Chapter 59: Cultivation
Thousand-Faced Abbess walked forward casually. "That's a nice dagger. Are you Curly Bearded Stranger's disciple?"
"Nonsense! I've never formally become a disciple of anyone."
Thousand-Faced Abbess' smiled deepened. "That dagger is called 'Lightning Bolt'. When used during a thunderstorm it can shoot lightning out three feet, and when wielded it will flash like lightning. It's unstoppable. The blade was made from the huge tooth of a rare thunder dragon from primordial times. It far surpasses the legendary Fish Guts dagger. It's said the dagger was originally left by a Daoist alchemist at Wangwu Mountain and found by chance by Curly Bearded Stranger Wu Xin, but he didn't know the mystical value of the dagger and once used it as a throwing weapon and nearly lost it. If you're not Curly Beard's disciple, then how did you acquire this Lightning Bolt dagger?"
Talk of the dagger made Wenchang recall those horrible memories at the riverbank where the old freak hit and kicked him and nearly turned him into fish food at the bottom of Black Dragon Pond. He snorted. "I don't know who Curly Bearded Stranger is. Some old bastard gave me this dagger and had me help him get some jade marrow dragonhorn for him to save his life. I got it for him and saved him, but then he tried to kill me. I barely escaped from the water with my life. Hmph! You third-rate martial fraternity elders are all despicable."
"Ah! No wonder that guy is still alive. Outcast Androgyne is in for some trouble."
Wenchang recalled the martial fraternity rumor the little beggar, Fang Xiaoshan said had told him, that Outcast Androgyne had used a rare poison to torment Curly Bearded Stranger. Hey, didn't that old freak have a big curly beard? Must be him, the hateful son of a bitch."
He was on the lookout for an escape route as he was thinking. "Thousand-Faced Abbess, enough talk. Why aren't you attacking?"
He knew it would be difficult to make good use of his concealed weapons. That throwing knife outside the Gate of Everlasting Joy was proof enough of Thousand-Faced Abbess' sublime ability. Those kinds of weapons didn't work as well in close quarters. He didn't want to waste using one unless he was sure he'd hit his target.
Thousand-Faced Abbess snickered, waved her whisk, and stepped closer. "Then let's see these rare skills of yours, junior!"
Wenchang was not at all sure of himself. What chance did a little kitten like him fresh onto the scene have against one of the Thirteen Greats of the Martial Fraternity? He would be lying if he said he wasn't scared. He circulated his qi to protect himself and concentrated the six harmonies1 and began moving about in all directions, dodging her whisk slashing at him. In three rounds he didn't even have the chance or the courage to strike back.
He felt the hidden force of the whisk sweeping by, disrupting his circulation and making it hard to breathe, but his entire vision was consumed by the whisk darting here and there; he couldn't get away from it. It was like he was caught in a net. As soon as he dodged one strike another was on its way. He couldn't do anything except concentrate on avoiding the whisk. His dagger was useless to him in this situation; it couldn't keep up with her speed and ferocity. He stuck his dagger out to fend off a blow but her move had already changed and she was now coming at him from a different direction.
The came a cold voice from the midst of her whirling whisk. "Idiot! Blocking and changing moved is an inferior position to be in, like being led by the nose. Did you forget about getting the jump on your enemy? I have already acted by the time my opponent attacks. You have to look for a chance to strike first. What are you going to do when you're constantly under attack?"
Cold sweat was pouring off Wenchang. Even dodging was difficult, how could he move in to strike first? For real! But he was a clever one. He suddenly had a thought. He roared and slashed with his dagger three times in a row and spun to the side to lure her whisk over in pursuit.
Sure enough, the whisk thundered over, intercepting his spin move and meeting him head on. But he took that moment to turn back midway through his spin, heedless of the whisk, which naturally hit nothing but air. He went the other way and whipped his dagger out, catching his chance and attacking her in the left rib.
"That's more like it," Thousand-Faced Abbess shouted, then struck five times.
Wenchang was more comfortable now, no longer passively taking shots. He struck with his dagger, seeking out the whisk, while looking for a chance to close in and attack. He was able to strike back once for every three of her attacks.
He also noticed that she wasn't letting her whisk touch his dagger, and her onslaught of hidden, internal force was not enough to disrupt the protection from his qigong. this emboldened him, and he was no longer afraid or lacked confidence.
Five more rounds and then he heard her say, "Careful, bring your true skill to the fore. On guard!"
Then the whisk was gone, replaced by a pair of big sleeves which snaked in and out. The distance between them closed until they were nearly touching.
This was not good. Close quarters like this was the most dangerous, and since she had put away her whisk to fight barehanded, she must feel the fight was already hers. Her hands and sleeves must be even more formidable than the whisk, or else why would she take on his dagger barehanded? At close quarters, a short-bladed weapon was superior, and more dangerous. This old nun was looking down on him. He was as mad as he was startled. He shouted and attacked five times in succession with his dagger.
On the fifth strike his wrist was hit by a sudden palm strike. His right hand felt like it had been struck by lightning and went numb.
The other big sleeve was already attacking his chest.
He roared and shot his left hand out with all his might, his hands flying forward heedless of his safety, looking to hit her even if it cost him as well.
Their hands met and a thunderous forced slammed into his left hand and it went numb as well. He was flung back ten feet, and his kicks naturally came to nothing.
A gray figure went after him, sticking close. "Where are you going?"
He could barely move his hands, but he still grasped his dagger firmly. The three darts he had in his left hand, however, had already been smashed to pieces and had fallen to the ground. The old nun was supernaturally powerful.
His survival instinct sustained him. While he was on the ground he used "lazy snowball" and rolled away, a move martial arts masters disdained.
But the gray figure was there before he was on his feet. He roared and used every kind of kick he could think of, his back pressed to the ground as he attacked ferociously.
Too bad! He was too lacking. He spun in a circle twice and then his right calf was hit with a palm strike, and then a foot stepped on him and held him down. He heard "Up you go!" and he was flung into the air, thirty feet out. He nearly blacked out when he hit ground, the dagger falling from his grip.
Two fingers pressed his Jade Pearl acupoint just above his sternum before he could get up. Then he was lifted up by his belt and carried into the small grove.
Thousand-Faced Abbess set him down under a tree and leaned him against the trunk. She hefted Lightning Bolt in her hand and stood before him. "So, little rascal, you still want to run? You're in for it now."
It was hopeless. He'd rather die than submit. He clenched his teeth. "Shameless! There's never been any enmity between us, so do you keep coming after me?"
"You don't deny you're a thief?"
"That's right, I never intended to deny it."
"You don't deny you're a lecher?"
"Shut up! That's nonsense!"
"Hmph! You're a stubborn one. If I don't make you suffer a little you'll never admit it." She stuck the dagger in the tree and squatted. "I'll give you two choices," she said sternly.
"I'm not deaf, what are you hollering about?" Wenchang shot back.
"One, you continue to deny your criminal act. That will bring about your own destruction, so you should prepare to be punished. Or two, you can come with me and roam the jianghu as my disciple."
"Hmph, become the disciple of a third-rate freak like you? You're dreaming!"
"You don't fear death?"
"I'm fear it, but I'll never live in disgrace."
"My chivalrous name is known across the land. It would be an honor for you if you were my disciple. What's this talk of disgrace?"
"Hmph! Your chivalrous reputation is like the head of Endless Valley's: fraudulent and undeserved. Since you think yourself righteous, why would you want a lecherous bandit as a disciple? You clearly don't have good intentions. To me, your chivalrous reputation is no better than a dead dog."
"Looks like you're prepared to be punished and die."
Wenchang started. "No! I will follow you through the jianghu as your disciple."
Thousand-Faced Abbess smacked him upside the head. "What's this sudden change of heart? What are you up to?"
Wenchang spit up some blood and laughed. "You got it. I want to wait for a chance to kill you."
She smiled and grabbed him and pressed him down. "I've wasted my breath. It's not worth it. Let me end you first."
She smacked him and unlocked his acupoints. The numbness in his hands went away instantly, but he shouldn't be able to move immediately after having his acupoints unblocked. His ultimate breathing skill was a rare Daoist technique, though, and his was highly cultivated, so he was unaffected and immediately shot his hand out.
But he had miscalculated, and as soon as he moved he was checked. The nun gasped and pressed every vital meridian on his body and in and instant he felt every bone in his body was going to shatter. His blood vessels expanded and contracted and his muscles and tendons spasmed. The pain was unbearable.
He didn't have a chance to resist. His acupoints had not been blocked, but the nun's hands were not only quick, her blows were powerful as well, and an intermittently hot and cold burst of energy surged through his body, inside and out. It was so painful he couldn't struggle and felt all his strength drain away.
As he writhed in pain he thought of that time he was floating in Black Dragon Pond, and how he went cold and numb all over when that old freak had hit him. He had used his qigong to save himself and get through that ordeal. He was still wide awake, enduring the pain. He took a deep breath and began circulating his qi to resist it.
His true qi coalesced, then dispersed, then coalesced again. He wasn't discouraged, even though he had suffered a heavy blow, he just tried hard and concentrated his true qi again. After a dozen unsuccessful attempts he finally did it and his true qi began circulating, coursing toward the channels and acupoints where he'd been struck and reducing much of the pain.
During his torment he concentrated and looked inward, so he didn't notice the sweat forming on Thousand-Faced Abbess' forehead, or how her body was giving off steam.
As he was circulating his true qi to resist her, he didn't have time to think clearly, and didn't notice that the places she had hit him were along his meridians. He never thought that is she were just trying to hurt him, then why had she been so methodical? How could he concentrate his true qi where she hit him? One shot from a finger or palm would disperse his true qi. No master could concentrate his true qi in a given area instantly to ward off a strike.
He endured it and his ultimate breathing skill helped the pain gradually dissipate, but he was still weak and unable to resist. He was waiting to build up enough strength to attack when he heard a gasp and an even heavier, deeper blow landed on him.
He couldn't take it and groaned. He was about to pass out when his Qi and Blood Gate acupoints were pressed by two intermittently hot and cold hands and a strong, yet endurable current surged through his channels. He heard a voice say, "That's full strength sent coursing through your conception and governing vessels."
His mind cleared and was jolted. He soon entered a boundless state, his vital energy stimulated, his true qi beginning to flow through the two meridians. Hastened by the external blow made it twice as effective and soon his brain was buzzing, then was silent as a warm current flowed from his dantian into his lower body through the governing vessel meridian to the Jade Pillow acupoint on the back of his head. He felt a strange vibration through his body like he was being shocked, one jolt after another. After three jolts the warn current receded and flowed back through the two meridians back into his dantian.
Then, he entered a dim, distracted state, unconscious of the outside world. He didn't know where his physical body was, his mind focused on discharging this mystical energy.
He didn't know how much time passed or how many circulations of true qi he went through, but he was suddenly conscious again, his precelestial true qi flowing through his body calmly, multiplying endlessly, and he felt warm all over and full of energy.
He had the strength to resist now, but he didn't. He knew Thousand-Faced Abbess had used her years of cultivation to help him clear his conception and governing vessel meridians, but he still didn't understand why she was being so kind and generous to a stranger. He really couldn't figure it out.
As he was mulling it over he heard her say, "Your conception and governing vessels are clear, but it's still not enough to roam the jianghu. Stand up! I'll teach you some basic attack and defense skills you can use to protect yourself."
He didn't stand up. He fell to his knees and said, "This junior sincerely thanks you, elder, for your generous help, but…"
"Don't talk nonsense!"
"This junior is ill-mannered, but I have to ask why you…"
"Listen up. I've been roaming the jianghu for close to sixty years, doing good and bad, sometimes well-received, sometimes not, but I don't care. I'm going south to Putuo Mountain to cultivate and cut ties with the martial fraternity and withdraw from the jianghu. I only regret that until now I have never found a person with the conduct and natural talent to pass my rare skills onto. It's deeply regrettable. I found you on the road to Tong Pass near Mt. Hua, but until that night you battled with Silver Sword's men I had not witnessed your exceptional gifts. Black Flag Sovereign attacked the Du Family residence and I was there watching. I saw everything that went on between you and Outcast Androgyne, and I knew that you were just the person I have been looking for. Although Outcast Androgyne is rotten to the core, but he is discerning. He would never have let you leave to act as his hidden pawn throughout the jianghu if he thought you were untrainable.
Since then I have been watching your every move, and I am deeply satisfied. And I can't waste any time in heading south so I needed to find someone to pass my skills to so they would not be lost forever. However, you and I are are not destined. Your rare qigong is heretical and evil. I was disappointed, but still willing to help you break through to the next level. I've given up the thought of finding a disciple. You can take it as a bit of kindness from this old nun for me to take half a day to teach you a few self-defense skills. After today I will be on Putuo Mountain cultivating. Don't tell anyone where I am. And don't come and disturb my cultivation unless it's a life-or-death emergency. Stand up, you need to pay careful attention to comprehend all this."
This is a martial arts concept. There's the three kinds of energy: jing, qi, and shen, the inner harmonies, and the three outer harmonies: hands, eyes, body. In other words, he's preparing himself. ↩