Armed Escort Banner — Wolong Sheng

Wolong Sheng was, during the golden age of wuxia (1960s), the premier author in Taiwan. He was a pioneer in the genre of wuxia, being the first to formulate the “Nine Schools of the Martial Fraternity”, establishing the basic organization of the martial world that would become one of the most used tropes in wuxia. At his best, Wolong Sheng was unsurpassed, but his quality is very uneven, and his works suffer the same failings as other wuxia novels serialized in newspapers at the time: too much filler, fight scenes that go on and on but end up nowhere, and his stories tend to start out great but end poorly (tiger head, snake tail as the saying goes). But he was good at coming up with exciting plots, and the women in his novels, though usually not the protagonist, tended to be more capable than the rather passive male MC.

He also deconstructed the genre even as he was helping to define it, by having the sects normally associated as good guys show a more sinister side, while his “bad guys” often acted in the right more than one would expect. In this way, Wolong Sheng showed his characters to be more realistic, exposing hypocrisy of the self-righteous, as well as so called “honor among thieves”. Unfortunately he was always in it for the money only, and he lent his name out to other writers to capitalize on his popularity. As a result, there are hundreds of novels bearing his name, but he only wrote about thirty or so himself. Armed Escort Banner is supposedly one he wrote himself, though there has been one scholar at least who has raised doubts. Later in this series I will come back to Wolong Sheng and talk more about what is one of my favorite wuxia novels.

The excerpt below is from chapter two of Armed Escort Banner. It’s about half of the chapter, which I translated and published on a wuxia forum I used to run back in 2012.

Armed Escort Banner《鏢旗》by Wolong Sheng 臥龍生. 1983 reprint edition.
Armed Escort Banner《鏢旗》by Wolong Sheng 臥龍生. 1983 reprint edition.


It was said that the Shepherd Diagram not only contained profound martial art techniques, but also hinted at the location of an enormous treasure, thus leading to the emergence of many fiends who had lain dormant for decades, and Shaolin, Wudang, and the Beggar Sect also were drawn into the struggle. Everyone feared the Coiling Dragon Armed Escort Banner appearing among the jianghu. Investigations by the governor of four provinces turned up the lair of a secret society. To protect the treasures of the Shepherd Diagram, a group of righteous and unrighteous experts alike launched a fight to the death, while the local authorities, under the auspicies of the governor, broke convention and became embroiled in the disputes of the martial fraternity. The fragile, celestial maiden-like goddaughter of the governor vied with the central figure in the dispute, and countless miraculous fights and trials of strength unfolded one after another…


Chapter 2: Bloody Battle

The red lady said, “We’ve already inquired about that, so you need not mention your head chief. Your fame within the six northern provinces alone is enough. A lot of people have known of you for a long time, and many of the Greenwood have been destroyed by your golden rings, not less than thirty or forty people. And since we have dared to move against you, I can tell you that we have already calculated the pros and cons, the merits and demerits, and in secret we have already weighed the value of Mighty Tiger Escort Agency……”

Fang Zhenyuan waved his hand and said, “All right! Since you three are determined to take our goods, I won’t shamelessly make any entreaties. But you Three Fiends of the Southern Skies also command some respect within the jianghu, so I hope you will abide by its etiquette when we fight.”

The red lady said, “You escorts also have your own etiquette, so I’ll humbly follow your advice.”

Fang Zhenyuan thought for a moment, enough time for Yang Sicheng to get ready. With a faint smile he said, “You mustn’t harm the clients.”

The red lady forced a laugh and said, “Since you say it like that, Deputy Chief Fang, it seems you are not confident in your ability to protect your cargo.”

Fang Zhenyuan said, “Miss, this is no time for such big talk; we still do not know by whose hand the deer will be slain.”1

The red lady smirked and said, “You may begin.”

Although the Three Fiends of the Southern Skies were known in the jianghu for being ruthless and vicious, if one were to compare experience in the jianghu, they were not at the same level as Iron Palm Golden Ring.

Fang Zhenyuan was not yet angry on account of the red lady. While he readied himself mentally, he said coldly, “I am not yet finished speaking……”

The red lady had already advanced on Fang Zhenyuan, looking like she was about to make her move at any time, but Fang Zhenyuan remained cool and composed, causing her to speak without thinking. “Then, hurry up and speak.”

Fang Zhenyuan said, “According to jianghu customs, you young Three Fiends of the Southern Skies are not like common thieves with minor skills and tricks. Today, even if I were to fall by your hands, I will only have my poor skills to blame, and I will die without harboring any grudges. Businesses have their regulations, families have their rules. Mighty Tiger Escort Agency will not notify the authorities, and we hope that you will keep the cargo for three months, and then make an appointment to meet with my head chief and discuss the matter.”

The red lady said, “And when the three months are up?”

Fang Zhenyuan said, “After that, do whatever you want. Because my loss will not harm the reputation of Mighty Tiger Escort Agency, if you will agree to this deal, I can die without regrets, and you three will be held in even higher regard in the jianghu.”

The red lady said, “What’s in it for us?”

Fang Zhenyuan said, “There is honor among thieves. If you Three Fiends of the Southern Skies adhere to this custom, both black and white sides2 will all see you in a new light……”

Fang Zhenyuan suddenly threw his head back and laughed three times. “I’ll go even further. If you three can really defeat me, not only can you keep all the cargo with no repercussions and no questions asked, but all the branches among the six northern provinces will voluntarily close their doors for good, and you Three Fiends of the Southern Skies will gain even greater renown.”

The red lady muttered something hesitantly at first, then said, “All right! That’s settled, then. Let’s begin.”

Fang Zhenyuan said, “Can you really do it?”

The red lady said, “Although I’m a woman, I have never said something I could not back up.”

Fang Zhenyuan said, “Good! Based on what you said, this old man here commends you as a woman of great ability.”

The red lady asked coldly, “Are you finished speaking?”

Fang Zhenyuan said, “I have nothing more to say.”

The red lady suddenly fixed him with a winsome smile and said, “Then receive my palm!”

She leapt into the air, thrusting her palm downwards.

Fang Zhenyuan said, “I’m ready.” His left foot slid back a half step and his right hand, which held his bamboo pipe, performed the move “Dotting the Eye of the Dragon”3, the pipe striking toward an acupoint on the red lady’s palm.

The red lady saw Fang Zhenyuan’s longstemmed pipe aimed at her Pulse Gate acupoint on her right wrist, and in her heart she was shocked and thought: This old man’s aim is right on the mark. She quickly slanted her body to the side and landed eight feet away.

An expert can tell about certain things. When the red lady turned around, Fang Zhenyuan already knew the score. He was ready for the red lady’s silk sash trick, and he could tell her lightness skill was superb, and he knew her counterattack would be devastatingly deadly.

Fang Zhenyuan, being a seasoned fighter, was always cautious when facing a formidable foe, so he did not immediately give chase.

Sure enough, once the red lady had stepped foot on the snowy ground, before she had even turned her head, her hand shot out.

A flash of red, like billowing rosy clouds, swept out.

Only when Fang Zhenyuan saw her silk sash shoot out did he leap into the air, the pipe in his hand seeking an acupoint in the move “Strange Python Exits the Cave”.4

In martial arts, the eye sees and the hand follows, so he snatched an opportunity. Fang Zhenyuan, leaping, went straight for the red lady, aiming through an empty space in between the silk sash.

The red lady saw that she was going to lose, so she mustered her strength and immediately followed her silk sash in a big turn, borrowing some of her power to spin around in midair and land far away to avoid the strike.

Fang Zhenyuan said, “Miss, your lightness skill is superb.”

The red lady, shamed into anger at having been bested, lashed out with her red sash.

Fang Zhenyuan had already planned it out; if he could use his ample battle experience and find a chink in her armor within three to five rounds and capture the red lady to use as a hostage, then not only could he save Yulong’s life, but he would also have the red lady’s life in his hands, and he just might be able to let his cargo get past safely.

But he knew in his heart that the black-clothed man and the blue-gowned youth would never stand by to see the red lady captured; they would inevitably spring into action to save her. So, the only opportunity for success rested on one word: speed. He had to quickly make the two men rush to save her, and if they were too strong, he could retreat to the carts and wait there and join Yang Sicheng and Zhang Dahao in protecting the cargo.

He had already calculated a good escape route, and when he saw the red sash fly out, he gathered the qi in his dantian, stepped forward briskly, and raised his longstemmed pipe, aiming toward the flying cloth.

The red lady cursed to herself, “That old fart deserves a good beating.”

The red sash coiled and wrapped around the longstemmed pipe. She moved quickly and once the sash was wrapped around the pipe, she used her power to jerk it back and away.

Fang Zhenyuan was ready for it. But still, as he was lifted off his feet by the red lady’s sash, he swallowed his astonishment and thought: This girl5 has a lot of internal power. He stepped forward with his left foot and raised his left hand and shouted, “Miss, watch out.”

Three points of gold light shot out like lightning, flying toward the red lady.

Fang Zhenyuan, true to his nickname “Iron Palm Golden Rings”, was adept at practicing his iron sand palm skill, and he also used golden rings as concealed weapons. He had a special skill, and many in the jianghu had been wounded by his golden rings, but few people knew from where they shot out from. They only saw him wave his hand and raise his wrist and the golden rings would fly out. He often corrdinated his attacks with shooting out his golden rings, and it was a thing of beauty, and there was no way to defend against it.

The red lady could use her soft silk sash to resist large sabres and sharp swords, all according to her fantastic moves, and she was wielding her sash deftly now. But Fang Zhenyuan, without preparing, planted his feet firmly with all his might, like wooden stakes buried in the earth, and the red lady in one fell swoop could not pull away Fang Zhenyuan’s pipe. She knew she was facing a strong opponent, but before she could gather up her sash, Fang Zhenyuan’s golden rings had already sliced through the air, flying towards her.

Since the distance between them was short, the golden rings came on at an unsurpassed speed. The red lady had no alternative but to employ her “Iron Bridge” skill and she bent her body over and touched her back to the snowy ground.

Even though she responded quickly, a golden ring still sliced her shoulder, cutting through her red clothes and slicing through flesh and muscle.

If he threw more golden rings, Fang Zhenyuan could seriously injure her, but he had his scruples and did not wish to kill anyone. He hoped to capture her alive and use her as a hostage. He rushed over to her, aiming to strike her acupoints with his longstemmed pipe.

But he forgot about her superb lightness skill. He only saw her turn to avoid his longstemmed pipe, then straightened her back and stood up, and with a flash of red flitting past, she quickly scurried three feet or so away, her red sash spilling out behind her, and like a quick snake it coiled around Fang Zhenyuan’s left arm.

Fang Zhenyuan was shocked, and he turned his hand over and reached for the sash with his fingers. But the red lady was faster, and she used her strength and pulled, and Fang Zhenyuan felt his feet fly out from under him a good four or five feet, and he fell flat on his back.

Careful not to let him go, the red lady shook her sash and it wound around both of Fang Zhenyuan’s legs.

In the twenty-some-odd years since Fang Zhenyuan had entered the jianghu, he had never experienced a fall like that, and it was hard for him to accept, but he simply couldn’t get up. But this was not an ordinary clash of arms, and he could not simply accept defeat. So he roused his spirit to face his opponent, and when he saw the red lady’s sash fly towards him, he couldn’t help but be shocked, so he quickly raised his right hand and shot out four golden rings in a row, flying side by side.

The red lady had already been bitten by his golden ring, so she knew how terrible they were, and so was reluctant to attack. She first needed to dodge his concealed weapons. She jumped straight up, and leaped slantwise six or seven feet away.

As the red lady leapt up, in the midst of the heavy snowfall a sheet shot out——it was a folding fan opening and closing, and Fang Zhenyuan’s four golden rings lost their course and disappeared like they had been thrown into the sea, or into the mud or sand, all flashing by without a trace.

By this time, Fang Zhenyuan was already on his feet, his eyes focused on the red lady, now accompanied by the blue-gowned, scholar-cap-wearing pale-faced man of letters.

The blue-gowned scholar closed his fan, and then suddenly spread it open again, and the four golden rings dropped out on the snow. He laughed and said, “Although Third Sister’s clothes were torn by your golden ring, you also were felled by her hand. That’s a big win and a small loss. Stand aside Sister, and let Second Brother have a go. I want to see how many golden rings he is carrying.”

When Fang Zhenyuan saw his four golden rings snatched up all at once by the folding fan, he couldn’t hear anything, he was only deeply shocked, and he thought to himself: This person can grab up my four golden rings without a sound, that is proof of his ability; my ability cannot compare to his.

How could he know that the second brother of the Three Fiends of the Southern Skies’ folding fan was woven from gold and silver thread to make such a marvelous weapon, able to control various concealed weapons, that its surface could withstand sharp weapons, was elastic, and even the sharpest of concealed weapons could not penetrate its surface, and all this without it emitting any sound whatsoever.

Although Fang Zhenyuan was shaken to his core, what happened had happened, and he could not let it get the best of him. He gathered his qi and laughed and said, “your concealed weapon collecting skill is remarkable. Though I’ve already lived half a lifetime, this is the first time I’ve seen such a thing.”

The blue-gowned scholar laughed. “Us Three Fiends of the Southern Skies, if we were not prepared, how could we dare to take on the number one escort agency? Iron Palm Golden Rings, how many of those golden rings are you carrying? You might as well send them all out. Since you’ve never seen it before, today I will open your eyes and give you a new outlook.”

Fang Zhenyuan smirked and said, “According to what you said, you and I should have it out to decide a winner, but right now I have ten innocent lives on my shoulders. This showdown between us I could tolerate, but not today. We’ll settle it all the next time we meet.”

He didn’t wait for the blue-gowned scholar to reply, but quickly turned and leapt off and made haste for the escort carts.

The blue-gowned scholar and the red lady couldn’t help but be taken aback by these remarks.

The blue-gowned scholar said, “Let’s go! We’ll follow him and take a look. We can’t let him just leave.”

So they set off after Fang Zhenyuan toward the place where the escort carts were waiting.

But the Three Fiends of the Southern Skies were experienced fighters too, so when they saw the escort carts from a distance, they put their guards up and stopped ten to fifteen feet away.

Sure enough, the five carts were parked singlefile, the horses all already unyoked.

In the midst of the thickly falling snow, the carts arranged as if prepared for battle lent a somewhat murderous vibe.

The blue-gowned scholar said quietly, “Third Sister, those carts in their formations look like they have undergone some sort of change.”

The red lady said, “Hmm. I’ll go check it out. Second Brother, stay to the side and look for a weakness, and when you find it, be quick to exploit it.”

Her plan was to use her excellent lightness skill to help her root out the ambush so the blue-gowned scholar could find their opponent’s weakness.

The blue-gowned scholar shook his head. “That won’t do. They’ll surely have some trick waiting for us. I’ll use my folding fan to overcome them. Third Sister, let us switch positions.”

With a swish he opened his fan and strolled out toward the covered carts.

When he was about six feet away from the line of carts, he suddenly heard the twang of a bowstring and two arrows shot out like lightning.

The blue-gowned scholar waved his fan and blocked both arrows.

The red lady hurried after him and said, “Why did you stop?”

The blue-gowned scholar said, “Iron Palm and those other two are waiting in ambush behind the carts with bows and arrows. If we rush in there, we’ll be distracted by the arrows and won’t be able to focus on Iron Palm and the others.”

Suddenly several sounds pierced the wind and four arrows came streaming toward them simultaneously.

The red lady raised her qi and leapt up and out of the way as two arrows zipped by with a flash of golden light as they swept underneath her feet.

The blue-gowned scholar used his fan to stop the other two arrows.

After dodging the arrows, the red lady turned her body in mid-air like a pigeon, head down, feet up, and she flew straight for the covered carts. The blue-gowned scholar said, “Not bad,” and leapt up after her, also rushing toward the carts.

Just then, the twang of a dozen bowstrings was heard and arrows came screaming forth.

The blue-gowned scholar used his fan like an unreal shadow, batting away the arrows while protecting his body, and he leapt up on the coverings of one of the carts.

Then he heard a sound like a clap of spring thunder, and a meteor hammer wailed and rolled toward him.

The blue-gowned scholar could feel that the strength behind the hammer was violent and fierce, so he did not underestimate his enemy. He raised his qi and leapt off the tarp and landed on top of another covered cart.

Failing to hit his mark, Zhang Dahao came out from behind the cart, his right hand holding the steel chain, recalling the hammer.

After avoiding the meteor hammer, the blue-gowned scholar suddenly raised his folding fan and two threads of silver shot out into the air.

His fan was not only special fan, but it also contained hidden springs within its metal framework that could shoot out weapons.

Zhang Dahao was a big and tall man, and already not very agile, and the blue-gowned scholar’s concealed weapon shot out without sound or apparent motion, so he only felt both of his arms go numb.

Though he was not very bright, he had been an escort for more than ten years, so he was quite experienced, so when the needles pierced him he already knew they were coated with poison. He shouted, “Be careful, that son of a bitch is using some kind of plum blossom poison in his concealed weapons.”

With that shout, he prepared to use the remaining energy in his arms to sweep his meteor hammer toward the blue-gowned scholar.

Zhang Dahao was naturally powerful and strong, but his internal energy skills were limited, so he didn’t know that using his energy would shut his acupoint. The blue-gowned scholar’s needles used a strange poison which was quite potent and worked blindingly fast, so before Zhang Dahao had even swung his meteor hammer, he was not able to take it, and with a deafening roar he fell down to the ground.

The blue-gowned scholar’s methods were incredibly vicious, and using his concealed weapons he wounded five footmen stationed behind the carts in one go.

In the blink of an eye, Yang Sicheng leapt onto the cart tarp and, using his judge’s brushes to beat and probe, he forced the blue-gowned scholar off the cart and onto the snowy ground where they resumed the fight.

Going back to the red lady, she used her superb lightness skill and performed two somersaults in mid-air to avoid several flying arrows, and with a wave of her right hand her silk sash shot out and wrapped around one of the cart shafts, and she used her strength to fling herself out in front of the cart. With her left hand she spread the curtain and hauled out a woman about forty-three or forty-four years old.

The woman wore a blue gown and a fur-lined jacket, blue satin pants, and embroidered crimson cotton boots. A jade hairpin held her hair in a mallet-shaped bun, and she wore pearl head ornaments at her temples. She looked like a refined woman, and when the red lady pulled her out of the cart, her face went ashen with fright.

As the red lady pulled the woman from the cart, two golden rings sped out toward her right cheek.

The red lady turned her face to the side and the golden rings brushed past, slicing through her pink kerchief and cutting a section off which fluttered to the ground.

Fang Zhenyuan followed his rings as he leapt up from one of the carts, a white satin bundle slung on his back, and he shouted, “Red Lady, Mrs. Liu doesn’t know any martial arts. You all agreed not to harm the clients, so let her go quickly.”

The red lady had already experienced Fang Zhenyuan’s golden rings, so with her hostage blocking her body in front, she smirked, “That’s right, Mrs. Liu doesn’t know any martial arts. So if you throw another golden ring, you’ll hit her.”

By this time Fang Zhenyuan was so close that if he threw his golden rings using his secret skill, no matter how good the red lady’s lightness skill was, she would still have no way to avoid them. But he was afraid of harming Mrs. Liu, so he dared not throw any.

He only heard a voice from the lead cart say, “Escort Fang, don’t worry about the lives of those of us within the carts, there’s no escaping fate. Just get the goods out of here, that’s enough.”

Fang Zhenyuan stamped his feet and said, “If you insist, I’ll obey your command.”

With that, he leapt up and took off, heading east.

Just as he was taking off, he glimpsed a figure heading right for him, and overwhelmed, he shot out his palm.

It was met with a hard, chopping palm.

Their forces met 50/50 and the two figures dropped from the sky at the same time and rose up in the falling snow.

Fang Zhenyuan raised his head to look and saw a black-clothed figure, who held in his right hand the human arm-shaped weapon. It was the eldest of the Three Fiends of the Southern Skies. He couldn’t help trembling, and he thought to himself: He is holding that weapon in his right hand, but he used his left hand to strike. Though he did not score a victory, he used his left hand, and I used my right; this man’s internal skill is profound. Even if the red lady and the blue-gowned scholar can best me, it’s clear this man’s skill is above my level……

The man in black said coldly, “Fang Zhenyuan, you can’t leave. You didn’t listen to the warning in my letter, and now you have only yourself to blame. Aside from your cargo, now I want your lives.”

Fang Zhenyuan looked around and saw the red lady, one hand holding onto Mrs. Liu, and in the other hand hovered her silk sash. Many footmen were gathered around her, waiting. Several lay on the ground unconscious. Unable to get up, he couldn’t help speculate to himself: The situation is beyond saving. The fight is finished. Those footmen were skilled men, yet when they met these experts they still lost their lives. He said, “You all are not the red lady’s opponents; don’t throw your lives away.”

The footmen surrounding the red lady knew what was up already. They couldn’t even get close enough to attack her. When they tried, her silk sash would lash out and knock them down. But they were very disciplined, and even though they knew it would do no good, they could do nothing else but step up and get knocked down one after another. But when Fang Zhenyuan told them this, they all immediately stopped.

Only Yang Sicheng was still going, wielding his judge’s brushes, locked in combat with the blue-gowned scholar.

The man in black laughed and said, “Deputy Chief Fang is a wise man; he learns fast.”

Fang Zhenyuan’s face fell and he said, “We still have one more battle left.”

The man in black said, “I’m happy to accompany you, but I have to tell you, that messenger you sent has already been captured by me.”

Fang Zhenyuan had sent Yujun immediately after coming back to the carts, and Yujun had hurried at double speed. His mission was to inform the other agency branches so they could come help, and also to report to the head chief.

Even though Mighty Tiger Escort Agency was not a sect of the jianghu, because of the chief’s prestige, because there were so many agency branches, and because they had so much strength, among the six northern provinces they had a lot of capability.

Fang Zhenyuan knew that if he could get the word out to the other agency branches they would use a carrier pigeon to inform the head chief, and even if he and Zhang Dahao and Yang Sicheng, plus the eight footmen could not score a victory, at least they could hold out for a time.

Mr. Liu had beckoned him into the cart and said, “Deputy Chief Fang, it’s said that throughout the more than twenty years Mighty Tiger Escort Agency has been in business, it has never once failed a mission. So, I refused to use the military to escort us, and asked you……”

Fang Zhenyuan hurriedly interjected, “Things have taken an unforeseen turn, but we’ll use everything we’ve got to protect you.”

Mr. Liu smiled coolly. “What’s done is done. I blame you all and consider you useless. Though I’ve been an official for half my life, I’ve never done anything that could cause me to feel shame……”

Fang Zhenyuan interjected, “I heard what they said, and it seems they really didn’t come seeking revenge against you……”

Mr. Liu said, “I know why you all……”

He reached from under the quilt and took out a white bundle and said, “They probably came for this. If you all are not able to fend them off, I want you, Deputy Chief Fang, to get away and take this and go to the governor’s office in Henan and give this to Mr. Xu.”

Fang Zhenyuan weighed the bundle in his hand. It was not very heavy. It didn’t seem to contain gold or silver or jewels or other treasures. He couldn’t help but frown and say, “Sir, forgive me for asking, but the contents of this bundle, you knew all along that they were after it?”

Mr. Liu gave him a black look and said, “What’s in this bundle is not illegal, or else I would not ask you to deliver it to the governor’s office.”

Fang Zhenyuan wanted to ask more, but outside there was a loud scream, so he shouldered the bundle and exited the cart. And then he had thrown the golden ring at the red lady and had told the footmen not to throw away their lives.

Now having heard that Yujun had been met with disaster, he knew all was lost. In twenty-plus years in the escort business, this was the first time he had encountered such a setback, and he couldn’t help but feel dejected. But that feeling gave birth to a new will to fight to the death, and he raised his hand holding his longstemmed pipe and said respectfully, “Brothers and sister, the red lady has already agreed to two of my terms: not to harm the clients, and to hold onto the cargo for three months. I hope you Three Fiends of the Southern Skies are as good as your word.”

The man in black smirked, “If one of the Three Fiends of the Southern Skies has agreed to some of your terms, that’s no trifling matter. But, I also have two conditions that I need you, Deputy Chief Fang, to accept.”

Fang Zhenyuan said, “I’m listening.”

The man in black said, “Hand over the white bundle you’re carrying. We want to take a look at its contents right here. We’ll hold your cargo for three months and wait for your head chief to send someone to find us to discuss the matter……” He threw his head back and laughed, “I only want you, Deputy Chief Fang, to admit defeat, hand over your weapons, including all concealed weapons, and we’ll release your man; let’s not make things difficult.”

Fang Zhenyuan scoffed and said, “You make it sound so simple……”

The man in black said coldly, “Deputy Chief Fang, if you refuse to give up you will force me to take action, and it will make it difficult for me to hold onto your cargo and keep my promise to protect your clients.”

Fang Zhenyuan thought to himself: These bandits of the Greenwood, it’s so hard to count on them to follow the rules of the jianghu. If I can break through them and get away, it might draw them toward me, and perhaps turn their minds away from harming the clients.

He turned this thought over in his mind, and with a shake of his pipe said, “A real man’s word is like a mountain. In the first place I never agreed to leave behind my cargo. If you want it, you’ll have to kill me first.” He leapt up and away as he finished speaking.

The man in black sneered and the “iron ghost hand” he held lashed out performing “Pointing Toward the Southern Skies”, and he and his weapon leapt up into the air and gave chase.

Fang Zhenyuan countered with his own “Sweeping the Army”, warding off the blow.

With a clang the two weapons clashed, the pipe and the iron ghost hand.

Although they both possessed remarkable martial arts skill, because they were suspended in the air they could not make use of their full strength, so when they clashed, they were both knocked back down to the ground.

Fang Zhenyuan raised his right hand. “Take this.”

Three golden rings shot out side by side.

At the same time that Fang Zhenyuan threw the golden rings, the man in black also raised his iron ghost hand and shot out two silver threads.

It turns out that his iron ghost hand actually concealed very small poison needles, controlled from the handle, so that when he used the weapon, the needles shot out.

They had the idea to shoot concealed weapons at the same time, and at almost the same time the golden rings and poison needles flew out.

At such close distances, dodging golden rings or poison needles was no easy feat.

As soon as the man in black hit the ground the golden rings were there in front of him, two of them brushing past in a flash and ripping the front of his gown. The other ring, however, hit his left shoulder and dug into the flesh and muscle half an inch deep.

But at the same time Fang Zhenyuan was hit in the left shoulder by the man in black’s two poison needles.

Iron Palm Golden Rings felt the spot of his injury go numb, so he immediately knew the needles had been tempered with a deadly poison. He couldn’t help but rage, “I never would have thought that the celebrated Three Fiends of the Southern Skies would stoop to the level of common Greenwood bandits and use needles tempered with a deadly poison of the plum blossom variety.”

The man in black said, “That’s right. Those needles were laced with a deadly poison. ‘The child won’t see noon, and noon won’t see the child’. Within twelve hours, the poison will take effect and kill you.”

Fang Zhenyuan tried to circulate his qi, but his left shoulder was already numb and difficult to lift. He could feel the poison spreading throughout his body. He couldn’t help but sigh, “So I, Fang Zhenyuan, will be buried here today. Fine. But to involve the dozen or so innocents of the Liu family is truly a regretful matter.”

1) 未知鹿死誰手, meaning one is unable to predict who will be the winner
2) meaning the orthodox and heterodox schools, the “good and evil” schools
3) 畫龍點睛, this phrase refers to a painter who left the eye of the dragon he was painting unpainted. When asked why, he said that the eye is the essence of the dragon, and if you paint the eye, the dragon will fly away. He did paint the eye, and when he did, the dragon flew away on a roll of clouds. “Dotting the eye on the dragon” in painting or literature refers to the words or strokes that brings the piece to life, or clinches a point.
4) 怪蟒出穴. The last two characters, 出穴, mean “exit” and “cave”, respectively. The character for cave (穴) is also the first character in 穴道, which means “acupoint”. So 出穴 has the meaning of exiting a cave, but also has the feeling of a strike seeking out an acupoint.
5) 丫頭, traditionally meant a maidservant, usually actually a slave girl. It’s also an impolite way to refer to a girl, which he is doing here. The word comes from the image of a servant girl with her hair done up forked into two tufts.

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