Chapter 1 – A warrior's death, a family's sorrow
Chapter 2 – An Emperor and a soldier
Chapter 3 – A Bloody Blade meets a Closed Fist
Chapter 4 – Enemy without; enemy within Part 1
Chapter 4 – Enemy without; enemy within Part 2
Chapter 5 – A new ruler brings murder to Snow Mountain
Chapter 6 – When the snipe and the clam grapple the fisherman profits Part 1
Chapter 6 – When the snipe and the clam grapple the fisherman profits Part 2
Chapter 7 – The hunter becomes the hunted Part 1
Chapter 7 – The hunter becomes the hunted Part 2
In 1371, the great and wise warrior, Daxia Xiao Hongwan was entrusted with a most critical of missions by Zhu Yuanzhang. Xiao's task could be entrusted to no one else as it required great finesse and skill. The First General Wang Bao Bao of Bei Yuan was the target of Xiao's mission; with the goal to assassinate the General while he slept soundly, surrounded by his vast armies.
Creeping into the General's camp with his men and nothing but his wits to guide him, Xiao's forces were able to sneak through the ranks of battle-hardened soldiers and dispatched the fearsome General. Striking a great blow for his people and their allies, Daxia Xiao Hongwan was later ambushed and facing surrender or the complete annihilation of his raiding party he instead developed an ingenious strategy to allow the retreat of his men.
His mission complete, Daxia stood ready to fight until his last breath, buying enough time for his men with his lifeblood as currency. Possessed by a furious rage, he raised his fists to the heavens and let roar a ferocious battle-cry before charging headlong against the enemy. Concerned only with delaying his death, for every second was the difference between freedom and certain death for his loyal soldiers; Hongwan stood with his shoulders squared to the task, striking down many of his assailants with deadly finality. Just as it seemed Xiao might survive the encounter, a dozen men all lunged at once and struck several mortal wounds. With his blood flowing profusely, he glared at all those around him and laughed triumphantly before turning a pale white and slumping to the ground, dead.
The Officers of Daxia Xiao, loyal to the death to their fearless leader, having fled only by his direct order; risked their own lives to return and retrieve his lifeless body. Preparing him according to his last wishes, they buried the corpse in a peaceful and distant village he had once spoken of, located in the quiet region of the Central Plains. Upon hearing the news of Xiao's defeat, his Wife, Ding Huanfeng was left distraught and bitter. Her loss quickly turned to anger as she heard of her husband's men having fled, leaving their leader to die, surrounded by impossible odds.
At the time of his death, Xiao Hongwan was survived by two strong sons. His eldest son, Xiao Tianfang showed great promise studying the art of Kung Fu from an elder of the Beggars' Sect while the youngest son Xiao Tianqing, who was only nine years old, lived with his mother. Ding Huanfeng brought her younger son, Tianqing, to visit an old friend of the family - Xiao Qianqiu, who owned a villa built on the Wansu Mountain. Qianqiu, who had been in love with Huanfeng for many years, and cared deeply about her, solemnly swore to take care of her youngest son and teach him how to be a man.
With her children’s future secured, Huanfeng turned her mind to her own uncertain fate. While on the surface she may have appeared to have been a quiet and frail woman, her spirit was possessed with the same passion and fire as her husband. After ensuring her life’s remaining joy, her children, were safe; she committed ritual suicide, to follow her beloved into the afterlife.
Returning victorious but deeply saddened at the loss of their fearless leader, Xiao Hongwan's company of men returned home. Led by the famous General Guo Jia, an intelligent and capable fighter, he was known far and wide as a cunning leader and excellent tactician. The Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, a ruthless and ambitious man, prepared a reception for the General and his brothers-in-arms. When the men had assembled into columns for inspection, the Emperor strode amongst them laughing and patting them on the back, congratulating them on their success.
When he reached Guo Jia, he stopped and embraced the man as a brother, announcing to all that the heroes should stay at the palace and want for nothing. The men cheered, their anguish at a lost comrade all but forgotten and eager to enjoy the fruits of their labour. General Guo Jia, a wise and patient man, took a moment to ponder this before accepting the Emperor's gracious gift.
As he considered the Emperor’s offer, the General's mind wandered back to an encounter he had had with Liu Ji, an advisor and trusted friend to Xiao Hongwan; before entering the Palace. Liu was sweating as he rushed to the General's side, waving his arms in a manner unbefitting one of his rank. As the General urged the man to speak, Liu Ji struggled to gasp a warning, until he realised his folly and sought to calm himself long enough to speak.
"The Emperor is not to be trusted!” he whispered with an urgent tone, as though he were reciting some prophecy of doom. As the General sought to hear more, they approached the palace gates where Liu Ji was ushered away by the Royal Guard. Their time spent, Guo Jia pondered these words even now as he stood face-to-face with the Emperor, the most powerful man of his generation.
After much thought and with a reluctant expression, the great General Guo Jia said, "I am but an old, tired soldier. The men have seen more fighting than any man should ever see. With your permission, I would request that we be allowed to return home to our families and friends. Your gracious gift is wasted on the likes of us, we seek only to lay down our arms and return to more peaceful lives".
The Emperor, not accustomed to having his rare acts of generosity refused, was quite shocked and yet recovered instantly as only those in power can. Grinning maliciously he nodded his head and agreed to allow them to travel freely through his domain, home to their loved ones.
However, the Emperor did not maintain his power by allowing others to disobey him and quickly his mind raced to new avenues to achieving his goal. For his offer was merely another thread in his tapestry of intrigue. He sought to hold these men within the walls to ensure his plot to murder the First General Wang Bao Bao would remain a secret forever, the refusal of his generosity left only one course of action left. So it was that he issued a royal decree to his most trusted assassins from his Royal Guard: to ambush and silence the only remaining witnesses to his order.
Seventeen years after the death of Daxia Xiao Hongwan and the events that followed, the Grand Master of the Snow Mountain Sanctuary, Lv Ya, was expelled from his sect for the practice of a most ruthless Kung Fu technique known only as Bloody Blade. After his fall from grace he fled from the sect in disgrace. Bitter from the failure of his colleagues and students to grasp the power of his new style, Lv Ya took the name Bloody Blade Master and swore that all would come to respect the power of this new technique.
That winter Lv Ya joined a famous Kung Fu tournament held in the Fairy Peak of Mount Hua. Determined to prove the incredible power of his Bloody Blade technique by winning the tournament, he met some quite unexpected opposition in the form of five others, each possessing their own unique style and all proving to be formidable warriors as skilled in the martial arts as he.
General Guo Jia, one of Xiao Hongwan's most trusted lieutenants and a veteran soldier with years of experience in combat, was the most well-known and regarded champion. His cunning and ability to predict his enemy was peerless but he was less well-known for his surprising strength and agility. Having mastered the exceedingly rare Nerve Point attack, Guo Jia quickly dispatched his adversaries in the early rounds of the tournament.
Lin Tiannan, the descendant of a great martial art family, had strived since a young age to be the greatest martial artist that the world had ever known. Demonstrating superb skill and respected far and wide as a virtuous and indomitable leader, Lin Tiannan was elected to the position of “Wulin Mengzhu” – the leader of the Wulin – defending the code of Xia, the strict code of conduct that all Wulin must follow. Monk Xuan Jian was a member of a humble order who devoted their lives to find peace and balance through the practice of martial arts. Living a life dedicated to studying martial arts, he had already mastered 22 of the 72 Shaolin manuals, a feat unheard of by one of his age. Possessing such incredible strength of character and unsurpassed willpower, it was said that his lingering scrutiny could be felt, as he studied those around him. In fact, in the first of his qualifying rounds, Xuan Jian’s determined gaze caused several warriors to surrender before any attack was ever made.
Hei Baizi was completely unknown and was the victim of ridicule when he entered the arena for his first match. With no weapon and possessing the stature of a frail teenage girl, the man stood barely over a metre tall and seemed sickly and weak. His eyes, however, held a bright spark of life and his laugh – which he did frequently – was deep and mocking, as though from a man twice his size. The match began with his opponent raising his weapon high above his head and charging headlong at Hei with terrifying force. In the blink of an eye, Hei Baizi side-stepped out of his opponents path and struck his foe with incredible speed. Those who witnessed the battle claim that he fashioned a weapon of air itself and cut the man down in his stride. From that moment on, he forever after became known as Hei Baizi – the Master of the Hidden Weapons.
The fifth and final contender that displayed significant prowess at the Fairy Peak Kung Fu tournament was known only as the Jiugong swordsman. Hiding much of his appearance in ragged clothing the man said little to those around him and seemed to be perpetually shrouded in darkness. The only part of his body that displayed any memorable characteristics was his sword, for it truly seemed to be an extension of his body. As tall as the man that carried it, the sword glowed as though reflecting the light of a full moon and whistled when swung, cleaving the air as effortlessly as the moon cleaved the night’s sky.
These six champions fought for days, defeating challenger after challenger, impressing all those who witnessed their incredible feats of skill. As the tournament drew close to an end, the six: Lv Ya, General Guo Jia, Lin Tiannan, Monk Xuan Jian, Hei Baizi and the Jiugong Swordsman were seen as the clear favourites to win the Kung Fu tournament and earn the coveted title of Master of the Tournament.
The victor would become famous throughout the lands, earning fame and glory for themselves and their style and ensuring eager students would flock to train with them. On the final day of the tournament, it was customary for the six remaining champions to enter the arena together and fight until only one remained: the winner proclaimed as the master of the Fairy Peak Tournament.
As each of the six men took to the field of battle, the crowds roared for their favourite and many began laying bets on the ultimate victor. Each hero bowed in respect to his peers and wished his opponents good luck for the coming day. It was clear that these men were not enemies, but brothers, even as they would do battle.
The battle commenced to loud cheers, as each paired off; several early blows were struck and it seemed as though half of the contenders would be cut down in the first few minutes of contest. Yet each man found reserves of strength and stamina and tempered his spirit to continue the fight. Each sought an advantage in positioning, footing, balance; anything to remove at least one opponent, one obstacle from their ultimate victory. However, no man gave any ground – each champion fought tirelessly for hours – and before long it became clear that there was no stronger warrior amongst the six.
As nightfall approached, torches were arranged around the arena to allow the fighting to continue and the crowd huddled together for warmth. Cold, tired and hungry yet too entranced by the epic struggle before them, the audience failed to even consider leaving to their homes. As dawn approached, the six combatants showed no signs of ending the epic struggle, each determined to prove his skill. As the battle entered its twenty fourth hour, the organisers called a halt to the battle and decreed that this never before seen display of legendary courage and fortitude was a clear sign that these were no normal men. Their superhuman battle would mean there would be six masters in this season. The spectators cheered and a huge celebration began, each recalling the amazing scene they had witnessed over the past day. So it was that the legend of the Six Masters was born.
[Chapter 4 Part 1]
Two years after the Kung Fu tournament held in the Fairy Peak of Mount Hua and the rise of the six Masters to legend, news of a considerable force of Wulin, invading the Central Plains, spread to the ears of the Six Masters. Agreeing to unite to defend their peoples, the Six met at the centre of a sprawling plain with all of their students and those few who wished to fight alongside them.
As the invaders approached, the Six Masters met and embraced as brothers for possibly the last time, but only briefly, as each squared their shoulders to the task ahead. Speaking to their men, each spoke of loyalty and courage; inspiring a disorganised militia to fight as a disciplined force. Though outnumbered, the unparalleled skill of the Six Masters meant they still held the advantage.
After several small skirmishes, the main battle began with each master charging into the fray and cutting a path through the enemy ranks, dispatching the enemy officers one-by-one.
As the dust settled, each of the Masters stood surrounded by a mountain of bodies of their enemies, students and fellow country-men alike. Guo Jia, Lin Tiannan and Xuan Jian stood surveying the carnage and felt sorrow and shame at the events that had come to pass. Realising that their enemy had given them little choice, they still felt the loss of each death at their hands that day, both directly and indirectly.
Hei Baizi, indifferent to the day’s events, seemed to relish the battle and was found covered in the blood of a hundred men.
Lv Ya continued to chase the fleeing soldiers, determined to punish their arrogance of challenging his power. When an allied soldier attempted to halt his bloodlust, Lv Ya struck him down instantly without any thought for his words. When news of the murder reached Xuan Jian, he was outraged and confronted the Blade Master to challenge him to a battle of honour.
Lv Ya laughed mockingly at the audacity of the Shaolin monk, and turned his back on the smaller man in a most disrespectful manner. A spark of rage grew in the solemn monk's eyes, quickly smouldering into an inferno; Jian charged and dealt a massive blow to Lv Ya lifting him clear off the ground. As he fell, Lv Ya dropped his sword and crumpled to the ground, turning white. As the monk walked away he could hear Lv Ya cursing under his breath, when he had taken only a few steps, he calmed instantly and realised, in horror, what his hands had done. His own shame mixed with his still seething rage over the attack on an innocent man led him to pronounce judgement on Lv Ya.
"Evil Blade Master! If I possessed half your bloodlust, I would kill you where you stand. Instead, you are banished for the remainder of your days. However, know this! Should you seek to harm innocents again, our retribution shall know no bounds."
As Xuan Jian left the humiliated warrior bent over on the ground, Lv Ya climbed to his feet, swearing revenge for this indignity and vowing to train his Bloody Blade technique to perfection; no matter the cost.
Several days later, Lv Ya fled his home and began honing his mastery of the Bloody Blade technique. Killing any who would cross his path, not even women and children knew mercy from his rage, all in the name of perfecting his skills. With each kill his rage increased and his sword, which he swore would only be cleaned with the rags he tore from the lifeless body of the monk, became bathed in the blood of the innocent. One year later, as his evil deeds continued, word of his actions reached the ears of the other five masters. Not wanting the reputation of Wulin harmed further, they agreed to deal with the matter and it was agreed that the Jiu Gong Swordsman would be the one to deliver justice and end the lust for death which had possessed Lv Ya.
After tracking the Evil Blade Master for several weeks, the two finally met.
The Jiu Gong Swordsman approached the corrupted shell of a man he had once called brother. Pointing his sword at Lv Ya, the Swordsman spoke in a whispered tone "Evil Bloody Blade, you have tarnished the Wulin name for too long, your terror ends now." Both charged headlong with their swords raised high. Several swift blows were traded yet it was clear that the recent months training regime of slaughtering the innocent, had considerably improved Lv Ya's technique. His speed and strength had increased, almost as much as his violent malevolence. Appearing to be gaining the upper hand, Lv Ya's sword tasted blood several times but could not overpower the man. The contest of skill continued for three days and three nights, with neither side yielding, even for a moment.
As dusk of the 3rd night approached, a full moon rose high into the night's sky, glowing as though it had been set alight. It appeared to shine directly on the summit of the Forbidden City where the battle took place. The two champions readied themselves once more, even as the Jiu Gong Swordsman seemed to be invigorated by the moonlight. Holding his sword in an uncommon manner, the warrior closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Lv Ya, sensing a moment of weakness, charged at his unsuspecting opponent and raised his weapon high in preparation for a death blow. The moonlight shining on his bloodstained blade gave the weapon the appearance of fire as it hung in the air above the Evil Blade Master's head.
Just as Lv Ya reached striking distance, he hurled himself into the air and prepared his every ounce of strength to cut down the Swordsman and finally prove his superior skills with a blade. Yet as he launched into the air the Jiu Gong Swordsman opened his eyes which gleamed white in the moonlight.
Panic filled the Bloody Blade Master and he hesitated mid-air, when he regained his senses it was to the vision of a giant sword rising to meet his fall. The two swords clashed in mid-air, fire and ice collided in a blur, resulting in an explosion of light that blinded both men. A magnificent sound, as though thunder were being released from captivity, shattered the peaceful night and knocked both men to the ground.
The Jiu Gong Swordsman was the first to recover his senses. Jumping to his feet, sword still in hand, he surveyed the mayhem around him. A scorched patch of earth surrounded both men; Lv Ya lay nearby, more startled than injured. His Bloody Blade lay shattered at his side. As the villain gathered his wits, he clambered to his feet and stood aghast at the scene he witnessed. "Who are YOU!” he screamed; the anguish of defeat in his moment of victory, evident on his face.
The Jiu Gong Swordsman stretched languidly as he removed the rags covering his face and neck as though his body were constrained by the clothing he wore. Lv Ya gasped as he saw the wounds he had inflicted over the last three days of battle. Horrified, Lv Ya barely heard his opponent as he whispered, "I am the instrument of your retribution".
Lv Ya stood, unable to speak; he looked at his broken blade and sighed. A strange look of relief covered the man's face and he began to smile weakly. He turned to look at the Swordsman as though remembering his presence and simply said, "I am tired". Turning towards the Great Desert, Lv Ya walked until his feet bled. Finding no solace as he dwelled upon the atrocities he had committed since taking up the Bloody Blade, he died six months after his encounter with the Swordsman; alone and weeping, driven mad by the horrors that would forever damn his name.
Following Lv Ya’s exile, only five masters remained. Their paths continued to diverge and each ventured in a new direction.
Hei Baizi, in his ambivalence, was neither a keeper of justice nor of evil. While travelling in the Western Regions, he took refuge at the Da Lun Temple. The temple held a contest one evening, boasting some of the greatest Shaolin fighters in the region. Hei Baizi could not pass up the opportunity to prove his skill. He was set to face the temple’s kitchen hand in combat. The kitchen hand cowered in front of Hei Baizi, who, while small and unassuming, could freeze an army with his stare. The master began to laugh in his deep, criticizing tone then suddenly stopped; his smile disappearing as quickly as it had come. The boy prepared himself as best he could, but the other monks knew he stood no chance. Hei Baizi defeated him rapidly, with the same finesse he had always possessed. But this time the force he used did not seem justified and the monks looked upon him as a proud, old fool. Noticing the attention was given to the agonizing kitchen hand rather than him, Hei Baizi left the temple, sensing it was no longer friendly territory. The monks watched him descend the temple stairs and he was never seen again.
After his encounter with Lv Ya, Jiu Gong Swordsman declared himself Jiu Gong the Wise. He began making his way back to Jiu Gong Mount. Those he encountered on his journey would describe him as small and frail in comparison to his usual impressive height. His sword seemed to shrink with him and the darkness that always accompanied him began to lift. His rags grew fewer and fewer and his face was finally exposed: worn and scarred, but shining with accomplishment and the goodness he had always fought to defend. He planned to retire quietly to his home village.
As for General Guo Jia, he took a similar path and proclaimed himself Ancient One of Miraculous Foresight. Solicited by many to share his knowledge and techniques, Guo Jia preferred to seclude himself and concentrate on his own studies. His ultimate goal was to master the art of invisibility. In his many combats, he had often experienced the sensation of disappearing for just an instant to better attack his adversary. He now hoped to capture and prolong that instant, procuring a level of power he had never before known. He also became adept in Taoist magic and concentrated his energies on his spiritual progress.
Monk Xuan Jian continued to hone his mastery of the martial arts and spent his days and nights in the temple library poring over manuals to gain a complete knowledge of the Shaolin art. The gaze he was so well-known for in combat was now solely reserved for the pages of ancient texts. So engrossed was he in his quest for perfection that he was no longer able to serve those around him or save those in need. Realizing his failure to accomplish his true mission, he abandoned the Shaolin temple and ventured into the unknown, punishing himself for his narrow vision of the world and his selfishness.
This left only Lin Tiannan as the one remaining Wulin leader. He continued his defence of the code of Xia and travelled extensively, sharing his knowledge with students who were striving, just like he had, to become the greatest martial artists the world would ever know.
Meanwhile, a new sect, the Junzi, was formed. It started when the well-known Bie Qing Child, the unloved, of Wansu Mountain Villa encountered the Yu Bi scholar (he of the jade brush), Shi Yanbing. Finding they had many common interests, the two instantly became close companions. They decided to form the Junzi faction and recruit members among those that shared their view of the martial arts: a discipline they believed to be innately tied to other arts such as music, poetry and calligraphy.
The Bie Qing Child, or Xiao Bieqing, was formerly known as Xiao Tianqing, the youngest son of Xiao Hongwan. The Jianghu were unaware of his true identity. His own brother, Xiao Tianfang, the leader of the Gai Sect did not recognize him either. Xiao Bieqing kept his identity secret, even from his only remaining family, not wanting to cause his brother trouble due to his beliefs. Xiao Bieqing had been profoundly affected by his mother’s absence and he had adopted her view of the sects of justice in her honour, believing them all to represent the same hypocrisy. With Shi Yanbing, he therefore decided the Junzi sect would be a neutral sect, like the Tang before it.
1398 brought the death of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. His grandson Zhu Yunwen inherited the imperial throne. The new ruler was as untrustworthy as his grandfather before him and wanted nothing more than to extinguish the local power and Jianghu force. He was not the only one with his eye on Jianghu. Two other power-hungry men, Yunwen’s uncles Zhu Jing and Zhu Di, were developing their own strategies to gain power on the Wulin sects and break their influence over the people.
In those days, Zhu Jing’s Qing Royal Residence in Luoyang was becoming very powerful. Zhu Jing often referred to himself as a Wulin. He ensured the sects were welcomed in his lands and was friendly with their leaders. He was adamantly opposed to the imperial court and was often seeking to form alliances against the Emperor, harbouring visions of grandeur for his own future as emperor; a title he felt was rightfully his and unjustly attributed to his nephew. His intentions would prove to be more dangerous than expected.
During the second year of Zhu Yunwen’s rule Zhu Di, the lord of Yan, decided to rebel against his nephew’s court as well. He felt his authority in the region was being infringed upon by the ruler. He never feigned alliance with the Wulin and would eventually become their greatest enemy.
Meanwhile, on Snow Mountain, the lord of the Lin Xiao City secret society was reigning with tyranny and terror. The city was the second power on the mountain. Wulin Master, Monk Xuan Jian, returned from his self-imposed exile, masquerading as a common street sweeper to watch over the city inhabitants and keep the tyrannical lord in check. His absence from Wulin and the Shaolin order gave him time to reflect upon his mission and when he heard of the troubles on Snow Mountain, he knew it was his chance to repay those he had failed before. As a street sweeper, he was able to overhear key conversations and monitor the comings and goings of the city’s major players without anyone suspecting him. He then knew who was being bribed or persuaded to join the secret society and could use his inside contacts to spread the word of the society’s evil intentions to those who needed to hear it most, thus thwarting the leader’s efforts to corrupt the people.
In the dark winter of that same year, the secret society of Esoteric Buddhism had gained ground on the Mountain, ambushing the first power late one night. Members of the evil sect surprised the families while they were sleeping. Many innocent people were murdered in cold blood. The society had first tried infiltrating the town to corrupt the local families from within like in Lin Xiao City, urging them to join the secret organization. When the ruling Snow Mountain clan resisted with great resolve and courage, they were eradicated completely. Unbeknownst to the murderers, one lone orphan girl was saved and taken in by a transient Wulin.
[Chapter 6 Part 1]
In 1403, Zhu Di began his campaign to take over Jingnan and succeeded in occupying the capital. He then became the emperor of the Ming Dynasty, overthrowing his nephew. Originally, Zhu Di had planned to follow Zhu Yuanzhang’s secret imperial edict to eliminate the Wulin forces in Jianghu. However, they had become very powerful and Zhu Di felt they were beyond his reach for the moment. He even began losing some of his imperial officers to Jianghu. The empire was at its weakest with economic problems and a devastated countryside after the military campaign. Zhu Di needed a strategy to save the empire and thwart any dissenters, thus solidifying his power and earning the trust of his people. He knew the Wulin would be his greatest challenge in this respect and he set about scheming and plotting to stamp out their rebellion to the throne.
As part of a brilliant plan, he dispatched some of his most cunning counsellors to infiltrate the Wulin sects. Once within, they were ordered to spread doubt and break down the alliances among the sects. Their scheming worked and disputes began to erupt among the various sects. As the proverb says, when the snipe and the clam grapple, it is the fisherman who profits. Zhu Di had cast his line and was impatient to reel in his catch, watching from a distance as his spies incited the grappling he had hoped for.
These false Wulin spread rumours that the Tang Family Castle was hiding the secret treasure map to the Nine Yin Manual which was in the possession of Jiu Gong Mountain. This would explain the Swordsman’s success in defeating the all-powerful Lv Ya years before. The manual was seen as the ultimate tool for gaining power in Wulin culture, and if the people believed it was in the hands of Jiu Gong the Wise, it was he they would begin to fear rather than the emperor. As the rumours continued, the people did not know who to trust anymore, just as the emperor had planned.
As instructed by Zhu Di, the spies also provoked a fight between the Gai sect and the Twelve-linked Fortress. Having sufficiently weakened the neutral and evil sects, Zhu Di went so far as attempting to disassemble the alliance of justice. He knew just who to inform of this false dissolution for the news to travel rapidly throughout the empire. He had to make the people of Jianghu believe the Shaolin were in conflict with the Wudang and Emei sects. There would be major uprising as their landmarks for justice seemed to crumble and the people would be at their weakest, making them a prime target for a manipulative new leader.
Wulin Mengzhu, Lin Tiannan, was still as pure and devoted to the Xia as ever. With his untouchable sense of justice, the master resisted the temptation to believe Zhu Di’s harmful rumours and went to the source to ensure they were false. Once he had no doubt that the alliance of justice was still intact, he made his own contacts, spreading word of Zhu Di’s conspiracy, thus saving Jianghu from self-destructing in the chaos Zhu Di so hoped to in still.
Despite his difficulties infiltrating the Wulin sects, Zhu Di was determined to impose his rule over the people. He decided to make even greater efforts by forming his own special task force to carry out his bidding. The Royal Guards seemed like the right men for the job. Their original role under Zhu Yuanzhang was to supervise, spy and repress illegal activities of government officials, but Zhu Di interpreted their role more freely and sent them on his own personal missions to suppress the Wulin. They had free reign to do whatever it took to achieve this.
With such great power and resources, the Royal Guards became arrogant and began to make their own decisions. They flaunted their independence, breeding jealousy as they went, and offending other military leaders with their brash style. They had no respect for traditional military customs and did not obey the hierarchy other soldiers and officers adhered to. The powerful eunuch and head of East Chamber, Hou Xian, dispatched his subordinates to the officers who had been offended by the Royal Guards, spreading the rumour that they were planning to rebel against the emperor. The East Chamber consisted of those guards who had resisted Zhu Di’s call to duty. Hou Xian was displeased at how powerful the other guards had become, regretting his decision to dissent from the emperor. He vowed to find a way to harness the haughty guards’ power.
Zhu Di was aware the guards had gotten out of hand, but ignored the rumours of rebellion. He warned them to be more careful and discreet in their actions. He was beginning to lose his patience with those who thought they could disobey his orders. He didn’t know, however, just how uncontrollable they would become.
As the Royal Guards were performing reconnaissance on Jianghu, they came across an evil Kung Fu technique called Sura’s Yin in their research on martial arts. This technique from the West Lands was extremely dangerous and had the potential to wreak havoc far and wide. It turned the victim’s entire body cold and poisoned the practitioner’s mind with that same chill and heartlessness, making him a ruthless warrior. The assistant general of the guards, Huang Puyao, urged the general, Ji Gang, to cultivate the technique, saying it would dramatically improve the guards’ fighting skills. Ji Gang yielded to his wishes and the men began to learn Sura’s Yin. As expected, the practice of this evil Kung Fu made them more and more ferocious, stripping them of any mercy they may have possessed. They had become cold-blooded and were completely out of control.
Learning of this development, Zhu Di was furious. He paced the palace hall, trying to decide what to do. Not only was he failing to squash the Wulin, now his own men were deserting him, drawn in by the same Kung Fu they were supposed to be battling. His anger could not be tamed and he had to punish Ji Gang to send the message to his other generals and officials: those who allowed their men to betray or abandon Zhu Di could not be permitted to live.
Ji Gang was called to the palace. He arrived exhausted and dreading the fate he knew awaited him there. He begged the emperor to hear him out; trying to explain it was Huang Puyao who had convinced him of this plan that had backfired so terribly. “Silence!” Zhu Di bellowed, not interested in hearing excuses. He had to remain firm. He called in the executioner who struck down Ji Gang, right there on the palace steps. Zhu Di turned away solemnly: sad to lose a man he had trusted so completely, and disgusted at the state of his empire.
Meanwhile, the rebel guards were still under Huang Puyao’s leadership. He led them out of the capital, fighting Zhu Di’s forces the whole way. Unable to feel compassion for their victims, they left brothers, cousins and friends dead in their wake, massacring any who dared to defy them. Once free from imperial influence and joined by Hou Xian’s eager East Chamber, they declared themselves a Wulin sect of evil, the Jinyi. As they began to plan a takeover of the Wulin sects of justice, the Jinyi decided they could use reinforcements. With similar goals and powers, the secret sect of Blissful Valley seemed like an ideal choice as an ally. The two evil sects would cooperate to keep the sects of justice from gaining too much power in Jianghu.
Meanwhile, the Qing Royal Residence was becoming more widely known for its increasingly influential role in the region. Zhu Jing had continued to gain favour with the Wulin by performing good deeds in Jianghu and showering the Wulin with gifts. There were even rumours that Lin Tiannan was grooming Zhu Jing to take his place as Wulin Mengzhu. Much to the dismay of his brother the emperor, Zhu Jing was succeeding in becoming a leading figure in Jianghu, the one place Zhu Di could not penetrate.
[Chapter 7 Part 1]
When Lin Tiannan heard that the long lost Nine Yin Manual had reappeared in Jianghu, he decided to carry out his own investigation and learn the truth. He did not want the people receiving false information and making hasty decisions based on what they’d heard. The manual was supposedly in the hands of Jiu Gong the Wise, who had recently heard of the libellous rumours being spread about him. He made the first move by inviting Lin Tiannan to his village before he could invite himself unannounced.
While the two Wulin masters had once known each other well, it had been years since they’d last spoken. Both were rather nervous to reunite with one another, not knowing how the other had changed and if they still defended the same convictions as before. Jiu Gong the Wise was relieved to recognize his old friend as he approached the residence. Lin Tiannan was equally pleased to see the former master’s smile had not faded.
As the two reminisced over tea and a delicious meal, Lin Tiannan began to feel comfortable and opened up to Jiu Gong. He explained the rumours and told his friend there were always solutions if the manual was in his possession, but that he needed to know the truth. Jiu Gong the Wise smiled at his friend’s request, and assured him no solution would be necessary. He explained that he had never laid eyes on the manual. His defeat of Lv Ya was made possible by training he followed for many months with a Kung Fu master from the South Sea.
Lin Tiannan was relieved to hear this. However, Jiu Gong did not provide much detail on the South Sea master, claiming, for example, that he had forgotten which temple he hailed from. These days Lin Tiannan never knew if his suspicions were founded or if he was giving in to paranoia. He wanted to believe his old friend, but given the current happenings in Jianghu, he wasn’t so sure. Sensing Lin Tiannan’s doubts, Jiu Gong the Wise asked him what was wrong. “Dear Swordsman, there is a secret force trying to undermine the Wulin. I know you have taken leave of the practice, but you must know I am deeply troubled and distressed these days. It is not clear whether those I consider allies can truly be trusted.” Lin Tiannan went on to explain the rise of the secret evil sects and how Esoteric Buddhism had eradicated the powers on Snow Mountain. As he searched for a successor, he was terrified he might choose the wrong person, handing over the people’s trust to an evildoer.
As he discussed his dilemma with Jiu Gong, an idea occurred to him: he would eliminate the position of Wulin Mengzhu, retiring with the title. This way, no one would have power over the sects and they would be protected from evil for at least the time it took him to discover the true nature of those who sought the position. He was pleased with this solution and Jiu Gong the Wise agreed that it was best to limit the power of anyone who appeared anxious to obtain it.
On this visit, Lin Tiannan also recommended an officer to Jiu Gong the Wise who was in need of some assistance. His name was Zhang Danfeng, grandson of the Da Zhou emperor, Zhang Shicheng. Zhang Shicheng had fought Zhu Yuanzhang to keep control of his kingdom in central China, finally losing it after an epic 10-month siege. At that time, Zhang Shicheng had sent his grandson to live with a friend outside of China to keep him safe. He had also hid Zhang Danfeng’s sister, Zhang Danling in a secret manor on Dongting Lake. Separated, the siblings coped with their exile differently. While Zhang Danfeng was on his way to becoming an ambitious and knowledgeable officer, his sister was a wise beauty who had not yet forgotten the war that had forced her to flee her family.
Seventeen years after their separation, Zhang Danfeng and Zhang Danling were finally reunited, but their ambitions were not the same. Zhang Danling had plans to avenge her grandfather by taking over the Ming Dynasty. She wanted her brother to join her in re-establishing their grandfather’s empire, feeling they owed it to their family to defend his reign as long as they lived. However, Zhang Danfeng did not have a vengeful soul and refused to join the alliance his sister was forming. He could not abandon the people he saw around him who were in need and would not survive yet another war. He therefore decided to devote his time to keeping civilian life stable and providing for those who had nothing. While his sister had become a shrewd strategist ruled by anger, he had turned his pain into a positive force. This is why he had gained such a strong reputation as an officer.
Furious after her brother’s refusal, Zhang Danling channelled her anger and used her skills to become one of Zhu Jing’s leading counsellors. Her talent in strategy and scheming was unparalleled and Zhu Jing immediately recognized how valuable she could be. While she devoted all her energy to this new position, Zhang Danling still maintained her streak of vengeance and could not forget that her brother had betrayed her. She tried to bury herself in her work and believe in Zhu Jing’s goals, which were not so different from her own. But at night, when she tried to rest, she could only pace her room, thinking of the day, years ago, when everything around her crumbled; her fury only grew.
When she learned her brother had given away their family treasures to help the poor, it was the last straw. Not only was her brother denying his blood and abandoning her once again, he was sympathizing and caring for the people whose parents and grandparents had abandoned their grandfather, sullying their name and stripping them of their power. While Zhang Danling’s anger persisted, conflicts began to arise in Jianghu. She and her brother battled over what their true purpose should be and evil forces took hold around them. As the people struggled to identify the real leaders among them, they soon found themselves caught between the hammer and the anvil.