Lowering the scroll in my hand, I could not but gasp with surprise. This scroll contained all the information and intelligence available to the Prince of Yong on the Fengyi Sect Master. The compiler of this information painted a vivid picture, as if he were writing a legend or a saga.
The Fengyi Sect Master of unclear origins was adopted by the original sect master at the age of four. At the time, the Fengyi Sect was merely a small sect that took in and organized female orphans for self-preservation. Their martial arts were mediocre. And yet, Fengyi Sect Master Fan Huiyao was a gifted and talented heroine. Unexpectedly, she was able to rely upon a half-ruined Moon Heart Sutra to become an exceptionally powerful martial artist. At the age of twenty, she already stood out in the jianghu for her outstanding talent. What was even rarer was that even though she was a woman, she conducted herself chivalrously and upheld justice. After no more than a few years, this woman, known for her white robes, noble and lofty bearing, and beautiful appearance like that of an immortal, was included in the ranks of the peak experts in jianghu.
Even so, the Fengyi Sect Master’s looks and delicateness still drew innumerable lewd and lecherous individuals. This remarkable woman did not unyieldingly refuse, nor did she sweet-talk and flatter. Instead, she announced clearly that she had no intention of ever marrying, transforming countless admiring elites into her intimate friends. It was only natural that she was also ferocious. Once, the young master of the Black Mountain Stronghold took Fan Huiyao’s adoptive mother-cum-master hostage, using any means necessary to force Fan Huiyao to marry him. At the time, the Black Mountain Stronghold was the underworld’s number one sect, its strength shaking the world. The Fengyi Sect Master indignantly agreed to the wedding.
At the wedding reception, before the guests, while wearing crimson, festive wedding garb, Fan Huiyao suddenly attacked. The sword sped through the air like a rainbow, beheading the bridegroom. The master of the Black Mountain Stronghold ordered his subordinates to dice Fan Huiyao into pulp. Removing the festive garb and revealing plain, unadorned clothing, Fan Huiyao began to slaughter. Her personally created “Gale-Wind Sword Style” was famous throughout the world. Within the festive hall, surrounded by a thousand guests, the swift sword that surpassed the limits of the human body harvested an uncountable number of lives in an unrestrained fashion. The entire air was filled with azure glints of steel. Even within this cruel slaughter, the snow-white, beautiful image of a woman remained graceful and luxurious. In this battle, of the forty-eight protectors of the Black Mountain Stronghold, more than half died. Of the one hundred eight members of the discipline team, forty percent died. Ultimately, Fan Huiyao’s body and sword became one, and she charged out of the encirclement. Just before this, Fan Huiyao’s adoptive mother had been rescued during the chaos. Later, all those who had seen Fan Huiyao said that her white robes were completely covered in blood. More than thirty injuries covered her body, both large and small. Her escape was due to luck and good fortune. What caused greater amazement was Fan Huiyao inviting all the outstanding heroes of the world to a meeting while she was recuperating, calling for a combined attack against the Black Mountain Stronghold. Taking advantage of the heavy losses suffered by the stronghold, the various tyrants and strongmen chose to add insult to injury.1 With Fan Huiyao’s mediation of the different sides, the once notorious Black Mountain Stronghold disappeared like smoke.
After the Black Mountain Stronghold was destroyed, Fan Huiyao formally became sect master. Under her brilliant leadership, the Fengyi Sect quickly became the leader of the righteous sects. And so, Fan Huiyao was even more able to move unhindered throughout the world, trailing the glinting steel of her sword. At the time, thirty years had passed since the fall of Eastern Jin, and the Central Plains were in chaos. Although Fan Huiyao was chivalrous and upheld justice, providing relief and helping the poor, but how was one person’s strength able to stop the heaven-reaching stormy seas? After having seen enough of the suffering of the common people, Fan Huiyao swore an oath to unify the world. At the time, everyone laughed at her arrogance and cockiness. A woman, no matter how capable and skillful, could never unify the world. Fully aware of the difficulties she faced, Fan Huiyao chose both the easiest and most difficult path. She chose Li Yuan, who at the time was not the most powerful warlord, but the one with the clearest politics. Relying upon the Fengyi Sect’s leadership of the righteous sects, relying upon her own ability to move about unhindered and open any doors, and relying upon her exceptional martial arts, the Fengyi Sect made tremendous contributions to the founding of Great Yong.
For Great Yong, Fan Huiyao traveled all over the Central Plains, helping Li Yuan win over the support of many influential families and heroes. For Great Yong, Fan Huiyao even assassinated many enemy generals and ministers. On one occasion, Fan Huiyao targeted an enemy general. At the time, the enemy general was accompanying his wife to a Buddhist temple to burn incense. Wearing plain, unadorned clothes, barefoot, and with her hair tied up, Fan Huiyao held a willow branch in her hands, masquerading as a statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. When several hundred guards skilled in martial experts searched the main hall of the temple, none noticed that the solemn and dignified statue of the Guanyin atop the lotus throne was actually a living person. Just as the enemy general entered the hall to pay his respects, Fan Huiyao attacked with her finger and killed him. Afterwards, she floated down like an immortal and walked out of the hall. All of the guards outside watched her leave, completely stupefied. As everyone watched her depart, her bare feet trod over areas covered with snow, leaving no traces of her passage, her feet unmarred by the slush. Several thousand elite troops, overwhelmed with shock, shouted, “Goddess Guanyin has descended!” Fan Huiyao was able to depart peacefully.
On another occasion, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, was leading an army and fighting against Yang Laosheng. Yao Laosheng had a fierce general under his command named Wen Hu. With a huge halberd in his hand, he was invincible, killing generals and seizing standards, valiant beyond compare. All hailed him as a superior Lü Bu.2 No general under the Prince of Yong’s banner was this man’s match. Several tens of thousands of soldiers were tangled up by a tenacious ten thousand men. Coincidentally, Fan Huiyao was personally escorting army provisions and arrived with the army. Learning of Wen Hu, she left the encampments with a smile on her face. That night, an envoy dispatched by Yang Laosheng arrived at Wen Hu’s encampments, transmitting an order. Extremely loyal to Yang Laosheng, Wen Hu personally came out to welcome the envoy. No one could have guessed that the envoy pulled out an army command, and in a loud voice, proclaimed, “Wen Hu is colluding with the enemy, his crimes are unpardonable. This envoy is here on orders to execute him.” So saying, the envoy unsheathed his sword. The sword, disdaining the heavens and disdaining everyone, cut down the unsuspecting and unprepared Wen Hu from his horse. Amidst the chaos, Fan Huiyao took the opportunity to float away. The next day, the Prince of Yong took advantage and attacked, annihilating the enemy army.
Fan Huiyao’s bitterest battle was with the sovereign of the Devil Sect, Jing Wuji. The Devil Sect supported Yang Laosheng with the goal of unifying the Central Plains. As a result, the Fengyi Sect and the Devil Sect became arch enemies. The methods of the members of the Devil Sect were sinister and vicious, using all kinds of unscrupulous methods, including assassination and poison, while Fan Huiyao’s Fengyi Sect was inevitably somewhat weaker. In order to protect Great Yong’s ministers and generals, Fan Huiyao persuaded the abbot of the Shaolin Temple, and after taking the necessary protective measures, she personally began to find and kill all of the Devil Sect’s assassins and spies. This was a decisive battle unprecedented in history, as both sides assassinated each other. Within the short period of half a year, Great Yong had lost thirty percent of its generals. However, the losses suffered by the enemy were greater. Fan Huiyao’s brilliance was on full display. The many kinds of assassination techniques dazzled everyone. Finally, Jing Wuji could no longer endure such disastrous losses, challenging Fan Huiyao to a duel atop the Lotus Flower Peak of Huashan at the Sacrificial Cliffs.
The day of the duel was sunny and calm. Atop Lotus Flower Peak were assembled many of the outstanding heroes of the age. Everyone wished to witness the duel between the grandmaster Jing Wuji and wulin’s most unusual woman, Fan Huiyao. When noon approached, the two arrived as arranged. Jing Wuji was in a set of blue robes, his appearance handsome and scholarly. Fan Huiyao was wearing a snow-white dress, her magnificence unparalleled. Before the assembled heroes, the two conversed leisurely, discussing the world’s warlords and powers. Their discourse was congenial, almost as if they were close friends. Who would have thought that these two were sworn enemies?
After an hour’s worth of discussion, Jing Wuji sighed and stated, “Alas, we regrettably met so late. One of us has to die in today’s battle. If I were to die, then as long as you are in the Central Plains, my Devil Sect would not take one step into the Central Plains.”
The Fengyi Sect Master smiled indifferently and replied, “If sire meets misfortune, then Huiyao will no longer have an intimate friend. If I were to die, the Fengyi Sect will withdraw from jianghu.”
The battle between the two shook the world. Jing Wuji was the sovereign of the Devil Sect, his bladesmanship was dazzling and tyrannical, as fast as electricity, as swift as the wind, attacks sweeping forth like a dragon, graceful and elegant like an immortal. Fan Huiyao’s swordsmanship was graceful and magnificent, not carrying a single shred of killing aura. As the two sides battled fiercely, everyone was left stupefied by Jing Wuji’s bladesmanship. However, Fan Huiyao’s swordsmanship was also exquisite beyond compare. Fan Huiyao’s martial arts however were a step inferior. After bitterly fighting, she had already been wounded a countless number of times. If she weren’t fighting without concern for her life, she would have likely lost long ago. But after over a thousand exchanges, Fan Huiyao actually seemed to become braver as she fought. All of her abilities were drawn out by this formidable opponent. Everyone heard her whistle sharply, like the cry of a phoenix reaching the nine heavens, as her sword increased in speed, the glinting steel like the waves, each wave higher than the previous one. Within a dozen moves, the sword in Fan Huiyao’s hand pierced through the air and penetrated through the waves, the move fantastic and magnificent, beautiful beyond imagination, piercing through Jing Wuji’s chest. After suffering such a crushing defeat, Jing Wuji departed sadly.
At the time, Fan Huiyao stood facing the wind. Her snow-white clothes were covered with blood that seemed to blossom like red roses. Her figure was tall and thin, her eyebrows stretching all the way to her temples, and her phoenix eyes were profoundly deep. She seemed to float like an immortal, majestic like a revered deity. After this battle, she was hailed as the “Greatest Sword in the World” and was included in the list of grandmasters. She also became the spiritual leader of the righteous sects. Her reputation was even above that of another grandmaster, the True Compassion Elder of the Shaolin Temple. Jing Wuji fled to Northern Han, going to the distant prairie. There, amidst the wind and mist beyond the Great Wall, his bladesmanship improved significantly. After several years, he became the State Mentor. It was said that his bladesmanship had reached the celestial being realm. It was because he abided by his promise that he did not take a step into the Central Plains.
If it weren’t for Fan Huiyao, Great Yong would have taken more than ten years to unify the Central Plains. Under her encouragement and guidance, many experts from both the righteous and underworld realms all joined and served the Great Yong army. Amidst the campaigns and battles, the Fengyi Sect’s power and authority expanded at a rapid rate.
What was even harder to come by was that Fan Huiyao had an earth-shakingly exceptional talent. Her input in decision-making on several occasions caused great shock among the other participants. Because of this, Li Yuan even had several of his sons take her as their master. Although Fan Huiyao asserted that she did not take male disciples, she would still frequently advise and guide them, benefiting the princes greatly. This allowed Fan Huiyao’s power and influence to be implanted within Great Yong’s imperial family.
After the Central Plains were pacified, Li Yuan even asked for Fan Huiyao’s hand in marriage, but the intelligent Fan Huiyao refused, declaring that as the Fengyi Sect Master, she would never marry. This announcement preserved her transcendent position. However, she privately dispatched her disciple, Ji Xia, to personally attend to Li Yuan. Not long afterwards, Li Yuan appointed his second wife, Lady Dou, as the empress, while Ji Xia became a noble consort. After Great Yong’s regime gradually stabilized, Fan Huiyao returned to the Fengyi Sect to cultivate. Although she was no longer involved in the affairs of the world, her concealed strength grew increasingly powerful.
After Fan Huiyao took over the Fengyi Sect, she established a new system and new sect regulations. Under her stipulations, the Fengyi Sect was divided into the Internal and External Halls. The Internal Hall was further subdivided into the Spring River Hall, the Golden Stamen Hall, and the Cold Frost Hall. The Spring River Hall was the heart of the Fengyi Sect’s power and authority. Its disciples were all capable of taking charge of a section and were permitted to mobilize and transfer any and all personnel. The scope of their authority was not limited. The Golden Stamen Hall wielded the power of punishment and promotion with the implicit meaning “the autumn wind rustles and kills.” The Cold Frost Hall was responsible for campaigns and punitive expeditions. Its disciples all had frighteningly powerful martial arts and were all cold-hearted and unfeeling killers. Only extraordinarily capable women were permitted to join the Internal Hall as disciples after they had vowed to never marry and pledged their lives to the Fengyi Sect. The External Hall included all of the branches of the Fengyi Sect scattered throughout the world, as well as all of the named disciples that Fan Huiyao collected in order to expand the power and influence of the sect. Only women were permitted to be members. However, the Fengyi Sect was extremely secretive. One could not discern whether a disciple was an Internal Hall disciple or an External Hall disciple. It was only when a disciple married was one sure that the disciple was an External Hall disciple.
Fan Huiyao’s methods were ingenious. First, she relied upon her intimate relationship with the Great Yong court, taking the daughters of many officials as disciples. Great Yong was warlike and all of these officials were happy to see their daughters practice martial arts. The Fengyi Sect had a close relationship with the imperial clan and was composed entirely of women. Therefore, Fan Huiyao was able to smoothly receive the daughters of officials. From them, she selected some talented individuals. Some of the women esteemed the Fengyi Sect’s prestige such that they would rather not marry and instead enter the Internal Hall. In addition, Fan Huiyao used her connections with the court ministers to marry some of her unordinary looking disciples into rich and powerful families. Although these women came from all kinds of backgrounds, under the guidance of Fan Huiyao, they all had exceptional behavior and appearance, masters of both brush and sword. As a result, many of Great Yong’s ministers quite willing for their children to take Fengyi Sect External Hall disciples as brides, viewing it as an honor. Thus, Fan Huiyao’s Fengyi Sect had forged a complicated and deep-rooted, intimate relationship with the imperial court. Fan Huiyao could easily shake the foundations of the Great Yong empire if she had mind to.
Putting aside the others, the Yong emperor’s noble consort, Lady Ji, was the younger apprentice sister of Fan Huiyao and repeatedly participated in important decisions. The crown prince’s concubine, Xiao Lan, was refined, beautiful, and alluring. While she does not pay any attention to matters of state, she was the beloved concubine of Crown Prince Li An, who doted on her more than the crown princess. If the crown princess had not hailed from a prestigious house and given birth to a son long ago, her status could not be guaranteed. The Princess of Qi, Qin Zheng, was an outstanding talent. She was originally going to join the Fengyi Sect’s Internal Hall. But because she was her father’s only daughter, he strenuously begged the Fengyi Sect Master to stop her. Fan Huiyao rejected her request. After receiving the love of the Prince of Qi, she was wed to him. Moreover, Fan Huiyao once even intended to wed her beloved disciple, Liang Wan, as the Prince of Yong’s second wife, only to be tactfully rejected by Li Zhi. Reportedly, Li Zhi and his wife, Lady Gao, were on exceedingly excellent terms. In addition, while Li Zhi was constantly away on campaigns, Lady Gao not only was rigorous in maintaining the household, but also honored and respected the advisers and generals under Li Zhi. Even Li Yuan had praised this daughter-in-law as a virtuous and good wife. Furthermore, Li Zhi’s concubines were all part of Lady Gao’s dowry. The tale of the mutual respect between Li Zhi and Lady Gao was one that captured the imagination and spread far and wide in Great Yong. Otherwise, the Fengyi Sect would certainly have tried to take advantage.
If one were to ask what matters had not gone smoothly for the Fengyi Sect, they were:
First, although Noble Consort Ji was trusted by the Yong emperor, she was not especially favored compared to the empress and the other consorts. Empress Dou was virtuous and kind, and was the mother of the crown prince. As a result, she led the world by example and her position as empress was stable and secure. Although Noble Consort Zhangsun had lost both of her sons, she still had Princess Changle. Feeling remorseful, the Yong emperor was practically docile and obedient towards Noble Consort Zhangsun. Noble Consort Yan was the mother of the Prince of Qi and had a naturally cheerful and generous temperament. Within the harem, she was most favored by the emperor. Considering affection, Noble Consort Ji could not compare to the empress and the two other noble consorts. Considering looks, Noble Consort Ji could not compare to newly selected women who entered the harem. Although she was trusted by the Yong emperor, her favor was somewhat lacking. In addition, she had no male children.
Second, although the crown prince’s concubine, Xiao Lan, was much favored by the crown prince and had even given birth to a prince, the crown prince especially doted on his heir and was not partial to his son by his beloved concubine. It seemed that even if Li An ascended to the throne, he would only name his son by his first wife as heir apparent.
Third, even though the Prince of Qi had just married, he was as dissolute and wanton as before. Although he treated Qin Zheng well, he continued to keep mistresses as before and already had a number of sons by concubines. Although Qin Zheng was unhappy, there was nothing that she could do.
It wasn’t that the Fengyi Sect did not have any opposition. One of its opponents was the third prince, Li Kang. He was born of petty and low origins because his mother was a palace maid. She had been enfeoffed as Concubine Yi. Although she was not favored by the emperor, Concubine Yi had a gentle and agreeable temperament and did not try to compete for the emperor’s favor. She wholeheartedly focused on raising her beloved son, hoping to be able to wait until the day her son was enfeoffed as a prince and would then be able to move out of the palace into her son’s official residence to spend the rest of her days in domestic bliss. However, once when Li Yuan had returned to the capital and called the entire harem to a banquet, he was suddenly attacked by Devil Sect assassins. In order to protect Li Yuan, Noble Consort Ji unexpectedly pushed Concubine Yi onto the assassin’s blade. Li Yuan was unharmed, while Concubine Yi perished. Although Li Yuan posthumously enfeoffed Concubine Yi as a consort and buried her generously, Li Kang was left embittered and indignant. After failing in his petition that Noble Consort Ji pay with her life, he left the capital furious. After several years, he returned, having acquired excellent martial arts. He once attempted to assassinate Noble Consort Ji in front of everyone, but failed. In memory of his dead mother, Li Yuan did not blame him. Instead, Li Kang was bestowed the title of Prince of Qing and was ordered to garrison the Hanzhong region. Although Li Kang was denounced, he refused to change his behavior. Inside his fief, he did everything he could to exclude the Fengyi Sect. With the sympathy of Li Yuan and the secret help provided by the Prince of Yong, Li Kang was able to sit securely in his fief.
Furthermore, there was Li Yuan’s nephew, Jiang Yong. Li Yuan’s older sister, Grand Princess Ninghua, was married to a warlord named Jiang Wuya. Later on, Great Yong went to war against Jiang Wuya. Jiang Wuya was assassinated by Fengyi Sect assassins, while the grand princess committed suicide. Furious, Jiang Yong continued to battle Great Yong, only to be defeated at Xuzhou. Ultimately, Jiang Yong led his few remaining subordinates and fled into the eastern seas, becoming a pirate. He repeatedly raided the coast, harassing Great Yong’s merchant ships. In the beginning, Li Yuan sympathized with this nephew of his, caring for this only descendant of his elder sister and sought to have Jiang Yong surrender. After Jiang Yong killed an envoy dispatched by Li Yuan, Li Yuan erupted with anger and dispatched several expeditions to suppress these pirates. Because of the boundless seas, these expeditions were unsuccessful. Jiang Yong even raided the Fengyi Sect’s merchant ships. Although the Fengyi Sect wished to deal with him, they were helpless before Jiang Yong’s innate naval prowess. The Fengyi Sect could not find his whereabouts. It was inappropriate for them to truly kill Jiang Yong, as Li Yuan was extremely respectful towards the grand princess because of the teachings and considerations she had shown him in his youth. Having killed his brother-in-law and hounded his elder sister to death, Li Yuan felt guilty and ashamed towards this nephew of his. Although Li Yuan had issued a decree to suppress this nephew, he nevertheless still demanded that Jiang Yong be captured alive.
The hostility between the Fengyi Sect and an imperial prince and the emperor’s nephew was probably the biggest hidden anguish in the heart of Fan Huiyao. But this did not mean that these two were able to affect the power and influence of the sect. Were it not for the Fengyi Sect refraining from acting against them in fear of unforeseen consequences, the two would likely have lost their lives long ago. Even so, the Prince of Qing, Li Kang, could only behave in such a manner in the Hanzhong region. In addition, his exclusion of the Fengyi Sect caused Yong Emperor Li Yuan to place an army in the region to monitor and restrict Li Kang. The Fengyi Sect set a trap for Jiang Yong. If it weren’t for his subordinates sacrificing their lives, Jiang Yong would have been captured long ago. As a result, these days, Jiang Yong laid low.3
Finished reading the information on the Fengyi Sect, I was both astonished and excited. This kind of terrifying and formidable group was the powerful enemy that I had to deal with. This Fengyi Sect Master definitely possessed an earth-shaking talent. Looking at her behavior and conduct, although she seemingly took many risks, her status as a grandmaster and her martial arts leveled the playing field. Planning before acting, she not only had talent, she was also adept at schemes and plots. No wonder the Prince of Yong was suppressed so hard that he could hardly breathe. However, a separate delight also boiled up from my heart. If I was able to force this kind of powerful enemy into desperate straits, this ought to be my life’s greatest achievement. If I only joined the Prince of Yong because of my gratitude for his kindness and grace, then my objective was to eradicate the Fengyi Sect. If the Fengyi Sect had not produced such arrogant and willful disciples, how could Piaoxiang have died? Liang Wan, Liang Wan, you alone are insufficient to compensate for the life of my beloved.
落井下石, luojingxiashi – idiom, lit. to throw stones at somebody who fell down a well; to hit a person who is down, to add insult to injury
吕布, Lü Bu, styled Fengxian, was a general and warlord who lived during the waning days of the Han Dynasty. Wielding a halberd and atop the horse, Red Hare, he was considered the mightiest warrior of his day. He served and betrayed Ding Yuan and Dong Zhuo before becoming nominally independent. He was ultimately defeated and executed by Cao Cao.
销声匿迹, xiaoshengniji – idiom, lit. to vanish without a trace; to lie low