Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The 3-in-1 Kungfu Girl

Chapter 1: The Sky Dragon Clan strikes

It was mid-afternoon when the five men finished their preparations. They gathered under the shade of a tree for final instructions from their leader, Master Sum Wan.

“We have time to spare,” said Master Sum Wan, also known as Cold Wind Hands. He was stern looking, with his white hair, and was the chief of the clan. He looked up at the sky. “Our quarry should be here by late afternoon. The coffers of our Sky Dragon Clan will be very much richer with the seizure of this shipment.”

The other four men were known as the Four Clouds in the martial underworld. They were highly respected kungfu exponents, hold respectable positions in society and few people would suspect them of criminal activities. The five of them were seldom seen together.

There was a favourite saying whispered among the rank and file Clan members:
“When the Cold Wind blows and the four Clouds gather,
A violent storm will shake the weather!”

“This quarry is special. We need to take extra precautions. Once this opportunity is gone, it is gone forever. The river never runs backwards,” continued Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan.

“You said before that they have only twenty fighters? That is most unusual,” remarked West Cloud Hsi Kap.

“That is a small number. It can mean that the fighters are powerful enough to protect the shipment. Or that this shipment involves high secrecy. Too many guards attract undue attention,” said East Cloud Tung Kor Sui. He was the most senior of the Four Clouds and was hoping to take over the leadership of the Sky Dragon Clan when Cold Wind Hands retired.

“Twenty guards or two hundred guards, we will kill them all,” said South Cloud Nam Chiao.

“If we can kill them all. My senses tell me that this job will not be easy. You will be severely tested,” remarked East Cloud.

“Don’t worry!” said South Cloud. “We are good! Pure gold does not fear the smelter! I only hope that this shipment is worth our efforts.”

“My source of information informed me that it is extremely valuable, so valuable that only very few people are allowed to know of its existence,” said Cold Wind Hands. “It is headed for the Imperial capital. I am guessing that they will take it down to the coast to catch a junk and sail northwards. We’ll intercept them here.”

“I hope your information is reliable,” remarked East Cloud Tung Kor Sui.

Cold Wind Hands looked at him cautiously. East Cloud, with his Seven Stars Inner Stance kungfu, was the most powerful of the Four Clouds. If ever there was going to be a challenge for the leadership of the Sky Dragon Clan, it would most likely come from East Cloud. The other three men, North Cloud, South Cloud and West Cloud often banded together as a clique and do not usually see things eye to eye with East Cloud.

“I will check the consignment myself afterwards,” remarked Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan testily. “North Cloud, please make one final check to see that the escape routes have been well booby-trapped!”

They had conducted operations like this before; snatching valuable cargo with just five of them, leaving no survivors to tell the tale. Each time they had a successful hunt, they would bring the loot to the Cold Wind Hands’ manor and divide it up. Then each of the Clouds would go back to his own manor and no one would be the wiser. Not even their followers would know. They wore facemasks each time, just in case there were any witnesses who would be able to identify them later.

North Cloud came back and reported that the escape routes had been sufficiently booby-trapped to slow down pursuers, in case there were any. Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan was a very careful leader who did not make mistakes in planning. The men then hid themselves to wait for their quarry.

A short distance away, a group of twenty men were escorting a horse drawn carriage carrying a large wooden trunk inside. They were told that the contents of the trunk were delicate and that the horse should go only at a walking pace. The men were all imperial guards but dressed as commoners to avoid attention. They were on foot except for a man riding the carriage and the leader, Chief Feng, who was riding a horse. The deputy chief brought up the rear. He was a man nicknamed ‘Arrow Eye’ on account that he could hit anything with an arrow within a hundred steps, even while he was running.

It was late afternoon and the men were tired and careless. They had been walking in the heat for the whole day. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Cold Wind Hands and his men attacked the imperial guards and killed five of them in the first strike. Before they could recover from the initial surprise, the men from the Sky Dragon Clan had wounded several more.

Arrow Eye leapt up into the air and unleashed an arrow at East Cloud, who heard the air movement and moved to avoid the arrow just in time.

“He’s fast!” thought Arrow Eye.

Chief Feng had jumped down from his horse and engaged Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan in a hand to hand combat. They matched their iron palms powerfully, each staring at one another, not giving way. North Cloud broke through a group of imperial guards and drove his broadsword into the back of Chief Feng. The chief of the imperial guards collapsed.

Arrow Eye had shifted position and aimed an arrow at South Cloud. He released the arrow and was stunned to see South Cloud step aside just in time to avoid it. However, the arrow buried itself into the thigh of West Cloud who was behind South Cloud. West Cloud Hsi Kap grimaced in pain, but fought on.

Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan had killed the man on the carriage and was dragging out the trunk. Arrow Eye ran into position and trained an arrow on Sum Wan’s back but he did not release the arrow. He was certain that the bandit would be able to avoid it. So he bided his time. Cold Wind Hands opened the trunk and three little darts flew out immediately from the trunk. He ducked under one, and deflected the other two darts with his hardened hands. Then he felt a sharp sensation as an arrow buried itself inside his back. Arrow Eye knew that the trunk was booby-trapped and had waited for the darts to occupy the attention of Cold Wind Hands so that he could release the arrow.

Cold Wind Hands was shocked at being hit, that he could not avoid a fourth delayed action dart flying out of the trunk. The fourth dart buried itself inside his chest. He fell down to the ground in pain and Arrow eye sent another arrow deep into his ribs. North cloud saw the danger of his clan chief and rushed to protect him, skillfully deflecting away Arrow Eye’s speeding arrows with his broadsword.

Cold Wind Hands leapt painfully onto the carriage and drove it away. West Cloud jumped onto the horse of Chief Feng, and rode off after the carriage, leaving East Cloud, South Cloud and North Cloud to fight on. The remaining imperial guards tried to chase after the carriage but were delayed by the three Clouds fighting a vanguard action, preventing anybody from passing them. An arrow from Arrow Eye just grazed South Cloud.

“These are not ordinary guards. They are imperial guards,” muttered South Cloud, “and they can fight!”

“You are right,” exclaimed North Cloud. “It’s time to run.”

On cue, the three Clouds ran into the bushes by the side of the road. They knew that they could get away as any pursuers would fall prey to the many booby traps they had prepared.

“Chase after the carriage!” shouted Arrow Eye. The carriage had rounded a bend and was already out of sight. The imperial guards ran after the carriage, and soon caught sight of it. They caught up with it and two imperial guards leapt onto it using lightness kungfu. But there was no one in the carriage. The trunk had also disappeared.

“That is strange! Where could they be?” shouted one of the imperial guards.

“They couldn’t have gotten far! Look behind the bushes, trees and rocks by the side of the road!” ordered Arrow Eye. However, there seemed to be booby-traps everywhere they looked, with sharpened sticks flying at them whenever a booby-trap was triggered by a careless guard. The light faded to darkness and Arrow Eye had to accept the fact that the robbers had made good their escape.

“A thousand curses,” he muttered. “Let’s tend to the wounded first.”

Seven of the men had died. Five were seriously wounded. The men gathered around Chief Feng, who was clearly dying.

“Brothers,” gasped Chief Feng, “My injuries are severe and I know that I will not live long. This loss is very serious. The Emperor will either imprison you or kill you for this dereliction of duty. I will understand if you do not wish to return to the Imperial capital.”

“If we do not return, they will think that we are the thieves who swallowed up the goods,” said Arrow Eye. “We have to return, for the sake of our honour.”

“He is right,” said another guard. “What is the good of living with dishonour? Far better to acknowledge our carelessness than to die suspected as thieves.”

All the men assented agreement.

“If that is the case,” gasped Chief Feng weakly, “cremate those who are dead and bring our ashes back to our families. Those who attacked us today are good in kungfu. They are not ordinary men, so you won’t be able to find them easily. Go look for Governor Li in Fuzhou and asked him to help search for the missing consignment on your behalf. The consignment contains two big lions carved from valuable red jade, among other things. If Governor Li finds the consignment, the Emperor may yet spare you all.”

Chief Feng died soon after that.

West Cloud and Cold Wind Hands met up with the rest at the appointed place. The sun had already gone down in the western sky. Cold Wind Hands was in pain although he tried not to show it. He had forced out the two arrows shot into him by Arrow Eye. It was not possible to pull out the arrows, as the barbs would tear every organ in its path. He broke off the feathered end of the arrows and then pushed them in further until they came out on the other side of his body. In the process of taking out the arrows, he had suffered some more internal injuries. The dart that came from the booby-trapped trunk was still buried somewhere inside his body, and he could not find a way to extract it out. He had tried to use internal energy to force it out, but the pain caused him to stop and he knew that the dart was barbed in a complicated way, designed to tear up all the organs if it was forcibly removed.

West Cloud had taken out the arrow shot into his thigh earlier. Although he walked in pain with a limp, he could nevertheless walk. He had carried the heavy trunk to the appointed meeting place despite the limp in his leg.

The condition of Cold Wind Hands was deteriorating fast and so South Cloud Nam Chiao carried him on his back while East Cloud took over the task of carrying the trunk. The five of them then made their way in the night to a big river. There, another man, Black Bat, was waiting for them with a boat. They loaded the trunk into the boat, climbed in, and then Black Bat rowed the boat downstream. Black Bat was the manservant of Cold Wind Hands and he had remarkable eyesight. There was a half moon present, and that was more than enough for Black Bat to navigate the boat.

The next morning, they were all in the Sum Manor of Cold Wind Hands. Opening up the trunk, they had a look at the goods and were impressed.

“We will divide up the loot later, when I am better,” croaked Sum Wan. He had lost a lot of blood in the night and the dart was still lodged inside him. He had used his Internal Energy to keep himself alive.

“We still have not divided up the loot from the last two occasions,” said East Cloud.

“Do you think I will cheat you?” Sum Wan said coldly. “Let me remind you that I am still the chief of the Sky Dragon Clan.”

“Of course, we trust you,” said North Cloud. Although he too badly wanted to divide up the loot, he did not want to appear to side with East Cloud. The other two Clouds nodded in agreement. East Cloud cursed silently. He knew that he would not be able to get any support from the other Clouds.

West Cloud remarked, “Those guards appeared to be special imperial guards. This must be a secret imperial shipment. There will be people looking for it soon. What do you think?”

Cold Wind Hands answered, “Yes, that is most likely. I will hide the shipment and bring it out at a time when it is safe. Expect to have Governor Li’s men searching your manors in the next few days.”

West Cloud suggested, “We can divide up some of the smaller stuff first and then find a way to share the jade lions later.”

“No” replied Sum Wan. “This is the treasure of the Sky Dragon Clan. We will divide them up at a later date. Now leave me. I need to rest.”

When the four clouds have left, Cold Wind Hands called Black Bat aside and spoke to him, “Black Bat, I have not long to live.”

“No, Master Sum,” said Black bat in horror, “you will live to a ripe old age!”

“Listen, Black Bat,” said Cold Wind Hands, “the injuries are worse than I feared. My internal organs have been punctured, and each time I move, the dart that is in me cuts a fresh wound inside. I may be able to stay alive for a few months at most.”

“You can’t die. If you die, the four Clouds will fight each other for the leadership of the Sky dragon Clan,” exclaimed Black Bat.

“I know,” said Cold Wind Hands. He stared at Black Bat. The man had been by his side for more than twenty years. He was loyal to the core, and Cold Wind Hands would trust him with his life. “What I really want is for my grandson, Sum Teng Rong, to succeed me.”

“He is only fifteen years old,” said Black Bat. “Forgive me for saying so, but if he becomes the new clan leader, he will be murdered. Ever since your two sons died, he is the last male heir of the Sum family.”

“You are right,” remarked Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan. “The seat of the Chief is not easy to occupy. My grandson is not strong enough yet to fight off potential enemies. Listen, I want you to do something important for me. I want you to take all my treasures and bury them in a place that is far from here. Then I want you to draw a map to the treasure and give it to me.”

“The treasures? All of them? Including the two imperial jade lions?” asked Black Bat.

“Yes, all of them!” replied Cold Wind Hands. “There should be three trunks in total.”

“But the four Clouds are still waiting for their share of the treasure,” said Black Bat.

“Let me deal with the four Clouds,” said Cold Wind Hands. “Take four of my men to help you carry the trunks. Then, hire a boat to take them to an outlying island that nobody goes, and bury the treasure there. The four Clouds will never think of going to sea to look for them. After you have buried the treasure, kill all the men with you so that only you know the secret location. Kill the boatmen as well. Dead men spill no secrets. If you start tomorrow, you should be back within a few days.”

“I will go down to the fishing villages to charter a boat,” said Black Bat.

“Good. Use a boat from one of the smaller fishing villages so that the deaths of a few poor boatmen will not attract much attention. After my death, most likely one of the Clouds will become the new Clan chief. In a few years time, my grandson will be strong enough to challenge for the leadership of the Sky Dragon Clan. But he will need money to buy alliances. I am ensuring that the treasure is his to command when he needs a source of funds.”

“As you wish, master,” said Black Bat. “The four Clouds will not be pleased to discover that the Sky dragon Clan treasures have disappeared from here to an unknown location. There will be trouble.”

“I know, but I am dying so it does not matter. It is important that the whole operation be carried out in secret. And come back alone with the map,” said Cold Wind Hands. “Can I trust you, Black Bat?”

“You can trust me, Master,” replied Black Bat. “As your loyal manservant, I have sworn to take the best care of your interests.”

As Black Bat walked away, some thing bothered him. Why did Master Sum ask for a map? It was an easy thing for Black bat to lead the grandson to the treasure when the time was right. Cold Wind Hands must have expected Black Bat not to live much longer, which was why a map was needed. Black Bat finally understood. The moment he handed over the map, Cold Wind Hands would kill him. Dead men spill no secrets.

“How do I get out of this?” he asked himself repeatedly. “I have sworn to look after the interests of Master Sum, but I do not wish to die yet. There has to be a solution to this.”

That night, he was not able to sleep.

In the little fishing village of Ningshiang, not far from Fuzhou, ten-year-old Yue Pei Pei was playing with her friends when she saw five men arrived on two horse-drawn carts.

Ningshiang was a small village by any standards. There were only six boats in the entire village, and only two boats large enough to venture far out into the sea. The Huang brothers owned one, and Pei Pei’s father owned the other. Sometimes townsfolk would come and charter a big boat to take them to an offshore island shrine to offer prayers to the Goddess of the Sea. The shrine was less than half a day’s sea journey away. Usually, only on those odd occasions, were strangers seen in the village.

From the carts, the men remove three ordinary looking wooden trunks and carried them to the jetty. They then labored to load the trunks onto the boat owned by the Huang brothers of the village. The boat was a Chinese sailing junk, and was large enough for a medium sized family to live on board.

Pei Pei casually wandered over and remarked, “Those boxes looked heavy! I think they must have something valuable inside.”

“Get lost, little girl,” said Black Bat with a scowl.

Kanineh, see also cannot meh?” she inquired.

“Don’t be nosy,” replied Black Bat.

“You are ugly, si beh ugly. Got little scars all over your face. You got no mother to clean your face for you one meh?” she asked.

One of the boatmen, the youngest Huang brother, told Pei Pei to go home. She poked her tongue out at him impudently. He muttered, “That Yue girl is getting more and more unruly each day!”

The men finished loading the boat and five strangers climbed on board. Pei Pei watched the Huang brothers cast off, and wondered idly where they were going. They left the two carts under the trees and tethered the horses nearby.

Pei Pei was more concerned with playing with her friends than wondering about the activities of the strangers. She was bright little girl, and highly active. Because of her exuberant nature, her playmates were often boys rather than girls. Her regular childhood friends were her three unofficial “blood brothers”, Skinny Chicken, Crazy Dog, and Big Potato. Pei Pei did not bothered to remember their real names, preferring to call them by their nicknames.

“Pei Pei! Pei Pei!” she heard her mother call.

“Shit!” she exclaimed, “I forgot! I was supposed to help make the strings to mend the fishing nets!”

“Damn chia lat! You better go,” said one of the boys, “or your mother will cane your backside until you cry like a chicken.”

Kanineh, I don’t cry like a chicken. I am not like you,” she retorted.

Nevertheless, she ran home quickly to see her mother.

“Yue Pei Pei,” her mother said, “Did I hear you used profanities just now?”

“No, of course not. Such misdirected usage of a language is not the habit of a refined young lady like me. That was Skinny Chicken. His voice sounded like mine because the poor soul has not reached puberty yet. How unfortunate. And he was so foul mouthed. May Heaven have mercy on him,” Pei Pei answered.

“Shut up,” said the mother. “Your saliva is more than tea. How many times have I asked you to conduct yourself properly like a lady? The fact that you are the daughter of a fisherman does not mean that you have to behave like one. Now come and help me roll the dried plant fibers into twine. Pick only the long fibers.”

“Yes, mother,” Pei Pei said.

On board the Huang brothers’ boat, Black Bat scoured island after island, looking for a suitable place to bury the trunks. The next day, after examining a few more isles, he finally decided on one. The men unloaded the wooden trunks from the boat and carried them inland.

The Huang brothers stayed on board the boat while the four men from the Sky Dragon Clan buried the treasure in a secret location on the island.

“I wonder what they are doing on the island,” said the youngest Huang brother on board the sailing junk.

“That is not our business. They paid us well,” said the eldest brother.

“I think the wooden trunks contain treasure,” said the youngest brother.

“Quiet! I think that these men could be martial underworld figures. We had better mind our own business and keep quiet,” admonished the older brother. The middle brother walked quietly to the front of the junk, deep in thought.

On the island, Black Bat and his three comrades had just finished burying the three trunks.

“These things must be extremely valuable for us to take them this far to bury them,” one of the men remarked.

Black Bat looked steadily at his men and said, “We have all been chosen to bring these things here to bury because Master Sum trusts us. We will have to keep this location a secret.”

“What about the boatmen? They know on which island we buried these things. Will they be able to keep this a secret?” asked the man.

“We will have to kill them. Those are the orders of Cold Wind Hands,” replied Black Bat.

“How are we going to sail the boat if we kill them?” asked the man again.

“We will have to asked them to sail us back to the village and then slaughter them after we get down from the boat,” suggested another man.

“No,” said Black Bat. “That would mean killing them in front of the village. Too many witnesses. It will turn messy. We will get them to sail us to a quiet stretch of the coast and then kill them. After that, we will set the boat adrift and the winds will carry it far away. Nobody will find out what had happened.”

“What about our horses at the village?” another man asked.

“We will go to the village at night and take back our horses,” replied Black Bat.

Two days later, Pei Pei’s father, Yue Peang, was sailing home from a fishing trip when he noticed the Huang brothers’ boat drifting with the wind.

“That is strange,” he said. “That boat has the markings of the Huang brothers’ boat. But there do not seem to be anybody on board. Where are the Huang brothers?”

“You are right,” said his wife who was on board with him. “The boat appears to be sailing on its own. The sails are not rigged to catch the maximum wind.”

“Something is clearly wrong!” said Yue Thau, Yue Peang’s younger brother. “Let us sail closer to the boat and take a look.”

As the Yues’ boat came nearer, they saw the dead bodies of the Huang brothers lying on the deck. Using a grappling hook, they pulled the boat alongside and Yue Thau jumped over to the Huang brothers’ boat. What he saw nauseated him. Each brother had been killed from behind and there were bloody red gaping knife wounds in their backs.

“What should we do?” he called to his older brother in panic. “They are all dead! Murdered! I think they died only today. The blood does not appear to be old.”

“How can they be murdered? There are no pirates around these parts!” shouted the older brother.

“I don’t know! What are we going to do?” the younger brother asked.

“We have to take their bodies back to our village for burial!” yelled back Yue Peang. “Can you sail the boat on your own?”

“Yes, I can” replied the younger Yue. “The wind is steady. I should be able to adjust the sails on my own and then man the tiller.”

“All right, then do it,” yelled the older brother.

The younger brother, Yue Thau, was a very good boatman. Trying hard not to look at the dead bodies, he adjusted the sails and then worked the tiller to get the boat facing the correct direction. Then he readjusted the sails again, after which, he went back to man the tiller. It was tricky work for one person, but Yue Thau was a very proficient seaman. He sailed the fishing junk back to the village of Ningshiang without problems.

Pei Pei was helping Skinny Chicken’s mother to turn twines into rope when she heard the sound of women wailing. She wanted to rush out of the house to find out what the commotion was all about. However, the old woman stopped her. “Don’t be a busybody,” she admonished the little girl. “Stay here and finish making the rope, while I go out and find out what it is all about.”

“I thought you said that we should not be busybodies,” said Pei Pei.

“I don’t mean ‘we’, I mean ‘you’ only,” explained the old lady. Then she was out of the door.

Kanineh,” muttered Pei Pei. “You can be busybody but I cannot! Like that also got!”

The whole village was in uproar to find out about the murdered Huang brothers. Their mother was inconsolable to find out that she had lost all her three sons. The father had long since passed away and the three sons were the breadwinners of the family. The horrific news spreaded to the next village.

Some distance away, Black Bat and his men were at a roadside eating place. They had killed the Huang brothers earlier in the day when the boat reached a secluded beach on the mainland. Then, they had walked inland until they reached a road. After walking for half a day, they had reached a small stall by the side of the road and they decided to have some food.

As they were eating, Black Bat went to the kitchen of the eating place and brought out a pot of wine. He poured out the wine and his men drank.

“Thank you all for a successful operation. Old Master Sum Wan will be pleased. I shall see that you get your just rewards,” he toasted them. They drank again and again and he kept pouring the wine for them. They did not notice that he was not drinking. Soon, they were asleep at the table. Unknown to them, Black Bat had poured some Kin Kin Khoon sleep potion inside the wine when he was in the kitchen.

“It is close to sundown. I have to close my stall soon,” said the stall owner.

“My friends are drunk. Let me pay for the food first. Then help me carry them out of the way to under those trees over there. I will let them sleep for a while,” said Black Bat.

It grew dark, and the owner closed his stall and left. Under cover of the darkness, Black Bat pulled out his dagger and said, “Forgive me, my friends. But the orders of Master Sum are that I should kill you to protect a secret.” Then he slit the throats of the four sleeping men. “Now, I am the only one who knows where the treasure is buried!” he whispered to their dead bodies.

Black Bat pondered his next move. He would have to go back to Ningshiang to recover his horses and then later present the treasure map to Cold Wind Hands. He had yet to draw the map. Walking towards Ningsiang in the moonlit night, he became aware of a lot of commotion, of people hurrying to and fro. He stopped a man walking with a flaming torch and asked him, “Friend, why is the night so noisy?”

“Haven’t you heard? The Huang brothers have been murdered! By five men who went to the village on two horse-drawn carts!” came the answer.

Black Bat paused. It would be dangerous to enter Ningshiang village to recover his horses in the light of the current situation. Somebody might recognize him as the one who chartered the Huang brothers’ boat. He decided to walk in the opposite direction. But he did not make his way to the Sum manor.

“Going back to Cold Wind Hands is to go to certain death. Once he has the treasure map, he will have to kill me to ensure that no one else knows about the whereabouts of the Sky Dragon Clan treasure. I cannot blame him for doing that. I would also do the same,” he mumbled to himself. “I will be loyal to Cold Wind Hands. He is badly injured and he will not be able to live very much longer. I will carry out his wish to have his grandson Sum Teng Rong become the chief of the Sky Dragon Clan. When the time is right, I will appear and lead his grandson to the treasure. That much will I do for my master. But now, I wish to live for a little bit longer.”

He walked and he walked. Eight days later, he reached a small house by a remote hillside. The house belonged to him, but he had not been there in many years. He was sure that no one in the Sky Dragon Clan knows of the existence of his house. With a quiet composure, he sat down and prepared his brushes. Then he drew a map to the treasure. But he drew a false map.

“The shadow of the Sky Dragon Clan is long. Cold Wind Hands may still find me. I shall let fate determine the future of the Sum family. If Cold Wind Hands chooses to trust me, I will ensure the treasure goes to his grandson. However, if he chooses to have me killed and take the map away from me by force, he will have dealt himself a bad hand. Whoever tries to locate the treasure by following this map will go on a wild goose chase. Hahaha!” he laughed mirthlessly. “The real map is inside my head, and will stay inside.”

Chapter 2: A treasure map divides four ways

Cold Wind Hands was lying on his bed. He was careful not to make any sudden movement. The dart still buried within his body was making all physical activity painful. He could walk, but had to do so very slowly. It had been more than ten days since Black Bat took away his treasure to bury on one of the islands. The man should have been back, but he was not. Cold Wind Hands wondered what was keeping Black Bat from returning. He knew that he would have to kill Black Bat once the treasure map was in his hands. That was a great pity, because Black Bat was honest and loyal; rare qualities among members of the Sky Dragon Clan. However, what must be done will have to be done.

The delay in Black Bat’s return was a cause for concern to the clan chief. He wondered if his instructions had been carried out. If Black Bat had indeed carried out his instructions to the letter, then there would be a few dead people who were dead because they knew more than they were supposed to. Cold Wind Hands called in some of his servants and addressed them. “Find out for me if there had been any unexplained deaths along the coast for the past ten days,” he instructed them. After they left, he tried to sleep. In his physical condition, there was nothing much he could do except sleep. He sighed.

In the village of NingShiang, Pei Pei and her regular friends were playing with a coconut found on the beach. The murder of the Huang brothers had panicked their parents and they were not allowed out of the house for many days. Then things started to return to normalcy and slowly, they were allowed to go out. However, they were warned not to venture too far.

“What is this thing?” asked Pei Pei.

“It is called a coconut,” explained Crazy Dog. “It does not grow here, but my brother said that it grows in the south where the weather is warmer.”

“The fruit falls down onto the ground, then rolls down to the sea. It floats in the water and the ocean current carries it for very long distances. That is how it reached here,” added Skinny Chicken.

“What is it good for?” asked Big Potato.

“Ropes. The ropes made from the coconut husk fiber is very strong,” said Skinny Chicken. “My father bought a coil of coconut husk fiber rope once from some traders and used it to rig his sails.”

Pei Pei examined the husk closer and pulled out a fiber. “Rope from a fruit? That is unusual,” she commented. “Wah lau eh. This fruit is just as big as Big Potato’s head.”

“Just as big but not quite as empty,” said Skinny Chicken in a serious tone. They all laughed, even Big Potato.

“I have something to show you all,” said Crazy Dog in a mysterious voice. Then he took out a small bottle and removed the wooden stopper. “Smell and see?”

They all took turns to smell the stuff.

“Ewwww…it smells horrible. Like some stupid herbal mixture. What is it?” asked Pei Pei.

“It is called the Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion. My father bought it from somebody in Fuzhou who just invented this stuff,” explained Crazy Dog. “It is used to make things hard and stiff.”

“Ahhh…” said Skinny Chicken, “your father must be having the same sexual problem as my father. He uses deer horn and tiger penis. My mother boils them in soup, he drinks it, then they go into the room.”

“This Potency Potion is much more powerful than tiger penis. Don’t even let it touch your fingers or they would be so stiff that you won’t be able to bend them!” said Crazy Dog.

“Sure or not?” asked Big Potato. “Here, let me try!” He made a lunge for the bottle but Crazy Dog jerked it back out of reach. Some of the liquid contents of the bottle spilled out onto Pei Pei’s knee.

“Shit!” she exclaimed. “You got some of that stupid stuff on my knee!”

“Quick, wash it off!” shouted Skinny Chicken. “Otherwise it will be so stiff and hard that you won’t be able to bend your knee the whole day!”

Pei Pei quickly ran into the sea and washed off the potion.

Kanineh, I spilt half the bottle already!” said Crazy Dog.

“Your father will sure whack you until you cry like a chicken,” said Pei Pei.

“Don’t worry,” said Skinny Chicken. “Just top it up with water and closed it back. Nobody will know!”

“Damn. You are right!” said Crazy Dog. “You have such good ideas at times!”

At that moment, the sound of Pei Pei’s mother’s voice was heard, calling out, “Pei Pei! Pei Pei!”

“Shit!” said Pei Pei, “I forgot that I was supposed to help my mother weave some sacks to carry the potatoes.” She ran home without a backward glance.

That afternoon, Skinny Chicken and Big Potato came to Pei Pei’s house and told her the news. Crazy Dog’s father had found out that his son had spilt some of his Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion. He had walloped Crazy Dog thoroughly.

“Did he cry like a chicken?” asked Pei Pei.

“No he didn’t,” replied Big Potato.

“I am impressed!” said Pei Pei.

“So was I,” remarked Skinny Chicken. “He screamed like a mad buffalo instead.”

A few days later, Cold Wind Hands’s servants informed him that there had been an unexplained murder of three boatmen from Ningshiang village. “Two horses and carts were left in the village of Ningshiang. The constabulary have taken them away,” they said. “Also, some distance away from the village, four men had died with their throats slit. Their faces had also been disfigured. Whoever killed those men made sure that they were unrecognizable.”

That sounded a lot like something that Black Bat would do. “So he is back, and he refuses to come to me!” thought Cold Wind Hands. “I will have to hunt him down, but I need to do so in a manner without attracting the attention of the Four Clouds.” Thus, he gave orders to his men to quietly inquire about the whereabouts of Black Bat and informed him once the missing servant had been found.

The days passed. Black Bat seemed to have vanished without a trace.

One day, East Cloud called for a private meeting with the other three Clouds and told them, “It has come to my attention that, last month, Black Bat disappeared. Someone in Cold Wind Hands’s manor informed me that there were people loading two carts with some boxes before dawn. At about the same time, it was reported that someone took three trunks to the Ningshiang fishing village. There was a messy murder on board a fishing junk later. I have a feeling that Black Bat had something to do with that.”

“I have heard something to that effect. But I fail to see how that concerns us,” remarked North Cloud Pak Cheong.

“I am willing to bet that the two jade lions are no more in Sum Manor. The loot that Master Sum was supposed to share with us rightfully has been removed by Black Bat and taken to Ningshiang village, where he chartered a fishing boat to take it to a secret location. That treasure concerns us. We fought with our lives for them,” remarked East Cloud casually.

“I don’t care about the two jade lions. They are too big to sell easily. I am only interested in the gold and smaller pieces of jewelry. Why don’t you go and ask Cold Wind Hands what happened to our share of the loot?” asked South Cloud Nam Chiao.

“I will go only if you three go with me,” said East Cloud. “Otherwise, I shall keep quiet.”

“We are not sure if Black Bat has taken away our loot. Black Bat is loyal to Cold Wind Hands. He will not do anything without Master Sum’s instructions. Is our share of the loot really gone?” asked West Cloud.

“I think so. But I do not wish to confront Cold Wind Hands about this without proof. He is still the clan chief, and we have to give him a certain respect. I bet Master Sum knows where our loot is. Besides him, one other person also knows,” replied East Cloud.

“Who is that?” asked South Cloud.

“Black Bat,” answered East Cloud.

The men thought for a while.

Then North Cloud said, “There is little point in confronting Cold Wind Hands. He will not say a thing. I heard that he is very sick and will not entertain visitors. We need to find Black Bat and get the truth of the matter from him.”

“But how do we find Black Bat?” asked South Cloud.

“I think I know,” said West Cloud. “Black Bat has a house that nobody knows of, on the northern slope of Peng San Hill, about three days ride on horseback from here. He once mentioned it to me when he was drunk. I have gone hunting in that area before. We can search every house on that slope until we find his house. Besides this, I cannot think of any other place that he would go.”

“Good,” said East Cloud. “We may as well try Peng San Hill. Let us start tomorrow. If he is there, we should be able to get the truth out of him.”

Black Bat was seated inside his house and painting diligently. Twenty years ago, he was traveling with his family to visit some relatives when they were attacked by vicious robbers. In the attack, his whole family had perished. The robbers then chased after him. Cold Wind Hands was passing by and had saved him. Black Bat had no money, so Cold Wind Hands helped him pay for the funeral expenses of his family. Since then, Black Bat had become the servant of Cold Wind Hands to repay a debt of gratitude.

There was one thing that Black Bat had always wanted to do. He wanted to paint the picture of his family from memory. Over the years, he had taught himself to paint. He promised himself that he would finish at least one painting of his family before he died. He had not been to his house for many years and the roof has fallen apart in places. But it was still the place where he had once heard the laughter of his children. He had nothing left except for their memories. He painted from morning till night. After he had completed a painting, he started on the next one. At times when he was tired from executing his brush strokes, he would stretch himself and work on his roof, or do some gardening.

The four Clouds found him at his table, painting away.

“Black Bat,” said East Cloud, “You have taken away something that belongs to us.”

Black Bat was astonished to see the four Clouds standing before him. Regaining his composure, he said, “I do not know what you are talking about? Whatever I did, I did so only on the instructions of Master Sum Wan. Welcome to my humble abode.”

“You don’t have to be polite. This is not a social call. We want to know where the jade lions are,” said South Cloud.

“And also our valuables from the previous operations,” added West Cloud.

Black Bat knew that there was little point in lying. If the four Clouds were here, it meant that they must have learned enough of the plans of Cold Wind Hands to warrant such a long trip to his house.

“Cold Wind Hands asked me to remove the goods to a secret location on an island. They were to be handed over to the next chief of the Sky Dragon Clan,” said Black Bat. “I made a map of that location and will hand it to the next chief.”

“I don’t believe you,” said South Cloud. “Where is the map? You have a choice of telling us right now or telling us later in pain. You know that we can torture the truth out of you.”

“There is nothing I can say if you don’t believe me,” said Black Bat. He decided to take a risk. If he could give each man one quarter of the map, they might fight among themselves and leave him alone. He pulled out the false map from within his clothes and tore it into four pieces. He handed one piece to each man and said, “In the clan, you all outrank me. Therefore, it is only right that you are the bearers of the map. I have given each of you a quarter of the map showing the location of the treasure of the Sky Dragon Clan. Keep it well. From this day on, you are the guardians of the treasure map. I only ask that each of you will give your portion to the new chief. Now leave me alone.”

“How do you read this?” asked East Cloud, looking at his portion. He could see that the partial names of some islands on his portion.

“You are not supposed to read it!” screamed Black Bat. “That is meant for the eyes of the next chief! Now go!”

“Who else, besides us four have seen this map?” asked South Cloud.

“Only you four. Even Cold Wind Hands has not seen it yet,” replied Black Bat.

“Five! Not four! You yourself have seen it,” said North Cloud.

The next moment, the head of Black Bat flew into the air and then tumbled to the ground.

“Now it is four,” said South Cloud, as he wiped the blade of his broadsword.

“Must you kill him?” asked East Cloud with distaste.

“Of course,” replied South Cloud. “He could easily have produced a new map and given it to someone else.”

East Cloud had to agree. He said, “With his internal injuries, Cold Wind Hands will not be able to live for long. Let us not mention that we know anything about this matter, but just wait for his death. Then, we will all hand our portions to the next chief of our clan.”

The others accented. But secretly, each was wondering how to get all the pieces of the map so that he could go after the treasure by himself.

Winter came, but Cold Wind Hands did not die that year. By keeping still most of the time, he was able to use his inner energy to prolong his life. He knew he was weakening, but he held on in the hope that he could locate Black Bat.

Pei Pei wrapped her scarf around her neck to keep out the cold winter wind from the northeast. She was an only child and had no brothers or sisters.. A boat accident had injured her father in the groin and he had not been able to father a child after that. Because Pei Pei was the only child, and a daughter at that, her mother had insisted that she learned the fine art of being a lady. Pei Pei was rebellious and was not inclined in taking up genteel activities such as Chinese brushwork or painting. Although she could recognize about thirty characters in reading, she could write only twenty. Her efforts in painting resulted in her mother calling the efforts like “bird shitting on parchment”. But her mother persevered, hoping that one day that Pei Pei would marry into a good family. If the Yues could not have a son, at least they could hope to have a good son-in-law.

The news of the murder of the Huang brothers had died down. The fishing boat remained beached all the time because the Huang family had no more sons to work their fishing boat. Madame Huang, the mother, had tried to sell off the boat cheaply. However, there were no takers. Many in the fishing community were superstitious; they did not want a boat that was connected with a violent murder.

In the end, Pei Pei’s uncle, Yue Thau bought it because the price was too low to pass up. He wanted his own boat, but did not have enough money to buy any other boat.

When she found out that her uncle had bought the boat of the Huang family, Pei Pei invited her three friends on board. They clambered onto the beached vessel and gave her their expert opinions.

Wah, this one is good, man. Like so spacious like that,” remarked Skinny Chicken.

“Of course, lah,” said Pei Pei proudly. “The Yue family where got simply buy boat one?”

“Hey, got a secret compartment in front also,” said Big Potato, lifting up a wooden cover on deck to reveal a small empty space under the deck.

“That is the rice compartment, lah” explained Pei Pei. “It is to keep the rice and potatoes inside. It’s more convenient than keeping them on the deck. This is the latest design. Kanineh, this one also you don’t know. Si beh lau kwee.”

Then, Big Potato fell into the rice compartment and they had to help pull him out. At that moment, Yue Thau came along and found the four of them scampering over his precious purchase. He shouted at them and they fled in four directions.

Chapter 3: Three Clouds make a failed attempt

The winter that followed was cold, but Cold Wind Hands survived. Instead, it was West Cloud’s wife, who had been ailing for some time, who passed away. West Cloud was stricken with grief and cried, “Those who are supposed to die, don’t die! Instead, those who are not supposed to die, end up dead. Where is the justice of Heaven?”

West Cloud had five daughters but no sons. The eldest girl was old enough to be married off. West Cloud decided that all thoughts of marriage for his daughter had to be postponed until the obligatory mourning period of three years had passed.

East Cloud Tung Kor Sui had toyed with the idea of proposing that his eldest son marry West Cloud’s eldest daughter. The son, Tung Ku Kai, had been visiting the courtesan houses regularly and was itching to be married. Since West Cloud’s daughter was unavailable yet, East Cloud decided that that he would have to look elsewhere for a suitable girl for Tung Ku Kai.

Winter turned to spring, and spring turned to summer. Cold Wind Hands called his grandson Sum Teng Rong to his deathbed and said, “I have been lying on this bed for the past year. Death will surely come within the next few days.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, grandfather,” said his grandson. “With your inner energy, you should be able to live to a ripe old age.”

“You don’t have to comfort me,” said his grandfather. “Even with my inner energy, I will not be able to hold on much longer. Listen well. Last year I sent Black Bat on a mission to bury the most valuable treasures that the Sky Dragon Clan had accumulated in the past. The man has not yet returned. When I am gone, I want you to look for him and find out where the treasure has gone. Use it to prosper the Sum family. Once you are rich, you can buy support within the Sky Dragon Clan. That way, you will one day become the next chief of the Sky Dragon Clan.”

“If I am rich, I do not need to become a clan chief,” said the grandson. “I will just enjoy my riches and not bother about clan affairs.”

“Do not speak like a stupid pig,” said the grandfather. “The Sum family have provided many clan chiefs to the Sky Dragon Clan in the past. It is our family tradition. I wish you to become the next clan chief.”

“If you want me to be the next chief, you can just name me as your successor,” suggested the grandson.

“No,” replied Cold Wind Hands. “You are only sixteen. If I name you as my successor, one of the four Clouds will have you murdered. They are expecting me to name one of them as the next chief. However, I shall not name anyone as my successor. Upon my death, the four Clouds will surely fight among themselves. They may come to look for you to find out if you know anything about the treasure of the Sky Dragon Clan. You will have to disappear for a few years.”

“Disappear? Why?” asked the grandson in shock. “I am not afraid of the four Clouds!”

“You are not their match,” said Cold Wind Hands. “I have already taught you the Cold Wind Hands technique. You have to practise the different steps very diligently. I will transfer to you my inner energy before I die. That will increase the pace of your progress. Within a few years, you should be able to reach the highest level of the Cold Wind Hands technique. Then, you need not fear any of the four Clouds.”

“What about East Cloud Tung Kor Sui? I have heard that his Seven Stars Inner Stance is very powerful,” asked the grandson.

“Fighting is not just about power. It is also about tactics and experience. Do not challenge East Cloud until you have many sons. You are the last of the Sum family,” answered the grandfather.

The grandson was then asked to sit on the bed with his back facing the grandfather. Cold Wind Hands placed his palms on the back of his grandson, and then transferred the Cold Wind Hands Inner Energy to him. Sum Teng Rong felt a strong energy entering him and circulating around. Then he heard his grandfather fall and so he turned around. Cold Wind Hands was dead the moment his inner energy left him.

“Damn!” said Sum Teng Rong. “I wonder if the old crazy old coot managed to transfer all his inner power to me before dying. I suppose I ought to bury him.”

After the funeral, Sum Teng Rong disappeared. East Cloud, being the most powerful fighter of the Sky Dragon Clan, demanded that he be made the new clan chief. The other three Clouds did not agree with that. One night in early autumn, the three of them held a secret meeting.

“East Cloud wants to be the new chief of the clan. If he becomes the chief, we will have to give him our portions of the map to the treasure,” said West Cloud.

North Cloud nodded. “He is more devious than Cold Wind Hands. Once he has the treasure, we will have nothing. He may even find a way to kill us one by one.”

“At times like this, we three will have to stick together,” said South Cloud. “I wish there is a way we can get the treasure for ourselves. But together, we have only three quarters of the map.”

“Let us take out our portions of the map and see if we can decipher the position of the treasure,” suggested North Cloud Pak Cheong.

The three of them then took out their map portions and place them together.

“Can you tell where the treasure is?” asked South Cloud.

“Don’t ask me,” replied West Cloud, “I don’t know how to read a sea map.”

“Actually, none of us have been out to sea except South Cloud,” said North Cloud, “so we wouldn’t be able to tell what this map is all about. It has the names of some islands though. The treasure is marked on this spot, but the island is not named.”

“Hey! Do you know what this means?” said South Cloud excitedly.

“No,” replied West Cloud.

“It means that the map portion held by East Cloud is not of any importance! Look, the missing map portion is nowhere near where the treasure location is marked!” said South Cloud, trying hard to contain his excitement.

“You are right!” said West Cloud. “We do not need the map portion of East Cloud. It probably shows only irrelevant information. We can go on a treasure hunt by ourselves!”

“True,” said North Cloud, “but we still need to find someone who can read this sea map. We need someone who can locate this island for us.”

“I have an idea,” said South Cloud. “We will go to Ningshiang village and charter a boat. Then we will ask the boatman to take us to this island based on this map. Once we reach there, we will dig up the treasure.”

“That is a good idea,” commented North Cloud. “We know that Black Bat hired a boat from Ningshiang village. Therefore, the boatmen from that village should be familiar with the various islands in this map.”

“We will have to do this hunt for the treasure without East Cloud finding out. How are we going to do it?” asked West Cloud.

“This is what we’ll do,” replied North Cloud. Each of us will pretend that we are going somewhere else. However, we will meet secretly in Ningshiang village disguised as merchants. Then, we will charter a boat on the pretext of going to give offerings at the offshore shrine of the Sea Goddess. Once out at sea, we shall take out two hundred taels of silver and persuade the boatman to help us look for our island.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” remarked West Cloud. “Two hundred taels of silver is a lot of money. No boatman will turn it down.”

Three days later, the three Clouds set out from Ningshiang village in the boat owned by Pei Pei’s father, Yue Peang. Besides Yue Peang, there was also Pei Pei’s mother and a temporary helper on board. The three of them operated the boat. Yue Peang and the temporary helper manned the sails, while Pei Pei’s mother held the tiller. As Yue Peang could not afford to hire many workers, Pei Pei’s mother was often required to help out on board.

Pei Pei was all alone in the house. Her uncle was also out to sea fishing as he had his own boat. She was supposed to be practicing her calligraphy, as insisted by her mother. Her friends came to visit, and she quickly subcontracted out the calligraphy to them.

“I am supposed to finish writing ten sheets of calligraphy. If each one of you writes three sheets for me, I can write the remaining one sheet. Then we will finish in no time,” she explained.

Kanineh, you write one sheet while each of us write three sheets…we are doing more homework than you!” complained Crazy Dog. “What’s in it for us? No benefit, we won’t do.”

“I will cook you something to eat,” said Pei Pei.

“Now, you’re talking my language!” said Big Potato. “What are you cooking?”

“Fish,” answered the girl.

“Yeeeccch!” said her three friends.

“What is wrong with fish?” Pei Pei demanded. “Fish is brain food. I’ve heard your parents calling you three “human head, pig brains” all the time! You should eat more fish.”

“We eat fish everyday,” protested Big Potato. “Obviously the fish is not working!”

“I know!” said Skinny Chicken. “Let us cook the fish in a different manner! My father told us of a method of cooking fish wrapped in leaves, but my mother refused to try. Your parents are not at home. We can try it here!”

“Cooked in leaves?” said Pei Pei. “That is crazy! The leaves will burn!”

“No, they will not,” explained Skinny Chicken. “My father said that we have to wrap the fish in a yam leaf and put it on a heated stone. The fire must be very small. It takes very long to cook. But he said that it tastes better than cooking it in a pot.”

“I have plenty of fish. Let us try!” said Pei Pei with excitement.

“But those are your parents’ fish. Maybe they intend to sell them,” said Skinny Chicken.

“Have you forgotten?” said Pei Pei. “I am an only child! Anything belonging to my parents is mine. Anything belonging to my uncle is also mine. This is the law. Understand?”

They did not argue with her, but went out to pick yam leaves. There were still some embers in the fire, so under Skinny Chicken’s haphazard instructions, they place some stones among the embers and then placed five wrapped fish on the stones. By the time they had finished the calligraphy, they unwrapped four of the fish and found that they were all uncooked.

“Damn chia lat! This stupid method of cooking won’t work. Why don’t you come to my house for lunch instead,” said Big Potato.

“All right,” said Pei Pei.

That afternoon, Pei Pei returned home after playing with her friends. The fifth and last unwrapped fish was still on the stones among the embers. She removed it und unwrapped the leaf. The fish looked ready to be eaten and so she had a taste.

“Damn! This is good! The flesh is still moist and juicy, but cooked! Skinny Chicken was not that dumb after all!” she exclaimed. “However, this method takes too long to cook. I’ll stick to using pots.”

Her uncle, Yue Thau, returned home a while later. He asked her, “Your parents are not back yet?”

“No,” she replied. “They had to take some people over to the offshore island shrine of the Sea Goddess. They didn’t say that they would be away for more than a day.”

“Maybe, they are on an overnight fishing trip,” said Yue Thau.

Pei Pei’s parents did not returned that night, or the next night.

In the morning, her friends came over.

Skinny Chicken was telling a joke, “A long time ago, a goat and two chickens entered a cave. One chicken asked the goat to stand at the entrance to block the cold wind. But the other chicken asked the goat to stand inside so that it would not block the fresh air. The two chickens argued back and forth. Then the goat farted and the two chickens died of suffocation.”

Crazy Dog and Big Potato laughed uproariously. Pei Pei stared at them distastefully and said, “Kanineh, you call that a joke? That was more gross than funny. Kanasai lai dat.”

“Who said that one not funny? You understand joke or not?” demanded Skinny Chicken.

Ni nao hiah, I understood jokes before you understood rice, okay?” she retorted.

“Are you two going to argue or are we going to play,” demanded Crazy Dog.

“Play, of course,” replied Skinny Chicken.

Pei Pei was feeling worried. Her parents boat had not returned for two nights already. She knew that something was wrong. Even her uncle was worried.

Skinny Chicken was asking her a question, “Pei Pei, why is the tree behind your house so full of pock marks? It’s like you have been throwing things at it.”

“That wasn’t me. That was my uncle,” she explained. “He has been practicing the art of the flying daggers. The poor tree is the target.”

“Flying daggers? Hooisay, man! Who taught him?” asked Big Potato.

“He fetched some bugger to worship at the island shrine of the Sea Goddess,” said Pei Pei. “Turned out that this bugger was some kungfu master from the north. He taught my uncle eight ways of throwing daggers.”

“Only eight ways?” exclaimed Big Potato. “I heard that there are at least fifteen ways! These kungfu people, they don’t teach you everything one. As for me, I prefer to learn Shaolin Boxing when I grow up.”

“You will have to become a monk to do that,” said Skinny Chicken.

“Why?” asked Big Potato.

“Because Shaolin Boxers cannot get married!” replied Crazy Dog

“But I want to get married,” protested Big Potato.

“Okay, you can get married. But you cannot have sex. Otherwise you will lose your inner energy and then ‘run fire, enter demon’. But I am willing to help you out,” said Skinny Chicken.

“Oh, thanks! “ said Big Potato. “How are you going to help me?”

“Well,” said Skinny Chicken. “After you get married, we will take care of the sex part for you. I will alternate with Crazy Dog to make sure that your wife have enough sex while you are practicing your Shaolin boxing.”

Kanineh! How can you say things like that?” scolded Pei Pei. “He is your ‘blood brother’! Have you no shame?”

“What should I say then?” asked Skinny Chicken.

“You should say that your services include producing at least a few sons for him!” exclaimed Pei Pei. “Nabeh…like I must think of everything for you!”

“Hahahahaha!” laughed Skinny Chicken.

“What are you laughing about?” asked Crazy Dog. “Maybe his future wife will be damn ugly. Like one of those ‘cow head horse face’ type.”

“Who says?” yelled Big Potato. “My future wife will be beautiful. Like Pei Pei’s mother.”

The other two boys kept silent. Pei Pei’s mother was the most beautiful lady in the village. Every boy had sexual fantasies about her.

“Kanineh, have you three boys been harboring improper thoughts about my mother?” demanded Pei Pei. Then she reached for the broom and the boys fled.

On board Yue Peang’s boat, West Cloud was having reservations. “I do not think we will be able to find the correct island. We have been going to a lot of places the last few days and the boatman says that nothing matches the map. Not even the island names!”

North Cloud said, “You could be right. Some of the information may be contained in South Cloud’s portion. Black Bat wanted us all to present the map portions to the new clan chief. He is unlikely to draw three useful portions and one useless portion.”

“Could we be looking in the wrong place?” asked South Cloud.

“The city Fuzhou is marked on the map. We are in the right place,” said North Cloud.

“Our efforts are wasted then,” remarked West Cloud. “There is no other alternative other than obtaining the last quarter of the map from East Cloud to complete the whole picture. Let us go back then, I am getting tired of the waves. They are making me seasick. I shall be glad to reach dry land.”

“What shall we do with the boatmen? They have seen the map. We will have to kill them!” whispered South Cloud.

“No,” said West Cloud. “We have no reason to do that!”

“If East Cloud gets hold of these people, they will be able to tell him what our three portions contained,” said South Cloud. “For all we know, East Cloud has been making inquiries at Ningshiang village already. We will get them to sail to a quiet beach. Then I will kill the boatman. North Cloud will kill the helper. And you, West Cloud, will kill the boatman’s wife. We are in this together.”

“Are you crazy?” whispered West Cloud. “They had a sensational case of murder on a boat last year when Black Bat was in Ningshiang. Another murder case like this will attract a lot of attention. Pretty soon, people will be wondering why people are coming to Ningshiang and killing people!”

“He is right,” whispered North Cloud. “The whole thing must be made to look like an accident.”

“We will do as I had suggested,” said South Cloud softly. “We will kill them all using our Iron Palm techniques with a blow to the backbone or lower neck. That will leave no knife wounds on the bodies. I am the only one among us who can swim. So after you get down from the boat, I shall row the boat with the dead bodies in it some distance from the shore. Then I will sink it and swim ashore. It would look like the boat floundered and sank. That should appear like an accident.”

“I don’t like it,” whispered West Cloud.

“Nevertheless, we are going to do it,” hissed North Cloud.

A few days later, news filtered to Ningshiang that a dead body had washed up in a remote fishing village to the north. Yue Thau had not seen his brother for more than six days. Fearing for the worst, he went to take a look at the corpse. It was indeed the body of Yue Peang. The body of Pei Pei’s mother and that of the temporary helper on board the boat could not be found. The sea current was moving northeast parallel to the shore and then out into the open sea, so Yue Thau knew that he was lucky enough to be able to recover his brother’s body.

Some fishermen around the area reported seeing the shape of a sunken fishing junk at the bottom of the sea at low tide. They took Yue Thau to the spot and he dived in. He could not reach the sunken junk, but he dived near enough to recognize the boat as that belonging to his brother. With tearful eyes, he brought back the body of Yue Peang for burial.

Pei Pei cried for days.

She took out the nine sheets of calligraphy brushwork that her friends had done for her, and tore them to pieces. Then she took out her brush and fresh sheets of paper that her mother had bought for her at great expense. “I am practicing my calligraphy, mother. Just as you wish me to,” she sobbed tearfully.

Chapter 4: The trickery of East Cloud

The news of the death of Yue Peang did not attract much attention. Fishermen drowning at sea were not that uncommon. When she had time to think about it, Pei Pei was puzzled.

“Uncle,” she asked, “you said that the boat sank not very far from the shore. How is it that three people who can swim, could not even swim to safety?”

“When a boat sinks, it creates a down current, and pulls everything downwards in its wake,” explained her uncle Yue Thau. “Even a strong swimmer will find it difficult to break clear. If ever you are on a sinking boat, you need to jump clear of it first before the boat goes down. Otherwise, it will be too late.”

Pei Pei thought for a while and said, “ I have this feeling that my father’s death is not that simple. When you brought the body back, the neighbours said that his neck was broken. How can that be?”

“I don’t know,” replied Yue Thau, “but all manners of injuries can occur in an accident.”

“I think those three men who chartered my father’s boat killed him and everybody on board. Then they sank the boat,” suggested Pei Pei.

“If they had killed your father, then they might as well steal his boat and sail it off somewhere and sell it. Even if they did not wish to steal the boat, why would they go to all that trouble to sink it?” said her uncle.

“I don’t know,” replied Pei Pei. “But something does not feel right.”

“Do not think too much about this,” said Yue Thau. “Thinking will not bring your parents back. The most logical explanation is that the boat sank quickly and everybody on board drowned before they had a chance to swim clear.”

Pei Pei kept quiet. Then she went back to her calligraphy practice.

The Sky Dragon Clan was in a stalemate. East Cloud kept insisting that he should be the new clan chief. However, North Cloud, South Cloud and West Cloud formed an alliance and insisted equally strongly that the next clan chief should come from among the three of them. The other clan members were equally divided on the whole matter. The politics of the clan turned messy with the two parties jostling for supremacy. The situation was deadlocked for a long time.

The following year in autumn, Pei Pei was on the beach digging for clams. She was already twelve years old. It had been a year since they found her father’s body. She had grown more subdued in character and more willing to help around the house. Usually, she would be out at sea, helping out in her uncle’s boat, but on that day her uncle had gone to Fuzhou city on some business.

Her three friends happened along and stopped to talk to her.

“Pei Pei,” said Big Potato, “We are going spear fishing. Do you wish to come?”

“Where are you going to spear fish?” asked PeiPei.

“We are going to that rocky islet over there,” answered Crazy Dog. He pointed to an offshore rocky outcrop in the sea.

“That far? Are you going to swim there?” asked Pei Pei.

“No,” said Skinny Chicken. “Crazy Dog is going to take his elder brother’s raft. We’ll sail there.”

“That raft is so flimsy that I am surprised that it has not broken to pieces,” admonished the girl. “Kanineh. Get a proper boat, mah!”

“No one will lend us a boat,” said Big Potato. “The only reason why we are able to get the raft is because Crazy dog’s brother is away in Fuzhou, so Crazy Dog is borrowing the raft without permission.”

“Apparently you don’t understand the concept of borrowing,” remarked Pei Pei dryly. “Taking without permission is not considered borrowing!”

“Who cares? Are you coming or not?” demanded Crazy Dog.

“Of course!” replied Pei Pei. “Let me just run home and borrow my uncle’s fishing spear. He has gone to the city for the day.”

“It’s strange. My father has also gone to the city for the day. Why are so many of them going to the city?” asked Big Potato.

“They have gone to visit a courtesan house,” said Crazy Dog. “My brother took one bottle of Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion with him.”

Wa piang . This sounds like they all went on some kind of organized sex tour,” said Pei Pei.

“They not shy one,” remarked Skinny Chicken. “Go, also have to go in a group. They should each go alone, so that nobody will know!”

“Which courtesan house do they usually go?” asked Big Potato.

“The cheaper ones. Definitely not the expensive ones like The House of a Thousand Pleasures,” answered Skinny Chicken. “They say the courtesans in there are very beautiful. They wear the best clothes and eat the best food. Swee swee. Chuay chui.”

“Maybe when I grow up, I should also consider becoming a courtesan,” said Pei Pei.

“Hahahah! You certainly have the good looks,” said Crazy Dog, “but the moment you open up your mouth to speak, you sound like a sailor.”

“A very foul-mouthed sailor,” added Skinny Chicken.

“I can be very ladylike if I want to,” protested Pei Pei. Her friends nodded disbelievingly.

The four of them later gathered at the raft belonging to Crazy Dog’s brother. It was a simple contraption of small logs tied together and had a mast in the center with a sail. There was no rudder and they used an oar to steer. By immersing the oar blade in the water and angling it, the oar could function as a rudder. It was a crude method of steering, but it worked. The raft was slow, but it could move in the wind once the sail was up. As they were sailing, the sea waves washed over the deck of the raft, wetting all four of them.

“What is the point of having a raft when you get wet all the time from the waves?” asked Pei Pei.

“It is better than swimming there,” said Crazy Dog. “At least it is not so tiring. The only problem is that if there is no wind, it will be a bit difficult to row. When you try to paddle at the side, the thing keeps turning.”

“So hot,” complained Big Potato. “You should at least build a shade on this thing.”

“Don’t complain,” said Skinny Chicken. “You try to swim over to the islet with your fishing spear and your fish basket and you will know how convenient this raft is.”

“Why are there two poles tied diagonally, when everything else is tied crisscrossed?” asked Pei Pei. “It’s like so untidy.”

“The two diagonal poles help the raft to keep its rectangular shape. Otherwise the raft will come apart. Just like you have diagonal poles in the framework of your roof,” explained Skinny Chicken. “Good designs are all like that.”

Although she had seen the raft many times before, it was the first time that Pei Pei had ever been on it. She did not like the fact that the raft would be difficult to row if there was no wind, as well as the fact that she got wet all the time when a strong wave washed onto its deck. Still, she was intrigued by the fact that it could hold up the weight of the four of them.

She inspected the raft closely and said, “If it were up to me, I would design a bow in front of the raft that will allow me to row from the front, rather than rowing from the side.”

“Or design a stern at the back to row from behind,” suggested Skinny Chicken.

“Or cut a hole in the middle and row from the center,” said Big Potato. “And you can use it as a toilet also.”

The other three stared at him.

“That is quite an idea, except that you will fall into the hole,” remarked Crazy Dog. They all laughed. Big Potato was quite used to not being taken seriously by the gang.

They reached the islet and then took out their fishing spears to spear the fish. They were not very good at it, and Crazy Dog had to show everybody the correct way to aim. “The water bends the vision, so the fish always appear further then it actually is. You have to aim below it. Be careful not to spear your own leg,” he advised.

Pei Pei used a spear with a single metal prong. She broke a clam and threw it in the water as bait. The smaller fishes came to investigate. The bigger fishes hovered nearby, but refused to come near the bait. She waited for them to come near enough to be speared but they were wary and swam just a bit out of range of her spear. Finally, she got tired of waiting, so she took aim with her spear and threw. The spear pierced though the body of a fish neatly. Big Potato swam after the spear and recovered it for her.

Crazy Dog whistled. “Where did you learn to throw like that?” he asked.

“Her uncle has been teaching her the flying daggers,” said Skinny Chicken.

“It was a lucky shot,” said Pei Pei.

“Why are you learning the flying daggers?” asked Crazy Dog. “Why not learn swordplay instead?”

“It’s my uncle’s doing,” she replied. “He has this fantasy of being a kungfu master. Since he is unable to collect any disciples, I had to oblige him. He taught me his eight techniques of throwing daggers. Each time we go into a practice session, I had to address him as “sifu” and bow. He said that respecting a sifu is very important.”

“That is true,” said Skinny Chicken. “They say that if someone kills your sifu, you have to go and avenge his death. That is the cultural tradition.

“What a stupid tradition,” remarked Pei Pei. “If they can kill the sifu, then they can kill the disciple even more easily.”

“Is throwing daggers easy to learn?” asked Big Potato.

“Daggers are the most difficult items to throw. If you can throw daggers, then you can usually throw stones and spears without problems. The most effective way of throwing daggers is to throw them straight. If you can throw the dagger without a spin, it will always land onto the target with tip foremost,” said the girl.

“Sounds difficult,” remarked Big Potato.

“It is easier to learn how to do it while one is young. Once you are old, the arm movements are very inflexible, and the thrower will impart a slight spin to the dagger. This may result in the dagger hitting the target with its blunt end instead of its pointed end if the target moves backwards,” explained Pei Pei. “Here, let me show you how. After that you can call me “sifu”. As a mark of respect to your sifu, you have to bring me a roast duck each. And bow when you see me pass.”

“It’s alright! We do not wish to learn!” said Crazy Dog.

At the end of the day, all the big fish speared by them were the ones speared by Pei Pei. The boys secretly admired her prowess. She was not strong, but she was deadly accurate. On the returned journey on the raft, they allowed her to control the steering oar.

Meanwhile, at the Tung manor, East Cloud marveled quietly at the artistic abilities of his third and youngest son, Tung Choy. The boy was only sixteen years old. All he needed to do was to look at an item for a short while, and he would be able to paint it from memory. It was a talent that East Cloud hoped to exploit. The second son, Tung Por Yook, and the eldest son, Tung Ku Kai, did not have the same talent. The eldest son was twenty-two years old and had married a pretty girl called Lady Fai late last year but she showed no signs of being pregnant.

“It has been three quarters of a year since the marriage and yet my daughter-in-law is not pregnant. I must remember to buy my eldest son one of those Potency Potions that I have heard so much about,” thought East Cloud. “Hopefully, he will be able to sire several grandchildren for me.”

More than a year had passed since the demise of Cold Wind Hands and East Cloud had still not been successful in becoming the new clan chief. Perhaps, it was time he tried a new trick, he thought.

East Cloud sent a message to each of the three other Clouds to say that he wished to make a generous offer for their map portions. They were invited to meet with him at the Tung manor. They refused, and together they sent a message back to say that they would only agree to meet him on a neutral ground.

East Cloud then suggested that they bring their map portions and meet in the largest room of the biggest and newest inn in the city, the two-storeyed White Lotus Inn. They agreed.

On the day of the meeting, the three Clouds arrived with their fighters. They were ushered in to a big room on the ground floor where East Cloud was waiting for them.

“Welcome, brothers,” East Cloud said politely.

“Let us come to straight to the point. You wish to buy our portions of the map,” said South Cloud.

“That is correct. The current situation is untenable. None of us will get the treasure if we go on like this. Let us see if we can come to an agreement,” said East Cloud politely.

“Good,” said North Cloud. “A fair settlement is what we seek.”

“Then let us discuss this matter like gentlemen,” said East Cloud. “I see that you have brought many fighters.”

“One can never be too careful,” said West Cloud. “What is your offer?”

“Not so fast,” said East Cloud. “How do I know if you still have your map portions? Let us put our portions on the table and see if they fit. If they do, then we will negotiate. Otherwise, there is little point in talking further.”

They all agreed and each man brought out his map portion. They placed the four portions on the table in the middle of the room and they fitted together perfectly. East Cloud noted that North Cloud’s map portion had a small speck of dirt on it.

“It does appear that all your map portions are genuine,” said East Cloud.

North Cloud asked, “How much are you willing to pay for our portions of the map?”

“I will give each one of you a hundred taels of silver,” answered East Cloud. “That is very generous, considering the fact that nobody really knows if the treasure exists.”

“If you did not think that it exists, you would not be offering us any money for a scrap of paper,” remarked South Cloud.

“I take it that you accept then?” said East Cloud.

“The treasure is worth much more than that. Each jade lion in there was carved from solid red jade and is worth at least fifty thousand taels of silver. The whole treasure could be worth five hundred thousand taels,” said South Cloud. “Offer us a hundred thousand taels to us each and we will talk.”

“I do not have that kind of money,” replied East Cloud.

“Because you are our comrade, we are prepared to take less, say, fifty thousand taels each,” offered North Cloud.

“I do not have that kind of money,” repeated East Cloud.

“Forty thousand taels then,” said West Cloud.

“I do not have that kind of money,” East Cloud said once more.

“How much do you have?” asked South Cloud.

“As I said before, a hundred taels of silver,” answered East Cloud. “That is generous, considering the fact that your portions are almost worthless. If they were any good, you would have found the treasure in your expedition to Ningshiang village last year. Don’t think that I don’t know about that!”

“How did you know about that?” asked West Cloud in surprise.

“I have spies in a lot of places,” replied East Cloud. “The three of you were seen along the coast. You certainly went to a lot of trouble, and all you did was to sink a boat.”

North Cloud tried to hide his embarrassment. He countered, “If a hundred taels is how much our map portions are worth, then let us offer you one hundred taels for your map portion instead.”

“My map is not for sale,” replied East Cloud.

“It looks like we are unable to conclude any business today,” said West Cloud.

“In that case, I shall keep my portion,” said South Cloud. He reached out his hand and took his portion of the map away. West Cloud followed suit. North Cloud wanted to keep on negotiating, but seeing that the other two Clouds had withdrawn their map portions, he took back his portion as well.

East Cloud reluctantly kept the remaining piece and said, “This is most disappointing. Looks like we are unable to conclude any business today. But since you are here, you may as well tell me about your sea expedition last year, and why you failed to find the treasure. Was it because you could not locate the correct island, or did you locate the correct island but could not find which part of the island the treasure was buried in? I am curious to know!”

“You will learn nothing from us,” said North Cloud. “We are leaving. There are a lot of things we have to do.”

With that, North Cloud, South Cloud and West Cloud left with their fighters, leaving East Cloud in the room.

East Cloud stared at the table. Then he stared upwards towards the ceiling just above the table.

In the room right above, East Cloud’s youngest son, the talented Tung Choy, had watched the whole proceedings through a small hole in the floor. The hole was right over the table where the four map portions were placed together a short time ago. The young lad had kept very still throughout the whole meeting, concentrating only on the map. When the three Clouds had left, he spread out a sheet of paper on the floor and proceeded to paint from memory. In a short while, he had reproduced a copy of the whole map, complete with the names of the islands.

East Cloud allowed the boy sufficient time to work undisturbed. Then, eager with anticipation, he went upstairs to the room above.

Tung Choy let him in and said, “Your plan worked perfectly, father! I have made a good copy of the whole map!”

The father looked at the copy of the map. Every detail had been drawn in. His son had even drawn in the small speck of dirt found on North Cloud’s portion of the map.

“Good! Very Good!” a beaming East Cloud laughed. “We don’t need those three fools any more!”

Chapter 5: Lost in stormy seas

East Cloud Tung Kor Sui had decided that he would not use any of his men to help him locate the treasure. Secrecy was of utmost importance, so he thought that it would be best to use only his sons. It was late autumn, and he had time to make one attempt before winter approached.

Tung Ku Kai, the eldest son, removed his clothes and approached his bed. His wife, Lady Fai spread her legs and he plunged in. He pumped furiously and within twenty breaths, he was spent. Extricating himself from between her legs, he rolled over. Within moments, he was fast asleep.

Lady Fai got up from the bed. With her husband’s fluids still trickling down her thighs, she walked across the room to get a piece of cloth to wipe herself. She heard a rustle outside the window and she smiled inwardly, “That second brother, Tung Por Yook, is peeping again! He is better looking than his older brother. Perhaps I should have married him instead.”

Walking naked proudly, she moved from one end of the room to another, giving the peeping tom a good eyeful. She was used to men peeping at her. Even when she was young, she knew that men enjoyed peeping at her, especially when she was naked. “I should seduce Tung Por Yook, and maybe that young lad, Tung Choy as well,” she thought lasciviously to herself.

Lady Fai’s pussy cat(At one stage, Tung Por Yook thought he saw Lady Fai’s grey pussy cat against a white background.
It could be something else.)

With her back towards the window, she undulated her ass. “Peep all you want. Within six months, I’ll have you eating out of my hands,” she thought wickedly. Then she blew out the candles in the room and went back to bed.

The next morning East Cloud, his wife and their three sons traveled by horseback to Ningshiang village in the pre-dawn. Madame Tung left her husband and sons at the village and took the horses back to their manor.

“This is a small village father,” complained Tung Ku Kai. “Why don’t we go to the other fishing villages where there are bigger boats to hire.”

“We will need the boatman’s help to locate the correct island. The islands are uncharted and different people call the islands by different names. Black Bat used a boatman from Ningshiang when he buried the stuff. He must have obtained help from the boatman to identify the different location markers and reference points. Our best chance of success is to use somebody from Ningshiang as well,” explained the father.

“That is right,” said Tung Por Yook. “We cannot simply take the map everywhere and ask around if anybody knows the place we are looking for. Then news will soon spread that we have a map. People will get curious.”

“And before we know it, the three Clouds will have got wind of it,” added Tung Choy. Both he and Tung Por Yook had always thought that the eldest brother was the family idiot.

“Then let us hire the biggest boat in this village then,” suggested Tung Ku Kai. “A small boat may not be able to seat all of us comfortably. Get one that has something comfortable to lie on.”

“We are not on a pleasure trip,” rebuked his father sharply. “Anyway, there is only one boat big enough for our purpose. It belongs to a man called Yue Thau. I have approached him two days ago to charter his boat. He is waiting for us. He thinks that we are going to visit the offshore island shrine of the Sea Goddess. Once out at sea, I will tell him to change course.”

It was already dawn when they reached the house of Yue Thau.

“Good morning. You are early,” greeted Yue Thau.

“Yes,” replied East Cloud. “We wish to go out early and return early.”

“That is wise,” remarked Yue Thau. “The waves are stronger in the afternoon and you may get seasick.”

East Cloud and his sons climbed aboard the boat after Pei Pei and then Yue Thau cast off, heading towards the island shrine. Pei Pei was surprised that the four men brought hoes with them, and enough food and water to last for several days. Were they going to do some digging work at the shrines? She had never been comfortable whenever Yue Thau ferried passengers to the island shrine, but the rewards were good and she understood that her uncle needed the money. He was saving up to get married.

East Cloud and his sons could all swim, and so they felt confident on board. There was a roofed shelter on the deck that was big enough to shelter them from the sun or rain, and they left their things there.

When the boat was out in the open sea, East Cloud announced a change of plans to Yue Thau and showed him the map. Yue Thau protested, saying that he was not interested in going on an island hunt, East Cloud then took out a bag containing two hundred taels of silver saying, “This is for you. If you succeed in finding what I am looking for, I will give you an additional hundred taels!”

Yue Thau agreed. With a total of three hundred taels, he could afford the dowry for a wife, remodel the house, and still have money left over for the wedding feast and other expenses.

Pei Pei was apprehensive. “Where got money so easy to earn one? I do not think these people have honest intentions. We can jump overboard and swim to the nearest island. Then let the boat carry these idiots to ends of the earth!” she suggested.

“Are you crazy?” whispered her uncle. “This boat is all I have!”

Finding the required island proved more difficult than anticipated for the boatman. He sailed the area trying to spot familiar reference points on the map but there were none that he could use.

“This map is wrong, totally wrong!” said Yue Thau in exasperation. “Whoever drew it made a lot of mistakes. The islands are in the wrong positions. And some of the islands have names nobody has ever heard off before. There is supposed to be a small islet right where we are but there is nothing.”

East Cloud too had a feeling that Black Bat was not very accurate in producing the map. “We should not have killed him,” he thought to himself. “Then he could have led us to the treasure. Damn that idiot South Cloud. He has a bad habit of killing first and then thinking later.”

“If you ignore all the wrong names and wrongly placed islands, where do you think the location is?” asked Tung Choy.

“If I were to guess, then I would guess that the island you are looking for would be either Chingtong Island or Kon Lo Island,” said the boatman.

“Which one is nearer?” asked East Cloud.

“Chingtong Island,” replied the boatman.

“Then let us go there,” commanded East Cloud.

“It will be dark when we reach there. You will have to sleep on the island. I hope it does not rain,” said the boatman.

It was dusk when the boat beached at Chingtong Island. It was a rocky island with a small beach. Pei Pei took a mat and slept on the beach. The rest of them passed an uncomfortable night on the boat.

The next morning, East Cloud and his sons scoured the whole island. The island was so small that they could walk around it more than ten times in one day. The mainland could not be seen from the island as it was too far away. The island had a little well by the beach. Some of the local fishermen using large boats had been to the island to take water. The smaller boats normally would not sail that far from the mainland. Most of Chingtong Island was rocky without any soft ground to bury any treasure. There were supposed to be three trunks that were taken away by Black Bat to be buried. East Cloud and his sons dug at the few parts that were sandy using hoes.

“What are they digging for, uncle?” whispered Pei Pei.

“I don’t know. We are not supposed to ask them any questions,” replied the uncle. He looked at the sky. It was getting ominous. He could read the signs. A storm was heading their way from the northeast. He hoped to make it back to the mainland before it hit them. Something was not right with the weather. The northeast winds were not supposed to arrive that early.

The Tungs dug the whole day until they ran out of places to dig. A tired Tung Por Yook asked his father, “Shall we dig on the beach?”

“No”, replied the father. “It will not be in a place too close to salt water. Black Bat was not that stupid to risk the valuables getting damaged by seawater. He would look for some place drier.”

“We have not dug under some of the trees yet. Maybe we should uproot them and see!” suggested the eldest son, Tung Ku Kai.

“That does not make sense, said Tung Por Yook. “Black Bat buried the stuff two years ago. Those trees looked very much older than two years.”

“He’s right,” remarked the father. “I do not think Black Bat will pick this island to hide things. There is a well on this island and fishermen come here to take water. He would pick an island that nobody goes. We should try the other one called Kon Lo Island.”

Regretfully, East Clouds and his sons climbed on board the boat and they cast off. It was already mid afternoon.

They sailed for a short distance from the island and the boat rocked more than usual because of the choppy waves. Yue Thau was worried. He looked at the sky. Something was not right. He told the Pei Pei to control the tiller while he went to adjust the sails.

Tung Ku Kai felt the boat change directions. They were no longer sailing towards Kon Lo Island.

“What are you doing?” he shouted at the boatman.

“The wind is rising too fast,” shouted back the boatman. “I think we are in the way of a big storm. I am heading back to the mainland! There are some bigger islands along the way that we can take shelter for the night.”

“No,” shouted Tung Ku Kai, “We should be heading towards the other island, Kon Lo Island!”

“Too many submerged rocks there! It won’t be safe to approach it in a storm!” came the reply.

Tung Ku Kai then pulled out a dagger and pointed it at the boatman. “Change the course back to Kon Lo Island, or you will feel my dagger!” he threatened the boatman.

A huge wave tilted the boat to one side and Tung Ku Kai found himself flying forward. He landed against the boatman who was holding onto one of the ropes attached to the sail.

Yue Thau’s eyes opened wide and he looked down to see Tung Ku Kai’s dagger in his stomach. Tung Ku Kai pulled out his dagger and blood spurted out from the wound in his abdomen.

Pei Pei saw the whole thing and was horrified. “What have you done!” she shouted.

Yue Thau felt backwards over the side of the boat and into the water. Another big wave came and the boat tilted suddenly again. Everybody grabbed onto something for support.

The boat then righted itself and Pei Pei quickly tried to look for his uncle. Ignoring the tiller, she ran to the side of the boat and scanned the waters.

She cried out, “Uncle Thau! Uncle Thau!”

There was no answering reply. She tried to get to the other side of the boat to take a look, but yet another huge wave hit the boat and she had to hold on to the mast for support. The rain came suddenly.

“Don’t just breathe there! Look for my uncle!” she screamed at East Cloud and his sons who were holding onto anything solid on the boat for dear life. They were not as surefooted on the deck as she was and it was the first time they had ever been in a storm while on a boat. The rain made visibility difficult, and nobody could see where the boatman was.

“His body is gone. I did not see him float up when he fell overboard,” remarked Tung Por Yook, more to himself than to anybody else.

The rain got heavier and one by one the Tung Brothers made their way into the shelter on the boat. Their father then joined them.

East Cloud slapped his eldest son and snarled, “You stupid lump of dog shit! You pulled out your dagger and killed the boatman. What were you thinking? Who is going to sail this boat?”

Tung Ku Kai could not face his father and so he looked downwards.

Pei Pei stood there in the rain, with her hands clutching the mast, still hoping to catch sight of her uncle’s body. The rain had become a fierce thunderstorm, but she did not care. It grew darker and darker but she kept on looking. When she could not even see the deck of the boat, she realized that it was night. The boat pitched dangerously every now and then, but she clung on. In the dark, she felt around the place where she was positioned and found a loose length of rope that had been tied to the mast. She used it to tie her body to the mast pole. She did not know where the storm was blowing the boat and she did not care. The stark realization hit her that she had lost her only remaining relative in the world.

She sobbed.

In the rain she sobbed.

Amidst the howling wind she sobbed.

Morning came.

Pei Pei awoke. She did not know how she managed to sleep through the storm while tied to the mast pole, but she must have slept. When she opened her eyes, the rain had stopped and there was some light. She knew that it was morning. The skies were overcast and gloomy. The wind was still strong and the boat was moving fast.

She looked all around her. There was no sight of land anywhere. She did not know where she was. The sea was not as rough as the night before, so she untied herself from the mast. Then she lay down on the deck and slept again, flat out.

East Cloud and his sons spent a sleepless night under the shelter. It was only in the morning, when the wind had died a bit and the sea was not so choppy that they could sleep. When it was past noon, Tung Por Yook woke up from his sleep. He saw that his father was also awake.

“What are we going to do, father?” he asked.

“I don’t know” his father replied. He had never been in such a situation before and he was at a loss for ideas.

Tung Ku Kai woke up and said, “I’m hungry. I wish that I have something good to eat.”

His father glared at him and he felt uncomfortable.

“Maybe we should ask the girl what to do,” suggested Tung Ku Kai.

East Cloud got up and walked over to Pei Pei who was still lying on the deck. He woke her up and asked her, “Girl, do you know where we are?”

“Pei Pei stared back angrily at him and said, “I don’t know and I don’t care. Your son killed my uncle. He was my only living relative! I could not even recover back his body for a proper burial. He did not deserve this!”

“I am sorry about that,” he said, “but if we get back to the mainland, I will take care of you. I promise.”

“I don’t want you to take care of me!” she shouted. “I want my uncle back!”

“That is not possible and you know it,” he replied. Looking at the speed at which the boat was traveling, he asked, “The boat is traveling very fast, isn’t it? Do you think that we should take down the sails?”

“How should I know?” replied Pei Pei. “You can take down the sails and stay here until you starve to death, or you can keep on traveling until it reaches some unknown land. Take your pick!” Then she went back to sleep.

East Cloud thought it over and decided that the better option was to keep on traveling until they reached land.

By mid afternoon, the wind had started to rise again. The sea got rougher and Tung Choy, who was not surefooted, almost got thrown overboard several times. East Cloud decided that it would be best that all of them attached themselves with a length of rope to a part of the boat. In case anyone fell overboard, he could be pulled back up again by the rope.

It was not a moment too soon. After attending to his sons, East Cloud tied a length of rope around himself as well. A giant wave hit the fishing junk and Tung Por Yook was thrown overboard. He landed into the water and started shouting for help. The boat was traveling fast and sailed past him, leaving him behind. Luckily for him, he was already tethered to the mast by a length of rope, so his father and brothers went to the back of the boat to pull him back up.

While this was happening, Pei Pei, who had no wish to look at the Tung family, took her largest gourd water bottle and went to the front of the boat. She lifted up the cover of the rice compartment at the front of the deck and crawled inside. She was only twelve years old and so she was small enough to fit inside comfortably. Then she closed back the cover. There was a small sack of rice, a bag of dried biscuits, and other odds and ends inside. These were emergency rations stored there previously by her uncle. She was still mentally numbed by the tragic event of the previous day. Using the sack of rice as a pillow, she cried herself to sleep.

“Where is the girl?” asked Tung Choy, after they had succeeded in pulling up Tung Por Yook. The men looked around but could not see Pei Pei on board.

“She must have fallen overboard!” exclaimed Tung Ku Kai. “How careless!”

The rain came and they all rushed to the shelter.

It rained on and off for the next two days. Inside her compartment, Pei Pei was mourning for her uncle. There was nothing to do except wait for death. She waited for the boat to reach the end of the world and fall over into hell. Then she would be dead, just like the rest of her family. Maybe she would see her family again in hell. Meanwhile, there was nothing to do except wait for the end.

The boat was old and the compartment opening had warped a bit, allowing in a bit of light, despite the cover. She knew when it was day or night. There was a poem scratched deeply on the inside wall of the compartment. She remembered having seen it before, but had forgotten about it. She tried to make out the words, and then she read it silently.

Between the summer wind and morning sun
Taking aim from Rabbit Island
I skipped a rock with a banyan tree

She did not think that it was an impressive poem. But her mother, who was the daughter of a roadside petition writer, had taught her never to belittle the poetic efforts of others. There was nothing else to do in the hole, so she read the poem over and over again.

She hid in the hole for more than two days.

Pei Pei was thirsty. Her gourd water bottle was empty. She needed a drink. It was dark. She wondered if she should come out of hiding and look to see if there was any water on the deck. But she doubted it. The four men on board would have already finished any water there was. So she lay there, feeling thirsty, and not doing a thing.

Then she heard a loud cracking sound and felt the boat vibrate. A huge wave had lifted up the boat and then set it down on a submerged rock. She knew that the presence of a submerged rock usually meant that land was nearby. The boat had sprung a leak and she could feel the vessel listing to one side. She pushed out the cover of the compartment and clambered out with her water bottle. It was still dark but she could see the outline of the boat. She looked at the slight lightening of the sky and guessed that it was the pre-dawn. The water from the waves swept onto the deck of the boat and she realized that the boat was sinking fast. The leak must have been big.

Her uncle had once told her that when a boat sank, it would create a downward current that would pull everything downwards in its wake. She should jump out of the boat but she hesitated. The boat suddenly tilted at an odd angle and she hesitated no longer. Holding on tightly to her empty water bottle, she jumped out and landed in the water. Then she tried to swim away from the boat as fast as possible. The boat sank, and she felt herself being drawn downwards into the water. She kicked out desperately to reach the water surface and her empty water bottle acted as a floatation device, preventing her from being drawn down very deep. She broke the water surface gasping for air. In the semi-darkness of the pre-dawn, she could make out a dark shape in front. It was probably an island, and she swam towards it.

As the boat sank rapidly down, disappearing beneath the waves, East Cloud Tung Kor Sui found himself immersed in the dark waters of the sea. His body was still tethered to the sinking vessel by a rope around his waist, and he found himself dragged down underwater by it. He panicked for a while in the cold darkness, but managed to compose himself while holding his breath in the watery depths. He grabbed hold of the rope with both hands, exerted his Inner Energy to break it and thus freed himself. His ears were painful because of the water pressure and he was still being swept down by the downward undertow current.

He could hear a strange unrecognizable noise. With a supreme effort, he exerted his inner energy and kicked himself clear of the undertow current. He was out of air and so he had to head back up to the surface. On the way up, he faintly remembered that his three sons were still tethered to the boat. Horrified, he realized that the strange unrecognizable noise was the sound of his sons screaming underwater on their way down.

Chapter 6: The Gate of Hell Island

East Cloud’s head broke the water surface. Taking a few quick gulps of air, he dived back down into the water in a desperate attempt to locate his sons. However, it was pitch black underwater and he could not see where the boat was. He swam into an underwater rock, felt around it, and then changed direction. It was an exercise in futility. He did not know where he was going, or where he was supposed to be going. The deeper he went, the more painful his ears became. When he was out of air, he came back up to the surface.

Then, treading water, he looked around him, but could not see anything. Hoping that his sons might have managed to make it to the surface, he shouted out their names, but there was no reply. Again and again he shouted. Once more, he dived beneath the waves but again was met with an uncooperative watery darkness. The current had carried him away from where the boat had sunk, and he did not even know where to look. Although he knew that nobody could survive that long underwater, he refused to give up.

The sky had started to brighten into dawn. In the early light, he could see an island close by. There was figure swimming towards the shore. Could that be one of his sons, he wondered.

Quickly, East Cloud swam after the figure, who had reached the shore and collapsed on the beach. A while later, East Cloud reached the beach and walked towards the figure lying on the sand. In the morning light, he saw that it was Pei Pei. Reaching the girl, he shook her and asked, “Did you see my sons? Tell me, did you see my sons?”

Pei Pei was cold and shivering, and could only stare at him wordlessly. He pulled her into a sitting position and then pressed his hand on a point between her shoulder blades. Pei Pei felt a warm glow passed into her body as East Cloud used his Inner Energy to warm her.

She warmed up quickly, looked around and asked, “Where are we?”

Ignoring her question, he asked, “Have you seen any of my sons?”

“No,” she replied, “it was dark when the boat went down.”

“I did not see you on the boat for the past two days. How did you come to be here?” he asked.

“There was a rice compartment on board, where we keep the rice and other emergency rations,” she replied. “I hid in there for two days. When I felt the boat keeling, I got out immediately. Then the boat sank.”

East Cloud was silent for a while. Although he hoped that his sons could have survived, he knew that it was against the odds. They were still tethered to the boat when it went down. His sons were dead, their lives snuffed out in the prime of their lives, their bodies serving as food for the fishes. Sitting on the sand, he looked out towards the sea as tears escaped his eyes. “No, not all my sons! I have lost everything!” he cried out in sorrow.

“So have I,” retorted Pei Pei, “I have lost my parents, and also my uncle, all killed by people chartering boats.”

“I am sorry about your uncle,” said the man. “We should have listened to him and turned back. He tried to warn us. We should have heeded his warning! My sons would have been alive!”

“What was so important that you have to charter a boat and look for it even in stormy weather? Some secret of eternal life?” asked the girl angrily.

“It was something valuable belonging to the Sky Dragon Clan. I was trying to recover it,” he replied glumly.

“Last year, some men came to our village and chartered my parents’ boat. My father was later discovered killed. Was that done by your men as well?” she asked.

“No,” replied East Cloud. “Those were probably done by the three Clouds.”

“Clouds?” Pei Pei asked. “How can Clouds kill?”

He explained, “The Sky Dragon Clan has four martial artists known as the ‘Four Clouds’. I am Tung Kor Sui, the East Cloud. The other three Clouds are North Cloud Pak Cheong, South Cloud Nam Chiao and West Cloud Hsi Kap.”

“If you people had not come to my village, none of all these would have happened! And I would be living a perfectly happy life and you would not have lost your sons,” remarked Pei Pei. “Why did you choose my village to charter your boats? Why?”

A sorrowful sigh escaped East Cloud. Staring mournfully at the sea, he talked, “Two years ago, a man called Black Bat went to your village and chartered a boat to take three trunks to an unknown island to be buried. Then he killed everybody including the boatmen so that the secret will not leak out.”

“That must be the Huang brothers,” said Pei Pei. “They were murdered on board and then their boat were rigged to sail out to the open sea.”

East Cloud continued, “Later, Black Bat gave each of the four of us a quarter of the map showing the secret location of where it was buried. Last year, North, South and West Clouds went to Ningshiang village and chartered a boat to look for the treasure. They did not find it. Then they sank the boat. I do not know why they killed the boatman.”

“All that over something buried on some stupid island?” Pei Pei was angry. “That cannot be more important than human life. Tell me, what exactly was it that was buried that was so important?”

“It is a secret,” replied East Cloud.

“Secret? I have lost my whole family and you just lost your three sons! What secret can be so important?” demanded Pei Pei.

“Little girl, you are right,” answered the man. “I don’t care for all that now. The three trunks contained two huge jade lions and many other valuable items. Their value is so high that I would not be able to estimate their worth. Any man would want to get their hands on them. But I would rather have my sons back.”

Pei Pei looked hard at him. He did look pitiful.

“Well, what do we do now?” asked the girl.

“I don’t know,” said the man sadly.

They sat in silence as the sun rose over them.

East Cloud then got up and took off his wet robes until he was only dressed in his underclothes. He hanged his wet clothes on a branch of a nearby tree and said, “I will go to the left side of the beach to look and see if my sons’ bodies have washed ashore. Will you go to the other direction and help me look?”

Pei Pei nodded. She did not really wish to look for his sons. However, she was thirsty and needed to find water. She wandered to the right and soon came across what looked like a small stream. It was dry. It probably filled with water only when it rained, she thought. There could be water beneath the surface. Using her bare hands, she dug at a sandy spot and soon uncovered water. She lowered her head and quenched her thirst. The water tasted slightly brackish and she got sediment in her mouth. She decided to leave it for the time being while she went to look for the bodies of Tung Kor Sui’s sons. She would kick Tung Ku Kai’s head into pieces if she found it.

The beach was not very long and it ended at some rocks. Pei Pei climbed the rocks until she could see into the next beach. The next beach was a small cove and was messy with rotting tree trunks on the shoreline.

“It looks like the sea carries every rubbish to this cove,” she thought. A carcass of a big dead fish was lying on the beach, and it stank. There was no sign of the bodies of East Cloud’s three sons, so she turned back. Along the way, she slaked her thirst once again at the hole she had dug in the dried up stream. The sediment had settled down considerably and the water tasted better this time.

Walking back towards the spot on the beach where she had landed, she saw that East Cloud was also on his way back.

“Any sign of them?” he asked her.

“No,” she replied.

“I will have to accept the fact that they are still tied to the sunken boat,” he said. “This is the end of my family.”

“Don’t you have any more sons at home?” Pei Pei asked.

“No,” he replied glumly, “there’s only my wife and two daughters. And also my daughter-in-law. My eldest son got married at the end of last year. No grandchildren yet.”

“At least you have somebody at home,” said Pei Pei, “whereas I am the only one left of my family.”

East Cloud looked at the girl and said, “My greed has brought misfortune to me as well as to you. If we are able to find our way back home, I will see that you do not starve.”

“No, thank you,” said the girl, “your Sky Dragon Clan has killed off my entire family and that makes you my enemy. I will not accept charity from my enemy.”

“Your uncle’s death was an accident. I wish to make amends,” said the man.

“Do you smell something?” asked the girl.

“Yes, a strong body odour!” replied East Cloud.

They got up and looked around. Suddenly, a strange half naked man with white hair appeared before them. He wore only something made of tree bark covering his loins.

“I see that you have come to my island!” said the white haired man.

“My name is Tung Kor Sui. Greetings to you,” said East Cloud.

“Hahahahahah!” laughed the white haired man. “I have not seen humans on this island for the past twenty five years!”

“Greetings uncle,” said Pei Pei, “I am Pei Pei. May we know where we are?”

“You are on the Gate of Hell Island!” boomed the reply, “Ever since I was shipwrecked here thirty years ago, I have never seen a single ship or boat on these seas. This island must be at the gate of hell. That is why nobody comes here!”

“May we know your name? How many of you were shipwrecked here?” asked East Cloud.

“My name is Ngai Chung. I am originally from Shantou. While traveling on a boat thirty years ago, we were caught in a typhoon and blown here. Only three of us made it to the island.”

“Where are the other two?” asked Pei Pei.

“In my stomach. When we landed, we could not find food so two of us ate the third one. Then five years later, I ate the other person,” answered the white haired man.

“Ngai Chung of Shantou? I have heard of you! You were known as the Shantou Devil!” exclaimed East Cloud Tung Kor Sui. “You were the notorious bandit who cooked his victims. Thirty years ago, the top martial artists of the Province went to Shantou to kill you but you evaded them and disappeared at sea. Nobody has heard of you since. So this is where you were!”

“I was with my blood brothers escaping from my enemies in a junk, and it got blown here by strong winds. It is peaceful here, without my enemies trying to hunt me down. But I have not had human flesh for the pass twenty-five years. Now, which one of you should I cook first?” said the Shantou Devil.

“You are mad!” said Pei Pei.

“Let me see,” said the Shantou Devil, thinking out loud. “I can cook the younger one first, and then five years later cook the older one. But by then, his flesh would be old and leathery. If I cook the older one first, in five years time the younger one will be much bigger and have more flesh.”

“Eat me?” exclaimed East Cloud. “You will find that my Seven Stars Internal Stance kungfu too much for you to handle. One way or another, I will kill you if you try to eat me.”

“Do you know why I have never been defeated in a one-to-one combat?” asked the Shantou Devil. “It’s because I have mastered the Dark Fire Iron Palm. It is stronger than your Seven Stars Internal Stance. Damn, I’ve never eaten anyone who knows the Seven Stars Internal Stance before. Well, there is always a first time! Get ready!”

So saying, the Shantou Devil took up his Dark Fire Iron Palm stance and prepared to hit East Cloud Tung Kor Sui. Then he attacked with a tremendous blow. East Cloud breathed quickly and countered the strike. Both men were thrown apart by the encounter.

“You are strong,” said the Shantou Devil, “but I have used only a portion of my force. Let me see if you can withstand my full force!”

East Cloud was in pain. He had been dehydrated by the sea journey and was not at his best. But he stood up and got ready to meet the second strike. When it came, the force from the Shantou Devil blasted him full force against a big rock on the beach, and then East Cloud fell down in a crumpled heap, not moving. The Shantou Devil went over and inspected the body.

“You killed him, you devil!” shouted Pei Pei.

“His back is broken and he can’t move,” said the Shantou Devil, “but he is not dead yet. He can live for two days in that position. I will keep him alive until I get a fire ready. The meat is fresher that way. Don’t try to move him or you will feel my wrath! I will go and prepare the fire now. After that, we shall eat him together. I treat my livestock well.”

The Shantou Devil left and Pei Pei went over to the body of East Cloud.

“Little girl,” he gasped weakly, “I am dying. Please bury me when I die.”

“Bury you? The Shantou Devil said that he is going to cook you!” exclaimed the girl.

“I am a kungfu master. I should not be eaten. Think of something!” said East Cloud.

“Think of what?” she asked. “Even you cannot beat him! Do you think I will fare better against him?”

“Come here and sit with your back against me,” he requested.

“Why?” she asked.

“So that I can touch your back,” he gasped.

“What? Dying also you want to feel me up. So humsap!” she said, flabbergasted.

“It’s not what you think! Just do it!” he urged.

Pei Pei was tired, but the wish of a dying man was still a wish of a dying man. Better to indulge the whim of a dying man before he was truly dead. She sat with her back against East Cloud and he said, “Place my hand against the back of your spine.”

She did as she was told.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“Yue Pei Pei,” she answered.

“Yue Pei Pei,” he said. “I now passed the Seven Stars Internal Stance over to you.”

Then she felt an energy passing through her from his hand. Her body quaked slightly as more and more energy passed between them. It was like a heat being released into her, and soon she could feel tiny forces running amok inside her body. He gave a final push with his hand and she felt herself lifting suddenly from the ground and then falling down with an impact. His hand collapsed weakly to the ground. The supreme effort was too much for him and he felt his life ebbing away.

Pei Pei crawled towards him and asked, “What happened? What did you do to me?”

“I have just bequeathed to you my Seven Stars Internal Stance kungfu,” she heard him say, “but you will have to learn how to control it. It will take time. With it, you have lightness kungfu and also a far greater strength than you now possess. I am dying, and will have no time to teach you to control it, so I shall leave this to fate. I regret that it is no match for the Shantou Devil’s powerful Dark Fire Iron Palm.”

“Instant kungfu? You gave me instant kungfu without asking me first?” Pei Pei gasped. “And what is the point of me having it? I still can’t fight the Shantou Devil!”

“Fighting is not just about power,” stuttered the dying man. “Stealth, speed and accuracy of strikes are also important. The tiger is more powerful than the mongoose, yet it is the mongoose that can subdue the poisonous snake. Since you now have my Seven Stars Internal Stance, I am now your sifu.”

“But I already have a sifu!” protested the girl. “You cannot take me as your disciple through subterfuge!”

“Who is your sifu?” asked East Cloud.

“My uncle Yue Thau, the one your son killed,” she replied.

East Clouds eyes rolled upwards. “You call that boatman a sifu?” he asked.

Pei Pei said, “Of course! He taught me all eight ways on how to throw daggers.”

“There are twenty-two ways of throwing daggers and he taught you only eight? What kind of sifu is that? Well, he is dead…and therefore…. I am your sifu now,” said East Cloud, his voice slowing down. It was painful for him to talk, but he had one more thing to say. “As my disciple it…is your duty to prevent… Shantou Devil…from eating me.”

“What? And how am I suppose to do that?” Pei Pei asked in exasperation.

“You’ll think of something,” he gasped, “You are a resourceful girl. You were able to hide from me on the boat. Don’t let him find out… that you have… my Seven Stars inner energy. Find a way to control it. Then wait…for…opportunity….to… strike. Don’t…let…him…eat…me…”

“How do I control the inner energy?” asked Pei Pei.

But it was too late. East Cloud Tung Kor Sui had already died.

Pei Pei felt no tinge of sadness when East Cloud died. There were no tears, no emotion. Nothing.

She looked around her. If the Shantou Devil could survive on the island, then so could she. Rifling through the clothes of the dead East Cloud, she found a short dagger with a carved ornate handle. She examined it and then kept it inside her clothes. It would come in useful later. She wondered if East Cloud still had other things that she could use. She examined his inner pockets and found a small china bottle of potion. It was sealed by beeswax. She broke the seal and sniffed at it. The horrible smell was familiar. She knew that she had smelt it before, on more than one occasion. Then she remembered. Her friend Crazy Dog had shown it to her and his friends on a number of times. It was the Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion used to help old men increase their sexual libido and achieve a more satisfying sexual experience. Even Skinny Chicken’s father consumed it whenever he visited the cheap courtesans in town.

Kanineh!” she said. “Why must men travel with these things?”

She poured the contents away on the sand. She would keep the empty bottle. Perhaps it might come in useful. There was nothing more to be found on the body.

Then she heard the Shantou Devil approaching. Now how was she going to prevent the Shantou Devil from cooking East Cloud? Or should she even care?

Shantou Devil Ngai Chung, arrived with his usual strong body odour and said, “I’ve got a good fire going on the hillside. Now let’s roast this piece of meat! You are welcome to eat with me!”

Pei Pei was nauseated by the thought. “No, thank you,” she said.

“You will speak in a different manner when you are hungry for meat,” laughed the Shantou Devil. He went to the body of East Cloud and examined him. “Damn! He is already dead! He shouldn’t have died so fast! Now I don’t have the pleasure of delivering the final blow!”

Shaking his head, the Shantou Devil picked up the body and prepared to carry him away to his fire.

“Wait!” shouted Pei Pei.

“What?” asked the man.

“When will you be eating me?” asked Pei Pei.

“How old are you?” asked the Shantou Devil.

“Ten,” lied Pei Pei, understating her age of twelve by two years.

“You are too small. I’ll wait for you to grow up a bit first,” replied the old man. He was surprised that the girl did not seem to fear him, so he asked, “Aren’t you afraid?”

“Nahhhh. Everybody dies anyway. Besides, all my family members are dead. I have no one to go back to. You may as well eat me,” answered the girl.

“You are quite philosophical for one so young. Good. I am not unreasonable. I will make sure that you die painlessly when the time comes,” said the Shantou Devil.

“Thank you, sir” replied Pei Pei. “You are most considerate. I hear that people of the martial underworld live by a code. If there is gratitude, repay gratitude. If there is vengeance, repay vengeance. Is that true?”

“Of course!” replied the Shantou Devil. “We top kungfu exponents live and die by it.”

“If I were to save your life, does it mean that your life belongs to me?” asked the girl.

“You saving my life? Hahaha! Stop dreaming! But if you save my life, then I will have to repay you with gratitude. But I am in no danger here!” said the man. Then, carrying the dead body of East Cloud on his shoulder, he strode away.

“Stop!” shouted Pei Pei, “I wish to save your life!”

The Shantou Devil whirled around to face the girl and asked, “Save my life? How?”

“By telling you that if you eat that dead man’s body, you will surely die!” replied Pei Pei.

“Is that right?” sneered the Shantou Devil in a disbelieving tone.

“You said before that his back was broken but that he should be able to live for two more days. Don’t you wish to know how he died so soon?” she asked.

“How?” asked a perplexed Shantou Devil.

“While you were gone building your fire, he asked me to take out a bottle of liquid from his clothes,” explained Pei Pei. “Then, because his hands were hardly able to move, he asked me to feed him the contents of the bottle. I did so. After that he laughed, and said that you will not live long after eating him. Then he died instantly! It does not take much brains to understand what had happened. Do you now know why he died so suddenly?”

“No, why?” asked the Shantou Devil stupidly.

“He died because the bottle contained a potent poison!” yelled Pei Pei. “If you eat him, you will definitely die. He did say that one way or another; he would kill you if you try to eat him. The poison was his way of killing you after he died. By preventing you from eating him, I have just saved your life!”

“You are lying,” snarled the Shantou Devil.

“The empty bottle is still here,” said Pei Pei, holding up the empty Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion bottle. “The poison is gone, but you can still smell it on the bottle.”

She lifted the bottle to his nose and he sniffed at it. He did not know what smell it was, but it smelt horrible. Pei Pei had guessed correctly that if the Shantou Devil had been on the island for thirty years, then he would not have seen the Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion before.

“If it was not poison, he would not have died so fast. I would be very careful in touching the body if I were you,” she admonished.

The Shantou Devil swore, and then in a fit of anger, he turned and threw the body of East Cloud into the sea. It landed with a “plop” in the water some distance from the shoreline.

“He has the strength of ten buffaloes,” thought Pei Pei to herself, “but at least I have prevented East Cloud from being eaten.”

The Shantou Devil then turned angrily and menacingly towards Pei Pei and shouted, “Since I am unable to eat that poisoned man, I will eat you instead!”

“Fine!” shouted Pei Pei back. “I will have to die one day anyway. But since I saved your life, by right, your life belongs to me! By your code, if there is gratitude, repay gratitude. When I die, I will go to the King of Hell and said that I saved your life. He will make sure that I get reincarnated as somebody important. I will also tell him how you repaid me for saving your life, not with gratitude, but by eating me. He will make sure that you go down to the eighteenth level of Hell, the lowest level. And you will be tortured everyday because you owed me a debt of gratitude and repaid it with ingratitude!”

“What?” said the man, stunned by the Pei Pei’s words.

“And another thing,” said the girl, “since you will be the last to die on this island, nobody will be around to bury you. Your body will rot above the ground. All sorts of creatures will feast on your body and scatter your bones. A snake will make its home inside your skull. I really do pity you. That is the worst way to die. Alone and unburied. With the eighteenth level of Hell awaiting.”

The Shantou Devil stared hard at the girl without a word.

“Your life is mine!” continued the girl, “so you will have to obey everything I say from now on!”

“I obey nothing!” said the man, “I will repay you with gratitude, so I shall not kill you. But make sure you don’t come near my house or take my crops. Stay to your side of the island!”

“You have crops? What crops?” asked Pei Pei.

“My house is on the south side of the island and I have yam and fruit trees growing in my garden. Don’t even think of stealing my stuff!”

“Yam? Can I borrow some to plant on my own?” asked Pei Pei.

“You’ll get nothing from me,” spat the old man. “Go find your own. This island is not very big, so make sure you learn to get out of my way.”

“Fine,” said Pei Pei, “You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.”

The Shantou Devil then turned and walked away in disgust, muttering unintelligibly to himself.

Pei Pei smiled slightly and heaved a tiny sigh of relief. She was safe for now.

Chapter 7: The Secret Taichi Path

Sitting on the beach by herself, Pei Pei tried to take stock of her situation. The events of the morning had been truly staggering; getting shipwrecked in the darkness, swimming to an island, watching the Shantou Devil defeat East Cloud Tung Kor Sui, receiving the Seven Stars Internal Stance from East Cloud, and foiling the Shantou Devil’s attempt to eat both of them. So much had happened in just one morning.

She was on an island that nobody has heard of, and apparently nobody visited unless they were swept there and shipwrecked. There was drinking water to be had, but she would have to dig a well first. She was a fisherman’s daughter and so she could survive through fishing. She didn’t know how to make fire, but then, fish could be eaten raw. She would think about the fire later.

A tinge of hunger gnawed at her. She was only slightly hungry, but she knew that she would be hungry later. Something was being washed ashore by the waves. She went to the waterline and saw that it was the body of East Cloud. Damn! She did not know if she could be properly considered a disciple of East Cloud or not, but she could not let the body rot on the beach. She would have to give him a burial.

She dragged the body out of the waves and pulled him to higher ground. She was surprised to find that the task was so easy, and that she had far more strength than she expected. “Must be the Seven Stars inner energy he gave me,” she thought.

There was no hoe to dig the ground with. She looked around and found what she was looking for; a huge clamshell on the beach. Taking the clamshell, she looked for a suitable place to site a grave and then started digging. At times the digging seemed effortless, and at other times, it was difficult and slow going. The Inner Energy seemed to come and go on its own, never constant. Soon, she had a decent hole in the ground and she dragged the body of East Cloud to the gravesite and buried it. As she covered the body with sand, she wondered if she should say a few words in prayer, but the proper words eluded her.

“I will not bow to his grave,” she declared. “His son killed my uncle and his Sky Dragon Clan killed my family. We are on opposite sides. It is enough that I gave him a burial.”

She was feeling hungry by now and so she went walking by the shoreline, digging up any clam that she spotted. There were not many, but soon, she collected a handful of them. Sitting on a rock, she forced open the clams and ate the contents raw. It was not very much and she still felt hungry. She threw the clamshells in the water and watched the fishes swarmed over the shells, trying to pick whatever flesh was left still sticking to the shells.

“The fish in these waters are plentiful,” she noted. “And so colourful too.”

Walking into the sea, she looked at the fishes swimming around her. They seemed to have no fear of her. It was pity that she had no hook, no line, and no net. One of the fishes even nibbled at her finger trailing in the water.

Kanineh!” she exclaimed. “The fish here are so friendly that I can easily scoop them out. If only I have a net!” She even saw a few baby sharks swimming nearby. She went back out of the water and sat under the shade of a tree. The beach was clean and the sea was an emerald green. It should have been a beautiful sight, but she was feeling sorrowful. She was twelve years old and all alone without a relative in the world. And she was marooned on a forsaken island with a mad old man. Even if there was a way of getting back to her village, there was nothing to look forward to. Then she wept. For a long time she wept, with shuddering sobs. Then she curled up on the sand and slept.

The rumble of distant thunder woke her up. Looking around her, she remembered where she was and the events of the morning. She would need a place to stay. If the rains come, she would be wet. Her first automatic reaction was to collect the clothes she had hung out to dry. But this was not her home in her village, and she had not done any washing. Suddenly, she remembered that East Cloud had removed his robe in the morning and hung it on a branch. She went and looked for it. It smelled of salt, but it was already dry. She kept it, thinking that it might come in useful as a blanket.

Her uncle had once told her that it was important that in a survival situation, she should first secure a source of water, and then secure a place to keep warm and dry. After that only should she think of food. Her stomach was feeling uneasy. Maybe she should not have eaten so many clams raw

Wandering further inland, she discovered an overhanging rock not far from the beach. It was not very big, but the cavity under the overhanging rock would be sufficient to provide her with some temporary shelter from the sun and rain until she could find something better. This would be her campsite. Creeping under the overhanging rock, she lay herself down and found the ground hard and uncomfortable. She gathered some dry leaves and she made herself a bed.

On examination of her belongings, she found that she had a gourd water bottle, a dagger, a robe and the clothes on her back. They were not much to go on, so she would just have to make do. She would survive. If Heaven had eyes, she would one day go back to the mainland and slay the killers of her parents. She now knew who they were; the three Clouds of the Sky Dragon Clan.

Feeling thirsty, she went down to where she had dug a hole in the dry stream bed and proceeded to quench her thirst.

She noticed that there were a few trees along the beach that bore the huge fruits that she knew to be coconuts. She wondered if they were edible. The events of the day were too much for her to digest. She was mentally tired and would think of this only the next day. The important thing was to locate a more reliable water source than the hole she had dug.

It was getting close to sundown and from the direction of the sunset, she knew that she was on the north side of the island. She then lay down on her bed of leaves, covered herself with the robe, and slept.

That night, she dreamt of her village, of her friends Skinny Chicken, Mad Dog and Big Potato. And she dreamt of sitting down at dinner with her mother, father and uncle. She dreamt that Big Potato farted and there was a bad smell. The smell refused to disperse.

She woke up, opened her eyes and saw the Shantou Devil staring at her from an arm’s length away. She screamed, loud and shrill. The Shantou Devil backed away, startled by her loud voice.

“Why are you screaming so loud?” he asked.

“You! What do you mean by coming here and frightening me!” spluttered Pei Pei.

“I was not frightening you. I was merely looking at you!” he replied.

“Well don’t!” she yelled. “You could have frightened me to death. That would be as good as murdering me. Don’t you forget that you are indebted to me, you ungrateful person!”

“I am not ungrateful!” he said, “I just wanted to know where you slept. I have been thinking. You were right in saying that when I die, there is nobody here to bury my body. I should have a son to bury me and light joss sticks for me when I die.”

“Of course,” said Pei Pei, “everybody should have a son to send him to Hades when he dies. And also to burn offerings for him.”

‘True, true,” he nodded in agreement. “I don’t have a son. So, I’ve decided to marry you and then we can have a son together.”

“What?” she exclaimed. “I am only ten years old. I am too young to be married and much too young to give birth! Couldn’t you look for a goat instead?”

“Goat? What goat? There are no goats on this island,” he replied solemnly. “You may be very young now, but you will grow up some day. By the time you are fifteen, you should be ready to give birth,” he said.

“Fifteen? Are you crazy? My mother died giving birth to me at childbirth. And at that time she was twenty,” she lied. “I do not have very strong genes. I will not survive childbirth.”

“It is all right,” he replied. “As long as my son survives the childbirth, you can die after that.”

“I do not wish to hear anymore,” cried Pei Pei, “and you should respect my privacy by not coming to my home. I am a lady, and I need my space.”

“You call this a home? It is worse than a pigsty! I will not come here even if you begged me,” he replied.

“That is what you say,” she said, “but you will be begging me to allow you to visit me one day. I know you will. You will beg on your hands and knees.”

“I will do no such thing!” he cried. “This is the last place on the island that I wish to come.”

“All right then,” said Pei Pei, “if you ever come here again, you must go down on your hands and knees in front of me.”

The old man glared at her and left.

“I hope he never comes here again,” said Pei Pei to herself. Looking up, she saw that the sun was already overhead. She had slept for a very long time. No wonder she felt hungry.

The Shantou Devil walked down to the beach and Pei Pei followed at a distance, waiting to see what he was up to. He passed by a coconut tree. With a quick leap, he jumped to the top of the tree and twisted off a green coconut. He landed back on the sands with the coconut in his hands. Then he dehusked the coconut with his bare hands. After that he poked a hole in the fruit, tilted back his head and drank the water from the fruit.

When he was done drinking, he broke the nut against a rock and scraped the insides with a short knife and ate them.

“So that is how a coconut is consumed!” noted Pei Pei.

When the Shantou Devil left the beach, she decided to try. Climbing a coconut tree proved more difficult than anticipated. After several attempts, she gave up. Walking along the beach, she found a coconut tree that grew at an angle over the sand. It proved easier to climb and when she reached the fruits, she cut off two of them with her dagger.

“The flesh is nothing great, but the water is superb,” she remarked, after consuming them. “But I cannot eat this every day. I will have to depend on fishing. I have no fishing line or hooks, so I will have to use a fishing spear or fish traps.”

Being a fisherman’s daughter, she knew how to make a fish trap.

She looked up towards the hilly ridge on the island and decided that she would explore it to see if she could find any cane or bamboo to build her fish trap. On following the little dry bed of the stream uphill, she soon came across a small bamboo grove. They were not like the bamboo she had seen before. These were thin, and did not grow very tall. She noticed some bamboo stumps and thought, “That old devil probably cut some bamboo to build his house. He must have a big knife with him. But I don’t think he will lend it to me.” She was glad that she had a dagger. It was better than nothing. Slowly and painstakingly, she cut off a length of bamboo pole for herself that was only slightly taller than her.

Deciding to explore more, she climbed further upwards until she reached the ridge. From there, she could see the south side of the island. There were no other islands to be seen on the south side, just water. She walked further along the ridge and then she saw smoke rising from somewhere on the southern side of the island. “So, that is where that old perpetual smelly fart has his house. Probably stupidly cooking his stupid yams in there.”

She decided to go back to her side of the island by a different route. Clambering down the hill, she came across a clearing with a fire that had burned out, but was still smoking. Looking at the size of the branches that was used to build the fire, Pei Pei surmised that it was the fire with which the Shantou Devil intended to roast the body of East Cloud the day before. She wondered why he did not roast it nearer to his abode. Probably too lazy to drag all the tree branches to his house.

Pei Pei was barefoot, so she treaded carefully around the area. Using her bamboo pole, she shifted the ashes and noticed some embers still glowing. She needed fire, so she decided to take back some embers. Going to a nearby tree, she used her dagger and peeled off some tree bark. Utilizing some tree vine, she tied the bark into the shape of a cone cup. She lined the cone with some ash and then filled it with some red glowing embers. Then, she made her way quickly down to the beach and walked quickly to her campsite.

She gathered some fallen branches, twigs and dry leaf tinder. Carefully, she placed the tinder and twigs on the embers, blew on them and made a fire. Soon, she had a good fire going. For the first time in days, she grinned. She knew that she could not afford to let the fire burn out, so she decided that everyday, she would have to keep embers in two separate dry places to ensure that she would always have fire. Smoldering embers could be kept alive for several days. She would make it a fixed regime to replenish the embers daily.

Pei Pei had earlier seen some yam plants growing on the hillside, so she went back there and dug up a yam, cut it and toasted it over the fire. It was not as good tasting as the yams back home, but it was edible, and it helped filled her stomach.

The afternoon was getting late. There was still time to catch a fish. Sharpening the bamboo pole with her dagger, she hoped that she could use it as a fishing spear. Going to the sea, she hesitated to enter the water in her clothes. They would not dry in time with the little amount of daylight left. She removed her clothes and then dug up a clam. She broke the shell of the clam and then walked naked into the sea. Letting the clam fall into the water, she waited for the fish to swarm around. Then she focused on one of the bigger fishes that came to investigate and pushed down sharply with her bamboo pole. The fish glanced off her fishing spear.

“Damn,” she said. “I could use a sharp metal prong here. This bamboo tip can’t penetrate the scales of the fish!”

As she was standing in the water, she felt the tiny forces of the Seven Stars Internal Stance running amok inside her body again. She felt strong. A garfish came to investigate, swimming close to the surface of the water the way they usually do. She lifted up her bamboo pole and in a sudden movement, brought it down on the garfish and clubbed it senseless. Collecting the fish, she put it on the beach and then went back into the water to try to repeat the feat. But her inner energy had disappeared. Without the Seven Stars inner energy, her force was weak and her speed was slow. She did not managed to club any fish after that.

Kanineh,” she said in disappointment. “This Seven Stars energy come and go as they like. So undependable! I will have to resort to fish traps.”

Collecting her clothes and her fish, she went back to her campsite to roast the garfish.

For some reason, she was feeling happier than the day before. Maybe it was because she had a fire. Maybe it was because she had been a happy child all her life, and it was not in her nature to mope for too long.

The next morning, she went up to the bamboo grove and cut down a few bamboo plants. It was not easy just using a dagger to saw through the base. But occasionally, the inner force of the Seven Stars Internal Stance appeared in her body and so she managed. After splitting the bamboo, she made a fish trap. It was a simple trap but it took her the whole morning to tie the trap portions into place with some vine. Then she took it to the sea, and weighed it down with stones and placed it in the water. Finding a couple of clams, she broke them and pushed them into the trap. She did not have long to wait. The fish swarmed around the trap attracted by the smell of clams. Soon some fishes made their way into the trap. “That was easy!” she noted.

She had a bigger catch than she needed. Her lunch of barbequed fish was heavy that day. She wrapped up the rest of the fish in yam leaves and left them to cook slowly on the embers. The leaves kept the fish moist and juicy after cooking, and that would soon become her favourite cooking method.

She visited the messy cove where she had found a big dead rotting fish on her first day. She called it the Rubbish Cove. Walking among the flotsam cast up on the sand, she found a few planks. They were from the wreck of her uncle’s boat that had broken up. Some of them were still in good condition and so she took them to her campsite. They reminded her of home.

One of the planks had some iron nails that had rusted. With great care, she dug out the rusted nails from the wood and polished them on the rocks to expose the shiny metal underneath. There was still sufficient metal left in the nails, so she kept them. She managed to get eight nails and five planks in all. Once the planks dried out, she would used them as floorboards in her campsite.

As days went by, Pei Pei found the Seven Stars Inner Energy appeared in her less and less often until it disappeared completely.

“Don’t know what kind of kungfu is that. So fast disappear!” she lamented. “Kanineh! If East Cloud give it to me again, I will tell him to keep his Seven Stars whatever and shove it up his butt!”

The winter was not as cold as in her fishing village but was much wetter. The availability of fresh water was not a problem. Even so, she dug a few wells around the beach just in case.

There was nothing much to do in winter, except collect firewood and collect fish from her fish traps. Winter was wet and depressing. She needed something else to do to prevent her from going insane. So she started practicing the eight dagger throwing techniques that her uncle had taught her. It gave her a sense of purpose. She threw everything she could lay her hands on; pebbles, sharpened sticks, and even seashells. She threw them at anything and everything.

Two years later, Pei Pei turned fourteen. She was growing bigger and had outgrown her own clothes, so she had started to wear clothes made of plant fiber. She used to weave sackcloth when she was a girl, so making cloth did not constitute much of a problem. Getting the proper plant fiber proved to be a bigger challenge. She could use the coconut husks for fibers as they were plentiful. However, the resulting sackcloth was itchy on her skin. After much experimentation, she settled for the fibers from the stem of a hemp-like plant, which she did not know the name. Using a long thin bamboo needle, she sewed the rough sackcloth into clothes. It was better than the pieces of rough tree bark worn by the Shantou Devil.

Every day, she would stare out at the blue sea, hoping to catch a sight of a sailing vessel. But there was none. For two years, she constantly scanned the horizon, and the results were always the same. This was the Gate of Hell Island where nobody went.

On hearing the warning birdcalls and smelling the stinky smell of body odour, she knew that the Shantou Devil was close by. For some reason, the birds were always wary of the Shantou Devil.

He walked up to her and said, “I have been thinking. Since you will be growing up into a woman soon, perhaps you should come and live in my house.”

Pei Pei turned to stare at him and said, “I am very comfortable in my campsite, thank you.”

“You’ll be marrying me in another three years time,” he said. “And then you’ll give me sons.”

“I keep telling you that my mother died at childbirth! The herbal daifu said that she suffered from some sort of bodily imbalance. This type of thing is hereditary. I will die at childbirth,” she replied.

“It does not matter,” he retorted unfeelingly. “As long as my son survives the childbirth, you can die as much as you want.”

Pei Pei glared at him and said, “It may not be a son. It could be a daughter. With me dead, you won’t be able to try again.”

The Shantou Devil thought for a while and then he said, “You are right. I cannot take that chance.”

“Good,” said Pei Pei, “we can forget the marriage idea then.”

“No,” he said, “I will show you a way to balance your qi, to allow you more internal control of your body. I will teach you the first three steps of the Six-step Secret Taichi Path.”

“Secret Path? What Secret Path?” asked Pei Pei.

“The first three steps of the Six-step Secret Taichi deals with body-mind integration. The last three steps deals will agility,” he said.

“I have never heard of such a thing,” declared Pei Pei. “Who taught it to you?”

“My sifu taught it to me that when I was a young boy,” he said. “It was useful, but I did not find it very powerful. When he passed away, his brother taught me the Dark Fire Iron Palm, which was much more powerful. I have not used the Secret Taichi Path for a long time, but I should still remember it.”

“I guess that means that you may not have practice it for more than forty years,” declared Pei Pei.

“About that time, I guess,” he admitted.

“It must be out of date,” she said, “which is why I have never heard of it. In my village, the men learn the Drunken Tiger and Sleeping Dragon movements for health.”

“Were they any good?” the old man asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “but the men usually ended up drunk and sleepy. They were happy enough though.”

“I have never heard of Drunken Tiger and Sleeping Dragon. But I will teach you the first three steps of the Secret Taichi Path for body-mind integration,” he said.

“I don’t wish to learn it,” she retorted. “My mind is fully integrated already!”

“You will learn!” he insisted.

“No, I won’t,” she argued back. “It is out of date, and it sounds stupid. I do not wish to spend my time on something that sound as stupid as the Six-step Secret Taichi Path!”

“You will learn it whether you like it or not,” he growled. “I want your body healthy enough to give me healthy babies.”

A bird flew and settled on a branch forty steps away. The Shantou Devil bent down and picked a stone, and he threw it at the bird. He missed. The stone hit the tree trunk loudly and shattered into a few pieces. The bird flew away immediately. The tree trunk was pock marked.

“Strong power,” noted Pei Pei to herself, “but he is not accurate and uses a poor throwing technique. If I had that kind of power, the bird would have died immediately, and all the feathers fly out north, south, east and west.”

“Let’s start with your lesson,” the old man said, “maybe I will teach you one step first and see how you progress. If I like it, I will teach you the second step.”

Only one step first? Pei Pei could see that the old man was conflicted. He wanted her body strong, but at the same time was reluctant in teaching her anything useful. She haughtily replied, “I refuse to learn. Nobody can make me learn. Now excuse me while I go and collect firewood.”

She walked through the trees to look for fallen branches. Then she headed towards her campsite. When she reached there, she saw her palm leave thatched roof torn into pieces and on the ground.

“Stop! What are you doing?” she screamed at the Shantou Devil who was in the midst of tearing something else.

“I am teaching you a lesson,” he replied. “You either learn the steps for body-mind integration or I will destroy your campsite!”

“Do you realized how long I took to put up the palm leave thatched roof?” she screamed. “Kanineh. Have you any idea how much time I put in? All right, I’ll learn your stupid out of date Taichi Path. But you must agree never to touch any of my things again! Do you agree?”

“Fine!” he replied, “I don’t want to touch your things anyway!”

They went down to the beach and the Shantou Devil showed her the first step of the Six-step Secret Taichi Path movements.

When he had completed the first step, he stopped. But Pei Pei said, “You had better show me the other steps before I changed my mind.” So he showed her the second and the third step.

“What about the fourth step?” asked the girl.

“Those steps are for agility,” he replied, “so you will not need it.”

Pei Pei then went through the motions of the three steps, under his supervision. When she had completed the second step, she felt something in her body. The Seven Stars inner force which East Cloud had bequeathed to her had returned! It had remained latent in her for the past two years. Somehow, the Six-step Secret Taichi Path had the ability to unlock it and bring it to the surface. When she completed the third step, she felt very strongly the pulsing energy flow through her and she hoped that the Shantou Devil would not notice her excitement. Two years ago, East Cloud had warned her not to allow the Shantou Devil to know that she had the Seven Stars Internal Stance.

“I am tired already,” she exclaimed. “I need to rest. But I will practice on my own later.”

So saying, she ignored the old man, walked to the sea and sat down in the water.

“Make sure that you practice,” he shouted after her. As he walked away in exasperation, he muttered, “What a lazy girl!”

That night after the old man had gone back to his house on the southern side of the island to sleep, Pei Pei practiced the three steps quietly. She practiced deep into the night under the moonlight until she could summon up her Seven Stars inner force at will. She poked a stick on the ground and then walked fifty steps away. Picking up a pebble on the beach, she aimed and threw it under the bright moonlight. The sound of the stone hitting the stick gratified her immensely. She changed the distance to one hundred steps. On her first throw, she missed. On the second throw, she struck the target. She laughed. She had never thrown that far before.

“Not bad!” she muttered happily, “This Secret Taichi Path is able to bring out the Seven Stars Inner Energy for me to use! I wonder what the next three steps of the Secret Taichi method will be like.”

However, she knew that the Shantou Devil would not willingly teach her the next three steps and that she would have to trick him into doing so. But it would take time.

The next day, as she was digging for clams on the beach, the Shantou Devil found her and demanded that she practiced the three Secret Taichi steps in front of her. She did so but purposely fumbled her steps employing a few wrong movements. He scolded her for not doing it correctly.

She scolded back, “How do you know that my way is not correct? You have not done this for forty years. Maybe you forgot the actual method?”

He was nonplussed for a moment, unsure of himself, and then he left her alone. He would come back only when he was thoroughly sure.

With her ability to control the Seven Stars inner energy, Pei Pei decided that she would find a way to get back home. There was no way that she could build a boat. However, she could build a raft. For that, she would have to have logs, ropes to tie the logs together, a sail and a paddle. From that day on, she scoured the island to see if she could find materials to build her raft.

One day, Pei Pei asked the Shantou Devil, “Why didn’t you build a boat and sail back to the mainland?”

“Why should I want to go back to the mainland? My life is good here and my enemies do not know where I am,” he replied.

“Maybe your enemies are already dead,” she said.

“I like it here,” he replied gruffly.

Pei Pei understood the situation. The old man had grown used to his island prison and would not leave, and would most likely prevent her from leaving. She would have to build her raft without the old man finding out. Some tree trunks had washed up on the beach in the Rubbish Cove from the last storm. Maybe she could use some of them for her raft.

She knew that the old man intended to marry her in three years time. She would have to be gone before then. Sooner or later, her breasts would develop and the old man might notice. So she planned to have a raft ready within two years.

She knew how to make ropes from young. She could try to make ropes from coconut husk. Pei Pei found that it was easier to take the fibre from coconuts that had been soaked in the water for a long time. Peeling off the husks by hand, she separated and washed the fibres. Then she rolled them into strands. When she had enough strands, she took three strands and twisted them into a rope. It was a long process but she would persevere.

She remembered that the storm blew her uncle’s boat for four days to reach this island. If her raft could travel at one-third the speed of a boat, at a good wind, she would be able to reach the mainland in twelve days. Food and water may be a problem for the journey. On board the raft, she would have to depend on spearfishing to supplement her stored food. Fresh water would be the greater problem.

Two months after she had first learned the first three steps of the Six-step Secret Taichi Path, she heard the warning birdcalls. Immediately, she went into the motions of the first step of the Secret Taichi Path. Moments later, she smelled the body odor of the Shantau Devil and she knew that he was near. Deliberately, she went into the wrong motions because she knew he was spying on her. So far, she had been successful in not letting the old man suspect that she had the Seven Stars Inner Energy.

“Damn,” she shouted, “this stupid taichi exercise is really difficult. I think the old man has made a mistake and taught me the wrong motions. He must have forgotten the original method and then replaced it with anything he liked. No wonder this is so difficult!”

“It is not difficult!” said the Shantou Devil, coming out from his hiding place. “You are merely lazy!”

Pei Pei turned to face him and said, “Stop spying on me. If these steps are correct, why is it that I don’t feel any different?”

“It takes time to feel the difference!” he countered.

“Maybe you taught me the wrong steps instead,” she said. “After all, it has been forty years since you last used it. I think you should teach me the last three steps instead of the first three steps. They may be easier.”

“They are even harder!” he said.

“Let me decide if they are easy or hard,” she said. “Do you even remember what they are? I bet you have forgotten, since you are getting old and your memory must be fading.”

“My memory is not failing!” he yelled. “The last three steps are more difficult! They are meant for agility. They are of no use to anyone without the inner force. I do not wish to teach you those steps.”

“Fine,” replied Pei Pei. “If my body does not improve and I die at childbirth, that would be your fault. Even if I succeed in giving you a son and I die at childbirth, I will not be there to breastfeed the baby. Can you produce milk?”

“No,” answered the Shantou Devil.

“In that case, the boy will not survive. All babies need milk,” said Pei Pei nonchalantly. “All I asked is that you show me the last three steps of the Secret Taichi Path, and you give me a lot of excuses. If the baby dies because you cannot produce milk, then it would be your fault.”

He thought about it for a while and then said, “All right, fine! I’ll show you!”

The Shantou Devil then proceeded to demonstrate the last three steps of the Six-step Secret Taichi Path. Pei Pei watched quietly his movements. They were indeed more difficult.

“Looks easy,” she commented nonchalantly.

“That’s because you are resting there while I am doing it,” he said angrily. “If you do it with me, you won’t be saying such a thing.”

“Alright, I’ll do it with you then, but I am sure that I will tell you that it is easy afterwards!” she said.

She followed the motions of the Shantou Devil for the fourth step and fifth step. On the sixth step, she felt her inner energy rising and running amuck inside her body. Just as she completed the sixth step, she felt like jumping high into the air. The urge to leap upwards was so powerful that Pei Pei was afraid that she might give in to the urge and then the Shantou Devil would know that she had more power than he had suspected. So she walked quickly towards the trees and bushes saying, “I have a stomach ache and need to shit. I’ll practice another day!”

The old man stared at her fleeing back and said, “Lazy people have a lot of urine and shit.” Then he walked away.

Once among the trees, and out of sight, she stopped and waited for the urge to subside. “Hooisay,” she said, “these last three steps are really something! It made me feel very agile all of a sudden.”

That night, Pei Pei went through the motions of all the six steps of the Secret Taichi Path. When she completed the motion of the last step, she could feel the inner power unlocked in her legs. She ran a few steps and then she leapt up high into the air, higher that a coconut tree. On landing on the ground, she ran to the next beach with her legs striding through the air as if she was in flight. Effortlessly, she somersaulted a few rounds in the air and landed on the sand on her face. She picked herself up and laughed.

“So this must be lightness kungfu,” she said to herself. “The old man was right. The last three steps are for agility!” In delight, she picked up a three pebbles from the beach in the moonlight, and ran at top speed. Leaping high into the air, she turned her body and threw the pebbles. One by one, they hit three sand crabs running along the shoreline. She went to examine the crabs and found them motionless with their shells smashed in.

“Flying daggers method from my uncle, who took me to be his disciple because he could find no one else. Seven Stars Internal Stance from East Cloud who passed me his inner energy only because he was dying and did not want to be eaten. Six-step Secret Taichi Path from the Shantou Devil who forced me to learn the path because he wanted to impregnate me,” she muttered. “Wah lau eh. Not a single normal sifu among them. And yet all three methods combine together to allow me to hit anything when I throw. I must be a three-in-one kungfu girl!”

Chapter 8: Escape from the island

The following day, the Shantou Devil looked for her and asked her about her progress in the Secret Taichi Path.

“You were right,” she said. “The last three steps are too difficult for me. I shall stick to the first three steps.”

The old man merely nodded and said, “You are a very slow learner. You have to practice every day. After a few years, your body should be strong, even internally.”

He walked away to pluck some coconuts.

Every night, Pei Pei practiced all the six steps. And she practiced her throwing skills until she could throw almost anything and still hit her target at a hundred steps away without fail. There were times when she thought of her mother. When she did so, she would spend time practicing calligraphy with a bamboo pole on the sands. She wrote anything she could think of; the names of her friends, the songs she had learned, and even the poem she had read on board her uncle’s boat. It was a way of reminding herself that she was her mother’s girl. She still cry herself to sleep at times.

Her preparation for her journey home by raft began in earnest. She had only two years to get her raft ready. In case she ran out of food on the raft, she would have to catch fish and eat them raw. It was not a prospect that she relished, but that would make a difference between death and survival. It would not be possible to use fish traps on the raft, so she would have to catch fish by using a fishing line or a fishing spear.

She did not have a fishing line. Her bamboo fishing spear was not sharp enough for her purpose. The tip was always breaking off or glancing off the body of a fish. She did not quite know how to harden and sharpen it. She remembered that some of the people in her village, who could not afford a metal tip for the spear, often used the hard bones of animals. However, there were no animals to speak of on the island.

One morning, a dead sea animal washed up on the Rubbish Cove. It was not a sea animal that she had seen before, but it was big, about the size of a dolphin. Ignoring the stench, she took one of its bones and pounded it with a rock. One of the resulting bone splinters looked sharp enough to be a spear tip. Using her dagger, she slowly sawed the tip into shape and carved a backward facing barb on it. Then she lashed the bone splinter to her bamboo pole. She soon found that she could spear the fish much better. The backward facing barb prevented a speared fish from dropping off the spear. Every day, she practiced with her spear in preparation for the day she would sail away from the island.

The trees growing on the island had very small trunks, not much bigger than the size of her young thigh. She could make a raft out of them but that would require cutting down a lot of trees. One by one, she tested each tree for its ability to float. Her uncle had once told her that all wood were not created equal; that some wood floated well, but others sank in the sea easily. Pei Pei noted the various species of trees on the island and cut off a branch from each. The she threw the branch in fresh water and noted which ones would float and which ones sank. If it could float in fresh water, it would float even better in seawater. Thus, she made a note about the trees she would have to chop down for her raft. Tying the logs together would not be a problem as she was able to make coconut coir ropes, but what she really wanted were some bigger logs to form the main portion of her raft.

Pei Pei knew that she could not start cutting down the trees on the island all at once as the Shantou Devil might get suspicious. So she chose her timing with care and cut down a young straight tree only once every two months. The trunk of the tree was only about the size of her thigh. She did not have an axe, so she tied a wedge shaped sharp stone to a stick and used it as a primitive axe. It was slow going, but she managed.

The Shantou Devil came across her working on a tree and asked her what she was doing.

“I’m building a wooden platform for my campsite,” she explained.

He did not offer to help. Instead, he looked at her simple stone axe and he laughed. “It will take you many days to cut that tree down.”

It did take her many days to cut down a tree, small as it was. She could not swing too hard in case the stone axe shatter. However, she was patient. After all, she was only fourteen years old. She only planned to sail when she was sixteen.

Winter came, and one wet wintry day, after a thunderstorm, she found a tree log washed up at the Rubbish Cove. It gave her hope. It was floating in the water and she clambered on top. The floating log was not very big, but thicker than a man’s chest and about three times as long as the height of a man. However, it was very much bigger than the trunks of the young trees she had been cutting down. Also, it was quite buoyant and supported her weight easily. She could walk up and down the log in the water without any problems.

“This one looks like one of those soft buoyant species. If I can mount a mast and sail on this log, I can sail away from here,” she said to herself.

However, she knew that a log on its own lack stability and would roll about in the water. She would have to build a proper raft. All she needed to do was to split it into two halves, and then she would have a foundation to build a deck. The waves deposited the log on the beach of Rubbish Cove. That night, using her inner force, she lifted up the log easily and carried it to her usual beach. She planned to sail from there, so it was logical to build her raft there.

The next morning, as she was sitting on the log, wondering how to split it, the Shantou Devil Ngai Chung appeared.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I am wondering how to split this log,” she replied.

“What for?” he asked.

“I want to build a house here. If I can split this log, I can get some planks from it. Do you have an axe? Can you lend it to me?” she asked him.

“Yes, I have an axe. But you need a saw to get planks, not an axe,” he said.

“Do you have a saw to lend me?” she asked him.

“No,” he replied.

“In that case, lend me your axe then,” she said.

“No! If I lend you my axe, you will lose it or blunt it and I won’t have any axe to use anymore!” he said.

“You are stingy,” cried Pei Pei, “I can split this log by driving in wooden pegs at the end slowly step by step, but it would take me many months. If I do that, my house will take many, many years to complete! Lend me your axe!”

“No!” he replied, “and that is final!”

“Every time I see you here, I will nag you till you lend me your axe!” she cried. “Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe.…”

Her incessant repeating of her demand irritated the man. He raised his hand to slap her.

She looked at him coolly and said, “I am very delicate. If you strike me, you will give me internal injuries because you do not know your own strength. Then I will be so injured that I will not be able to give birth any more.”

The Shantou Devil moved away in exasperation. He decided not to go near the log if he could help it.

Pei Pei made a simple hammer by tying a flat-ended rock to a stick. Then, using her makeshift stone hammer, she drove a long wooden wedge at the end of the log. She knew that with her internal energy, she could split the log in a day. But she was not going to let the old man suspect her strength. So little by little each day, she drove the wedge deeper and deeper through the log. The log was split at the end of half a year.

The Shantou Devil ignored her efforts. “At this rate, it will be ten years before she can complete her house,” he thought. “By that time we will have children already.”

Pei Pei placed the two halves of the log parallel to each other and about some distance apart with the flat side uppermost. Then taking two planks from her campsite, she placed them on the two halves such that the two planks and two log halves formed a rectangle. She would nail them in, with the long nails she had salvaged, when the time was right. She wished she had more than eight nails to work with, but that was all she had. The foundation looked good, but in a rough sea it might not be sturdy enough. She would have to use her coconut coir ropes to reinforce the joints even after nailing them.

Then she laid two more planks half diagonally across but at an angle to the two halves of the log.

The Shantou Devil came and saw her construction. He sneered at her efforts and could not help being critical, “Everything is all crooked! The two center planks are laid diagonally when they would look so much better if they were laid straight. I have never seen anything like this!”

Pei Pei glared at him and said, “This is my pattern because I am artistic. I have some knowledge of fashion design. I can be even more artistic if I have an axe. Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe. Lend me your axe…..”

The old man walked away quickly. He hated to hear the girl nagging him about his axe. He never went near her construction again. Pei Pei carved out the slots in the log to place her planks. She had seen how this was done in Crazy Dog’s raft. Once the planks were slotted in their places, the joints would be strong and the raft would keep its rectangular shape even when battered by waves. Then she went to work on making a deck for the raft.

Each time she had a fresh log from cutting down a young tree, she would take it down to the unfinished raft at night and marked how she was going to shape the ends to fit nicely on the raft. She numbered the small logs and then kept them at her campsite, disguising them as log flooring. Two of the logs were slightly longer and had long branches sticking out perpendicularly. She would keep those limbs to tie her mast and sail. She constructed a light bamboo bed and slotted it nicely on the log flooring. She intended to sail while sitting on her bamboo bed. In fact her sleeping quarters was a raft deck intended to be placed on top and tied down to her raft construction when the time came.

The sail for the raft was the most complicated of all. Pei pei used plant fiber strands twisted them into thin twines and weaved them into sackcloth. At the end of the year, she managed to get enough to make a sail.

The year when she turned sixteen, she was ready for the big push. The Shantou Devil thought that she was only fourteen and was preparing to marry her the following year. He had been looking intently at her developing body recently, checking out her form. She had to leave quickly.

The early summer wind was blowing strongly from the southwest. She had plenty of rope and twine. Food was not a problem on the high seas. The only danger was from thirst and sunstroke. Her gourd water container contained only enough water for a day. She would have to bring along some coconuts to quench her thirst. In case that was not enough, she would have to collect rainwater on the raft. She had a bamboo table built exactly as the same length as her bed at her campsite. She would take the bamboo table along and placed it over her bed for shade. She had already prepared a wooden paddle and some cooked yam as food. She drove in the eight nails she had into the planks on her raft.

She was ready.

Pei Pei carefully monitored the tide times and the phases of the moon and then chose a day to sail. She wondered how she would say goodbye to the Shantou Devil.

The day before she was supposed to sail, he approached her and say, “You look quite big for a girl of fourteen. Have you been practicing the three Secret Taichi steps diligently?”

Pei Pei was sixteen and knew that the old man was checking her body out quite often the past month. It was getting more and more difficult to pass for fourteen.

She said, “I have been practicing. Thank you for teaching me. I should give thanks to you as my sifu.”

She got down on her knees and gave him three kowtows.

Then she said, “Of course, a disciple should not marry her sifu.”

Aghast, the Shantou Devil said, “You can marry me. I am not your sifu. You need not kowtow to me.”

“Nevertheless,” said Pei Pei, “it would not be right for me not to kowtow to you. A disciple should obey the traditions. Please accept three more kowtows.”

The Shantou Devil left in disgust while shouting, “I am not your sifu. And you will marry me!”

In the afternoon, Pei Pei visited the site where she had buried East Cloud four years ago.

“Master Tung,” she said solemnly. “I am going to make an attempt to reach the mainland. I wish to make peace with you before I go. It was not your fault that my uncle died in that accident on the boat. You were just the unfortunate father of a stupid son. Like it or not, I have inherited your Seven Stars Internal Stance. Please accept three kowtows from me. I am leaving. From now on, you will be alone here.”

With that, she kowtowed three times at his burial site.

That night, when the moon was full, she brought her logs out from her campsite. She pulled the unfinished raft to the water edge and tied the logs to her unfinished raft. There were twenty thin logs in all, and she tied them one by one to make the deck for the raft. Then she fixed her mast pole and the sail. Following that, she fixed on her bamboo bed, and then her light bamboo camp table over her bed as a roof. She brought along two fishing spears and an oar.

Every thing was either tied down rigidly or flexibly tethered to prevent them from going overboard in rough seas. Supplies were kept in two sacks on board. All coconuts had already been dehusked to save space. Then she tethered the raft and rested. The tide came in and floated the raft. The sky was starting to lighten up.

Looking around her in the predawn, she said, “This is it. The three-in-one kungfu girl is going home.”

She removed the rope tether and climbed on board. Then she pulled up the sail and the wind caught it fully. The raft moved. She tied the rope tether around her waist in case she fell overboard. The raft moved slowly along the water and then picked up speed as it moved further from the island. Pei Pei sat on her bamboo bed and tethered herself to the mast pole. In the early light of dawn, she could see the dark shape of the island that was her home for the past four years. She wondered what the Shantou Devil would do when he found her gone.

It grew brighter. She must have just passed the spot where her boat went down four years ago. She had an eerie feeling as she thought of the three sons of East Cloud, still tied to the boat as it went down.

It seemed such a long time ago when she was hiding in the compartment of the boat, eating dried biscuits and reciting that odd poem. What was it again? She could not remember.

Out in the open sea, the water got rougher, and she lay down on her bed. The deck was constantly wet, with water splashing in from below. The bed was dry for the moment. She had tied coconut leaves to keep out the sea spray around her bed, but she knew that for the whole journey, she would be wet most of the time.

She was wearing East Cloud’s robe, which had been her blanket for the past four years. It was still too big for her, but it gave her some protection against the elements. The tiredness from working the whole night was getting to her, but she could not sleep. She was more fearful than excited. She hoped that her raft construction would hold long enough to reach the mainland.

By noon the sun was high above and she was glad that the bamboo table afforded her shade. She ate a yam and drank some water. The raft did not have a rudder so it went where the wind took it. The island was still visible but it would not be possible to see anyone walking on the beach.

The Shantou Devil was on the south side of the island that day and did not know that Pei Pei was gone. He went about his normal business and in the afternoon, he took a nap. When he woke up, there was a drizzle of rain.

On the raft, Pei Pei was wet from the rain. The bamboo table that she had used as a roof dripped water on her. She was already partially wet from the sea spray even before the rain. However, she was not worried as her Seven Stars Inner Energy was keeping her warm. She kept checking the ropes on the raft constantly. That was the only thing that worried her. She held out an empty coconut shell that she had brought along and collected the rainwater. Then she drank it.

The sea was rough and she found herself on the point of sliding off on a number of occasions. She was glad that she was tethered to the raft by a rope. When night came, the rain had stopped. She wished that she was dry but she knew that in a raft like this, she would be wet for many days and she would be sleeping in wet clothes. On and off she slept.

The next morning, she woke up and exclaimed, “I made it through one day!”

The sea was calm in the morning, so she stood on deck the raft instead of lying on her bed. The wind had dropped and the raft was not traveling very fast, but it was nevertheless moving. She lengthened the tether around her waist and walked around a bit to stretch her self. Her body was achy, but slowly she went through the first three steps of the Secret Taichi Path. She felt recharged after that.

At midmorning, she felt hungry. She let down a dried clam on a string into the water by the side of the raft. Then she waited with her fishing spear. A few fish swam around the bait to investigate it. She speared one. It was big enough for a meal. She would have loved to eat it cooked, but it was unthinkable on board the raft. She ate the fish raw and threw the bones and fish head into the water. She saw the water swirling and knew that other fishes were now feeding on the remains of her meal.

Then she saw them. Huge creatures moving through the water with their dorsal fins breaking the water surface. She had seen sharks before from the safety of a boat, but from the raft, they were frighteningly close. One shark swam alongside and she could see that it was as long as the raft. The sharks swam around the raft for a while and then they suddenly disappeared.

The days that followed soon fell into a routine. She would be lying flat on her back most of the time. In the mid morning she caught fish. When it was hot, she sat under the bamboo table. When it rained, she collected water. At night, she slept.

On the sixth day, she saw what looked like land far away. When the wind blew her closer, she saw that it was a group of islands. Adjusting her sail and using her paddle as a steering oar, she guided the raft to the biggest island. On the afternoon of the seventh day, she landed on a beach along its rocky shoreline. She had reached land!

It did not seem like a very big island, but there was a possibility of her getting water supplies. The last few days had been hot without much rain, and she had finished off more of her coconuts than she had expected. She needed to refilled her water container, and retie some of the joints on the raft that were coming apart. The sail had a big tear in the middle that she needed to fix.

She found fresh water and stayed several days on the island trying to fix her sail. After retying the joints on the raft, there was no more coir rope, so she looked for tree vine to try to patch her sail and close the hole in it. There were only two coconut trees on the island so she dehusked whatever coconut she could find.

On the Gate of Hell Island, the Shantou Devil was perplexed. He had not seen Pei Pei for many days. He waited one day at her campsite till nightfall but she did not turn up. Everything was neat and tidy at her campsite. The firewood was neatly stacked. The bamboo chair she built was there. However, her bamboo table and bed were missing. Where would she go with them? Maybe she had found a new place for a campsite. He scoured the whole island for days in search for her.

“She’s hiding from me. There is no possibility of her getting off the island. Why would she take the bamboo bed and table with her?” he pondered. It was a mystery that he could not solve. From then on, he searched for her everyday. For the rest of his life, he would go around the island searching for her.

Pei Pei was ready to sail again. She stocked up on some tree vine in case the sail needed repairs again. At high tide, she paddled her raft out to sea and then put up the sail. The repaired sail caught the wind and was soon on its way. On the first two days after leaving the island stop, the sail functioned without problems. On the third night there was a huge storm that threatened to throw her overboard with every breath she took. In the morning of the fourth day, the storm abated. But Pei Pei saw that her table roof had disappeared and a large part of the sail was missing. She tore up the robe she was wearing and patched the gap in the sail with it. Without the robe covering her body, she had only the shade of the sail to depend on. She was hot. Her old gourd water bottle had broke in the storm. She needed to find water fast. The coconuts she had taken from the last island were full of flesh and did not have much water.

Then she spotted land far away. It looked longer than an island. Perhaps it was the mainland. The wind was carrying the raft right to it.

On the fifth day, the land loomed nearer. She was suffering from heatstroke and she knew it. The last of her coconuts had already been used up, and she was feeling dizzy. In the late afternoon, the raft neared the beach and she rowed the raft towards what looked like the mouth of a small stream. There was a house nearby but she paid it no attention.

Landing on the beach, she struggled to the stream. On reaching it, she knelt down, put her head to the water and drank.

She turned and lay down besides the stream. She laughed. All she could think of was that she had reached the mainland.

Then she passed out.

Chapter 9: The House of Noble Delights

“She does not look as if she is from these parts,” remarked the old woman known as the Borrowing Hag.

Her daughter, who was bending over Pei Pei’s inert body, said, “Her clothes are rough, as rough as the roughest sack cloth. She must be poor.”

“You said that she came by raft? Where is it?” asked the Borrowing Hag. Although she had a name, the villagers in the area called her the ‘Borrowing Hag’ because she was always borrowing their things and not returning them. She made a living out of selling love spells that never worked. She also had the audacity to sell lucky charms that appeared to work in the opposite way; the wearer became even more unlucky. As a result, the villagers avoided both she and her daughter like a smelly disease.

The daughter led Borrowing Hag to the raft beached on the sands.

“Hmmmm….maybe she sailed here on this raft from somewhere,” said the mother. “Such a small raft…she couldn’t have come from very far. I would say she came from one of those southern provinces. This one must be a girl from a fishing village either escaping from home or swept here by the winds.”

They walked back to look at Pei Pei again.

The daughter commented, “Her complexion is very dark. Too dark in fact to be one of us. I cannot tell if it is because she is sunburnt or because she is a naturally dark native from some of those barbarian southern countries.”

“She could be a barbarian,” said Borrowing Hag, the mother. “Check and see if she is wearing any underwear under her clothes. Barbarians don’t wear underwear.”

The daughter made a quick check and said, “No underwear. That proves it. She is a barbarian girl.”

“Damn!” said Borrowing Hag. “We won’t be able to get a good price for her if she is a barbarian.”

“How much do you think she’s worth?” asked her daughter.

“I don’t know,” said her mother, “Maybe we can sell her for only ten taels of silver. They say that barbarian girls are difficult to train.”

“It’s better than nothing,” said the daughter. “Let’s get her back to our place before it gets dark. Tomorrow, we will contact the pimp, Orh Kwee Thau, and sell her.”

The Borrowing Hag’s daughter was a huge girl, and she lifted up Pei Pei from the ground. They went to a house nearby and put her on a bed.

Pei Pei slept. She dreamt that she was back on the Gate Of Hell Island playing with East Cloud’s dagger. She dreamt how he imparted his Seven Stars Inner Stance kungfu to her. She woke up. It was already afternoon. Getting up weakly, she wondered where she was.

“Oh, you are up,” said the Borrowing Hag.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“It does not matter,” the old woman replied.

“Water, I need some water,” Pei Pei whispered.

The old woman gave her some water, which Pei Pei gulped down quickly. She was feeling much better. The sleep had done her good, but she felt a slight burning sensation on her forearms. Sunburn.

The Borrowing Hag was immensely pleased. Pei Pei could speak in the Fujian dialect. That meant that she was not a foreigner. Thus she could be sold at a higher price. Good. Very good.

“Where did you come from?” the old woman asked her.

“From an island far away,” Pei Pei said. “Where am I? Near Fuzhou?”

“Fuzhou? The nearest town from here is Tsinkiang,” replied the old woman. “Fuzhou is towards the north.”

Suddenly, Pei Pei realized that she was naked, but covered by an old blanket. “Where are my clothes?” she asked.

“They are hanging outside waiting to dry,” replied the old woman. “When we found you yesterday, your clothes were dirty and smelled strongly of salt. My daughter cleaned you up this morning. She also took your clothes out to wash. You can wear them back after they are dry.”

“Thank you. How can I hope to repay you,” said Pei Pei.

“Don’t worry. I will find a way,” said the Borrowing Hag. It was good business sense to clean up the girl. Clean girls command higher prices.

The daughter then came in with a bowl of rice congee. Pei Pei ate it up hungrily. Then she went back to sleep again. The last part of the sea journey had left her slightly dehydrated. She woke up on and off to drink water.

The following morning, when she got out of bed, she was feeling much better. The enormity of her accomplishment sank in. “I did it! I sailed back to the mainland. Yes, I did it!” She did not know how she would find her way to Fuzhou, but she would think about that later. Quickly, she put on her clothes.

The old woman called her to eat a bowl of noodles. She finished off half of the noodles quickly, and then noticed that the old woman and her daughter were not eating. “Aren’t you both eating?” she asked.

“No,” replied the Borrowing Hag. “You eat first. We will eat later.”

After the meal, Pei Pei felt very sleepy. She did not know what was happening to her. The old woman called her, and she stared back with glazed eyes.

Some men came in though the open front door.

“Ah! There you are, you pimp!” cried the Borrowing Hag.

“Is this the girl?” asked the leader of the men. His name was Orh Kwee Thau and he had a thriving business selling village women to the courtesan houses in Tsinkiang.

“Yes, and she is a local girl. She can speak our language,” said the Borrowing Hag.

“She looks too dark to be a local,” remarked the pimp. “I’ll give five taels of silver for her.”

“She’s dark because she has been under the sun,” countered the old woman. “She can speak our language and she is pretty. That’s worth at least eighty taels!”

Pei Pei couldn’t believe her ears. The old woman was selling her! She wanted to give them a piece of her mind, but for some reason, it was difficult to keep her eyes open.

“Why does she look so sleepy?” asked the pimp.

“I cast an Obedience Spell on her so that she would not give you trouble. That will cost you extra!” replied the Borrowing Hag.

“Look, old woman, we know that your spells don’t work, so don’t bullshit me. I think you dropped some sleeping potion in her food. How much did you give her?” said the pimp.

“Oh alright. I put in a bit of Kin Kin Khoon sleeping potion in her bowl of noodles this morning. Just a bit. She won’t be able to run away if she is sleepy,” said the old woman.

“Good thinking,” said Orh Kwee Thau. “But that foreign girl is only worth five taels. She dresses funny.“

“She’s not foreign,” said the woman. “Her clothes may be funny, but I found on her a dagger with the ‘East’ word on it, carved in our writing.” She handed to Orh Kwee Thau the dagger that Pei Pei had taken from the dead body of East Cloud.

“This proves nothing,” remarked the pimp. “Anyone can get a local dagger.”

“I am telling you that she’s not foreign,” said the woman. “She can speak our language! Watch!” The old woman then shook Pei Pei and shouted at her, “Wake up! Say something!”

“Unga shaga,” answered Pei Pei. Sleepy as she was, she would make things difficult for the old lady.

“That sounds foreign to me,” remarked Orh Kwee Thau.

“No!” scream the Borrowing Hag. She shook Pei Pei roughly and demanded, “Say something else!”

“Hakuna Matata,” said Pei Pei obligingly.

“That is a foreign language all right,” said the pimp. “Together with the dagger, she’s worth only five taels.” He motioned to his men to take Pei Pei away.

“Pay me more, or I’ll sell her to some other pimp!” screamed the old woman.

“Fine,” replied Orh Kwee Thau. “You owed me eight taels previously. Pay up your debt now and you can sell her to somebody else!”

The old woman was seething inside, but she kept quiet. She had no money to pay her debt. Silently, she watched the pimp and his men carry the girl to a carriage. Pei Pei was asleep even before she got in.

“After this, you still owe me three taels!” the pimp called out to the old woman as he drove the carriage away.

It was close to dusk when Pei Pei woke up from the effects of the sleeping potion. She was in a carriage with two other girls.

“Where am I?” Pei Pei asked.

“In a carriage,” one of the girls replied. “We should be approaching Tsinkiang any moment now.”

Tsinkiang. That would be the city south of Fuzhou. Pei Pei had heard of it before. The journey by a sailing junk between the two cities took two days normally in good wind.

She noticed that her hands and feet were shackled in chains, but both the girls were not tied up like she was.

“Are you two guarding me?” Pei Pei asked.

“No,” the fairer one replied. “My name is Ah Lian. The other girl is Ah Huei.”

“Ah Lian and Ah Huei. Why are both of you not chained up like me?” asked Pei Pei.

“Because the man said that you may try to escape,” replied Ah Huei. “You were captured. We, on the other hand, were sold by our families. If we try to run away, our families will have to pay compensation.”

“Where are they taking us?” Pei Pei asked.

“To a courtesan house,” answered Ah Lian. “We are to become courtesans!”

“What?” yelled Pei Pei in shock.

“Yes, and we will get to wear fine clothes and eat good food,” added Ah Huei.

“Do you know what you have to do as a courtesan?” asked Pei Pei wryly.

“Of course! We are not stupid!” replied Ah Huei. “They expect us to give men pleasure. Still it is better than starving at home.”

“My mother said that men would bring me presents. All I have to do is just lie there and look pretty,” added Ah Lian smugly. “My uncles have been grabbing my ass for free back home and they don’t even bring me presents.”

“That is not all,” said Ah Huei. “The man said that we don’t have to do a thing. The men do all the moving. What can be better than that?”

“He also said that if we lie down often enough, we may be able to get a promotion!” commented Ah Lian excitedly.

“I hear that sometimes some rich man will buy you from the Madam and take you home to be his wife!” Ah Huei said. “This could be a wonderful career move. Wah lau eh.”

“Definitely got prospect,” said Ah Lian. “Every intelligent girl should become career courtesans.”

“Eh, where can?” remarked Ah Huei. “Intelligence is good, but must be pretty also. Like us. If not, who will want?”

“Ya, hor,” agreed Ah Lian. “We are so pretty. Sure to get lots of men around us. Chiak buay liao, ah!”

Pei Pei could not believe what she was hearing from those two. They appeared to be happily looking forward to their fate.

The carriage turned into a courtyard and stopped. A man appeared and removed the chains on Pei Pei’s feet. But her hands remained shackled. The girls were helped down from the carriage and led into a room in a large building.

An old woman came and inspected the girls.

“Orh Kwee Thau,” she said, “what have you brought me? Two decent looking girls and one foul creature from the rubbish heap.”

“Madam Hau,” replied the pimp, “the foul creature from the rubbish heap is a foreigner. But she has nice facial features, good shape and good bone structure. The skin is a bit dark at the moment, but I think it is from overexposure from the sun. Just a few months indoors and she will be as fair as the rest.”

“A foreigner?” asked Madam Hau in a displeased tone.

“Don’t worry,” reassured the pimp. “If you beat her often enough, she will do your bidding. Just as good as any dumb slave!”

“They are all virgins, I presume,” said the Madam.

“Of course! I would not be asking you for such a high price if they had been used before!” replied Orh Kwee Thau indignantly.

After haggling over the price of the girls, Madam Hau paid the pimp.

“Can we get a drink on the house as usual?” asked Orh Kwee Thau.

“Damn, everytime you come here, you want free drinks!” said Madam Hau. “All right. The first pot of wine is free for you and your men. After the first pot, you will pay for what you consume, just like every other customer.”

Feeling pleased, Orh Kwee Thau and his men left the room and proceeded to the drinking parlour.

“Welcome to the House of Noble Delights!” Madam Hau addressed the three girls. “I am your new owner. I am going train you to become courtesans. A word of warning; should you try to escape, we will catch you and beat you till your legs are broken. My men here are good in catching wayward girls.”

Pei Pei looked at the men and her interest picked up. One man had taken off his cloak to reveal a vest packed with throwing daggers, six on the left, and six on the right. She stared at the man’s daggers. They were shorter than normal daggers and they fitted snugly into the vest pockets.

“Stop staring,” said the Madam to Pei Pei. “That’s Killer Flying Dagger Kong. He can do you a lot of damage if you do not behave yourself.”

As if to emphasize the point, the man took out a dagger, stuck a stylish pose, and then threw the dagger against the wooden wall. The dagger hit the wall at an angle, and then promptly fell to the ground with a clatter.

“He is not very skillful,” thought Pei Pei, as she watched the man retrieved the dagger with embarrassment. “All form and no substance.”

Madam Hau glared angrily at Killer Flying Dagger Kong, then turned round and asked the girls, “Are there any questions?”

“Do the men of the Sky Dragon Clan come here often?” asked Pei Pei.

“Huh? You can speak our language? The Sky Dragon Clan? Why do you ask?” the Madam countered.

“I’ve heard of them,” replied Pei Pei. “I wish to see what they are like.”

“You will serve everybody regardless of what Clan they are from. And anyway, the Sky Dragon Clan people do not come here,” answered Madam Hau.

“Yeah,” said Killer Flying Dagger Kong, “but I hear that the House of A Thousand Pleasures in Fuzhou gets a lot of their business. Madam Song there knows how to train her girls.”

“Are you implying that I don’t know how to train my girls?” said Madam Hau with displeasure.

“No, of course not!” replied Killer Flying Dagger Kong hastily.

The three girls were then herded into a room without windows. The chains on Pei Pei’s hands were removed. It was already night, and dinner and and a candle was brought in for them. The door was then bolted from the outside. Pei Pei was hungry, so she ate, along with the other two girls. The food was much different from what she had been eating on the island for the past four years, and so she ate with relish.

She thought to herself, “I need to get to Fuzhou and track down my father’s killers. I need money. I need fresh clothes. I need to get a set of flying daggers. Oh heck, I need so many things.”

Immediately after the meal, the other two girls slept. They were tired out from the journey and thus slept soundly.

Pei Pei had been sleeping the whole day, so she was wide-awake. She saw that there was no way out of the room. She could easily break the wall using her Seven Star Internal Stance kungfu, but that would bring too much attention. Looking up, she saw that the roof was made of tiles. Taking a deep breath, she leapt upwards and then, while clinging to the roof rafters, she dislodged the tiles till the resulting gap was big enough for her to jump out. Standing on the rooftop, she looked around. It was indeed a courtesan house.

She could see into some windows and make out the forms of men having a good time with the women in the lamplight. They were laughing and drinking wine.

Then she saw Orh Kwee Thau walking in a tipsy manner towards a toilet.

Pei Pei waited for the pimp to enter the toilet and then she leapt down to wait in the darkness. She picked up three pebbles from the ground. As he walked out, she threw one pebble at his head and hit him from behind, knocking him out cold. The other two pebbles were not required. Quickly she searched him and found her dagger in his clothes. “So, you stole my dagger!” she breathed angrily. The dagger had accompanied her for many years, and was therefore of great sentimental value to her. Quickly, she kept her dagger.

On searching further, she found a bag of money on him. “Must be the money you got from selling girls. You should not sell a girl who does not belong to you,” she muttered silently to the unconscious man. “Some more, you called me a dumb slave. I’m confiscating your money. Looks like you won’t be trading in any more virgins for a while, you bastard son of a rotting snake!”

It was a long time since she had seen money. She did not bother to count the money, but just kept the whole bag. She dragged the pimp quickly into the toilet and then unceremoniously dumped him inside the toilet hole; head first.

“Eat your own shit,” she said.

Then she leapt back to the rooftop and entered her room through the roof. Lying on the bed, she decided that she would leave the place at dawn.

A short while later, she heard some commotion outside. The body of Orh Kwee Thau had been discovered.

“That stupid orh kwee has fallen into the toilet hole. Must have been drinking too much,” boomed the loud voice of Killer Flying Dagger Kong.

“Maybe he was attacked and pushed into the toilet!” suggested another voice.

“Don’t be silly,” replied Kong, “nobody will dare try any funny stuff while I, Killer Flying Dagger Kong, am the chief of security here!”

“Damn this guy,” murmured Pei Pei. ”Talk big only! Tomorrow, I will go and buy myself some daggers as well. Maybe also make myself a vest for it.” Then she slept.

The sound of a distant cockcrow woke her up. She leapt up through the roof and then placed the roofing tiles back properly in place. “That ought to confuse them as to how I got out!” she chuckled. It was just dawn and was still dark outside..

Leaping to the ground in the darkness, she then leapt over the wall onto the road outside. She did not know which direction to head for, so she stood there and waited. As dawn came, she saw that she was right in the town of Tsinkiang. Walking in one direction, she came across a small boy and she asked for directions to the jetty. He pointed her in the right direction and she kept on walking.

As she passed a row of shops, she could smell the invigorating smell of steamed dumplings. She went into the shop, sat down and ordered two dumplings. The owner of the shop looked at her rough clothes in a funny way as if she was a beggar. She took out a tael of silver and placed it on the table. He immediately jumped to serve her. The dumplings were delicious. They were the best she had tasted in a long, long time.

“If I wish to sail to Fuzhou, where do I go?” she asked the shop owner.

“The regular big boat to Fuzhou left two days ago. There won’t be another one till another month,” replied the shop owner. “However, sometimes there may be other big boats that carry freight going along the same route. You can ask if you can hitch a ride from them. They can usually be found at the last jetty on the right.”

Pei Pei thanked the owner and then bought an extra dumpling to eat along the way. On leaving the dumpling shop, she passed an ironmongery shop and went inside. There were swords and sabers on sale. At the corner of the shop, she found a set of ten daggers. She picked them up and tested them for weight and feel. She threw them experimentally up in the air and then caught them. Each one was identical in weight and feel to the rest.

“You want them?” a gruff voice said. “I have only ten left. I can let you have them cheap.” Turning around, she saw the shop owner.

“I want twelve,” she said. “Why does this set have only ten?”

“A stupid security chief in one of the courtesan houses ordered them,” he explained. “Then he claimed that they were too heavy and did not want them. The fool! Originally, there were twelve, but I must have sold away two of them. Now only ten remain.”

They haggled the price and then he wrapped the ten knives into a cloth bundle for her.

She bought a straw hat in the store next door to cover her head, and then, holding her bundle of throwing knives, she made her way down to the jetty. She walked jauntily in the early morning light. She had money, and she was armed.

On reaching the last jetty, Pei Pei found a large boat about to cast off. It was three times longer than her uncle’s boat and can be considered a very small ship.

“Is this boat going to Fuzhou?” she asked a big sized man working there.

“Yes,” he replied, looking at her shabby clothes contemptuously.

“Good,” said Pei Pei. “I wish to board this boat.”

“We are not taking passengers,” he replied rudely. “This boat has been chartered out to a merchant. You have to wait for the normal passenger boat next month.”

“I have worked on a boat before,” said Pei Pei, refusing to give up. “Let me be part of the crew.”

“No,” said the man. “Go away, you beggar!”

“I am not a beggar!” replied Pei Pei indignantly.

A young well-dressed man who was standing nearby turned and addressed Pei Pei.

“Miss, this boat has been chartered by me to carry my stocks to Fuzhou. I am shorthanded at the moment. If you really need to get to Fuzhou, I can take you on as a temporary helper. Your job will be to see that my stocks remain dry and don’t fall overboard. Once we reach Fuzhou, you will help to move my stocks from the boat to my relative’s house. Since you are a girl, I will see that you carry the light stuff only. You will get two meals a day and you get to travel to Fuzhou with us. Are you agreeable to the terms?”

“Thank you kind sir,” she answered. The duties were light. She sensed that the young man was just being kind. He was good looking, and looked like he was only twenty years old. Yet he spoke with a sense of authority. She was embarrassed at her own sackcloth attire and said, “Please excuse the way I look. I will conduct my duties to the best of my ability. My name is Yue Pei Pei.”

“I am a merchant from Pingchen,” he said. “My name is Wu Chuan.”

Chapter 10: Aboard a black ship

Wu Chuan motioned to Pei Pei to board the boat, saying, “We are casting off now. Do you have all your belongings with you?”

“Yes,” replied Pei Pei, “this is all I have. I wish I had time to buy some proper clothes. But very few shops are opened so early in the morning.”

“That looks heavy,” said Wu Chuan, pointing to her cloth bundle of daggers.

“That? Oh that is very light. It’s like a bundle of feathers,” she replied.

“You can put the bundle of feathers together with my stuff,” he said.

On the boat, he introduced her to two other workers. One of them was a slightly deaf old man in his sixties whom he called “Lao Apek”. The other worker was a young servant. A third man, wearing a broadsword, joined them.

“This is Ouyang, my chief of security,” said Wu Chuan.

Ouyang had been friends with the Wu family a long time. A long time ago, he was the
lead escort of Yung An Escort Protection Agency. Eight years ago, he had escorted Wu Chuan’s sister, Jade Flower, to safety when the whole family was under threat. A year later, while he and his men were escorting the valuables of a group of merchants to another town, they were attacked by bandits and the valuables were robbed. The Yung An agency men suffered many deaths and Ouyang was injured in the fight. The blame for the losses was pinned on him and he was removed from his job. For two years, he could not get a steady job until Old Merchant Wu of Pingchen hired him to take charge of security for the Wu household. Ouyang was grateful for the opportunity, and served Old Merchant Wu and his son, Young Master Wu Chuan loyally.

Just as the boat was about to cast off, a group of ten men appeared and boarded the boat.

“This is not right,” Ouyang protested to the sailing master of the boat. “We have chartered this vessel for our goods. You should not be taking any passengers.”

The sailing master answered, “These men are not passengers but part of my crew.”

Wu Chuan was mystified. Originally, the crew was six. With the arrival of the ten men, that would make the crew sixteen strong. He did not think there was enough work to occupy sixteen men on board, but he kept quiet.

The boat left the short and sailed northwards. There was nothing much to do on board and Pei Pei stood quietly on the deck wondering when young Master Wu would issue her some work to do.

At midday, the deaf Apek distributed food to Pei Pei. “Eat,” he said with a smile.

Pei Pei tried to conduct a conversation with him but it was no use. Apek could not understand her.

“He is used to hand signals,” explained Wu Chuan who had come up behind her. “When he wants your help, he will tell you.”

“I am sorry,” said Pei Pei. “But I have seldom seen a deaf servant before. They rarely seem to be able to get employment.”

“He was not always like that,” said Wu Chuan. “His hearing deteriorated five years ago. The Wu family will usually try to retain a servant for as long as he is able to contribute. Apek is quite a good worker. I have other servants, but unfortunately they all get seasick whenever they are on a boat.”

“The weather is good. I doubt if it will rain today or tomorrow. Your stocks on the deck should be reasonably dry by the time we reach Fuzhou,” she said.

“The boat is travelling fast. We should be able to reach by tomorrow late afternoon,” he said. “You walk very steadily on deck. You must have been around boats before.”

“My father was a boatman,” she explained.

Ouyang came over and took Wu Chuan aside. “Young Master Wu. Something about this boat bothers me. I think we are on a black ship.”

“A black ship? What is that?” asked Wu Chuan.

“It means that we are on a vessel crewed by pirates. They take on unsuspecting passengers and then kill and rob them at sea. After that they would throw their bodies overboard,” explained Ouyang. “I have been watching their men. There are sixteen of them, more than what this boat needs. And I noticed them watching us all the time. Like the way a cat watches its prey.”

“Damn!” said Wu Chuan. “No wonder they charged us so cheaply. I should have known that good is not cheap and cheap is not good! Damn!”

“I hope I am wrong,” said Ouyang, “but if I am not, then we are in deep trouble!”

Wu Chuan thought for a while and said, “There are only four of us, not counting the girl. It will be difficult to put up a fight. When do you think they will attack?”

“They will most likely wait until we are halfway to Fuzhou. That would be this evening or tomorrow morning. They have overwhelming numerical superiority, so they will not need to attack at night when they can’t see. Less chance of them killing each other in the dark. My guess is that it will most likely occur in the early morning when we are still half-asleep,” said Ouyang. “We need to keep our weapons with us at all times. But should the fighting go badly against us, we would have no choice but to jump overboard and hope for the best.”

“I should not have invited the girl on board,” remarked Wu Chuan. “Warn our men while I warn the girl.”

“I do not know how to explain such a thing to Apek. He is deaf, you know,” said Ouyang.

“Damn! Never mind. There is no way to make him understand. Just watch him and give him a weapon. When the fighting starts, he will understand!” said Wu Chuan.

He then approached Pei Pei and whispered, “Miss Yue. Please try not to act surprised. I suspect that we are on a pirate ship. But I may be wrong. However, if we are attacked, you will have to jump overboard for your own safety. Since you are a boatman’s daughter, you should be able to swim.”

Pei Pei stared at him and thought, “Kanineh! I’ve only spent three nights on the mainland and I have been drugged by a stupid old woman, chained up by some stupid men, sold by a stupid orh kwee, and now I’m on board a stupid pirate ship! Na beh, what kind of stupid luck is this?”

“Miss Yue,” said Wu Chuan, cutting into her thoughts. “Do you understand what I am saying?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Don’t worry. I can take care of myself.”

Wu Chuan walked away to join Ouyang. Watching him, Pei Pei thought, “Well, at least this cute guy never see me no up. Came to warn me also. Got some class.”

She kept her bundle of throwing daggers close by her side after that.

That evening, the boat dropped anchor near a rocky offshore island, as boats did not sail at night. Pei Pei wondered why the boat dropped anchor at that particular spot when it could easily have anchored at one of the many mainland coves they had passed. Looking into the water, she saw some dark familiar shapes cruising under the surface. Slowly, she ambled over to Wu Chuan and said, “These are shark-infested waters. Don’t fall overboard!”

“I see why they chose this spot to anchor,” mumbled Wu Chuan. “They mean to leave no dead bodies around as evidence. If anything were to happen, it would be at this spot.”

That night, Wu Chuan and Ouyang kept watch and took turns to sleep. In the early dawn, as the sky was just lightening, they roused their workers and Pei Pei. They could not help noticing that all the seamen were also waking up.

The pirates on board had hoped to catch their prey unaware in the early dawn. It should have been a quick and easy slaughter. Instead, they found that Wu Chuan and his men had their weapons in hand.

Realising that the element of surprise was not with them, the sailing master shouted, “Attack them!”

Ouyang shouted out a warning, “Here they come!”

The pirates had not expected the four men to put up much resistance. However, Ouyang was an experienced dirty fighter. He drove his broadsword into the heart of the first man leading the charge with a speed that surprised all of them. Wu Chuan’s young servant used a wooden pole to fend off the other pirates. Even the deaf Lao Apek, who was not sure what was happening, caught on quickly and started swinging the wooden pole he was carrying. Wu Chuan defended himself with his own sword. Although he could be called a swordsman, he was not as good as Ouyang. Fighting was never his strong point.

With the rapid death of a seaman at the hands of Ouyang, the pirates became more wary. But there were still fifteen of them and they attacked on all sides. A backward stumble by Apek caused him to back into Pei Pei. She decided that she could not remain where she was. She had never been in a fight, and did not know what to do. A long time ago in her village, she was always told that when men fight, women should not get in the way. So, using lightness kungfu, she leapt upwards to the top of the main sail and clung herself high up there, looking down at the fighting below her.

The pirates had managed to separate Wu Chuan and Ouyang from Apek and the young servant. A pirate had raised a saber to Apek’s left.

“Look out on your left!” Pei Pei shouted to the old man, forgetting that he was deaf. She hoped against hope that the pirate would not bring his saber down on Apek. It was a naiveté that she would soon regret. While Apek was tending to his front, the pirate on his left had slashed down viciously with the saber. Apek fell.

“No!” shouted Pei Pei as she dropped down from the sail and unrolled her bundle of daggers at the same time in the air. She had pulled out a dagger even before she had landed on the deck. Three of Apek’s attackers had raised their long knives, preparing to chop Apek into pieces. Pei Pei raised her dagger, but still she hesitated to throw. She was no killer. She realized that if she threw, she would snuff out a life. A life that had a mother. She would go down to the depths of hell for killing somebody. Talk was easy, but when it came to actual killing, she found that she could not do it.

One pirate plunged his long knife into the body of Apek causing him to scream. Pei Pei hesitated no longer.

She threw her dagger. It buried itself deep in the skull of the man who was causing Apek pain. Some pirates rushed at her and she leapt into the air, twisted her body and threw several more daggers in rapid succession, with each throw registering a kill.

Ouyang had just plunged his saber into another pirate, but the dying man had grabbed his hands, refusing to let go. Ouyang could not pull away, leaving him vulnerable, and another pirate nearest to him had sensed the opportunity to finish him off. Ouyang braced himself for the killing stroke. Suddenly a dagger came out of nowhere and buried itself deep into the skull of his would-be killer. With a supreme effort, he freed his hands and grabbed the weapon of the dead would-be killer to defend himself. He did not know what had happened, but half of the pirates appeared to be dead.

Wu Chuan was in trouble. A pirate had swung a long and heavy metal bar at him, and although he parried the blow with his scabbard, the momentum of the blow threw him off the edge of the boat. He dropped his sword and managed to catch hold of the edge of the boat with both hands, with his feet dangling in the sea. He was dripping blood from his wounds into the seawater and the nearby sharks had picked up the scent. He saw them swim about to investigate even as he tried to clamber back on board. The man with the heavy metal bar swung the weapon to bring it down on Wu Chuan’s right hand gripping the boat’s edge. Wu Chuan saw the blow coming and released his right hand from the edge just in time. He felt something big brushed against his feet in the water.

Pei Pei had only two more flying daggers left when she saw the danger that Wu Chuan was in. Another pirate raised his saber to chop down at Wu Chuan’s left hand. He never made it, but instead fell down with a dagger embedded in the back of his skull. The pirate with the long and heavy metal bar turned round to face the new danger and got a flying dagger that went in through his left eye socket all the way to his brains.

Pei Pei had no flying daggers left. She rushed towards Wu Chuan to pull him up. A big sized seaman was in her way. He was the very same man who had called her a beggar at the jetty the day before. He swung a long knife viciously at her, shouting, “Die, you beggar girl!”

Pei Pei ducked under the swing and then using her Seven Stars inner force, she shoved him backwards. The shove was so powerful that he flew off the boat and landed into the sea some distance away. Quickly, with her right hand, she reached down and grabbed Wu Chuan’s collar and pulled him up easily. As she was thus occupied, another pirate rushed at her. With her left hand, she pulled out East Cloud’s dagger that was strapped to her leg and threw it. A throw with the left hand was not her best throw, but at that close quarters, it was impossible to miss the heart. The momentum of the rushing pirate threatened to knock all three of them into the sea below. Pei Pei moved sideways while still holding up Wu Chuan with her right hand. The dead pirate would have fallen overboard into the water, but Pei Pei grabbed his clothes and jerked him back. She let him drop down like a sack of potatoes on the deck of the boat. She could not care less if the pirate had fallen overboard to the sharks below, but East Cloud’s dagger was still buried in the dead man’s heart and, for sentimental reasons, she did not want to lose it.

There were only two pirates left and they were both attacking Ouyang. Apek and the other young servant were both lying motionless on the deck. Ouyang slashed the forearm on one of the two remaining pirates. He would have made short work of them on land, but here, with the rocking motion of the boat, he was not fighting his best. Pei Pei helped Wu Chuan on board and he quickly grabbed hold of a fallen saber on the deck and rushed to the aid of Ouyang.
Pei Pei did not have any weapon left. Quickly she tried to look for a dagger she could use.

The screams of the big sized man whom Pei Pei had earlier shoved overboard into the sea filled the air, “Let me up! Throw down a rope! Quickly!”

Pei Pei glanced down at the man in the sea who was surrounded by a group of sharks. She pretended not to see him and muttered, “Yesterday, you see me no up. Today, I see down no you.”

Ignoring the screams in the air, she bent down and tried to pull out a flying dagger from the skull of a dead pirate so that she could join the fight. The blade was stuck in the skull and she had to press down the head with one hand while she pulled out the dagger with the other hand. She looked up in time to see Wu Chuan run his saber through the ribs of one of the two remaining seamen.

There was only one more pirate left. He could not understand why he was the only one among his compatriots left standing on deck. Just a short while ago, there were sixteen of them. In less time than it took to drink down a cup of hot drink, he became the only one still fighting. Things had happened so fast that he was unable to mentally digest the way the battle had gone. Surrounded by Wu Chuan and Ouyang, the pirate threw away his saber, sank quickly to his knees and begged for mercy.

The screams from the sea had stopped and Pei Pei turned her head to see why. The pirate in the sea was underwater as the sharks thrashed about in a feeding frenzy. It was a gruesome sight that she wished she had not seen. She turned to look at Ouyang who was speaking to the seaman kneeling on the deck.

“Why should we show you any mercy, you lump of dog shit!” asked Ouyang.

“I have one child and three wives to support,” cried the fearful man.

“That’s what they all say,” remarked Ouyang nonchalantly. “I will throw you down to the sharks and see how well you fare!”

“No!” cried the man in panic. “If you will let me live, I promise to leave the life of piracy!”

“Hold on,” Wu Chuan told Ouyang. He then walked towards Pei Pei and asked, “Miss Yue, do you know how to sail this boat to Fuzhou.”

“This is a big boat,” she replied. “I will not be able to sail it alone. Some one has to control the rudder while another person managed the sails. If you and Ouyang help me, we will be able to manage. However, I have not sailed these waters before. We can use that man to help show us the way to Fuzhou.”

“All right then,” decided Wu Chuan.

Addressing the pirate still kneeling on the deck, he said, “You are now our captive. If you can show us the way to Fuzhou, we will hand you over to the constabulary there. If however, we do not reach Fuzhou by this evening, your hands will be cut off and you will be thrown to the sharks.”

“I will show you the way to Fuzhou before this evening,” answered the man. Ouyang then instructed him to lie down and not move.

Wu Chuan inspected his servants. The young servant was bleeding and unconscious, but not yet dead. Apek had died. His body would be taken to Fuzhou where he would be given funeral rites.

Ouyang examined the dead pirates one by one and then whispered to Wu Chuan, “That Miss Yue Pei Pei. She is no ordinary person. The flying dagger is among the most difficult of martial arts. Yet she was so accurate that each pirate died with a dagger in the head, with the dagger buried to the hilt! She must have a powerful inner energy.”

“She saved my life,” Wu Chuan whispered back.

“Mine too!” said Ouyang. “I have never seen such speed! Or such power! I would rank her as equivalent to a top kungfu master!”

Pei Pei retrieved all her daggers including the one from East Cloud. Staring sadly at the dead body of Apek, she said, “I am sorry Apek. I should have thrown my daggers much sooner.” Then, looking at the many dead bodies of the men she had killed, she shivered.

Wu Chuan and Ouyang approached her and kneeled down.

“We wish to thank you for saving our lives,” said Wu Chuan. “Please accept three kowtows from us!”

“What are you doing?” she asked as they kowtowed. “I cannot accept this. Please rise!”

They ignored her protests and finished their three kowtows.

“We are lucky that your bundle of feathers despatched off the pirates faster than we could fight them off. Please allow us to toast you three bowls of wine when we reach Fuzhou,” Wu Chuan requested.

“All right, but get up first!” said Pei Pei. She was beginning to like Wu Chuan. He was not a fantastic fighter, but he was polite and showed concerned for his servants. On top of that, he was good looking, and that was always a plus point.

Ouyang forced the captured pirate to throw all the dead bodies of his compatriots into the sea. The sharks had a big feast that day. The poor captive shuddered in terror to see the fate of his former friends in the waters, as he threw them in one by one. Ouyang then tied him to the forward mast pole. From there, the captive guided Pei Pei as to how the boat should sail.

At mid morning, they passed by a group of islands. They intrigued Wu Chuan and so he asked the prisoner, “What is the name of that big island?”

“That is Li-Shan Island,” replied the prisoner.

“What about the other one on the right?” Wu Chuan asked again.

“That would be Camel Island,” was the reply.

“What an odd name!” remarked Wu Chuan. “Is it because there are camels there?”

“No,” replied the man. “It is because the island is shaped like a camel’s hump.”

“In that case, I bet that far-off island over there with the twin peaks is call Woman’s Island,” commented Ouyang.

Wu Chuan stared at him and said, “You shouldn’t crack jokes, Ouyang. It takes away your solemn distinguished demeanor.”

Ouyang smiled, “I never had any solemn distinguished demeanor, Young Master Wu!”

The wind was steady, and by afternoon, the Fuzhou harbour was in sight. Pei Pei was excited to see the familiar approach to the harbour. It had been four years since she was away. She wondered if Ningshiang Village had changed much.

The prisoner begged, “I have kept to my word and guided you to Fuzhou. Please let me go. I want to go back to my family. I promise to Heaven that I will never turn to crime again!”

Wu Chuan relented and asked Ouyang to free him. “I intend to take you to the constabulary. But if you can jump off the boat from here and reach the shore, then you have earned your freedom.”

The man needed no second invitation. The boat was sailing parallel to the coastline. He jumped off the boat and started swimming to the nearest beach. When he reached it, he waved to the boat.

Ouyang remarked, “I hope, after this lesson, he will not return to a life of crime.”

By mid-afternoon, they sailed into the harbour.

Pei Pei did not intend to return to live in her village yet. She would stay in town to hunt down the killers of her parents.

“Do you know of any cheap inns in town?” she asked.

“I can recommend the Old Horse Inn. It may be old, but it is cheap, quiet and clean,” replied Ouyang.

“We will stay there tonight as well,” said Wu Chuan.

Ouyang looked at him in surprise. His young master usually stayed in Governor Li’s house whenever he was in Fuzhou.

At the harbour, Wu Chuan instructed the harbormaster to send his goods to Governor Li’s house. The harbormaster knew that the young merchant Wu Chuan was related to the Governor of the Fujian Province and so he took extra care with the goods. Wu Chuan sent word to inform Governor Li that he had returned to Fuzhou but would be spending the night at the Old Horse Inn.

Ouyang took the young injured servant to a daifu’s place and left him there to spend the night while Wu Chuan made arrangements for Apek’s body to be placed in a coffin. Apek had been a faithful servant of the Wu household for many years, so Wu Chuan intended to take the coffin back to Pingchen for burial.

When all the arrangements had been done, Wu Chuan, Ouyang and Pei Pei walked to the Old Horse Inn and booked three rooms.

That night, at dinner, Wu Chuan toasted Pei Pei with three bowls of wine. “Here’s to the health of our benefactor, without whom, our lives would have been colder than water.”

When they were half drunk, Wu Chuan recited some poetry from the famous poet Li-Po:

Bring in the wine!
Let your cups never rest!
Let me sing you a song!
Let your ears attend!
What are bell and drum, rare dishes and treasure?
Let me be forever drunk and never come to reason!
Sober men of olden days and sages are forgotten

Then it was Ouyang’s turn, and he recited:

But a cup of wine levels life and death
And a thousand things obstinately hard to prove
When I am drunk, I lose Heaven and Earth,
Motionless—I cleave to my lonely bed.
At last I forget that I exist at all,
And at that moment my joy is great indeed

When it came to Pei Pei’s turn, she did not know any poetry, except for the one she had read on her uncle’s boat. So she recited:

Between the summer wind and morning sun
Taking aim from Rabbit Island
I skipped a rock with a banyan tree

Wu Chuan was amused. “Where did this poem come from?” he asked.

“I discovered it written in the rice compartment of my uncle’s boat,” Pei Pei laughed. “It is not very good poetry, I know!”

“Who is to say what is good and what is not?” commented Wu Chuan. “I am still alive. Therefore, everything is good!”

“Yes,” said Ouyang. “Everything is good! I was to have died this morning, but I am still here. When I get back to Pingchen, I must remember to light joss sticks for my ancestors.”

Pei Pei said, “I would advise that you travel with more fighters if you ever board a boat again.”

“I don’t intend to go to Tsinkiang again,” said Wu Chuan. “In Fuzhou there was a shortage of the goods that I wanted. That was why I sailed down to Tsinkiang to try my luck. It was a successful buying trip, but I lost a loyal servant.”

“The sea is not for everybody,” remarked Pei Pei. “Maybe you should stick to land.”

“Where are you going after this, Miss Yue? Where is your home?” asked Wu Chuan.

“I am not sure if I have a home anymore,” replied Pei Pei. “What I really plan to do is to get a bath and a change of clothes.”

“I can help you with that,” said Wu Chuan. “I have already asked the waiter to send hot water to our rooms for bathing. I’ll arrange to have some clothes sent to you in the morning. Ouyang and I will be making preparations to leave for Pingchen early tomorrow, so we may not see you again. Is there anything else you need? I am a merchant and I will be able to get you anything you need.”

“No,” answered the girl, “but I thank you for your concern.”

“If ever you are in Pingchen, please come to the House of Wu as my guest,” invited Wu Chuan.

Pei Pei slept in late the next morning. It had been the first good night’s sleep for her ever since she returned to the mainland.

Later in the morning, the waiter brought a package of fresh clothes for her. Wu Chuan had sent them and they fitted her perfectly. Wu Chuan and Ouyang had gone.

Pei Pei wanted to try to find out information about the whereabouts of the Sky Dragon Clan. But there was something she had to do first. She bought some joss sticks and then walked with her hat low over her face towards her home village of Ningshiang. When she reached the outskirts of Ningshiang, she climbed a small hill to look for the gravesite where her father was buried.

Kneeling down in front of her father’s grave, she lighted the joss sticks for her departed father. Then she bowed low and said, “Father, your daughter has come home. It has been four years since I last visited your grave. I have learned who your killers are. I will hunt them down. When I next visit your grave again, I will say to you that I have dispensed Heaven’s justice on your killers.”

She spent some time tidying up her father’s gravesite. Then, walking down from the hill and still keeping her hat low, she turned towards the city of Fuzhou again. Although she doubted if any Ningshiang villager would recognize her after four years, she had no desire to meet any of them. She had a task to do.

Chapter 11: The House of a Thousand Pleasures

Pei Pei had walked for days in the city asking for the whereabouts of the Sky Dragon Clan as discreetly as she could. She was met with silent stares. Nobody appeared to have heard about the Sky Dragon Clan or even North Cloud, South Cloud and West Cloud. She remembered that Killer Flying Dagger Kong of Tsinkiang had said that the House of a Thousand Pleasures was frequented by members of the Sky Dragon Clan. Although she would have preferred to have nothing to do with a courtesan house, she decided that she would have little choice but to go there.

The House of a Thousand Pleasures was the biggest courtesan house in the city. It was owned by Madam Song, who ran it with the help of her lover, Potion King Tseto. Only the most beautiful girls were bought and trained as courtesans. Potion King Tseto was known in the martial underworld as an expert in the art of using poisons. Because of this, he was accorded a certain grudging respect.

Pei Pei figured that it would be easier to find out information if she was inside the establishment rather than outside. She entered the courtesan house by the back door and asked for a job from the head housekeeper.

“I can do anything,” she said. “All I need are two meals a day and a roof over my head. You need not pay me any wages.”

The head housekeeper was delighted to hear that Pei Pei would work for practically free. Business had been slow that year and Madame Song had been putting pressure on him to reduce household expenses. One of the maids had eloped with the cook and so he was shorthanded.

Pei Pei was put to work immediately as a kitchen helper but was occasionally asked to double up as a chambermaid as well. She went about her work quietly without speaking much. At the same time, she listened to any juicy rumour that came her way.

“You know, Lady Peony entertained three men last night! Wah say!” one of the houseboys told another servant.

“They must have taken turns, those cheapskates!” commented the servant.

“No need to take turns! She is a kungfu master in the art of love and can accommodate all three at the same time! Hahaha!” commented the houseboy mischievously. Both men laughed, but the moment they noticed that Pei Pei was nearby, they clammed up.

Seven days after she started working in the courtesan house, Madam Song asked the head housekeeper to get someone to a courtesan’s room to clean up some vomit. The head housekeeper delegated the job to a junior housekeeper who delegated the job to a senior maid who then delegated the job to the most junior maid, who was Pei Pei.

Kanineh,” swore Pei Pei, “these idiots push all the dirty jobs to me. Si beh sien.”

As she approached the room she could hear the voice of Madam Song saying, “I am getting very fed up with all this. Every fifteenth day of the month, I send him a girl for his pleasure and the following morning he returns her in bad shape. If he was not such a kungfu bigshot, I would have thrown his money back at him!”

“He pays well, and you need the business,” Potion King Tseto reminded her. “Besides, if he takes his business elsewhere, many of his people will also follow suit. We have to take a broader view.”

Pei Pei entered the room and saw a courtesan lying on the bed, with her puke on the floor.

“Clean her up,” Madam Song commanded her.

“Yes, Madam,” she replied.

Madam Song looked at her and said, “I have not seen you before. Are you new?”

“Yes Madam,” Pei Pei replied. “I usually work in the kitchen.”

“You are slightly dark, but you are very pretty,” remarked Madam Song. “You should be working in the front parlour. Kanineh, I keep telling the head housekeeper to hide the ugly maids away in the backyard and put the prettier ones in the front. Is he trying to ruin my business?”

“Calm down,” said Tseto. “I shall instruct the head housekeeper about this later. Let us go out while she cleans up the mess. Smells like dead snakes and rotting chickens in here!”

Madam Song and Tseto left the room and Pei Pei wiped up the puke on the floor. The courtesan was looking sick and had puke over her clothes. Pei Pei helped her to undress and then wiped down her naked body. She noticed that the courtesan had a number of fresh bruises on her breasts. She stared.

“Ever been grabbed by a kungfu master before?” asked the courtesan weakly. “You wouldn’t want to experience it. Damn animal! Treated me like less than a human being.”

Pei Pei kept quiet and continued wiping while the courtesan rambled on. “Never have I seen a more cruel lump of shit….he probably gave me internal injuries as well. And those two women kept laughing as they looked on. Sadistic bitches. I could kill them…...”

Pei Pei could hold back her curiosity no longer, and so she asked, “Two women looked at you as the man took his pleasure? How can that be?”

“It’s true, I swear,” gasped the courtesan. “They were like his bodyguards, keeping their swords near them as the old man mauled me. I can’t understand this myself.”

“Who is this man?” asked Pei Pei.

“Oh,” said the courtesan cautiously, “I am not supposed to say any of this to anyone. Madam Song has sworn me to secrecy. Please pretend that you never heard me say a thing.”

“Don’t worry,” Pei Pei assured her. “No one will know that you told me anything. I suspect that you have sustained some internal injuries. You seem to want to puke all the time. What are you going to do if Madam Song asks you to serve this man again?”

“Oh no!” cried the courtesan in fear. “If that happens, then that would be the end of me! It is not right that I should be asked to serve an foul creature who gets his kicks from beating women. I shall refuse to climb onto the carriage that takes me to his manor. They will have to get another courtesan to go!”

“You think another courtesan will go once they learned what happened to you?”

“But no one knows what had happened to me,” whispered the courtesan. “I think that is why Madam Song swore me to secrecy. If the other courtesans finds out, then nobody will want to go! Swear that you will keep this secret!”

Pei Pei swore, “I will keep this a secret. I have no wish to get into trouble with Madam Song. However, you should not serve this man again. Madam Song will be arranging for me to work in the front parlour. If anyone arranges for you to go and serve this sadistic man again, I shall alert you. Then you can pretend to be sick or something.”

“Oh, thank you,” replied the grateful courtesan.

“Wait,” said Pei Pei thoughtfully. “I don’t know who this sadistic man is. Does he have a name?”

“I don’t know his name,” replied the courtesan. “But the two swordswomen called him Master Nam. Maybe Ah Fook knows.”

“Ah Fook? Who is Ah Fook?” asked Pei Pei.

“He is the carriage driver who drove me to Master Nam’s manor,” answered the courtesan. “But he will not say anything. I bet that he is sworn to secrecy as well.”

Pei Pei finished cleaning her up and then helped her put on some fresh clothes. She then left the courtesan to sleep while she left the room thinking, “Thank the stars that I am not a courtesan.”

The next day, she was transferred to work in the front parlour.

“Look at you,” exclaimed the head housekeeper in dissatisfaction. “You walk like a boy, talk like a ruffian and have the manners of a goat! Damn chia lat!. I can’t have you running around the front parlour like that. You will have to undergo on-the-job training on how to act and sound more refined. The more senior maids will train you. The House of a Thousand Pleasures prides itself on the exquisite feminine graces of its women. At the end of one month, you should be able to conduct yourself without embarrassment even in the presence of the emperor!”

As the days went by, Pei Pei was trained to become more and more feminine in her behaviour. Each day she worked, she kept a sharp ear for any news of the Sky Dragon Clan or the three Clouds. But there was no mention of those names. On the fifteenth day of the following month, she noticed a giggling courtesan climbing into a carriage at night while Ah Fook, the carriage driver, closed the carriage door after her.

She went to Ah Fook and said, “Are you going out, Ah Fook? How will you see the road in the dark? Why don’t you wait till tomorrow?”

“There is a full moon. And mind your own business,” growled the carriage driver.

The next morning, he brought back the giggling courtesan who had by then turned into a weepy courtesan. Again, Pei Pei thanked the gods that she was not a courtesan.

Half a month later in Pingchen, Wu Chuan was getting ready to make a trip to Fuzhou to inspect a consignment of goods that was to be brought back to Pingchen..

Wu Chuan’s father, Old Merchant Wu, took Ouyang aside and told him conspiratorially, “Ouyang, I need you to do something for me concerning Wu Chuan when you are in Fuzhou.”

“What is it, Old Master?” asked Ouyang. “Just say it and it shall be done.”

“It is time that Wu Chuan get married. However, he may not know what to do on his wedding night,” said Merchant Wu. “When you are in Fuzhou, take please Wu Chuan to the best courtesan house and get him deflowered by the most skilful courtesan there. Get a good lady expert who can show him a few tricks. He is my only son, so spare no expense.”

“I hear that the Lady Peony is the best in Fuzhou,” said Ouyang. “I will try to book her for him. But what if the young master does not cooperate?”

“Just tell him that it is my wish. Wu Chuan is a good son. He will do as I wish,” replied Merchant Wu.

When they reached Fuzhou, Ouyang told Wu Chuan about his father’s plan for him.

“If that is my father’s wish, then I will do it,” said Wu Chuan matter-of-factly. “Surely a thing like that cannot be very difficult! But this is embarrassing! Let us not stay at Governor Li’s house in case he asks a lot of questions. We will stay at the White Lotus Inn instead.”

Wu Chuan’s sister had married Li Chiang, the fifth son of Governor Li, eight years ago. Thus, the Wu family of Pingchen and the Li family of Fuzhou were in-laws. It was the usual practice that whenever Wu Chuan visited Fuzhou, he would stay at the house of the Governor of the Province.

After checking into the White Lotus Inn, Ouyang took Wu Chuan to the House of a Thousand Pleasures for dinner.

Madam Song was in a fluster. A group of important customers had arrived and demanded that she provide a virgin for the pleasure of a certain Magistrate Chee Ko Pek who was visiting Fuzhou.

“Who is this stupid Magistrate Chee Ko Pek who wants a virgin girl? Can’t he do with a normal courtesan?” she complained.

“I heard that he is somebody important from the imperial capital,” remarked Potion King Tseto. “It will be best if we do not displease him.”

“And tell me, where am I going to get him a virgin at such short notice?” asked Madam Song in a sarcastic tone.

“Use one of the maids,” he replied. “Old men want virgins because they think that sex with virgins will increase their lifespan. They won’t care if the girl can or cannot make love. We can give the magistrate anybody as long as she is a virgin and not dead.”

“All my maids have already been deflowered,” she said, “except that new one, Pei Pei. I will go and persuade her. However, I sense that she will not want to be a courtesan, even for part-time engagements.”

“In case she refuses to oblige, you can always use the Kin Kin Khoon sleeping potion to knock her out,” he remarked. “Then present her to the magistrate. When she wakes up, she would not know a thing.”

“You are a genius!” exclaimed Madam Song. “Where do you keep the Kin Kin Khoon sleeping potion?”

“In the cupboard, there are two bottles of potions,” answered Tseto. “Use the potion from the smaller bottle.”

Madam Song called Pei Pei to the room and propositioned her with two taels of silver

“I do not intend to lose my virginity to any stupid magistrate for two taels!” exclaimed Pei Pei. “Not even for two thousand taels. You should not ask this thing from me!”

“Being a courtesan can be a rewarding career,” Madame Song smiled easily. “With your good looks, I can make you more famous than even Lady Peony.”

“Lady Peony is like a huge earthen jar,” commented Pei Pei dryly. “Everybody can put their whole hand in. In fact, one can even put both hands in. And then clap vigorously.”

“All right,” said Madam Song calmly. “I am sorry to have broached this subject to you. Come, accompany me in drinking tea and let us forget what I have just said.”

She poured out two cups of tea and Pei Pei drank hers. Madam Song pretended to drink but did not. She smiled when Pei Pei collapsed on the floor. Then she called two maids to help her carry Pei Pei to one of the upstairs room where they stripped her naked on a bed. Quickly, Madam Song applied some makeup on Pei Pei’s face. “Now, she looks like a young courtesan!” she muttered approvingly.

Happily, Madam Song went downstairs and met with Tseto. “I had to use the Kin Kin Khoon sleeping potion. She is sleeping naked upstairs!”

“I hope you did not give her too much potion or she may not wake up at all later,” said Tseto.

“Not that much,” she said. “There was not enough potion left in the small bottle so I used the potion from the big bottle instead.”

“Oh no!” exclaimed Tseto. “The big bottle is different! It contains the Beh Ting Tang Paralysis Potion! I specifically asked you to use the small bottle!”

“Oh,” said Madam Song. “Is that much different from the sleeping potion?”

“Of course,” he replied. “With the Beh Ting Tang Paralysis Potion, the girl will not be able to move for half a day. But she will be conscious and will know what is happening to her!”

“Well, what now?” she asked.

“It is too late to do anything now,” he replied. “Let us go according to our plan. Pei Pei does not have a family, and therefore, no one will pay attention to her even if she kicks up a fuss later.”

In the front parlour of the House of a Thousand Pleasures, Ouyang was getting impatient. He got hold of one of the floor captains and asked, “Isn’t Lady Peony ready yet? I have booked her for my young Master Wu a long time ago!”

“Lady Peony is still drinking with some of our clients,” the floor captain replied. “She will be up in her room in a short while.”

“She should be drinking with us instead of with other clients!” protested Ouyang. “I hope she does not get too drunk and forget what she is supposed to do.”

“I’m sorry. There is an important visiting magistrate in here tonight and Lady Peony has to sing a few songs first to entertain him. She is almost finishing and will go upstairs in a moment. I will ask the maid to bring your young master to her room.”

Some time later, a maid came to lead Wu Chuan upstairs. He was nervous and with each step of the stairs, his nervousness increased. He had a sudden urge to pee.

“Lady Peony’s room is behind the door on the left,” said the maid.

“Damn, I’m so nervous I’m about to wet myself. I need to pee urgently,” he told the maid.

“You can go straight ahead, go down the flight of backstairs, turn towards the white shed, go around it and you should see the toilet,” said the maid.

Quickly, Wu Chuan went to the toilet. When he found his way back up the backstairs, he went to look for lady Peony’s room. He remembered vaguely that the maid said that it was door on the left. It should have been the door on the right, since he was coming from the opposite direction, but he was too nervous to think straight. Thus he opened the door of the room opposite to Lady Peony’s room and went in.

Wu Chuan saw a candle burning on a table and a girl lying on the bed. She had her eyes closed and was already naked. He looked at her closely and noticed that she was beautiful and her face was vaguely familiar. He was not sure what to do, so he said to her, “Good evening, Lady Peony. Please instruct me as to what I am supposed to do!”

Pei Pei had been lying motionless on the bed for some time and she wondered, “Who is this man calling me “Lady Peony” and asking me to instruct him what to do?” She tried to speak but she couldn’t. None of her body parts obeyed her. Not even her eyelids. They remained shut so she could not tell who the man was.

“Lady Peony? Lady Peony?” Wu Chuan tried calling again, but Pei Pei remained silent.

Wu Chuan was in a quandary. He needed to find Ouyang fast, so he went to the door and opened it. He saw Ouyang lingering in the corridor outside. Ouyang had been a bit concerned for his young master, so he had come upstairs to the corridor and waited.

Wu Chuan called to him and said, “Lady Peony seems to be asleep. What do I do?”

“Damn!” said Ouyang aghast. “She was not supposed to get drunk!”

“Well, what now?” asked Wu Chuan.

“Just take off your clothes and then spread her legs!” instructed Ouyang. “Fit yourself inside her and then ride her like you are riding a horse. It is very easy! Trust me!”

“Alright. Ouyang, you don’t have to wait here for me. Go downstairs and have a drink,” advised Wu Chuan. “I will come down when I have finished.”

Pei Pei heard the name of Ouyang being mentioned. Now where had she heard that name before?

Wu Chuan closed back the door and then removed his clothes. Naked, he spread Pei Pei’s legs apart. He was about to fit himself into her but then he changed his mind. His attention shifted to Pei Pei’s chest and he remarked, “What smooth skin you have.” He ran his hands all over her chest, enjoying the feel of her mounds under his palms. “You look slightly familiar but I don’t think I have seen you in Pingchen before.”

Ouyang? Pingchen? And that familiar voice? Pei Pei finally knew that the man was Wu Chuan.

She felt his kisses all over her chest, lingering at her nipples and she felt aroused. Soon, he had positioned himself between her legs and was attempting to fit himself inside her.

“Is this hole correct?” he asked.

“Oh heavens, he is doing this for the first time,” she thought.

He pushed inside. “Uh… tight!” he said.

“Uh… big… painful!” she thought.

He started moving. “Say, this is nice!’ he said.

“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Slowly lah, you idiot!” she thought.

“I wonder if I am doing this correctly,” he said.

“You ask me, I ask who arh?” she thought.

He slowed down and said, “Ah….now it’s much smoother.”

“Damn….he is right!” she thought.

Soon, he felt a pressure build up in his loins. When the release finally came, he held her tightly as he jerked involuntarily, his fluids hosing her within.

He rested. Then he whispered to her, “That was good! Thank you. It was my first time.”

“Did I deflower him or did he deflower me?” thought Pei Pei.

Wu Chuan wiped himself with a kerchief and then he wiped her as well.

“Strange, there are blood stains. You appear to be bleeding slightly,” he said.

“Next time you become the virgin girl lah.See you bleed or not?” she thought.

Wu Chuan had been disturbed by the fact that the girl had remained immobile throughout the whole session. He remembered that when his father had been drunk, his brother-in-law, Li Daifu, had taught him to press the pressure points at the back of the head and the lower back in a particular sequence to relieve the drunkenness. So he rolled Pei Pei over on her front and pressed the pressure points in sequence. When he was done, he ran his hand over her shapely ass and said, “Goodbye, Lady Peony.”

Pei Pei felt the immobility of her body clearing up a bit after Wu Chuan had worked on her pressure points. She could open her eyes and she saw Wu Chuan dressing. She moved her hands. Yes! They could move, although weakly. She tried to call out to Wu Chuan, but he was already walking out of the door. She struggled to get on to her feet, and then she drank the water in the bowl that was meant to be used to wash the face. She had to flush out the drug as fast as possible. As best as she could, she went through the motions of the first step of the Secret Taichi Path. Suddenly, she felt the urge to pee, and she just squatted down in the corner of the room and peed on the floor. She felt better. She knew that a portion of the drug had left her body. She drank more water again to repeat the trick.

Downstairs, Wu Chuan waited for Ouyang to finish his drink so that they could leave.

“How was it?” asked Ouyang.

“Good!” said Wu chuan. “But she bled a bit!”

“What!” said Ouyang in shock. “Lady Peony should not be accepting clients if she is having her menstruation period! Getting her blood all over. How inconsiderate! On top of that, she got drunk! That is it….we are not coming to this establishment ever again!”

“I wished that she had talked to me,” said Wu Chuan, “but never mind. Let us pay for the drinks and leave.”

Pei Pei heard footsteps coming up the stairs. As fast as she could, she bolted the door from inside. Somebody outside was trying to open the door. She ignored it and continued with the steps of the Secret Taichi Path. Then as she was passing out more of the Beh Ting Tang paralysis potion in her urine stream, she heard voices outside the door.

“The door is stuck from inside. We may have to break it down. We can’t keep Magistrate Chee Ko Pek waiting all night.”

“Looks more like bolted than stuck. It does not matter, I’ll go and get some strong men. We’ll break it down in no time.”

Pei Pei wasted no time. She quickly put on her clothes. She could not bring out her inner energy yet so she hurriedly tied the bedsheet to the window. Then she climbed out, while holding on to the bedsheet. The room was one floor above the ground. The bedsheet was not long enough to reach the ground so when she reached the end of the sheet, she jumped. She got up from the ground unhurt, and then keeping to the shadows, she walked out to the road outside. She had not yet gained her full mobility so she walked in a half-dragging manner. As she walked, she could hear excited voices in the room where she was.

Wu Chuan and Ouyang walked out from the courtesan house. The night was dark, so Ouyang carried a small lantern to light the way.

Madam Song’s men had managed to break down the door and were perplexed to find Pei Pei gone.

“She must have escaped through the window,” she said looking at the bedsheet tied to the window. “This is a disaster. I have already accepted the payment. If we can’t find a virgin for Magistrate Chee, there will be trouble.”

“In her drugged state, she can’t have gone far,” said Tseto. “Send the men to look into all the nearby roads and alleyways.”

Pei Pei saw the lanterns of the men searching for her. She kept to the shadows and struggled to walk faster. Then she saw two men passing her and she called out, “Young Master Wu! Ouyang!”

“Who are you,” asked Ouyang, bringing his lantern up to her face.

“I am Yue Pei Pei. We sailed from Tsinkiang to Fuzhou on the same boat two months ago,” she replied.

“It’s our benefactor!” exclaimed Wu Chuan. He had a double shock when he recognized her as the girl with whom he had just shared the same bed.

“Some men are after me,” she gasped. “I can hardly walk. Get me away, quick!”

Wu Chuan thought fast, “Ouyang, you stay here and delay anybody who is after her. I’ll get her away. We’ll meet at the White Lotus Inn later.”

Wu Chuan carried Pei Pei on his back and ran to the White Lotus Inn.

Ouyang pulled out his sword as the group of men with the lanterns came near.

“Halt!” he shouted. “If you are thinking of robbing me, think again. I can handle a sword better than a lot of people.”

The men stopped and explained to him that they were after a girl.

Ouyang delayed them, asking for explanation after explanation. When he was sure that Wu Chuan had got cleanly away, he let them pass.

Wu Chuan placed Pei Pei in his bed in his room at the White Lotus Inn. He was embarrassed.

“You are safe here, for now,” he said. “I am sorry that I did not recognize you. But last time you had clothes and no make-up. Just now in the room, you had make-up but no clothes. Also, you had become much fairer. I had not realized that you were working as a courtesan.”

“I am not a courtesan,” she gasped. “I am not Lady Peony. I was drugged and stripped naked to be served up for the pleasure of some stupid visiting magistrate. But then you came in and deflowered my virginity.”

She explained the whole thing to him and he was horrified.

“Oh heavens,” he said, “I have just done a great wrong to my benefactor! I will bear responsibility for this! I will marry you immediately.”

Kanineh!” she swore. “Who says that I wish to marry you? You live in the highlands while I am from the sea! Besides, I have more important family matters to take care of than to think about marriage.”

“A night as a couple is a hundred nights of gratitude,” said Wu Chuan.

Pei Pei thought for a moment. She had been unable to locate the Sky Dragon Clan or the three Clouds on her own. Wu Chuan might come in useful.

“I do not require a hundred nights of gratitude,” she said. “You will become my servant for one hundred days and after that I shall consider that we are even. Are we agreed?”

“Yes,” replied Wu Chuan solemnly.

They stared across at each other, trying to read each other’s mind. One fact kept intruding into their thoughts; unwittingly, they had deflowered each other.

Chapter 12: Madame Hsi makes a choice

While Wu Chuan and Pei Pei were waiting for Ouyang to return to the inn, Pei Pei fell asleep. She was still weakened by the effects of the drug and exhausted by her laborious efforts in escaping from the courtesan house.

Ouyang returned soon after and Wu Chuan explained the situation to him.

“You will have to take the men and escort the goods back to Pingchen without me,” said Wu Chuan.

“Why?” asked Ouyang.

“Because a night as a couple is a hundred nights of gratitude,” said Wu Chuan. “I have agreed to become Miss Yue’s servant for one hundred days.”

Ouyang went back to the room where he slept with the rest of Wu Chuan’s workers while Wu Chuan stayed with Pei Pei.

In the morning, Pei Pei woke up. The effects of the Beh Ting Tang Paralysis potion had subsided and she could move normally. The events of the previous night came back to her and she remembered Wu Chuan in bed with her. She had grown up on an island and therefore was not so inhibited in thinking. She did not have the usual sexual hang-ups of people on the mainland, and since she had worked in a courtesan house for two months, she was used to the idea of non-virgins being normal people. Still, she felt that something momentous had happened the night before with a man. She felt the same, looked the same, but at the same time, she knew that she was now different. She was not sure what it was, but she would take revenge for her father first and think about it later.

“You are up!” said Wu Chuan from the long seat on the other side of the room.

“Did you sleep there last night?” she asked.

“You took my bed, so I slept on the long seat,” he explained. “I should have slept in another room, but you seemed very weak last night, and I was not sure if you would be alright.”

Pei Pei was touched by his concern. Then she remembered how he had offered to marry her last night. She blushed.

“I am now your humble servant for the next one hundred days. Would you like breakfast?” he asked.

She nodded.

Wu Chuan arranged to have some food brought to the room and invited Ouyang to join both of them.

As they were sitting down for breakfast, Wu Chuan asked her, “Why were you at the House of a Thousand Pleasures?”

“I was there working as a maid, trying to look for information about the Sky Dragon Clan,” explained Pei Pei. “But nobody seemed to have heard of it.”

“Why don’t we ask Ouyang,” said Wu Chuan. “He used to be in a protection agency, and so he would know the background of a lot of clans. He still maintains contacts with many martial underworld figures.”

Pei Pei and Wu Chuan both looked at Ouyang expectantly.

“The Sky Dragon Clan is a secretive clan. Many people do not know that it exists. Even those who know will deny that they know,” said Ouyang. “It was led by a kungfu master called Sum Wan, better known as Cold Wind Hands. Under him were four men known as the four Clouds; North Cloud, South Cloud, East Cloud and West Cloud. Five years ago, Cold Wind Hands passed away. His sons were already dead. His only grandson, a man called Sum Teng Rong, disappear immediately afterwards. There was a power struggle for the leadership of the clan after that.”

“Cold Wind Hands did not name a successor?” asked Wu Chuan,

“No,” said Ouyang. “East Cloud, Tung Kor Sui, with his Seven Stars Inner Stance, was the most powerful of the four Clouds. He demanded the leadership of the clan, but the other three Clouds did not agree with that. East Cloud disappeared with his three sons four years ago. Nobody knew where they went. Only his wife and daughter-in-law are left in the manor. Two years ago, when it was clear that East Cloud was not coming back, North and South Cloud both wanted to become the leader of the clan. Although they have not openly fought, I have heard rumours that they have sent assassination squads to kill off each other.”

“This gets interesting,” remarked Wu Chuan.

“Yes,” said Ouyang. “Both North and South Cloud travel in public surrounded by fighters. They are so wary of each other.”

“This infighting looks like the end of the Sky Dragon Clan,” remarked Wu Chuan.

“I hope so,” said Ouyang. “Seven years ago, a consignment of valuables that I was escorting for the Yung An Protection Agency was snatched by some unknown assailants. I have always suspected that they were from the Sky Dragon Clan. Because of my failure to protect the consignment, my honour was thought worse than the mud under the feet of beggars ever since. Every merchant cursed my name to hell. If not for the Wu family, I would not even have a job to feed my family.”

“Tell me about the Clouds” requested Pei Pei.

“South Cloud’s real name is Nam Chiao. He is a violent man who loves to hurt women. His first wife ran away along time ago. His second wife did the same. Last year, a female assassin lured him to bed and tried to kill him while they were having sex. She managed to wound him before he killed her. People suspected that the assassin was sent by North Cloud. Since then, I heard that he has two female bodyguards to watch over him whenever he is in bed with a woman. He takes no chances.”

Pei Pei thought silently to herself, “Two female bodyguards? That sounds like the unmentionable Master Nam who had been using Madam Song’s courtesans on the fifteenth night of every month.”

“I know little about North Cloud,” continued Ouyang, “His real name is Pak Cheong. Remarkably, all of his sons are mentally retarded. Bad genes maybe. Or bad karma. He has a group of seven loyal men who are known as the Seven Snakes. As for West Cloud, also known as Hsi Kap, he has been very quiet in the past few years, not bothering about North or South Cloud. Most of his fighters have left him. It’s almost like he is not a member of the Sky Dragon Clan.”

“Would you say that West Cloud is the weakest of all the three Clouds?” asked Pei Pei.

“Definitely,” replied Ouyang.

“Wu Chuan,” said Pei Pei. “Please find out for me where the Clouds live.”

“Yes, Mistress Yue,” said Wu Chuan.

“Mistress Yue? That sounds ridiculous. I’m only sixteen. Call me Pei Pei, please,” requested Pei Pei.

“Of course. Since I am now your servant, you will have to call me Servant Chuan,” said Wu Chuan.

“Since I am your mistress, I can call you anything I want. I shall call you Brother Chuan,” laughed Pei Pei.

“Miss Yue, why do you need to know so much about the Sky Dragon Clan?” asked Ouyang.

“I need to contact them regarding some affairs about my family,” replied Pei Pei.

Ouyang stared at her for a while and then said, “Forgive me, Miss Yue. I do not think that your intention is to wish them a long life. I am aware of your prowess with the flying daggers. If your intention is to kill any of them, my advice is to do so quietly without anybody knowing. The tentacles of this clan are long, and one can never tell if twenty years later, some member of their clan will look for you for revenge.”

“Thank you Ouyang. I will heed your advice,” said Pei Pei.

With the help of Ouyang, they located the manors of the four Clouds as well as that of Cold Wind Hands. All of them lived on the outskirts of the city and far apart from each other.

Meanwhile, at the House of a Thousand Pleasures, Madam Song was in a foul mood. She ranted at whosoever was within earshot, “That girl…all I ask is that she gives up her virginity and she ran away. Kanineh! Good help is so difficult to find nowadays. And some more that stupid chee ko pek magistrate scolded me all night. Even scolded my mother and father. Hongkan lah! Imperial officer very grand is it? Si beh tu lan. So old already and still want to look for young girl who is too young even to be his granddaughter. Old, decrepit, ugly piece of shit!”

“If I had not put in some Kin Kin Khoon sleeping potion in his wine, he would have remained awake and scolded you even more,” remarked Potion King Tseto.

The head housekeeper then approached Madam Song with a cloth bundle in his hands. “Excuse me, Madam song,” he said. “Now that Pei Pei has run away, what shall we do with her things? She has a lot of daggers among her clothes. Shall I throw them all away?”

“Wait!” said Tseto. “It is unusual for a girl to have many daggers. Let me see them.”

Tseto examined the daggers and said, “One dagger and a set of ten throwing knives. This girl is not an ordinary girl. I have been wondering how she could have the ability to escape through the window. Now I know! She is a kungfu girl all along.”

“Maybe your drug is old and not very good,” remarked Madam Song.

“No,” replied Tseto. “If I were to give this Paralysis Potion to even our top bouncer, he would not be able to escape. I am not going to underestimate Pei Pei. And there is another thing.”

“What?” she asked.

“If I guess her character correctly, she will come back here for her throwing knives. She will not be afraid of us or our bouncers,” said Tseto. “Try to be very polite to her when she turns up.”

True enough, on the next morning, Pei Pei turned up at the courtesan house with Wu Chuan and Ouyang, demanding her things.

Madam Song handed all of Pei Pei’s daggers over. Pei Pei stared at her hard without flinching. Madam Song tried to explain, “That night, you collapsed suddenly so I had to put you to bed….”

“I did not collapse,” remarked Pei Pei acidly. “You fed me some kind of paralysis drug and stripped me naked. You owe me a great debt. I will deal with you at a later date.”

“Let us not be hasty,” said Tseto. “It was all a misunderstanding.”

“You know what you did was wrong,” said Wu Chuan easily. “We can kill all of you and burn this place to the ground and your bouncers will not be able to stop us. We shall collect the debt later. In the meantime, I suggest that you discontinue the practice of drugging young girls for their virginity. You never know when you may drug the wrong person.”

With that said, they left.

The following morning, Wu Chuan sent his men and Ouyang back to Pingchen with a consignment of goods. “Tell my father that I will see him only when my hundred days of servitude are up,” he told Ouyang.

After Ouyang has left, Wu Chuan asked Pei Pei, “Can you please tell me what you intend to do?”

“Alright,” said Pei Pei, “I intend to kill the Clouds.”

“But, why?” asked Wu Chuan.

“I am from the fishing village of Ningshiang just outside Fuzhou,” she explained. “Five years ago, North, South and West Clouds chartered my parents’ boat to look for some treasure. Then they killed my parents and a helper on board, after which, they sank the boat. Only my father’s body was recovered. I told my dead father that the next time I visit his grave, I would tell him that I had dispensed heaven’s justice on his killers.”

Wu Chuan kept quiet for a while. “I suppose there is no use of me persuading you to give up this vengeance idea, is there?” he asked.

“If it was your parents that were killed, and you were the only one left, would you go on living as if nothing had happened?” she asked back.

“No,” he replied. “How do you intend to go about this?”

“I will start with the easiest one first,” she replied. “West Cloud is the weakest, so I shall kill him first. I will go and kill him directly in a one-to-one duel. But first, I need to find a quiet place to practice.”

“We will move to the Old Horse Inn. It is closer to the woods where you can practice your throws,” suggested Wu Chuan. “In the meantime, I will also get people to make more throwing knives for you.”

For the next three days, Pei Pei practiced her six–step Secret Taichi Path and her flying dagger throws. When she was bored with practice, she showed Wu Chuan how to throw the dagger and in turn, he showed her how to handle a sword and use the iron palm technique. Nevertheless, they were not very good with each other’s techniques.

At the end of the three days of practice, Pei Pei felt that she was ready. The next morning, she went with Wu Chuan to the manor of West Cloud. They were shown into a large hall.

“My master and mistress will be with you shortly,” said the housekeeper.

While Pei Pei and Wu Chuan waited, a small four-year-old boy ran into the hall and looked at them. West Cloud entered the hall followed by his wife Madam Hsi who was carrying another younger two-year old boy.

“Welcome, I am Hsi Kap,” West Cloud introduced himself, “and this is my wife.”

The woman behind him smiled at the visitors.

Pei pei stared at her and she looked back steadily.

A shocked Pei Pei, broke the silence, “Mother? Is that you?”

Madam Hsi looked keenly at the young girl and asked, “Are you Pei Pei?”

“I am Pei Pei, mother!” an excited Pei Pei exclaimed. “I thought you were dead!”

“I am not dead! Look at you, all grown up!” said Madam Hsi. “The last time I saw you, you were only eleven years old! Why are you here?”

“I came to kill West Cloud!” Pei Pei blurted out. “To avenge my father!”

There was a sudden silence in the hall. For a while, nobody spoke.

Then Pei Pei angrily asked, “How did my father die on that day on the boat, mother? Why are you with my father’s killer? And how did you become Madam Hsi, mother?”

Madam Hsi sobbed, “The three Clouds chartered your father’s boat to look for some treasure unsuccessfully. On the way back, North and South Cloud wanted the crew dead to maintain secrecy about the treasure. South Cloud killed your father and North Cloud killed the helper. West Cloud was allocated to kill me, but he refused to go through with it. When South Cloud wanted to kill me instead, West Cloud protected me. Finally, North Cloud suggested that I could live as long as West Cloud did not try to let me out of his manor. I have not stepped out of this place for the past five years.”

“How did South Cloud kill my father,” Pei Pei wanted to know.

“He went up behind and hit your father at the back of the neck with his palm. Your father died instantly,” wept Madam Hsi

The four-year-old boy then went up to Madam Hsi and asked, “Mother, why are you crying?”

Pei Pei was aghast. “You have a son with this man?” she asked. “He is among those who have caused the death of your husband. And you went to have a son with him? How could you!”

“I have nothing to do with your father’s death!” said West Cloud. “I tried to prevent the killings. I may have done many bad things in my time, but I seldom kill unnecessarily.”

“I intend to kill you!” Pei Pei shouted at him. “You took away the life I had! You took away my family!”

“I protected your mother!” said West Cloud. “Would you rather that I left her to die as well? I was told that you still had your uncle to look after you.”

“My uncle is dead!” cried Pei Pei. “He died four years ago!”

“Yue Thau dead?” exclaimed Madam Hsi in shock. “How did he die?”

“East Cloud chartered his boat to look for the some stupid treasure. But Uncle Thau was killed by one of East Cloud’s sons. A big storm came and blew us off course. The boat sank. I managed to swim to an island and lived there for four years until I sailed back on a raft this summer. The Sky Dragon Clan has been the cause of all our troubles!”

“What happened to East Cloud,” asked West Cloud.

“He is dead. Even his sons. They are all dead,” cried Pei Pei. “The Sky Dragon Clan must pay for what it has done to the Yue family!”

“I am sorry for what happened to the Yue family,” said West Cloud. “Ever since I brought your mother here, I have not involved myself with the activities of the Sky Dragon Clan. I have always treated you mother well. Well, things happened, and then she bore me two sons. No matter how you look at it, we are a family now. Since you do not have a family anymore, you are welcome to live here with us. I will treat you as my very own daughter.”

“No!” shouted Pei Pei. “I intend to deliver justice for my father. Mother, will you stand with me or with him?”

“Do not ask me to choose, I beg you,” cried her mother. “I have two young sons, and no woman should ever be asked to leave her sons.”

“You would choose your sons over me?” asked Pei Pei incredulously.

“Pei Pei, you are sixteen and will soon be married. When you do, you will leave me and you will not be a Yue any more!” said her mother. “You will have another life with your new family and you will have your own sons. As for me, my sons will be with me for the rest of my life!”

“Is that your choice, mother?” cried Pei Pei.

“Do not make me choose, my daughter!” sobbed her mother.

Pei Pei stared at her and implored, “For four years, I was lost on an unknown island. And everyday I would practice my calligraphy on the sands because you always insisted that I practiced my calligraphy. Each time I did so, I would think of you.”

“I am still your mother, Pei Pei,” the older woman sobbed.

“If you are my mother, you would choose me,” said Pei Pei, with tears streaming from her eyes. “If you should change your mind, please come and look for me at the Old Horse Inn.”

Then, with tears rolling down her face, she turned and walked proudly out of the manor followed by Wu Chuan. Pei Pei had always been tough. The past few years had tested her terribly but had never broken her spirit. But once she was out of sight of the manor, she clung to Wu Chuan and wept like a baby.

Wu Chuan comforted her by saying, “At least now you know how your father actually died, and who killed him.”

She bawled, “Have you any idea what it is to be like to be rejected by your own mother?”

He had no answer for her.

At West Cloud’s manor, Pei Pei’s mother wept throughout the day and night.

Chapter 13: Assassination of South Cloud

Pei Pei woke up and stared at the ceiling. It was past noon.

“I was wondering when you would wake up!” the voice of Wu Chuan came from her side.

She turned her head and saw him seated on a mat on the floor. She looked at him for a while and asked blankly, “Why is there a mat on the floor?”

“I had the waiter bring it here for me last night,” he explained. “I hope you don’t mind, but I stayed the night in your room on this mat. Whenever I was not well, my servant would sleep on a mat in the same room with me in case I need anything in the night.”

“Oh,” she said blankly. She thought for a moment and then asked, “How long have I been asleep?”

“Since yesterday afternoon,” he replied. “You have not eaten for more than a day. I have asked the waiter to prepare some rice congee.”

“I am not hungry,” she said. “I don’t feel like eating.”

“You have to eat,” he told her. “If you don’t, I will force feed you myself!”

“Did your servant force feed you also when you were not well?” she asked.

“You bet!” he answered. He went out and brought in a bowl of rice congee. Then he propped her on her pillow in bed and fed her the congee spoonful by spoonful. She allowed him to pamper her.

“I feel like a kid being attended to by a nursemaid,” she said after she had been fed more than half the congee.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Sixteen,” she answered.

“Was it true when you said that you lived on an island for four years?” he asked.

“Yes,” she nodded as she ate yet another spoonful of congee.

“That would explain the clothes that I saw you wear the first time we met,” he said. “Did you make them?”

“Yes,” she nodded again. “They were not very good, I know. I don’t think that I would make a very good tailor.”

“They were good enough for your needs and that is all that matters,” he commented. “Where did you get the raft that you said you sailed back on?”

“I built it from tree trunks,” she replied. “It was not very big. Some of the sharks that swam alongside the raft during the journey were even longer. But I managed to sail it to a place near Tsinkiang.”

“That’s amazing,” said Wu Chuan in admiration. “You are one tough girl. Compared to you, I must appear to have a pampered life and am therefore completely useless!”

“You are not useless, Brother Chuan,” she smiled. “You have the ability to instill loyalty among your servants. They trust your judgment.”

He laughed, “I wish I have half your abilities. You have been sleeping for very long. Let’s go out for a walk, shall we?”

She finished the rest of the congee and then he helped her to her feet. Then they walked out on the road towards the woods.

As they walked, he asked her, “You are not going to kill West Cloud, are you?”

“It will bring great pain to my mother if I were to do so,” she replied.

“Pei Pei, please do not judge your mother too harshly,” he said. “We are sometimes put into situations over which we have no control. It is our lot to try to make the best out of a difficult situation. You must have gone through more difficult situations than me, so you would understand.”

Pei Pei thought for a long while and sighed, “I wish my life had been as straightforward as other people’s lives. I do not enjoy the idea of killing people. I do not intend to touch West Cloud and North Cloud. But I definitely will have to kill South Cloud. Will you help me?”

“If that is what you feel you have to do, then I will help you,” he replied. “South Cloud is a top kungfu master. And he is never alone. Either he is with his fighters or he is with his two female bodyguards. You may not be able to get your bundle of feathers near him.”

“My bundle of throwing knives, you mean?” she smiled. “You will have to get me three long hairpins that are symmetrical, well-balanced and can be thrown as flying daggers. I will hide them in my hair.”

“What kind of kungfu is that that will allow a person to kill with hairpins?” queried Wu Chuan.

“I am the three-in-one kungfu girl. I can throw anything,” she replied.

“Three-in-one? What is that?” he asked.

“I will explain that to you one day,” she told him. “Can you get me the pins?”

“I am a merchant and can get anything. I can get them made for you within two days. Why not make ten instead?” he asked.

“More than three long pins in the hair may arouse suspicion,” she said. “You are a good friend, Brother Chuan. After I have killed South Cloud, I will free you of your servitude to me. Your parents must be wondering where you are.”

“After this is over, I will accompany you to your father’s grave, so that you can bring him the news,” he said.

In Pingchen, Oyang was seated at a table and relating the latest happenings to Old Merchant Wu. Wu Chuan’s elder sister, Jade Flower, was also there with her husband Li Chiang.

Li Chiang was the fifth son of Governor Li, but had settled down in Pingchen as an herbal doctor, or daifu, when he married Jade Flower of the Wu family. Not many people in the town were aware that he was a very fast ambidextrous swordsman, and was the guardian of the legendary Twin Dragon Blades that could cut through almost anything.

“It was a shock to me when Wu Chuan told me that he had just deflowered the same Miss Yue Pei Pei who had saved him from the sharks and pirates on the black ship two months ago,” Ouyang said.

“Why did you bring my son to a courtesan house, Ouyang?” demanded Madam Wu. “My son has always been a good boy. Were you trying to corrupt him?”

Ouyang looked embarrassed. “It was Old Master’s idea,” he explained.

“What?” exclaimed Jade Flower. “My father is corrupting my brother now?”

Merchant Wu looked uncomfortable and said, “My son is of marriageable age. I wanted him to be able to know what to do when the time comes. So I asked Ouyang to arrange for an experienced courtesan to teach him the ropes. How would I know that he would end up deflowering some virgin?”

“Good man!” said Li Chiang. “He did very well for an inexperienced rookie! Add oil! Well done!”

Both Li Chiang’s wife and mother-in-law glared at him and he decided that it would be best if he kept quiet and let Ouyang do the talking.

At the end of Ouyang’s lengthy explanation, Madam Wu said, “So my son is now a servant to the girl, is he?”

“Yes,” replied Ouyang, “Young Master Chuan said that one night as a couple is a hundred nights of gratitude. So he agreed to serve Miss Yue as her servant for one hundred days. He offered to marry her, but she turned him down.”

“Who would be crazy enough to turn down our son?” exclaimed Madame Wu. “We are among the richest families in this town. There are so many respectable families queuing up to marry their daughters off to my son. Is this Miss Yue from a rich family?”

“She is the daughter of a fisherman, I think,” replied Ouyang, “but she is a top kungfu exponent.”

“I have heard enough!” declared Merchant Wu. “I am going to take a trip to Fuzhou and locate my son.”

“I am going too!” said Madam Wu.

“We are going as well!” said Jade Flower.

“We are?” asked Li Chiang stupidly.

“Of course!” replied his wife sweetly. “This type of situation, how can we not be there? Besides, it is time that we bring our children to visit your parents in Fuzhou. You know that they are always asking to see their grandchildren. Let us start making arrangements.”

A few days later, in a big well-furnished room in an old Fuzhou manor, some very heavy afternoon activity was going on. The couple on the bed gasped and heaved, banging away with wild abandon.

Gripping the sides of the bed, the woman shuddered with pleasure and moaned, “Ohhhhh ……yesssss……..ohhhhhh………ohhhhh ………'re so bigggggg...........yessssssssss!"

She was practically being nailed down repeatedly to the bed by his moving loins. Time and time again, she shook and shuddered violently as she came. He continued thrashing into her until finally he groaned and felt his lower body jerking. Regretfully, he withdrew, shrinking slowly while dripping fluids. It had been an exhausting session and he could thrash no more for the time being.

She lay there, spread wide open, leaking bodily fluids onto the bed and feeling satisfied. In a while, her stomach slowed down its heaving as she caught her breath.

“Are you ever going to marry me?” she asked the younger man.

“I am already betrothed to another,” he replied.

“Forget that girl, Sum Teng Rong!” she said.

“I can’t,” he replied. “It was arranged ten years ago by my grandfather.”

“You can easily arrange for someone to kill her,” she insisted.

“True, but her family is rich, and I may need financial help from them!” he said.

“You are useless!” she said, obviously displeased.

“Oh, come on, Lady Fai. I can still see you after I marry her,” he countered.

The late East Cloud’s daughter-in-law glowered and then sniffed haughtily. “I can easily find someone else to bed me. You are not the only stud in town. North Cloud Pak Cheong will be interested in me, I’m sure.”

“That old fart?” laughed Sum Ten Rong. “He is so afraid of being assassinated that he seldom goes out of his manor. Both North and South Cloud are afraid of each other. Both want to be the chief of the Sky Dragon Clan. Fat chance! I’ll get rid of those two when the time comes. Hahahaha!”

“The only one who does not want to be the Clan chief is West Cloud,” she noted.

“He is weak, in fact the weakest of all the Four Clouds,” he remarked. “One of my spies told me that a young girl visited West Cloud recently and gave him a shock. Apparently she was his stepdaughter. The house servants gossiped over it for days.”

“That would be the daughter of the boatman’s wife whom West Cloud kept, wouldn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes. Her name is Pei Pei,” he said. “My spy told me that she disappeared on the same boat as East Cloud four years ago. Apparently everybody died in the storm that swept the boat away, but she managed to swim to an island.”

“Nobody else survived?” she asked.

He smiled cruelly and said, “No, not even your husband, Tung Ku Kai Keok.”

“His name was Tung Ku Kai, not Tung Ku Kai Keok!” Lady Fai corrected him indignantly.

“Same thing, isn’t it?” he laughed.

“Sum Teng Rong, I think you something wrong,” she admonished him.

Sum Teng Rong looked thoughtful and then he commented, “What I don’t understand is what your father-in-law and his sons were doing out there on the boat.”

“They were looking for the buried treasure of the Sky Dragon Clan,” Lady Fai informed him.

He stared at the ceiling and tried to understand all that. Six years ago, his grandfather Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan had sent a manservant, called Black Bat, to bury the most valuable treasures of the Sky Dragon Clan on a remote island. Then Black Bat had disappeared and Sum Teng Rong had been looking for him ever since. After East Cloud also disappeared, some rumours had surfaced that Black Bat had drawn a treasure map and given each one of the Clouds one quarter of the map each. Although Sum Teng Rong had not managed to locate Black Bat, during the intervening years, he had practiced the family kungfu art of Cold Wind Hands until he had reached the highest level. He had returned to Fuzhou quietly in the middle of the year and met Lady Fai. Since then, he had become one of Lady Fai’s lovers.

“But it was rumoured that your father-in-law had only one quarter of a map!” he said. “How could he have gone looking for treasure based on that?”

Lady Fai thought silently for a while.

“Didn’t you hear what I said?” he asked again.

“Hush, let me think!” she silenced him.

She thought for a long time. When Sum Teng Rong got bored and tried to play with her breasts, she slapped his hands away impatiently.

Finally, she spoke, “I am going to let you in on a secret.”

“Okay then, let’s hear it!” he was excited.

“No,” she held back. “I want you to swear to heaven first that you will not tell anybody!”

He got up and raised his hand to heaven and swore, “Let the Heavens witness. If I, Sum Teng Rong, let out Lady Fai’s secret, I will die a violent death!”

“Good,” said Lady Fai, fully satisfied. “Listen. Four years ago, my father-in-law called a meeting of the four Clouds, saying that he wanted to buy the map portions of the other three Clouds. Each of them put their map quarters on the table and fitted them together. Then they backed away. Unknown to the other three Clouds, in the ceiling above the table was a hole, and my youngest brother-in-law, Tung Choy, was peeping through that hole. He was highly talented in that he had and excellent memory. My father-in-law had no intention to buy the other portions of the map, and so he allowed the negotiations to fail. After North, South and West Clouds have left, taking their own map portions with them, Tung Choy painted the entire map from memory!”

“What?” cried Sum Teng Rong. “No wonder East Cloud went looking for the treasure!”

“Yes,” continued Lady Fai. “The night before they left, my late husband told me about it and swore me to secrecy! The men of the Tung family went to look for the treasure and never came back. You said that Madame West Cloud’s daughter was on the same boat as East Cloud? That means that she would know where East Cloud was heading before they were swept away by the storm.”

“Heavens! You are right! We just have to grab hold of West Cloud’s stepdaughter and force her to tell us where the treasure island is!” said an excited Sum Teng Rong.

“Will you leave the thinking to me? For all we know, the other Clouds may be thinking along these lines already,” she cautioned.

“If so, then we will go to the other Clouds and negotiate for a share,” he said. “I have mastered the highest level of the Cold Wind Hands kungfu technique. None of them are my match!”

“Sum Teng Rong. I think you something wrong! You don’t want to negotiate anything with the Clouds. They will cheat you!” she said.

“Damn!” he asked.

“You are greedy, but you don’t have brains to match,” she remarked.

“Why should I need brains?” asked Sum Ten Rong. “Why don’t I just go and beat the shit out of that Pei Pei girl until she leads us to the treasure?”

“Looks like I have the only set of brains around here,” scolded Lady Fai. “If you beat the girl, she will lead you to some lost island and then you won’t be able to find your way back!”

“Ya, hor,” he gasped.

The fifteenth night of the month always had a full moon. The courtesan traveling in the carriage could not help looking out of the window and admiring the moon and stars. Suddenly, the carriage pulled to a halt. The carriage driver had seen a branch blocking the road and so he had stopped. The next moment, he had been knocked senseless by a masked man. The lady courtesan put her head slightly out of the window to see what was happening and was also knocked unconscious.

“I’ll tie them up and hide them in the bushes behind that big tree,” said Wu Chuan who was dressed like the carriage driver. “You can get in the carriage first.”

Pei Pei was dressed as a courtesan from the House of a Thousand Pleasures. She had guessed that Madam Song would send a courtesan to South Cloud on the fifteenth of the month and so she and Wu Chuan had hidden along the road leading to South Cloud’s manor. Her plan was to hijack the carriage and enter South Cloud’s lair posing as a courtesan while Wu Chuan posed as the carriage driver.

“Wait for me behind this big tree afterwards,” she instructed him, “I will find my way here after the job is done.”

Wu Chuan nodded. Then he drove the carriage until they finally came to the gates of the South Cloud manor. A manservant recognized the carriage as it pulled outside the gates.

“You are not the regular driver,” he said to Wu Chuan.

“Ah Fook is sick, so I had to replace him,” replied Wu Chuan. “I have brought the girl.”

The manservant asked Pei Pei to step down from the carriage.

“Come back in the morning,” he told Wu Chuan. Then he lead Pei Pei through the gates and into a hall where a group of two dozen armed and dangerous-looking men were waiting. Thy leered at her and made wisecracks among themselves.

“Maybe this one isn’t a screamer,” one of them said. “She looks confident!”

“They all scream,” commented another one with a guffaw. The rest of them laughed loudly.

A dark old woman then came and searched Pei Pei bodily in full view of the men. She was efficient and found a small fruit knife inside her clothes. “What’s this for?” she asked suspiciously.

“For peeling fruit, and also for self protection,” answered Pei Pei. “In case wolves in human clothing try to be funny with me.”

“You won’t need it here,” one of the men answered, “and if we want to be funny with you, that little thing won’t help you!”

At that, all the men laughed loudly again. The old woman looked at the men with disdain and kept the fruit knife. She then led Pei Pei along a passageway to the bedroom of Master South Cloud.

She knocked on the door. It was opened by two women dressed as kungfu fighters. Each of them had a sword at her side. These must be the two female bodyguards, thought Pei Pei..

“Come in,” said the shorthaired one, and then she pointed to a spot on the floor, “and take off all your clothes right here.”

“In front of you?” asked Pei Pei in mock surprise.

“Yes,” replied the longhaired one. “No strange girl is allowed to approach the master until she is naked. We need to check that you are not carrying any concealed weapons.”

“I was already checked outside,” Pei Pei answered.

“Then you better don’t have any concealed weapons, or we will slice you apart faster than you can blink your eye,” was the reply.

Pei Pei walked a few steps forwards into the room to the spot and noticed that the two women kept their hands on their swords, ready for action at any moment. She did not know how fast they were and it was not the time to find out yet.

She could see a man sitting on the bed looking at her in amusement. Staring at him, she asked, “I am not supposed to strip until I am in the presence of my client. Who are you?”

“I am the master of this manor,” replied South Cloud. “You will strip before me!”

“Am I supposed to go naked before these two women as well?” asked Pei Pei.

“Of course!” replied South Cloud. “They are here for my protection. But they also enjoy looking at naked women as much as I do. They will be here the whole night with us, watching everything you do. And watching everything I do to you. Haw, haw, haw!”

She thought furiously, “If I go one-to-one on South Cloud, those two will slice me up from behind. I will have to go for a surprise quick kill or not at all. Kanineh. This is going to be a touch and go case.”

South Cloud was seated on his bed and he looked in appreciation as Pei pei removed her clothing article by article. He gazed in admiration at her fine structure as she stepped out of her clothes. Naked, she walked towards the bed.

“Wait,” shouted the longhaired woman. “Take off your hair pins first!”

“Of course,” replied Pei Pei, and she removed one long hairpin that had held her hair up high. Part of her hair cascaded down and she shook her head gently. Smiling, she told South Cloud, “Take off your clothes!” Then she turned her back on him and slowly handed the pin to the longhaired woman. The shorthaired woman was standing further away by the wall.

The longhaired woman fighter took her pin.

Reaching up to her hair again, Pei Pei slowly removed the second pin. South Cloud was trying to slide his robe from his back. His hands were still caught in the robe sleeves, as he had not yet freed his hands. It was a most vulnerable position. Pei Pei held out her second hairpin in front of her as she turned her head to look at South Cloud.

As the longhaired woman put out her hand to take the pin, Pei Pei suddenly swung her hand and turned her body. The pin buried itself deep into the throat of South Cloud, piercing through the windpipe with the sharp end of the pin protruding from the other side of the neck.

Before the longhaired woman could recover from her shock, Pei Pei hit her on the chest with her palm and it sent the woman staggering backwards but she did not fall. The shorthaired woman immediately pulled out her sword only to find the Pei Pei’s third pin pierced into her brains. She went down glassy eyed as she died.

The staggering longhaired woman weakly tried to draw out her sword, but Pei Pei reached her and wrenched the sword away and drove it inside her heart. Pei Pei then turned her head to see that a secret door had opened in the wall next to the bed and South Cloud was attempting to escape through it. She pulled out the sword from the heart of the longhaired woman and threw it. The sword flew through the air straight without a spin, and entered the South Cloud’s back powerfully, burying itself to the hilt. He fell forward and the door of the secret opening swung shut. However, one of his legs was still in the opening and it prevented the door from fully closing.

Pei Pei raced to the wall and pulled the secret door open.

South Cloud was not dead yet so she pulled him by the leg until he was halfway inside the room. She left the sword inside his back and turned him sideways so he could see her. With a supreme effort, he struck out with his palm and an alert Pei Pei countered it with her own palm technique. Even though her Seven Stars inner energy was stronger than his inner energy, she was thrown back a step.

South Cloud felt an excruciating pain flooding his body as his internal organs ruptured from the blow. His windpipe was broken and he had difficulty breathing. Blood was starting to flow out from his chest where the sword had penetrated through. He could not understand who this young girl was that had greater inner energy than him. He was making gurgling sounds in his throat, trying to speak.

She knew what it was that he wanted to ask her.

“Because you killed my father,” she replied to his unasked question. “He was the boatman you hired to look for your precious treasure.”

“Just a boatman?” he mouthed wordlessly.

“Not just a boatman,” she said, “but a boatman with some fanciful knife-throwing bitch from hell as his dutiful daughter. You will join my father in death. The big difference is that his body was buried. Yours may not be. He will outrank you in the land of the dead!”

South Cloud kept mouthing bubbles and gurgling sounds. He was getting weaker. He could not escape and he could not fight back. Each movement caused him pain. And he was still having great trouble in breathing.

Pei Pei decided to put him out of his misery. She came for revenge. It was not necessary for her to torture him. She pulled out the sword from his back and with a swift slice of the weapon, she removed his head cleanly from his shoulders. The decapitated head fell behind the secret door.

Pei Pei then took a lamp and looked more carefully at the opening in the wall. Behind the secret door was what looked like a passageway. It must be an escape route to some place. She decided to use the passageway as an escape route so as not to attract any attention.

Quickly she dressed. She remembered that Ouyang had advised her kill quietly without anybody knowing. Even Wu Chuan had once said to her, “Never let your business competitors know how you operate. Keep everything a mystery.” If that was true for competitors, then that ought to be true also for enemies. She would keep the disappearance of South Cloud a mystery to all.

She recovered her hairpins and wiped them clean. Then she carefully moved the three dead bodies into the secret passageway, taking care that no blood fell onto the floor. She made sure that the bedroom door was bolted from inside so that no one would come in.

Then, after wedging the secret door opened, she took a lamp and explored the passageway. It led to a flight of stairs that went down into the ground. It soon opened into a small chamber containing an assortment of weapons and boxes. Beyond the chamber, the passageway continued for some distance until narrowed and ended into an opening. She put her head through and saw that she was at the side of a deep well. Looking upwards, she could see the stars. All was quiet.

She retraced her steps and went back towards the dead bodies. One by one, she moved the bodies to the chamber. She left South Cloud’s decapitated head lying in the passageway.

Carefully, she examined the mechanism behind the secret door. Playing with the mechanism, she understood how the door opened and shut.

When she was ready, she went into the room and inspected the place, making sure that everything was neat and no blood was found on the floor or bed. Then she gently unbolted the door. She went into the secret passageway and closed the secret door. Then using a spear from the chamber of weapons, she jammed the mechanism of the secret door tightly from inside. It would never be opened from inside South Cloud’s bedroom again.

Taking the lamp, she walked along the passageway. She could hear rats around her. She hated rats. They would probably feed on the three dead bodies. When she reached the end of the passage at the side of the well, she blew out her lamp and waited. There did not seem to be any noise up there. The wall of the well was rough and with lightness kungfu, she made her way up.

When she reached the top, she looked around her. It looked like she was in a garden at the back of the manor. Noiselessly, she moved to the manor walls and leapt over it.

Wu Chuan was waiting at the carriage behind the big tree when Pei Pei appeared noiselessly out of nowhere.

“Let’s go,” she whispered.

“Is it done?” he whispered back.

“Yes,” she answered. “We have to return the carriage and the courtesan.”

Quietly, they put the carriage driver and the courtesan in the carriage and Wu Chuan drove it to a back street near the House of a Thousand Pleasures. Then they untied their captives who were still unconscious and left both of them inside the carriage.

Wu Chuan and Pei Pei made their way to the Old Horse Inn. Pei Pei collapsed on a chair, the tension draining out of her body and filled in Wu Chuan about the happenings of the night.

“Nobody will even know that he is dead!” she said.

“Good,” said Wu Chuan, “and we shall keep it that way.”

The next morning, South Cloud’s servants found his bedroom door open and their master missing. “He must have gone somewhere with those two female bodyguards,” said one of them. “They will turn up later.”

Ah Fook, the carriage driver, woke up and found the courtesan next to him in the carriage. He woke her up but neither of them could explain what had happened.

“If Madam Song finds out that we are here sleeping together in a carriage instead of my being in the client’s place, she will think that we are lovers and have us whipped!” cried the courtesan.

“Let us not say a thing and pretend that we went there,” said the carriage driver.

“What if the client complained that we did not turn up?” asked the courtesan.

“Then we get whipped of course,” he said. “But better to get whipped later than to get whipped now!”

The courtesan nodded.

Thus, South Cloud Nam Chiao vanished from the surface of the earth without a burial and without anybody knowing that he was even dead. And all this was because he killed the wrong boatman.

Pei Pei woke up late the next morning.

“Wu Chuan,” she said, “I now free you of your servitude to me.”

“So soon?” he asked. “A night as a couple is a hundred nights of gratitude.”

“You have done enough for me,” she smiled, “and I will always remember you as a good friend.”

“I will go and buy joss sticks and paper offerings later. Then I will go with you tomorrow morning to visit your father’s grave,” he said. “I will tell him what a great daughter he has.”

“Thank you,” she laughed. She felt that her responsibility as a daughter had been carried out. Her father’s killer had been removed from society. Something was right in the world.

Chapter 14: North Cloud takes a prisoner

Wu Chuan was happy that Pei Pei was in a cheerful mood. He loved her smile. She was not the cloying clingy type of female that dotted the social landscape in Pingchen. He thought back to the incident on the black ship, of how she had pulled him up from the sharks with one hand and killed the pirate with another. This girl was different, quiet and confident. The sort of girl you want to be beside you in a crisis. And she had such lovely protruding nipples.

He caught himself thinking of the time when he was in bed with her more than half a month ago at the House of a Thousand Pleasures and said to himself, “Stop it.”

“Stop what?” asked Pei Pei, breaking into his thoughts.

“Nothing,” he replied, embarrassed. “How far is Ningshiang from here?”

“About half a day’s walk,” she replied. “To and fro will take one day.”

“That is a long walk,” he said. “I will go to a relative’s house and see if I can borrow a horse and carriage for tomorrow. Then I will come back for lunch with you. In the afternoon, we will go and shop for paper offerings to burn at your father’s grave tomorrow. You can rest at the inn until I get back.”

Pei Pei nodded.

Wu Chuan went to Governor Li’s house. His wife, Madam Li was delighted to see him.

“Wu Chuan,” she scolded, “you have been in Fuzhou for so many days and yet you did not come to see us?”

“I have to do something for a friend,” he replied. “When it is over, I will come and stay here.”

“I have received a letter by pigeon post that your parents are coming here,” said Governor Li. “Together with Li Chiang’s family.”

“When are they arriving?” asked Wu Chuan.

“It should be within these few days,” replied Madam Li. “My husband is so excited about seeing his grandchildren. It is good. It will help to take his mind off the trouble that one stupid Magistrate Chee Ko Pek is causing him!”

“Your husband is a governor of a province,” laughed Wu Chuan. “Surely a magistrate is unable to give him trouble?”

“This one is not the same,” remarked Governor Li sadly. “He is here from the imperial capital on royal orders to find out why I have not managed to recover the jade lions. A bad report against me will force me to step down.”

“What jade lions are you talking about?” asked Wu Chuan.

“Six years ago, a secret imperial shipment of two huge pieces of jade and other valuables was hijacked in this province. Huge pieces of jade are seldom found, but these two were really huge, and had been carved in the shape of lions. They were meant for the emperor’s palace but unfortunately, they were lost. The imperial guardsmen who were escorting the shipment returned to the capital and were promptly imprisoned by the emperor. I have been looking for the jade lions for years without success. Whoever took them had kept them so secretly that no one appeared to have heard of them!”

“And now this Magistrate Chee Ko Pek is here kicking up a big fuss, saying that my husband has not performed his duty well,” said Madam Li.

“Will you stay for lunch?” asked Governor Li to Wu Chuan.

“No,” replied Wu Chuan. “My friend is waiting for me. We have things to do later. I actually came to see if I can borrow a horse and carriage for one day tomorrow.”

“That is not a problem,” said Madam Li, “but you must stay for lunch.”

“My friend is waiting for me for lunch,” said Wu chuan. “But I can come here for dinner this evening if that is all right with you.”

“All right then,” said Madam Li, mollified.

Wu Chuan went back and took Pei Pei for a seafood lunch. They had braised sea cucumber, steamed fish and sweet and sour crabs.

After the meal, Wu Chuan asked her, “Pei Pei, this treasure that the Clouds were looking for…would it have something to do with two huge jade lions?”

“I think so,” replied Pei Pei. “I was once told that they were looking for three trunks that contained two huge jade lions and many other valuable items. How did you know about the jade lions?”

“My relative told me,” he answered. “Come, let us finish off the crabs!”

“You have ordered too much food, Brother Chuan,” she said, “but the crabs were delicious. I have never eaten it in this sweet and sour style before!”

“The cook is from Kwantung,” he said. “They tend to cook things slightly differently from us. This restaurant is actually very popular with the rich merchants in town.”

After lunch, Wu Chuan took Pei Pei shopping and bought the joss sticks and paper offerings that she required for her father’s grave. He bought an expensive silk purse and when they returned to the Old Horse Inn, he gave it to her.

She blushed and said, “I cannot take any more things from you, Brother Chuan. You must have already spent a fair sum of money on my account.”

“Don’t be silly,” he said. “I am from a well-to-do family and can afford to spend a bit. Besides, I have already bought the purse. I can’t return it to the shop, so you will have to keep it!”

After some persuasion, she accepted his present.

In the late afternoon, Wu Chuan had to go for his dinner engagement at Governor Li’s house.

It was night when Pei Pei ordered her food in the lobby of the inn. After drinking her tea, she felt a bit groggy. Her last thought just before she fell asleep was, “Either I am very sleepy or I have been drugged for the third time. Kaninehhhhh……..”

Wu Chuan came back just in time to the inn to see a group of seven masked men surrounding Pei Pei. One of them lifted her and slung her over his horse waiting outside the inn. The waiters protested and three of the masked men pulled their swords. The waiters kept quiet after that.

Wu Chuan thought fast, “I am not a match for all seven of them. And they may injure Pei Pei if I try any tricks. What do I do?”

Wu Chuan decided to follow them on foot. The masked man who had slung the unconscious body of Pei Pei over his horse rode away with it, followed by the other six masked men, also on horses.

Although there was a full moon, the night sky was cloudy. With little light to travel by, the horses could not go faster than a walking pace, so Wu Chuan easily kept up with the horses. When they reached the town outskirts, the horses moved faster along the straight road and Wu Chuan had to run. One of the riders turned his head around and Wu Chuan fell down with his face down to the ground and kept very still. The rider did not see him and turned his head to the front again. Wu Chuan got up and ran after the riders.

Finally, the men reached a manor and the horses trooped into its gates. The gates closed. Wu Chuan knew the place. It was the manor of North Cloud. He had checked out the manors of the four Clouds before at Pei Pei’s request.

“Those seven riders must be the famous Seven Snakes of North Cloud. But what could North Cloud possibly want with Pei Pei? It must be very important, or he would not have sent all Seven Snakes!”

The answer was obvious to him. “North Cloud wants to locate the treasure and thinks that Pei Pei might be able to tell him something.”

But how did North Cloud even know about the existence of Pei Pei? Or that Pei Pei was staying at the Old Horse Inn? Only West cloud and his wife knew that.

“Damn! North Cloud must have a spy in West Cloud’s manor!” he swore.

Quickly, he returned to town and visited his contacts to get some supplies. He had to knock on some doors in the night. Then he returned to the inn and painted a map.

The next morning, he went to Governor Li’s wife to borrow some of her personal escorts.

“Why do you need them, Wu Chuan?” Madame Li asked.

“For personal protection,” he replied. “I’ll be negotiating with somebody of unknown character for the first time and Ouyang is not with me. It will be just for half a morning.”

She lent him four of her men and he led them to North Cloud’s manor.

“Tell your master, that a man has come with the Governor’s men to negotiate about West Cloud’s stepdaughter,” he told the servant at the door.

North Cloud was puzzled. What were the Governor’s men doing here? He asked the servant to invite them in.

Wu Chuan whispered something to the Governor’s men and then they left. He entered the manor alone with his things and Pei Pei’s bundle of throwing knives. Soon, he was in the presence of North Cloud.

“May I know what this is about?” North Cloud asked the young man.

“Let me come straight to the point. As you can see, I came with the Governor’s men and they are watching this house,” he said.

“Watching my house? Why?” asked North Cloud.

Wu Chuan replied. “Last night, seven of your men abducted the stepdaughter of West Cloud and took her here. They were seen of course. In due course, your manor will be searched.”

“They won’t find her here,” countered North Cloud confidently.

“That is because you have stashed her away in a secret room somewhere,” said Wu Chuan. “However, by watching this place day and night, we can make things very difficult for you.”

North Cloud frowned. “What do you want,” he asked.

“I want a share,” replied Wu Chuan. “I know that you kidnapped the girl because you think that she was once on the same boat as East Cloud, and therefore she can lead you to the buried treasure of the Sky Dragon Clan.”

North Cloud was shocked to learn that his plans were found out. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he grunted.

“There are only two of us here, so let us talk frankly,” said Wu Chuan easily. I can make things really complicated for you if I so wish. I can go to South Cloud and West Cloud and tell them you have the girl. Soon, everybody will camp at your doorstep and you won’t even be able to move.”

“If I kill you right here, then my troubles will be over,” said North Cloud easily.

“The Governor’s men have seen me come in and they will be expecting me to walk out in good health. Killing me will be the beginning of your troubles. It will be easier just to deal with me,” Wu Chuan said just as easily.

“Does the Governor know about this?” asked North Cloud.

“No,” replied Wu Chuan. “Only I and a few of the men know. I have tried to keep this a secret for obvious reasons. But if you kill me, then the Governor will know.”

“All right, we talk,” said North Cloud.

“You have the girl,” said Wu Chuan. But I bet she has not told you anything yet. I know her character too well. I have traveled with her before. You can’t make her talk.”

“She will talk,” said North Cloud. “If she does not lead me to the treasure, I will kill her slowly.”

“No, she won’t talk,” said Wu Chuan. “But I can make her.”

“How?” asked North Cloud.

“I have in my possession a map which she drew with my help. I think that it was the location of the buried treasure. She was trying to jog her memory. Then your men kidnapped her before the map was completed. I have something that she wants very badly. If you are willing to come to terms with me, I can get her to complete this map and then we can find the treasure.”

Wu Chuan then took out from his cloth bag the map that he had drawn the night before.

North Cloud looked at it and said, “Interesting, it does not look like the map that I have seen before.”

Wu Chuan smiled and said, “This map was drawn based on her knowledge of the seas. If the map that you had seen before was any good, then you would have located the treasure a long time ago.”

That struck a raw nerve with North Cloud. He asked, “Okay, if you help me to recover the treasure, I will give you a share. What are your terms?”

“One quarter,” said Wu Chuan.

“One quarter? That is too much!” exclaimed North Cloud. “The treasure belongs to the Sky Dragon Clan. I am willing to give you only one tenth.”

“I am not a greedy man,” said Wu Chuan, “so I will agree to take one fifth. If you find my terms too tough, I can always go to West Cloud and get a deal with him. After all, the girl is his stepdaughter.”

“Leave West Cloud out of this. He doesn’t know a thing about this and it will only complicate things if he finds out that his stepdaughter is held here,” said North Cloud.

“Do you agree on one fifth share then?” asked Wu Chuan.

North Cloud thought about it for a while. He could always get rid of Wu Chuan after he had found the treasure. “Oh, all right,” replied North Cloud. “But you will have to get the Governor’s men to stop watching this house and also help me get the information out of Pei Pei.”

“Agreed!” said Wu Chuan. “Now lead me to the girl.”

“You will have to leave your weapons here,” said North Cloud. “I cannot allow you to carry weapons to where I am about to take you. It’s a matter of principle.”

“No,” said Wu Chuan. “As a swordsman, I have promised my sifu never to allow my weapons to leave my sight. You are a martial artist and you should be able to understand these things.”

North Cloud said, “I will have one of my men carry your weapons for you. That way, you would not be carrying them but they are within sight. That should satisfy both of us.”

Wu Chuan agreed. He was taken to a room and then blindfolded. One of the Seven Snakes took the bundle of throwing knives and his sword. He was then led through a door and then down a flight of stairs. Soon, he was in a room and the blindfold was taken off.

The room had no windows. In the light of the burning lamps, he saw that besides North Cloud, there were seven swordsmen in the room. At the far end of the room, he could see Pei Pei seated on the floor but shackled by chains to the wall. Pei Pei got up on seeing him.

Wu Chuan walked towards her, but two men drew their swords and stopped him from going further.

“I will need to go near her to hold the ink and map for her,” said Wu Chuan.

“One of my men will do it,” said East Cloud. Wu Chuan opened his cloth bag and took out two brushes, one pot of ink and the map and handed it over to a man who walked over to Pei Pei with them.

Pei Pei was mystified by all the happenings and decided that Wu Chuan was up to something. She kept quiet and waited. She saw that one of the men was standing to one side and he had what looked like her bundle of throwing knives.

“The chains are dragging her hands. You will have to free her hands or she will paint the wrong positions on the map,” said Wu Chuan.

“She only need to use one hand,” said North Cloud. He gave some instructions and another man went to Pei Pei with a key and unshackled the lock on her right wrist. Pei Pei flexed her right hand. It was sore. She had tried to break through the chains early in the morning with her Seven Stars Internal Stance but was unsuccessful. The chains were thick and heavy and were designed to lock up even a top kungfu master.

“Flex your right hand and warm yourself up, Pei Pei,” said Wu Chuan, “I will need you to do something important for me later.” The he waited for her to regain her full flexibility of her hand. She stretched herself and did a small part of the first step of the Secret Taichi Path. She could feel the Seven Stars inner energy rising in her.

“Tell her to complete the map,” North Cloud said to Wu Chuan.

Wu Chuan nodded and said, “Tell your men to move back so that she can have more light.”

The men moved away from her.

“Pei Pei,” shouted Wu Chuan, “Take the two brushes from the man.”

Pei pei did as she was told. She saw that the brushes were made of brass and were heavy. Wu Chuan walked to stand next to the man carrying his sword and Pei Pei’s bundle of throwing knives.

“Listen carefully Pei Pei. These men will kill you if you do not lead them to the treasure. And they will kill you slowly. The brushes are like feathers made especially for you,” continued Wu Chuan. “Just like your hairpins that day. I need you to brush out the bearer of the bundle of feathers first!”

“What are you talking about?” asked North Cloud.

Pei Pei saw that the reverse end of the brushes had been sharpened. She understood what Wu Chuan was talking about. He had been fond of calling her throwing knives as feathers. She swung back her right hand and threw the brush. It flew straight like an arrow into the heart of the man carrying her bundle of throwing knives. Wu Chuan immediately grabbed the bundle of throwing knives from the dead man and threw it towards Pei Pei. With her second brush, she plunged it into the brains of the man holding out the map for her. She looked up and then caught the bundle of throwing knives that Wu Chuan had thrown to her. There was no stopping her after that.

Wu chuan did not have time to recover his sword and had to run to the side of the room away from the remaining swordsmen. Two swordsmen had drawn their swords and gone after him but they were felled by Pei Pei’s flying daggers.

There were only three other swordsmen left together with North Cloud. When the action started, they had drawn their weapons and instinctively surrounded North Cloud to protect their master. Now they were like sitting ducks as she could hit a moving target within a hundred steps, and the room was only thirty steps at its longest length.. One by one they fell down dead with a dagger buried in the skull and a stunned expression on their faces as if they were not sure how the hell a dagger could grow out of their heads.

Only North Cloud remained alive.

Pei Pei did not waste time. She threw a dagger at North Cloud’s head and he jerked his head to the side. The dagger grazed his cheek, drawing blood.

Kanineh! He dodged my throw!” thought Pei Pei.

“Damn! That was close! The girl is fast as beyond belief!” thought North Cloud.

“I fear that Pei Pei is getting tired,” thought Wu Chuan as he pulled out the daggers from the heads of the two men behind him killed by her.

Facing the girl, North Cloud demanded, “Who is your sifu? Who taught you the art of the flying daggers?”

“I did!” said Wu Chuan nonchalantly. “You may be able to avoid her throw, but you won’t avoid mine.” He then struck up a throwing pose that he had learnt from Pei Pei. She was all agog as she had not expected him to do that. And she knew that he could not throw a dagger to save his life.

“Let me see how well you fare when the three-in-one delivers together with me,” continued Wu Chuan.

“What three-in-one?” asked North Cloud.

But Pei Pei understood. He meant that she should throw at the same time as him. He was only acting as a diversion.

“Are you ready for the sifu’s throw?” yelled Wu Chuan. “Ready, one, two, go!”

Wu Chuan’s throw was straight and aimed at the head. North Cloud shifted his body to one side and avoided the flying dagger.

“Damn! I missed!” cried Wu Chuan. “But then, I have no professional training. I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all!”

North Cloud stood there staring stupidly at him, with Pei Pei’s dagger embedded deep in his chest. The dagger had severed a major artery inside and he was bleeding internally and profusely. He was beaten and he knew it. Blood was flowing down his clothes. Pei Pei threw one more dagger to the head. This time, North Cloud did not even try to avoid it. He closed his eyes and died as the dagger punctured his skull and parted his brain cells.

Quickly, Wu Chuan retrieved some keys from North Cloud’s body and unlocked the shackles on Pei Pei’s hand and feet. Then he held her close to him.

“You came for me, Wu Chuan,” she cried.

“Yes,” he said.

“You shouldn’t have taken the risk,” she told him. “Your kungfu is not that great and you are the only scion of the Wu family. That was a big chance you took.”

“I know,” he said, “but I also knew that if I could get your throwing arm free and somehow get the bundle of daggers to you, you would save both of us.”

“You are very brave,” she said. “And very brilliant. I am so glad you came!”

For a while they held each other without moving. Then, as if on cue, they moved apart in embarrassment. Wu Chuan recovered his sword and went to the door and tried to open it. while Pei Pei collected her daggers.

“Something’s wrong!” he said. “I can’t seem to be able to open the door. I don’t think it is stuck. Probably, there is a way of opening it that we don’t know about.”

Using her inner energy, Pei Pei tried to open the door. She pushed and pushed, but it would not budge.

“Looks like we a re locked in,” she commented. “Only North Cloud and his men knew the trick in opening the door, but they are all dead!”

They looked around. The room looked like it was carved out of solid rock. Even the door was made of rock.

“Maybe some one will come and open this door and let us out,” he said hopefully.

“Or we could die in here waiting,” she said.

They sat down and waited. While waiting, he asked her about her life. “How did you learn to throw the daggers, Pei Pei?”

“I learned it from my uncle when I was a kid. He taught me eight ways of throwing daggers,” she answered.

“You said that you were on an island for four years. How did you get there?” he asked.

“A man called East Cloud came with his three sons to charter my uncle’s boat to go and look for some treasure. The map was obviously wrong, but they were stubborn and refused to turn back. My uncle thought that the most probable sites were either Chingtong Island or Kon Lo Island. We got to Chingtong Island and they checked it out but found nothing.”

“If the treasure is not at Chingtong Island, then it could be at Kon Lo Island,” he remarked.

“That was what my uncle thought,” she said. “Then, just as we wanted to sail towards Kon Lo Island, a storm came up and my uncle wanted to turn back. An argument broke out and East Cloud’s eldest son killed my uncle with a dagger.”

“It does not make sense to kill the boatman in a storm. That’s asking for trouble,” he said.

“I know. It was probably a stupid accident,” she said. “Anyway, I was grieving for my uncle and let the storm carried us where it will. I hid for days inside a floor compartment in the boat, where we kept the rice and some sundries. And that was when I read that stupid poetry.”

“This happened one year after your father died?” he asked.

She nodded and said, “Let me start again from the beginning.”

She then told him her full story. She told him how the first death in her village occurred when she was only ten years old, how her parents discovered the boat of the Huang brothers adrift, how her uncle Yue Thau had later bought that fateful boat, how her father’s body was found and how she ended up on the Gate of Hell Island. However, she left out the name of the Shantou Devil Ngai Chung, referring to him as a “mad old man without a name”. She felt that it was best that people were not reminded that such a name ever existed.

“I’m sorry, Brother Chuan, for getting you into all this. What possessed you to get mixed up in my affairs?” she asked. “We may die in here.”

“I have no regrets,” he replied. “If I were to die with anybody, then I would rather die with you.”

There was a moment of silence. Then she blushed. He had leaned over and kissed her cheek.

“Brother Chuan,” she smiled, “we are about to die here and you can still have the mood to do that?”

“It is because we are about to die here that we may not have the opportunity to do that later,” he smiled back. Still smiling, he pulled her to him and kissed her on the lips. She was motionless for a while, and then she kissed him back. He pushed her down to the floor and kissed her deeply. It was only when they stopped for air that they realized that they had been kissing while surrounded by eight dead bodies on the floor. They got up and he said, “We should find a better place than this!”

“Looks like no one is coming,” she remarked, no trace of anxiety in her voice. “North Cloud and his Seven Snakes are all here. I don’t think that anybody else apart from these trusted seven even knows about this room.”

“The floor is remarkably level to be natural. I would have expected it to be slightly curved like the roof and walls,” he commented.

“The floor is solid rock, just like the roof and walls,” said Pei Pei.

Wu Chuan had always had keen powers of observation. Suddenly, he said, “Strange! The blood seeping out from North Cloud’s body is flowing in a straight line. It is as if there is a straight crack on the floor. No crack can be that straight!”

He walked over to where the blood was and blew away the dust on the floor. Then he announced, “I don’t think this floor is solid rock. It appears to be rock slabs placed very closely next to each other. If these are rock slabs, then there is a possibility that under these slabs could be normal earth. In that case, we can remove these slabs and tunnel our way out.”

Pei Pei walked over to the slab nearest the door and said, “If I can get a finger grip on the slab, I would be able to move it, but there does not appear a place where I can insert my fingers, or even a sword to pry it out.”

“We don’t have to pry out that slab,” said Wu Chuan. “Let us look around the room and see if there is a loose slab somewhere. Once we removed that, we can start from there and work our way to the door.”

“You are right,” she said. She found a slab near the wall that appeared to be possible to pry out. Picking up a fallen saber from the room, she inserted it into tiny crack on the floor and pried. It moved just enough to allow her to insert two fingers in the space. Calling up her inner force, she pulled and the slab angled upwards. Wu Chuan came and helped her until they removed it from the floor.

He examined the earth underneath and said, “The earth underneath is hard, but it is still possible to dig.”

With the first slab removed, it became easy to pry out any subsequent rock slabs. They pried out six slabs in a path all the way to the door, thus exposing the earth near the door.

“There!” he said. “We should be able to dig our way out from here.”

“Has anybody ever told you that you are brilliant?” asked Pei Pei.

“Oh yes,” he replied. “My mother says it all the time. I must be a mama’s boy.”

She smiled at him.

Using the sabers from the dead swordsmen, they dug under the door until they were under the passageway outside. They were blocked by a floor slab in the passageway, and so Pei Pei lifted it up from below and pushed it aside.

“It is dark in the passage outside,” she told Wu Chuan who was still in the room. “It could be night already. Can you bring a lamp?”

Wu Chuan took his things, including the brass brushes and map, and joined Pei Pei. On emerging into the passageway, Wu Chuan looked at the door and remarked, “This door is so well camouflaged that nobody would even think that it is a door. Looks like part of the wall. I don’t think those eight bodies inside will ever get discovered.”

Pei Pei put the passage floor slab back in position and said, “Good! That’s another Cloud who has died without anyone knowing.”

There was a flight of stairs at the end of the passage and they climbed up it. It ended at a wall of wooden paneling. Then after fiddling around, Wu Chuan shifted a wooden panel and they both stepped into a room. He closed back the panel. It was already night but there were still sounds of people working in the manor. Opening a window of the room, they could see the garden wall some distance away. They ran to the garden wall in the pale moonlight and Pei Pei leapt up to the top of the wall in a flash. Wu Chuan’s lightness kungfu was not as good, but he jumped anyway. She reached down and caught his hand and swung him up to the top of the wall. Then they both jumped down over the wall to the ground outside and fled into the night.

As they were heading towards the Old Horse Inn, Pei Pei asked, “Now that North Cloud, South Cloud and East Cloud are dead, and West Cloud has withdrawn from clan activities, do you think that the Sky Dragon Clan has come to an end?”

Wu Chuan thought for a while and answered, “Possibly. Since it is not known that North Cloud and South Cloud are dead, the younger members of the clan cannot move up in the organization. The clan will become neither dead nor alive. Which would make it as good as dead.”

The reached the inn and roused a sleepy waiter to open the door. After they had bathed, Wu Chuan asked if he could sleep in the same bed as Pei Pei. She agreed as long as he slept on his side of the bed. They kissed each other goodnight for a long time. Then they dozed off, holding hands as they slept.

Chapter 15: A daughter’s love

Pei Pei opened her eyes. It was already morning. Wu Chuan’s arms and feet were around her, encasing her like a cocoon. They had slept together like a pair of spoons, with her butt nestled gently against his groin. She lay there not moving, just enjoying the feel of his warmth against her back. The events of the past days had certainly been momentous; so momentous that she had not had the opportunity to notice that her menstrual period was already late by six days. After a while he stirred, and then she felt something growing hard against her ass.

“Ummmm…he’s awake,” she thought. “I wonder what the hardest material in the world is. Rock? Iron? Or Wu Chuan?”

She turned around to face him.

“Good morning,” he said. She smiled shyly. He thought that she had a lovely smile, the smile that only a man of good fortune would get to see the first thing in the morning. He kissed her gently, then more ardently.

When their lips finally parted, she said, “We should get up. I have to go to my father’s grave.”

He got up and peered outside the window and told her, “It’s already mid-morning. Let us go out for some late breakfast. Then I will go to my relative’s house and borrow a carriage for us. I know a place where they serve fantastic steamed buns and very fragrant tea. You have to try that!”

Together, they walked to a popular eating shop in town. The restaurant was full and there did not appear to be an empty table.

“It’s amazing that there can be so many customers. You would think that they are serving food for free!” remarked Wu Chuan.

“The food must be good here,” said Pei Pei. “Let us wait for a table then.”

A waiter came out to Wu Chuan and said, “Sir, a couple sitting at the corner table over there would like you to join them.”

Wu Chuan looked towards where the waiter was pointing and saw his sister, Jade Flower, and his brother-in-law, Li Chiang.

“Heavens!” he cried. “My sister is here! Come, Pei Pei. Let’s go and meet my sister.”

Pei Pei followed Wu Chuan to a table where Jade Flower was seated with her husband, Li Chiang.

After the perfunctory introductions were over, Wu Chuan asked, “When did you arrive?”

“Yesterday evening,” replied his sister. “We brought along our four kids and my parents and are putting up at my father-in-laws house. You have no idea how taxing it was in travelling with those four kids. We left them this morning at the house and came out for some peace and quiet. Let my mother-in-law babysit them for the morning while we come out to enjoy some steamed buns.”

“We sent word to the White Lotus Inn this morning to tell you that we had arrived,” said Li Chiang.

“I am not staying at the White Lotus Inn, but at the Old Horse Inn,” said Wu Chuan.

“Never mind,” said Jade Flower. “We will go to my in-law’s place afterwards. I am sure that father will be wishing to see you.”

“So, this must be the girl whom Ouyang said that you are to serve for one hundred days,” remarked Li Chiang, looking at Pei Pei. “She is much younger than I thought!”

“Damn that Ouyang!” exclaimed Wu Chuan. “Can’t he mind his own business?”

Pei Pei blushed and said, “Oh, you know about that! Actually, I have already freed Wu Chuan of any servitude to me!”

The food came, and they ate, slowly enjoying what they had come for. Jade Flower could not help noticing that Wu Chuan kept serving food on Pei Pei’s bowl. “They are acting like a pair of discreet lovers,” she thought. “I have never seen Wu Chuan behaving in this manner. He must be in love!”

“The fishcakes here are nice with good texture. I can never get these in Pingchen,” remarked Li Chiang.

“It is the fish they use,” said Pei Pei. “Do you get fish in Pingchen?”

“We get a variety of river fish,” replied Jade Flower. “They have nice smooth flesh but are not usually as big as sea fish.”

“What is good in Pingchen?” asked Pei Pei.

“Fruits,” replied Jade Flower. “We grow the best oranges, loquats and pears in the province.”

“I love fruits,” said Pei Pei. “However, by the time they arrive in my village from the highlands, they are usually overripe.”

“You will love it in Pingchen, Pei Pei,” said Wu Chuan. “Although we have no seas, we do have lakes where we can go fishing.”

Pei Pei’s wrists were bruised, because they had locked in shackles the previous day, and Jade Flower noticed the condition.

“Let me take a look at your hands, Pei Pei,” she said. “My husband is a daifu and we may have something to apply on your wrists.”

“Your husband is a daifu?” asked Pei Pei. “I did not realise it.”

“Got pain, heal pain. Got sickness, heal sickness,” remarked Li Chiang. “That is my motto.”

Pei Pei showed her wrists to Jade Flower who examined it for a while. Jade Flower than took out some ointment and applied it on the wrists.

“That should do it,” she said, “We are going to my father-in-law’s place. Will you come with us?”

“Thank you for the invitation, but I am unable to go,” replied Pei Pei. “I have to visit my father’s grave.”

“I am going with her,” said Wu Chuan.

Pei Pei looked at Wu Chuan and said, “Wu Chuan, your parents are here, so you should go and see them. I can go to my father’s grave on my own.”

Although Wu Chuan protested, Pei Pei insisted that he should go and see his parents like a dutiful son. Then she left the restaurant to go to the Old Horse Inn to take her joss sticks and paper offerings for the grave.

After she was gone, Li Chiang remarked, “Nice girl. No wonder you were so willing to serve her for a hundred days, Wu Chuan. Are you sure one hundred days is enough?”

“From the looks of it, he would like to go on serving her forever,” said Jade Flower.

“What were you doing, holding her wrists for so long?” Li Chiang asked his wife.

“I was trying to take her pulse,” replied Jade Flower. Over the years, Li Chiang had taught her the way to take a pulse and she often helped him with the female patients. Many females were too modest to allow even a male daifu to touch them.

“And?” asked Li Chiang. “What was the conclusion?”

“She could be pregnant, you know,” answered Jade Flower. “Her pulse was not normal, but I am unable to conclude anything. It is still too early to tell.”

“Pei Pei pregnant?” said Wu Chuan in shock. “I had not thought of that!”

“Hey, relax!” said Jade Flower. “I didn’t say that she was pregnant!”

“Excuse me, I have to go to her,” said Wu Chuan and he rushed off.

“Now look what you have done,” Li Chiang admonished his wife. “Simply go and panicked your brother for nothing! Yao mou gao chor ah.”

“Oh, shit!” said Jade Flower.

Wu Chuan hurried to the Old Horse Inn after Pei Pei. He was not sure what he would say to her, but he would have to find a way to get her married to him. And then, there was still his parents’ opinion to consider.

In the distance, he could see Pei Pei outside the Old Horse Inn talking to two men. One of them was showing her something. They walked around the corner of the inn and he could not see them any more. He ran after them, but on turning around the corner, he could not see anybody. A few carriages passed him. He walked into the inn and went to Pei Pei’s room but she was not there as well.

Then he asked the waiters of the inn one by one to find out if they had seen Pei Pei.

One of them said, “I saw two men talked to her and they showed her a copper bracelet. Then I saw her getting into a carriage with two men. She looked angry!”

Wu Chuan ran out of the inn to try and spot the carriage, but he was much too late. He was mystified. Something told him that Pei Pei had not gone with the two men willingly. There was nothing that he could do except wait until she showed up.

As he was waiting, a carriage pulled up outside the inn, and West Cloud got out weakly. Waking to one of the waiters, he asked to see Pei Pei. On learning that Pei Pei was not there, he looked agitated.

Wu Chuan went up to West Cloud and said, “I hope that you remember me. I came with Pei Pei to your manor once. I was her servant.”

West Cloud asked him, “Do you know where she has gone?”

“Why do you ask?” said Wu Chuan.

“My wife was abducted last night and I want to know if Pei Pei has something to do with it,” said West Cloud.

“Huh? Tell me what happened!” said Wu Chuan in shock.

“At dusk, yesterday, while I and my wife were in the garden, a masked man appeared and he fought with me. He injured me within three moves and knocked me down to the ground. Then he hit my wife unconscious and carried her out of the gates. Four of my servants died and the rest got severely injured while trying to stop him. He was obviously a top kungfu master.”

“It was not Pei Pei,” said Wu Chuan. “I was with her at dusk yesterday, and we were nowhere near your manor.”

“I know it was not her,” said West Cloud. “She is not a kungfu master and her size is smaller than the masked man yesterday. But all these years, I have been living peacefully with Pei Pei’s mother. Then days after Pei Pei showed up, her mother gets abducted. I just wondered if there could be a connection.”

Wu Chuan thought for a moment. “Did Pei Pei’s mother have a copper bracelet?”

“Yes she did. It was given to her by Pei Pei’s father. She would not take it off even after she had borne my sons,” West Cloud replied. “Why do you ask?”

“Nothing,” replied Wu Chuan. “I was going to buy Pei Pei a bracelet and just wondered if she likes copper. Your wife was probably kidnapped for ransom. Why don’t you go home and wait. The kidnappers will most likely contact you about ransom negotiations later.”

“You could be right,” said West Cloud dejectedly. “Please tell Pei Pei to contact me when you see her.”

Wu Chuan watched him leave and thought furiously, “Whoever kidnapped Pei Pei’s mother, used her to get to Pei Pei. They showed the mother’s bracelet to Pei Pei to compel her to follow them. The real target was Pei Pei and not her mother!”

He could have said all that to West Cloud but he did not wish to. He knew that information leaked out like water from a sieve at West Cloud’s manor. A long time ago, in Pingchen, his father also had a servant who sold information to outsiders and placed the whole Wu family in danger. The servant was finally caught and beaten up severely, and then taken to a rubbish dump and left there.

“Whoever got hold of Pei Pei and her mother did so only because of the treasure,” he muttered. “Like North Cloud, they think that Pei Pei knows something. Heavens, is there no end to this treasure affair? I’ve got to save Pei Pei, but how?”

Wu Chuan paced the floor if the inn for a while and mumbled to himself, “Think, Wu Chuan, think! She may be carrying your child! With her mother being held hostage, there is nothing much she can do! What can she do? What will she do?”

He stopped pacing the floor and raced towards Governor Li’s house.

His family was overjoyed to see him.

Quickly, he explained the situation to them. “I have to save Pei Pei,” he said.

“Why?” asked his mother. “She has already freed you from servitude.”

“She is my woman,” declared Wu Chuan.

Everybody kept silent, and they saw that Wu Chuan was serious. “She has been captured because her captors think that she knows the whereabouts of the two missing jade lions.”

“Does she know?” asked Governor Li, highly interested.

“I don’t think she does,” said Wu Chuan. “But whoever is holding her is obviously connected to the missing jade lions in some way or another.”

“In that case, we will arrest them. They may help to shed some light on this case,” said Governor Li. He had been searching unsuccessfully for the missing jade lions for six years and the visiting Magistrate Chee Ko Pek, sent by the Imperial court on a fact finding mission, had been giving him a lot of pressure over it. If the case was not solved soon, his political enemies would use that as an excuse to persuade the Emperor to have him demoted from the governor’s post. He sighed. “Do we know those people are who are holding Pei Pei and her mother hostage?”

“No,” replied Wu Chuan glumly.

“In that case, we won’t know who to arrest, or where to arrest them,” remarked Li Chiang.

“Wait! I know where Pei Pei will send them!” yelled Wu Chuan excitedly.

“Where?” asked Jade Flower.

“Pei Pei’s uncle thought that the treasure could be at either Chingtong Island or Kon Lo Island,” explained Wu Chuan. “Chingtong Island had already been searched and found to contain nothing. Pei Pei will send the captors to Kon Lo Island. If we go to Kon Lo Island and wait, the captors will turn up to look for the treasure, and then, we will know who they are!”

“That is brilliant!” said Governor Li. “Let’s plan this carefully. If the two jade lions are at Kon Lo Island, then I want my soldiers to get there before the kidnappers do.”

“Pei Pei was taken away after mid-morning,” said Wu Chuan. “Most boats are already out to sea and won’t be back until this afternoon. Her captors will not be able to charter a boat until next morning. If we sail now, we can still reach the island before them.”

“Good plan. But where are we going to get a boat now?” asked Ouyang.

“There is the pirate boat that you captured two and a half months ago,” said Governor Li. “It is still lying in the harbour. I will provide men to sail it to Kon Lo Island. The wind is in a favourable direction. Start now. Then anchor at one of the islands for the night. Sail again at dawn and you should reach Kon Lo Island by mid-morning. That should give you enough time to lay a trap for Pei Pei’s captors. Li Chiang, you go with Wu Chuan. Remember to catch them alive so that I can question them.”

Quickly, Governor Li’s men loaded some supplies of food and water in a carriage. Wu Chuan spotted a large yellowish rock in Governor Li’s garden. He loaded it in the carriage as well. Although Ouyang wanted to go, he was asked to stay behind.

Li Chiang wore his twin sabers, known as the Twin Dragon Blades, by his side. Ouyang watched in fascination. He had once seen the Twin Dragon Blades in action eight years ago, when Li Chiang mowed his way ruthlessly through a group of bandits, leaving dead bodies falling in his wake. Very few people knew that the daifu was a highly efficient killer.

“Be careful,” Jade flower told her husband. “Wu Chuan said that the masked man who kidnapped Pei Pei’s mother was a kungfu master.”

“I will be careful,” he nodded.

On the way to the harbour, Wu Chuan stopped at the House of a Thousand Pleasures and went in to speak to the Potion King Tseto, “You owe Pei Pei a great debt. She has a request to ask of you.”

The Potion King nodded. Moments later, Wu Chuan collected a pot of powder from Tseto, and then joined Governor Li’s men on board the boat he had taken from the pirates more than two months ago.

The wind was favourable and they made good speed. By nightfall, the boat anchored off an island and continued on its sea journey the following morning. By mid-morning, they had reached Kon Lo Island. It was quite a small island, with few places to hide.

“Let us send the men and the boat off to hide behind another island while the two of us set the trap here,” said Wu Chuan. “We will signal to them with a flag when we need them.”

Li Chiang nodded. The boat left and sailed behind a nearby island, so that any boat approaching Kon Lo Island from Fuzhou would not know that there was another boat in the vicinity. The men camped on the nearby island and kept a lookout for Wu Chuan’s flag signal.

In a dark windowless room inside a large manor outside Fuzhou, two women were shackled and chained to opposite walls of the room. In the dark, they could not see each other.

The older woman spoke, “You should not have come for me, Pei Pei.”

“You are my mother. They threatened to cut off your hands and feet if I did not come. I had to come,” said Pei Pei. “Once my mother, always my mother.”

“I am sorry,” said her mother. “I have not been a mother to you for the last five years. You should have been born to a better woman than me.”

“Do not say that, mother,” cried Pei Pei, “I would come for you, no matter what!”

“Are you still angry with me, Pei Pei?” asked her mother.

“No, mother,” Pei Pei replied. “You were right in choosing your sons over me. You did not have sons with my father, and I should not begrudge your having sons with West Cloud after father died. I should blame fate instead of you.”

They remain silent for a while, then Pei Pei asked, “Why did you always insist that I practice calligraphy, mother? I am a daughter of a fisherman. What good is calligraphy going to do for me?”

“Pei Pei,” the older woman explained, “I was the ninth daughter of a roadside petition writer. My father taught his children the characters, and because of this, I was able to read and write. There were too many mouths to feed in my family, and so my father quickly married me off to whoever who could afford the dowry. The life of a fisherman’s wife is not an easy life. Your father and I loved you very much. You were our only child. We wanted you to marry into a rich family when you grow up. Then you would live the life of luxury that we never had. But your chance of being accepted into the upper class families is greater if you were literate. That is why I taught you calligraphy and always insisted that you practiced it. Paper was expensive, but your father never once complained when we had to buy paper for you to practice on. Do you realise that you are the only girl in Ningshiang Village who can read and write?”

On hearing this, Pei Pei sobbed.

Chapter 16: Cold Wind Hands shows his hand

On Kon Lo Island that afternoon, Wu Chuan and Li Chiang saw a boat approached the island and so they hid themselves. Then, two boatmen got off the boat. Judging from the manner that they walked, Wu Chuan said, “Those two are a man and a woman.”

The woman walked after the man on the rocky beach and complained, “This beach is not easy to walk on. I wish there was a proper path.”

“You wanted to come, Lady Fai, so don’t complain.” the man said. “I could easily have done this alone.”

“We are partners, remember?” said Lady Fai. “After all, I did all the planning for this job. I wish that you had not killed those two boatmen that early. They could have been useful in helping us dig for the treasure.”

“They were ogling at you in a lascivious manner like I was not there at all,” said Sum. “Those who don’t respect me will have to pay with their lives. Anyway, I don’t need them. I can sail a fishing boat by myself.”

They paused on the rocky beach and looked around.

“The treasure will not be so close to the shoreline,” said Lady Fai. “Let us go climb up to the ridge and look around first. You will have to carry me.”

Sum Teng Rong carried Lay Fai and then ran up the ridge using lightness kungfu.

From his hiding place, Li Chiang noted the way that the man moved easily even as he was carrying the woman. “A young kungfu master, I see,” he muttered.

As they stood on the ridge, looking around, Sum Teng Rong said, “There are a lot of places to dig. If it takes us a long time to locate the treasure, it will be many, many days before we get back to the manor. Pei Pei and her mother will be very hungry. I noticed that you did not leave them any food.”

“Actually, they will be dead,” said Lady Fai. “I did not leave them any water either.”

"We should have left them some water. In case the girl had sent us to the wrong island, we can go back and question her later," remarked Sum Teng Rong.

"No," disagreed Lady Fai. "If we had left her food and water, she would definitely keep sending us to the wrong islands. Only if she was in any real danger of starvation would she send us to the correct island. Without food and water, she has to hope that we will locate the treasure fast, and then go back and feed her."

“Damn!” said Sum Teng Rong. “You are clever and ruthless”

“You should always let me do all the thinking. I am much more ruthless than you are,” she said. “Remember that, and don’t cross me.”

“We may as well start digging at this spot,” he suggested.

“Wait,” she commanded, “Use your brains a bit! Black Bat would have left a marker of some sort. We have to see if we can spot it.”

“What sort of marker?” he asked.

Lady Fai looked around and then she exclaimed, “Did you notice that all the rocks on the island are either black or brown, yet down there on the far end of the ridge, there is a rock that is yellowish. It is definitely not from this island. It could be the marker we are looking for!”

“Hey, you are right!” he said. “Most people would not have noticed it!”

“Of course,” she replied, “Most people are not smart like me! This is why you should always let me do the thinking!”

They approached the yellowish rock and stared at it.

“Lift it up,” she commanded.

“Are you sure?” asked Sum Teng Rong.

“Will you leave the thinking to me?” she said in an annoyed tone. “Just do it!”

Sum Teng Rong lifted up the yellowish rock. They were immediately enveloped in a sudden cloud of dust.

“It is dusty here,” she remarked. “And that is strange.”

“Don’t breathe,” advised Sum Teng Rong as he put down the rock. Quickly, he led her away from the cloud of dust. But it was too late; she had already breathed in the dust.

“What is happening!” she said. “Why do I suddenly feel so cold?”

“I think the rock was booby trapped,” he said. “I managed to hold my breath in time. You could have breathed in some poison powder!”

“Poison? No!” Lady Fai was shivering and getting hysterical.

In his hiding place, Wu Chuan commented, “Looks like the Potion King Tseto’s powder has done its job. The lady looks cold.”

“Is that all that the powdered drug can do? Make them feel cold?” asked Li Chiang.

“I would have liked something more impressive, but Tseto said that he can only get me this powder at such short notice,” replied Wu Chuan.

“Is the effect permanent?” asked Li Chiang.

“No. It is harmless. Tseto said that the effect would wear off in less than half a day. Also, there is no antidote necessary for this sort of thing. We will have to bluff the information out of them.”

“Okay,” said Li Chiang. “Now let us go and see who this mystery kungfu master is!”

Wu Chuan and Li Chiang came out of their hiding place and walked towards Sum Teng Rong and Lady Fai up on the ridge. Sum Teng Rong noticed them and he whispered to Lady Fai, “Someone is coming!”

Lady Fai whispered back, “Let us pretend that we are simple fishermen.”

Wu Chuan approached them and he asked, “Who are you?”

“We are just two fisher folk looking for a place to take water on this island,” answered Sum.

“And you climbed up the hill to look for water? You are a poor liar. Every fisherman knows that you don’t climb up to the top of the ridge for water,” said Wu Chuan. “Look, if you don’t tell us the truth, then we can’t help you.”

“What is happening?” demanded Lady Fai. “Why am I so cold?”

“You have all been poisoned by the Kin Kin Seow Poison Powder,” said Wu Chuan. “Without the antidote, the blood vessels in your brain will slowly freeze. Soon, you will go mad.”

“I am not afraid of going mad,” said Sum Teng Rong, “because I am already crazy.”

“Without the antidote, the blood vessels on the lady’s face will freeze,” explained Wu Chuan. “Her face will have blood clots that will lead to permanent scars and she will turn into a very ugly hag. Once the ugliness set in, even the antidote will not be able to reverse it.”

“Let me have the antidote,” yelled Lady Fai. “Quick!”

“I’m sorry, but we are very choosy over who we help,” said Wu Chuan. “Tell us who you are first.”

“My name is Tan Ah Beng and this is Ah Lian,” growled Sum Teng Rong.

“Wrong answer!” said Wu Chuan. “This man does not speak the truth and therefore does not deserve any antidote! Because of him, the lady will start to turn ugly in a while. Permanently ugly! So ugly that the birds in the air will shit on her face to cover it up.”

“Will you, for heaven’s sake, tell him the truth, Sum Teng Rong?” yelled Lady Fai.

“Shut up, Lady Fai,” Sum Teng Rong yelled back.

“Aha! Sum Teng Rong and Lady Fai,” remarked Li Chiang. “So that’s who you are!”

Wu Chuan searched his memory. Ouyang had briefed him thoroughly about the personalities of the Sky Dragon Clan. Sum Teng Rong was the grandson of Sum Wan. He said, “You are the grandson of Cold Wind Hands, Sum Wan. He was the former leader of the Sky Dragon Clan.”

“Now, can I have the antidote?” asked Lady Fai.

“Not yet,” said Wu Chuan. “Tell me first where you kept Pei Pei and her mother.”

“How can you possibly know about that?” asked a shocked Sum Teng Rong.

“We know a lot of things,” said Wu Chuan. “Answer me quick, the lady’s face is starting to turn ugly.”

“They are kept in a secret room under the library of the Sum Manor!” yelled Lady Fai. “Now give me the antidote!”

“Where is the entrance to this secret room?” asked Wu Chuan.

“Behind a book shelf in the room,” she replied.

Sum Teng Rong shouted at Lady Fai, “Shut up! Stop giving away the secrets of Sum Manor!”

“Don’t shout at me,” yelled Lady Fai.

“Listen! If you want the antidote, you have to tell us all you know,” said Li Chiang easily.

“I do not need your antidote,” said Sum Teng Rong. “I held my breath and did not breathe in your Kin Kin Seow Poison Powder!”

“What?” exclaimed an astonished Wu Chuan. “You weren’t poisoned?”

“No,” Sum replied. “And you people will rue the day that you cross the path of Sum Teng Rong. I am going to make sure that you die slowly.”

“But your lady friend was poisoned,” countered Wu Chuan. “If you kill us, then she will not get the antidote. See how cold she is? Her face will freeze and she will turn ugly. So ugly that she would make the onions cry.”

Li Chiang added, “She will be so ugly that if she goes to the stables, all the horses will bolt and stampede!”

Wu Chuan threw in another comment, “She will be so ugly that the cockroaches will vomit at the sight of her!”

Li Chiang then said, “She will be so ugly that…”

“Shut up! Shut up! Both of you,” Lady Fai screamed, interrupting Li Chiang. She could not bear the thought of being ugly. “Sum Teng Rong, I am feeling cold. Do something!”

“I will kill them,” said Sum Teng Rong.

“No! Let them fetch the antidote first!” screamed Lady Fai weakly and with difficulty.

“Listen to the lady,” said Wu Chuan. “You must first allow us to take both of you as prisoners. Then, we will administer the antidote to Lady Fai. After that, you will lead us to the manor to free Pei Pei and her mother. If you don’t agree, we will not give Lady Fai the antidote.”

“Take me prisoner?” snorted Sum Teng Rong. “You can forget that!”

“If you don’t agree, Lady Fai will turn ugly and mad. She may even kill herself and die,” said Wu Chuan.

“No problem,” retorted Sum Teng Rong. “I can always get myself another lady.”

“You can’t mean that!” screamed Lady Fai. “I was the one who thought of the plan. You swore to Heaven that we would find the treasure together and you would share it with me.”

“Your plan is not very good,” said Sum Teng Rong. “I will make my own plans from now on. And this is my plan. After I kill off these two, I will search for the treasure. And if I don’t find it, I will go back and question that Pei Pei girl again.”

“She has no food and water. She may be dead by the time you get back,” said Lady Fai. “Agree to the terms of these two gentlemen. We can always go back and think of some other plan.”

“You left Pei Pei without food and water?” cried a shocked Wu Chuan. “You are worse than animals, you dirty diseased lumps of shit!”

“We don’t need these two any more,” said Li Chiang. “We already know that Pei Pei is held in a secret room under the library in the Sum Manor. We can go now and save her.”

“No you won’t! I will kill you here!” snarled Sum Teng Rong.

“Get me the antidote first, you fool!” screamed Lady Fai pitifully.

However, Sum Teng Rong ignored her and advanced on to the two men and snarled, “Prepare to die!”

“There are two of us and only one of you,” remarked Li Chiang. “What makes you think you can kill us?”

“I am Cold Wind Hands,” said Sum Teng Rong. “I can kill anybody.”

“Cold Wind Hands? Didn’t he die a few years ago?” asked Wu Chuan.

“That was my grandfather, Sum Wan,” said Sum Teng Rong. “He passed me his kungfu before he died. I am the New Cold Wind Hands. All these years, I have secretly trained myself until I reached the highest level. Today, you will feel its tremendous power as I break each and every part of your body!”

Li Chiang pulled out his Twin Dragon Blades and got ready. Wu Chuan too, pulled out his sword.

The New Cold Wind Hands lunged towards Li Chiang first, aiming an iron palm at the heart. Li Chiang quickly stepped out of the way and swung his right saber. It bounced off the arm of Sum Teng Rong. Wu Chuan had attacked Sum from the other side by chopping sideways at the neck, only to see his sword stroke being parried by Sum Teng Rong’s forearm. Sum Teng Rong leapt into the air over Wu Chuan and landed on the other side of him. As Sum landed, Wu Chuan thrusted his sword towards Sum’s chest, but Sum clasped Wu Chuan’s blade between both hands and broke the blade in a sudden motion of his hands.

“Move back, Wu Chuan!” shouted Li Chiang as he moved to protect his brother-in-law who was holding a broken sword.

“He is wearing armoured sleeves!” said Wu Chuan. “That is why the blades bounced off his arms!”

“Go to the side, Wu Chuan,” said Li Chiang. “I will fight with him one to one!”

Wu Chuan walked away to the side and Li Chiang squared off with Sum Teng Rong. Watching from the sidelines, Wu Chuan realized that this was going to be a battle between two masters.

Breathing rhythmically, both masters got ready to hit each other with the full power of their inner force.

“The armour of my arms was made by the legendary Divine Swordsmith Fire Face. No sword can cut through them,” a smiling Sum Teng Rong said. “When you see the King of Hades afterwards, tell him that I sent you!”

“You should smile more often,” countered Li Chiang. “You look less ugly that way. Oh forget it…..even when you look less ugly, you are still very ugly! The good news is that Hell will not turn you away because of your hideous looks!”

The two men rushed at each other and Li Chiang administered stroke after stroke with his Twin Dragon Blades only to find each stroke being parried by the armoured arms of the New Cold Wind Hands. The action was too fast to be seen by Wu Chuan but he could hear the whistling of the blades slicing rapidly through the air and the corresponding sounds of blades meeting armour. Spinning around each other, both men strived to find a weakness in each other’s defense. Sum Teng Rong tried to get closer to his opponent while Li Chiang tried to maintain his distance so as to be able to bring his sabers into play.

In a sudden move, Li Chiang chopped his left saber downwards on Sum’s head, but was parried by Sum’s right forearm. Li Chiang thrusted his right sabre to Sum’s head, but halfway through the motion, the blade changed direction and sliced towards Sum’s right arm, cutting through the elbow joint. Sum Teng Rong’s right forearm dropped down, hanging loosely to the body by only a piece of skin. Li Chiang did not give Sum any respite, but continue attacking and sent a thrust of his left Dragon Blade into the abdomen of the New Cold Wind Hands. With only the use of his left hand for defense, Sum Teng Rong reached down and grab the sabre to prevent it from going deeper into the abdomen. That left him defenseless against the right Dragon Blade, which plunged into his ribcage and withdrew just as fast as it went in. But Sum’s left hand did not release his grip on Li Chiang’s left blade. It was Li Chiang who dropped his left sabre and in a quick motion, he moved around Sum, inserted his right Dragon Blade under Sum’s left shoulder from behind and sliced upwards. Sum Teng Rong’s left arm was sliced off completely from the body.

Sum Teng Rong’s left hand dropped away from the body, but did not fall to the ground. The lifeless fingers were still holding onto the blade that it was gripping. Li Chiang pulled out the left saber from Sum’s abdomen and then, using the right saber, he nonchalantly sliced off the dead fingers from the blade, the way he would peel the skin off a fruit, and Sum Teng Rong’s left arm finally down fell to the ground.

The right forearm too, dropped to the ground when the little bit of skin attaching it to the right upper arm tore apart.

“The New Cold Wind Hands has lost his hands,” murmured Wu Chuan, awed by the action before him. He remembered that Ouyang had told him many times before that Li Chiang was an unbelievably fast and efficient swordsman with the Twin Dragon Blades, but he could not imagine that his brother-in-law was that fast. The whole battle was over in less time than it took for a quarter of a joss stick to burn.

Sum Teng Rong stood there in shock without his hands, and with blood pouring out from his abdomen and ribcage. He mumbled, “You could not have defeated me! This is impossible! My sleeve armour was made by Divine Swordsmith Fire Face!”

“You are the most formidable opponent I have ever met,” said Li Chiang. “But I had some experience in this type of fighting. Eight years ago, I got into a fight with a masked man who used a similar armoured sleeve Cold Wind Hands technique. I could not defeat him despite fighting for a long time. Actually, if his Inner Strength was slightly better, he would have defeated me. Then I realized that the armour would have to be weakest at the joints. That would mean that I had to attack the shoulder joints or elbow joints. I finally managed to take off a forearm at the elbow. After that, the rest was easy. Before he died, he said to my face that his brother would avenge him. I told him to go to hell.”

“My uncle died at the hands of an unknown swordsman eight years ago! So it was you who killed him!” gasped Sum Teng Rong.

“Hey! You could be right!” Li Chiang said excitedly. “But that was not the end of the story. Seven years ago, while I was traveling towards Fuzhou, I was attacked by some masked men. I kill all of them but the leader was especially difficult to kill. He too, used the armoured sleeve technique. But I had already had one fight of this nature before, so I knew what to do. His Inner Strength was good, but I managed to cut off both his arms and sliced open his chest. Before he died, he told me that his son would avenge him. I also told him to go to hell.”

“My father died seven years ago! You killed him!” gasped Sum Teng Rong again.

“I did?” said Li Chiang. “That means that the fates have brought us together. Oh, my, can you beat that?”

“You couldn’t have done what you said you did,” gasped a rapidly weakening Sum. “The elbow joints of the sleeve armour had been tested before. It can withstand the blows of a sabre!”

“A blow from an ordinary saber, perhaps, but not a blow from my saber,” said Li Chiang. “They were forged by a legendary Sword Master a long time ago in Thunder Valley and were then passed down to me. They may not be able to cut through normal armour, but they can certainly cut through the weak armour at the joints of your armoured sleeve!”

Sum Teng Rong stood there staring blankly. He was bleeding profusely from the chest, abdomen and from the parts where his arms had been cut off. He was also bleeding internally where his organs had been sliced apart.

“He is going to die,” said Wu Chuan said to Li Chiang. “Your father has asked us to take the captors alive for questioning. Can you save him?”

“I may be a daifu, but I cannot do the impossible,” replied Li Chiang. “He is leaking blood in too many places.”

“Give me the antidote,” the voice of Lady Fai floated to them. They had forgotten about her.

“Why should we?” said Wu Chuan. “What can you tell us that we don’t already know?”

“I can tell you which bookshelf hides the entrance to the secret room and how you can enter it safely. The bookshelf is equipped with arrow booby traps. If you don’t know the sequence of opening the doorway, you may set them off!” said Lady Fai.

“All right then. Tell us what we need to know and we will let you have the antidote,” said Wu Chuan. “Otherwise we will leave you here to die.”

“She will say nothing!” shouted Sum Teng Rong. With a supreme effort, he concentrated his strength at his legs and ran towards Lady Fai. He knocked Lady Fai into the air with his body and they both fell down the ridge. Their bodies tumbled downhill to the bottom, landing some distance apart from each other.

Wu Chuan went to check on the body of Lady Fai and was aghast to find that she had died of a broken neck. He swore silently.

Some distance away, Li Chiang went to check on the body of Sum Teng Rong. The man was not yet dead, but grinning evilly.

“A man like you should die in frustration,” said a disgusted Li Chiang.

Wu Chuan walked over and said, “Even in death, you are cruel!”

Sum Teng Rong gasped hoarsely, “I…..foiled……you……”

Wu Chuan said, “Lady Fai just passed away, but before she died, she told me everything I needed to know!”

Sum Teng Rong stopped grinning and he gasped with a voice close to a whisper, “But………won’t…….sail…..back.….in…….time……to……..the…..girl….”

Wu Chuan continued, “Lady Fai also said that you were the worst lover she ever had. She said that there was definitely something wrong with Sum Teng Rong. Your sexual equipment was the most stupid that she had ever seen. Kanasai like that.”

Sum Teng Rong looked shocked and furious as he was breathing his last few breaths. “The…….bitch……..”

“What?” exclaimed Li Chiang. “The most stupid? Even in death, you are pathetic, Sum Teng Rong. Now, go to hell!”

The New Cold Wind Hands tried to say something but could not. He died with a furious frustrated look on his face.

“Well, did Lady Fai actually say all that?” asked Li Chiang after Sum Teng Rong had died.

“No,” said Wu Chuan regretfully, “She was already dead when I got to her. I only said what I said because I did not want Sum to die thinking that he had defeated us. Also, you said that a man like Sum should die in frustration.”

“Well, actually I didn’t mean it quite like that. But never mind. What’s done is done,” said Li Chiang. “By the way, we never got around to asking who Lady Fai was.”

“She’s probably some courtesan he met,” said Wu Chuan.

“The wind is not favourable to us on the return journey. We will be able to reach home only on the day after tomorrow. I will go and signal the boat to come while you handle the homing pigeons. You were smart to bring them along,” said Li Chiang.

Wu Chuan nodded, “A homing pigeon can fly more than three times the speed that we were sailing by boat. And it flies straight without the need to avoid sand bars, islands and submerged rocks. It will reach your father’s manor by dusk.”

“I hope Pei Pei and her mother can survive without water until help arrives,” said Li Chiang as he went up the ridge.

“I am worried as well,” said Wu Chuan solemnly. “If Pei Pei is pregnant, she should not be dehydrated for too long.”

While Li Chiang tried to signal the men on the nearby island by using a large flag, Wu Chuan went to the place where he had hidden a cage of five pigeons earlier. Hurriedly, he attached messages to them and released them one after another. They flew straight towards the mainland.

“There are five of you,” Wu Chuan called out. “Even if an eagle were to attack, at least one or two of you should get through. Fly speedily! My Pei Pei depends on you!”

Chapter 17: The rescue of Pei Pei

Three of the pigeons made it to the coop at Governor Li’s manor, one after another, by dusk. A servant removed the messages from the birds and brought them immediately to Governor Li. They were identical messages. Governor Li read them quickly and sent for Ouyang immediately.

“Ouyang,” he said, “Wu Chuan has sent word to say that Pei Pei and her mother are being held without food and water in a secret room under the library of Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan’s manor. Do you know the place?”

Ouyang nodded, “It is just outside Fuzhou.”

“In that case, we will go and rescue them now,” said Governor Li. “Unfortunately, Wu Chuan was not able to find out how to enter the secret room. The only thing he knows is that the entrance is through a bookshelf which has been booby trapped by arrows.”

“Did they manage to capture whoever was responsible for this?” asked Ouyang.

“No,” replied Governor Li. “There were two of them who went to the island, but they died. Wu Chuan and my son are returning and they will be here the day after tomorrow. I will have to go to this Sum manor and arrest everybody for questioning!”

Governor Li was disappointed. There was no word on the two jade lions from Li Chiang so he knew that the treasure had not been found. Quickly, he assembled his soldiers and Ouyang led them to the Sum manor. It was dark by the time they reached there.

A servant opened the gate to ask what the matter was and Governor Li’s men took the opportunity to force their way in. Some fighters appeared and tried to defend the manor but the fighting was brief and the soldiers soon overcome all resistance. All the men and women of the Sum manor were brought to the courtyard and forced to sit down on the ground. The captive fighters were an aggressive lot and the soldiers had to tie their two hands together.

Ouyang was quite surprised to see the presence of fighters. He had thought that they had disappeared with the death of Cold Wind hands. “Looks like Sum Teng Rong had been quietly building up his forces,” he thought. He quickly made his way to the library together with Governor Li and the captain of the governor’s guards.

“Governor Li,” said Ouyang. “There are many book shelves here. We do not know which bookshelf is the correct entrance to the secret room. I will go and check the walls outside the library to see if there are any unexplained dimensions. Later, I will have to remove the books from the bookshelves so that we can search for the entrance. Just in case that I set off any booby trap inadvertently, I would advise that you leave the room first.”

Governor Li nodded.

“It will take too long for Mr Ouyang to move the books by himself,” said the captain of the guards. “I have a faster way! Leave it to me!”

Ouyang left to examine the rooms surrounding the library. The room on the south side of the library appeared to be a bit short, so he concluded that the hidden entrance would most like likely be found behind the bookshelves along the south wall of the library.

Meanwhile, the captain had gone out and brought back ten of the Sum manor’s servants. The servants were ordered to removed the books and take them out of the room. Ouyang was alarmed to see the servants gather up huge armfuls of books ad dumping them outside in the corridor.

“They could set off the booby traps and be killed!” he told the captain in the corridor. “You must tell them to be careful!”

“You are right!” said the captain. “I ought to warn them!”

Standing in the doorway of the library, the captain shouted, “Hurry up! There are booby traps in here and if they go off, you will be killed! Work as fast as you can! And be careful!”

On hearing that, the servants just swept every book from the shelves and ran about throwing armfuls of books into the corridor as fast as they could, much to the increased alarm of Ouyang. However, the work was completed very quickly without a booby trap being set off.

A relieved Ouyang then examined all the empty bookshelves. He had worked in the Yung An Protection Agency long enough to know the tricks of the trade. Secret doors, secret compartments and secret hiding places were part and parcel of the security business and a good security man would soon develop a feel for these things.

“One shelf along the south wall is different from the rest,” he told the captain. “It has three wooden stops placed right at the back. I suspect that if we pull out the stops, we will be able to swing out the whole bookshelf to reveal a hidden room behind.”

Ouyang paused to examine the three wooden stops. Wu Chuan, in his message, said that the bookshelf had been equipped with arrow booby traps. He could not tell where the hidden arrows were going to be shot from. His best approach would be to trigger off the arrows remotely and then decide how to look for the entrance. To do that, he would have to attach strings to the wooden stops carefully, and then pull them out from a safe distance.

“Pull out the stops? That should be simple!” said the captain.

“In is not as simple as that!” said Ouyang. “I believe the stops have been booby trapped. They have to be pulled out in a particular sequence or else the person pulling them will be shot down by hidden arrows!”

He told the captain of his plan of triggering off the booby trap remotely by using strings.

“Are you sure that there are hidden arrows?” asked the captain. “It looks quite safe to me! Judging from my experience, I would say that this story of an arrow booby-trap is one big bluff to scare people away!”

“Better to be safe than to be sorry,” remarked Ouyang. “I will go and look for some strings.”

“No need to go to so much trouble,” said the captain easily. “I can solve this for you very quickly! It’s easier than borrowing a flame.”

“Don’t do anything without me,” said Ouyang as he left the room to search for some string.

After Ouyang left, the captain went out to the courtyard and inspected the captured fighters of the Sum manor. He barked an order and his soldiers selected three of the ugliest looking captives and marched them into the library. He then made each one of them stand in front of each wooden stop that had to be pulled out.

Ouyang came back with the strings and saw the captain standing in the doorway and the three captives at the targeted shelf rack. The room had been cleared of people except for the three captives.

“What is going on?” Ouyang asked.

“I am solving your problem!” replied the captain. He turned to the captives in the room and shouted, “Now, pull!”

The captives pulled out the wooden stops, much to Ouyang’s alarm. Immediately, arrows started flying across the room from the ceiling above. They landed everywhere in the library, but most of them landed at the spot where the three captives were standing. The three of them died on the spot, with arrows sticking out of them like three porcupines.

The captain turned to Ouyang and said, “Damn! You are right! There was a booby-trap!”

Ouyang cautiously entered the library and looked at the three dead men. “Oh shit! They are dead!” he said.

“Oh! Don’t worry! I have still a lot more captives!” the captain assured him confidently. “What else do you still need to pull?”

Ouyang stared at him in disbelief. Then he noticed that the rack of shelves had moved a bit. He asked the captain to stand back, and then using a spear, he gingerly tried to move the shelf rack outwards. But the shelf appeared to be stuck. As he was wondering how to swing out the rack of shelves safely, the captain stepped forward and wrenched the whole thing out. The whole rack swiveled roughly and noisily on hidden hinges outwards to reveal a hidden space behind.

“No more booby traps lah, see?” said the captain. “Don’t be so scared like that!”

Again, Ouyang stared at him in disbelief.

In the hidden space behind the rack that was revealed, there was a flight of steps going downwards into the ground.

Ouyang took a lantern and walked down the flight of steps, followed by the captain. In the light of the lantern, he could see a door at the end of the stairs. He opened the door, went through it and found himself in a big room. In the dim light of the lantern, he could make out two figures, one on each side of the room.

“Miss Yue,” he called out. “Miss Yue. I am Ouyang!”

A figure on one end of the room answered back, “Ouyang?”

Excitedly, Ouyang walked towards the voice. He saw Pei Pei shackled and chained to the wall. “Miss Yue!” he exclaimed. “I am so glad that we found you! Are you all right?”

“I am alright. But my mother, she is on the other side of the room. I don’t know how she is,” said Pei Pei.

“Don’t worry,” said Ouyang. “You are safe now. The Governor’s soldiers are here and we have overcome all of Sum’s men.”

“How did you know where to find me, Ouyang?” asked Pei Pei.

“Young Master Chuan sensed that you had been captured yesterday. He then guessed that this would have something to do with some buried treasure. He also guessed that you would send your captors to Kon Lo Island. So he went with Master Li Chiang to Kon Lo Island to set a trap for your captors and to find out where you were held. He is still at sea, but he sent a message by homing pigeons to tell us where to find you and your mother. We just received the message and we came immediately.”

“Wu Chuan has got to be the smartest man in the world,” said Pei Pei.

“Young Master Chuan is very smart, Miss Yue,” agreed Ouyang.

The captain went around the room to try to find the keys to unlock the shackles. Ouyang did not bother to look. Instead, he took a bent pin from inside his pocket and unlocked Pei Pei from the shackles. Picking locks was one of the things he had learned in his years as a security specialist and lead escort with the Yung An Protection Agency. After unlocking Pei Pei, he unlocked her mother as well.

Governor Li had climbed down to the dingy windowless room to see things for himself. “Take the women upstairs and give them food and water,” he told the captain. “I will question them later.”

Pei Pei and her mother were given food and water and put in a carriage. They were then brought to Governor Li’s residence. Both mother and daughter were given a guest room to share and Jade Flower came to see if they were comfortable. Pei Pei was surprised to see her there.

“My husband, Li Chiang is the fifth son of the Governor,” Jade Flower explained. “Governor Li is my father-in-law. Please do not hesitate to ask for anything you need. You are guests here.”

“So, Brother Chuan’s relative is the governor,” murmured Pei Pei. “When will he be back?”

“If he start sailing tomorrow morning, he should reach here the day after tomorrow,” answered Jade Flower. “Your mother does not look too good. She is suffering from severe exhaustion and stress. I have asked the servants to boil the herbs for you and your mother to drink. You should rest now. You have been through an ordeal. We will talk tomorrow when you are much better.”

Pei Pei did not think that her ordeal had been that bad. She was tough, and had braved a sea journey in a raft, which was a far worse ordeal. Nevertheless, she went to sleep, as there was nothing to do. She was woken up once together with her mother and asked to drink some boiled medicine. She did not think that it was necessary for her, but she drank it nevertheless.

All the servants and fighters that were captured from the Sum manor were taken and placed inside a lock-up.

“Guard them well,” Governor Li instructed his captain. “I want to question them tomorrow. I hope that they will talk.”

“They had better talk,” said the captain. “Or I will make them squat up and down in the nude.”

+ + + + + +

The next morning, Pei Pei woke up early. She remained with her mother for a while. By midmorning, she was feeling bored, so she went to take a walk in the garden. Jade Flower met her and told her, “You should be resting instead of walking around. When you are much better, I will send you back to your home.”

Pei Pei kept quiet. She did not know where home was. Ningshiang? The Old Horse Inn? Or West Cloud’s manor? She did not want to go to West Cloud’s manor, but she knew that her mother would want to go there.

“I would like to thank your brother for helping to save me and my mother,” she said. “His intelligence amazes me.”

“Chuan has always been the intelligent one of the family,” laughed Jade Flower. “I do not know how he guessed that your disappearance had something to do with some buried treasure.”

“I cannot understand why so many people are looking for this buried treasure,” said Pei Pei. “I don’t know a single thing about it!”

“The treasure contains two jade lions. They were part of the consignment that was supposed to be delivered to the Emperor. It must have been important to the Emperor because the guards who failed to protect the jade lions were imprisoned when they returned to the Imperial capital. Whoever robbed the Emperor’s consignment will not only be executed, but his whole family will be executed as well.”

Pei Pei looked thoughtful. For the past years, her life had been turned upside down because of the two jade lions and there was no end in sight yet. North Cloud had searched her out. Sum Teng Rong had done the same. She did not know whoe will be next.

Jade Flower interrupted her thoughts and said, “Come, I will take you to see my parents!”

She then brought Pei Pei to a large room and introduced her to Wu Chuan’s parents.

Merchant Wu had expected to see a tough big woman, and was surprised to see that Pei Pei was a pretty sixteen-year-old girl of slight build.

“I wish to thank you for saving my son on the black ship,” he said. “He is my only son, and if I were to lose him, that would be the end of my family.”

“You need not thank me,” said Pei Pei. “I did not do very much. Your son is a very good person. I am sure that Heaven would have looked after him.”

“We owe you a great debt,” said Merchant Wu.

“No, you don’t, Master Wu! Brother Chuan has done more for me than I have done for him. It is I who owes the debt,” said Pei Pei.

“I understand that he did something that he should not have done to you,” said Madam Wu. “We wish to offer our apologies over this matter.”

Pei Pei blushed, “I have exonerated Brother Chuan from all blame. Please do not think any more about it.”

Pei Pei then helped to pour out the tea. She still remembered her training as a front parlour maid at the House of a Thousand Pleasures and poured out the tea in a graceful manner. Madam Wu was impressed with her graces and could not imagine that this was the very same girl who pulled her son up from the sharks. The Wu’s were curious about her, but they did not think that it would be polite to question her so soon after her ordeal. Pei Pei did not volunteer much information but kept quiet most of the time.

Pei Pei’s mother was still sleeping in the room, and so the Wu family asked Pei Pei to join them for lunch. Pei Pei ate lightly and daintily the way she had been trained at the House of a Thousand Pleasures. After lunch, she went back to her room to check on her mother.

“Well, what do you think?” asked Jade Flower as soon as Pei Pei was out of earshot.

“So this is the girl whom my son calls his woman!” said Merchant Wu. “She is quiet and moves with a kind of delicate grace. I cannot imagine her saving my son and Ouyang with flying daggers!”

“You cannot judge things from outward appearances, father,” said Jade Flower.

“That is true,” said her father. “Is she really pregnant as you said?”

“I said that I was not sure!” protested Jade Flower. “If she was pregnant, that will make me an aunt! And you a grandfather! She is a very nice girl, and she gets along well with my brother. I wonder why she turned down his offer of marriage.”

“What happens if she is pregnant with our grandchild and refuses to marry our son?” asked Madam Wu.

“She will probably raise the child as her own, and use her surname, I suppose,” answered Jade Flower. “Things like this have been known to happen. Let Chuan handle his own affairs. He’s old enough.”

Old Merchant Wu and his wife looked thoughtful.

“Things like this should not be handled by the young people,” declared Madam Wu. “They often do not know where the priorities are.”

Meanwhile, Pei Pei had entered the guest room and found her mother sitting up and looking very distressed. She was still too weak to get up.

“Mother, you are up!” said Pei Pei happily.

“Yes, Pei Pei,” her mother acknowledged her.

“Is anything wrong, mother?” asked Pei Pei, sensing that something was not quite right.

Her mother kept quiet.

“Answer me, mother! What is wrong?” insisted Pei Pei.

“Governor Li came in with his captain to check on my condition just now,” her mother answered. “They thought that I was asleep. Than I heard them talk among themselves and the captain asked if they should get ready to start arresting the Clouds after lunch.”

“So?” asked Pei Pei.

“They have questioned the servants of the Sum manor and found out about the nefarious activities of the four Clouds,” said the mother dejectedly. “They will arrest West Cloud! I know that you don’t like him, but if he is arrested, my sons will be without a father. No woman will wish to see her sons grow up without a father.”

Pei Pei kept quiet for a while. She had grown up the past few years without a father and she knew what the feeling was like.

“He will have to evade arrest as best as he can,” Pei Pei said softly. “Then he has to flee to a place where no one can find him and raise his sons up quietly.”

Her mother kept quiet.

Then Pei Pei asked, “Do you wish me to go and warn him, mother?”

“I cannot ask you to do such a thing,” replied her mother.

“I will do it if you wish me to, mother,” said Pei Pei, “but if West Cloud flees with your sons, I do not know if you will see them again. You have to decide quickly. Even now, I may not get there in time to warn him.”

“West Cloud was involved in criminal activities in the past,” said her mother. “Governor Li must have found some evidence or witnesses against him. I know that the law should take its course, yet I do not wish him to be arrested.”

“If he is somehow involved with the two missing Imperial jade lions, he and his whole family, including you and your two sons, will get executed by Imperial decree,” said Pei Pei. “It is best that he was not involved. But if he was already involved, then it is best that he does not get caught.”

Pei Pei’s mother looked even more worried.

“Don’t worry, mother,” said Pei Pei. “I will go and warn him. I hope that I am not too late. You will have to pretend to be asleep and tell no one where I have gone.”

There were very few guards around as most of the soldiers had been sent to arrest the Clouds. Pei Pei went out of the manor gates and once she was a few streets away, she used her Seven Stars inner energy and ran as fast as she could to West Cloud’s manor. She was glad that she had mastered the last three steps of the Secret Taichi Path that allowed her to run like the wind and leap over the obstacles in her way. She guessed correctly that Governor Li would go to arrest North Cloud and South Cloud first because those two were the more active Sky Dragon Clan members and nobody knew yet that they were dead.

On reaching West Cloud’s manor, Pei Pei was relieved to see that the soldiers had not arrived yet. Leaping over the manor wall, she appeared before West Cloud who was surprised to see her. As fast as she could, Pei Pei told him where her mother was and explained to him why he had to flee.

“Governor Li’s men are coming now. If you don’t flee immediately, it will be too late,” she told him. “My mother wishes you to take her two sons somewhere safe.”

“I know you do not like me,” he said. “But I thank you for coming here to warn me. I will do as your mother wishes.”

West Cloud immediately put his two sons in a carriage and drove it out of the manor.

Pei Pei returned to Governor Li’s residence and told her mother that West Cloud had fled with his sons. Her mother was relieved at the news.

“Your troubles are not over yet,” said Pei Pei. “Governor Li already knows that you are the wife of West Cloud. I hope that he does not try to hold you as a prisoner here to bait West Cloud into a trap. I told West Cloud of this possibility and that he should on no account try to rescue you.”

Her mother paused for a while and said, “I shall leave everything to fate.”

+ + + + + +

Governor Li was frustrated. He had gone to the manor of the North Cloud and found him missing. All he could arrest were the mentally retarded sons and the servants. The he went to South Cloud’s manor and found that South Cloud had been missing as well. When he reached West Cloud’s manor, he was told that West Cloud was not in. Even the two young sons were missing. Ouyang had already told him that East Cloud had disappeared with his sons four years ago so he did not bother going to East Cloud’s manor.
“Damn! Where is everybody?” he shouted in despair. “All I am arresting are the servants, some fighters and retarded family members who know nothing about the jade lions!”

He summoned Pei Pei to him and asked, “Do you know where the treasure is?”

“I don’t!” she replied.

“Does your mother know?”

“No,” she said. “She was on my father’s boat when he was killed. For five years, she was kept in West Cloud’s manor and not allowed to walk out even half a step. If Sum Teng Rong had not kidnapped her, she would still be in her prison. But from now on, I will take care of her.”

Governor Li nodded. He would get some men to keep an eye on Pei Pei’s mother in case West Cloud showed up to claim her.

+ + + + + +

The following evening, Wu Chuan and Li Chiang sailed into the harbour. On entering the Li residence hall, Wu Chuan spotted Pei Pei and excitedly pulled her into the garden. Li Chiang was greeted by his wife, who was pleased to see him safe and sound. One by one, the family members came to the hall and greeted Li Chiang.

“Where is Chuan?” asked Madam Wu.

“I don’t know,” replied Li Chiang. “He was with me just now.”

“He is in the garden with auntie Pei Pei,” said his elder seven-year-old daughter. “I saw them standing very close together.”

“They were so close that a bird could not fly between them!” piped up Li Chiang’s second daughter.

“Actually, they were so close that even an ant could not get crawl between them!” added the elder daughter.

Everybody smiled and tittered.

“Keep quiet and don’t simply say things like that,” admonished Jade Flower to her daughters.

Wu Chuan and Pei Pei came in from the garden and everybody changed the subject and talked about the weather.

Wu Chuan later went to check on the health of Pei Pei’s mother and she thanked him, “You were the young man who came with Pei Pei to West Cloud’s manor on that day. I had wondered what your connection was with my daughter.”

“She was my benefactor, madam,” said Wu Chuan.

“Will you stop calling me that, Brother Chuan,” said Pei Pei laughing.

+ + + + + +

The following morning, Merchant Wu and his wife visited Pei Pei’s mother in her room to inquire about her health.

After the usual pleasantries, Madam Wu told Pei Pei’s mother, “You have an unusual daughter.”

“She is a dutiful daughter. She allowed herself to be captured in order to save me,” said Pei Pei’s mother. “I could not have asked Heaven for a better daughter.”

“She is quite capable for someone so young,” remarked Merchant Wu.

“She has always been capable as a child,” said Pei Pei’s mother. “The only good thing I did as a parent was to ensure that she could both read and write.”

“We have a favour to ask of you,” said Madam Wu.

Madam Wu and Pei Pei’s mother talked at great length. A servant was then sent to fetch Wu Chuan and Pei Pei.

“Pei Pei,” said her mother, “The Wu family has asked me to give you to them as a daughter-in-law. They are a very reputable family in Pingchen and I think that it would be difficult to find a better family to marry into. However, I have not been much of a mother to you for the past five years. I would like you to decide this yourself.”

Pei Pei blushed and did not quite know what to say.

“What is your answer, Pei Pei?” asked her mother.

Haltingly, she replied, “If you think that this is a good match, mother, then you can decide for me.”

“I will take that as a “yes”. In that case, I will accept the offer of the Wu family,” said her mother.

The couple was asked to kneel down and present tea to their prospective parents in-laws as a greeting.

Wu Chuan was grinning from ear to ear. While still kneeling, he whispered to Pei Pei, “One night as a couple is going to be more than a hundred nights of gratitude, Pei Pei.”

Pei Pei smiled shyly and blushed a second time.

Chapter 18: The Journey of the Jade Lions

There was great excitement in the Li residence over the news of Pei Pei’s impending marriage to Wu Chuan. Everyone was caught in the excitement. Over lunch, they could talk of nothing else. Only Governor Li was quiet.

“Are you all right,” asked Jade Flower of her father-in-law. “Do you feel unwell?”

“I have a fear, daughter-in-law. I fear that the House of Li is about to go through a dark cloud,” he replied.

“I don’t understand!” Jade Flower exclaimed.

“Magistrate Chee Ko Pek has left for the capital this morning,” explained Gvoernor Li. “I was told that he intend to bring news to the emperor that I had made no effort whatsoever to recover the Emperor’s two jade lions, that I had treated the whole affair as a joke.”

“That is most unfair,” said Li Chiang. “We know that you had spared no effort in trying to recover the lost imperial shipment! Magistrate Chee is up to something!”

“That he is,” said his father. “He will use this affair to persuade the Emperor to have me removed as governor! My news source tells me that he has lined up a few ministers to lobby the Emperor to give the governorship of this province to him. The treacherous snake!”

“If it comes to that, then you will have to retire,” said Madam Li. “I, for one, would not mind if you retire.”

“It is not as simple as that,” said Governor Li. “You do not know this man. He is vicious. The province will suffer under his yoke if he is in power here. All those who live here will not have peace.”

“What can we do, father?” asked Li Chiang.

“If we can find the jade lions, then we can thwart him,” said Governor Li. “But nobody seemed to be able to give me any information as to their whereabouts. I have questioned all the prisoners, but no one knows. I don’t even know who buried them.”

Pei Pei looked thoughtful. “I cannot remember the details now, but I faintly remember being told a long time ago that it was buried by a black bat. Or was it a man with a black bat? All I can remember was that whoever buried the stuff chartered the Huang brothers’ boat.”

“The Huang brothers? Of Ningshiang?” ask Pei Pei’s mother.

“Yes, mother,” replied Pei Pei. “Their boat was chartered for the purpose of hiding the treasure on some island.”

“Good,” said Li Chiang. “All we have to do is to look for the Huang brothers and they should be able to lead us to the right place to look.”

“They are dead,” remarked Pei Pei’s mother sadly. “Six years ago, we found their boat drifting out to sea and the dead bodies of the brothers on deck.”

“Whoever killed them did so in order to keep the location of the island a secret. Nobody was even supposed to know that there was a treasure hidden on one of the offshore islands,” said Pei Pei.

“The person who chartered the boat would have to ask the Huang brothers to help draw up a map indicating the treasure’s location. Maybe the Huang brothers left a rough draft of a map. Did you check the boat?” Li Chiang asked Pei Pei’s mother.

“No,” she replied, “We did not think of that. We just handed the boat and the bodies to the mother of the Huang brothers.”

“Madam Huang was quite pitiful,” said Pei Pei. “She had no more sons to operate the boat and so she had to sell it. But nobody wanted to buy it because the boat had been tainted by death. Finally, my uncle Yue Thau bought it at a cheap price.”

“And that was the same boat that brought you to that unknown lost island?” asked Wu Chuan.

“Yes,” replied Pei Pei simply.

Wu Chuan looked deep in thought. Then he said, “Pei Pei, can you recite that bit of poetry that you found written inside the rice compartment of the boat again?” asked Wu Chuan.

“That was not very good poetry, Brother Chuan,” she said.

“I know,” Wu Chuan nodded, “but I would like to hear it again.”

Pei Pei recited,

“Between the summer wind and morning sun
Taking aim from Rabbit Island
I skipped a rock with a banyan tree”

Wu Chuan scratched his chin and commented, “Why would anyone want to write this inside the rice compartment? I am guessing that this was written by one of the Huang brothers and has something to do with the location of the treasure. But, this is a wild guess of course.”

“A wild guess is better than no guess,” said Governor Li. “But I have never heard of a Rabbit Island.”

“Neither have I,” remarked Pei Pei. “But if Brother Chuan thinks that this is worth investigating, then I will go along.

“Good. We will go and try to follow this clue tomorrow. We shall first sail towards Li-Shan Island,” said Wu Chuan. “Once we reach there, we will decide our next step.”

“Is the treasure on Li-Shan Island then?” asked Li Chiang.

“No,” answered Wu Chuan. “I don’t know where it is at. Will you come with me?”

“Of course!” said Li Chiang. “If we do not venture out, we will never profit at all.”

“Aha! You are unable to turn down adventure!” said Wu Chuan. “However, to prevent anybody from knowing that we are going treasure hunting, we should keep this to ourselves. For the trip, we will bring along only family members and trusted people.”

The next morning, Wu Chuan headed out to sea in the same boat that was captured from the pirates before. With him was Pei pei, Li Chiang, Ouyang and two trusted sailing crew. Governor Li came along at the last minute because he could not bear sitting at home waiting.

The wind direction was not favorable so by the time they reached Li-Shan Island, it was close to evening.

“Doesn’t look like much, this island,” commented Li Chiang.

“That’s because we are looking at it from the north. Wait till you look at it from the south side,” said Wu Chuan.

The boat rounded towards the south of the island and anchored there.

“Heavens, the island resembles a rabbit when seen from the south!” exclaimed Governor Li.

“That is true,” said Wu Chuan. “The resemblance is uncanny. I first noticed it when I was sailing from Tsinkiang to Fuzhou. I will assume that Rabbit Island is Li-Shan Island. We shall anchor here for the night.”

Pei Pei remarked, “This place is not very far from the shark infested waters where we were attacked, almost three months ago.”

“Do you think there are sharks here?” asked Wu Chuan.

“Don’t think so,” said Pei Pei, as she nonchalantly let down a fishing line. They spent the night on the deck.

In the morning, Wu Chuan set the course of the boat in a south-southeast direction from Li Shan Island.

Li Chiang asked, “Why are we sailing in this particular direction?”

“Because the poem says “Between the summer wind and morning sun”. The summer wind comes from the southwest and the morning sun is in the east,” explained Wu Chuan. “The direction halfway between them is south-southeast.”

Sailing in that direction soon brought them to another island.

“Is this it?” asked Governor Li in excitement.

“Not yet!” answer Wu Chuan. “This island is small and is just a rock, jutting out from the sea. The poem says that we should “skip a rock with a banyan tree”, so we are going to skip this rock. If we go past this rock, we should come to another island.”

Sailing past the rock after some time, they came to another island, which was much bigger.

“This is it!” said Wu Chuan. “We are going to search this island. I suspect that whoever buried the treasure brought along a banyan tree sapling to plant as a marker. What we should look for is a six-year old banyan tree. I hope it is still alive!”

The men landed on the island and scoured the area for young banyan trees. They found three.

“Whoever hid the treasure would look for an easy place to hide,” said Wu Chuan. If the treasure was hidden in the ground, then it will be at a place where the ground was easy to dig. We can discount the two banyan trees growing on the hill slopes. The third banyan tree is growing on ground that appears to be level enough for digging activities. We will concentrate our efforts there.”

Everybody stood around the young banyan tree concerned and then pondered their next step.

“Surely, whoever did this is unlikely to have buried the treasure and then plant the banyan tree on top,” remarked Governor Li.

“No, he wouldn’t!” said Wu Chuan. “He might have wanted to dig up the treasure in the future and it would be easier if there is no tree growing on top. The treasure will be some distance from the tree.”

“But where?” asked Pei Pei.

Walking to a spot thirty steps away from the tree, Wu Chuan said, “There is a slight mound in the ground here. There is always a slight mound whenever we bury something big because of all the earth dug up from the hole. Of course, the earth will be spread around the area a bit, but it is usually not done perfectly and a slight mound results.”

The men dug the ground at the spot indicated and when they had dug only an arm’s length into the ground, they found something.

“Looks like a wooden box,” said Ouyang excitedly. The men redoubled their efforts and soon, they uncovered three wooden trunks. Mindful of booby traps, Li Chiang opened the trunks one by one at a safe distance using a long spear. There were no booby traps.

“The jade lions!” exclaimed Wu Chuan in awe, as one of the trunks revealed its contents.

“They are certainly beautiful,” remarked Li Chiang.

“Yes!” said Governor Li in glee. “We have found them at long last!”

“Never have I seen jade pieces that big!” admired Ouyang. “These are rare. I may not see anything like this again in my lifetime!”

“So, this is the treasure that caused the death of my father and uncle!” remarked Pei Pei.

The other two trunks contained the spoils of the Sky Dragon Clan from other robberies.

Ouyang recognized some of the items in them and exclaimed, “Salted fish come alive! These are the items that were robbed from under my charge when I was the lead escort for the Yung Ann Protection Agency seven years ago! How often have I been unfairly blamed for that loss! Governor Li, if you do not mind, I would like to return the items to their original owners and thus regain back my honour!”

“We will take these back and sort them out. I will give you a chance to regain your honour,” said Governor Li. “I will also have to escort the jade lions to the Emperor’s palace. And I will have to hurry.”

“Why the urgency, father?” asked Li Chiang.

“I have to reach the Emperor before Magistrate Chee Ko Pek does,” replied Governor Li. “Otherwise he may get the Emperor to demote me. The Imperial Court has its own traditions. Once the Emperor opens up his Golden Mouth to remove me as Governor, it will be difficult to take back his words later.”

“I will go with you father,” said Li Chiang. “But Magistrate Chee Ko Pek has a head start of four days over us!”

“This boat is fast. You may still beat him,” said Ouyang. “Besides, I did hear that he will be stopping in Shanghai to look for some virgins.”

“You are an amazing source of information Ouyang,” remarked Governor Li. “If he stops long enough, we may overtake him.”

“I hope you overtake him. Will you be back in time for my wedding?” asked Wu Chuan.

“With a modest wind, I will be able to sail from Fuzhou to Tianjin in 15 days. From there, it will take another five days to transport the jade lions over land to the Imperial Capital,” said Governor Li. “I will be back in 45 days at the latest. I may just be in time.”

The next evening, they reached Fuzhou and Governor Li quickly prepared food supplies and a group of his best soldiers to sail with him to the Imperial capital. He promised to be back in time for Wu Chuan’s wedding in Pingchen. He was glad that Li Chiang was going with him.

The following morning, Li Chiang, Governor Li and his troops, sailed out of the harbour with the jade lions. Merchant Wu and his wife left for Pingchen to make preparations for the wedding feast. Wu Chuan had to remain in Fuzhou to escort the bridal procession to Pingchen when the day arrived.

Pei Pei wanted to visit her father’s grave. Her mother had never visited her dead husband’s grave and she wanted to go as well. She was embarrassed by this fact and also the fact that she had two sons by West Cloud. “Should any of the Ningshiang villagers meet me, I will not know how to explain myself,” she said. “It is better that they think that I am dead.”

To save her from embarrassment, Wu Chuan arranged for a carriage to bring them to Pei Pei’s father’s grave at night. In the darkness, Pei Pei’s mother lit joss sticks for her departed husband and wept.

Later, Wu Chuan took the weeping woman aside and then, Pei Pei knelt in front of the grave and whispered, “Father, as I had said I would, I have dispensed Heaven’s justice on your killer. His body is lying somewhere without a head. You can rest in peace. The young man here with me is my future husband. His name is Wu Chuan. He is very intelligent. He will take care of me from now on.”

When they got back to the Li residence, Pei Pei’s mother was still weeping.

The next few days, Pei Pei got worried over her mother’s health. Her mother seemed depressed most of the time and even more so since the visit to her father’s grave.

“Mother,” she said, “The Wu family said that you can come to live with us when Chuan and I get married.”

“The Wu family will be your family, but not mine,” said her mother. “I will not follow you to the Wu household.”

“Where will you live then?” asked Pei Pei. “Who will take care of you?”

“It does not matter,” said her mother. “Once I send you off on the bridal procession, my job as your mother will have come to an end. What happens later is not your concern. When we next meet each other, I will have to treat you as a guest. You know that this is the tradition.”

“You miss your sons, don’t you?” asked Pei Pei.

“I am a mother,” was the reply. “What mother will not miss her young ones? You will be a mother one day and you will understand the feelings I have.”

Pei Pei kept quiet and then came to a decision.

Early the following morning, she took her mother to an old restaurant on the outskirts of town for breakfast. They occupied a table at the far corner at the back hidden by a screen. “Have some more tea, mother,” she said as they were eating, “for this is the last meal we will have together.”

“What are you talking about?” asked the mother.

“I have arranged for West Cloud to meet you here,” said Pei Pei. “Please do not be alarmed or raise your voice. He is a wanted man, so it is best if your actions do not give him away.”

“Pei Pei, are you serious?” asked her mother.

“Speak softer, mother,” said Pei Pei, “or you will put West Cloud in danger.”

A man, dressed in the clothes of a tradesman and wearing a hat, suddenly joined them at their table.

“Thank you, Pei Pei, for arranging this,” said the man, who was West Cloud. Turning to the mother, he asked, “How are you, dear?”

Pei Pei’s mother was shocked, but she later recovered sufficiently to ask about her children.

“The boys are all right. They miss their mother,” said West Cloud. “The younger one finds it difficult to sleep at night.”

“I thought you had gone!” said Pei Pei’s mother. “Your pictures were pasted on the walls everywhere. Why did you not flee far from here?”

“We are a family. I cannot just leave,” replied West Cloud. “If I flee, I would rather flee with you. I told Pei Pei how to communicate with me in case there was a need.”

“Mother,” said Pei Pei, “West Cloud and his sons are leaving Fuzhou. Do you wish to go with them?”

“If I go, who will send you off on the bridal procession, my daughter?” her mother asked. “Who will do the hair dressing ritual for you the day of your wedding? I am your only relation. You have no one else!”

“Mother, I have been taking care of myself for the last four years,” replied Pei Pei. “It is you whom I worry about. If you have to leave, then leave now. If we do not part today, we will still have to part on the day of the wedding. It will be difficult for West Cloud to escape when Governor Li returns with his best troops. As long as West Cloud remains in the Fujian Province, he will be hunted down. It is not easy to be on the run with two young boys.”

“We have to leave immediately,” said West Cloud. “After today, you will not see your daughter again.”

“Goodbye Pei Pei,” sobbed her mother.

“Goodbye mother,” said Pei Pei, trying to keep from crying. “Master Hsi, please take good care of my mother!”

“I will,” promised West Cloud.

Then they were gone by way of the back door.

Pei Pei did not cry. She paid for the food and walked out of the restaurant. Some time later, she walked behind some trees where no one could see her. It was only then that she wept.

She wandered around town and returned to the Li residence by nightfall. Calmly, she informed Wu Chuan and Jade Flower that West Cloud had taken her mother away. Then she went straight to bed, hoping that that West Cloud and his family had managed to evade the soldiers watching the roads. She prayed that her mother would be able to see her two young sons grow up into men. Then she slept for a long, long time.

Chapter 19 : Conclusion

Wu Chuan was feeling concerned. Although he knew that Pei Pei was strong, but he did not like to see her mope. Pei Pei’s mother’s sudden departure came rather unexpectedly. She would miss her only daughter’s wedding.

The following afternoon, as Wu Chuan was walking with Pei Pei in the garden, he suggested, “Let us go to Ningshiang village. I would like to see what this village looks like.”

Pei Pei nodded. She, too, would like to see Ningshiang village. Madam Li lent them a carriage and they set off.

The familiar smells of the village reminded Pei Pei of her childhood. It had been four years since she had disappeared from the village. She paused in her steps to admire the sight of the dried fish laid out in the sun to dry. Curious villagers peered out of their homes to stare at her and Wu Chuan.

“This used to be my home, Brother Chuan,” she said, as they stopped in front of a house that had its doors and windows closed. “The long bench where I used to sit is still here.” She sat down on a long wooden bench in front of her house and Wu Chuan joined her. From her place, she could see the fishing boats return from the sea.

“It is mid afternoon,” she explained. “The boats normally return by this time.”

They sat for a while. Then three big strapping lads, carrying fishing nets, walked by engrossed in an animated discussion.

“I am telling you, we can make our own Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion and sell the stuff with huge profits. It should be easy enough!”

“Yeah! The town people will buy the stuff by the buckets. We will be rich. After that we will just sit back and shake legs. Chiak pah lum par song!”

“You think so easy meh? Potency Potion must have tiger penis as one of the ingredients. Where are we going to find a tiger penis?”

“No need to use tiger penis. We use fish penis instead.”

Kanineh. Fish where got penis one? I have never seen one even after catching so many!”

“That’s because you have been catching only the female fish. Can’t you catch some well-hung male ones for a change?”

Pei Pei got up and shouted, “Skinny Chicken! Crazy Dog! And Big Potato!”

The three young men turned around, stared at her and asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Pei Pei!” she answered.

“Aren’t you dead?” asked Skinny Chicken, still in shock.

Kanineh! If I am dead, do you think that I would be here in the daytime talking to you?” she demanded. “You think dead people so free, is it?”

“Pei Pei! It is you!” shouted Big Potato.

The boys were ecstatic to see her. They were introduced to Wu Chuan and then informed about her impending wedding.

“You have changed a lot since we last saw you,” remarked Crazy Dog. “We did not recognize you until you spoke!”

“Yeah, nobody in the village talks the way you do,” said Big Potato.

“Come to think of it, your niece looks a bit like you,” remarked Skinny Chicken.

“Niece? What niece?” she asked.

“You uncle Yue Thau’s daughter of course,” answered Big Potato. “I bet that when she grows up, she will talk like you as well.”

“What niece are you talking about?” asked a perplexed Pei Pei.

“You have only one. I forgot her name. She is two years old, isn’t she?” asked Crazy Dog.

“Will you explain what you are talking about?” demanded Pei Pei.

“We are talking about your uncle Yue Thau’s family,” said Skinny Chicken. “I hear that his wife is pregnant again.”

“Didn’t my uncle die four years ago?” asked Pei Pei.

“Four years ago?” said Big Potato trying to remember. “Four years ago, he fell off his boat but he made it to Chin Tong Island. He was rescued by the Hua family whose boat went to Chin Tong Island to take shelter from the storm. They discovered him the next morning and brought him back. He was lucky to be still alive. What? You didn’t know?”

“Oh, heavens! You really didn’t know!” exclaimed Skinny Chicken. “Where have you been?”

“Never mind that!” yelled Pei Pei in excitement. “Where is my uncle now?”

“He resides in the village of Liuxiang in the house of his mother-in-law,” replied Skinny Chicken. “It is the last house at the end of the road there.”

Hurriedly, Pei Pei said goodbye to her three ‘blood brothers’ and then she and Wu Chuan rushed to Liuxiang village. At the last house at the end of the road, they stopped and got down from the carriage. The door was wide open and a woman was in the house looking after her young daughter. A man who was digging the ground by the side of the house, turned around and stared at them.

“Uncle Thau” shouted Pei Pei excitedly.

The man squinted at her and then asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Pei Pei!” she answered. “I thought you were dead!”

Wu Chuan stood aside while uncle and niece blabbered at each other excitedly. Later on, they noticed him and then Pei Pei did the introductions.

“This is Wu Chuan. He is a merchant from Pingchen,” she explained. “We will soon be married.”

Wu Chuan and Pei Pei were then invited into the house and Yue Thau introduced his wife and daughter.

Over a cup of tea, Yue Thau explained, “That afternoon, after the dagger plunged into me, I fell into the sea. I remembered that it was painful. I thought that I was going to die. I clutched the wound shut with my hand and tried to keep afloat at the same time. The boat had swung around and I could hear you calling for me on the other side of the boat. The boat had its sails up and the wind was strong. It was traveling fast away from me. I shouted, but nobody heard me. Then it drizzled, and very soon I could not see the boat anymore.”

“You were adrift in the storm?” asked Pei Pei.

“Yes,” replied her uncle. “I was adrift, still clutching the wound with my hand trying to stem the blood flow. Then I realize that the sea current was taking me somewhere. If you can remember, we had just left Chin Tong Island and I was trying to change the sailing direction of the boat when I was stabbed. The current was strong, and swept me back towards Chin Tong Island. Somehow, I managed to swim weakly towards a beach and finally, a wave threw me up on the sand. The thing that kept running in my mind was that I had to get to the well for water. I remember getting up and straggling towards it. Then I must have passed out because I don’t remember much after that.”

“How were you rescued?” asked Pei Pei.

“I was lucky,” explained her uncle. “On the other side of Chin Tong Island, there was a boat just coming in to take shelter from the storm. The boatman was a man called Mr Hua from Liuxiang village. The next morning, his two sons trekked over the island to get to the well for some water and that was when they found me on the beach. They brought me back to the mainland and nursed me back to health. They did not know who I was as I was unconscious most of the time. They put me on a spare bed in this house. It belonged to Mr Hua’s brother who had passed away a long time ago, leaving behind a widow and her daughter. The daughter, who is Mr Hua’s niece, is my wife now.”

“You didn’t go back to Ningshiang?” asked Pei Pei.

“I tried to,” said her uncle. “But I could not stay there. I thought that I was the only one of the family left alive and the memories were too painful. I took odd jobs in the other fishing villages and I stayed at everywhere except Ningshiang. I finally married Mr Hua’s niece and moved in here with them. Since I don’t have a boat anymore, I have to take up shore fishing to take care of my family.”

“So you have changed your trade?” asked Pei Pei.

“Yes, I now gather clams along the shore and sell them for a living. I can’t afford a fishing boat.”

Pei Pei then told her side of the story. Her uncle was amazed by the fact that she managed to sail back on a raft.

For the next few days, Pei Pei visited her uncle everyday.

“Take it easy, Pei Pei,” Wu Chuan advised her. “The daifu has confirmed that you are pregnant.”

“I know,” she said. “This three-in-one kungfu girl is about to become a mother.”

“Do you think that we should let your uncle know that your mother still lives?” he asked.

“No,” replied Pei Pei, “My mother would prefer people to think that she is dead. Let us leave things that way.”

+ + + + + +

At the Imperial palace, Governor Li knelt before the Emperor until he was asked to get up.

“You have done well in recovering the two jade lions for me, Governor Li!” said the Emperor in delight. “How did you manage to recover them?”

“A young girl called Pei Pei discovered a poem scratched on the wood inside a boat compartment four years ago. She was twelve years old at that time. The boat happened to be the same boat chartered to bring the treasure to the island to be buried years before that. Luckily, the girl could read, and she remembered the poem even after so many years. Last month, a young man called Wu Chuan, who is also the son of my in-laws, thought that the poem was related to the treasure and he solved it.”

“What is this poem?” asked the Emperor, interested.

Governor Li cleared his throat and recited,
“Between the summer wind and morning sun
Taking aim from Rabbit Island
I skipped a rock with a banyan tree”

“Interesting!” said the Emperor. “Explain to me how it was solved!”

Governor Li explained how they managed to follow the clues in the poem and finally found the treasure.

“Excellent! Excellent!” said a very pleased Emperor. “I have never heard such a strange poem, but it made sense! I shall reward the girl Pei Pei a thousand taels of silver for remembering the poem and an equal amount to the young man Wu Chuan for solving the clues. You will deliver it to them when you go back.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” said Governor Li.

“Did you manage to find out who buried the two jade lions?” asked the Emperor.

“I was told that it was done by a man called Black Bat,” replied Governor Li. “He was a servant of a kungfu master called Sum Wan, also known as Cold Wind Hands. I have questioned the servants of Sum manor and found out that, six years ago, Cold Wind Hands was wounded in a fight. It happened coincidentally around the time that the two jade lions were stolen. The deputy chief of the Imperial guards protecting the jade lions, Arrow Eye, once told me that he had shot two arrows into the body of the masked man whom he suspected to be the leader of the robbers. The servants of Sum manor also told me that six years ago, Cold Wind Hands was so badly injured that he had to lie on the bed most of the time. Black Bat disappeared from sight. Then, Cold Wind Hands died a year later from his injuries.”

“So, it looks like Cold Wind Hands is the leader of the robbers, and he is dead,” commented the Emperor. “Did he leave behind any family members?”

“He had two sons who died before him. He left behind one grandson. A month ago, the grandson attacked my son Li Chiang and was killed in the fight,” said Governor Li. “With that, the family line of Cold Wind Hands Sum Wan had come to an end.”

“Good!” Very good!” exclaimed the Emperor. “Death is a fitting end for those who dare to rob me!”

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.”

Governor Li was happy with this and he said, “Thank you, your Majesty. There is one other thing.”

“What is it?” asked the Emperor.

“Wu Chuan is marrying Pei Pei soon and I have promised that I will go back in time for their wedding. However, I have many good friends here, and if they find out that I am in the capital, they will want to see me and that will delay my leaving. If it pleases your Majesty, I will like to keep my visit to the Imperial capital a secret.”

“The Emperor smiled and said, “All right. I will not announce that you have been here until you are long gone! I will also give some gifts for you to take back to the bridal couple.”

Governor Li bowed low and said, “I will represent the bridal couple and thank you on their behalf. May you live ten thousand years!”

As he was about to leave, the Emperor stopped him. “Wait! There was a Magistrate Chee Ko Pek whom I sent to Fuzhou to help you in this investigation. Did you see him?” he asked.

“Magistrate Chee Ko Pek came to Fuzhou but did not offer me any new information. Although I outranked him, I treated him with the utmost respect seeing that he was doing a job for your Majesty,” replied the governor. “He conducted his own investigations. In the process, he had three people beaten to their deaths when they could not tell him anything. He left Fuzhou four days before me.”

“Four days before you?” asked the Emperor in astonishment. “Then how is it that he has not arrived yet?”

“I am not sure,” said Governor Li. “But I have heard that he was going to stop in Shanghai to do something important. Did your majesty instruct him to go to Shanghai?”

“No, I did not,” said the Emperor, puzzled. “But I can easily find out what he is doing there.”

+ + + + + +

Three days later, Magistrate Chee Ko Pek turned up at the Emperor’s court. Kneeling low in front of the Emperor, he said, “Magistrate Chee Ko Pek has news to report from Fuzhou.”

“Speak!” ordered the Emperor.

The magistrate spoke, “There is no news regarding the missing jade lions of your Majesty. Governor Li, who is the governor of the province, treats this matter as a huge joke. My investigation there tells me that the jade lions have most likely already left the province. For that, Governor Li has to bear responsibility. I therefore recommend that he be replaced.”

A few ministers lent their voices in support. They had been suitably bribed by the magistrate beforehand. The Emperor realized that the people in his court did not know that the jade lions had already been recovered. “And who do you think would be most suitable to replace him?” he asked.

“If your majesty pleases, I will be willing to fill that position,” answered the magistrate. Again, a few ministers voiced their support. The Emperor understood at once that it was a political move against Governor Li.

The Emperor spoke in measured tones, “You cannot expect me to remove a governor just because a robbery has occurred in his area. Crime can occur at any place. Governor Li has administered the province to my satisfaction so far.”

“But your Majesty,” argued the magistrate. “Governor Li goes around arresting people without any suitable reason.”

“He has?” asked the Emperor. “I have not heard of it.”

The magistrate tried again, “May I report that just before I left Fuzhou, Governor Li went to the manor of the Sum family in Fuzhou and arrested everybody in it. That is an abuse of power. The Sum family is a rich family and should be treated with greater respect.”

“Enough!” said the Emperor. “For all you know, Governor Li may have already recovered the jade lions at this moment.”

Seeing that the Emperor was not so easily persuaded, Magistrate Chee Ko Pek made one more attempt, a more dramatic one. “Your Majesty,” he said, “Governor Li is not the type of person to treat this matter seriously enough. I am willing to guarantee that he has not recovered your jade lions!”

“You guarantee?” exclaimed the Emperor. “With what do you guarantee?”

“I will guarantee my head,” said the magistrate. A few ministers showed the thumbs up sign to each other. It was a dramatic political move.

“Guarantee with your head? Those are very strong words uttered in here,” remarked the Emperor. “If Governor Li has recovered the jade lions, you will lose your head! You are very bold, to give such a guarantee in my royal presence.”

“My guarantee serves to prove my confidence,” said the magistrate. “It has been six years since the jade lions were lost. The trail is now cold. If he had been serious in his work, then he would have delivered the jade lions to you by now. When I was in Fuzhou, I did not find evidence that he was even trying. If it pleases your Majesty, I would propose that Governor Li be replaced.”

The Emperor paused and then said, “You stand by your guarantee?”

“I confidently stand by my guarantee, your majesty,” reiterated the magistrate.

“I don’t know where you obtain your confidence from,” said the Emperor coldly, “or where you found time to conduct your investigation. I was told stories that, in Fuzhou, you spent your time in the courtesan houses looking for young virgins.”

The ministers who had been supporting the magistrate kept silent, sensing that they were in dangerous waters.

“Your Majesty,” explained the magistrate. “Whoever is bringing these stories to you is not telling the truth. Even if I was in a courtesan house, I was there on official duty, trying to get information about the missing jade lions.”

“Then on your way back here,” continued the Emperor, “you stopped over in Shanghai to look for more virgins! Please do not tell me that you were conducting investigations of the missing jade lions with the virgins of Shanghai also. While you were occupying yourself with virgins in the courtesan houses in Shanghai, Governor Li had already recovered the jade lions and delivered them to me. He left Fuzhou four days after you and still arrived three days before you. You are a disgrace to the Imperial Court!”

“Wha…..what?” asked the magistrate in shock.

“And since you guaranteed with your head that Governor Li has not recovered the jade lions, I will have to take your head!” said the Emperor.

“Spare me, your majesty! Spare me!” croaked a quivering Magistrate Chee Ko Pek, his stomach knotted tightly in fear.

One of the ministers tried to ask for clemency for the magistrate and the Emperor snapped back, “Do you think that it is all right for a subject to say things in front of the Emperor without meaning it? That you can just say things for fun in the Imperial Court because the Emperor may be deaf?”

At that, all the ministers kept quiet. The silence in the room was so thick that the farting of a young eunuch could be heard plainly. It was quite musical, but nobody laughed.

Curling his lips at the prostrated magistrate, the Emperor announced, “In view of the services you have rendered to the crown for many years, I will spare you your life. But you will be stripped of all positions you hold.”

The magistrate’s robes and hat were then removed and he was led out of the hall.

+ + + + + +

The bed in the Old Horse Inn creaked rhythmically in time with the movement of the young man, as he rocked the naked body of the young woman under him. She gasped with each stroke, and when she reached the peak, she gripped him tight and clawed his back, sending red scratch marks down his skin.

He continued rocking her until he at last arched into her and jerked violently, sending thick strings of fluid into her for the second time that afternoon. Spent and exhausted, he held her close to him and whispered, “This is even better than the first time, Pei Pei!”

“It certainly is, Brother Chuan,” she replied. “I wonder if we can try for a third time.”

“I will have to rest first,” he answered. “It will take some time to get hard again! Maybe I should have bought a bottle of Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion to speed things up a bit!”

“Does that potion actually work?” Pei Pei asked.

“I heard your blood brothers say that it makes the thing go “toink toink”. It must have worked,” said Wu Chuan.

“My three blood brothers talk nonsense most of the time,” laughed Pei Pei. “Don’t listen to them!”

“They are quite entertaining,” he said. “They say that they will help send off the bridal procession. It’s just a few days more to our wedding. I hope Li Chiang and his father return in time.”

+ + + + + +

Governor Li returned to Fuzhou two days before the wedding and gave Wu Chuan and Pei Pei the gifts from the Emperor. Pei Pei took her thousand taels of silver to her uncle and gave him half of it. He was reluctant to take the money. She told him that it was a gift from the Emperor to the Yue family and therefore she would represent her dead father and take half of it while Yue Thau’s family takes the other half. He finally agreed.

The bridal procession started from Pei Pei’s old house in Ningshiang village. It had been specially spruced up for the occasion. Pei Pei wore a bridal gown of resplendent silk that had been given by the palace. The beautiful bridal gown would be the talking point of Ningshiang village for many years to come. Her uncle and three ‘blood brothers’ were on hand to send her off. The carriage procession was accompanied by Governor Li and his troops and they took three days to reach Pingchen.

The wedding feast lasted seven days in Pingchen. The wedding had some surprise guests. Arrow Eye and his fellow guards who had been freed from prison had accompanied Governor Li down to Pingchen to offer thanks to Wu Chuan and Pei Pei for helping to secure their freedom. At the wedding feast, Arrow Eye made a pledge, “If ever the Wu family is in trouble, just let us know, and my brothers and I will come to your aid!”

Yue Thau bought himself a boat with his five hundred taels of silver and he soon returned to sea to fish. It was a better way to make a living than collecting clams from the shore to feed his growing family. However, he made a vow never to charter out his boat to anyone again.

The following spring, Pei Pei gave birth to a healthy son. Wu Chuan hugged her as they sat beside the crib to admire their baby. She wondered when the child would grow up to be old enough to pick up her kungfu skills.

Bending low over her baby boy, she whispered, “The three-in-one kungfu girl will pass you all that she knows. Learn well. One day, we will be known as the Pingchen House of the Flying Daggers!”



At 4:28 PM, Blogger yuin said...

oey! better than sliced bread in fact! :)

At 5:16 PM, Blogger sansraisin said...

YAy! I'm the first to leave a comment...

What a fitting end...leaves you all warm and fuzzy inside.

Hope you'll continue with your short stories soon after this:)

Thanks for an entertaining read!

At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Jade said...

Better than 2 slices of sliced bread!

At 11:24 PM, Anonymous tiptup said...

wah! great story! better than free wi-fi!!

At 12:15 AM, Blogger Beer Brat said...

If a piece of moldy, seven-day-old, shit-filled sliced bread is on one end..... then the story of 3-in-1 kungfu girl is definitely at the very tip of the other en.

At 12:52 AM, Blogger Danny Boy said...

Wah, nice ending! :) House of Flying Daggers! HAHA! :)

Good job VT, your story left a smile on my face. :)

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Eikichi said...

Pingchen House of the Flying Daggers!!
That'll be your next big thing View! The story's nice, but it's still not as good as the Gaia( beginning of earth) you wrote. Still a great one though. 8.5 outta ten!

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Super Chu Chai said...

Bravo bravo
veli veli entertaining but now no more.. sux... i cant read while i chew my lunch liao.... Oooiii... write more lar :P kakaka


At 6:29 PM, Anonymous viewtru said...

yuin: Yeah. More like sliced bread with peanut butter. Hot damn! I am proud!

sansraisin: It will be a very long time before I want to tackle an 80,000 word story. I don't want to try Naowrimo again next year!

jade: How about 2 slices of bread with kaya?

tiptup: I have never tried free wi-fi, haha!

beer brat: Say what?

danny boy: I did not want the association with the Andy Lau flick, so I added in the word 'Pingchen'! Of course, the famous one was the Little Li Flying Dagger.

eikichi: The Gaia story was one of my best pieces. It was groundbreaking in fact! Unfortunately, I found it difficult to carry on as the historical research required was too much!

super chu chai: I wrote 5 stories this year leh. Will stick to short articles for a while.

At 12:02 AM, Blogger ryuu said...

this is the best thing since sliced bread! :P

ok, now for typos.. “They say that they will help send off the bridal procession. It’s just a few days more to our wedding. I hope Li Chiang and his/[my]/[nothing] father return in time.”

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous viewtru said...

ryuu: Governor Li is Li Chiang's father, not Wu Chuan's. Wu Chuan's father is a;lready in Pingchen waiting to receive the bridal procession.

At 1:17 AM, Blogger Dr. Tan said...

VT, im new to the blogosphere.. where can i get ur ghia eh? would like to read it

At 1:21 AM, Blogger Dr. Tan said...

“I will have to rest first,” he answered. “It will take some time to get hard again! Maybe I should have bought a bottle of Teng Khok Khok Potency Potion to speed things up a bit!”

He dunno that do too much will die? ahha

At 1:38 AM, Anonymous confused.bitch said...

oh my! this is so damn fucking good and hilarious! 2 thumbs and 2 toes up! :-D

At 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking for blogs about martial arts and came across yours. Great blog you got. I have a website somewhat related you might find interesting.

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking for blogs about martial arts and came across yours. Great blog you got. I have a website somewhat related you might find interesting.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger flubear said...

haha nice story but im nitpicking and quote Chapter 14

"Only North Cloud remained alive.

Pei Pei did not waste time. She threw a dagger at West Cloud’s head and he jerked his head to the side. The dagger grazed his cheek, drawing blood.""

tai ko ... u writing about North Cloud why suddenly typo about West Cloud one ????

change change abit k =)

give u a 10/10 for the story to give u encouragement hehe!

At 9:20 PM, Anonymous viewtru said...

flubear: Thanks! I made the correction in the main blog but apparently forgot to do it here. Have corrected it so it should be okay now.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you!
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