A message that departs from the main topic       
  Excursus
   JIN YONG > Shen Diao Xia Lu || Chapter 25: Domestic Strife, Foreign Aggression

Zhou Botong raised his head, searching the top but finding no flag there, he could not help being startled. He had only thought that Jinlun Fawang would be hiding somewhere below, waiting to ambush him then seize the opportunity to route him completely.

It was a smooth plan but not even ten thousand guesses could prepare him for this: the flag was not hoisted.

He looked around. The camp was filled with numerous tents. Yet, he must try to find it before leaving.

Zhao Zhijing was about to move forward to greet him but he changed his mind. He thought, If I go and tell him now, he'll be suspicious. I must first let him look everywhere and when he doesn't succeed, then he can't help feeling dejected. At that time, I'll go out and tell him where the flag is. Only then will he be able to show his gratitude towards me.

He crouched behind a tent to watch the motionless Zhou Botong only to see his body shoot upwards towards the top of the flag pole. He leapt several chi high and used one hand to brace himself against the pole. Then he used his other hand to quickly pull himself up until he reached the top.

Zhao Zhijing was secretly astonished. Grand Martial Uncle Zhou must be almost a hundred years old. Even if he practiced the Taoist doctrines, he still would not be able to avoid the slowing effects of old age. Yet, he is still as agile as a youth. So the stories in Wulin are really true.

Once up there, Zhou Botong scanned the whole camp, seeing several flags fluttering in the wind but none of them was the king's flag. He raised his head and shouted: "Jinlun Fawang, where is the king's flag?"

This angry yell was carried far and wide, its faint echoes bouncing off the cordillera to the West. Fawang had already reported the matter to Huo Bilie so even though the whole army heard his shout, they remained silent.

Zhou Botong warned: "Fawang, if you still don't reply, I might have to scold you."

There was still no response.

Zhou Botong scolded: "Jinlun Fawang, you rotten dog, you call yourself a hero? You're worse than a turtle who refuses to come out of its shell!"

From the East, someone suddenly called out: "Mischievous Old Urchin, if you want to steal the king's flag, I know where it is."

Zhou Botong quickly rushed down the pole, shouting: "Where?"

But after shouting, that person was silent. Zhou Botong searched countless tents but did not know where to start.

Farther away, the person shouted: "The king's flag is over here! The king's flag is over here!"

Zhou Botong dashed towards that sound but that person's voice was softer now, growing fainter and fainter. Zhou Botong only took a few steps but the voice was already fading in and out like gossamer until finally it stopped.

In reality, he did not know how far the voice was from camp.

Zhou Botong called out angrily: "Fawang, you rascal, are you playing hide-and-seek with me? Do you want me to burn down this whole camp so you'll come out?"

Zhao Zhijing thought, If he sets the camp on fire, that can't be good. He hurried forward and said in a low voice: "Grand Martial Uncle Zhou, don't start a fire."

Zhou Botong said: "You Taoist priest, it's you! Why can't I start a fire?"

Zhao Zhijing quickly lied: "They intentionally want you to light a fire because the whole camp is filled with explosives. When you ignite it, the whole place could explode."

Zhou Botong was shocked. "It's a clever trick but also mean and cruel."

Zhao Zhijing was relieved to see that he believed him. He added: "I secretly inquired around and found out about this clever trick. I was afraid that you did not know about this so I had to tell you."

Grand Martial Uncle Zhou said: "Mmm, your intentions are good. If you hadn't told me, this Mischievous Old Urchin could have been killed."

Zhao Zhijing replied: "I also took a great risk by finding out where the king's flag is. Grand Martial Uncle Zhou, please come along with me."

But Zhou Botong suddenly said: "Don't tell me, don't tell me! If I can't find it, then I must admit defeat."

The bet to find the flag was an amusing game. But if Zhao Zhijing gave him directions, he would feel bad even if he won because this kind of game required stealth.

Zhao Zhijing felt anxious. Then suddenly, he remembered, He is known as the Mischievous Old Urchin, his mood is not ordinary. I must tempt him first so he can get hooked.

He said: "Grand Martial Uncle, I also want to steal the flag. Let's have a race as to who finds it first."

After saying that, he quickly rushed towards the hills. When he got there, he turned to find Zhou Botong following behind. He then darted to the third hill, pondering aloud: "They said that it's in a cave between two elm trees but where are these two elm trees?"

He rushed around the place but actually did not approach the cave where Fawang hid it. Suddenly, he heard Zhou Botong exclaim: "I found it first!" He was standing between the two elm trees.

Zhao Zhijing smirked, thinking, He stole the king's flag. He'll surely favor me now. What's more, I stopped him from setting the camp on fire. He thinks I saved his life. Everything is going exactly as Fawang planned.

Satisfied, he started to step inside the cave.

Suddenly, he heard a loud shout, the sound extremely sharp. Zhou Botong cried out: "Poisonous snake! Poisonous snake!"

Shocked, Zhao Zhijing quickly withdrew his foot that was already inside the cave. He asked: "Grand Martial Uncle! There's a poisonous snake inside the cave?"

Grand Martial Uncle Zhou replied: "It's not a snake... it's not a snake..."

The voice was already getting weaker.
Zhao Zhijing anxiously gathered some twigs and lit it, using it as a torch so he could see inside the cave.

He saw Zhou Botong on the ground, his left hand still clutching the flag. He was brandishing it as though trying to keep him away.

Zhao Zhijing asked: "Grand Martial Uncle, are you all right?"

Zhou Botong replied: "I have been poisoned...venom...venom...was bitten..."

But before he could finish his statement, his hand had gradually grown limp.

Zhao Zhijing had seen him enter the cave but despite his high kung fu, he was still seriously injured. That was why he did not want to rush in without knowing what kind of fierce poison it was that afflicted him. What's more, the flag that Zhou Botong was clutching was not the same color as the king's flag.

He thought, Fawang had connived with me to trick him into entering the cave but it was really his intention to harm him by poisoning the thing.

He was extremely vexed. He only wanted to flee. So, without even bothering to see what it was that harmed Zhou Botong or what kind of poison it was, he just turned around and ran away.

The fire from the torch that he dropped on the way out was beginning to die out.

Halfway out, he was stopped by someone who was holding out a hand to him.

That person spoke softly: "Are you always this disrespectful to your seniors?"

The voice was distinctly stern but also as pure and as clear as jade. In the darkness, he saw the lithe form of a woman dressed in flowing white clothes.

She was none other than Xiao Long Nuu.

The light from the torch shone on her, revealing a beautiful face. Though delicate-looking, the face actually bore an angry expression.

Zhao Zhijing was taken aback and rendered speechless. He was not expecting her and now that she was here, all he wanted was to run away. But, he could not even take a single step.

In truth, Xiao Long Nuu had been observing Zhao Zhijing from a distance, watching his every action. When he made Zhou Botong chase him towards the hills, Xiao Long Nuu followed as well.

Zhou Botong knew this but did not pay attention to it. Zhao Zhijing, on the other hand, was completely unaware.

Xiao Long Nuu bent down and picked up the torch, using it to illuminate Zhou Botong's prostrate form. His face was shadowed and green-like in its pallor.

From her bosom, she casually took out her golden silk glove and slipped it on before lifting his arm to inspect it. She was shocked to find three spiders appear, their mouths firmly attacked to Zhou Botong's finger.

The spiders looked extremely strange. Their bodies had alternating red and green stripes that were so bright, one could get mesmerized watching them.

She knew that venomous animals were usually bright in color. The brighter their color, the more lethal the venom.

These three spiders were still firmly biting unto Zhou Botong's finger.

If she tried to capture them, they would only evade her grasp. Finally, she raised her right hand and sent three jade bee needles into the air, killing the three spiders immediately.

While sending the jade bee needles towards them, she had used the right amount of force to kill the spiders without injuring Zhou Botong.

This species of spider was called "Cai Xue Zhu" (Snow-Colored Spider) and they only lived in the snowy mountains of Tibet. Their venom was one of the three most deadly poisons in the world.

Jinlun Fawang had brought them with him from the East, intending to use it against famous poison experts in the Central Plains.

That time when he tried to kill Guo Jing in Xiangyang, he had not thought of using the venomous snow-colored spiders but after he was hit by Li Mo Chou's Bing Po Yin Zheng (Soul Freezing Silver Needle), he angrily returned to the encampment and took the spiders out of their golden case. He only hoped that he would meet Li Mo Chou again and then have her taste their venom.

Thus, it was just Zhou Botong's misfortune to make the bet with him in stealing the flag. After making a deal with Zhao Zhijing, he placed the venomous spiders on the flag and hid it inside the cave.

Once the snow-colored spiders saw flesh and blood, they would immediately throw themselves against it and bite down hard. They were attracted to blood and once one got bitten, one could never escape.

Their venom was so lethal that no one, not even Fawang, knew the antidote. He himself was not willing to stick the spiders too close to his body, afraid of getting bitten.

Such a disaster he could ill-afford.

Xiao Long Nuu's jade bee needles also came from highly venomous insects, the jade bees of Mount Zhong Nan. Although the lethalness of their venom was inferior compared to that of the snow-colored spiders, the needles managed to enter their bodies, forcing them to produce the anti-venom.

The venomous spiders were still biting on to its prey when they were hit. Because they were still in the process of producing anti-venoms and also sending out their own venoms to their prey, they could not fight off the venom from the needles.

However, right before they died, their bodily fluids spurted out of their mouths, sending the anti-venom into Zhou Botong's blood stream.

It was extremely fortunate that Xiao Long Nuu had rushed in to save him and saw the venomous spiders. Not daring to touch them, she instead launched three needles and luckily hit them, thus managing to discover the antidote to the world's most lethal venoms.

Xiao Long Nuu spied the three snow-colored spiders' lifeless forms on the ground, their bright red-green colors still managing to look fearsome.

She also saw Zhou Botong lying motionless as though he was dead.

In truth, she actually felt quite grateful to Zhou Botong. If not for him, Yang Guo would not have come to Passionless Valley and she would have been forced to marry Gongsun Zhi.

His whole body was covered in cold sweat and his breathing had grown irregular. Who would have thought he would die like this? In her heart, she was deeply moved.

But all of a sudden, Zhou Botong's left hand began to move and she heard him say in a faint voice: "What was it that bit me with such...such fierceness?"

He tried to get up but his body was too weak so that he stumbled.

Xiao Long Nuu was overjoyed to find that he was not yet dead. She lifted the torch closer to his face and saw that traces of the spiders's venom was no longer there.

Relieved, she asked: "You did not die?"

Zhou Botong chuckled: "Well, it doesn't look that way. I am right between half-death and half-life...haha..."

He wanted to laugh heartily but his hands and feet were twitching to get up. His smile faded.

(NOTES: I don't know what to make of the English translations of the acupoints so I just left the pinyin as is.)

Laughter came from outside the cave. The sound was so strong that it resembled the ear-deafening sound of thunder rumbling.

That person spoke: "Mischievous Old Urchin, have you stolen the king's flag? In today's wager with you, who won? You or me?"

The speaker was precisely Jinlun Fawang.

Using her left hand, Xiao Long Nuu snuffed out the light. The fire went out immediately. As long as she was wearing her gold silk glove, no sharp objects or raging fires could harm her.

Zhou Botong replied: "Whether the Mischievous Old Man has lost in this game is not yet decided. But I'm afraid I've lost my life to you. Fawang, you rascal, what sort of poisonous spider is this, so evil and cruel?"

When he spoke these words, his voice sounded soft and thin. Even though he was angry, he was far too weak. Still, his voice was as deep as Fawang's rumbling laughter.

Fawang was secretly amazed. He was bitten by my Cai Xue spiders but he didn't die. From his voice, it is clear that his internal strength is profound, not below mine. Luckily, he fell for the trap, thus removing a powerful enemy. If he doesn't die soon, he'll only suffer for a short while.

Zhou Botong added: "Young Taoist Zhao Zhijing, you worked with this man to trick me. Go quickly to Qiu Chuji and ask him to kill you!"

Outside the cave, Zhao Zhijing hid behind Fawang, fearing for his life. He thought in terror, How could I ask that of Martial Senior Qiu?

Fawang laughingly said: "Taoist Priest Zhao is very good. Once I inform our prince of his great deed, he will rever him as an honorable teacher of the Quanzhen School."

But, he thought, If Zhou Botong dies, Taoist Priest Zhao won't have a way out. From this time on, he is under my control. His level of skill is ordinary but Zhou Botong acts like a crazy person. Senior generations, like Qiu Chuji and so on, may honor him, but who would take his words seriously? How can the Quanzhen School depend on the words of the Mischievous Old Urchin?

Indignant, Zhou Botong let out a snort of contempt.

Most of the venoms in his body were gone but the cai xue zhu was extremely venomous. Its effects wouldn't vanish that easily. Just as a tiny drop of it could kill several people so could the slightest anger in Zhou Botong lead to a feeling of dizziness.

Xiao Long Nuu said: "Jinlun Fawang, you strike others, then use this kind of venom to injure another. Is that a rule of your school? Quick, give us the antidote to cure Old Gentleman Zhou!"

Seeing Zhou Botong dazed, Fawang was relieved to find that the venom was working. He thought, How could you depend on this chit of a girl against me?

He remembered what Zhao Zhijing said to him earlier in the day, that he was once defeated by her. Making up his mind to get her and show her exactly who was more powerful or stronger, he dashed into the cave, raising his left palm while his right hand moved as though to grab Xiao Long Nuu.

He said: "Here's the antidote. Take it."

Xiao Long Nuu waved her right hand and a burst of soft tinkling could be heard. A golden bell attached to a silken belt flew out, heading towards his Qi Men Xue point.

Fawang thought, If I still can't catch you today, how can I teach that Taoist priest Zhao not to laugh?

Swaying his body to avoid the golden bell, he reached into his vest to grasp two wheels, beating the two together to produce a loud sound that shook one's eardrums.

Maintaining her position, Xiao Long Nuu shifted slightly, aiming for his back where his Da Chui Xue point was. The change of moves was extremely fast; Fawang leapt back, exclaiming: "Your level of kung fu is rarely seen in women!"

The two of them fought inside the narrow passage and within the blink of an eye, they have already exchanged ten or so moves. When it came to power, Xiao Long Nuu was no match against Fawang, however, he was still worried about that day when entered the cave in the hill and pricked his foot on a Soul Freezing Silver Needle, nearly costing him his life.

Although Xiao Long Nuu and Li Mo Chou came from the same school, Li Mo Chou was actually a level higher than her. Still, what he was worried about were the clever tricks that Li Mo Chou's master must have taught her as well. He was not only unwilling to get inside the cave and make the same mistake again, he also knew that there were poisonous spiders there. One bite from them would mean sure death for him. So although he was anxious, he was not bold enough to brave the danger.

In the darkness, one could only hear the clang of metals as the lead and silver wheels met the golden bell, the sound almost resembling music made from small gongs.

Standing afar, Zhao Zhijing listened to the sounds of the two fighting while his heart beat wildly. Although it was not his intention to kill Zhou Botong, he knew that he could not escape from the blame of his murder. In Wulin, no crime went unpunished.

If Fawang killed Xiao Long Nuu, that would be great. But what if Xiao Long Nuu won? Even if she withdrew or ran away, the news would still spread. What should he do then?

Grasping his sword, he started to pace, listening to the sound of the wheels and the golden bell grow louder as his sweat continued to stream and soak his robes.

Even though Fawang's kung fu was higher than that of Xiao Long Nuu, his weapon was shorter than hers so he could not enter the cave. Eventually he found it difficult to gain the upper hand. After six or seven moves, he still could not penetrate her defenses.

Xiao Long Nuu saw that Zhou Botong was once again motionless on the ground, close to death. Because she wanted to save him, she did not want the fight to last long.

As the two of them fought in the darkness, her better vision gave her an advantage. She saw Fawang wield his wheel to the right before slanting and smashing down to create a crack. Immediately, she moved her silken belt to the right, aiming for him while at the same time, her left hand released ten Yu Feng Zhen (Jade Bee Needles), sending them shooting in his direction.

With very little distance between them, the Yu Feng (Jade Bee) needles shot out noiselessly so that Fawang did not realize it at once until they were only about a foot from his body. However, his wugong (martial arts) was no small matter and in the face of danger, he hurriedly turned over his wheel to block the small golden bells of the coiling silken belt, bracing himself with both feet as he did at the same time he let out a loud shout. His body rose several zhang or so, allowing the ten or so Yu Feng needles to fly past the soles of his feet.

In the haste, he used a great amount of his force, raising both arms up as his body rose along with his silver and lead wheels, which were still successively blocking the small golden bells of the silken belt, sending them flying from his hands into midair.

The wheels made a "wuwu" sound while the small golden bell let out a "ding-ding" noise as both shot straight up into the sky about twenty feet from the ground.

Under the starlight, one could only see circles of gray and silver amidst the fiercely flying strip of belt above.

Xiao Long Nuu did not wait for him to fall back to the ground before she released another Yu Feng needle in his way. Fawang's body was still in midair and no matter how strong his wugong was, there was no way for him to deflect it. Although the distance between them this time was big, the circumstance was actually quite dire for him.

However, when Fawang leapt he had anticipated that the enemy would certainly try to strike again so he immediately grabbed at his chest, using his external force to rip off two strips of cloth from his gown. As the gown tore into pieces, his laughter rang loud.

Just as the Yu Feng needles shot towards him, he waved the strips of cloth, allowing the tiny needles to only pierce the cloth. He gave another laugh as finally both his feet touched the ground, throwing away the strips of cloth as he did. He then stretched out his hands to catch his two wheels as they fell from the air.

Twice, he was able to get away from danger, both made possible without using his wugong but his shrewd mind. At a crucial moment, he escaped not only with his life but with Xiao Long Nuu's weapons as well.

As soon as his feet fell on the ground, he rushed up to the mouth of the cave and sneered: "Long GuNiang (Miss Long), you still don't give up?"

He was afraid that Xiao Long Nuu might ambush him in the cave so he did not dare enter. However, Xiao Long Nuu did not know this so she hid herself near the entrance to the cave, silently clutching a single golden needle.

Fawang waited for a moment. Seeing nothing move, he formulated a plan. He held his two wheels in his right hand and used his left to pick up the two strips of cloth. He quickly tossed the wheels one after the other into the interior of the cave, using them to shield his feet from the poisoned needles on the ground while at the same time wielding the strips of cloth in the air, blocking his front. The two strips of cloth still bore the YuFeng needles so they actually served as virulent weapons.

He laughed and said: "The wolf's fang cudgel! Long GuNiang, why don't you test the severity of my wolf's fang?"

But before he could even finish his sentence, he suddenly felt a tug in his hand. A half section of the cloth was unexpectedly grasped by Xiao Long Nuu!

Ordinarily, she would not have so easily grabbed a wolf's fang cudgel with her bare hands but she was wearing her gold silk gloves, not even a wolf's fang could withstand it.

Taken by surprise, Fawang hurriedly applied strength to snatch it back but in between that space of an instant, Xiao Long Nuu already shot out the golden needle in her hand.

Fawang shouted in the dark, sensing the life-threatening situation. He then grabbed Zhou Botong's body which was lying on the ground and using his heel to raise him and use him as cover, following the stance of the "*Dao Cai Qi Xing Bu."

Afterwards, he hurriedly leapt out of the cave, glad to have escaped with his life. However, the life-and-death situation that he has just been through filled him with fear so that he only stopped when he was well away from the cave, gasping for breath.

Those twenty or so YuFeng needles pierced Zhou Botong's body. Xiao Long Nuu gasped, thinking that he was dead. Also, his body was lying still, only serving to increase her guilt.

But unexpectedly, Zhou Botong suddenly said: "Good pain, good pain! What in the world bit me?"

Although startled, Xiao Long Nuu was happy. She said: "Zhou Botong, you are not yet dead?"

Knowing nothing about proper addresses, she spoke his name plainly.

Zhou Botong said: "Seems like I'm passed death. Can it be that I'm alive again? I didn't know that once you're dead there is still enough life left."

Xiao Long Nuu replied: "You're not dead. That's good. That Fawang was frighteningly good. Not even once did I hit him."

She then took out an iron stone, using it to suck back the YuFeng needles from his body.

Zhou Botong scolded: "Fawang, that thieving dog, he speaks nothing but lies, taking advantage of me because I'm dying, even using me to block the tiny needles..."

Xiao Long Nuu never stopped removing the needles and he also did not stop scolding the person.

Xiao Long Nuu smiled faintly, saying: "Zhou Botong, these needles that pricked you are mine." At that moment, a sudden thought came to her, prompting her to ask: "My YuFeng needles are steeped in bee venom, does your body feel bad?"

Zhou Botong replied: "I feel very comfortable. Prick me again."

Xiao Long Nuu thought that he was joking so she took out a tiny jade bottle from her chest, saying: "This bottle of jade bee honey is the antidote to my golden needles. If you drink it, then you'll be all right."

But Zhou Botong shook his hand, saying repeatedly: "No, no! The pricks of your needles make me feel comfortable. It appears to counteract the venom of the spiders."

Xiao Long Nuu thought that Lao Wantong (Mischievous Old Urchin) was speaking nonsense again, but because he firmly refused to take it, she decided not to force him. Besides, it looked as though this strange old man's neigong (internal strength) was immeasurably deep if he was bitten by the venomous spiders and he did not die. Being hit by the YuFeng needles was no hindrance.

In truth, the honeybees' sting, although extremely poisonous, could nevertheless treat various illnesses. The mysterious benefits of the jade bee included cure for rheumatism and other such diseases that affected man under the heavens. However, Xiao Long Nuu together with Zhou Botong were not familiar with medicine so they did not know that the YuFeng needles can be used to combat poison with poison and the Cai Xue Zhu (Snow-Colored Spider) poison was only one of many.

Fawang was listening to Zhou Botong's scolding words from outside the cave and was startled. He thought that this man scolding him must be an immortal god that could not be killed. If he really wanted to kill him, he must do so now while he was off his guard. Otherwise, the opportunity might not present itself again.

He advanced but before he could enter the cave's entrance, he paused. When he successively used both his silver and lead wheels to see if there was a trap waiting inside, he had also lost them and so now the only weapons he had in his possession was Xiao Long Nuu's silken belt.

He called out: "Long GuNiang, I have your weapon with me!"

Then, with one shake, the silken belt unfolded and flew straight inside. His wugong had reached a level where he could wield any weapon without any problem. So although Xiao Long Nuu's silken belt was weird, he thought he could use it like one would use a whip. But its ability was unexpected and not only that, he was able to use it even from where he was standing. He was not afraid anymore that the opponent would suddenly attack him with the golden needles.

With child-like innocence, Xiao Long Nuu rose to pick up the silver and lead wheels. She struck the two together and spoke: "Good, let's exchange weapons so we can start the fight."

She stretched out her right arm but a quick pain she felt in her hand made her stop and refuse to push forward.

The lead wheel appeared small but it was actually made of very heavy metal. So when Xiao Long Nuu extended it, she was not prepared for its weight. She quickly pulled back and clutched the two wheels to her chest.

Fawang saw an advantage and quickly dashed forward, extending his hand to grab the double wheels. Xiao Long Nuu took a step back as her left hand shot up as though to release the silver wheel. But it was only a feint move because she used this chance to release several YuFeng needles in his direction.

These YuFeng needles were the same ones she had extracted from Zhou Botong's body so they were no longer as poisonous. Still, they could still be used as a weapon. Fawang was prepared, however. When he could not grab the silver wheel, he quickly leapt to the side, allowing the YuFeng needles to shoot past him, hitting nothing but empty air.

Zhou Botong laughed, saying: "Great, let the bald thief come and then you hit him in the butt with your tiny needles!"

Xiao Long Nuu said: "Ai! I've used up all my YuFeng needles!"

Dismayed, Zhou Botong scratched his head and said: "That's one annoying problem."

He had two personalities in him - one old, the other young - but he did not have the ability to balance the two, so whatever it was he thought or felt, he always said it without misgivings.

Jinlun Fawang had a scheming mind, but he was really unaware of Zhou Botong or Xiao Long Nuu's personality. Believing that no one under the heaven could outsmart him, he thought: You said that you've used up all your YuFeng needles. Why should I believe you? It's clear that you want me to believe that to entice me to lower my guard down. That old ploy is not going to work on me."

Thus, Xiao Long Nuu's frank speech instead caused Fawang to be even less daring, especially when only days ago in the cave in the hills, Yang Guo had tricked him. He did not want to suffer the same fate as Ni Moxing and be crippled in both legs. He would rather wait twelve long hours than go through that.

One hour soon turned to two hours until finally the sky showed first light.

Zhou Botong sat in a kneeling position, trying to circulate his qi in order to get rid of the poison still in his body. But the venom of the Cai Xue spiders was really strong because as he tried to move his qi, his chest suddenly tightened and he felt nauseaus. There was no spot where he did not experience any problem. He had tried circulating his qi through different paths, but each try had the same result.

Finally, he sighed defectedly and said: "Ai, Lao Wantong! You've tried it so many times it's no longer amusing!"

Fawang was peeping from outside, but since he did not wait and stay in his place for long, he did not know the problem.

He thought to himself: This is not good. The old man is trying to practice nei gong!

Upon this new development, he carefully took out a golden box from his bosom, removing the cover to reveal several crawling Cai Xue spiders inside. When exposed to the sun, the light made their variegated red and green colors brighter and even more eye-catching.

Next, Fawang took out a pair of rhinoceros horns and used it to clip the spiders in between and gently lifted it from the sticky web. Gently, he flung the Cai Xue spiders towards the mouth of the cave where it stuck. He repeated his movements and threw the rest of the venomous spiders in the small box towards the cave.

Their sticky web covered the entire cave's entrance. The spiders had been inside the small box for a very long time and they had not been fed so as soon as they were able to get out, they immediately set to work, climbing up, moving east, dropping low, and approaching west, hanging suspended, until they were able to create a network of webs in just a very short time.

Xiao Long Nuu and Zhou Botong watched with interest as the spiders spun its web, yet it never occured to either one of them to stop their progress. Only when the web reached about ten feet in diameter, covering the entire mouth of the cave, and the red-green venomous spiders start to crawl around did they look troubled.

Xiao Long Nuu said softly: "What a pity I don't have any more Yufeng needles left. I could have used one to remove these nasty spiders."

Zhou Botong picked up a dried branch, intending to use it to remove the spider web when suddenly a huge butterfly came flitting near the mouth of the cave and ended up caught in the spider web. The species originated form the Kunlun Mountains so when it fell on the web, it had enough power in its body to attempt to struggle and escape. However, although the butterfly's body was huge, one touch of the spider silk and it went straight into paralysis.

Xiao Long Nuu realized this and quickly said: "Don't! The web is poisonous!"

Alarmed, Zhou Botong leapt away and hastily flung the stick to the ground.

Indeed, when Fawang released the venomous spiders, he not only intended to use it to seal the cave, but he also hoped that they would use their hands to destroy it. One touch would cause the poison to seep into the skin and enter the body.

Sitting cross-legged again, Zhou Botong watched as the spiders crowded around the butterfly and started to eat it. He thought: My internal flow is still unstable. It will be some time before I recover.

Xiao Long Nuu, on the other hand, was thinking: If he is going to remain inactive, how will Lao Wantong be able to move the poison up his body in order to remove it completely? So she asked: "How many days and nights will it take for you to recover your internal energy?"

Zhou Botong sighed and said: "I need one hundred days and one hundred evenings before I can manage."

Xiao Long Nuu was surprised to hear this so she asked: "How are we going to survive?"

Zhou Botong chuckled, saying: "Even if that bald thief gives us food to eat, being trapped in this cave for several years is not fun."

Xiao Long Nuu replied: "He'll never give us food." She let out a sigh. "If it were Gou Er with me in this cave, I wouldn't mind spending a lifetime here."

"What makes you place Yang Guo above me?" Zhou Botong said indignantly. "Is he also stronger than me? You don't think I'm good company?"

Although his words made no sense, Xiao Long Nuu did not mind it. She only gave a cool smile and said: "Yang Guo knows the Quanzhen swordplay. Together, we can easily defeat this Buddhist priest and send him running away into the wilderness."

Zhou Botong snorted: "Humph, the Quanzhen swordplay is not that difficult to understand. Even I can use it. Will Yang Guo be able to beat me?"

"When we combine combine our swords together in a technique called Yunu Suxin swordplay, it is important that his heart is filled with love for me and my heart is filled with love for him so we become united and be able to subdue the enemy."

When Zhou Botong heard her speak about the love between a man and a woman, he was filled with apprehension. He immediately waved his hand and said again and again: "Stop, stop - I don't love you! You also can't possibly love me. But I'm telling you it's much better that there's two of us in this cave. Years ago I was trapped in a cave in Taohua Island and had no one to accompany me. I was forced to fight with myself the whole time. But this time, it's entirely different because I have you. It's going to be fun!"

And on such happy thought, he could imagine being in that cave for a long time.

Xiao Long Nuu asked dubiously: "Fight with oneself? Is there such a method?"

Pleased, Zhou Botong immediately launched into a discussion of the Fen Xin Er Yong Zuo You Hu method.

Xiao Long Nuu thought to herself: If I could learn this method, then I could use the Quanzhen sword play with my left hand and the Yunu sword play with my right. With the two combined, I will be able to complete the Yunu Suxin sword play. But I'm afraid that I won't be able to learn this kung fu in just one evening.

"This kung fu is difficult to learn," she told him.

Zhou Botong replied: "If you say it's difficult, then it will really be difficult. If you say it's easy, then it will be easy. There are people who spend their entire lifetime learning yet never understand a thing while there people who only need a few days to understand it. You've heard about those two kids, Guo Jing and Huang Rong, right?"

Xiao Long Nuu nodded.

Zhou Botong continued: "Who do you think is more intelligent?"

Xiao Long Nuu answered: "Guo Furen is a thousand times more clever. Guo Er told me once that there is no one in this generation who could surpass her intelligence and wisdom. Guo Daxia is virtuous, but his level is actually ordinary."

Zhou Botong laughed. "What do you mean "ordinary?" Are you saying he's stupid? Tell me, am I intelligent? Or stupid?"

Xiao Long Nuu smiled and said: "I look at you and although you're not young, you act silly. Sometimes, you say things that aren't fitting and you act a little mad."

Zhou Botong clapped his hands, saying: "Ah, you're right. I once taught this Zuo You Hu method to Guo Jing Xiong Di and it only took him a few days to learn it. Afterwards, he tried to teach the same lesson to his wife. You said that this child, Huang Rong is sharp and clever with a mind higher than that of a seventy-eight year old man, but she could not understand this kung fu. I thought that the little idiot Guo Jing probably did not teach her properly, so Lao Wantong decided to come and teach her himself. I taught her how to draw a picture with her left hand and a circle with her right, but she could not do both together. It was then that I realized that some men may learn a method that other men would spend a lifetime learning, yet never understand. You see, intelligence is not the only measure to success."

Xiao Long Nuu said: "Don't tell me that when stupid people learn this kung fu, they can surpass even the smart ones. I can't believe it."

Zhou Botong grinned and said: "I look at you and see that your intelligence is more or less equal to that of young Huang Rong. Your wugong is not that far from hers either. Since you don't believe, why not try to draw a square on the ground with your left index finger and a circle with your right at the same time?"

Xiao Long Nuu followed his instructions and extended both her index fingers to the ground, making downward strokes to create the figures. However, it turned out that the square looked like a circle and the circle looked like a square.

Zhou Botong laughingly said: "See? I told you it's not easy."

Smiling faintly, Xiao Long Nuu emptied her mind before extending her index fingers again. This time, she was able to draw a perfect square and a perfect circle.

In his astonishment, Zhou Botong could only stammer: "You...you...you..." A moment passed before he could speak: "You studied this before?"

"Ah, I haven't," Xiao Long Nuu replied. "Besides, didn't you say this is difficult?"

Zhou Botong scratched the white hairs on his head and asked: "Then how did you know how to draw?"

Xiao Long Nuu said: "I don't know. I didn't think. I just held out my fingers and drew the figures."

As she said this, she wrote the three characters "lao wan tong" with her left hand and the three characters "xiao long nuu" with her right. The two hand strokes were so neatly written they looked like the ones found in books and the handwriting was also very elegant.

Delighted, Zhou Botong declared: "This shows that you learned this method even when you were still in your mother's womb! This is so much better!"

Thereupon, he taught her how to attack with her left and defend with her right, strike with her right and block with her left. It was in Taohua Island that he first learned this strange kung fu that was unmatched under the heavens so when the old man spoke, she listened.

In truth, the essence of the Zuo You Hu technique was the four characters "Fin Xin Er Yong." Often, people with high intelligence have complicated thoughts and they always rushed form one thought to another. During the Three Kingdoms period, Cao Zi wrote the Qi Bu Shi, which depicted the turbulence of Wu Dynasty. The poem could be likened to that of a person trying to learn the Zuo You Hu kung fu technique, only that the turbulence that makes it impossible to learn occurred purely inside the person's mind.

Xiao Long Nuu's kung fu was based on suppressing all emotions and desires. Even when she was only eight or nine years old she mastered her feelings, stopping them like one would water. After she fell madly in love with Yang Guo, however, the constant pain in her heart from thinking of him caused her kung fu to gradually decline. But then, this weird technique was introduced, unexpectedly helping her to recover.

After she resumed practicing the Gumu Pai nei gong, she was actually at the same level as Lin Chaoying when she was pining over her lost love. Their mind sets were the same for the most part so they had more or less the same capacity for understanding.

As soon as Zhou Botong moved his finger, she understood his meaning quickly. But it was only because Zhou Botong, Guo Jing, and Xiao Long Nuu shared the same personality - innocence of heart - that people like Huang Rong, Yang Guo, and Zhu Ziliu could not learn it.

Zhou Botong had yet to remove the poison from his body, but he continued to speak and draw with enthusiasm. Xiao Long Nuu, on the other hand, kept on nodding her head, but in her mind she was secretly trying to figure out how to use the Yunu sword play with her right hand and the Quanzhen sword play with her left. And so after several hours of playing this Chinese finger game with him, she finally grasped the idea.

"I understand completely," she spoke.

To test it out, she moved her hands, making circular and thrusting motions with it.

With mouth agape, Zhou Botong could only shout: "Strange! Strange!"

Guarding the cave outside, Fawang and Zhao Zhijing heard the two of them muttering and laughing with each other so they pressed their ears closer but they could only hear snatches of their conversation, not enough to make the meaning clear.

Xiao Long Nuu raised her head at that moment and saw them eavesdropping. She straightened and said, "We're getting out of here!"

Zhou Botong looked at her blankly, asking: "How exactly?"

"If we go out and catch that bald thief, we can force him to give you the antidote," Xiao Long Nuu replied.

Zhou Botong stroked his beard, saying, "You think you can beat him?"

As they spoke, they suddenly heard a buzzing sound. A honeybee got stuck to the spider web and tried to struggle. Earlier when the big butterfly touched the spider's silk, it immediately went into paralysis. This honeybee was small in size, but it seemed unafraid of the poison of the Cai Xue spiders and even succeeded in splitting the web open.

The venomous spiders zealously eyed it fom the side, but dared not to go forward and tangle it within their silk. After a long while, the honeybee would not be able to keep itself conscious and only then would the venomous spiders attack it.

In the Ancient Tomb, Xiao Long Nuu kept swarms of jade bees as pets together with honeybees all year long so no doubt her technique of controlling bees was vey good. Moreover, she regarded all bees as a friend. When this honeybee was in trouble, she could not stand it.

Suddenly changing her mind, she said: "Although these venomous spiders are evil-looking, my bees won't necessarily be afraid of them."

She then took out the jade bottle from her bosom, opened the lid, and used her right hand to fan the air around it, allowing the fragrant aroma to spread and penetrate through the thick spider web.

Surprised, Zhou Botong asked: "What are you doing?"

"Do you want to see an amusing trick?" Xiao Long Nuu asked.

Zhou Botong was delighted, saying: "Wonderful!" Then, asked: "What trick is that?"

Xiao Long Nuu only smiled, not responding as she continued moving her palm.

This was the season where the wild flowers in the valley were in full bloom. Whereever the sweet scent of honey could be smelled, the numerous wild bees gathering honey rushed in that direction.

When the wild bees rushed inside the cave, they got tangled in the spider web, and immediately began to struggle. Some died after being biten by the venomous spiders while others were able to sting a few spiders. Although the Cai Xue spiders were considered among the world's most poisonous, too much bee venom in their bodies caused them to become stiff and gradually die.

Zhou Botong was ecstatic as he looked on while, outside the cave, Jinlun Fawang and Zhao Zhijing watched in helpless astonishment.

In the meantime, the Cai Xue spiders still had the upper hand. Only three poisonous spiders were dead while about forty or so honeybees were killed violently. However, the wild bees continued to swarm. At first, there were only thirty of them, but fifty more came and got caught in the web. Afterwards, dozens more of them came, numbering up to a hundred so that the spider web covering the mouth of the cave soon began to fill up, stinging the venomous spiders until they died.

Zhao Zhijing had experienced firsthand the honeybee's sting. Seeing them now with his own eyes, he realized the circumstance was grave. Hastily, he dives into the bushes to avoid them. Fawang, on the other hand, knew that the Cai Xue spiders were rare. If they are annihilated, there would be none who could their job. Therefore, he and the venomous spiders share a common hatred against this swarm of wild bees.

However, he did not know that it was Xiao Long Nuu who summoned them. All he thought about was how to force Zhou Botong and Xiao Long Nuu out of the cave with their lives.

The young Xiao Long Nuu dipped a finger into the jade bottle and shot some honey towards Fawang, hitting him on both sides. He howled into the cave's entrance as several wild bees made an about-face and headed towards him.

Fawang was panic-stricken as he realized the dire situation he was in. He dashed forward quickly. Although the wild bees were fast, his lightness kungfu was faster so within moments, he was already ten or so feet away.

His figure appeared like a wisp of black smoke, rushing further and further away. Failing to catch up, the wild bees merely scattered around.

Xiao Long Nuu stamped her foot again and again, saying repeatedly: "What a pity! What a pity!"

Zhou Botong asked: "What a pity?"

"He ran away before I could snatch the antiidote from him," Xiao Long Nuu replied.

Indeed, she planned to summon the honeybees so they could cover Fawang's flank, effectively trapping him within a sphere. However, these wild bees came from different nests and therefore came from different directions. Unlike the tamed jade bees of the Ancient Tomb, when she wanted them to pursue, sting the enemy, return, outflank him, or make a circle like in a battle formation, the wild bees were helpless.

But Zhou Botong was full of admiration. He was the sort who liked games and when he played, his spirit usually improved. So when he clapped his hands with enthusiasm, he forgot all about the poison still in his body.

NOTES:

Dao Cai Qi Xing Bu - Collapsing Big Dipper March (or somewhere along those lines)
yu4 nu:3 su4 xin1 - "beautiful maiden, plain heart"
tao2 hua1 dao3 - Peach Blossom Island
fen1 xin1 er4 yong4 zuo3 you4 hu4 - Divide the Heart Left/Right Combination

Copyright © 2004 Excursus. All rights reserved.