table. At that precise moment, Wen Yiji released the three arrows. They diverged slightly in their flight paths even as they sped through the night air.

Si Fatt Guai keen ears heard the sound of a projectile speeding towards him. Ignoring the pain in his foot, he caught an arrow in a sweeping motion. His hand movement brushed a second arrow and deflected it away from him.


The third arrow slammed into his stomach and pierced through his intestines.

“Three arrows!” a shocked Si Fatt Guai muttered stupidly. “How can there be three arrows?”

Wen Yiji reloaded his bow without wasting a moment. He fitted only one arrow this time and shot fast before his target could recover himself. Si Fatt Guai heard the twanging of the bow and reached out to catch the arrow but his fingers closed in on empty air. The pain in his foot and stomach had marred his concentration and slowed him down considerably. The speeding arrow pierced him deep within the chest.

Si Fatt Guai dropped to the ground and crawled desperately behind a table. Wen Yiji also dropped down low and shot yet another arrow. The arrow flew straight and powerfully between the legs of three tables and then buried itself deep between the ribs of Si Fatt Guai.

“This is impossible,” muttered Si Fatt Guai disbelievingly. “I have the Five Fairies Iron Palm! I cannot lose……to a stupid bowman!”

“Of course you can!” the sound of the bowman’s voice came from somewhere nearby. Wen Yiji had moved in close for the kill.

“Who…….are you?” gasped Si Fatt Guai. The three arrows inside his torso were making movement extremely painful.

“My name does not matter,” replied Wen Yiji. “I just want you to know three things before you die.”

“What…..three…..things?” asked Si Fatt Guai in agony.

“One; your assumption that I could not shoot in the dark led to your downfall. If you go around simply assuming….you will make an ass out of you and Ah Ming. Of course I can shoot in the dark, you dumb shit! A long time ago, the Imperial Guards called me Arrow Eye.”


“Two; it was me who killed Lord Tai in Changchow and freed the three prisoners whom you had enjoyed so much. Frankly, I don’t think they missed you.”


“And three; I exterminated your youngest brother Si Mm Chut. He was quite a bastard, already killing people for no good reason at such a young age. I am sure he would have become a mass murderer one day if I had not stopped him. I got a payment of only two ducks for the job, but considering that your youngest brother was such a useless lowlife, I would have done it for almost free. I cured him of his constipation though. The daifu said that he had been shitting fearfully in his pants, till the day he died. Lots and lots of shit.”

Si Fatt Guai screamed in fury.

Wen Yiji sent his next arrow into Si Fatt Guai’s head at close range and the screaming stopped.

Chapter 29: Agent Simit strikes back

It was late at night when Wen Yiji got back wearily to the inn. He was coughing blood and Xiang Xiang knew that he had got into a serious fight.

“Are you all right, Brother Yiji?” she asked. “It looks like somebody bashed you up really bad. You look like shit.”

“If you think I look bad, you should see the other fellow!” gasped Wen Yiji. “When I left him, he looked even shittier.”

“You must feel terrible.”

“True. But at least I can feel terrible. The other fellow can’t feel a thing.”

“You are coughing blood. That is bad.”

“It’s not that bad as the other guy whom I think will never cough again.”

Xiang Xiang ignored her brother’s cockiness and immediately made arrangements to boil some herbs in the room for him. She knew that for her brother to get hurt, it must have been a difficult fight, meaning that his injuries would not be light.

Back at the little restaurant where Si Fatt Guai lay dead, the young lad was just waking up from his bout of unconsciousness. He stumbled around in the darkness and wondered where his trousers had gone. He somehow made his way unsteadily to the stove and lit a candle from the embers. When he had a light going, he discovered the body of the dead Si Fatt Guai.

“Oh no!” he exclaimed. “Got dead body here! Die! Hey, isn’t that the stupid pig who tried to rape my ass! Good! Better he die than I die. I wonder if he got rape me successfully or not……kanineh….”

He felt around his asshole but there did not seem to be any indication of pain.

“Good! No pain!” he smiled. “But if people around here think I got ass raped, I’ll be the big time laughing stock!”

Angrily, the lad kicked the dead man’s head hard and then grumbled as he hopped around in pain “Aiyohhh….my foot so pain……his head hard like rock only. I wonder who killed him. Not me, for sure. But if people think I killed him, they may arrest me for murder! Sure die!”

The lad searched the dead body and found a sum of money. He looked around furtively. There was no one else in the restaurant.

“All this money are belong to me,” he thought. “Better I take than nobody take. No need to think one. He who hesitates is lost. But I must dispose of the body. Better no one finds out he died here. If not I die!”

The lad worked quickly in the night to tie the corpse onto Si Fatt Guai’s horse. Making use of the little moonlight available, he led the horse for a short distance up the road heading in the direction away from town. Taking his dagger, he poked the horse hard on the rump with it. The horse whinnied in pain and galloped away into the night, bearing the body of Si Fatt Guai away from Tsinkiang.

+ + + + + +

The next day, Si Liu Thung asked his father, “I noticed that none of our relatives have visited us to offer donations for the burial of Si Mm Chut. Why is that so?”

“We don’t have relatives,” replied his father to the query.

“What about the auntie in Weitou? The one they called the “Borrowing Hag”? She is your sister-in-law, isn’t she?” asked Si Liu Thung.

“That bitch? I have forgotten about her. Everytime she sees me, she wants to borrow money from me.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“Five years ago, I think. I am not sure.”

“We should inform her. A relative is still a relative. You won’t want my youngest brother to be buried without a single relative present, would you?”

“Oh, all right. Send a carriage to Weitou to fetch the Borrowing Hag here for the funeral.”

A servant was dispatched with a horse-drawn carriage for the purpose. The servant was at the outskirts of the city when he saw a strange sight. Group of villagers were surrounding a horse which carrying a dead body. The servant immediately recognized the face on the body as that belonging to his master’s eldest son, Si Fatt Guai.

“You killed my young master!” the servant shouted.

“No, no!” the villagers said. “The horse brought him here! Nothing to do with us!”

The servant felt squeamish about handling the dead body, so he did not untie the corpse from the horse. Instead, he merely tethered the horse to the back of the carriage and rode back all the way to the Si mansion.

On reaching the mansion, the servant rushed into the hall and shouted. “Master! Master! I found the body of eldest young master Si Fatt Guai tied to a horse outside the city! He has been killed by arrows!”

Simit and Si Liu Thung were shocked speechless on seeing the corpse of Si Fatt Guai.

So speechless were they that if they were trees that fell in the zen forest, and there was somebody there to hear them, they would still not have made a sound.

That night, the traumatized Agent Simit did not sleep at all.

+ + + + + +

Morning came. It was an auspicious day, or so the Chinese Almanac(Tong Shu) said. Wen Yiji, Xiang Xiang and Grasshopper waited for the arrival of the auspicious hour, at which, they shifted from the inn to their new house.

Grasshopper went around banging a brass gong to let the heavens know that they had moved in. He was happy to discover that Xiang Xiang had arranged for him to have a room on his own with his own bed and cupboard. By his standards, it was luxurious.

Although Wen Yiji was no more coughing blood, he rested in his room most of the time while Xiang Xiang and Grasshopper fixed and cleaned the house.

At the Si household, Simit was having a talk with his only remaining son, Si Liu Thung.

“Both of my sons were killed by arrows,” he voiced out in intense sorrow. “Do you suppose that they were killed by the same person?”

“I do not know,” replied his son. “Maybe the arrows could tell us something.”

“The arrows used in both cases were different. There were no distinguishing marks.”

“To be able to kill my eldest brother, a killer must have been highly skilled. To have shot my youngest brother, a killer would have been pretty resourceful or creative. These are not ordinary killings. Yet there is nothing to tie the two together.”

“There is nothing that we can do except bury my sons. My two sons…..taken away from me in the prime of their lives…..with their deaths unexplained!”

“I sent the servant to Weitou this morning to fetch Auntie Borrowing Hag for the funeral,” said Si Liu Thung. “She should be here by tomorrow.”

Agent Simit nodded in stupefaction. After a while, he crawled into bed to wallow in his grief.

+ + + + + +

The following day after they moved in, Wen Yiji was feeling bored. The Dark Fire Inner Energy had finally cleared his system and he had fully recovered from his injuries. He decided that it was time that he did something around the house. Not that there was much to do, but after months of travelling and excitement, he was not quite used to the idea of domestic inactivity.

Looking around the house that Xiang Xiang had fixed up neatly, he said, “Things certainly have moved fast. In autumn, I was still a prisoner in the Imperial Capital. And now, in just mid winter, I am a reasonably well-to-do man and the master of three houses. In the short time span of about a hundred days, much has happened.”

“Yes, things have happened very fast,” Xiang Xiang agreed. “I remember that in autumn, I was working in a kitchen in Fatty Kuek’s restaurant and fending off the attentions of his oily-faced son who threatened to make me his concubine! What a total moron! Today, I have a proper home. And a new kitchen! I love the kitchen layout, but I think we will have to build a duck oven for roasting ducks.”

“Maybe you should start behaving like a lady and forget about starting a restaurant,” said her brother. “You will be sixteen after the New Year and I will have to think about marrying you off.”

“If I don’t start a restaurant, I will not feel alive. Cooking keeps me sane. It makes me feel that I have a special place in the universe. That I was born to do something meaningful and not sit like the grass waiting to be fed on by the goat. Marriage can wait. I don’t need to be married by sixteen. Even twenty is not too late.”

“All right, but I do not want you to work too hard. We are reasonably well to do, so we will have to hire some servants to help around the house and restaurant. How many do we need?”

“Six should be sufficient. Four men and two women. I have it all worked out except where to find the workers.”

“Sometimes, very poor people sell themselves as indentured servants to pay for funeral expenses at home when a parent dies,” remarked Wen Yiji. “I have seen it happen.”

“All right,” said Xiang Xiang. “We’ll go near the market to see if we can get some indentured servants. All sorts of transactions occur there.”

As they walked by the market, they saw a number of people sitting by the roadside, selling themselves as indentured servants. Pirates had attacked a village nearby and the survivors were trying to raise funeral funds for funeral expenses by coming to the city.

They walked by a young man who had a sign near him that read, “Pirates killed my goat. Need money for burial expenses.”

“Oh, the poor man,” remarked Grasshopper. “He must be really in love with his goat to want to give it funeral rites.”

“He should just dig a hole in the ground and bury it,” said Wen Yiji in disgust. “Let’s move on.”

They passed by another man who had a large sign, “Pirates killed my wife. Need money to buy another wife.”

“Oh, the poor man,” remarked Wen Yiji. “His nights will be so lonely without a new wife.”

“He should just do without a new wife while he mourns his old wife for three years,” remarked Xiang Xiang in disgust. “Let’s move on.”

They then passed by a very old man who had a large sign, “Pirates kidnapped my young mistress. Need money to train up another young mistress.”

“That is disgusting,” said Xiang Xiang. “A man as old as that should have better things to do than think about a mistress.”

“You are right,” remarked Grasshopper. “Besides, if he does not have a young mistress, he can always make do temporarily with his right hand. Let’s move on.”

Xiang Xiang and Wen Yiji paused in their steps and stared hard at Grasshopper. The boy flushed red in embarrassment.

+ + + + + +

At the Si mansion the next afternoon, the servant returned from Weitou to inform Agent Simit that the Borrowing Hag was dead.

“She perished in a night time fire together with her daughter one and a half months ago,” the servant reported. “Her whole house was burnt down to the ground.”

Agent Simit felt a cold sensation clutching the inside of his stomach. His remaining son, Si Liu Thung asked, “Is our family being targeted by heaven or do you think that this is merely a coincidence?”

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” said his father grimly. “Coincidences occur only in kungfu stories. This is real life.”

Si Liu Thung stared at his father and said, “We may be next.”

“If we are being targeted, then our enemy may be someone formidable,” said a worried Agent Simit. “Nobody in this city will dare to attack us. Your youngest brother was killed within these mansion walls which we thought were safe. Your eldest brother’s Five Fairies Iron Palm did not prevent him from being killed. Who are we dealing with here?”

“I don’t know. Let’s ask Gojisan. He may know something.”

“He may not tell us.”

“Then we will torture him again.”

Moments later, both father and son were in the presence of Gojisan.

“Master Gojisan,” said Simit. “I trust that you are well.”

“You need not be hypocritical,” remarked Gojisan caustically. “Being strung up here in chains for years…..have improved my health considerably, I’m sure. To what… I owe the reason for this visit?”

“There is something that I wish to ask of you.”

“You wish to know…….how your sons, Si Mm Chut and Si Fatt Guai were killed.”

“How… did you know about their deaths?”

“I may be down in your dungeon, but I am not deaf. The commotion made by your men and the sound of funeral rites being carried out has filtered down to this cell. You must be devastated! You have no lineage now! Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Near the suspended body of Gojisan was a huge tub of cold water. Si Liu Thung took a ladle and ladled out some water. He then proceeded to pour the cold water on the body of Gojisan. The old man jerked involuntarily on being wetted by the chilly water. The water flowed down the body and then dripped down into the floor below.

“The water in winter is cold, isn’t it, sifu?” said Si Liu Thung. “I can keep on pouring more cold water until you tell us more about this One-Eyed Snake assassin of the Fire Mountain Sect.”

“I am your sifu and yet you torture me? What have I done in my past life to deserve this fate?”

“In your past life you were probably a cheap prostitute,” said Si Liu Thung. “You gave incurable diseases to your clients. Now tell us about this person who killed my brothers.”

“What makes you think…….that both your brothers were killed by the same person?” asked Gojisan. “Idiots die all the time. It may have nothing to do with the Fire Mountain Sect. I bet half the town wanted to kill them”

“Shut up! Just tell us how we can find this One-Eyed Snake,” asked Simit.

“Why should I help you? In fact, I wish that he will kill you all.”

Si Liu Thung splashed some more cold water on Gojisan’s body.

“Why don’t you try fire instead of cold water. Maybe I will talk then!” challenged a shivering Gojisan.

“Look at you….shivering like a sick dog,” noted Si Liu Thung. “Why can’t you bring out your internal energy to warm yourself up? Ahhh….I forgot…. because all your thirty six gates of movement have been blocked!”

Gojisan could withstand pain. They had driven in all sorts of metal implements into his body in the past and he had survived them all. His nerves were almost dead. However his skin still reacted to cold water. The water was not life threatening but he knew that the idea was just to drive in the message that they could make him feel miserable. They were mocking him.

“And you are totally useless as a man,” retorted Gojisan. “Do you know why? The Celestial Dragon Claw kungfu must be taught only to a pure virgin. He can have sex after he mastered the art, but not before. If he loses his virginity too early, his sexual capabilities will be attacked by the Celestial Dragon qi and he will become impotent!”

“You did not say that before I started practicing it!” shouted Si Liu Thung.

Gojisan cackled, “I asked you if you were a virgin and you said ‘yes’. I knew you were lying because I had seen you visiting a courtesan house without your father’s knowledge. Yes, I taught you the Celestial Dragon Claw kungfu knowing that it would make you sexually impotent. Hyuk! Hyuk! Hyuk! Hyuk! Hyuk!”

The enraged Si Liu Thung gripped the side of Gojisan and twisted the skinny flesh. Gojisan cackled on.

Agent Simit felt dizzy on hearing this but managed to control his fury to say tightly, “Just tell us how to find the One-Eyed Snake assassin and I will set you free.”

“I do not believe that you will ever set me free. And besides, how do you know that it was the One-Eyed Snake that killed both your two sons? Were they both killed in a similar style?” asked Gojisan.

“They were both killed by arrows,” answered Simit. “Are you saying that it could be just a coincidence?”

“Coincidences belong only to kungfu stories,” remarked Gojisan. “It is strange that Si Fatt Guai could be defeated. I trained Si Fatt Guai and so I know that he could not be easily killed. He was far too powerful to be shot by arrows.”

“That was the puzzling thing. The one thing that did not fit the manner of killing was the way my sister-in-law died,” muttered Simit angrily.

“What has your sister-in-law ……to do with this?” asked Gojisan.

“You remember my sister-in-law, the woman called the ‘Borrowing Hag’, who traveled with us to the Imperial City five years ago?” asked Agent Simit. “Her house was burnt down more than a month ago and she perished in the fire together with her daughter.”

Gojisan stared downwards silently as he digested the piece of news.

Finally, he spoke, “This is the will of Heaven! Five years ago, we slaughtered the Wang family in the Imperial City. After that event, a certain sense of dark foreboding followed me like a persistent shadow. It was like a huge arrow pointed at my head telling me that we should not have killed off the whole family….that some day, we would pay for it heavily. The day of heavenly retribution came faster for me than I expected. I was chained up by you when we reached here. The day of retribution for the Borrowing Hag came when she and her daughter perished in the fire. And now, the day of retribution for you has also arrived. Fate has determined that all of us will suffer horribly for what happened in the Imperial City. You cannot outrun your fate.”

“Stop talking nonsense, old man!” shouted Simit. “You are not making sense!”

“I am making sense,” smiled Gojisan. “All of us have no future left. Including you. With your youngest son dead, you will have no descendants! I do not know how both of you will die. But I know that it will be a terrible death. A most horrifying end. I can bet on it!”

“You need not try to frighten us,” sneered Si Liu Thung. “It won’t work!”

“I don’t have to try,” said Gojisan. “I can already smell your fear! Hee…..hee….. hee…..hee……hee…..”

His laughter ended when Simit angrily ladled cold water over his body.

As Si Liu Thung and his father left the underground cell, Si Liu Thung commented, “The old devil seems to think that this has something to do with some Imperial City killing. He must be mad.”

“We cannot preclude the possibility that he could be right,” said his father. “If there is indeed a connection, then we should keep an eye out for anything unusual. We slaughtered everybody of the Wang family except for a little girl. The Wang family called themselves the Wen family in the Imperial City. Ask our network of contacts to find out if there is any girl by the surname of either Wang or Wen who has recently come to Tsinkiang.”

“Yes, father,” said Si Liu Thung.

+ + + + + +

Ten days later, Si Liu Thung rushed to his father’s presence and said excitedly, “We found her……the Wen girl. And she has a brother who visits the House of Noble Delights regularly. He recently came to Tsinkiang and seems to have a lot of money. All the courtesans know him. His name is Wen Yiji!”

“Wen Yiji? Wen Yiji?” asked Simit in shock. “That was the name of Wang Yuan’s eldest son! He was an Imperial Guard and was supposed to have died in prison! How can he still be alive?”

“I do not know. Do you think this is the same Wen Yiji from the Imperial City?” asked his son. “Or someone with the same name by coincidence?”

“There is no such thing as a coincidence,” replied the father. “The surname Wen is not common in Tsinkiang. This Wen Yiji has to be the same Wen Yiji we were supposed to have killed! If he survived, then he must want vengeance. I know I would.”

“How did he trace you to here?”

“That I do not know. We covered our tracks so well that no one knew that there was even a murder of a whole family! This Wen Yiji must be an extraordinary person. If he is that extraordinary, then he probably was the one who killed your two brothers.”

“What do we do now?” asked his son.

“He who strikes first is the stronger one. We have to hit him before he hits us again. The best defense is a good offence. We will kidnap his sister and then lure him here to save her. Once he is in our stronghold, we will set a trap for him.”

That evening, Wen Yiji left the house after dinner to visit a courtesan house. Xiang Xiang had just finished cleaning her kitchen when Grasshopper whispered to her, “Someone is in the inner courtyard!”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“It’s not fully dark yet. I know what I saw!”

Xiang Xiang looked around for a weapon. Her Chicken Knife was in her room. So was her wooden fighting pole. She grabbed a cleaver and then tried to get to her room, followed closely by Grasshopper. As she was about to reach it, a masked figure suddenly appeared in her path.

She stopped and asked, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“You are coming with me,” the masked figure answered.

He rushed at her and she lashed out with her cleaver. He caught the cleaver with his bare hand in midair and twisted it out of her grip. Xiang Xiang retreated and her hand found a bamboo pole by the wall. It was not her usual fighting pole but she took up a fighting stance with it. “Run and hide, Grasshopper!” she hissed. “Run and hide!”

“But I can fight!” said the boy. “I’ll whack him till he cry father cry mother! After that, I’ll whack him some more!”

“Shut up and do as I say!” she yelled. “Hurry, run!”

The masked figure approached and she attacked his legs. He was fast, avoiding her pole strikes with an agility that confounded her. She executed a sudden pole thrust to his ribs and he caught the end of the pole with his right hand. He held it there unmoving and then with a snap, his fingers crushed the end of the bamboo pole into frayed slivers. He jerked the pole towards him and Xiang Xiang lost her balance as she was pulled forwards. The masked figure then slapped at her head with his free hand but she ducked under the blow. His other hand let go of the bamboo pole end and caught her at the throat.

Xiang Xiang struggled for air as she attempted to break the grip that was choking her, but he was too strong. She grew weaker and weaker in her struggles and then he released her and allowed her to drop to the floor. She gulped air hungrily into her starved lungs and then his fist came out of nowhere and punched her on the head. She passed out.

Chapter 30: Confrontation at the Si Mansion

Grasshopper ran out of the house and shouted for help, “Help! Help! Rape and murder! Help! Help!”

There was no response from the houses along the street. All was quiet.

Grasshopper shouted again, “Help! Help! Fire! Fire!”

Again, no response.

“Tsunami!” he shouted.

Immediately, there was a loud commotion as everybody within earshot open their doors. Even the dogs set out a loud barking. Grasshopper turned his head just in time to see a dark figure carrying Xiang Xiang and leaping to a horse nearby. Both rider and captive galloped away into the darkness.

Grasshopper ran after the horse yelling, but the horse was much faster and soon, the boy could not even hear the galloping. He stopped and panted. Then he ran to the House of Noble Delights. He knew that his master spent a lot of time there.

“Master Wen! Master Wen!” he shouted as he entered the parlour.

“Hey, boy!” shouted the chief of security who called himself Killer Flying Dagger Kong. “You are too young to come in here. Wait till you are much bigger! And much longer!”

“I am looking for my master Wen Yiji,” said the boy. “It is highly urgent!”

“Nothing is more urgent than a man having a good time,” a female voice said from the center of the room. It came from Madam Hau, the proprietress of the joint. She continued, “Your master Wen Yiji has not come yet this evening. You can wait in the corner for him if you like.”

Grasshopper went to the corner and stood there.

Ah Huei the courtesan, came over to inspect him

“How old are you, boy?” she asked.

“I am eleven,” he answered.

“Good,” she said. “When you are twelve years old, pay me a visit and I will give you a big red packet.”

“I don’t think so,” replied Grasshopper to her suggestion. “You wish to take my virginity.”

“That is why I will give you a big red packet,” said Ah Huei. “You give me something and I give you something.”

“When it is time to let go of my virginity, I will hold an auction,” announced Grasshopper. “The courtesan who can provide the biggest red packet gets to deflower me!”

The announcement stunned the whole room of courtesans.

“Boy! Just shut up and wait quietly!” Madam Hau scolded.

Grasshopper waited glumly for a while. However, Wen Yiji did not turn up. Grasshopper then went home but Wen Yiji was not there either.

“Where could he have gone?” the boy muttered. “Maybe he has gone to check out some other happening spot in town. This is bad! Mistress Xiang Xiang has been kidnapped and my master is missing!

The boy waited up all night in vain for his master.

Morning came.

Wen Yiji walked into the house jauntily. He had visited a new courtesan house on the other side of town and had come away feeling satisfied. He noticed Grasshopper sleeping outside his room and he roused him up.

“Master Wen! Master Wen!” the boy shouted excitedly when he saw his master. “Mistress Xiang Xiang has been kidnapped.”

“What?” roared Wen Yiji. “How did that happened?”

“Yesterday evening, while you were not at home, a masked man came into the house. Misress Xiang Xiang fought with him with a cleaver. But the masked man grabbed the blade of the cleaver and tore it from her hands. Then she fought with him with a bamboo pole. But the masked man snapped the end of the pole with his fingers.”

“The masked was not carrying any weapons?” asked Wen Yiji.

“No,” the boy answered. “He fought with just his bare hands! He had fingers of steel. And I think he took away your bow and arrows!”

Wen Yiji sat down. Fingers of steel…..that could mean the Celestial Dragon Claw……Si Liu Thung. The Simit family had found him! Damn!

“Why did they want my bow and arrows?” he muttered to himself. “They must want to know if it was the weapon that killed Si Mm Chut and Si Fatt Guai. Well, they won’t learn anything from my arrows.”

“Do you think the kidnapper wants ransom?” asked Grasshopper. “He must want something. If so, he will contact us later.”

Wen Yiji thought furiously, “I will not wait for him to contact me. Simit may not know that I know it was him who took Xiang Xiang. I will have to act fast.”

Without wasting time, he made his way immediately to Agent Simit’s mansion. In the early morning sun, the mansion appeared to be quiet. However, there were guards patrolling outside the perimeter wall with dogs. It would be difficult to approach unnoticed, but not impossible for him.

In the little underground dungeon of the mansion, Agent Simit, Si Liu Thung and the henchman Siao Kau were looking at the inert body of Xiang Xiang lying in a small cell. The cell was fronted by a metal grilled door, secured by a heavy iron chain that was fastened at the ends by a padlock.

“You must have hit her a bit too hard. She has not woken up yet,” commented Simit.

“I almost choked her to death but remembered just in time that we needed her alive to bait her brother,” said Si Liu Thung. “Her fighting skills were not fantastic. She attacked me with a cleaver, and then with a bamboo pole. Her brother’s arrows were not the same as the ones that killed my brothers. Perhaps we have the wrong person.”

“You could be right. The bow is powerful no doubt, but I have seen much more powerful bows.”

“Maybe this Wen Yiji and his sister have nothing to do with the One-Eyed Snake assassin.”

“Too bad,” said his father. “Even if we cannot prove that they have anything to do with your brothers’ deaths, we will still have to kill them. Better to err on the side of caution than not to err at all. That has been my motto all these years.”

“What do we do now?” asked the son.

“We will question her when she wakes up. After that, we will invite her brother here on our terms. We have his bow and arrows. Without them, he is less likely to be able to fight effectively. ”

“You are right. If he tries anything, I can crush him with my steely fingers.”

Agent Simit turned to Siao Kau and said, “Guard this girl well. When she wakes up, come and inform me!”

“Yes, Master Simit,” Siao Kau answered.

Agent Simit left the dungeon accompanied by his son.

Xiang Xiang waited for the sound of their footsteps to fade away. She had already regained consciousness but was merely pretending to be still out cold. She peeped through her eyelids and saw Siao Kau looking at her.

She thought silently to herself, “His eyebrows are four finger breadths apart…..that means that this guy is a bit stupid. I may be able to make use of him when the time comes. I heard the name ‘Master Simit’ being mentioned just now. I must have been captured by Agent Simit. I wonder if Brother Yiji knows.”

XiangXiang did not have an escape plan ready, so she continued pretending to be unconscious.

Wen Yiji had scouted around the perimeter wall of the Si mansion to check for security flaws. He was not surprised to note that Agent Simit had stepped up security patrols to avoid surprise attacks. He was on the forested left side of the mansion and from behind the cover of a tree, he observed a guard with a dog patrolling outside the left wall.

“So he is using dogs now, is he?” he mumbled to himself. “This could be tricky.”

He would have only one chance to silence both the guard and the dog. He moved to the downwind direction of the dog and then leapt up into a tree. He then leapt from tree to tree until he reached the branches of the tree closest to the guard. He waited till the guard had turned his back before making his move. Then he sprang from the tree skywards to cover the distance between the tree and the guard. Swooping down from the sky, he was almost upon his quarry when the dog sensed him. The dog barked once and the guard turned. Wen Yiji palm blasted both the dog and the guard from the air and they both got knocked out stone cold.

Putting his hands to his lips, Wen Yiji hooted. It was a loud hoot. If Xiang Xiang was somewhere in the mansion, she could not fail to hear his hoot. He listened, but there was no answering hoot. One by one, Wen Yiji knocked out every guard and dog around the mansion’s perimeter wall. Each time he did so, he hooted and waited for an answering hoot. But none came.

“I may have to knock out everybody in the whole mansion and then search it upside down,” he thought. “I know that Xiang Xiang is in there somewhere.”

He moved to a new position and hooted again.

In the dungeon, Xiang Xiang heard the faint hooting of an owl. She knew that it was not a loud owl but her brother. The rhythm of the hoot told her that it was an inquiring hoot and that if it was safe to do so, she should answer to let him know her location.

“Good! Brother Yiji is here!” she thought. “He is trying to locate me. But where am I? I think I am somewhere underground. “I doubt if Brother Yiji will be able to hear me even if I hooted back…..I can’t hoot as loud as he can.”

Quickly, she came to a decision. “It will be up to me to conduct my own escape,” she thought. “Once I am above the ground, Brother Yiji will be able to come to my help. I do not think these people will be able to withstand his Dark Fire Iron Palm.”

Slowly and deliberately, Xiang Xiang got up and stared at Siao Kau groggily. She asked, “Where am I?”

Siao Kau said, “Aaaahhh…. you are awake. I have to go and inform my master.”

“Wait!” she called out. “I am going to faint again. If your master comes down and see that I am not awake, he will punish you!”

Siao Kau paused and said, “That is right.”

“You must bring me some food from the kitchen to ensure that I do not faint again,” Xiang Xiang said. “After I have eaten, I’ll be alright.”

“What do you want to eat?”

“I cannot decide. Why don’t you let me out of this cell and then we can go to the kitchen together to discuss the menu with the chef?”

“I cannot open the cell door. The key to the padlock is kept by my master alone. And even if I can open the padlock, I will not do it. I am not stupid.”

“Well, in that case, I want you to bring me a plate of chicken fried rice served with salted fish and bean sprouts, garnished with spring onions and topped with a fried egg with the yolk unbroken. You got that?”

Siao Kau nodded. As he turned to go away, Xiang Xiang called out, “Hold on! There is another thing. When you come back, don’t be alarmed if you find that I have turned invisible.”

“You can turn invisible?” asked the incredulous Siao Kau. “Nobody can do that! Don’t think that I am stupid.”

“I have been learning this foreign kungfu lately, called Tom Yam Kung, and one of the side effects is that I will turn invisible at times! The effect comes and goes and I can’t control it. If you see that I have turned invisible, then you will have to wait patiently until I turn visible again before talking to me, understand? Do not panic like a crazy canine.”

“I do not panic and I am not a crazy canine!”

“Okay,” said Xiang Xiang. “Now go! Take your time!”

Siao Kau left.

Xiang Xiang heard his footsteps walking away and then she heard a door open and shut. Quickly, she set to work. She reached down to the hem of her dress and pulled out a bent metal pin that she had sewn inside the hem. It was a trick that she still practised since her days as a pickpocket. She reached her hands through the metal bars of the grill door to grasp the lock. Expertly, she picked it open.

“Thank heavens I can still remember how to do this!” she gasped.

She left the cell and locked back the grill door exactly as it was locked before. Quickly, she headed in the direction where Siao Kau had gone and tried to look for an exit. The passageway went around a bend and she saw a door at the end of the passageway. Without hesitation, she headed towards it.

As she was about to reach the door, she heard a sound outside. Siao Kao was coming back! She stopped and then retreated. The door started swinging open as she turned back. She spotted a dark side passage and turned into it.

There was no place to hide in the side passage. Along one wall of the passage was a wooden door that was recessed into the wall. It was the door to another cell. If she was to stand close to the door inside the recess, perhaps Siao Kau would not see her if he passed along the main passageway.

Siao Kau walked along the main passageway shouting, “Hey girl…..your fried rice… did not say whether you wanted ‘hot and spicy’ or ‘original recipe’. You have to let me know!”

He passed the side passage entrance without noticing Xiang Xiang hugging the recessed wooden door. He turned around the bend and came to her cell and asked, “Hey, you want ‘hot and spicy’ or……..damn! I can’t see her in the cell!”

Siao Kau checked the lock on the metal grill door. It remained locked the same way he left it. “Shit,” he cried, “She has turned invisible!”

There was nothing to do but wait for her to turn visible again, so he sat down and waited.

At the side passage, Xiang Xiang decided that it was time to make good her escape. She moved her head slightly from the door and then she froze. There was a peephole in the door and she caught a glance inside. She saw the inside of a room, and there, in the centre, was a man suspended from the ceiling.

“Oh my heavens,” she whispered. “That old man is suspended by more than twenty….no, thirty…..chains from the ceiling. And the chains are all hooked into his flesh!”

She moved away from the door, then turned and headed quietly to the main passageway. Carefully, she tiptoed to the door and opened it. She slipped through the opening and saw a flight of steps in front of her going up. She closed the door and latched it shut from outside to prevent the henchman Siao Kau from getting out. Then she climbed up the steps and found herself on the ground level.

She was in a room. She walked towards the room door and then she heard voices coming from outside the room. She froze. Looking around she saw that there was an open window so she went to it.

As she was about to climb out the window, she noticed that that there were guards patrolling outside the window as well.

“Damn!” she muttered. “Door cannot…..window also cannot….I’m stuck here!”

Outside the perimeter wall, Wen Yiji decided that he was getting nowhere by hooting. He would have to take the mansion apart. He approached the front gate and was immediately challenged by four guards stationed there. He was about to get near enough to palm blast them into oblivion when a voice called out from the top of the wall. He looked up and saw a figure standing there.

“You must be the one who just knocked out all the guards the perimeter wall. If my guess is correct, you are Master Wen Yiji,” the figure said.

“Who are you?” asked Wen Yiji.

The figure jumped down from the wall and introduced himself, “My name is Si Liu Thung.”

“All right,” said Wen Yiji. “If you can guess that I am Wen Yiji, then you can also guess what I am here for. Hand my sister back to me!”

“My father said that you were formidable,” said Si Liu Thung. “But even I did not expect that you would pay us a visit so soon after your sister disappeared.”

“You will find out that it does not pay to get me angry.”

“We are no pushovers either.”

“What happened to your face? It looked a bit scalded to me.”

“It is a long story and I would not want to go into it.”

“I can see that you are embarrassed,” remarked Wen Yiji, hiding the fact that it was him who scalded Si Liu Thung about twenty days ago. So, this was the Celestial Dragon Claw exponent with fingers of steel. Si Liu Thung had not really got a look at the peddler who scalded him with boiling hot soup in Amoy, or he would have recognized Wen Yiji.

“I am not embarrassed!” shouted Si Liu Thung.

“And now you are angry,” said Wen Yiji calmly. “Don’t be angry. A lot of people have ugly faces too.”

Si Liu Thung controlled his anger to say, “Please come in. I think my father would like to meet you. We have things to discuss.”

The gate was opened and Wen Yiji followed Si Liu Thung inside the mansion. He was led to a large hall and a servant was sent to fetch Agent Simit. Another guard was dispatched to summon every available fighter to the main hall. Soon, every available fighter was in the main hall armed to the teeth and ready to do battle with Wen Yiji.

Xiang Xiang had noticed that the men outside the window were running off. They had all been summoned to the main hall.

“What a stroke of luck!” she whispered to herself. “Now’s my chance to escape from here. I wonder why they ran off like that!”

When the men were gone, Xiang Xiang climbed out through the window. She guessed that she was somewhere behind the mansion, in the back courtyard. She would have to find a way to get over the walls.

“There should be a back gate somewhere,” she muttered hopefully. “I don’t think it would be wise to try to go out from the front!”

She walked around a tree and spotted the back gate. While most of the fighters had gone away, a solitary guard had been left stationed at the back gate. Somehow, she had to get past him. Perhaps he could be defeated if she had weapon. She paused and another thought occurred to her. She had not heard her brother’s hooting for some time now. It worried her. Even if she escaped from the mansion, she might not get very far if her brother did not come to her aid.

She walked around the back of the building and saw two buckets behind what looked like a kitchen. One bucket contained unwanted vegetable scraps and the other contained offal. There was a wooden pole nearby. She had worked in the kitchen of a restaurant long enough to know what the pole was for. Quietly, she took the pole and hung the buckets on it, one on each end. She balanced the pole on her shoulder and walked confidently towards the back gate.

The guard at the back gate saw her approaching and he asked, “Who are you? I have not seen you before!”

“I’m the new kitchen hand, just hired today,” she answered. “I am supposed to throw this smelly stuff far away from the mansion. Open the gate.”

“No,” said the guard. “I have my orders that nobody is to open the gate.”

Xiang Xiang put down the buckets and removed the pole. She said, “In that case I will have to leave all this smelly stuff with you. Hey, what’s that behind you?”

The man turned around to look behind him. Xiang Xiang swung the pole at his head.


The man collapsed to the ground.


The man refused to be quiet.

Thunk! Thunk!

This time the man became quietly unconscious.

Swiftly, she unbolted the back gate and fled, still holding the pole. She found herself in a forested area. Looking around her, she decided that she needed to get her bearings.

In the main hall, Wen Yiji looked at the fighters with contempt. He knew that he could defeat them all. However, Si Liu Thung was an unknown quality. He would have to avoid the steel finger grips of the Celestial Dragon Claws.

Agent Simit arrived at the main hall.

“Master Wen Yiji,” Agent Simit said after the initial introductions were made. “We had not expected you to appear here so fast. What makes you think that we have your sister?”

“If you do not have my sister, then I am wasting my time here. I may as well leave,” said Wen Yiji.

“You cannot leave unless you answer some of my questions, Master Wen,” said Simit.

“I am not answering any question until I see my sister. I see that you have called your men to this hall. Please let them know that they will die if they treat me with disrespect,” said Wen Yiji.

“All my men are paid to die at my command,” countered Simit. “Master Wen, did you or did you not kill my two sons?”

“How were your sons killed?”

“They were killed by arrows.”

“What makes you think that I even own a set of bow and arrows?” asked Wen Yiji.

Simit gave a command and a henchman appeared from somewhere with a set of bow and arrows.

“Aha!” cried Si Liu Thung. “I took this set of bow and arrows from your house. Do not deny that they are yours!”

“Aha!” cried Wen Yiji. “Since you stole them from my house, you must have taken my sister as well. Do not deny that you have kidnapped my sister!”

“Aha!” cried Agent Simit. “Since you know that your sister is in our hands, you know that you will have to obey our every wish if you wish to see her alive!”

“Aha!” cried Wen Yiji. “Since you are using my sister to blackmail me, you must be really terrified of me!”

“Aha!” cried Si Liu Thung. “That is where you are wrong. We are not terrified of you. We are merely using your sister as insurance for your cooperation.”

“Aha!” cried Wen Yiji.

“Aha what?” asked Agent Simit.

“Aha nothing,” replied Wen Yiji. “I just felt like saying the word.”

Agent Simit glared hard at him and said, “We are wasting time.”

“That we are,” agreed Wen Yiji. He then pointed to the henchman who was carrying his bow and arrows and announced in a loud voice, “I just want to make it clear that if you do not put down my bow and arrows, you will die horribly.”

The atmosphere in the hall chilled considerably, but the henchman stood still, unmoving, still clutching the bow and arrows.

Agent Simit asked, “Master Wen, are you the one called the One-Eyed Snake?”

“Are you the one they called the loosest asshole in the city?” countered Wen Yiji

“Are you an assassin from the Fire Mountain Sect?” asked Agent Simit.

“Are you a goat gigolo from Ah Huat’s animal farm?” asked Wen Yiji.

“Did you or did you not killed my two sons recently?”

“Did you or did you not give venereal disease to a herd of pigs recently?”

“This is getting us nowhere,” said Simit furiously. Addressing his fighters, he said, “Capture the bastard! Make him bleed!”

The men circled around Wen Yiji who warned, “I am not in a merciful mood today. Any man who uses a weapon against me will die.”

The fighters ignored his warning and drew their weapons. Wen Yiji knew that Agent Simit was testing him to gauge his kungfu skills. There were about thirty fighters in the hall. This was a good time to whittle down the numbers.

Three fighters charged him from behind using spears. Wen Yiji leapt backwards over their spears and heads. He landed behind the group of fighters and the nearest man to him swung a broadsword at him. He caught the weapon wielding wrist of the fighter with one hand and wrenched the weapon away from his attacker with his other hand.

“Now I have a weapon,” he smiled. The broadsword was one of the five weapons he could handle skillfully. “I did warn you muthafuckas about using a weapon on me.”

The next moment, he sliced off his attacker’s head neatly. It toppled down from the body and made a gooey red mess on the floor. This shocked the other fighters momentarily but they soon swarmed around him as they sought to attack him from all directions.

Yiji moved around defending himself every step of the way. The men could not pin him down to a fixed position as he was moving too fast for them. Every now and then, he would lob off a head of an attacker who was a shade too slow. Head after head dropped to the ground at regular intervals and the fighters became nervous. They knew that they were up against a top kungfu master and more of them would lose their heads before the fight was over. As he was about to lob off the eleventh head, a hand appeared out of nowhere and grabbed the blade that Yiji was wielding. The hand belonged to Si Liu Thung, and he snapped the blade into two with his powerful fingers.

Wen Yiji moved back. A half broken broadsword was not much use in a fight, but it was not completely useless either. He took aim and threw the weapon. It flashed through the air and sliced away three quarters of the throat of the henchman holding Yiji’s bow and arrows. The henchman dropped everything, clutched his throat and made gurgling sounds. Everyone looking at him knew that he would take a long time to die, but in the end he would still die.

As Wen Yiji and Si Liu Thung squared off, Simit decided to intervene. He had seen the speed at which Yiji had moved and was not sure if his son was a comparable match.

“Master Wen,” he shouted. “Let us not fight! Instead, why don’t we discuss things like civilized people?”

“I am civilized,” replied Wen Yiji. “Your people are not. Too bad that I had to kill off a third of your men. Maybe I should just kill off all of you and then search for my sister myself.”

“You will not succeed,” said Agent Simit. “This place is full of booby traps. If you are not careful, you may set off a booby trap that will end up killing her. You do not want to kill your own sister through your own carelessness, do you?”

The threat of booby traps was something that Wen Yiji could not ignore. “All right,” he agreed. “Let’s talk. But tell your men to move back if they value their heads.”

Agent Simit waved his hand and the fighters moved back. About ten fighters lay dead on the floor without their heads. Their decapitated heads were strewn all over the floor. All the fighters in the hall were now extremely cautious. Any wrong move would be the last move they make.

Simit shouted to a servant, “Bring some wine!”

A servant brought in a pot of wine and poured wine into two cups in a tray. He brought the tray to Yiji who was invited to take a cup. Yiji took a cup.

The servant then took the tray to Agent Simit, who lifted up the remaining cup and toasted, “To a satisfactory conclusion of our discussion, Master Wen.”

Agent Simit then drank the wine until the cup was empty. After that, he looked at Wen Yiji and sneered, “You haven’t drunk at all. I expected a greater courtesy from you. Are you afraid that I would poison you? I cannot blame you for being such a coward. Here, I will drink another cup to reassure you!”

“That will not be necessary,” said Wen Yiji. “I will drink up.”

Wen Yiji drank half of the cup’s contents. The liquid trickled down his throat into his stomach. It was then that he realized his mistake. The swirling of the Poison Field Inner Energy told him that he had been poisoned. He retched in an attempt to vomit out the liquid, but nothing came out.

“Ha! Ha!” laughed Agent Simit. “Ha! Ha! You have just been drugged by my Beh Ting Tang paralysis potion! This drug is very tenacious and you won’t be able to vomit it out , so you may as well quit trying. In a few moments you will not be able to move!”

“But….you drank the same wine!” exclaimed Yiji.

“True,” replied Simit. “However, I had drunk the antidote before I came into the hall! So I am not affected by the paralysis potion at all!”

Quickly, Wen Yiji assessed his new situation. It was a precarious one. He would not be able to use his full strength while being poisoned. As long as he did not use more than one third of his strength, he would be able to isolate the paralysis potion with the Poison Field Inner Stance and then hope to expel the toxic substance from his body later. The situation looked bad. He knew that he would not be able to defeat the Celestial Dragon Claw with just one third of his strength.

“Your life is now in the grip of my hands, Master Wen,” grinned Agent Simit crookedly. “You are like the monkey that could not escape from the Buddha’s palm! I have a most interesting end that awaits you!”

Wen Yiji thought he heard the sound of an owl hooting in the distance. However, he could not be sure. What he was sure was that he was going to have the fight of his life on this day.

Chapter 31: The taming of the Celestial Dragon Claw

As Agent Simit laughed away in his usual cunning manner, Wen Yiji was flabbergasted that he had fallen so easily for the old man’s trick. Both Simit and his son looked at him intently, as if expecting him to be paralyzed at any moment. If he were to be attacked by Si Liu Thung, he would be mincemeat

He looked around for a solution. His eyes fell on the dead henchman who was carrying his bow and arrows. His bow and arrows! They were still on the floor where the dead henchman had dropped them. If he could get to them, he might have a chance. He stifled the impulse to run to his bow. Si Liu Thung would probably reach him before he could load an arrow to his bow. No, he must play it cool.

He had one advantage in that his enemies did not know that he had such a thing as the Poison Field Inner Stance within him. Perhaps he could trick them.

“Your Beh Ting Tang paralysis potion must be way past its expiry date,” said Wen Yiji to Simit. “It does not appear to have an effect on me! Or perhaps yours is a cheap counterfeit version. You should buy original!”

As if to prove his point, Wen Yiji walked around nonchalantly. Seeing a decapitated head in his path, he kicked it across the hall. The fighters in the hall looked at him warily. As long as they did not know that he could not safely use more than one third of his strength, they would be cautious about attacking him.

Agent Simit glared angrily at the servant who had brought out the tampered wine. “Drink!” he ordered. Fearfully, but obediently, the servant placed the pot of wine to his lips and drank.

Wen Yiji walked casually over to where his bow and arrows had fallen. As he was about to bend down to pick them up, he noticed that his abdomen had grown stiff. The realization hit him that the Beh Ting Tang paralysis potion in his stomach had already caused partial paralysis around the stomach area, making him stiff like a board around the abdominal section. Although he could not bend, he could still squat down to pick up his bow and arrows. Having done that, he slung the quiver of arrows onto his back. The fighters in the hall eyed his every movement, but nobody made a move to stop him.

In the forested area near the mansion, Xiang Xiang was trying to get her bearings. Her brother Yiji could still be around, she thought. She had heard the sound of fighting coming from the mansion and she concluded immediately that her brother was in a battle. She moved nearer towards the mansion and then placing her hands to her lips, she hooted like an owl.

Wen Yiji heard the hoot and recognized it.

“That hoot came from Xiang Xiang outside the mansion….in the woods,” he thought. “It’s an ‘all clear’ hoot so she must have escaped somehow! Good girl! I guess it’s time for me to leave as well!”

Wen Yiji fitted an arrow to his bow and started to walk out of the hall with an air of apparent unconcern. At that moment, the servant who had drunk from the pot of tampered wine fell down to the ground with his limbs frozen in a peculiar position.

“The potion works!” shouted Si Liu Thung. “It may be slow to act on Master Wen, but it definitely works!”

“Master Wen must be controlling the paralysis potion with some form of inner energy! His gait is funny,” noted Simit aloud. “However, I suspect that he has weakened considerably!”

“Attack him!” screamed Si Liu Thung.

The fighters rushed towards Yiji before he could reach the door. He turned and sent an arrow through the heart of the nearest fighter.


The fighter dropped dead immediately.

Quickly, Wen Yiji reloaded and shot the next one even as he ran.


Another fighter fell down dead.


A third fighter came too near and got an arrow in the head.

The smarter ones among the fighters did not chase after Wen Yiji. They cleverly stood aside to wait for the bowman to use up all his arrows before attacking. The more suicidal ones followed after Wen Yiji foolishly and died just as foolishly.

Wen Yiji ran across the hall as he shot arrow after arrow on the run. One by one, the fighters got smarter and stopped chasing after him. Seven of their compatriots sprawled dead on the floor with an arrow in each of them.

Si Liu Thung decided to take a hand in the attack. As he took two steps forward, an arrow came from Wen Yiji towards Agent Simit. Just in time, Si Liu Thung reached over and deflected the arrow away from its flight path with his steely fingers, thus saving his father’s life. He stood in front of his father to protect him.

“You won’t be able to save your father’s life every time!” Wen Yiji shouted. His plan had worked. By threatening Agent Simit with an arrow, he was able to pin down Si Liu Thung.

Wen Yiji had stopped running as the remaining fighters had stopped chasing after him. Even at one third of his power, he was still faster than the average fighter. With an arrow in his bow, he walked cockily towards the line of fighters and announced. “Anytime anyone of you wishes to die, just step forward!”

The fighters could not believe his confidence. It unnerved them. They surreptitiously stepped backward, except for one man who remained where he was. Because he stood out in front of the rest, Wen Yiji lifted his bow and targeted him.

The man looked surprised and said, “But I did not even step forwa…..”


An arrow from Yiji caught the man in the heart and he dropped to the ground dead.

Wen Yiji moved to the door. The stiffness in the abdomen was getting uncomfortable. He had to get the toxins out fast. He stumbled awkwardly as he exited the door.

“Chase after him!” screamed Simit. “The potion is taking effect and he is stumbling! Soon, he will not be able to move! He has very few arrows left!”

The fighters hesitated. Then one man, who was braver than the rest, took a few hesitant steps towards the door.


An arrow came from outside and hit him right in the center of the forehead. He dropped to his knees and toppled lifelessly over. The rest of the men stayed where they were. Si Liu Thung hid his father behind a table and then shouted at his men, “Look at you…..a bunch of cowards! If any man dare not go out with me after the bowman, he is useless to me as a fighter and I will have him killed!”

Si Liu Thung walked to the door followed grudgingly by his fighters. When he reached the door and looked outside, he discovered that Wen Yiji had disappeared.

“He can’t have gotten far!” he yelled at his men. “We’ll track him with dogs!”

Wen Yiji stumbled out to the forested area next to the mansion. He had only two arrows left. He heard Xiang Xiang’s hooting again and this time he hooted back. He had not stumbled far when Xiang Xiang found him.

“Brother Yiji!” she said excitedly. “Are you all right?”

“I have drunk some paralysis potion,” he told her. “I need to hide somewhere safe until I can expel the potion!”

“Let’s hide in the forest for the time being,” said his sister.

Together, they walked for a short distance until Yiji finally said, “It’s no use. I have to expel out the potion now or soon I will not be able to walk.”

“How are you going to expel it?” she asked.

“I have to shit it out,” he replied. “Simit’s men may be pursuing us. Stand guard while I go behind this bush and shit.”

Xiang Xiang kept a lookout while Yiji squatted behind a thick bush and shitted. In a short moment, the sound of dogs filled the air.

“Dogs are coming, Brother Yiji,” warned Xiang Xiang.

“Kill them!” said her brother. “I’m trying to shit. Damn! Boh sai pang! Nnnnnngggggg……”

Si Liu Thung’s dogs found them and barked ferociously. Xiang Xiang took her pole and brought it down hard on the head of a canine.


The dog yelped in pain and ran off followed by his four-legged friends. They ran to a safe distance but continued barking.

Wen Yiji continued with what he was doing.

“Ah..….coming out now……..Nnnnnngggggg…… Nnnnnngggggg……”

A small group of five men burst onto the scene and spotted Xiang Xiang.

“Brother, are you done yet?” asked Xiang Xiang as quietly as she could.

“Not yet,” whispered back Yiji. “But it’s on its way out! Nnnnnngggggg……”

The men had never seen Xiang Xiang before. She had been kidnapped the night before by Si Liu Thung and taken to the dungeon quietly without the men knowing.

One of the men approached Xiang Xiang who pointed her pole at him and said, “Stop! Do not come any nearer! My grandmother is shitting behind the bush! I don’t want you men to embarrass her!”

“Oh sorry,” the man said. “But did you notice a man run by here just now? He was carrying a bow and arrows.”

“He ran that way,” said Xiang Xiang pointing to her left.

The men looked at where she pointed and ran in that direction.


The last bits of Yiji’s shit had emerged, carrying with it the Beh Ting Tang paralysis potion.

“Ahhhhh……” Yiji sighed in contentment loudly. “That was good! Si beh song!”

The fighters heard him and turned back.

“Master Si! Master Si!” one of the men shouted. “He is here!”

The next moment, an arrow from Wen Yiji thudded into his heart and he was silenced permanently. Another fighter moving towards Xiang Xiang suffered the same fate. Yiji had stood up to shoot them over the bush while still half naked. The remaining three fighters backed away, not knowing that Wen Yiji had already run out of arrows.

Si Liu Thung was some distance away with another group of men. He had heard his name being called, so he and his men headed towards the source of commotion.

Meanwhile, realizing that there was no water for him to wash his ass, and with his pants around his ankles, Wen Yiji hopped around impudently to look for a leaf large enough to wipe his ass. He did not find any leaf large enough for his usage and so he hopped to the next bush.

Si Liu Thung burst onto the scene with another five of his henchmen. He was shocked to see Xiang Xiang standing there.

“You!” he cried. “How did you escape?”

“That’s none of your business,” replied Xiang Xiang. “Now go away!”

Then Si Liu Thung saw Wen Yiji who was about to pull up his pants after wiping his ass with a large leaf. He stared hard.

“Don’t stare so hard!” admonished Wen Yiji. “I bet that mine is a lot longer than yours, but still, it is rude to stare!”

The fighters gathered around Si Liu Thung who pondered his next step. So far, Wen Yiji had been full of surprises and was proving to be a troublesome opponent. Si Liu Thung decided that his best bet would be to capture Xiang Xiang again and use her to force Wen Yiji into submission.

He ran towards her, and then leapt high using lightness kungfu. From the air he swooped down swiftly on her. But Xiang Xiang saw her danger and she shifted away from her position and brought her pole up to meet the threat. Wen Yiji had just finished tying his pants and he moved in fast to meet the challenge. As Si Liu Thung was about to reach Xiang Xiang, Wen Yiji delivered a powerful palm blast that threw Si Liu Thung off course and caused him to flip over the bush and land on the pile of shit that Wen Yiji had recently excreted.

Wen Yiji then walked over to the two fallen fighters that he had earlier killed with his arrows. He picked up their broadswords and held one in each hand.

Behind the bush, Si Liu Thung was attempting to clean the shit away from his face. “Kill him!” he screamed. “Kill that son of a pig!”

The eight fighters cautiously advanced on Wen Yiji and his sister who retreated slowly before them.

“Xiang Xiang,” said Wen Yiji. Do you remember the strokes that I taught you recently?”

“You mean the strokes of the twin butterfly swords?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“Yes!” he replied. “I will use these two broadswords to demonstrate how the strokes are to be delivered with killing precision. The sword strokes are to be executed with speed and accuracy if you are to overcome your enemy. Observe carefully and watch how I do it.”

“Yes, brother,” she replied.

Wen Yiji suddenly rushed towards his advancing enemies and swirled his broadswords into them.

“Parry, thrust, parry thrust, parry slash, slash, thrust, thrust,” Wen Yiji called out in a rapid whirl of movement. “There, did you see how it was done?”

“I did not see it very well from this angle,” said Xiang Xiang. “Can you do it again?”

“I can’t do that again!” said Wen Yiji indignantly. “There are only two of them left!”

Six men had died in the little demonstration and the two remaining men decided that things had gone badly enough for them. They took to their heels, one running east and the other running west.

“Observe how the blade can be thrown like a spear,” said Wen Yiji. He threw a broadsword to the east.


The broadsword impaled the back of his running target fatally.

“Tell me you saw that!” Wen Yiji said to his sister.

“Er, yes I saw that,” replied Xiang Xiang. “But I did not see it clearly enough.”

“Observe again!’ ordered Wen Yiji.

He threw his other broadsword towards the west this time.


The speeding weapon killed the last remaining fighter.

“I saw that clearly,” said Xiang Xiang. “But I still do not think that I can master the skill!”

Wen Yiji sighed. Training his sister was going to take much longer than anticipated.

“Your problem is psychological,” he commented. “You do not have the will to kill people. This is a psychological threshold that you must overcome. If you put half as much attention to killing as you do to cooking, you can be a decent martial artist. I am sure that if I were to throw ten ducks at you, you will slaughter them within moments. You will do much better if you try to think of people as ducks!”

“How can I think of people as ducks?”

“Easy. Keep repeating to yourself, “People are tall ducks” over and over again.”

“All right. People are tall ducks! People are tall ducks! People are tall ducks!”

Si Liu Thung had just finished cleaning the shit from his face with leaves. He came out from behind some bushes and was shocked to discover that all of his henchmen had died. He wondered why Wen Yiji did not seem to have been slowed down by the Beh Ting Tang paralysis potion.

“Well, hello. I see that you managed to clean yourself up,” Wen Yiji called out to him. “I’m sorry about the shit. When I shitted there, I was not aware that some idiot would come along and fall down on it. Damn! This is embarrassing!”

“Shitting away like an uncouth barbarian,” said Si Liu Thung. “And dirtying me with your shit! You ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself!”

“I am! I am!” said Wen Yiji. “Especially after what happened in Amoy!”

“In Amoy? What happened in Amoy?”

“I threw boiling soup on your face in Amoy!”

“What? That was you?”

“Yes. First I scalded your face. Then I dirtied you with my shit. Oh God….this is just so embarrassing!”

“When I am through with you, you will wish that you have never been born!” Si Liu Thung said furiously.

“You know, you should try to avoid me and not go looking for trouble with me,” said Wen Yiji easily. “Some things are very predictable. For instance, every time you run into me, shit happens.”

“I don’t appreciate your pun. Foolish dog! With your smelly shit! Ni nabeh. Stupid pig head!”

Wa piang…..You have a most disrespectful tone. It must run in your family! Your youngest brother used the same disrespectful tone with me once and I had to slap him silly till his manners improved.”

“You were the carriage driver who slapped him? Kanineh! He lost half a mouthful of teeth from your slaps!”

“Only half? Damn! He was supposed to have lost three quarters of a mouthful! I think I did not slap him hard enough. How could I be that negligent? Oh Heavens.….this is really so embarrassing!”

“Go suck on a goat’s ass!”

“That phrase sounds familiar. I am getting a déjà vu feeling. Hey…..I remember now….. that was what your other brother Si Fatt Guai said to me on the night he died!”

“Huh…..Fatt Guai? How did my elder brother die?”

“Well…..I killed him with arrows. I hope you don’t mind!”

“So, it was you! You! Of course I mind! What do you think?”

“I guess that now would not be a good time to tell you that I intend to kill your father as well some time in the future.”



“I am going to kill you!”

“No, you won’t. From the little that I have seen of your kungfu in Amoy, I think you are not my match.”

“You know nuts about my kungfu.”

“Oh yeah? You use the Celestial Dragon Claw. One must be a virgin to learn this type of martial art. Otherwise he will become sexually impotent. Fingers of steel but with an organ like tofu between his legs. Like you. I heard the story that you ordered a courtesan in the House of Noble Delights, but you could not perform sexually. So, out of frustration, you beat up the poor girl instead until she almost died, you impotent piece of shit! After that incident, the whole town found out how sexually useless you were. Oooops! I shouldn’t embarrass you like that!”

“You think this is a huge joke?” asked the enraged Si Liu Thung. “But I will have the last laugh. He who laughs last, laughs best.”

“Actually, he who laughs last is the last to get the joke.”


“Every time a group of people gather around for a session of drinking and telling jokes, there is always some idiot who need to have the jokes explained to him. Then he laughs…..after every one else has finished laughing. He who laughs last is the last to get joke.”

Si Liu Thung stared at Wen Yiji open mouthed for a long time. Then, snarling angrily, he said, “You will be dead in a short while! Let’s not waste time.”

By an unspoken agreement, Si Liu Thung went through his warming up exercises and Wen Yiji did the same. When they were both ready, they squared off against each other.

Si Liu Thung was the first to attack. He leapt towards Wen Yiji with his fingers of death spread out before him. Wen Yiji avoided his clutches and counter attacked with his Dark Fire Iron Palm. Si Liu Thung parried Wen Yiji’s hands and tried to clutch his forearms. Wen Yiji was cautious. He had already witnessed the bone-shattering capabilities of the Celestial Dragon Claw in Amoy. Delivering a strike against Si Liu Thung entailed a certain risk. Each time Si Liu Thung parried his blows, Wen Yiji had to quickly move his hands away to avoid being clutched by the deadly fingers. Both men fought with their own styles with Si Liu Thung attacking viciously and Wen Yiji fighting cautiously. Wen Yiji refrained from using his palm blast for the moment. There would be a time for that after he had understood Si Liu Thung’s defence technique better. Wen Yiji remembered that one of the Fu Fighters in Amoy had said the only way to fight with the Celestial Dragon Claw was to grip his wrists to prevent him from bringing his fingers into play.

After a particular vicious bout of sparring, Si Liu Thung made an error and extended his foot a little bit too forward and Wen Yiji promptly stomped down hard on it. Si Liu Thung hopped backwards in a flash of pain. He limped a bit as he sneered, “Stomping like a small boy! You can’t even fight like a real man!”

“You have lost,” remarked Wen Yiji. “I see that you are now limping. When your walk is not balanced, then your mind is not balanced.”

“Do not try to psycho me,” said Si Liu Thung. “It will not work.”

However, the little move told Wen Yiji what he needed to know; that he was a shade faster with his legs than Si Liu Thung.

The battle continued with each man attempting to seek an advantage over the other. Si Liu Thung executed a “Dragon Claw snatch grapes” move to clutch Wen Yiji’s balls with an underarm right hand swing, but Wen Yiji caught the wrist with his left hand, thus arresting the movement. Si Liu Thung clawed at empty air.

Sensing an opportunity, Si Liu Thung brought his other hand to grab at Wen Yiji’s offending left hand. However, the other hand was also promptly grabbed at the wrist by Wen Yiji’s right hand.

“You must be quite romantic, holding both my wrists like this,” sneered Si Liu Thung.

“Oooops! Please excuse me! I keep confusing you for a woman! But now that your wrists are immobilized in my grip, your Dragon Claws are practically useless!”

“You must be stupid like a pig. This is the easiest of holds to break free from.”

Flexing his hands, Si Liu Thung twisted his hands outwards and then jerked both his hands upwards. Expecting the move, Wen Yiji chose the same moment to release the wrists while he planted a kick into Si Liu Thung’s groin. Si Liu Thung was concentrating on breaking out of Wen Yiji’s grip that he was not aware of Wen Yiji’s kick until it was too late. He tried to twist his body to avert the kick, but it landed on his groin anyway. He flew backwards several steps from the impact and landed on the ground, clutching his groin in agony.

“Oh dear,” said Wen Yiji. “I must have flattened your balls somewhat with that power kick! I hope you have a pair of spare balls. If not, you will surely become impotent.”

“You….you….” Si Liu Thung gasped in pain.

“Oh I forgot!” said Wen Yiji easily. “You were already impotent! And the whole town knows that! How can I forget that fact so easily? I must be getting old! Damn!”

Si Liu Thung got up from the ground painfully and took up a fighting stance. He glared at Wen Yiji angrily and said, “If you want to fight cleanly, then fight without using your legs!”

“Fighting with legs is part of kungfu! Any idiot knows that,” retorted Wen Yiji. “You want to change the conditions just because you have already lost! Sore loser!”

“I have not lost!” insisted Si Liu Thung. “If you are a real man, then you will not use your leg to kick!”

“All right,” said Wen Yiji. “I will not use the leg to kick!”

Thus, the two of them battled on. Wen Yiji moved swiftly and took the offensive while Si Liu Thung fought defensively. Wen Yiji could feel that Si Liu Thung had been slowed down by the groin injury. Wen Yiji’s strategy was to wear down his injured opponent.

Meanwhile, Si Liu Thung’s strategy was to get a quick kill. With his groin injury, he knew that he would not be able to last very long. All he needed to do was to get his Dragon Claw on any of his opponent’s body part and he would be able to turn the battle to his favour. He shot his steely fingers out at Wen Yiji’s throat. Wen Yiji reacted by ducking down low abruptly as Si Liu Thung’s hardened hand moved past his head with its fingers of death. In that low position, Wen Yiji concentrated his Dark Fire Inner Energy and directed a powerful palm blast to Si Liu Thung’s groin area.


“Ahhhhhhhhhhhh……..” shouted Si Liu Thung as he flew backwards and dropped to the ground. He had been hit in the same area twice and it left him a quivering mass of bone and muscle. He tried standing up. It was agonizing, but he made it to a standing position.

“Can you still fight on?” asked Wen Yiji. “Or do you wish to just go kill yourself instead?”

“Go to hell!” screamed Si Liu Thung. “If you are a real man, then fight without using your palm blast!”

“You cannot demand things from me as you like,” remarked Wen Yiji. “Even a child who asks for something knows that he has to raise his right hand first.”

“I am not a child,” snarled Si Liu Thung. “If you are a real man, then you have to fight without using your palm blast!”

“All right,” said Wen Yiji. “I will not use my palm blast but you will still lose. And the next time you ask me for something, you will have to raise your right hand!”

Wen Yiji moved in for the kill with a combination of punches. Si Liu Thung parried all the punches and just when he was getting tired, he intercepted a punch with his right palm. His fingers curled around Wen Yiji’s fist. Wen Yiji felt his right fist being grabbed by the steely fingers of Si Liu Thung’s Dragon Claw. For a split instant he could feel the beginnings of the dark energy of the Celestial Dragon Claw penetrating into his fist. Ignoring the feeling, Wen Yiji struck the ribs of Si Liu Thung smartly with his left palm. The Dark Fire Iron Palm sent Si Liu Thung flying into the air and the body landed against a tree trunk.


“Urggghhhh…..ahak…..uugggghhhh…..” cried Si Liu Thung. “Ayohhhhhh….. Ayohhhh……”

Wen Yiji flexed the fingers of his right hand. They were all right. He had managed to smash Si Liu Thung away before any damage was done.

“Phew, that was close!” he sighed with relief. “This Celestial Dragon Claw can be dangerous!”

Si Liu Thung stood up with much difficulty. He was coughing blood. He asked, “What kind of kungfu are you using?”

“Because you are about to die, I will tell you,” replied Wen Yiji. “I use the Dark Fire Iron Palm.”

“Impossible….. that martial art does not exist!”

“Believe it or not, that is what I use. You almost got me with your Celestial Dragon Claw! That was careless of me. You will not get another chance. Now to finish the job.”

“Wait! If you want to fight, then fight without using your iron palm!”

“First you wanted me to stop kicking. Then you wanted me to stop using palm blasts. Now you want me to stop using the iron palm. Forget it! I have had enough of you! Get ready to die!”

Si Liu Thung immediately raised his right hand and said, “You said that if I raise my right hand, I can ask you for something. I am asking that you not use your iron palm.”

Wen Yiji breathed hard and then said, “All right. I will not use the iron palm! But I will use weapons instead.”

He then walked over to two dead fighters on the ground and pick up their broadswords. Whirling them about him, he rushed at Si Liu Thung who caught a downward blade stroke with the steely fingers of his right hand. He snapped the blade into two and at that moment, Wen Yiji’s other blade went under his right armpit and sliced off the arm at the shoulder joint. The arm fell to the ground, still clutching the broken blade.

It was time for the killing stroke. Wen Yiji lifted his remaining broadsword.

“Hold it!” shouted Si Liu Thung. “If you want to fight me, then don’t use a broadsword!”

“What?” shouted an incredulous Wen Yiji. “You still don’t want to give up? Didn’t you hear me say that if you want to ask for something, you have to raise your right hand?”

“But my right hand is lying on the ground!” cried Si Liu Thung.

“Excuses……excuses….” muttered Wen Yiji angrily as he sliced his blade towards Si Liu Thung who made a feeble attempt to ward off the attack with his left hand. However, Si Liu Thung’s effort was too slow and Wen Yiji took off the head in one quick movement. The head toppled down unceremoniously to the ground and rolled towards a bush, eyes wide open.

Xiang Xiang walked to where her brother was standing and looked at the carnage. Eleven men lay dead all around her. She took a look at Si Liu Thung’s wide-eyed fallen head bleeding crimson red at the neck cutoff section and she reacted, “Eeeeeeewwww!!!”

“Change your attitude!” snapped her brother. “Killing is a necessary part of life!”

“All right,” she said. “People are tall ducks. People are tall ducks.”

“Good. I will take you to a safe place to hide while I go and deal with Simit,” he said.

“Please be careful,” Xiang Xiang advised. “Simit is a cruel man. When I was a prisoner in his dungeon, I saw another prisoner strung up by chains in another cell. And the chains were hooked into his flesh. He would have booby traps in his mansion. Take care that you do fall into a trap and become his prisoner.”

“Say that again? You saw what?” he asked. ”No, it can’t be…..”

“It’s true!” insisted Xiang Xiang. “I saw this prisoner in a cell suspended in mid-air by chains from the ceiling. I suspect that all his major tendons were pierced by hooks at the end of those chains. I think he was still alive even though I could not detect him moving.”

“That…..that prisoner…..that has to be Gojisan!” blurted Wen Yiji. He remembered what Lord Tai had told him before he died.

“Gojisan?” asked Xiang Xiang. “How can that be Gojisan?”

“I don’t know, but I will find out. In Changchow, I learned that Gojisan was kept a prisoner and suspended in midair by hooks at the end of chains attached to the ceiling. What you have just described fits the description I was given.”

“What do we do now?” she asked.

“Take me to this place where you saw that prisoner!” he said. He looked up at the heavens and his voice had an edge of steel to it. “Today, the enemies of the Wen family will die painfully. Today, all past accounts will be settled!”

Chapter 32: A gathering of foes

In the Si mansion, Agent Simit stood in the main hall looking around at the corpses getting cold on the floor. He had seen enough of death in his time not to be squeamish around a few cold bodies. What really irked him was the sight of blood spilling out and dirtying the floor. He wished he could asked his men to clean the place up, but his son, Si Liu Thung, had taken away the men, just leaving behind two guards to help man the main gate. There was little he could do except wait for the return of his son and the men.

He heard a sound and so he turned around. Into the hall walked Wen Yiji and his sister.

“You!” he cried. “How did you get here?”

“By walking,” answered Yiji. “Your two guards at the gate attacked me with weapons so I was forced to kill them. I hope it was all right with you. Good help is so difficult to find nowadays.”

“I didn’t mean you. I meant the girl! She was supposed to be locked up,” said Simit. “How did she get here?”

“I turned invisible and got past your man in the dungeon,” replied Xiang Xiang. She was carrying a sword which she had picked up from a dead fighter.

“You really have guts, coming here,” remarked Simit. “I see that you have managed to evade my son and his men.”

“Your son?” asked Wen Yiji. “Oh, your son……here..….catch!”

Wen Yiji threw a bloody object to Simit who caught it in his hands. It was the severed human head of Si Liu Thung. The open eyes of his son stared straight at him, blank and unblinking.

Agent Simit dropped the head in horror. Then he collapsed on the floor, shocked out of his wits.

Wen Yiji went up to him and said, “Hey, get up! My business with you isn’t over yet!”

Simit remained motionless. Wen Yiji kicked him in the ribs.


A rib broke. Still, Simit remained where he was. Yiji finally pulled him up and frisked him for weapons. Then he frog marched the older man along, saying, “Now, let’s go and meet Gojisan!”

“Who?” asked Simit blankly.

“You don’t have to pretend,” Yiji said impatiently. “We know where he is.”

Xiang Xiang led the way and she soon located the room that led to the dungeon. They went down the flight of steps and stopped at the dungeon door. The door was still latched from the outside. Xiang Xiang readied her sword, unlatched the door and tried to open it. But it was bolted shut from inside.

“It is shut,” she said. “There is a guard inside. Maybe we should call him to open it.”

Wen Yji whispered to Simit, “Tell your man inside to open the door.”

However, Simit only stared blankly back at him and remained silent.

Xiang Xiang knocked on the door. After she had knocked several times, a voice from inside asked, “Who is it?”

“Hey! It is I, the invisible girl,” she replied. “I have turned visible and now I don’t know where I am!”

The guard, Siao Kau, immediately threw open the door. He saw Xiang Xiang, Yiji and his Master Simit standing outside. Xiang Xiang swiftly put a sword to his neck and forced him to stand aside as the three of them entered the dungeon.

“Don’t give us any trouble or your master Simit dies,” said Wen Yiji. “The life of your master depends on you. Are you going to cooperate?”

Siao Kau nodded nervously.

“Good,” said Wen Yiji. “You have a prisoner here whom you have strung up in chains. Take us to him.”

Siao Kau stood still dumbly, unsure what to do, until Xiang Xiang scraped him on the neck with the sword. That galvanized him into action. He led the way to the cell where Xiang Xiang had earlier saw the prisoner. At the door, he stopped.

“Open the door,” said Wen Yiji.

Grudgingly, Siao Kau took out a key and unlocked the door. It was a heavy wooden door lined with iron inside. He pushed the door open with an effort. All four of them then trooped into the large cell. The door swung back shut after them.

Wen Yiji was shocked. He had experienced some horrifying years in a tough prison, but the sight of the horizontal prisoner being hung up by more than thirty chains was not something he expected. The prisoner was hung at a level higher than the height of a man with his front side facing downwards. The chains ended in large hooks that pierced into the flesh of the prisoner. The hooks had been there for a long time and the flesh had grown around them in a most grotesque manner. The sight was so inhumane that Wen Yiji had not expected to see it outside prison. Xiang Xiang felt like vomiting.

“How long has he been strung up like this?” asked Wen Yiji to Siao Kau.

“Five years,” replied the guard.

“The flesh has grown onto the hooks,” noted Xiang Xiang with a touch of nausea.

“Not very well,” said Siao Kau. “He still bleeds from the wounds at times. You can see the cake of dried blood on the floor under his body.”

“How disgusting,” said Xiang Xiang.

“You are right,” agreed Siao Kau. “I keep telling him not to bleed but he would not listen. So I caned him whenever he bled.”

“If you cane him whenever he bled, he would bleed even more,” noted Xiang Xiang.

“That is true,” said Siao Kau. “I can only hope that he listens.”

“Who is he?” asked Xiang Xiang.

“I don’t know his name,” replied Siao Kau. “But my master calls him ‘stupid old devil’, so that could be his name.”

The prisoner opened his eyes to look down at all of them. He stared impassively at Wen Yiji. Then his eyes fell on Xiang Xiang and his eyes opened a shade larger.

“Red Leaf?” the prisoner asked slowly. “You are alive!”

“I am not Red Leaf, but her daughter,” Xiang Xiang said. “You must be Master Gojisan.”

There was a long pause. Then Gojisan spoke, “Please excuse me, but I was confused. You look just like Red Leaf. I remember now…...her daughters are dead.”

“Not all of them. I survived!”


“I was not in the house on the night of the fire.”

“Ah……the youngest daughter whom we could not find on that night. You must be her. I am glad that you are still alive.”

“You murdered my family!”

“Yes. And I have deeply regretted the fact ever since.”

Gojisan’s response was totally unexpected. Wen Yiji examined the sad figure and remarked wryly, “How touching! It must be so easy to regret the things you did when you are strung up like a piece of unsold meat in a butcher shop.”

“And who might you be?” asked Gojisan to Wen Yiji.

“My name is Wen Yiji, eldest son of Wang Yuan and Lady Red leaf. The one you failed to kill five years ago.”

“The one in Li-Khor prison?”

“The one in Li-Khor prison.”

“But the jailors in the prison said that you had died!”

“They lied to you.”

“Impossible! No one can survive the Humpalang Si Khiaw Khiaw poison. The victim of such a poison will die within two months.”

“Your poison almost took away my life. But Fate smiled upon me and I made it through. The day of reckoning has arrived.”

There was a long silence. Then Gojisan spoke, “The will of Heaven. Such is the will of Heaven! I suppose you have come here to avenge the deaths in your family.”

“Need you ask? Is it not my duty as a son to avenge the death of my parents?”

“Very well then. Too long have I lived with a scar that will not heal. You want my life? Take it!”

“There is plenty of time for that. I need to know why you travelled all the way to the Imperial City to try to wipe out my family.”

“How did you know about this matter? Only two other people knew that I wanted to kill your family. They are the dog Simit and his sister-in-law called the Borrowing Hag. I was told that the Borrowing Hag is dead. Did you kill her?”

“She was burned alive accidentally. But before she died, she told us about your involvement in my family’s destruction.”

“Then she would have told you that your father, Wang Yuan, killed off my bloodline.”

“A man like you does not deserve to have a bloodline. Perhaps you would like to explain to my sister and I why you had to kill off my family.”

Gojisan looked at both Xiang Xiang and Wen Yiji. His eyes closed for a few moments. Then he opened them.

”Yes, I need to get some things off my chest before I die,” said Gojisan. “A long time ago, I had a very good friend called Lonesome Sword. We were very close and often fought side by side in battles together. Fate seemed to smile upon us as we would always emerge from every assassination job unscathed despite the most difficult odds. One day, we undertook an operation to wipe out an entire kungfu clan. It turned out to be much more difficult than we originally thought. During the battle, I found myself fighting against a very skilled kungfu master and I got injured. Lonesome Sword came to my rescue but in the process, he was wounded fatally. With his dying breath, he asked me to take care of his daughter after his death. I gave him an oath that I would. He then grabbed hold of the kungfu master and would not let go in order that I could escape. I owed him my life. He was my good friend till the very end.”

“What has this to do with my family?” asked Wen Yiji.

“Lonesome Sword was a widower and his daughter was only three years old at that time. I took her to my home and raised her up as if she was my own daughter. She was your mother, Lady Red Leaf. I loved her as I would love my own flesh and blood.”

“That did not prevent you from seeking to kill her.”

“When she was older, she became a very proficient killer, and I planned to have her marry my eldest son. One day I accepted a job to kill Patriarch Wang, a man who was proving very difficult to kill. At that time, one of his younger sons was getting married and we surreptitiously hijacked the bride from the bridal procession. Red Leaf went in her place and no one was any wiser because she was wearing the bridal veil. The plan was for her to disable the booby traps in the Wang mansion at night so that the rest of our assassins could get in safely. However, that day, she got knocked out by the bridal wine that she had to drink during the ceremony. When my eldest son and his men tried to steal into the mansion later, many of them were shot dead by the bridegroom, Wang Yuan. That night, my eldest son did not return. Wang Yuan had taken him away from me with an arrow. I had expected Red Leaf to kill Wang Yuan, but she betrayed me by staying with Wang Yuan as his wife. My mind was set on revenge.”

“You cannot blame my mother for what she did. Once she bowed to heaven with my father, drank the bridal wine and consummated the marriage, she was already a member of the Wang family. The laws of Heaven are clear. It was your decision to send her in the hijacked bride’s place. For that, you have to bear the consequences of your decision. He who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves.”

“I was mourning for my eldest son and did not see it that way at that time. When Wang Yuan and Red Leaf were subsequently banished from the Wang household, my younger son tracked them down. Wang Yuan killed him also with an arrow. Thus, I lost both my sons and my bloodline. Wang Yuan must be the dark star of my family, like a stubborn nemesis. When the men came back and told me that my second son would not be returning, I went berserk. I swore vengeance on both Wang Yuan and Red Leaf. For years, I was consumed with hate, and I vowed that I would end Wang Yuan’s bloodline because he ended mine. And I swore that I would kill Red Leaf as well because she betrayed me. Despite my best efforts, I could not track down the couple. They seem to have vanished from the face of the earth.”

Gojisan paused and closed his eyes as if trying to remember some details. Then he opened his eyes again and continued.

“Six years ago, my nephew discovered Wang Yuan and Red Leaf in the Imperial City. He sent me a note that he would be making an attack on them. After that I had no more news from my nephew. I think they probably died. Truly, Wang Yuan was my dark star.”

“No,” said Wen Yiji. “Actually, I am your dark star.”

“You? Why you?”

“Your sons started dying only after I was conceived in my mother’s womb. Which was on my father's wedding night.”

“I had not thought of it from that angle.”

“And if you must know, it was I who killed your nephew. A group of seven men sneaked into my house one night six years ago. In the dark, I shot them all dead with my arrows. I thought that they were robbers and did not know that they were from the Fire Mountain Sect at that time. I am your dark star.”

“Heaven’s will. This must be Heaven’s will.”

“The Borrowing Hag said that she drugged my family and then you got into my home to kill them all. Even the servants were not spared. You are indeed cruel.”

“No. I did not kill all of them. I only killed your parents and your brothers. The Borrowing Hag had already drugged them to deep sleep so they felt no pain. It was that rabid dog Simit who killed your sisters and servants. I told him to leave the killing to me but he volunteered to do it. He is the scum of the buffalo dung.”

Wen Yiji turned towards Simit who cringed.

Xiang Xiang asked Gojisan, “Why do you think that Simit is scum when you are no better than him?”

“I am a professional who kills for a purpose,” answered Gojisan. “Simit kills for pure enjoyment. That is where we are different.”

“You are both the same,” said Wen Yiji. “You were in this together. If you make love to a pig, both of you get dirty. The only difference is that the pig likes it."

There was another silence.

Then Wen Yiji asked, “While my parents were drugged, how did you kill them, Gojisan?”

“I used an iron palm blow to the head,” answered Gojisan. “They felt no pain.”

In a way, Wen Yiji felt relieved to hear that his parents had not died painfully.

Gojisan tilted his head to look at Xiang Xiang again. He said, “You look so much like your mother. She was a beautiful young girl once. But beneath her beautiful exterior was an assassin so skillful that at the age of sixteen, she was already among my top assassins. I am glad to see that you are alive.”

“How can you be glad to see me alive?” asked Xiang Xiang drily. “You wanted to kill me. When my family died, I wanted to end my own life. I was a ten year old girl wandering the streets of town, all alone, starving and miserable. Have you any idea of the sorrow I went through each time I swept the graves of my family members? Do not seek to tell me that you are now repentant.”

“It is difficult not to be,” said Gojisan. “Several days after I killed your family, the figure of your maternal grandfather, Lonesome Sword, kept appearing in my dreams. He reminded me of the oath that I had made to him……that I had promised to take care of his daughter, Red Leaf. The first time I had the dream, I woke up in cold sweat. I had broken my oath to the man who gave his life to save mine. He appeared in my dreams night after night, so much so that I was afraid to go to sleep. Finally, I left the Imperial Capital and came back to Tsinkiang. But the dreams followed me. Lonesome Sword would not leave me in peace. At that time, I wondered when Heaven would punish me for breaking my oath. I did not have long to wait. Once in Tsinkiang, Simit drugged me with the Beh Ting Tang paralysis potion, then he disabled my tendons with hooks and locked me up here in order to force me to pass my kungfu to his sons.”

“So, you are the sifu of Si Fatt Guai and Si Liu Thung?”

“Yes,” admitted Gojisan.

At that moment, Simit broke out of his stupor and shouted at Wen Yiji, “Your fight was with Gojisan! He was your enemy! Why did you kill my sons?”

“Self-defense,” remarked Wen Yiji. “As fate would have it, Si Fatt Guai attacked me in a desolate restaurant one evening. I had to kill him. Your second son attacked me today, so I killed him too. As for the third son, that was an assassination; I was paid to kill off that lousy piece of shit. It’s a long story. Perhaps it is too late to say so, but your three sons had atrocious behaviour. You should have given them a proper education so that they would know the error of their ways. When the sons err, it is the father who is at fault. You should have taught them to respect people because people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

Simit had the look of stunned astonishment on his face as if he just realized that he had forgotten to pay the firewood bill.

“You killed all of Simit’s sons?” asked Gojisan with a slight smile. “Hahahahahahahaha!”

“You seemed pleased,” noted Wen Yiji. “Soon, it will be your turn to die.”

“I am pleased. Your kungfu skills must be really powerful to defeat Si Fatt Guai. I wish I could have seen the battle. They say that the Five Fairies Iron Palm is difficult to beat. But I have never seen it in action. Nor have I practised it.”

“How can you not have practised it when it was you who taught Si Fatt Guai that martial art?”

“It is true. I have never practised the Five Fairies Iron Palm. But I know the method because I have the manual in my possession and I memorized it. It is not a safe martial art. I only taught Si Fatt Guai the method knowing that he would turn into a gay once he mastered it. He would then not produce any grandsons for Simit.”

“You cunning bastard. This is the first time I have heard of a sifu teaching a disciple something that he does not know himself. It is like a mother hen teaching her chicks how to waddle like a duck.”

“A lot of sifus are like that. They use disciples for experimentation. That is how sifus learn.”

“I suppose you do not know the Celestial Dragon Claw as well.”

Oh….on the contrary, I do. Unlike Si Liu Thung, I learned it safely when I was still a young virgin boy. It uses the Dark Energy, and therefore, one needs to exercise great caution.”

“Is the Dark Energy as evil as people say it is?”

“Nothing is inherently good or evil. All forces of nature have their uses. Yin and yang are both part of the Great Taiji. Heaven smiles of one who learns to approach both appropriately. Only a fool would make sweeping comments of what he cannot comprehend,” replied Gojisan. “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not; he is a fool, shun him.”

“You are quick to condemn others as fools. Yet it is the fool who is free while you are chained up here for years. You are neither dead, nor are you alive. In fact, you are the biggest fool. If you want to know how big a fool you truly are, I will be most willing to tell you,” said Wen Yiji. “He who knows not, and knows that he knows not; he is a child, teach him.”

“You have a calm arrogant air about you. You will make a great career assassin.”

“I am not a career assassin. I kill only when I have to. I do not enjoy killing people.”

“Maybe you do, but you just don’t know it yet!” commented Gojisan. “He who knows, and knows not that he knows; he is asleep, wake him.”

“I am smart enough to know that a lifetime of killing can only end with the accumulation of bad karma and cosmic debts. Those who make a career out of killing others may one day be on the receiving end of a sword. I am no fool,” remarked Wen Yiji. “He who knows, and knows that he knows; he is wise, follow him.”

Gojisan sighed, “I am sorry that I killed your family. I was filled with hatred for your father for ending my bloodline that I forgot my sacred oath to my good friend Lonesome Sword. As it turned out, Heaven has punished me severely. Look at me! Even in my worst nightmare, I could not have foreseen that the chief of the Fire Mountain Sect would meet with such a terrible fate. I am an unworthy chief.”

“I have news for you,” said Wen Yiji. “There is no more Fire Mountain Sect. You are the last surviving member.”

“What? How is that possible?”

“After you disappeared from the sect five years ago, there were about twenty assassins left. After four years when you still had not returned, the members had to choose a new chief. There was some severe infighting in the process that soon, everyone was dead except for the Whizz Twins.”

“Ah yes…the Whizz Twins. Good men. Fast and effective.”

“The two of them became robbers and tried to rob me and my sister on a boat. It was their gravest mistake. I sent them to meet the King of Hell. And that was the end of the Fire Mountain Sect. Before they died, they told me the sad story of what happened to their sect of assassins.”

“You killed the Whizz Twins?”

“Yes……Whirlwind and Blizzard. I dumped their bodies in the river. The fishes had an orientation party for them on that day.”

Gojisan closed his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them and said, “You have killed just about everybody. Are you going to kill the lowly dog Simit?”

“Of course,” replied Wen Yiji. “He killed my sisters. I will avenge them. His death will be painful.”

“Do me a favour,” asked Gojisan. “Please kill him first before you kill me. I want to watch him die.”

Simit backed away warily to the wall.

“Why should I give you this pleasure?” asked Wen Yiji. “Simit did me a favour. He strung you up in this torturous fashion for five years. Even I could not have thought of this method to torture you. No, I will reward him instead!”

“You are rewarding Simit?” asked Xiang Xiang in surprise.

“Of course!” her brother answered. “I’ll allow him to die after Gojisan.”

“Do not underestimate Simit,” warned Gojisan. “That was my mistake.”

“Don’t worry,” said Wen Yiji. “I am in control of the situation.”

A noise at the door alerted Wen Yiji that all was not right. Instinctively, he leapt towards the door and tried to open it. He could not. He knew that Siao Kao did not lock the door back with the key. The door was bolted shut by some hitherto unknown mechanism.

Sensing danger, he gathered his energy to hit the door open with his Dark Fire Iron Palm, and then he heard sounds coming from the ceiling. He looked up. Spears had suddenly protruded out from the ceiling. They were set very close together, too close for comfort.

Instinctively, he knew that the ceiling was just about to drop downwards and impale them all with the spears. They were set so close together that even a very thin person would still get impaled.

Quick as a flash, he delivered a palm blast upwards. The spears shook, but they still remained steadfastly moored to the ceiling. Wen Yiji leapt upwards to the ceiling just as it was starting to drop. Using as much strength as he could muster, he wrenched off two spears at one go from their moorings. Then he grabbed another two more spears and wrenched them off even as he was falling downwards with the dropping ceiling.

“Lie down fast, Xiang Xiang!” he shouted.

The ceiling dropped downwards as one huge single slab, spiked with spears to skewer anything in their path.

Xiang Xiang hit the floor flat, rolled over to face the ceiling and prayed hard. The wall of pointy spears rushed downwards and just when she thought she would die, they stopped miraculously. Wen Yiji had held up the ceiling with his hands, standing in the position where he had cleared away four spears earlier. The surrounding spears skewered the air around him as he used his Dark Fire Inner Energy to keep the ceiling from falling further. He looked downwards. The spear tips were nearly touching the ground.

The nervous Siao Kau while looking for a safe place to hide, had dived under the body of Gojisan. Momentarily, that saved his life.

Gojisan’s body was hung by chains from the ceiling. When the ceiling dropped, he dropped as well. Unfortunately, he dropped on top of the body of Siao Kau and the spears skewered him in seven places. The spears penetrated through downwards to the other side of his body and just poked Siao Kau underneath.

“Xiang Xiang!” Wen Yiji shouted. “Answer me, Xiang Xiang!”

Lying flat and looking upwards, Xiang Xiang breathed out as she realized that she was still alive. The spears above her were almost touching her.

“Xiang Xiang! Xiang Xiang!” shouted Wen Yiji again. “Answer me!”

“I am alright, Brother Yiji,” she answered. “The ceiling has stopped dropping. Praises be to the Buddha. It’s a miracle!”

“It’s no miracle,” said her brother. “And the Buddha has nothing to do with it. It is I who is holding up the damn ceiling! Heavy like hell! I don’t think I can hold it up for very much longer. Look for a safe place. Tell me what you see.”

She cast her eyes towards her chest and muttered, “Damn, if my tits were any bigger, they would definitely have been punctured already.”

“What did you say?” asked her brother.

“Er…nothing” she answered.

“I can’t see you,” said her brother. “Tell me what you see.”

Xiang Xiang turned her head carefully and looked all round. She had a clear view under the spears.

“I can see your feet,” she said. “Siao Kau is lying on the ground still alive. He is cowering under the body of Gojisan. Somehow, Gojisan’s body must have landed on him. I think Gojisan could be dead. He appears to be skewered by many spears. I don’t see Simit. Wait I can see his feet standing by the wall.”

“Forget about other people!” grunted Wen Yiji. “Look for a safe place where you can stand up. As long as you can stand up in between the spears, you will be safe from being skewered by them. I can’t see much from where I am standing. It’s like a forest of spears blocking my range of vision. Wait…..did you say that Simit is standing up?”

“Yes,” said Xiang Xiang. “I think he is in a safe position.”

“Hahahahahaha!” the voice of Agent Simit floated out to them. “How do you like my booby trap so far? I am standing in the only safe place designed for the room. While you were busy talking nonsense with Gojisan, I triggered the booby trap from here!”

“I underestimated you!” said Wen Yiji.

“You were lucky to create a safe position for yourself by breaking off some spears,” said Simit. “I had not anticipated that move. But you will not be able to hold up the ceiling forever. Sooner or later, you will have to let the ceiling drop and then the spears will skewer your sister like a piece of meat from the market. Hahahahahaha!”

“I will kill you!” swore Wen Yiji.

“Very soon, your legs will turn to tofu and they will collapse from fatigue. That is when your sister will die. I shall enjoy watching it happen,” gloated Simit. “Hey girl! Why don’t you slither your way over here to me. I will save you. Come! Come on! Over here!”

“Forget it!” said Xiang Xiang. “You wish to kill me the same way that you killed my sisters. And I won’t be able to fight back from this vulnerable position.”

“Since you are going to die anyway, you may as well give me this pleasure,” grinned Simit. “Don’t be so selfish!”

“Come……over……..girl…..” the voice of Gojisan spoke.

“What was that?” asked Wen Yiji. “I thought I heard something.”

“It is Gojisan,” replied Xiang Xiang. “He is not yet dead. He wants me to go to him.”

“He wants to kill you too,” said Simit. “Even near death’s door, that obstinate old devil still wants to kill off your family. Na beh…..”

“Xiang Xiang, see if you can wrench off some of the spears with your hands,” said Wen Yiji. “You do not have a big frame, so I think you will be able to get up to a sitting position if you can break off at least four spears. Once you are able to sit up, you will be able to get to a standing position without difficulty. But hurry!”

“I have already tried to move the spears,” shouted back Xiang Xiang. “But they are very securely attached to the ceiling. I can’t move them!”

“Hahahahahha!” laughed Agent Simit. “Of course you can’t move them! They were designed by me and I am a genius at booby traps! Hahahahahah!”

“What about your position, Brother Yiji?” asked Xiang Xiang. “Do you think that I can slither over to you?”

“I only managed to clear away four spears,” said Wen Yiji. “The space is not sufficient for both of us. I can feel my knees getting weaker. If you try to squeeze in here, I will most likely drop the ceiling and then the spears will impale you. Look for another solution. There has got to be something! Hurry!”

Xiang Xiang looked all round again. There did not appear to be any solution.

“Hey girl, come over here!” taunted Simit. From a hidden recess in the wall, he produced a long broadsword. “Come here girl! I want you to take a message to the King of Hell! Tell him to get ready because your brother will also be joining you!”

“Damn!” muttered Xiang Xiang. “Stay here means die. Go over to Brother Yiji’s position also die. Go to Simit’s position also die! Everywhere also die!”

“Come……….girl…….” Gojisan’s voice mumbled.

“If I am going to die, I may as well let the old man kill me,” she mumbled to herself. “After all, he did take care of my mother when she was young.”

Propelling herself along the ground with her hands and legs, she slithered over to the dying Gojisan and said, “All right….I am here.”

“Remove…..hook….. from…..hand,” the wavering voice whispered.

Although Gojisan was atop Siao Kau, his right hand had dropped to the floor. She reached out with her left hand and wrenched the hook out of his flesh at his wrist. Blood spurted out.

“Hold……my…..hand……” he said.

She held his hand with her left hand and thought, “Ah……the old man only wants me to hold his hand while he dies!”

“Are……you…….a…….virgin?” he asked.

Xiang Xiang was shocked at the question.

“Damn!” she thought to herself. “So the old man was thinking about sex! Dying also want to humsap me!”

Aloud she said, “Yes. Not that it will do you any good!”

“Ah……one…...gate……is…….opened….” mumbled Gojisan as he moved his fingers.

His hand felt cold. Then it grew warmer. Suddenly, a wave of heat passed from Gojisan’s hand to Xiang Xiang’s hand. The heat spread into Xiang Xiang’s body and she screamed, “Aeeeiiiiiyeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhh!”

“Xiang Xiang! Xiang Xiang!” shouted Wen Yiji. “What is happening?”

But Xiang Xiang kept screaming. Wen Yiji could only stay in his position, still holding up the ceiling and feeling helpless.

The screaming stopped suddenly.

Gojisan’s hand fell away. With his dying words, he mumbled, “Have…….passed……you………remaining…….inner energy……..Celestial Dragon Claw…….not much left……enough…..for……one……hand.”

Xiang Xiang was too shocked over what had just happened. She could only mutter, “Thank you.”

Gojisan spoke again, “Sorry…..about…..your……family……forgive me….”

“Xiang Xiang! Xiang Xiang!” the voice of her brother kept calling to her. “Talk to me!”

“I am all right!” she responded.

“What happened?” he asked.

“I think Gojisan just died,” she answered. “He asked me if I was a virgin. Then he passed me his remaining inner energy of the Celestial Dragon Claw. Enough for one hand, he said.”

Wen Yiji thought fast. He spoke, “Try to wrench off the spears above you with your hand. Hurry! My legs are giving way!”

Xiang Xiang brought up her right hand to the spear right above her face and tried to move it. The spear remained steadfast. “I still can’t move it!” she cried.

“Hahahahahaha!” the mocking laughter of Simit sounded across the room. “The old devil bluffed you even while he was dying! Hahahahahahah!”

Wen Yiji was getting desperate. “Try with your other hand!” he shouted to her.

Xiang Xiang brought up her left hand to the spear above her. She grabbed the wooden shaft just behind the metal spearhead and twisted.


The spear was twisted clear off its mooring.

“It worked!” she shouted excitedly. “The left hand worked!”

“Hurry……can’t……bear……..much…..longer…..” grunted Wen Yiji.

Swiftly, she worked and when she had twisted off four spears, she pushed herself up into a sitting position. Her legs were still under the spears and in danger of getting impaled. As she was getting up into a standing position, Wen Yiji’s knees gave way and he collapsed due to fatigue. The ceiling dropped down and the spears hit the ground.

A loud scream filled the air.

“Xiang Xiang! Xiang Xiang!” cried Wen Yiji. “Oh Heavens…..what have I done…. what have I done!”

The screaming tailed off and stopped.

“That wasn’t me screaming, Brother Yiji,” Xiang Xiang’s voice called out. “That was Siao Kau. The spears went through Gojisan’s body and skewered him. Poor fellow. He’s dead now.”

“Oh…..” noted her brother with relief. “So, only you, I and Simit are alive in this room. When I have recovered my energy, I will go over to where he is and kill him! I don’t have a line of sight through the spears. Can you see him?”

“I can see him only partially,” said Xiang Xiang. “Not that I wish to see him. He is ugly….like an old wrinkled shaven monkey.”

“You two have the most unusual luck,” said Simit from across the room. “When I built this booby trap, do you think that I would be so stupid as to forget to leave a safe escape route for myself? Do you think that I won’t have a backup plan? Do not think that you have won. You two will still not leave this room alive!”

Chapter 33: Conclusion

Wen Yiji was on the floor grabbing onto the surrounding spears for support. His legs were trembling uncontrollably from the extreme exertion. The realization hit him that the Dark Energy distributed greater strength to his hands and upper body than to his legs. He felt fatigued and was unable to stand up. All around him were spears and he could neither see his sister nor Simit. A little thought nagged at him that Agent Simit would not have planned a safe position by the wall for no logical reason.

“Another exit!” he swore. “There has to be another exit there……hidden from view!”

Xiang Xiang called out, “Brother Yiji, I think I can break off the spears one by one and try to create a path to the door. Maybe I can get it to open.”

“Wait,” replied her brother. “Do you see Simit?”

“Only partially. I have a line of sight through the spears to him. But it is not perfect. I can only see a bit of him.”

“Is he standing still or moving?”

“He is moving. I think he is looking for something in the wall.”

“He must have a secret exit there in the wall. If he can think of this booby trap, he must have thought of a backdoor as well. Even though he has a stupid face, I do not think that he is that stupid as to allow himself to be trapped.”

“How very perceptive of you, Master Wen,” Simit smirked from across the room. “It is true that I had not expected the both of you to be still standing. But that is only a minor disappointment. The heavy ceiling is supported by those spears. If you break off the spears, the ceiling might just collapse on you. Har! Har! Har! Urrrggnnnhhh!”

“You are indeed devious,” noted Wen Yiji. “But I bet laughing must be painful for you. Really painful. I remember that I broke at least one of your ribs this morning. You should try not to laugh.”

“I will laugh as much as I want! I had this room specially prepared in anticipation that perhaps one day, a team of Fire Mountain Sect high hands would mount a rescue attempt for Gojisan,” said Simit. “This room had been specially constructed and reinforced to hold even the most powerful kungfu masters. Once the booby trap has been sprung, the main door of the room will be sealed shut like a steel trap. Only one person in the world knows how to get out of here and that is me! I’ll be out of here before you can say “Chek Loh Bing Sun”. Har! Har! Har! Urrrggnnnhhh!”

“Who in hell is Chek Loh Bing Sun?” asked Wen Yiji. “Your gay lover? Actually, if you wanted a gay lover, your son Si Fatt Guai would fit the bill nicely. Oh sorry….I forgot….I already killed him! You wanna know what he said before he died?”

“Shut up!” snapped Simit. “Okay…..what did he say before he died?”

Wen Yiji answered him, “He said that he didn’t think that you were a fantastic lover because you were all mouth and no action.”

“Wha…wha….what?” screamed the enraged Simit. “You think you are very funny? But he who laughs last, laughs best!”

“Hey, that was what your second son said!” remarked Wen Yiji. “You want to know what he said about you before he died?”

“No!” yelled Simit. “Just shut up! Once I am gone, there will be a nasty surprise for you! Goodbye.”

Simit pushed the wall in a number of places and in a particular sequence. Part of the wall swung away backwards to reveal a small tunnel set at table height from the floor level.

“Xiang Xiang,” called Wen Yiji. “I heard something. Can you see what is happening?”

“I think so,” replied Xiang Xiang. “Simit has opened up some sort of opening in the wall. Looks like an exit tunnel.”

“Can you get to him to stop him from escaping?”

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “It will take time to remove the spears one by one to create a path to him. He would have escaped and sealed back the exit by then.”

“Damn!” said her brother. “He should not be allowed to get away cleanly! He murdered our sisters in their beds!”

Xiang Xiang’s eyes fell on a spear which she had broken off earlier. She picked it up from the floor and waited.

Simit placed his hands on the ledge of the tunnel and prepared to climb into the opening. The pain from his broken rib would make crawling through the tunnel very painful, but it would not stop him. Momentarily, part of his body crossed Xiang Xiang’s line of vision.

She threw the spear.

Xiang Xiang was surprised by the strength of her throw. She felt the immense power of the Inner Energy of the Celestial Dragon Claw and was awed by it. The weapon sped across the room and landed in its target.


Aiiiiiiiyaaaaahhhhhh!” screamed Simit.

“Xiang Xiang!” shouted Wen Yiji. “What happened?”

“I threw a spear at him,” answered Xiang Xiang.

“Oh…….good! Did you kill him?”


“But you couldn’t have missed. I heard him scream!”

That’s because I speared him!”


“In the right butt cheek.”

“What? You speared where?”

“In the right butt cheek! The right half of his body came into view and I threw the spear. It somehow lodged itself in the right butt cheek and poked out to the front. He is on the ground, but not dead.”

“Quick! Get another spear and get a better line of sight. Aim for the torso, not the butt!”

Xiang Xiang attempted to shift to a new position by removing a vertical spear jutting from the ceiling that was blocking her. She grabbed hold of it and twisted. It took some effort, but it finally broke away from the ceiling.

Agent Simit pulled himself to a standing position and yelled, “Siao char boh! Simply spear my backside for what…….chao chee bai!”

He got up from the floor with agony. The spear had gone in deep and the spear tip had protruded out to the front of his thigh. He tried to pull out the spear from his butt cheek but the effort almost caused him to faint. He looked at the tunnel. It was not built to be used by a man with a spear sticking through him. He would not be able to crawl normally, but perhaps he could use his hands and drag his body along until the passage was large enough for him to hop along. It would be agonizingly difficult. Agonizingly difficult, but not impossible.

Then he farted.

Ayohhh! Ayohhh! Ayohhh!” he cried.

He wished he hadn’t farted. The fart vibrations shook the spear in the butt cheek, sending out sharp pain tremors. It was such a pain to fart that he wished he hadn’t eaten beans and sweet potatoes for breakfast that morning. That always gave him gas.

“When I get into the tunnel, I’ll close this exit and seal the room for good,” he swore to himself. “Once the exit is closed, it will not be possible for them to open it from inside. Then I will flood the room with water and drown them!”

At that moment, Xiang Xiang threw another spear.

Aaaaiiiyiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” screamed Simit.

“Xiang Xiang,” yelled Wen Yiji. “What just happened?”

“I threw another spear,” replied his sister.

“Where did it land this time?”

“Er……in the left butt cheek.”

“What? You should aim for the torso,” said her brother. “Why are you always aiming for the butt?”

Xiang Xiang blushed with embarrassment.

Simit screamed curses, “Chao char bor! Spearing my backside again! Bo tua bo suay!”

The second spear, which had even greater power than the first spear, had skewered him from behind. The spear tip protruded out to the front by more than the length of a foot. All movement was painful.

He farted again and that rattled his body.

Ayohhh! Ayohhh! Ayohhh! Ayohhh! Ayohhh! Ayohhh!

With two spears in him, the pain tremors doubled. He had fallen on his side and he could not get up. Because of the spears in him, he could not lie on his back nor on his front. He could not move his legs and he was fast losing what little strength he had.

At that moment, he knew that the end had come. Escape was no more possible and he knew that Wen Yiji would not spare his life. If he was going to die, then he would make sure that his enemies died with him.

Xiang Xiang broke off yet another spear that was in her way and shifted her position again. Now her line of sight through the row of spears was improved. She held up her spear to make another throw. Simit turned around and stared at her. She hesitated.

Wen Yiji shouted, “Xiang Xiang, I think the reason why you keep spearing his backside instead of his torso is because you subconsciously are unable to kill. You have never been a killer and I don’t think that you ever will be one. But if you are to avenge the death of your sisters, then you will have to deliver a killing throw.”

“Perhaps you are right, Brother Yiji,” she replied. “I am more suited to being a cook than an assassin. I’m sorry.”

“Oh..…that’s alright. Just keep puncturing his ass,” he told his sister. “Soon, I will recover my strength and then I shall go over and kill him. Tell me what he is doing.”

“He is struggling to pull himself up by his hands,” she answered. “But he is losing a lot of blood and his lower body is already useless. He is definitely not able to make it into the exit. But it looks like he is trying to feel for something in the tunnel.”

“You of surname Wang! Lin peh ka li kong!” Simit gasped. “Even if I not able to get out good, you also die here with me here! Kanineh….you think you can beat me? In next life, maybe. Today, the King of Hell waiting you! You think you are who? Nao hiah! Only know to poke backside!”

Xiang Xiang replied him, “I don’t know which is worse; your ugly face or your bad grammar. The only thing amusing about you is the way you say “Ayohhh!” each time you fart.”

“Hey Simit!” shouted Wen Yiji. “The townspeople told me a very strange story. It seems that when you were born, you were so ugly that your father lost his cool and had a team of archers go out and killed all the monkeys in the trees around your house.”

“I don’t get it,” said Simit.

“Neither did your father,” said Wen Yiji sympathetically. “If he had looked properly, he would have discovered the old male goat hiding in your mother’s closet!”

Agent Simit’s jaw dropped. When he finally understood what the words implied, he screamed a string of curses as he reached out for a secret control lever just inside the tunnel.

With immediate alarm, Xiang Xiang sensed his intention to close off the exit and seal the room with them inside. She shouted, “People are tall ducks!” and threw the third spear forcefully. Simit pulled the lever and the stone door swung back to close off the exit tunnel.

Xiang Xiang’s spear plunged into the back of Simit’s neck and the powerful momentum rocked the head into the tunnel. The edge of the closing stone door slammed onto the head.

Arrrrrrgggghhhh……gggrrrrggg…..” Simit gurgled as his head was crushed by the door. The spear in his throat prevented him from sounding off a full scream.

“Die, you filthy piece of shit!” mouthed Xiang Xiang. “Your miserable life is not worth as much as my sisters’ lives, but I will take it anyway! And my surname is Wen, not Wang, you stupid muthafucka!”

The room fell quiet.

“What happened, Xiang Xiang?” asked Wen Yiji. “Tell me what’s happening?”

“I think I killed Simit.”

“Are you sure you did not spear him in the asshole or something like that?”

“No, no, I got him in the neck this time. He tried to close the tunnel door but his head blocked the door from closing. It’s wedged there like a doorstop.”

“Oh,” said Wen Yiji. “Oh.”

The significance of the event took some moments to penetrate his mind. Everyone connected to the deaths in his family was now dead; the Borrowing Hag, the Fire Mountain Sect, Gojisan, and finally Agent Simit. All accounts had been settled. He uttered a silent prayer of thanks to the Heavens.

Xiang Xiang’s voice shook him out of his reverie, “What do we do now, Brother Yiji?”

“I think we should try to get out of here from here through the tunnel,” he answered. “I have not yet recovered the strength in my legs. You will have to help me here.”

Carefully, Xiang Xiang broke off spear by spear to create a path to her brother. Holding on to the surrounding spears, he pulled himself to an upright position. He could hardly walk, but by using the surrounding spears for support, he could take small steps. She went back to her former position followed by Yiji, and then slowly, she broke off spear by spear until she had created a path to the body of Simit at the tunnel opening.

“Thank goodness his head is good for something,” noted Wen Yiji when he saw Simit’s dead body. “It never occurred to me before that a head can be used as a doorstop.”

“I have just killed a man,” she said, feeling sick to her stomach.

“You have taken revenge for our sisters,” said her brother. “I will tell them how you delivered justice on their behalf the next time I visit their graves.”

Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang forced back the tunnel door and then crawled through it. The tunnel ended in a secret chamber under the library of the mansion. Xiang Xiang pushed up a stone slab from the floor of the library and they crawled out of the tunnel.

Wen Yiji looked at Simit’s collection of library books and noted, “This guy has a good collection of porn.”

“Let’s go, Brother Yiji,” said Xiang Xiang. “Are your legs all right for walking?”

“I can walk weakly,” he replied. “But first, I want to set fire to this place and raze it to the ground. The same as what the bastard did to our family house!”

He gathered the books in a pile and set them on fire. Then he piled the furniture on top of the fire. After that, they left the mansion quietly.

Xiang Xiang flexed her hands as she walked and commented, “My left hand appear to be stronger than my right hand now.”

“How did Gojisan give you the Celestial Dragon Claw energy?”

“I don’t know. I remember holding onto his hand with my left hand.”

“So, your left hand was the point of entry. The Celestial Dragon Claw energy resides in the fingers. If, as Gojisan said, he had only enough for one hand, then it would reside in the left fingers and radiate out from there. Your whole body should gain in strength overall as the energy will circulate. Even your legs will be stronger. But the fingers of your left hand are the seat of your power and will now be stronger than the rest of your other body parts. They will have a grip of steel, so be careful how you use them.”

“Does that mean that I will become a lefthander from now on?”

“Of course not! You don’t always do things with the stronger limb. If that were so, most people would be eating with their legs rather than with their hands. Your right hand is probably still more precise than your left hand even if the left hand is more powerful.”

“Do I still continue training in the use of the butterfly swords?”

“Yes. Use your right hand when you need precision and your left hand when you need power. The yin is balanced by the yang. But don’t ever let other people suspect that you have the Celestial Dragon Claw energy. When your enemies do not know what you can do, it will be more difficult to break through your defenses.”

“Yes, Brother Yiji. I am glad that this is finally over.”

“Almost over. There is one last thing to do; I will have to go to the Imperial City and bring back the bones of our family so that they will have a final resting place here.”

“Where shall we bury them?”

“I don’t know yet,” her brother replied. “I may have to first buy some suitable land for their burial. Somewhere with good fengshui. So that our descendents will have a good prosperity.”

“Does the burial land of the ancestors really affect the descendants?”

“Of course! The bones of the dead are connected to the bones of the descendants because they are of a similar structure as long as it is the same biological family line. When the buried bones of an ancestor resonate with good Qi in the burial ground, the bones of the descendant will resonate in a similar fashion in perfect unison. This resonance will be ignored by bones of different biological lines.”

“What about adopted children?”

“It does not work with adopted children because they have different bone structures. It works only with genuine biological lineage,” explained her brother. “I will wait till the end of spring before I make the journey to bring back the bones of our family. You will stay here with Grasshopper. I think I can safely leave you alone now that you possess the Celestial Dragon Claw energy. Try not to kill anybody while I am away.”

+ + + + + +

Grasshopper was happy to see the return of Xiang Xiang and Wen Yiji.

“Are you all right?” the boy was keen to know. “What happened?”

“Nothing happened,” replied Wen Yiji. “Xiang Xiang was invited some place to stay for the night. That’s all.”

“That is all?” asked Grasshopper in amazement.

“Grasshopper,” warned Wen Yiji. “Do not breathe a word to anyone about any nonsense about Xiang Xiang being kidnapped. I do not wish people to talk about the affairs of the Wen family. Not a word. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Master Wen,” the boy replied. “Wild tigers will not force my lips open.”

“All right,” growled Wen Yiji. “I will take a bath first and then we shall go out for good lunch.”

“I know of a good place where they serve bull penis with noodles,” the boy suggested. “I have never eaten there, but many old men say that the place is good.”

“Do I look like an old man to you?” asked Wen Yiji sternly.

“No, Master Wen,” replied the boy hastily. “I know of another place that serves oysters. But I heard that it is very expensive.”

“Do I look like poor and destitute to you?” asked Wen Yiji sternly.

“Er…,” the boy replied.

“Oysters it is then,” decided Wen Yiji. “With good wine. This is a special occasion.”

“What is this special occasion, Master Wen?” asked the boy.

“We are celebrating the fact that a number of people have repaid their debts to my family,” came the reply from his master. “Some very old debts.”

When Wen Yiji had disappeared from view, Grasshopper said to Xiang Xiang, “Master Wen say some strange things at times.”

“Grasshopper,” said Xiang Xiang gently. “My brother may display very odd behaviour, but I do not think that any girl can ask for a more reliable brother. You may choose your friends, but Heaven chooses your family. Despite the many sorrows I have gone through in my years, I somehow think that Heaven has chosen a very good brother for me.”

+ + + + + +

Five days later, the lunar New Year arrived. Xiang Xiang and Grasshopper had decorated their home with blossoms of peach and peony. Kumquat plants in earthen pots were placed around the house to signify wealth and prosperity. The house was beautiful, but quiet.

“It is so boring. We have nobody to visit on this festive season,” noted Xiang Xiang.

Her brother looked thoughtful and said, “Well, actually I am planning to visit the House of Noble Delights later. There will be a painting demonstration by one of the courtesans. Then there will be a lion dance. After that, there will be a dance competition, followed by an eating contest. I think there will also be a martial arts display. It’s all very happening!”

Xiang Xiang sighed again and said, ““It is so boring. I have nobody to visit on this festive season.”

Wen Yiji looked at her and said, “If you really want to visit somebody, then we shall visit somebody. Madam Qian’s brother, Merchant Chiu, who is a regular at the House of Noble Delights, has invited me to his house on the second day. We cannot go empty handed. What do we have that we can bring there?”

“I can roast two ducks and we’ll take it as greeting gifts.”

Wen Yiji nodded.

The next day, Xiang Xiang and her brother visited Merchant Chiu’s house. It was a very big house and there were a lot of guests present.

Merchant Chiu was momentarily busy with some other matters so a servant asked them to wait and take some refreshments first. While waiting, they overhead some snippets of conversation made by the other guests nearby.

“Did you hear? The Si Mansion was burned to the ground!”

“Yes! And they said that nobody survived!”

“Actually, the servants survived. But they were not sure what happened. They said that suddenly there was a big fire and they had to flee for their lives!”

“I heard that the Prefect questioned them and they said that they knew that there was some fierce fighting before the fire, so they hid in the kitchen and did not see anything. So scared! Who was fighting who also they don’t know. The next thing they knew, the mansion already got fire. They came out of hiding and shouted “Kiu miah”. But everybody die already. So they also quickly run!”

“The Prefect found dead bodies in the forest nearby, killed by sword wounds. One body even has a head missing!”

“Aiyahhh…….New Year don’t talk about all this lah…..choi!”

Merchant Chiu approached Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang and apologized, “Pardon me, Master Wen, for not realizing that you have arrived. Kiong hee, kiong hee!”

Kiong hee, kiong hee!” echoed Wen Yiji. “This is my sister Xiang Xiang.”

Xiang Xiang greeted Merchant Chiu with New Year salutations.

Merchant Chiu then introduced a young man beside him, “This is my son, Chiu Yam Seng. I am training him to take charge of my liquor business.”

Wen Yiji and Xiang Xiang greeted the young man.

Merchant Chiu pointed to another young man nearby and said, “This is my nephew Qian Dafang.”

“Greetings, Master Wen,” said Qian Dafang. “We have met when you came to the house to purchase three houses from my mother. We trust that you are happy with your purchase.”

“I am comfortable with it, and my sister Xiang Xiang seems happy enough with the house,” Yiji replied. “We shall be starting a little restaurant there soon.”

“What will you be serving in your restaurant?” Chiu Yam Seng asked. “Perhaps we can supply you the wine to go with the food.”

“Actually, I do not know the menu,” said Wen Yiji. “You have better asked my sister. She is doing the cooking.”

“But she looks very young!” blurted out Qian Dafang.

“I am sixteen this year,” said Xiang Xiang loftily. “That’s old enough. We will be serving mainly duck dishes. We will have roast duck, stewed duck and duck noodles with salted vegetable.”

“Ducks can be quite challenging to cook,’ commented Chiu Yam Seng. “Why don’t you do something simpler, like steamed fish. The people of Tsinkiang are very fussy in their food and are difficult to please.”

The other guests nodded in assent.

“We brought two roast ducks here today,” said Xiang Xiang. “Why don’t we chop them up to eat now, and then you can tell us if our ducks are good enough or not?”

“Good idea!” said Merchant Chiu. “I have not had roast duck for a long time now!”

A servant was sent to bring the ducks to the table. As the servant was deciding how to carve up the duck, Xiang Xiang intervened and said, “Here, let me do it.”

She placed a duck on the chopping board, took a knife and quartered the duck swiftly in front of the guests. Then she cut it speedily into little slices, impressing the guests with her adroit knife work. The parts where the flesh of the duck was thin, she carved out the skin to be eaten. The knife flashed rapidly over the chopping board and the whole operation was over before the guests realized it. Xiang Xiang arranged the pieces neatly on a large serving plate and poured the sauce over it. She passed the plate around and each guest took a piece.

“This is fantastic!” declared Merchant Chiu on eating a piece. “The duck is tasty and succulent! What is this sauce that you poured over it?”

“This sauce is our business secret!” laughed Xiang Xiang. “Shall I chop up the second duck as well?”

“Oh yes, please do!” Chiu Yam Seng said enthusiastically. “I foresee that your duck restaurant will be a huge success. How did you manage to get the duck to be so moist inside?”

“That is another of our business secrets,” said Wen Yiji grandly. “It has to do with the design of our oven. I designed it!”

Xiang Xiang grinned. She knew that it was more to do with the method of preparation rather than the oven design. But it never hurt to let the public think that they had something special. After all, business was about having a unique selling point.

“A good oven is important in the food business,” nodded Merchant Chiu sagely.

“Not only that,” added Wen Yiji. “The fire must be correctly controlled. The firewood imparts a flavour to the duck. When I buy the firewood, I will sniff at it first to find out if it comes from a good forest! We don’t anyhow buy wood!”

The other guests were now in awe.

“The precision of your knife work is extraordinary,” remarked Qian Dafang to Xiang Xiang. “How do you do it?”

“The skill is nothing extraordinary,” said Xiang Xiang humbly. “I am sure every cook can do it. If the duck is well prepared, then it will be easy to cut up. A duck should neither be too scrawny nor too old. The quality of the fresh bird is very important.”

“Of course, we buy only quality ducks that eat healthy food,” Yiji explained, indulging in some more marketing hype. He was on a roll. “Also, we don’t cook ducks that have emotional problems. A happy duck is a tasty duck.”

By the end of the day, word quickly spread around that a duck expert would soon be opening a duck restaurant in town.

+ + + + + +

The duck restaurant opened for business later in the month. It was a huge success and customers who arrived late often faced the “Sold Out” sign. The restaurant was opened only for breakfast and lunch and Xiang Xiang was kept very busy during the morning. Wen Yiji had employed four servants by that time but even so, there was hardly enough hands to help out. Although the prices were slightly higher than that of competing restaurants, there was always a steady stream of customers waiting for food.

“You know, people say that we should open for dinner as well, since our business is so good,” said Grasshopper to Xiang Xiang one evening.

“No, Grasshopper,” laughed Xiang Xiang. “My brother will not agree to that! He likes the place to be quiet in the evening. Besides, we are already profitable enough. Is there not enough work to occupy you?”

“Of course there is! I am kept very busy!” said the boy.

“This morning, did you practise the pole work that I taught you?”

“I was too busy this morning to do it.”

“You woke up late, you mean. You will not improve if you do not take your training seriously!”

“Why is it that the other servants don’t have to train in kungfu?” he asked.

“You are different from the other servants,” said Xiang Xiang. “They don’t sleep in a single room like you do. They don’t sit down at the same table to eat with my brother like you do. And they don’t even eat as much as you do. Well at least you don’t look like a scrawny chicken anymore. From now on, if I do not see any improvement from you, I will cut your food to only one meal a day. Understand?”

“Yes, Mistress Xiang Xiang.”

“Now go out and practise your footwork and defence moves!”

Grasshopper grinned. He was not afraid of Xiang Xiang’s threats. Her brother was a different matter. Nobody in the house would dare to risk his wrath. Still grinning, the boy grabbed a wooden pole and walked to the back of the house to practise his pole work.

+ + + + + +

A month after the restaurant was opened, Grasshopper came into the kitchen and informed Xiang Xiang, “Mistress Xiang Xiang. There is a monk at the door begging for food.”

“Do we have any leftover food to give away?” asked Xiang Xiang. “Or have you eaten up everything?”

“I do not eat up everything!” protested the boy. “I always leave some behind!”

“Oh,” smiled Xiang Xiang. “So generous of you! You know that Brother Yiji does not limit what you can eat in this house, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said the boy cheekily. “That is what I like about this house. It always has a lot of food. And you cook so much better than my uncle used to do.”

“Shut up. Go check and see if we have any rice left for the monk outside.”

Grasshopper grinned as he took an empty bowl. He walked over to the cooking pot and dished out some leftover rice into the bowl. Xiang Xiang took the bowl of rice from him and placed some cooked vegetables in it. She then took it outside and walked out to the waiting monk.

“I have some rice for you, Master,” she said.

“Thank you, child,” the monk replied.

Xiang Xiang recognized him. It was the same shaven-headed Buddhist monk to whom she had given half of her biscuit three years ago in the Imperial Capital. She emptied the bowl of rice carefully into his large begging bowl.

“Do you want some more rice, Master?” she asked.

“You have given me a lot of rice already, child.”

“I am running a restaurant, Master. I always have rice to spare.”

“It is sufficient, thank you.”

“If ever you are hungry, Master, you can always come here. As long as I run a restaurant, you need not go all over the country to beg.”

“I go where the winds take me, child. Physical hunger worries me not. Nature takes care of the living and the dead. Seek the path that you were born to tread, and all pain will cease to appear as pain.”

“A long time ago, I lost my home,” she said. “For years I have wandered from place to place before settling here in this town. Master, do you think that I have finally found my place in life?”

“Only you can answer that. Life goes in a circle. And it moves us all. Through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place, on the path unwinding, in the circle. Every living being occupies the place to do what it was born to do. The birds occupy the air to fly and the fish occupies the seas to swim. Happy is he who occupies the position that allows him to do what he was meant to do.”

“What does that mean, Master?”

“Ask yourself this; do you cook in order to eat?”

Xiang Xiang thought for a while before answering, “No, Master. I cook in order to cook.”

“Then you have found happiness, my child.”

Xiang Xiang stood there even after the monk had left. Then she smiled.

Wen Yiji came out of the house and asked her, “Who was that just now?”

“That was a monk,” she answered. "An old friend."

“I am going out for a while,” he announced. “Merchant Chiu has a fresh stock of wine and he wants my opinion on it.”

“Oh,” she said. “You are going for a drinking session.”

“It’s actually serious work,” he said. “I’m drinking for the noble cause of research.”

As her brother walked away, Xiang Xiang laughed. The monk was right. Each living being was meant to occupy the place to do what each was born to do. Her brother was born to do research. She was born to cook.

Happily, she went into the kitchen and picked up a knife. Then she sliced some ginger with a speed and precision that defied the common eye.

She was contented. She was home.