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Thread: Legend of the Tang Dynasty Two Dragons [大唐双龙传] - Unabridged

  1. #181
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 15 Chapter 12

    Book 15 Chapter 12 Righteousness Reaches the Clouds and the Sky

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling intentionally took a long detour to ascertain that nobody followed behind them, before finally heading toward the appointed place where they were going to rendezvous with Kou Zhong and Song Shidao.

    It was a house near the citys south gate: the secret nest of Qingshe Bang.

    The two leaped over the wall and entered in. When they reached the front hall, they saw Kou Zhong and Song Shidao were sitting opposite of each other across the table with worried frown on their faces.

    They could not help feeling shocked.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, Dont misunderstand, Yu Yi has been rescued.

    Xu Ziling sat down by his side. Frowning, he said, Was it because she saw that the one rescuing her was you, this kid, she got mad and walked away?

    Song Shidao sighed and said, If she could use her own two legs to walk away, we would not need to sit here sighing and groaning.

    Aghast, Ba Fenghan asked, Yin Gui Pai had the impertinence to treat her ruthlessly?

    Grieved, Kou Zhong replied, Definitely extremely ruthlessly. But not like you think, by maiming her arms or breaking her legs, that kind of ruthlessness. Just go inside the room and youll understand.

    Fu Junyus flowery countenance was just like before, but it was the kind of immortal beauty as if she had been asleep for many years. Her pretty eyes were tightly closed; her hands were folded across her breast.

    The most horrifying thing was that the breathing from her mouth and nose was cutoff; there did not seem to be any true qi flowing along the meridians inside her body.

    Under this condition, average person would have been dead for a long time. But her body was still soft, her skin was smooth, its luster was like a living person; there was not any smell of death the least bit in her.

    Song Shidao sighed and said, Yin Gui Pais demons are really formidable; I dont know what kind of black magic they are using that they can make her sleep like a hibernating animal without waking up.

    Grieving incessantly, Kou Zhong said, Er Gongzi and I have tried everything we can, but we failed to get the slightest reaction from her. The worst part is that I dont know how long she can remain like this. Maybe there is a lime limit. Once that limit is exceeded, Yu Yi would be gone forever. If that happens, we have no choice but to send her back to the tigers den.

    Xu Ziling, who was reaching out and pressing his hand on her tianling acupoint [the crown of the head], spoke low-spiritedly, The life force within her system has vanished, so that we have no access on where to start. Demonic Schools method is indeed an unfathomable mystery. Compared to the other day when Wanwan remained unconscious, this one is more beyond our capability to fathom.

    Song Shidao spoke up resolutely, If there is anybody in this world able to save her, Shi Qingxuan is the only one. Her acupuncture and moxibustion technique is without equal under the heavens. Perhaps she has a way to break this black magic.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Turns out Shi Qingxuan is not only a master in playing the flute, but a master physician who can save the world as well. Where does she live? Is it near?

    With tender expression Song Shidao scrutinized Fu Junyus flowery jade countenance; he spoke slowly, Shi Qingxuans home is a big secret in Jianghu, but due to my humble father and her mother Bi Xiuxin [not sure if this is a name or a title; bi bluish green (jade color), xiu pretty/elegant, xin heart] at one time had a profound relationship, so I know that she has been living in seclusion in a place called You Lin Qing Gu [lit. remote forest, clear/quiet valley]; a place like the Peach Spring beyond this world [meaning an unexpectedly fantastic place off the beaten path, usually an unspoiled wilderness of great beauty], somewhere in Sichuan.

    Xu Ziling mused inwardly that Bi Xiuxin must be a deeply passionate and an extremely attractive beauty; otherwise, there wouldnt be that many illustrious, outstanding seniors, renowned experts and martial art masters, whose names shook their respective region, prostrate themselves under her pomegranate skirt.

    Although Song Shidao was speaking in a reserved manner, it was tantamount to acknowledge that the Heavenly Saber Song Que, whose saber technique was at the apex of the world, whose martial art skill was at the very front of various Clans leaders, was also like Ouyang Xiyi and Wang Tong, who have had fruitless obsession toward Bi Xiuxin.

    Removing his hand away from Fu Junyus skull, Xu Ziling asked, Is her medical expertise came from the handed-down teachings from her mother?

    Song Shidao replied, Her medical skill came from her father Shi Zhixuan: it was her flute playing skill that was handed down personally by her mother.

    Taken by surprise, Kou Zhong said, Turns out Bi Xiuxin is an officially married woman; why do so many men still have unfinished feeling toward her? Hey! I am just referring to old man Ouyang and Wang Tong; I have no other meaning.

    Song Shidao did not mind at all; he said, This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly; Ill tell you when we have time later! Right now I need to bring Junyu to Sichuan immediately. Ay! Her personality traits are just as distinct and touching as Junchuos.

    It was only this moment that Ba Fenghan withdrew his hand from feeling her pulse; his countenance alternated between brightening and darkening, as if there was a bitter struggle in his heart. Since Song Shidao was unable to take his eyes away from Fu Junyus beautiful face, only Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sensed Ba Fenghans abnormal behavior.

    Old Ba, Kou Zhong wondered, Why havent you said anything?

    Heaving a deep sigh, Ba Fenghan smiled ruefully and said, Because I know what has happened to her, so theres contradiction in my heart.

    The three mens spirit was greatly aroused, but they were baffled at the same time.

    Song Shidaos deep worry finally found its way to the surface; he said anxiously, Why havent you spoken up?

    Kou Zhong said in surprise, Why is there contradiction?

    Ba Fenghans gaze fell on Fu Junyu; his countenance returned to its usual grave and stern expression, as he spoke in heavy voice, Her condition right now is not Yin Gui Pai peoples doing.

    The three were stunned.

    Ba Fenghan continued, This is similar to female demon Wanwans skill in closing up her meridians and stopping her breathing, but it is a totally different technique. This is the marvelous skill Fu Cailin derived from the Indian Senior Monk, called Gui Xi Tai Fa [lit. Tortoise Breathing Fetus Technique].

    Are you sure about that? Xu Ziling asked.

    I am at least 90% sure, Ba Fenghan replied, Because one time Junyu personally told me about this marvelous technique. She said that it could keep someone in deep sleep without dying for a long time. Because it does not require any energy, even without a drop of water it shouldnt be any problem.

    Song Shidao delightedly said, Did she mention any solution?

    Pondering deeply, Kou Zhong said, It must be because Yu Yi was captured by the enemy, but she was unwilling to be humiliated, she did not wish to be forced to tell the secret in her heart, she was using this passive way of resistance. Niangs Shimei is definitely not an ordinary person.

    Dont change the subject, Xu Ziling scolded him, The most important thing right now is how to wake Yu Yi up.

    Ba Fenghan said, At that time I asked her whether she could wake up on her own. She said that in the world, other than that Indian Senior Monk, only Fu Cailin has a way to wake her up.

    Fiercely clenching his teeth, Xu Ziling spoke with determination, After helping Kou Zhong acquiring the Duke Yangs treasure, I am going to take her back to Gaoli [Korea], and have Fu Cailin Dashi [great master] to wake Yu Yi up. Fenghan Xiong need not worry.

    Ba Fenghan revealed a grateful look; he knew Xu Ziling understood his heart.

    All along, Ba Fenghans pursuit was to forget everything and focus only on the martial art way, returning to Tujue to challenge the Wu Zun [martial art supreme] outside the Wall, Bi Xuan. But morally, he could not simply tuck his hands inside his sleeve and ignore the matter at hand, which was to rescue Fu Junyu; hence his heart was pained due to this contradiction.

    Revealing another bitter smile, Ba Fenghan spoke heavily, The problem is that no one has ever tested this strange hibernating skill, nobody knows how long will she be able to last. Also, after certain time, even if Fu Cailing knew how to reverse the rotation of the sky, will he be able to save her and wake her up.

    Xu Ziling was about to speak, Song Shidao suddenly cut him off, You guys need not worry, let me, Ol Song, take care of this matter. Tonight I am going to take her back to Gaoli; as for other matters, lets just leave it on Laotianyes will.

    The three were shaken, and turned their gaze toward him.

    Song Shidao deeply fixed his eyes on Fu Junyu; there was an advance-courageously, determined expression on his face.

    The three were moved.

    It should be noted that Song Shidao was the most important figure among the Song Clans new generation people; he was Song Ques appointed heir. To him, power, wealth, and beautiful women, were definitely as easy as a piece of cake.

    From here to Korea, he had to cross ten thousand crags and torrents; perhaps even several months of travel would not necessarily take him there. Much less he had to bring a long a sleeping beauty. The arduous journey needs not be explained.

    Furthermore, this was the first time that he met Fu Junyu. Strictly speaking, the two were not related at all.

    Smiling slightly, Song Shidao said, You may not believe it. But ever since I heard about Junchuos demise, I have never been elated and excited like this moment, feeling once again that the heaven and the earth is full of opportunity to live and full of joy, that live unexpectedly could be lovely and moving like this.

    After staring at him for half a day, Ba Fenghan said with a sigh, You give up everything and walk away like this, what would your family think?

    Song Shidaos pair of eyes lit up; exhaling slowly, he said, To be quite honest, as early as many years ago, I have already felt that that kind of heavily-bounded-by-rules-and-regulation way of life is dreary; I extremely loathe it. Although my humble home is outstanding and well known in the south, but from the beginning the struggle over the world has always been centered in Luoyang, as the heart of the Yellow River Basin, battlefield. This is the place where my familys power cannot reach.

    And then, turning to Kou Zhong, he said, Our Song Family have no ambition for the throne. As long as Xiao Zhong can convince my humble father that after the world has been united our Song Family can still maintain our place in the south, when that time comes we can give San Mei [third sister] to you. But you must give us your promise that you will treat her well, or I, Song Shidao, will be the first to refuse to let you off.

    Kou Zhongs old face blushed slightly; lowering his voice, he said, Er Gongzi, rest assured! How could I, Kou Zhong, be a man who start randomly and finish by throwing everything away?

    Ba Fenghan said, Er Gongzi, rest assured, Ziling and I will keep our eyes on him.

    Song Shidao admonished Kou Zhong some more, and then with the help of the three, he very carefully wrapped Fu Junyu in the quilt, and heaved her up his shoulder. He said, Ill find a way to leave the city first, and then once we are out of town, Ill find a carriage where I can lay her down, and go up north immediately. You dont have to worry about Junyu anymore, I will definitely be able to get her to Gaoli without delay.

    Ba Fenghan raised his cupped fist and said solemnly, This is the first time in my life that the Ol Ba salute another person in cheerful submission. Song Gongzi, please take care of yourself. We are going to escort Gongzi out of town to ensure that no mishap would happen.

    Absolutely not, Song Shidao replied, The four of us traveling together will be too conspicuous; just Ziling coming with me will be enough. Dont worry! We, the Song Family, have some influence around here, plus there will be Ren En helping me. Ba Xiong, arent you going to look for Qu Ao to test your sword? I wish you outstanding military success, your name will be renowned throughout the world.

    Laughing aloud, he left leisurely with Xu Ziling following closely.

    ※ ※ ※

    After bidding Song Shidao farewell, Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong returned to the hall and sat down; they were both overcome with heavy feeling that they wanted to talk, but no words came out.

    After a long while, Ba Fenghan slowly shook his head and said with a sigh, Only someone with deep feeling like Song Shidao worthy to have women all over the world fall in love with him; you and I are not worthy.

    Kou Zhong dejectedly said, Song Er Gongzi makes me feel small and ashamed. Ay! In your frame of mind right now, how could you challenge Qu Ao into battle?

    Smiling wryly, Ba Fenghan replied, Thats why I came back here and shut myself up. Oh yeah, did you encounter any martial art experts on the demon ship?

    All martial art masters in the whole nest came out, Kou Zhong said, After they left to play with you, the remaining several maids and servants did not even dare to come out to look at us. We also saw Shangguan Long, and nearly finish him up as well.

    In deep contemplation, Ba Fenghan said, Yin Gui Pais martial art masters are truly countless; we came across Wen Caiting, which is by all means not inferior to Bian Bufu. If we cannot annihilate Yin Gui Pai demons, I am returning to Tujue and might be forgotten, but you wont be able to sleep soundly.

    Its easy for you to say, Kou Zhong said, Currently female demon Zhu, female demon Wan, and the others do not come to bother us, we can thank the gods for their kindness; how could we dare to provoke them?

    A man must not be that unambitious, this is called drifting and living without purpose, Ba Fenghan said, Right now the most important thing for us is to confront the powerful enemy with any fear, and unceasingly trying to find breakthrough from real combat experience. If we dodge to the left and run to the right, in the end we cannot be martial art masters like Ning Daoqi.

    Kou Zhong was aghast. Are you suggesting that right now we swagger into the street and let others make us their target? he asked.

    Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, You really know what I have in mind. Just think that we are doing this for Junyu. Only this way will we be able to attract Yin Gui Pai people, so that Song Er Gongzi will be able to safely carry the beauty out of here.

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day. Eventually he understood what Ba Fenghan meant.

    Yin Gui Pai has always intimidated Jianghu with their shock-and-awe style; therefore, no matter how powerful any school or sect, they would not dare to provoke them for no particular reason.

    And now they were openly stroking Yin Gui Pais tiger whiskers by snatching Fu Junyu away from the palm of their hands. If this matter spread out in Jianghu, it would mean a big blow to Yin Gui Pais reputation, it might even be an extremely serious hit for them.

    It could be imagined that when Zhu Yuyan received the news that Junyu was rescued out of their hands, she might toss any misgivings she had and make hunting and killing them as their top priority.

    Under this situation, whether Song Shidao would be able to safely take Fu Junyu out, would be a really big question mark.

    Without giving any regard to his own safety, Ba Fenghan wanted to contain Yin Gui Pais main force within the city.

    Kou Zhong suddenly rose up, tapped the Moon in the Well on his back, and shouted loudly, Theres no time to lose, lets go! But we must let them know first.

    ※ ※ ※

    Song Shidao and Xu Ziling hid in one of the boats moored on the dock by the Tianjin Bridge, quietly waiting for news from Ren En.

    On the bed lay the sleeping-deeply Korean swordswoman Fu Junyu.

    Song Shidao smiled and said, For the last few years, today is the first time that my mind moved youre your Niang to somebody else; I feel my whole body is full of energy. Having the goal to reach and the direction to take, I am brimming with vitality.

    Xu Ziling nodded to indicate he understood, but he didnt know what to say.

    And then Song Shidao asked about what happened to Fu Junchuo. Listening to Xu Ziling narrating how the boys got to know Fu Junchuo, he showed great interest and seemed to be listening with pleasure.

    Along the way, he asked a lot of questions, forcing Xu Ziling to remember many details that he had already forgotten.

    The more he listened, the more Song Shidao was excited; but the more Xu Ziling talked, the more his soul was broken, his heart ached.

    This moment Ren En came back to report, Currently the situation is very tense; from time to time there are unfamiliar looking women appeared in the market, as well as the banks of River Luo. In one glance we can readily tell that they are Yin Gui Pais female demons.

    Has the access hatch on the city wall been opened? Song Shidao asked.

    Ren En revealed a pained look on his face, That is not the problem, he said, The problem is how to go out of the city unnoticed [orig. gods did not know, ghosts did not detect]? Maybe wed better wait for the morning; as soon as the river gate is opened, well take a fishing boat sailing out of the city. This way I guarantee will be absolutely safe.

    Shaking his head, Song Shidao said, Saving people is like putting out fire; how could we waste time?

    Ren En said, Song Ye, is it possible for you to wait a bit longer? Ba Ye has just informed us that he and Kou Ye are trying to pin down Yin Gui Pais main force, so that we will have a chance to leave.

    Immediately Xu Ziling and Song Shidaos countenance changed.

    ※ ※ ※

    Upright and unafraid, Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong walked along the sparse street.

    It was the beginning of hai hour [9-11 pm], but the decorated lanterns everywhere were still lighted up, another sign of bustling metropolis.

    Ba Fenghan asked, Whens your appointment with Song Jingang?

    Kou Zhong replied, Fu Qian and Qu Aos showdown will be held at zi hour [11pm 1am] tonight; he said that by hai hour he was going to the top floor of the western courtyard of Man Qing Yuans Ting Liu Pavilion; when the time comes, we can find them there! Looks like we are not going to make it!

    Ba Fenghan raised his arm and stretched out his muscles and bones; he said with a laugh, Oftentimes the things of the world are not what we expect. Before the hai hour comes, you dont know whats going to happen.

    Kou Zhong spoke heavily, I am not afraid at all; its just that the present situation is different. Shi Feixuan is retreating to a quiet place to heal, Yin Gui Pai does not have any misgivings anymore. If this time they are willing to let us off, that means the sun will rise from beyond the western hills.

    Ba Fenghan knew he was speaking the truth; smiling, he said, That is precisely the joy of life. If you knew that you could beat the opponent easily, wheres the excitement? Only by going through various deaths and coming out alive, achieving victory under impossible situations, would it leave a rich aftertaste.

    Kou Zhong delightedly said, That is the aspect Xiao Ling and I most appreciate and admire of you. Perhaps because we were so accustomed to run for our lives that every time we encountered difficult situation, the first thing that came to our mind was how to escape. After you came along, this mindset gradually changed.

    And then, changing the subject, he said, Which one do you think is more beautiful, Wanwan or Shi Feixuan?

    Ba Fenghan sneered and said, Unexpectedly you still have time to think things like that.

    After a short pause, he muttered irresolutely, I have never met beautiful women more touching than they. But Shi Feixuan definitely has a bit more immortal aura in her, like an unattainable celestial goddess, plus in term of gracefulness Wanwan cannot compare to her.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, This is called great minds think alike [orig. heroes usually of the same mind].

    Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, But you must never have any feeling toward either one of them. Their mind cant possibly be on feeling of love or desire between men and women. Falling in love with them will end up in despair.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Who do you think I, Kou Zhong, am? Men born in troubled times, affairs of the nation and peoples welfare should prevail; other matters cant be considered anything.

    Ba Fenghan stared at him ferociously. Remember what you promised to Er Gongzi, he reminded him, It would be best if he is not coming to you to settle the account.

    Kou Zhong could not help thinking about Susu; he said dejectedly, My natural character is that I would never be heartless toward women. Haisha Bang has a woman called the Mermaid You Qiuyan [first mention was Book 2 Chapter 7, her name was changed to You Qiuyan in Book 6 Chapter 10]. Time and again she was trying to harm me, but I let her go, so you can see how I treat the others.

    With meaningful and heartfelt words Ba Fenghan said, Some people, no matter how you treat them, not only they wont be grateful, they would forget your kindness and relentlessly bully and humiliate you, so much so that they would make false charges against you.

    And then he frowned and said, I seem to remember Dong Ming Princess mentioned this woman, You Qiuyan. After the Dragon King Han Gaitian was injured by you [Book 7 Chapter 1], he was unable to manage the Gang, so this woman took the responsibility of managing the Haisha Bang. If you go back to the south, youd better be careful. When a woman hates a man, it is more difficult to deal with compared to dealing with a man.

    Kou Zhong recalled what Song Jingang told him; he wondered when Du Fuwei and Shen Faxing join hands to deal with Li Zitong, whether Haisha Bang would take part in this matter.

    This moment the two men were turning into the Heavenly Street. A thousand or so more steps, they would reach the Tianjin Bridge spanning across the Luo River.

    Suddenly there are a lot more pedestrians, vehicles and horses. Most of them were heroic looking Wulin characters; none of them did not steal a glance or two toward the duo.

    Along the street, restaurants and pleasure houses stood in great numbers, music and song filled the air, vehicles and horses came and went, hanging lanterns shone their glorious light, painting the long street white.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Yin Gui Pai has always been unwilling to see the light. And now that we appear on the main street in the most prosperous marketplace area; I wonder what they are going to do? [Again, the they here is feminine.]

    Keeping his eyes looking forward, Ba Fenghan slyly said, I still cannot forget the moving scene last night where Shi Feixuan appeared silently on the bridge; only an immortal descending into the mundane world can be compared to it. Will we have another fortuitous meeting tonight?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Throughout history, guarding a tree-stump, waiting for rabbits only happened once. Huh? My Niang!

    The two looked at the Tianjin Bridge simultaneously, where the peerless beauty Wanwan stood gracefully like a specter.

    Even among the tide of people she looked so out-of-the-world; although she was physically standing there, it looked as if she has come from another dimension.

    The passers-by were intimidated by her exotic beauty and overturning-the-kingdom kind of glamor; everybody kept stealing glances at her.

    Her bare feet, which had no single speck of dust, were even more bewildering.

    Her deep, serene gaze, were locked onto the two men, who were coming toward her.

    Ba Fenghan stepped away from Kou Zhong a little; throwing his head back, he let out a long laughter and said, People, get lost for me, Ba Fenghan. I want to fight Yin Gui Pais female demon to the death.

    His majestic voice rang far and wide; it resonated loud and clear along both sides of the Bridge.

    Turning to Kou Zhong, Ba Fenghan said, Let me have a go first!


    The Beheading Mystery Sword left its sheath.

    Ba Fenghan stepped onto the Bridge in large strides, pressing on toward Wanwan.

    Passers-by scattered in all direction.

    Momentarily murderous aura filled the whole sky. The battle could happen at any moment.

    END OF BOOK 15


  2. #182
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 1

    Book 16 Chapter 1 On The Tianjin Bridge

    Wanwan looked like something that appear in a dream or in fantasy; her pair of beautiful eyes, which rippled like the most fragrant, the richest wine, seemed to be completely oblivious of the men, women, young and old, who were falling over each other in all direction to seek refuge from the terrifying atmosphere. Her gaze was fixed at Ba Fenghan, who had just stepped onto the Bridge, at least a hundred paces away from her. Her jade countenance was as calm as still water.

    Kou Zhong was falling about ten steps behind Ba Fenghan. He had his eyes on the passers-by, who were running on both sides of the Tianjin Bridge, either toward or away from them. By the time Ba Fenghan, with his fantastic footwork, stopped about twenty paces away from where Wanwan was standing, aside from these two man and woman standing opposite of each other, there was only one person remained on the Tianjin Bridge, Kou Zhong, whom Ba Fenghan asked to hold his troops.

    Wanwan nodded slightly at Ba Fenghan. Seemingly with infinite regret, she sighed tenderly and said, Ba Xiong actually has a chance to advance into the rank of the worlds top grand masters of martial art. Its a pity you show no understanding of the times, by making a vain attempt of a praying mantis raising its arm to block a horse-drawn carriage, which will result in your demise. You have only yourself to blame, it is not anybody elses fault.

    Before Ba Fenghan could answer, Kou Zhong, who was sitting leisurely on the bridges railing, burst out laughing, What a joke. From among our many encounters, which one Wan Daxiaojie [big miss/Miss High and Mighty] did not act like you were about to swallow us whole, yet which one you did not toss your armor and abandon your troops to run away to the wilderness? Shame on you for audaciously tooting your horn; isnt that the biggest joke in the world?

    Wanwans jet-black eyebrows were slightly knitted; turning to Kou Zhong, she said, The most important thing is to know oneself. Maybe Kou Xiong will refuse to believe, but every time nujia made my move against you in the past, I always left some leeway for you. The reason nujia refrained from shooting at the rat for fear of breaking the vases is, quite naturally, for the Duke Yang Treasure. But now, even if I kill both of you, there is still Xu Ziling who knows the secret, hence I dont have to show mercy; I will let you experience the consummate skill of Tian Mo Mi [demonic/devil secret].

    Both Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan cried inwardly, This female demon is formidable.

    Kou Zhongs remark was absolutely not a shooting-without-aiming ridicule; he just wanted to remind Wanwan about a number of times she retreated in defeat, with the hope that her confidence would suffer a huge setback.

    Who would have thought that in just a few words, the verbal attack vanished, and instead, she made the two men feel that previously she really did not use her full capability, and this time it would be entirely different.

    Wanwan continued by smiling sweetly and said, If you think that just with the two of you, you can pin us, Yin Gui Pai, down in here, to let Xu Ziling transport someone out of town, now that is the biggest joke in the world.

    She was smiling coyly and spoke in a very soft voice, but in the two mens ears, it was like a thunder from a clear sky.

    Ba Fenghan suddenly felt Wanwans momentum grew; hastily he took a deep breath to calm his mind, before speaking in heavy voice, Isnt Yin Gui Pai being too excessive here? Right now Junyus life or death is hard to tell, but youre still unwilling to let her go. Do you really want her dead before you are satisfied?

    Inwardly, Wanwan was greatly astounded.

    Ba Fenghan has always been arrogant and strong-willed; he had never said this kind of words, which sounded a bit like he was pleading for leniency.

    Right this moment, Ba Fenghans murderous aura surged. Like a flash of lightning the Beheading Mystery Sword dashed forward, followed by his body, in rapid movement, careened sideways while the sword sliced across horizontally.

    Originally, Kou Zhong was slightly confused as well, but now that he saw the dramatic increase in Ba Fenghans power, plus how he took the initiative to attack, he suddenly understood.

    Ba Fenghan grew up among the horse thieves; in all his life he has been challenging all kinds of authority, and Yin Gui Pai was the supreme authority among the heretical sects and demonic schools.

    Ba Fenghans arguments were to arouse his fighting spirit against Wanwans intolerable bullying, also to stir up the righteous indignation in his heart and awaken his aspiration to protect the small and the weak; hence the rainbow-like momentum of his attack carried some hatred in it.

    Two streams of white ribbon flew out from inside Wanwan wide sleeves, left and right, while simultaneously the big toe of her right foot pushed the ground, acting as the pin on which her entire tender body spun like a gyroscope.

    In fantastic, graceful and amazing movements her pair of slender lily-white hands waved the ribbons, back and forth and crossing each other, weaving a magical, indeterminately changing, brimming with waves of beauty, perfectly round, white net, with her in the center, which has turned into a blur of white shadow, like a marvelous demonic dance.

    Such a demonic skill, certainly it was unheard of, and certainly it has never been seen before.

    At first Ba Fenghan still had the intention to advance courageously and risk his life, but in this frightening instant he suddenly had dejected feeling of not knowing where to start.

    It should be noted that when martial art masters were fighting each other, advancing to attack or retreating to defend must be done in lightning-fast, flying-sparks moment of the gap in the opponents movement, in order to hit the opposite sites vital part, or perhaps to force the opponent to withdraw the cutting edge of his attack.

    But now the circular characteristic Wanwan was displaying has already reached great heights, she was weaving an even and uniform net protecting her body, which practically did not have any gap or weak spot to be exploited, making him felt at a loss as for where to attack.

    If he attacked presumptuously, he would only drive himself to failure.

    Even with Ba Fenghans dauntless character, unexpectedly he was forced to jump back to evade.

    Kou Zhong could only stare blankly as well.

    The ribbon suddenly disappeared back into Wanwans gauzed sleeves.

    Having fought with Wanwan several times before, even until this moment they still could not grasp Wanwans foundation, so much so that they still could not understand which weapon she was an expert in. They only knew that sometimes she was using her delicate hands to resist the enemy, or perhaps brandishing a pair of short blades Tian Mo Shuang Zhan [lit. demonic double-beheading], or maybe a single ribbon or double ribbons, or floating fragrant gauzed sleeves; more and more emerged, the variation was limitless, the changes were profoundly orthodox mixed with fantastically demonic, rendering the opponent incapable of drafting a counterstrategy in advance.

    In short, anything she conveniently used would be amazing, unconstraint killer move.

    This moment, as soon as she wanted to stop, she stopped; the contrast between static and dynamic already made Ba Fenghan, who was standing in the vicinity, as well as Kou Zhong, who was sitting as a spectator, felt the chill creeping in their hearts.

    The strangest thing was that all passers-by on the Heavenly Street, extending to the north and to the south, on both ends of the Tianjin Bridge, were completely gone; no one had the courage to stay to watch the action. And there were two big ships, separately moored along the dikes by the Bridge on both sides of River Luo; this moment there was no lantern, no firelight. Both ships were pitch-black, without a single human shadow on them, so that the ships appeared mysterious; definitely not a good sign.

    This kind of unusual and bizarre situation could only happen not by coincidence.

    Wanwan definitely did not come alone. Someone must have acted on her behalf to clear the surrounding area, as well as to setup a net around them, with the sole purpose of killing the two men.

    Even the waterway traffic from both sides was cut off.

    The situation was clearly very disadvantageous for the duo!

    With her chilling confidence, Wanwan fixed her gaze on Ba Fenghan, who had retreated from where he originally stood; sighing grimly, she said, Didnt you guys always pose as people with outstanding intelligence? How could you not know that no matter what, we will never allow Fu Junyu to return to Gaoli?

    Her remark has confirmed their suspicion.

    It was for the Duke Yang Treasure that Yin Gui Pai captured Fu Junyu, and used thousand ways, a hundred plans to keep it a secret; precisely the same as they stole the Jade Annulus of He Clan, and categorically denied that they did it, because the consequences would be too serious.

    Although Yin Gui Pai ran amuck all over the world without any scruple, they still feel deeply afraid of Yijian Dashi Fu Cailin, one of the three top martial art masters of the world. They did not wish to provoke him for inconsequential reason, and thus incurred endless trouble later on.

    Now that Kou Zhong and the others plucked Fu Junyu from danger, it was tantamount to someone else had reaped their stolen goods. Under this circumstance, naturally Yin Gui Pai would spare no effort in killing them to shut their mouth, so that Fu Cailin would never know about it.

    It was also the reason Wanwan did not allow anybody else to be in the vicinity to sit and listen; they were taking all kinds of measure to prevent the news from leaking.

    Were it not for Shi Feixuan was injured and was returning to Jing Nian Chanyuan to recover, Yin Gui Pai would not dare to run wild like right now.

    Only this moment did Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan realize their dire situation.

    ※ ※ ※

    Its bad! Song Shidao blurted out.

    Xu Ziling was frowning deeply, while silently mulling over the contradiction in his heart; it was a difficult decision to make.

    Song Shidao said to Ren En, Would Ren Bangzhu please instruct all members and officers under your command to immediately lay down the flag and still the drum, and cease all operations? Also, it is not advisable for Ren Bangzhu to come and see us anymore; later on, depending on the situation, we will come to you.

    Ren En was stunned, Surely it is not that serious, is it? he asked.

    Sighing, Song Shidao replied, It is far more serious than you think! By doing that, Xiao Zhong and Ba Xiong practically tell the enemy that we are going to leave the city immediately; the other side will definitely do everything they can to stop us. And Ren Bangzhu must never let the opponent know that you have a part in this affair.

    Ren En was moved, Er Gongzi is a true friend indeed, he said, I will quietly wait for the good news, waiting for further instruction from Er Gongzi.

    After Ren En left, Xu Ziling asked, How will Yin Gui Pai react?

    Analyzing the situation, Song Shidao said, Yin Gui Pai is a number one big Sect with nearly a thousand-year history, but the problem they are facing presently is hard for them to swallow. The fact is, they cannot allow anybody, especially Fu Cailin, to know that they have captured Junyu; therefore, unleashing the thousand-catty-thunderbolt momentum, they will try to annihilate Xiao Zhong and Fenghan, two men, while at the same time they will do everything they can to intercept us. Since they already have their main force in Luoyang to deal with Shi Feixuan, dealing with us should be like handling a butchers cleaver with ease.

    Pondering deeply, Xu Ziling said, We still have at least one advantage, which is the opponent still did not know that we have Er Gongzi here helping us. Therefore, if I appear right now, they must have thought that I had hidden Yu Yi somewhere save first before coming out to stake my life against them. Hence Er Gongzis chance to escape will greatly increase.

    Sighing, Song Shidao said, Perhaps it is going to be just a bit better. Ay! I might as well go with you, and we fight hand-in-hand together with those two! I can hand Junyu over to Lu Shu [uncle]; he will have a way to bring her back to Gaoli.

    Xu Ziling was about to speak when suddenly the alarm went off in his heart.

    Song Shidao also felt it somewhat.

    A sweet-sounding female voice rang out from outside the cabin, Xu Ziling! I have something to tell you.

    ※ ※ ※

    The tip of Ba Fenghans sword was pointing down, but his eyes shot incomparably sharp bright light, as he stared at Wanwan and said, I wonder if there is more to Miss Wans pair of flying ribbons than meets the eye.

    The ribbons were only about one cun wide [about an inch], but they seemed to be able to extend and retract like an elastic material. The length could be up to three zhang, and were extremely difficult to guard against.

    With pained expression in her beautiful eyes Wanwan gazed deeply into Ba Fenghans eyes; she spoke softly, At first glance, nujias ribbon appeared to be a pair, but it is actually only one strip; it is called Bai Yun Piao [floating white cloud]. When Ba Xiong arrive at the Yellow Springs [i.e. netherworld], you must not forget.

    Ba Fenghan appeared unconcerned; he casually asked, I wonder what material was it made of?

    Wanwan smiled and said, Some things are better to be kept in mystery; why dont Ba Xiong try to guess?

    Sitting on the side, Kou Zhong felt strange; in this kind of swords-drawn-and-bows-bent, arrows-on-strung-bows-ready-to-be-shot moment, why would Ba Fenghan, who has always been straightforward and decisive, haggle over every ounce of what material the opponents weapon was made of?

    Naturally Kou Zhong knew that based on Ba Fenghans character, he could not possibly shoot without aiming.

    Wanwan sighed faintly.

    It did not matter which expression Wanwan was showing, each one was able to show her thrilling innermost feeling. Combined with her magnificent beauty and alluring charm, which was unmatched in her generation, she was displaying ten thousand kind of flirtatious expressions, which dazzled and intoxicated men.

    Even though Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong were standing in hostility against her, and they were perfectly clear that she was vicious and merciless, able to murder without blinking an eye, they still could not help having some kind of warms-the-heart-and-delight-the-eye feeling.

    Her vermillion lips opened slightly as she said, Perhaps you wont believe me, but nujia really have a bit of reluctance in destroying you. After youre gone, Wanwan will be lost and lonely, yet I cannot but making my move against you, hence my heart is extremely contradictory. Ay! En Garde!

    The bluish green sleeves rose up, exposing a pair of flickering short blades, the Demonic Double-Beheading.

    Ba Fenghans Beheading Mystery Sword still had a chance to attack, Wanwan already dashed to within eight chi in front of his body.

    Like two demonic vipers tongues the Double-Beheading darted forward, in a style that the opponent was unable to guess it drew a fantastic, mysterious arc in the air, striking toward Ba Fenghan.

    Wanwan beautiful hair, which was originally draped over her fragrant shoulders, suddenly fluttered in the air; it was both very moving and incomparably weird.

    The air surrounding her seemed to be suddenly sucked out, so that it was as if the space about two zhang in diameter around them turned into a bottomless hole.

    It was the first time that Ba Fenghan felt the terrifying power of Wanwans full-strength attack.

    She did not lie.

    The previous several times she was definitely leaving some leeway.

    In this life and death crisis, Ba Fenghans heart was extraordinarily calm instead; there was not a shred of fear of the opponents overbearing prowess.

    In the blink of an eye, the meridians and true qi inside his body, which was transformed by the Jade Annulus of He Clan, rapidly climbed up to its limit.

    His eyes lit up; he clearly grasped every subtle movement of the Demonic Double-Beheading, which in most peoples eyes was just like phantom shadow.

    In that moment of life and death duel, a strange feeling rose up in his heart.

    He felt that the true qi within Wanwans system was changing continuously, it was shifting around incessantly; sometimes it was concentrated on the Demonic Double-Beheading in her right hand, but suddenly it shifted toward her delicate foot, demonstrating her ability to alter her style and killer move of her attack in lightning-speed, sparks-fly speed.

    This kind of demonic skill was certainly terrifying to the extreme.

    Ba Fenghan suddenly retreating half a zhang backward, before dashing forward to counterattack.

    The suffocating swift and fierce sword qi like a bolt of lightning breaking through the dark, dense cloud met the ferocious killer attack coming at him, unleashed by the most outstanding successor among Yin Gui Pais new generations disciples, head on.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling stepped out of the cabin.

    In the dim light from the flickering lanterns on the ships and boats moored in the darkness along River Luos both banks, a beautiful and graceful figure was standing on the bow, with her back against Xu Ziling. She was wearing tight warrior outfit, with an ancient, ornamented sword hanging on her back.

    Xu Ziling was stunned, Turns out it is really the Princess honoring me with your fragrant selfs presence.

    Dong Ming Princess spoke indifferently, You did not recognize my voice?

    Xu Ziling walked over toward her and stopped when he was about half a zhang away from her. With his hands behind his back, he said, How could I not recognize your voice? I just could not believe my ears! May I ask how did Princess know that Zaixia is in here?

    Shan Wanjing answered the question with a question, Xu Ziling, do you trust me?

    Xu Ziling stared blankly for half a day.

    This simple question was actually very hard to answer.

    Its not that he did not trust her reason, but he could not put his absolute trust on her either.

    After all, the relationship between them has not been too harmonious.

    Displeased, Shan Wanjing said, A hero and a real man, unexpectedly his mind is this narrow?

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling replied, Princess, please calm down. I just did not understand what you really mean by that question! Nothing more.

    His smile was free and at ease, and very pleasant. With that kind of smile on his handsome face with slightly melancholy expression, he exuded some kind of extraordinarily touching charm that no one could ever surpass.

    Shan Wanjings fragrant heart trembled; unexpectedly she was unable to say anything.

    Xu Zilings eyes emitted an intelligent and clear light. Fixing his gaze at her, he spoke tenderly, I have never thought that Princess would harm me; would that be enough to prove that I trust you?

    Shan Wanjing was somewhat afraid that his sharp eyes would be able to see the chaos in her fragrant heart; she weakly hung her cicada head down and said softly, In that case, can you tell me why Yin Gui Pai people are doing everything they can to find you?

    Xu Ziling replied, Because we succeeded in rescuing Yu Yi back from their hands.

    And then he explained the impossible situation they were facing at the moment.

    Finished listening, Shan Wanjing said, Turns out you have the Song Familys Er Gongzi helping you in secret. No wonder you managed to accomplish such an impossible thing.

    After pondering silently for half a day, she sighed and said, Now I am afraid only us will be able to send her out of the city. The reasoning behind this is difficult to explain in a few words; in short, my Niang is one of a few people Zhu Yuyan is afraid of, plus she has deep knowledge of their methods.

    After casting a faint glance at him, she went on, Originally I wanted you to hand over the Jade Annulus of He Clan in return. But if I took advantage of your precarious position, I knew you would hate me even more. All right! Leave her to me! Quickly go to Tianjin Bridge to fight alongside your two brothers! They are intercepted by Yin Gui Pai and are about to be killed!

    Shocked, Xu Ziling stared blankly at her for half a day.

    Song Shidaos voice came out from the cabin, Ziling, just go!

    Xu Ziling raised his cupped fist to salute Shan Wanjing, and then leaped ashore and flew away.

  3. #183
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 2

    Book 16 Chapter 2 Vulnerable Position

    On the side, Kou Zhong, who was holding off his troops, watched Wanwan, using flawless defensive style, forcing Ba Fenghan to withdraw from his upper hand position, as well as turning from active to passive. Groaning inwardly, Kou Zhong knew that in term of craftiness, he was definitely not female demon Wanwans match.

    Right now Wanwan seemed to give them a fair chance to fight, yet the actual fact was that it was not as fair as it appeared.

    Up to now, Kou Zhong and the others, three men, had always been playing hit and run, they were not really accustomed to cooperate with each other, they merely developed some kind of inadequate complementary tactic.

    However, in present situation, based on Ba Fenghans stubborn and haughty temperament, even though he knew that death was inevitable, he would never run away.

    And Kou Zhong must not interfere, or else later on they would not have the face to see other people.

    All Ba Fenghan could rely on was himself.

    In Ba Fenghans heart, who had just blocked three hard strikes from Wanwans Demonic Double-Beheading, welled up an incomparably powerful fighting spirit.

    As early as the moment he drew his sword, he had already seen through Wanwans mind, yet he also knew that he had no other choice.

    If he failed to pass this moment, he had no concern over him being killed, but Kou Zhong could forget about leaving this place alive as well.

    Ba Fenghans eyes shone with bright flashes; in this instant, the true qi inside the meridians and acupoints on his body has risen to its peak condition. All the hair on his body stood up on its root.

    Following Wanwans erratic [orig. drifting without a resting place] yet fantastic and mysterious shenfa, the two gleaming short daggers, which were held lightly in her hands, flickered continuously. In her delicate hands, which were better than snow and superior to frost, the daggers turned into two round blurry light and shadow, rendering the opponent unable to guess the attack route. It was continuously changing, and continuously advancing.

    There seemed to be indistinct shrill whistle all around, sometimes they seemed to hear it, another time it was unclear whether the sound actually happened in their head, as if it was actually the sound of a ghost wailing.

    Yet in the area within three zhang radius, although there was not a single puff of wind, Ba Fenghan felt an enormous pressure so that he had difficulty breathing, and his body was aching so bad that he felt he was about to burst.

    Such demonic skill was indeed frightening.

    With Wanwan going all-out, before they even clashed with each other, Ba Fenghan already had a bogged down feeling [orig. although he had a cun, he could not move].

    Demonic Double-Beheading alternated between fast and slow indeterminately; sometimes advancing, sometime retreating, yet were able to launch deadly attack at any moment.

    It was only then did Kou Zhong, who was sitting on the bridge railing behind Ba Fenghan, witness Wanwans real strength; no wonder when Shi Feixuans mind was distracted she had to suffer loss from her sneak attack.

    At the same time he made up his mind that if necessary, he would disregard everything and make his move to join the fight.

    Ba Fenghan let out a loud shout and retreated three steps back.

    Kou Zhong was so shocked that he nearly fell back into the river.

    At the moment when the blades were clashing against each other, how could he retreat?

    Especially against Wanwan, the most prominent Devil Schools martial art master after Zhu Yuyan.

    After absorbing the Jade Annulus of He Clans energy, the most significant improvement in Ba Fenghan, three men, was that the sharpness of their senses was multiplied many times over. Even so, facing Wanwan moves, which were like fantastic demonic dance, it was still difficult for him to fathom.

    All his life Ba Fenghan has fought all over the world, from outside the Wall to the Central Plains; he had brilliant insight, which was superior to Kou and Xu, two boys. But Wanwan was like a wisp of smoke, drifting, floating and flashing, making him feel that although he had the power, he could not unleash it, and thus forcing him to shoot without aim, which in turn gave birth to the feeling of frustration and helplessness.

    If he lost the upper hand, Wanwan would kill him in a short time, like a strong wind wiping the cloud away. In this situation, where he knew for sure that he was going to die, Ba Fenghan pushed his ability and wisdom to its limit; he used such move, which even Kou Zhong did not understand why he did what he did.

    Sure enough, his retreating momentum was successful. With this subtle withdrawal of the qi during a fight between martial art masters, naturally Wanwan wanted to respond; the Demonic Double-Beheading became two streaks of lightning, with the speed of thunderbolt-splitting-the-ear, one in front of another, shooting toward Ba Fenghan.

    But like magic Ba Fenghan stopped in the air, and then changed his retreat into advancing movement.

    The Beheading Mystery Sword carried a sharp piercing noise of the sword qi splitting the air. It sliced from bottom going up, swiftly stabbing toward the pouncing-over Wanwans silky breast.

    The situation changed immediately.

    It was as if Wanwan was delivering herself toward his sword.

    Wanwan was already aware that Ba Fenghan was not a coward who would shrink back; his retreating must have a follow-up move. But she had never expected that after obtaining the extraordinary power of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, which transformed the opponents meridians, he would be able to move in the air with astonishing flashing-lightning, flying sparks speed, and was able to move completely from retreating to advancing in half a blink of an eye. Not only his power did not diminish the slightest bit, but because he was deliberately storing up his power beforehand, his qi increased without letup instead.

    Dang! Dang!

    One after another the Demonic Double-Beheading poked the Beheading Mystery Sword.

    Ba Fenghan could be considered the first person ever who was able to change his move from offensive to defensive just before Wanwans strike arrived.

    When Wanwans daggers touched his Beheading Mystery Sword, Ba Fenghans majestic-like-a-mountain tigers body was bounced twice like a feather, while Wanwan floated back.

    Watching this, Kou Zhong was dumbstruck that he even forgot to applaud or cheer.

    Wanwans tender laugh came like a lightly blowing wind.

    The air was flowing on the Bridge once again; the breeze was blowing from the Luo River,

    Without blinking Ba Fenghans eyes stared at Wanwan flying backward. He held the Beheading Mystery Sword with the tip pointing at the opponent.

    Had Wanwan been pressing on to attack him, it guaranteed that within less than ten moves, he would have been dead.

    Wanwan only used the tip of the big toes on her pair of bare feet to support her entire tender, soft, delicate and beautiful body, so she appeared like a beautiful apparition whose feet did not touch the ground, as she was flying back from about five zhang distance.

    Her posture was graceful, elegant, without any fixed pattern. Suddenly she made three consecutive rapid spins, her sleeves flared out, and suddenly she was only about a zhang away from Ba Fenghan.

    Ba Fenghan, who was standing near the apex of the Bridge, was waiting in full concentration. Following her spinning posture, with another wonderful posture that was so tender and beautiful that it resembled nature itself, Wanwan shot the Floating White Cloud from her two sleeves, which interweaved into a wave-like line, just like a pair of living, breathing serpent spirits wrapping themselves around each other, fleeing along a meandering and circuitous path, coiling around toward Ba Fenghan.

    A chilling wind blew Ba Fenghans clothes that it fluttered backward, creating rustling noise.

    Ba Fenghans expression became cold and stiff like a mountain rock; no worry, no delight, but his eyes shot terrifyingly bright light.

    Although Wanwans offensive was formidable, he was having a sense of relief, knowing that he still had the strength for an all-out, disregarding-everything battle.

    From the moment he, when his momentum was at its highest and concentrated, charged forward but was forced back by Wanwan, using the most bizarre defensive style, he had always been in absolute disadvantageous situation; even his mind and senses were under the opponents demonic skills control.

    It was an extremely terrifying feeling, as if his entire being was kept isolated in a place outside of the human world.

    He could not even feel the blowing wind and the flowing water.

    But the instant he was able to break Wanwans Demonic Double-Beheading, everything was suddenly back to normal.

    The moon and the stars regained their brightness, the sound of the River Luo flowing, and the smell of it, which he was very familiar with, has also returned to his senses.

    Kou Zhong, who was at the bridges railings about three zhang behind him, had just wiped the cold sweat from his forehead.

    Although he did not know Ba Fenghans feeling in such situation, but seeing how Wanwan must withdraw her Demonic Double-Beheading and changed into using-softness-to-conquer-strength ribbon, he knew that it was not that Ba Fenghan did not pose any threat to Wanwan.

    Ba Fenghan let out an ear-splitting long laugh, filled with unspeakable heroic passion and powerful aura, as using a fantastic footwork he met Wanwans attack head-on, with his sword lunged forward.

    This sword strike was the swift and fierce counterattack stemming from Ba Fenghans restored confidence. It looked simple, but actually with the essence, qi and spirit accumulated to its peak condition, reaching the realm of transforming the complicated into simplicity, the realm of grand master level, in using the clumsiness to overcome skill.

    The sea of true qi within his system was like the torrential current of the flood of the Great River, flowing along his meridians toward the tip of his Beheading Mystery Sword, turning into a chi, chi! sword qi splitting the air as it struck toward Wanwan; its momentum was astonishing to the extreme.

    On the surface Wanwans beautiful eyes still appeared pained and hazy, and with hidden bitterness, secret grudge in her jade countenance, but actually the astonishment in her heart grew without restraint.

    Even with her intelligence and insight, she found it difficult to understand why in terms of tactics, momentum, and inner power, how could Ba Fenghan become this formidable.

    She had already drafted a plan: when coming face to face with the Beheading Mystery Sword, she would use her consummate skill delicate hands controlling the dragon, with which she promptly put Shang Peng and Shang He, two martial art masters, senior figures of the Flying Horse Ranch, under control, by using the ribbon in her right hand to entangle the Beheading Mystery Sword, and then firmly sucking the opponent into her Demonic Power. At that time, even if Kou Zhong wanted to intervene, it would be too late.

    Who would have thought that with his sword, Ba Fenghan kept pressing forward with the repelling-three-armies-easily momentum. Moreover, the sword qi splitting the air arrived first. Other than blocking it head-on, without any way out, without any other choice, she had to respond by withdrawing the Demonic Ribbon back into her bluish-green gauzed sleeve, and using the other sleeve to brush against the blade of the opponents sword.

    This was the second time Ba Fenghan managed to force Wanwan to change move.

    He was well aware in his heart that it was not that he was able to really overwhelm the opponent, but that he was able to see through Wanwans biggest weakness; which was that in order to kill him, she was unwilling to receive internal injury that would be difficult to heal in a short period of time.

    Wanwans second combat could happen any time, and Wanwan, who had snatched early victory, naturally refused to let go of such a golden opportunity.

    Ba Fenghan was able to see this exact point. Therefore, with each sword strike, he showed no mercy. Using the life-for-life move, he forced Wanwan into a situation where she was unable to unleash the full power of the Demonic Skill.


    The sleeve clashed with the sword.

    As if jolted by a lightning bolt, Ba Fenghan was brushed away by Wanwan that he had to withdraw five steps back and nearly vomited blood.

    His blood and qi surged, his ears ringing. Fortunately Wanwan was also pushed back by the reaction force that she floated backward; otherwise, if she continued with chain-attack, it would be difficult for him to even have a narrow escape.

    Finally Kou Zhong could not hold himself back anymore; springing up from the railings, he dashed toward Ba Fenghans side, and said with a loud laugh, Beauty, you have seen how formidable he is! In order to save time, why dont you call all your helpers to come out? Let everybody come out to settle this matter once and for all. Wont it be better than you flying back and forth on the bridge, tiring you to half death? Ha!

    Wanwan stopped about a zhang away; inwardly she hated Kou Zhong for wrecking her big plan of seizing this opportunity to launch a killer move to finish Ba Fenghan. However, on the surface she giggled tenderly and said, Shame on you for speaking like that. You plainly broke Jianghus rules of one-on-one battle by interfering by force, yet you still speak pompously.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Wan Beauty, you are absolutely right. Presently Jianghu is in chaos that nobody wants to follow the rule, and I simply love to go with the tide. Anyway, back to the topic: right now you have not proven your ability to put this Ba boy under control. Therefore, even if you called some more people to join the excitement, we make no guarantee that we are not going to slip away.

    Even with her confidence and cold nature, Wanwan could not stop her pretty countenance from changing slightly.

    It should be noted that Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan had reached the level of even a mob besieging them would not be able to hold them off.

    If the two of them fighting to the death and did not run away, or perhaps they were fighting on a plain or similar terrain where it would be difficult to run away, it would still be possible to keep them from escaping.

    But on the Tianjin Bridge, or on similar terrain overlooking a long river, a place accessible from all sides, considering the two men were not amateurs in term of escaping, if she wanted to intercept them and kill them off, only by having her Shifu Zhu Yuyans assistance, plus with the help of other martial art experts from their Sect, would she have the confidence of pulling this off.

    Too bad that in order to heal Shangguan Longs injury, her Shifu true, primary energy suffered wear and tear, so that she was forced to retreat to a quiet place to recover, and was unable to be on the scene. Hence the reason she had to do it herself. Who would have thought that Ba Fenghan was able to withstand her all-out effort to kill him? Hence she was now put in the situation where there was no room to advance or to retreat. Fortunately she had made other arrangement; otherwise it would be even more difficult for her to step down.

    Smiling slightly, Ba Fenghan asked, Where is your honorable masters immortal tracks?

    Wanwan let out a silver-bell like tender laughter; her dreamy and hazy beautiful eyes stared deeply into the two mens eyes as she spoke tenderly, How about we make a bet? If you can break through the Demonic Formation of our Sects four elders, I will let you take away Fu Junyu, and will not interfere in any way.

    Kou Zhong roared in laughter; he said, In the end, you are still afraid of our escaping technique, which is second to none under the heavens. Now that we are already clear about your foundation, why would we be afraid of you? Your Shaoye is not interested in whatever proposal you have. Just be frank and straightforward, release your troops, let us enjoy some excitement.

    Wanwan sighed; smiling wryly, she said, Your greatest skill is that you do not know yourself. I have wasted a lot of time in speaking nonsense, the purpose is to build a siege, and now it is complete! How about you try slipping away with your tail tucked between your legs and let Wanwan see it?

    All along Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan have been secretly watching the surrounding area.

    The Heavenly Street near both ends of the Tianjin Bridge was still dark and deserted, without any sign of human; nothing looked the slightest bit unusual.

    Several hundred steps away from either side of the Bridges head, they faintly saw armed men stopping the pedestrians to get close. But these men only play minor role, they should not pose any threat. Besides, they did not look like Yin Gui Pais men coming to build a siege. It was indeed quite baffling.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, Wan Beauty, please dont scare me, everybody knew I am timid.

    Wanwan smiled and said, Who wanted to scare you?

    And then, she tenderly shouted, Release the arrows!

    The two men were shocked.

    ※ ※ ※

    This moment Xu Zilings small boat had just pulled under the shade of a tree on the River Luos dike west of Tianjian Bridge; he stopped and turned his gaze into the distance at the bridge.

    Anybody willing to think a little bit would immediately know that the situation around the Tianjin Bridge was abnormal.

    Because Luoyang was bustling, but only on this segment of the long street and on the Bridge there were no pedestrians. Moreover, all the shops nearby were closed.

    Xu Ziling was greatly astounded.

    It should be noted that Tianjin Bridge spanned the River Luo; it was one of the three major bridges connecting the market places on the north and south of the city. Even more, it connected the most flourishing street, the Heavenly Street, which was the traffic hub of Luoyang.

    It would be strange indeed if the closure of this Bridge did not provoke chaos. To say the least, there should be a long queue of pedestrians, vehicles and horses forming on either side of the Bridge. But now from what he saw, none of this sort of thing was happening.

    Evidently some people were directing the traffic to use other streets and other bridges. And to make this happen, there must be a large number of well-trained and well-organized warriors in this operation. And they must have received Luoyangs residents cooperation.

    In Luoyang, only two groups of troops had this kind of ability.

    Naturally, Wang Shichongs army was one of them.

    The other group represented the Emperor Taizhu, Yang Dong, which was secretly collaborating with, and receiving assistance from, the Dugu Clans power.

    In that instant, Xu Ziling understood what has been happening, while at the same time he also figured out the mystery of why Dugu Ba was going to visit the Tiele people that day.

    The Dugu Clan was playing the strike the water right and left game. On one side they collaborate with Li Mi, on the other side, they colluded with the Tiele people and Yin Gui Pai; and thus they need not fall under any sides control.

    This time the Dugu Clan closed the Tianjin Bridge to let Tiele people and Yin Gui Pai to have a free hand in dealing with Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong, two men; quite possibly it was part of their pulling a snake from its hole plot.

    As soon as Wang Shichong lost his patience and hastily left the Imperial City to get involved in this matter, the Dugu Clans five thousand strong elite troops would join hands with the Tieles and Yin Gui Pai, relying on the advantage of their adequate preparation and meticulous planning, to fix the rivers and mountains [i.e. country] and seize control over Luoyang in one battle.

    The situation was extremely dangerous.

    And Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong were caught unaware and had fallen into the center of this dangerous web of power struggle.

    By opening up one li, they would clear their way for a hundred li.

    As soon as Xu Ziling figured out this link, he suddenly realized why Dugu Ce mingled with Qian Duguans beloved concubine Bai Qinger.

    Qian Duguan was perhaps not a Yin Gui Pai man, but the possibility that the Mad Scholar of Henan Zheng Shiru was one was probably very high.

    Through these two people, Xiangyang City was practically under Yin Gui Pais control. No wonder Qian Duguan was not too friendly toward them. But under current circumstances, what could he do?

  4. #184
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 3

    Book 16 Chapter 3 Inescapable Net


    The sound of bowstring.

    At first it sounded like the whistle of just one powerful bow, but it was actually four bows shooting together. Because they were shooting simultaneously, it sounded as if it was only one bow.

    From the top of four multistory buildings towering on both sides of the bridgeheads, like flashes of lightning four powerful arrows shot down at an angle over a distance of more than a hundred zhang, the moment Wanwans tender shout was still lingering in their ears, toward the two mens backs and chests, so that they were practically surrounded by the arrows.

    Dang! Dang! Dang! Dang!

    Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan brandished their saber waving their sword, while standing back-to-back, knocking down the four flying arrows attacking them from the front and behind.

    The saber and sword clashed with the arrows, creating sharp ringing noise reverberating along the more than a hundred thirty steps long Tianjin Bridge spanning across the Luo River.

    The four arrows ricocheted and flew down into River Luo.

    Kou Zhong felt the palm of his hand went numb; in shock, he said to Ba Fenghan, whose back was sticking to his back, Who are these people? How come their archery skill is this formidable? And there are four of them.

    With grave expression Ba Fenghan kept his gaze fixed on Wanwans face, whose jade countenance hid a delighted expression; he replied in low voice, If I am not mistaken, they ought to be the Iron Arrow Guardian under Tiele King, considered top martial art masters of Tiele. I never thought that they would come to the Central Plains.

    Kou Zhong shivered in fear inwardly. The two blocked the arrows while standing on the ground, and it was already very hard; wouldnt it be a lot more dangerous if they were shot while soaring high in the air? If the opponent only had one person, they could evade the arrow by rapidly taking a breath in the air, the skill bestowed by the Jade Annulus of He Clan. But under four arrows shot together, and the opponents were top-level experts, whether they could block all four, was certainly a big question mark.

    Laughing tenderly, Wanwan said, These four arrows were just a greeting, a gift to you for your first meeting. The real show is coming.

    A long laughter came from some distance away, from the other side of the bridgehead where Wanwan was standing.

    Kou Zhong turned his head to look at that direction, and saw one man and one woman flashed by from across the bridgehead. The first one had flying hook hanging on his waist, a bit eccentric; he was Bi Xuans direct disciple Tuoba Yu.

    Standing by his side was the pretty Chunyu Wei; on her waist hung a slightly curved saber, which Tujue people love to use, most suitable to attack the enemy from horseback. The expression on her face looked like she was angry, yet she was not exactly angry, it was more like a helpless look, as she gazed faintly at Kou Zhong.

    Tuoba Yu bowed respectfully with clasped hands toward Kou Zhong first; he smiled and said, This time we join hands with others in dealing with Kou Xiong, it is really because we have no alternative. Last time in Xiangyang Xiaodi was trying to persuade kindly: do not go with this thief Ba Fenghan; too bad Kou Xiong turned a deaf ear. But Xiaodi still think fondly of our friendship, and to this day I have not interfered. If Kou Xiong leaves immediately now, Xiaodi and Shimei are definitely not going to stop you.

    Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. Although this Tuoba Yus appearance was weird, he was definitely not a scoundrel [orig. bad egg]; on the contrary, he was quite charming. Now that they had no choice but to face each other in life or death battle, thinking about it made his heart ached. Dejectedly he said, Tuoba Xiong joins hands with Yin Gui Pai, whose evil reputation spread far and wide, arent you afraid of harming your revered masters name?

    Chunyu Weis pretty eyebrows knitted tightly; displeased, she reproached him, How could you swallow ancient learning without digesting it? We came to the Central Plains, our main purpose is to capture this Ba thief and bring him back to Tujue; whether we want to do anything else, it depends on our mood. Ba thief is most repulsive, each time we intercept him, he desperately escaped, nearly infuriate me to death!

    What else could Kou Zhong say? With him and Xu Ziling as companions, Tuoba Yus party basically could not anything to Ba Fenghan. The only way was to join hands with powerful sect like Yin Gui Pai, only then would they have the chance to accomplish their mission.

    Standing behind Kou Zhong, Ba Fenghan softly said, I was mistaken! The archers on top of the four multistory buildings are not Tieles Iron Arrow Guardian, but Tujue martial art masters who have received Bi Xuans personal instruction.

    Immediately Kou Zhongs countenance changed. How many are they? he asked in heavy voice.

    This time, accompanying Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister to the Central Plains were the Eighteen White Horse Riders, who were trained personally by Bi Xuan, specializing in group-war siege technique; every one of them was dauntless beyond human comprehension. Therefore, even with his overbearing character, each time Ba Fenghan came across them, there was only one method he could use: flee to the wilderness.

    But after repeated battle, Ba Fenghan managed to kill and injure some of the Eighteen White Horse Riders, hence Kou Zhongs question.

    Smiling ruefully, Ba Fenghan replied, Should be twelve master archers, rather than four.

    Kou Zhongs tiger body shook. Now he understood why Wanwan was confident that they could not slip away.

    If the other archers were as formidable as the four that just shot the arrows, as soon as they flew to the air, they would become the fat goose, the target of these hunters arrow. He could not help regretting running up to the Tianjin Bridge.

    This was definitely a carefully laid trap.

    From their angle of view looking up, they could not see the situation on top of the buildings, while they were plainly visible to the enemies. The advantages and the disadvantages of their situation need not be mentioned.

    Moreover, they also saw two big ships moored along the embankments on the left and right of the Bridge, and these ships did not seem to have any good intention.

    Ba Fenghan continued, Why do they seem to stall for time?

    Kou Zhongs countenance changed again. He had a faint feeling in his heart that the situation at hand was not as simple as it appeared on the surface; i.e. the enemy did not simply want to kill them for some kind of revenge.

    On both sides of the Bridge, the lanterns were suddenly lighted; the originally dark ships suddenly had more than a dozen lanterns on their bows lighted at the same time.

    As the two men glanced down, they could not help sucking in a mouthful of cold air. They knew that this time, unless the gods and spirits were looking down on them, or perhaps Ning Daoqi, Shi Feixuan and the others appeared together to help them, they could forget about leaving this place alive.

    Both ships started to leave the bank, moving toward the middle of the River. These ships, along with Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister, and Wanwan, separately standing on the north and south bridgeheads, plus the twelve White Horse Riders on top of the four multistory buildings around the Bridge, formed an inescapable net with the two men right in the middle.

    ※ ※ ※

    By this time Xu Ziling was hiding near River Luo dike west of Tianjin Bridge, watching a dozen or so strong men on the shore pulling ships mooring rope to bring the ship to the middle of the river.

    As an outsider, he was able to see the situation more clearly than Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan. Looking at the enemys arrangement, he knew that their main purpose was to prevent the two from escaping by way of the river.

    But it was also the only escape route.

    Thinking to this point, without hesitation he quietly slipped into the river.

    ※ ※ ※

    On the lookout deck of both ships there were more than a dozen people, either standing or sitting, all their eyes were staring coldly at Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong, who were fully illuminated by the lanterns on the ships, just like they were watching a monkey show.

    On the bow, other than men raising high the lanterns in their hands, there were also more than a dozen strong men with bows and arrows, adopting a stance that showed that they would never let the two men escape.

    Under similar situation, even with the addition of Tujue master archers on top of the buildings, perhaps they still could not do much to Ba and Kou, two men.

    But since there were other martial art masters like Wanwan on the side, if they wanted to break the siege and escape, these archers on top of four buildings all around plus the ones on the ships on either side of the Bridge would pose a deadly threat to them.

    No matter which way they choose, the only barely available escape route was either the north or south bridgehead.


    From the lookout deck of the big ship on the west came the dull thud of a staff striking down the floor; everybodys ears were immediately buzzing.

    You Chuhong, who was acclaimed as the number one martial art master of the Dugu Clan, was sitting on an imperial tutor chair on the deck. The bright rays of light from her eyes shot across the approximately six zhang of river toward the two men standing on the Bridge. Knocking the jasper staff in her right hand on the floor, she let out a shrill, filled with thick guttural laugh like a screeching owl, first, let out a dry cough, and finally spoke in her hoarse, cold voice, Wheres Xiao Ba [i.e. Dugu Ba]? Did you two play a trick on him?

    Behind her stood more than a dozen people, men and women, tall and short; the most eye-catching was the beautiful Dugu Feng [phoenix]. The only other one that Kou Zhong knew was Dugu Ce. They were all smartly dressed; apparently these were the top martial art masters of the Dugu Clan.

    Merely these people would be more than enough to deal with the two.

    On the other ship opposite the Dugu Clans ship were Tujue people under the leadership of Tuli. Their number was no more than ten. But every single one of them had eyes like lightning. Evidently they were all martial art masters. But not a single one was woman. Naturally Ba Daier was not among them.

    Ever since Tuoba Yu and Chunyu Wei made their appearance, the two already guessed that the Tornado Tuli could not be too far behind.

    Among the men with him, there were two that Kou Zhong recognized: the Twin Spears General Yan Lihui and the Dauntless Lion Mu Tiexiong. In the past these two conspired with Li Mi and Zu Junyan by kidnapping Zhai Jiao, and then in an abandoned village they plotted against Zhai Rang, which resulted in Zhai Rang suffering disaster, which eventually killed him. [See Book 3 Chapter 2]

    This moment, Tulis eyes were shining with delight; laughing aloud, he said, Lao Furen [old madam], theres no need to be worried; as soon as we capture these two kids, having them kowtow to you and cry out to their Niang can be accomplished in just one word.

    Standing on the Bridge, Kou Zhong drew a mouthful of cold air; he whispered to Ba Fenghan, who was standing behind him, Looks like this is the Tiele conspiracy that kid Fu Qian was talking about.

    Before he finished speaking, from Wanwans side came the sound of rustling sleeves; four people swiftly came over, the leader was surprisingly the Eagle Qu Ao, behind him were his three disciples, Changshu Mou, Hua Lingzi and Genggehuer.

    The four of them stopped and stood behind Wanwan; cold and silent, acting as if they would definitely gobble the two men.

    Now, in the air, on the ground, on the river, all escape routes have been sealed tight, a heavenly trap earthly net that even if they grew wings they still could not escape.

    Only then did the two realized that the enemies actually represented four powerful factions, who had joined hands made secret agreement earlier to deal with the three of them. Fu Junyus rescue was simply the trigger that led to the current situation.

    Since leaving Ren Ens nest earlier, their movements have already fallen under the enemys watch. As soon as the enemy knew that they were heading toward the Tianjin Bridge, they mobilized men and horses from all sides, determined to intercept them at this transportation hub with roads open in all directions.

    And now finally they managed to force the two into a corner. Other than fighting with all their might to the death, there was no other possibility. This was beyond their imagination.

    Wanwans pained and hazy beautiful eyes shot complicated expression; she sighed faintly and said, Nujia no longer has any business here, ladies and gentlemen, brilliant Seniors, please do as you see fit! Nujia has something important I have to deal with.

    Tuli saluted and said, Miss Wan, please do as you wish. When we have the opportunity later, I hope to know Miss Wan better.

    Just by looking at his expression, they knew that he was deeply moved by Wanwans beauty.

    As a matter of fact, all the men present, none did not look bewitched by her.

    Wanwan gazed deeply at Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong, and then sighed again and said, Ba Xiong, Kou Xiong, please take a good care of yourselves!

    She disappeared in a flash.

    Although the two knew that she was going to hunt and attack Xu Ziling, they were powerless to even defend themselves, hence they could only stare blankly as she left.

    Qu Ao took three steps forward, and stopped where Wanwan was standing a moment ago. Pulling up the hem of his robe, he tied it with his belt, and then throwing his head back in hearty laughter, he said, For every grievance someone is responsible, for every debt there is a debtor. Today let me, Qu Ao, clear and purify the hatred of you killing my son. Kou Zhong, let laofu [old man] see, other than running away, what skill do you have?

    Kou Zhong turned around from behind Ba Fenghans back. Patting the Moon in the Well on his back, he laughed aloud and said, Old man Qu surely has guts. I only want to know, if fighting one-on-one you are not my match, will others come out to bail you out?

    Tuli on his right burst out laughing and said, What an ignorant fellow indeed. Death is near at hand, yet still dare to speak conceited nonsense. Qu Dashi [great master], please make your move immediately, let me see if his blade is really as hard as his mouth.

    By only these few words it could be seen that Tuli was extremely shrewd. Because if he let Qu Ao answer himself, based on his rank, how could he let others to intervene? And if that happened, it would certainly be bad. As long as Kou Zhong was able to fight until both sides suffer, it would be a problem for anyone else to intervene or to help. Yet Tulis remark also took Qu Aos face into consideration, while blocking Kou Zhongs further remark at the same time. It was just a perfect diversion.

    Standing behind Qu Ao, Changshu Mou laughed complacently and said, I dont know if Kou Xiong is really muddleheaded or pretend to be muddleheaded. How could this time be an ordinary duel in accordance with outmoded Jianghu conventions? Two renxiong are crafty villains who deserve punishment to the death from everybody here; there is no need to use any etiquette and rules toward you.

    Although he was speaking with a hint of smile on his face, anybody could hear the deep resentment he had toward the two, so deep that all the water from three rivers and five lakes would not be able to wash it clean.

    Kou Zhong laughed calmly. First, he cast a glance toward Ba Fenghan, whose expression was cold and stiff like a rock, and then he swept his gaze around the numerous powerful enemies surrounding them in siege so tight that even water could not leak through, and finally his eyes landed on Qu Ao. He said in astonishment, Didnt Qu Dashi have a duel appointment with that kid with dragon beard at zi hour? What time is it now? You must not be delayed due to injury or maybe even death, otherwise uninformed people might think that Qu Dashi is afraid of the duel!

    Everybody, including You Chuhong, secretly admired Kou Zhongs guts. If it were other people, under this kind of circumstance, where he had become the target of a multitude of arrows, fully aware that it would be difficult to escape disaster, who could be like him, not only remaining calm and composed, his mouth was still very sharp, and acted as if he was immensely proud of himself?

    Qu Ao was, after all, a grand master of a reputable school; at this critical moment before the battle, facing the opponents frigid irony and scorching satire, he did not get angry. Leisurely pressing forward, he smiled and said, To take care of you, do I need half a sichen? Make your move!

    Relentless momentum immediately burst out from his body.

    Kou Zhongs spine bent slightly, his eyes ablaze with strange light; it was focused on Qu Ao, just like a leopard watching its prey approaching.

    In the sky the moon and the stars compete with each other in showing off their splendor. The River Luo under the Bridge continued to flow. In this originally beautiful, bright and clear night, thick cloud of battle was looming over the Tianjin Bridge, spanning across the River Luo, connecting the north and south parts of the Eastern Capital.

    The battle could happen any moment.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling stayed close to the riverbed right underneath the big ship of the Dugu Clan; he hesitated.

    With martial art masters of You Chuhong and Dugu Fengs caliber on board, as soon as he pressed his hand on the hull of the ship and exerted his power, he might provoke the opponents alertness, much less boring a hole on the bottom of the ship.

    But he had no other choice.

    He held out both palms and pressed them on the bottom of the ship; his ocean of qi continuously amassing true qi.

    At the bottom of his heart, he was a bit nervous. Although true qi and palm power were oftentimes described as sharper than saber blade, whether it could be really used to cut just like using saber, especially when the object to be cut was as solid as the hull of a ship, still remained to be seen.

    After all these years of studying meticulously, combined with training painstakingly, he had reached the level where he could send out and retract his true qi at will; strong or weak, fast or slow, even the way of sending out his power, spiraling or turning to certain direction, he could control it freely according to his hearts wish.

    But he had never thought about controlling his true qi so that as it was being sent out, it would have a firm, yet supple and sharp, character.

    During a battle with the enemy, he could rely on the changes of his fingertips, fists, and palms, to implement the true qi according to circumstances, but still had not tried sending out his true power in different form.

    With his current level of cultivation, it was not a difficult thing to forcibly shock the hull of the ship to create a big hole, or perhaps using the tip of his palm to bore through the bottom of the ship. But by doing this, he would definitely not able to conceal his presence from the top martial art masters on board the ship.

    And if that happened, his magic trick would not be effective anymore.

    By this time his body was already full with explosive energy. Xu Ziling fiercely clenched his teeth, and let out a spiraling energy.

    Originally his qi power flowed out of his palms rapidly and was yang and hard in nature, but now he changed it to unhurried, yin and soft. The force covered an area about six chi radius on the hull, with his palms at its center.

    Unexpectedly the center responded to his palm; the hull sank, without creating disintegrating-wood sound.

    Even Xu Ziling did not expect this to happen. Subconsciously his fingers stretched out toward the depressed part and jabbed into the hull. His fingers went straight into the wood, as if it was soft cookie dough.

    Xu Ziling himself jumped in fright; he did not expect his internal energy to be this formidable.

    He pulled his fingers out, leaving deep holes in the shape of his fingers. But since the hull was quite thick, it has not been penetrated yet.

    He was just about to add a bit more power, when he suddenly discovered that on the depressed part, the wood was dissolving layer by layer.

    While he was cheering inwardly, suddenly the alarm went off in his heart.

    Ripples of waves came; obviously there was some kind of human activity under water.

    Xu Ziling shivered inwardly.

    He was being very careful; could it be that his presence has been detected by the enemy?

    ※ ※ ※

    Although Kou Zhong was putting on a carefree, fearless act, without moving his lips too much, he asked Ba Fenghan, who was standing behind him to the left, leaning against the railing, Which direction?

    Naturally Ba Fenghan understood what he meant, but he could only respond with a wry smile.

    The enemys power was really too strong. The only way out was to break the siege and escape. But choosing which direction they were going to run away was the most difficult decision they had to make.

    On the surface, Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister, who were guarding the southern bridgehead, were the weakest. But quite possibly it was a trap.

    Ba Fenghan cast his gaze toward one of the multistory buildings; he saw a shadow flashing backward. River Luo! he answered in heavy voice.

    Kou Zhong nodded to indicate he understood.


    The Moon in the Well left its scabbard, and dashed toward Qu Ao, standing about three zhang away.

    This moment, Ba Fenghan also shouted coldly, Qu Ao, since when did you become Tujue peoples running dog [orig. hawk and hound]?

    Even with his experience, Qu Ao was still startled by this extremely sarcastic remark; his momentum was immediately weakened by twenty percent.

    It should be noted that the Tujues were powerful, while the Tieles were weak; hence Tiele people acknowledged allegiance to the Tujues; it was a reasonable and fair matter. Yet because Ba Fenghan brought up Qu Aos association with the Tujues, his momentum appeared to be diminished.

    Without waiting for anybody to respond, Ba Fenghan (although he started later, he arrived first) darted past Kou Zhong. The Beheading Mystery Sword, with the ten-thousand-catty thunderbolt momentum, hacked down on Qu Ao.

    Angry shouts rose up all around. The enemies rushed over one after another trying to help. Ba Fenghan was only playing a trick, yet the entire situation was changed.

    The more chaotic it was, the greater their chances of survival.

    ※ ※ ※

    Looking at the situation unfolding before his eyes, Xu Zilings scalp went numb, while inwardly he cried, Lucky!

    As it turned out, the enemy was setting up two large net full with barbs inside the river on the left and right under the Tianjin Bridge, floating about half a chi below the surface. If Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan jumped into the river, it would be strange indeed if they were not captured alive.

    Realizing there was no time to lose, from the bottom of the river Xu Ziling swam past the hidden net covering the water.

  5. #185
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 4

    Book 16 Chapter 4 Three Persons One Heart

    Qu Ao has fought with Ba Fenghan several times before; thinking that he knew Ba Fenghans foundation very well, naturally he was not afraid of him. With a cold snort he spread out both arms to separately grab Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong. As soon as he made his move, he was using his outstanding skill, the Thirteen-Style Eagle Transformation, with the intention of taking the enemys life.

    His pair of claws, along with rapid footwork, sealed all the enemys possible attack routes. It was also good at seizing the enemys weapon; indeed a very formidable skill.

    When his thirteen-style was unleashed to its full potential, his hands seemed to move in and out between nothingness and reality, alternating between appearing and hidden, as if empty but appeared to be fantasy, so that it was impossible to defend effectively.

    Last time Ba Fenghan nearly lost his life precisely under this claw, hence the reason before making his move, he deliberately sought to weaken Qu Aos momentum. Next, he wanted to rely on the breakthrough he obtained from the Jade Annulus of He Clan to sap Qu Aos confidence.

    However, for a figure of grand master level like Qu Ao, regardless of any setback he suffered, it would be hard to shake the deep roots he gained through hard work and numerous trials and tribulations. To defeat him was easier said than done, and to kill him was nearly impossible. Therefore, if Ba Fenghans objective was to frustrate him, he must use a startling the heavens trick that exceed all expectations. Not only in term of skill, but also involved xinfa, knowledge and scheming, and strategy; all aspects working together in well-coordinated attack.

    As Ba Fenghan was charging forward, Kou Zhong was withdrawing to evade Qu Aos claw wind instead, and leaping on top of the bridges railings. Immediately arrows whizzed by. The fifteen master archers on Dugu Clans ship shot a net of arrows. Supposing he wanted to jump down the river to escape, he must think of a way not to become a porcupine first.

    But Kou Zhongs move was purely to test the water.

    Upon self-examination, he knew that although he had confidence of blocking the arrows shot from the ship, he would not be able to evade the cold arrows being shot from the top of the tall buildings while covering the distance from the bridge to the river.

    The most dangerous moment was the time just before entering the water; due to the drag force induced by the water, his speed would slow down, which would make him an easier target for the arrows.

    Let alone on the enemys ship there were still martial art masters like You Chuhong, Dugu Feng, and the others, who were glaring at him like a tiger watching its prey. As soon as they released secret projectiles, or perhaps palm wind or long-distance palm power, his little life would be in great danger.

    After crying out to his Niang inwardly, Kou Zhong somersaulted back to the middle of the Bridge. This moment Ba Fenghan and Qu Ao have just clashed briefly.

    Seeing Kou Zhong withdrew to the middle of the Bridge, Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister, and Changshu Mou, three people, who were originally standing at either end of the Bridge, swarmed forward and stopped at about five zhang distance from him, forming a siege and watching him closely.

    But Dugu Feng and the Twin Spears General Yan Lihui and another Tujues martial art master, who leaped up from the Dugu Clans and Tulis ships, respectively, from the left and right of the Bridge, did not stop right away.

    From their responses, the difference in these peoples skill could be clearly seen; in fact, it was quite glaring.

    When Dugu Feng saw that Kou Zhong did not cooperate with Ba Fenghan for a joint attack toward Qu Ao, satisfied that everything was still according to plan, unexpectedly she took a breath in the air, and somersaulted back onto the ship. Her posture was elegant and pleasing to the eye, just like moving clouds and flowing water, totally at ease, without the slightest bit of awkwardness.

    Yan Lihui and his companion, on the other hand, did not have this kind of ability. Plus by nature Tujue people were dauntless and they are fierce fighters. Taking advantage of their momentum as they were leaping from the sky, they pounced on Kou Zhong with twin spears and a single saber, like howling wind and torrential rain storming on Kou Zhong.

    Kou Zhong seemed to turn a blind eye toward the enemys wolf or tiger-like offensive. Standing proudly in the middle of the Bridge, he laughed aloud and said, We two of us can make you, ladies and gentlemen, spending so much painstaking effort; this is indeed a glorious!

    As he spoke the last glorious word, suddenly he flashed sideways, evading Yan Lihuis twin spears, while the Moon in the Well solidly blocked the other Tujue martial art masters saber hacking down from the air.

    On the other side, it appeared that Qu Aos claw was about to grab Ba Fenghans Beheading Mystery Sword; who would have thought that as his fingertips nearly touched the swords blade, like magic Ba Fenghans Beheading Mystery Sword suddenly dropped three cun down. And then within the narrow space of less than half a chi it suddenly moved again to attack the palm of Qu Aos right hand, which was shaped like the eagles talon.

    Even a seasoned fighter like Qu Ao could not help shivering in fear for the shock.

    His seemingly simple claw was in fact the culmination of his sixty years of combat experience, the result of his insight and judgment.

    The position he was stepping into was the dead corner on Ba Fenghans left flank, where the Beheading Mystery Swords threat was the weakest. First of all, it would force the opponent to change move if he wanted to meet the attack. Secondly, his claw has reached the changing-something-rotten-into-something-magical, the abandoning-the-nimble-embracing-the-clumsiness, expert level, by using simple rule to estimate of the opponents angle of attack and speed to seize victory. But he never expected that not only the opponent neither dodged nor flashed away, his power was increasing greatly as well; how could his heart not be horror-stricken?

    The Beheading Mystery Sword suddenly poked upward toward the artery on his wrist.

    Qu Ao was shocked beyond shocked. He retracted his right hand, kept his shoulders stay still, his right foot kicked forward; his target was Ba Fenghans left ankle. It was an extremely sinister attack.

    Ba Fenghan let out a slight smile of disdain; with a strange footstep, his sword moved to his left hand, the sword momentum suddenly flared out, enveloping Qu Ao, whose acute spirit and confidence had taken a big hit, and dazzling him in the shadow of the swords brilliant rays of light.

    ※ ※ ※


    Without any fancy move or changes, the two sabers collided with each other.

    Spiraling energy shot out.

    His meridians strengthened, Kou Zhongs capacity, as well as the speed, in sending out his true qi has enjoyed tremendous boost; it truly had the easily-repelling-a-thousand-army potential.

    The Tujue martial art master had just leaped over the distance of nearly six zhang, his power and momentum had been nearly used up; as soon as the two brute forces met, he suffered major losses.


    That man, along with his saber, was struck by Kou Zhong that he flew out of the Bridge like a blown leaf or floating cotton, while spurting a mouthful of blood, and fell down into the Luo River between the bridge and the ship.

    Letting out a long laughter, Kou Zhong said, Is that it? Ha! Just so-so!

    With extreme ease the Moon in the Well parried every single one of Yan Lihuis twin spears attack that came down randomly like rain on him, producing sharp and clear ringing noise like the sound of rain on banana leaf, which was quite pleasing to hear.

    This moment Tuli leaped from his ship to catch his injured man before he fell into the water.

    From his side, four men leaped out to help cleaning up the hatred of their associate being struck by the saber.

    You Chuhongs hands have been itching by now; she was eager to give it a try, but she had to take her status into consideration, hence seeing this, she had no choice but to let the Tujues send out their troops first.

    It was as if Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan had received the Heavens help; their martial art skill was really beyond their imagination.

    Ba Fenghan vs Qu Aos duel was even more shocking.


    Qu Ao already carried out more than ten different styles and only after suffering untold hardships he was finally able to sweep Ba Fenghans Beheading Mystery Sword with the tip of his palm.

    In fact, after the duel has been going on thus far, it was the first time that the two combatants had actual contact; hence the cunning, fantastical and dangerous nature of the duel could be easily imagined.

    Ba Fenghan felt that the sword in his hand was like being hit by a hammer nine times in a row; the shock made his wrist went numb. Formidable! he inwardly cried. When the Beheading Mystery Sword was returning to his right hand, Qu Ao immediately seized this opportunity to soar into the air to unleash the full potential of the Thirteen-Style Eagle Transformation.

    But he did not know that it was precisely what Ba Fenghan has been waiting for.

    Letting out a long laugh, he said, Qu Ao, your grand days have passed, otherwise, how could you fall into my trap? Lightning fast his sword stabbed straight upward. Immediately bright light flared out, followed by faint rumbling like far-away thunder, which came very naturally; each sword strike carried earth-shattering power, which he seemed to hide all along, and released everything at once only now, hoping to end the battle in the shortest time possible.

    On the other side, the Twin Spears General Yan Lihui let out a miserable groan as his shoulder was hit by the saber. Like a kite with cut string he flew about a zhang away, and landed in front of Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister. One spear was thrown off of his hand, rendering him unable to continue the battle.

    Kou Zhong stood proudly with the saber across his chest, quietly waiting for the four Tujue martial art masters rapidly arriving overhead.

    In his busyness, he still had the time to leisurely sweeping his gaze around the battle arena.

    He saw the cold laugh hidden on Tulis face. Not only did he not seem to care about his two men suffering injuries one after another, he even looked like he still had a card up his sleeve, remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos.

    The Dugu Clan ship on the other side, the hard-headed and explosive old woman You was still sitting quietly on her imperial tutor chair, while the younger generations of her Clan respectfully surrounded her like stars surrounding the moon. She was speaking in low voice with the glamorous Dugu Feng in calm demeanor, as if she did not have any concern that the two men were gaining the upper hand.

    From behind Tuoba Yu, two men rushed forward to quickly move the seriously injured Yan Lihui, who was lying on the ground, away.

    While Changshu Mou and the others, three persons appeared to have their full attention watching their master dealing with Ba Fenghan, they did not show any sign of coming forward to join the battle.

    Kou Zhong was an extremely astute person; for the first time that night he felt that something was wrong, but the enemies have arrived, he did not have the leisure to ponder over this matter. Quickly he raised his saber to parry.

    ※ ※ ※

    Meanwhile, Xu Ziling, under the bridge, has successfully cut a large hole on the hook-riddled net covering the river using a dagger, totally unnoticed. He held on to the cut net, to prevent it from being flushed away by the current and thus exposing his presence.

    But the anxiety in his heart was hard to describe.

    At the same time he regretted the trick he did to the bottom of the ship.

    The hull of the ship might dissolve any moment and opened up a hole, then the water would pour into the ship hold and it would be difficult to hide it from You Chuhong and Dugu Feng upstairs. As soon as they figured out that somebody was hiding under water, his trick would not be effective anymore.

    The other problem he was thinking about was coordination.

    The enemy setup this net in the river, their objective was certainly to catch Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong alive; so they must create some situation where the two would be pressured to think that the Luo River was their only way to escape. So Xu Ziling did not worry that the two would not take the river as their escape path, but he was concerned that they could not run away before the hull of the ship ruptured.

    Right this moment, from under the shade of the ship he looked up and happened to see Qu Ao leaping into the air.

    He nearly cheered in loud voice. His hesitation gone, he immediately took action.


    The spear from Yan Lihuis right hand fell to the ground.

    ※ ※ ※

    In the blink of an eye, the claw and the sword clashed rapidly seven times in succession. Both sides moved at lightning speed, both unleashed the entire power within their bodies. Although it was only a few moves, the intensity surpassed ordinary martial art masters exchanging hundreds or thousands moves in hard battle, generating some kind of magnificent-army-with-thousands-of-men-and-horses-in-a-face-off-on-the-battlefield, a desperate-battle-in-close-quarter-that-the-sun-and-the-moon-lose-their-luster tragic atmosphere, which affected everybody around the battle arena.

    In fact, up to that moment, speaking purely in terms of power and moves, Ba Fenghan was still a notch below Qu Ao. But he was able to add diligence to his ability and wisdom, so he was able to use all kinds of tricks to frustrate this overbearing opponents vigor and confidence. Also, because the opponent has been underestimating him, he was able to catch the opponent off-guard and thus gained a bit of advantage instead, so while the sharpness of his blade seemed diminishing, it was actually increasing without letup. From this, it could be seen that Ba Fenghans innate talent was better than this grandmaster-level character, whose name shook the heavens inside and outside the Great Wall.

    While having his eyes on the advantage before his eyes, he must take the most important step, which was paving the way for his escape; otherwise, he would not have any chance to escape at all.

    Ba Fenghan let out a long, ear-splitting whistle as he shot out at an angle; like a rainbow his sword went straight toward Qu Ao, who was still about a zhang and a half in the air.

    Of the other side, Kou Zhong was well aware that Ba Fenghan was telling him that the time to escape has come. Quickly, with the fierce-lion-seizing-the-rabbit speed, and powerful-and-elegant, all-out power, Qiang! he hacked down the steel spear coming at him from the left, and then using a fake movement of his body he repeated the previous attack, and when the three remaining enemies withdrew in shock, he suddenly turned around and darted toward Ba and Qu, two mens duel.

    Shouting and yelling rose up from all around. Not only did Tuoba Yu and Changshu Mou, and the others, rush from both ends of the bridge, even Tuli also leaped from his ship and flew toward the two men.

    On the Dugu Clans side, other than You Chuhong, who was still sitting motionless in her chair, everybody, Dugu Feng included, drew their weapons, the archers strung their bows; the situation was extremely tense.

    The master archers on the two tall buildings west of the Bridge no longer cared to conceal their presence; they appeared with arrows on their bows, waiting in tight formation.

    The sword strike Ba Fenghan sent toward Qu Ao was a skill from the bottom of his chest. Not only was it the culmination of his life-long power, it was also imbued with the determination to perish together with the enemy. Furthermore, because he was leaping at an angle, his sword momentum enveloped the air over the bridges railings. With Kou Zhong also charging from the middle of the bridge, unless Qu Ao was willing to stake everything he had until they both suffered, his only way out was to retreat to the air west of the Bridge.

    It was the only way to stop the Tujue master archers on top of the buildings from firing their arrows if they did not want to hit Qu Ao, and thus eliminating one worry.

    If they had to block only the arrows from about a dozen archers on Dugu Clans ship, their confidence was naturally a lot higher.

    Of course Qu Ao did not want to exchange his life for Ba Fenghans. Extremely cooperative, even with a faint smile on his face, he changed his claw into a fist, and heavily punched the blade of Ba Fenghans sword, and then, borrowing the reaction force, he soared into the air above the Luo River west of the Bridge.

    This moment, Kou Zhong happened to catch up with them. Staying close to the bridges railings, the two immediately jumped over to the water below.

    By the time You Chuhong let out a burst of extremely unpleasant screeching-owl like laughter, a dozen or so powerful arrows already left the bows. Swish! Swish! the arrows flew toward the two men, covering a considerably large area. Unless the two blocked the arrows head-on, there was no way they could evade them.

    Splash! the water splashed.

    A large net riddled with hooks, about two zhang long and two zhang wide, suddenly rose up from the water; like a wall it blocked all the powerful arrows, and it still had enough momentum to fly toward You Chuhong and the others. The power was astonishing, plus it happened unexpectedly, so that the enemy was at a loss of how to deal with it.

    Tuli and the others already rushed toward the bridges railings; they still were not sure what had happened when more than a dozen streams of water, joined together like a string of pearls, shot out from the River to attack everybody on the bridge. Even Qu Ao was no exception.

    With their ability, faced with this kind of spiraling, full-strength, with accurate timing and position, with no gap to be found, streams of water used as weapon, even Tuli and Qu Ao were caught off-guard and were thrown into confusion. Actually, even Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan themselves, as they were entering the water, were unclear of what happened.

    By the time the River was back to normal, the water calmed down enough so that once again it reflected the starlight and moonlight in the sky above and the lanterns in the human world below, the three mens shadow had been long gone; they managed to escape without any trace.

    Dugu Clans ship was starting to sink into the river.

    ※ ※ ※

    Dripping wet, Kou and Ba, two men, climbed onto the small boat Xu Ziling hid earlier under the shade of willow trees by the bank of River Luo; they both had the feeling that they had just come back from the death.

    Kou Zhong cast his gaze into the distance, looking at Dugu Clans big ship by the Bridge, which, by this time, was starting to lean sideways as it was sinking. It would be best if we can anger the old granny till her asthma flares out! he said with delight.

    Ba Fenghan was circulating his inner power to evaporate the water from his body; he said coldly, We have been making noise here that the Luo River is flipped over, while Man Qing Yuan is only about a dozen blocks away, yet there was not half a man coming to say hello. This is a perfect example of human relationship is changing daily with the temperature.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Who did not wish of us fighting desperately with the enemy until we are defeated and all of us injured? They didnt come to stick their foot and deal with us, that was already very polite of them.

    How about Yu Yi? Kou Zhong asked anxiously, How come you, Xiao Ling, suddenly came? But luckily you came, otherwise Ol Ba and me would be the fish inside the net with hook injuries all over our bodies.

    After briefly explaining everything, Xu Ziling said to Ba Fenghan, All in all, Princess still have some feeling toward you!

    With a pained smile on his face, Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, At one time or another, both I and Li Shimin might have really moved her heart, but in the deepest part of her heart, the one really close to her heart is you, Xu Ziling. That is the truth.

    Afraid that Xu Ziling would be embarrassed, Kou Zhong changed the subject, But does she really have the ability to take Yu Yi out of the city without the gods knowing the ghosts detecting it? Shouldnt we try to protect her?

    Ba Fenghan flatly replied, Dong Ming Pai must have a very subtle relationship with Yin Gui Pai, or they would not know that we have rescued Junyu. Not only that, Madame Dong Ming is a first class martial art master; even Zhu Yuyan does not dare to easily provoke her, not to mention Zhu Yuyan is currently not in Luoyang. Therefore, they have more confidence in sending her out than we do. If we intervene, we would arouse Wanwans suspicion instead.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong nodded their head in agreement.

    Right now, their biggest advantage was that Yin Gui Pai had no idea that Fu Junyu was inside Dong Ming Pais huge ship, and that Song Shidao was involved in this matter. In terms of talent, knowledge and martial art skill, this man was a superior specimen.

    Only now did Kou Zhong copy Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling in circulating his internal energy to evaporate the water from his body. His eyes flickering, he said, If we dont avenge this hatred, we are not real men. What should we do?

    Ba Fenghans face shone with murderous aura; a cold smile, as cold as ice and snow, appeared on the corner of his lips, but his voice was unusually gentle and soft, as he spoke lightly, as if he did not have any care in the world, Soon it will be the zi hour. Zhong Shao, dont you have an appointment to see Song Jingang?

  6. #186
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 5

    Book 16 Chapter 5 Tiger Wind Dragon Cloud

    Perhaps because the battle just now had scared the common people, but along the Heavenly Street, all residences, all stores and shops big and small, closed their doors and windows, and did not light their lanterns. Only Man Qing Yuan was brightly lit, illuminating the area around it as bright as day.

    It was still a quarter before the zi hour; most of the people who were supposed to be there have arrived at the Ting Liu Pavilion. Not even half a human shadow was seen on the street, even the city guards who were supposed to be on patrol have hidden in who knows where.

    The struggle between Yang Dong, Dugu Clan and Wang Shichong, the Luoyang City appeared to be in a power vacuum state. But the public security was even better instead, simply because the local gangs and societies were curbing their people as much as possible not to create trouble in this kind of situation.

    Outsiders did not dare to make trouble even more, for fear of becoming the target of a multitude of arrows.

    The three walked down the street toward Man Qing Yuan.

    Kou Zhong suddenly heaved a deep sigh.

    Ba Fenghan asked in surprise, Even under such a vile circumstance just now you were able to get away without damaging half a strand of your hair; why still sighing long and short?

    Kou Zhong reached out to wrap his arm around Ba Fenghans shoulder. I am thinking that you, laoxiong, are going to go far away; in my heart I really hate to part with you, he spoke with heartfelt sincerity.

    Ba Fenghans tough face melted a little; casting a glance toward the silently-walking-by-his-side Xu Ziling, he smiled and said, This is called there is no banquet in the world that does not end. This time Ol Ba came to the Central Plains and was able to encounter two Xiongtai, already this trip has not been made in vain. Much less in term of martial art cultivation I came across incomparably fortuitous meeting, and obtained a breakthrough that even in my dream I have never thought about. At this point in life, what more do I want?

    Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, When would Fenghan Xiong start your journey?

    Ba Fenghan replied in heavy voice, After getting rid of Qu Ao, I will immediately depart. Perhaps even tonight.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were stunned.

    The former frowned and said, Why are you especially insolent toward Qu Ao?

    A deep, cold murderous intent flashed in Ba Fenghans eyes. He replied coldly, This is the oath I swore when I was beaten by Qu Ao and threw myself into the river in serious injury to escape. Whoever wanted to take my life, Ol Ba must pay him back.

    And then he smiled slightly and said, Therefore, you two and I are special kindred spirits; plus there is another bitter experience in which we are similar.

    Kou Zhong, whose eyes were on the empty, desolate street ahead, was stunned, What bitter experience? he asked.

    Ba Fenghan cheerfully replied, In that our martial art skill was forced to advance by the people who were chasing and hunting us, that not a day of our lives was not fugitive days. Since you acquired the Secret to Long Life, didnt you also have this kind of bitter experience?

    Xu Ziling suddenly said, How confident you are in killing Qu Ao?

    Originally, not even 50%, Ba Fenghan replied, But now I have full confidence.

    Pulling away his arm on Ba Fenghans shoulder, Kou Zhong asked in great astonishment, How could there be such a drastic change?

    Ba Fenghan calmly replied, Because there is still a very big flaw in his mental self-cultivation, which fluctuate with his state of mind. Just now during the battle on the Tianjin Bridge, he already lost his confidence in defeating me. Therefore, if tonight I can enlarge this gap of his, I have no doubt that I will win.

    Finally he added one sentence, If I can kill Qu Ao, even if I dont look for Bi Xuan, he might personally come to look for me; a match that is hard to find. It would be too late for Bi Xuan to guard against me!

    The two boys had a sudden inspiration.

    Kou Zhong said, I wonder if Old Man Qu and Fu Kids duel has already started?

    Meanwhile Man Qing Yuans front gate was only five zhang away; the gatekeepers were craning their necks to look at these three latecomers.

    I am afraid he might miss the appointment, Ba Fenghan said.

    ※ ※ ※

    The three have not even reached the gate, the dozen or so guards already welcomed them respectfully, greeting them Ye this and Ye [master, as in master/servant relationship] that; a totally different experience from last time they came.

    Has Qu Ao arrived? Ba Fenghan asked.

    Someone replied, Qu Ye has just sent someone to notify us that he will be here by chou hour [1-3am].

    The three exchanged glances; they all revealed a knowing smile.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong asked, Is Man Qing Yuan still under Luoyang Bangs control?

    Another man replied, Naturally. This is still considered our Luoyang Bangs business. Three Daye exposed that traitor, Shangguan Longs identity, our Gang, from top to bottom, are deeply grateful to three Daye!

    Kou Zhong wondered inwardly if that was true; he then casually asked a question, So whos in charge of Luoyang Bang now?

    The first man replied solemnly, To prevent our Gang from falling into disunity, Fu Bangzhu [vice gang leader] and various Tangzhu [hall master] asked Big Boss Rong Fengxiang to be our Bangzhu. With him on the helm, who dares not to comply?

    The three thought unexpectedly there was such a coincidence. From this they could tell that Rong Fengxiang was a figure who played a critical role in Luoyang.

    All their questions answered, the three, with the throng of guards in front and behind them, proceeded toward the Tingliu Pavilion.

    Tingliu Pavilion was livelier than two evenings ago; it was practically a banquet with no empty seats. Fortunately somehow Rong Fengxiang has personally ordered to have the chamber on the top floor of the north building, the same one they used last time, reserved from them, hence they did not need to crowd with other people.

    ※ ※ ※

    After the beautiful servants served them food and drink, one called Cuier, who appeared to be the lead-waitress, with amorous expression and enchanting smile addressed the three, Rong Laopan [boss] especially ordered us to serve three gentlemen well. Our Man Qing Yuans three flowers: Lianer, Juer and Pinger [lotus, chrysanthemum and duckweed, respectively] the other night witnessed the three gentlemen exhibiting your divine prowess, so they quite adore you. Do three Daye want them to come to sing a couple of Xiaodiao [Chinese folk song] for you?

    Kou Zhong asked in surprise, With so many distinguished guests tonight, how could they have spare time to serve us?

    Cuier threw him a coquettish glance and said, Its useless for others to beg me, but three Daye are different! Cuier made things difficult for others, its all to make proper arrangements for you. Right now it is still more than half a sichen before the chou hour; with them coming to dispel Dayes boredom, I guarantee that time will flash like a white steed flits past a crack.

    Ba Fenghan casually stuffed half an ingot of glistening yellow gold into Cuiers hand and spoke indifferently, So this time it is not Zhi Shi Lang Wang Bo [see Book 1 Chapter 10] who gives the party? Looks like the expense is not a few?

    Cuier took the gold, her smile was even brighter; with half her body leaning on Ba Fenghans, she spoke intimately, This time its Rong Laoban who is giving the party; he has two simultaneous happy events in the family! He is ascending the Bangzhu throne, and celebrating his big birthday. Afterwards, his source of revenue will spread far and wide; how could he have time to bother about trivial expenditure? Very well! Just leave everything to nujia, I will have the three flowers come here in no time!

    Xu Ziling said with a frown, We still have some important matters to discuss, it would be better

    Cuier cut him off, In that case, nujia will arrange for them to come a bit later!

    With a peal of tender laughter she flew away like a butterfly.

    Kou Zhong laughed toward Ba Fenghan, You are so liberal with money; looks like your purse is fully loaded with gold.

    Ba Fenghan replied indifferently, These past few years I earned a bit of money. In this chaotic world, everybody is striving to mint coins and make money, but only gold is most reliable, it can be used inside and outside the Central Plains. When I leave, I am going to leave you some so that you can use it.

    Knock! Knock!

    Although Kou Zhong did not hear any footsteps, he has already sensed that someone was outside the door. Who is it? he asked in low voice.

    Outside, Xing Mofeis familiar voice replied, Xiaodi received Wangzis [King] order to invite three gentlemen to the main lobby downstairs for a chat; we will enjoy wine together. [Translators note: in Book 13 Chapter 10, it was Xing Yifei.]

    The three had a rather good opinion toward this man, plus they really wanted to see what he looked like. Xing Xiong, please come in! Kou Zhong pursued.

    Hearing that, Xing Mofei pushed the door and entered, and cupped his fist in salute.

    The three were sure that this man was not among the men standing by Fu Qian the previous night, or else their eyes had deceived them.

    This Tuyuhun martial art master was around twenty-five, twenty-six, tall and slim, had thick hair and eyebrows, and calm demeanor. He wore casual riding and shooting warrior attire complete with boots. His entire being was as sharp as an arrow leaving the bow; his eyes gleaming with spirited light, but he also gave up the impression that he was a very passionate person.

    Although he could not be considered handsome, his facial features [orig. five senses] had strong character; hence he could be considered someone well worth a second look, and that the more one looked at him, the more one would feel that he was an interesting character.

    The three immediately stood up to return the salute. After they sat down, Ba Fenghan asked, Who else is in the hall downstairs?

    Meanwhile the sound of finger-guessing game, drinking game, warm music from string and woodwind instruments, came from the direction of the balcony.

    Xing Mofei laughed leisurely and said, Naturally we cant miss Wang Bo and Rong Da Laoban, two gentlemen.

    Astonished, Xu Ziling said, Listening to the tone of Xing Xiongs voice, looks like you dont have any regards to even Wang Bo.

    Xing Mofei slyly said, Speaking about whip technique, theres no one inside or outside the Central Plains can match him. But speaking about person, one must not consider his martial art only. Only by having a fitting character would one make others convinced. True heroes like three gentlemen here are the kind of people that my humble Master admires and wishes to be associated with.

    Hearing that, the three looked at each other; because according to the rumor, didnt Wang Bo have a very tight relationship with Fu Qian?

    Moreover, if Wang Bo was a man falling from virtue, how could a very able person who was outside the system like Liao Kong consider him an intimate friend?

    Astounded, Kou Zhong asked these questions.

    Xing Mofei replied with a smile, It would be better for my humble Master, when he has time later, to personally answer these questions properly. But three gentlemen only need to look at the outstanding heroes of today. If Du Fuwei, Li Zitong, and the likes have thrown their support to be Wang Bos subordinates, but then later on they rebelled and left him, it is obvious that this man has no capacity to hold others. Otherwise there is no way his prestige would fall under any other militias.

    And then he asked, Are three gentlemen surprised that last night Wang Bo did not show himself?

    Amazed, the three nodded their head.

    Xing Mofei laughed and said, The logic is very simple. Because in this matter he wants to take all the credits to himself; he wants to curry favor with Shi Feixuan, but he is not a person who appreciate kindness. Toward this man, three gentlemen must be a bit more careful. As for other matters, please forgive Xiaodi because it is rather inconvenient to disclose.

    Nodding, Kou Zhong said, Although we have just met, Xing Xiong is indeed a true friend. This was the first time that we heard this information; it is extremely useful.

    Ba Fenghan said, But by doing that, what good would it be for Wang Bo himself? Furthermore, isnt he stating publicly that he no longer in the race for the throne [orig. hunting deer in Central Plain please see Jin Yongs Deer and Cauldron translated by yours truly on this idiom]?

    Xing Mofei sighed and said, Those with ambitions are always unwilling to give up their dreams. Because Xiaodi has deep respect toward the three gentlemen, I came with special purpose to reveal information that you need to know: after Yuwen Huaji returning to the north, he restructured his forces once again. By relying on his Yuwen Clans profound foundation, he struck the gongs and beat the drums, preparing to spread out his hands and feet again. It is highly possible that he is going to form an alliance with Wang Bo, hence the reason he raised such a ruckus in the Jade Annulus of He Clans affair.

    The three were suddenly enlightened.

    Smiling bitterly, Xing Mofei continued, Looking at three gentlemens expression, it is clear to me that you are not going downstairs to see my humble Master.

    The four men looked at each other. Suddenly they all burst out laughing. Their laughter was filled with pride from understanding each others heart.

    Finished laughing, Xu Ziling said, Please forgive Zaixia for brazenly asking an imperceptive question: what is the purpose of Fu Wangzis [king] visit this time?

    Lowering his voice, Xing Mofei replied, This time my humble Master came to the Central Plains, there are two principal objectives: one is to see what kind of outstanding, remarkable figures there are in the Central Plains, the other objective is to look for someone to settle an account.

    Kou Zhongs eyes shone with sharp light; he said, The first objective is too broad that it is difficult to grasp the real meaning behind it, but since Xing Xiong is unwilling to elaborate, lets not talk about it! As for looking for someone, who is that person? Who has such a face [i.e. honor]?

    Delighted, Xing Mofei said, Talking with you is really enjoyable; it saves me a lot of crap. The one we want to look for is Pei Ju.

    Staring blankly, Kou Zhong asked, Who is Pei Ju? How come Ive never heard his name?

    Sneering, Ba Fenghan said, Zhong Shao, this time you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Even at our place, no one does not know Pei Ju, this mans name. It could even be said that this name stinks to high heaven; there is no one who would disagree with that.

    Xing Mofei spoke coldly, Pei Ju was Yang Guangs chancellor who was in charge of trade and commerce, as well as public affairs of the Western Region and Old Suis frontiers. He wrote a three-volume work entitled the Maps and Notes on the Western Regions, as well as an account on the general profile of the forty-four states of the Western Region. At the end of the preface, he wrote: Therefore, Magnificent Emperor ought to send envoy, without deploying troops and chariots, various foreign powers, from Hun and so on will faint and be exterminated. The United Xia will thus be here! It should be noted to some extent that our might has never transformed this far. It was precisely because of the sentence from Hun and so on will faint and be exterminated that our Tuyuhun became rivers of blood, dead bodies lay everywhere on the fields. If we do not avenge this hatred, how could we face our dead clansmen?

    Listening to this, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were left speechless, while at the same time thinking that Fu Qians purpose in visiting the Central Plains this time was more or less the same as Tulis, which was to exact revenge.

    The Central Plains would be a lot messier.

    Ba Fenghan spoke nonchalantly, Pei Ju has not died yet? This man is adept in driving wedges between allies; our Western Tujue was split into two factions, which attack each other endlessly. Taking advantage while we are powerless to care about anything outside, Pei Ju secretly incited the Tieles to send troops to attack Tuyuhun. This scheme is certainly vicious to the extreme, killing someone with borrowed knife, while he himself did not need to spend half a soldier.

    Xing Mofei showed grief and indignation; he said hatefully, Even after suffering defeat from the surprise attack, our Emperor Fu Yun did not know that it was his friend, Pei the traitor who incited it in the dark; he even sent words to Pei traitor, asking for help, yet he sent two contingents of troops and horses to pursue and attack, to throw stones at someone who fell down a well. After repeatedly being under attack, finally our Emperor brought the remaining a thousand or so injured riders to escape by breaking the siege. This hatred, not one of Tuyuhun people can forget.

    Only then did Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling understand the gratitude and grudges between the Tieles, Pei Ju, and Tuyuhuns. No wonder Fu Qian went south to the Central Plains, the first thing he did was to seek Tieles number one martial art master Qu Ao for a life and death duel.

    As if he was completely unconcerned, Ba Fenghan said, Oh! Ol Ba nearly forget, tonight Qu Ao is mine. Just now I have had a clash with him, you cant possibly do not know about this matter?

    Xing Mofei sighed and said, This matter is out of my hands. If Qu Ao knew that he is such in great demand, he might regret his conduct.

    And then, rising to his full height, he cupped his fist and said, Xiaodi has other orders I need to take care of, I cant stay for long. Ba Xiongs esteemed opinion, Xiaodi will pass on to my humble Master. As for how we are going to settle it, it will be decided by my humble Master.

    After Xing Mofei left, Kou Zhong laughed and said, It would be better for us to go out and keep watch. As soon as we see Qu Ao, well kill him with a vengeance. Once the main problem is solved, wont all troubles be solved?

    Nodding, Ba Fenghan said, I was thinking the same thing. But it wont be as excited as if we have several hundred people watching on the side shouting and cheering for me.

    Kou Zhong rose up and said, Almost forget my appointment with Song Jingang. I will be back before the chou hour. Remember to wait for me before going into action. Otherwise I wont let you get away with it.

    Xu Ziling laughed and cursed, Theres not enough time, why havent you taken a hike?

    Immensely pleased with himself, Kou Zhong said, When the girls come later, remember to keep an extra for me. This is called blessing, we enjoy together.

    While talking, he pushed the door, and was immediately stunned by what he saw outside.

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling also felt the alarm went off in their hearts; they immediately turned their heads to look at the door. But Kou Zhongs tall and sturdy figure obstructed their line of sight. All they were able to see was plain yellow gauzed skirt with lots of creases on it, and a pair of green embroidered shoes, with phoenix ornament sewed to the toes, peeking out from under the skirt.

    Just from the fact that this woman was able to stand outside the door without arousing the alarm in the three mens heart, they knew that she was not someone to be trifled with.

    But Kou Zhongs eyes actually shone.

    The woman suddenly appeared outside their door looked to be about twenty-three, twenty-four years old. Unlike Shang Xiuxun or perhaps Shen Luoyan, who, in just one look, people could tell that they were extremely beautiful, this woman had some kind of unique hidden appeal and personality, which would stir up deep attraction within your heart.

    Her demeanor was calm and sophisticated, gentle, refined and dignified; but the remarkable feature of her face was her determined look, which gave up the impression that not only was she beautiful and touching, she would not tolerate mens brazenness, that she was fearless, and full of confidence in herself, as if she firmly believed that everything she did was correct and proper.

    Her shiny jet-black beautiful hair, her fair and tender skin, her slim and well-proportioned figure, her beautiful, curved eyebrows, and the deep, slender phoenix eyes under the eyebrows, combined with the faint natural delicate fragrance emitted from her body, formed a picture of beautiful woman that men would topple over it.

    But the one thing attracted Kou Zhongs attention the most was the whisk, which appeared to be made of red silk, hanging diagonally across her back, slightly visible over her left shoulder. Immediately Kou Zhong was able to grasp her identity.

    Surprisingly, she was the one acclaimed to be the most outstanding female martial art master, considered top of the list among the generals within Li Shimins Tian Ce Fu [heavenly policy government], Li Jings tender wife, the Red Brush Lady [see Endnote].

    Her cold and detached, yet sharp gaze was focused on Kou Zhongs face; without any emotion at all she spoke indifferently, You are Kou Zhong?

    Kou Zhong stepped aside to let Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghans sharp eyes to have good visibility on her, and then he replied in heavy voice, It is Xiaodi. Shall I address Miss by Mrs. Li, or Li Saozi [sister-in-law]?

    Hong Funus [i.e. Red Brush Lady] grim gaze fearlessly turned toward Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan. The moment she heard Kou Zhongs question, there seemed to be a mocking expression flashing through her eyes; she replied coldly, That depends on how you place yourselves.

    The three were stunned; deep in their hearts they felt something was very wrong, or she would not have used such a blunt tone.

    Finally Hong Funus eyes landed on Xu Ziling. Her phoenix eyes flashed with intelligent, sharp rays, but her voice turned soft as she said, King of Qin has something very important to discuss with two gentlemen, hence he especially sent qie [I, your servant; deprecatory self-reference for women] to invite your honored selves. This matter is of grave importance, two gentlemen must not refuse.

    Turning his eyes away from her, Ba Fenghan simply raised his cup and drained the wine in one gulp.

    Kou Zhongs face showed a rather furious and complicated expression; he spoke coldly, If it is pertaining to the Jade Annulus of He Clan, there is nothing to say.

    A fierce and sharp look flitted through Hong Funus beautiful eyes as she stared at Kou Zhong. But before she had time to speak, Ba Fenghan already cut her off, Why dont you go to see what he has to say? Sooner or later this matter must be resolved on way or another.

    Xu Ziling calmly said, Zhong Shao, just go! It is up to you to decide.

    Kou Zhong was silent for half a day. Finally he nodded his agreement.

    ※ ※ ※

    Hong Funu pushed the door open and said with a light sigh, Get in! I wish by the time you get out, you will still be Jing Langs [in this case, lang is the term a wife uses to refer to her husband] good Xiongdi, and not his irreconcilable enemy.

    Kou Zhong cast her an indifferent look before stepping into the room, and casually closed the door.

    This room was the last side room on the third floor of the east wing of the north building; it was nearly double the size of their room.

    Li Shimin was standing in front of the window with his back facing him, staring at the fish pond in the garden down below.

    Hearing Kou Zhongs voice, Li Shimin sighed and said, Do we still have any leeway in this matter?

    Walking over to the round table in the middle of the room, Kou Zhong fixed his gaze on Li Shimins majestic, tall and straight back. Which matter was Shimin Xiong referring to? he spoke heavily.

    Li Shimin slowly turned around. Looking deep into Kou Zhongs eyes, he said, How many years has it been since we saw each other? Zhong Shao, you are more formidable than what I thought. Every movement you make carries the air of a martial art master of this generation. No wonder although you have enemies everywhere, nobody is able to deal with you the slightest bit; on the contrary, you were able to play with them in the palm of your hand.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, Compared to His Royal Highness King of Qin, what is one little Kou Zhong? Since Qin Wang [King] raised your army at Taiyuan, you successively defeated old dynastys fierce general Song laosheng [old man, but a bit more respectful] and Qu Tutong, used the few to defeat the many, and took Guanzhong by ruse; hence you are enabling your honorable Clan to occupy an advance-can-attack, retreat-can-defend, powerful base of operations. Then you went west to Zheng Long You in order to consolidate Guanzhong, and drove Xue Ju, father and sons main forces that invaded your territory back to their old nest. And now, whod dare to underestimate your Li Family? This kind of achievement, who can match?

    Sneering, Li Shimin said, For generations our Li Family frequently became generals, our foundation profound; as long as we have sufficient reason to send troops, with proper tactics, triumph over the opponent is as expected as a matter of course. How could we be compared to you, Zhong Shao, whos all alone in the world, yet is able to create clouds by flipping your hand, and create rain by overturning your palm, changing the situation of the world? Ha! We havent seen each other for so long, how about sitting down and drinking a cup of wine?

    Neither for nor against it, Kou Zhong sat down.

    Li Shimin raised the wine pot, poured some wine for Kou Zhong, and said with a smile, I prefer you call me Shimin; our friendship surpasses casual acquaintances. That year, were it not for your, two brothers help, I am afraid our Li Family would not have the respectable position of today.

    And then he sat down and raised his cup with both hands in a toast; he said, This cup is to thank Zhong Shao in your assistance to uphold justice at the Flying Horse Ranch, to prevent Xiuning from falling into Li Tianfans trap and Shen Luoyans scheming.

    Scorching heat attacked his heart.

    Kou Zhong grabbed his throat and called out, Good wine! Its not poisonous, is it?

    End Note:

    Hong Funu was a fictional character from the Tang dynasty story Curly Bearded Stranger [虯髯客]. The following was translated by Whiteskwirl (used by permission):

    When Emperor Yangdi of the Sui dynasty toured Jiangdu (Yangzhou), he ordered Yang Su to guard the West Capital (Chang'an). Yang Su was an imperious noble, and at that time, when the country was still in disorder, he believed that no one had greater power than he. He was supercilious, licentious and dissolute beyond compare. Whenever officials came to offer advice, or guests came to visit, he always met with them sitting on a couch, accompanied by beautiful women. He walked around with slave girls on both sides; his manner exceeded even that of an emperor. Towards the waning days of the Sui dynasty, he became even worse.

    One day, the Duke of Wei, Li Jing, wearing common clothes, paid Yang Su a visit to offer advice. Yang Su still remained seated on his couch.

    Li Jing came forward and said, "The world is in chaos; everywhere heroes compete for power. An important minister such as yourself should be busy gathering worthy men; you shouldn't receive your guests sitting." The arrogance disappeared from Yang Su's face, and he stood up to talk with Li Jing. After their talk, Yang Su was pleased, and accepted Li Jing's suggestion.

    All the while Li Jing and Yang Su were talking, a beautiful servant girl stood by, holding a red whisk, staring with rapt attention at Li Jing. As Li Jing was leaving, the girl followed closely and asked one of the petty officials, "Who was that man just now, and where is he from?" The official told her, and the girl nodded and left. Li Jing went back to his quarters.

    That night, just before dawn, suddenly Li Jing heard a knocking at the door, and low voice calling out. Li Jing opened the door and took a step back when he saw a person before him wearing a purple gown and a cap, a walking stick in hand, from which hung a leather bag.

    Li Jing asked, "Who are you?"

    The person said, "I am one of Yang Su's maids, the one holding the red whisk." Li Jing invited her in. She took off her outer gown and cap and Li Jing was surprised to see that she was a beautiful girl of about 18 or 19. This beautiful girl wore no make-up, and her clothes were very resplendent. She bowed to him. Li Jing was taken aback. The girl said, "I have served in Master Yang's house for a long time; I've seen many famous men. But I have never seen any like you. As a woman, I eventually want a home to return to, so I have come to you."

    Li Jing said, "Yang Su is a powerful figure in the capital; won't that be difficult?"

    The girl said, "He's an idiot. Several of the other maids have left, and he hasn't tried very hard to get them back. Don't worry."

    Li Jing listened to the girl's words, so full of confidence. He asked her name. The girl said her surname was Zhang and that she was the oldest in her family. Regarding the girl's skin, appearance, figure, speech, and temperament, she really was the perfect person! Being able to receive such a girl, of course Li Jing was very happy, and even a little bit afraid; thinking it all over brought him not a little anxiety.

    Inquisitive people came and nosed about, and the two got a chance to get to know each other better. A few days later, there had been no news of an investigation by Yang Su. So the two saddled up and fled to Taiyuan. On the way they stopped at an inn in Lingshi. Inside, meat pork had already been cooked over the stove. The Zhang girl was combing her long hair in front of the couch while Li Jing curried the horses. Suddenly, there came a man of medium height, with a long, red curly beard, riding a lame donkey. He threw down his leather bag by the stove, and grabbed a pillow and laid down on the couch, watching the Zhang girl comb her hair. Li Jing was angry, but he continued to groom the horses. The Zhang girl saw Li Jing's face and knew he was angry. She held her hair in one hand, and with the other, gestured for Li Jing to stay calm. She quickly finished combing her hair, then went over to the newcomer and asked his name. The reclining man answered that his surname was Zhang.

    The Zhang girl said, "My surname is also Zhang, so I'm your little sister." After saying so, she bowed to him. Then she asked him his position in his family. The man said he was third child.

    The man asked what her position in her family was. When the girl answered that she was the oldest, the man said happily, "It's a lucky day to encounter you, sister."

    The Zhang girl called to Li Jing, "Li Jing quick, come over here and pay your respects to Third Brother." Li Jing quickly came over and kowtowed. Then they all sat together around the stove.

    The stranger asked, "What kind of meat are you cooking?"

    "Mutton. It should be cooked by now."

    The stranger said, "I'm very hungry." Li Jing went out to buy some cakes, then the stranger used his dagger to cut the meat and they all ate together. After they had finished eating, the stranger took the leftover mutton, sliced it up, and gave it to the donkey. He was quick in his movements.

    The stranger said, "You look like a poor soldier. How did you marry such a good wife?"

    Li Jing said, "I may be poor, but I am a man of integrity. If anyone else had asked, I wouldn't tell them. But since you asked, brother, I won't try to hide anything." Li Jing proceeded to tell him everything that had transpired.

    The stranger asked, "Where do you plan to go?"

    Li Jing said, "I plan to return to Taiyuan."

    The stranger said, "I have some business to attend to as well; I won't be able to go with you." Then he asked, "Do you have any wine?"

    Li Jing said, "There's a wineshop to the west." Li Jing went to buy a jar of wine and then came back.

    After several rounds of wine, the stranger said, "I have something to discuss with you; would Mr. Li care to share a drink with me?"

    Li Jing said, "I dare not accept the honor."

    Alas, the stranger opened his leather bag and took out a human head and a heart. He put the head back in the bag and, using his dagger, cut up the heart, and they ate it together. The stranger said, "This is the heart of an, ungrateful, heartless person. I have held this hate inside for ten years. Today I finally got my revenge. I have no regrets." Then he said, "Mr. Li, I can see you are a man of outstanding manner and dignified bearing, a real man! Have you heard of any remarkable individuals in Taiyuan?

    Li Jing said, "I once knew a man I thought truly remarkable; the rest are only good enough to be generals."

    The stranger asked, "What's his name?"

    Li Jing said, "The same as mine, Li."

    The stranger asked, "How old is he?"

    Li Jing said, "About twenty."

    The stranger asked, "What is he now?"

    Li Jing said, "He's the son of the general of Taiyuan."

    The stranger said, "Looks like he could be the one. I would like to see him. Could you set up a meeting with him for me?"

    Li Jing said, "My friend Liu Wenjing and he are acquainted; we can set something up through him. You want to do that?"

    The stranger said, "An astrologer told me there is an odd portent at Taiyuan, which he said I should go investigate. You're leaving tomorrow; when will you arrive in Taiyuan?" Li Jing calculated the distance and said it would take about a day. The stranger said, "The day after you arrive, at dawn, I'll be waiting for you at Fenyang Bridge." Having said this, the stranger got on his donkey and flew off so fast that by the time Li Jing turned around, the stranger was already a speck in the distance.

    Li Jing and the Zhang girl were astonished. After a time, they said, "That man is an upright individual; he won't deceive us; we needn't worry."

    Thus, the two quickly mounted their horses and set off, and arrived in Taiyuan on schedule. They were delighted to find the stranger waiting for them at Fenyang Bridge as he had said, and they all three went together to pay a visit to Liu Wenjing.

    Liu Wenjing came out to greet them. As usual, he was very respectful towards Li Jing, and they retired to discuss state affairs. Knowing that the stranger and Li Jing were good friends, they all got along well, and they all drank together. Presently, Li Shimin arrived, looking disheveled, but in high spirits; he didn't look like an ordinary person.

    The curly-bearded stranger had sank into a deep silence at the end of the table. When he saw Li Shimin, however, all his hopes turned to dust. After several rounds of wine, the curly-bearded stranger beckoned to Li Jing and said, "That man is the true emperor!"

    Li Jing told Liu Wenjing this, and Liu Wenjing was very happy. Once Li Shimin had left, the curly-bearded stranger said, "I'm about 80 or 90 percent sure, but I still want my Daoist friend to take a look. Li Jing and Sister return to the capital. Meet me around noon at the wineshop east of Mahang. Outside you'll see my donkey and a skinny mule; that's how you'll know me and my Daoist friend are there."

    After Li Jing and his wife arrived at the capital, they quickly found their way to the wineshop, where they saw the donkey and the mule. They went upstairs, where they found the curly-bearded stranger and a Daoist priest drinking together. When the stranger and the priest saw Li Jing, they were pleasantly surprised, and they invited Li Jing and his wife to join them for a drink.

    After more than ten rounds of wine, the curly-bearded stranger said, "In the cupboard downstairs, you will find a lot of cash. Choose a concealed place for your wife to stay, and once that's all settled, meet me again another day at Fenyang Bridge." Li Jing did as instructed and went to the bridge at the designated time. The curly-bearded stranger and the Daoist priest had already arrived ahead of him. They all went together to pay a visit to Liu Wenjing.

    Liu Wenjing was playing weiqi when they arrived. He got up and they chatted for a while. When it was apparent they had come to see Li Shimin, he sent a letter inviting Li Shimin to come watch a game of weiqi. Liu Wenjing and the Daoist priest played weiqi while the curly-bearded stranger and Li Jing stood to either side and watched. After a while, Li Shimin arrived and they all exchanged greetings. Li Shimin's presence seemed to clear the air around him, his smiling mien like a fresh breeze, his eyes brightening everywhere he looked.

    When the Daoist priest saw him, he was miserable, sad, and with a weiqi stone in hand, said, "The game is lost. Lost! After this move I can't win, aiya! There's no way to save it." With nothing else to say, the Daoist priest took his leave without finishing the game. Outside, he turned to the curly-bearded stranger and said, "This world is not your world. You should go to some other place and think of some other way; but keep your chin up and don't think about it too much."

    They prepared to leave together for the capital. The curly-bearded stranger said to Li Jing, "We'll part ways here. In a day you will reach the capital. The day after you arrive, you and your wife are welcome to stop by my humble abode. I'm so ashamed to make you go back and forth so many times, forced to leave your wife alone in an empty house. This time I want to call on you two so we can get together and talk things over properly." Having said this, the curly-bearded stranger sighed and left. Li Jing raised his whip and urged his horse on towards the capital.

    Li Jing and the Zhang girl went together to pay a visit to the curly-bearded stranger at the place he had told them. His house had a small wooden door. They knocked, and a man came out and said, "Third Gentleman is waiting respectfully for Madam and Li Jing; he's been waiting for you for awhile now." They were led through the inner doors, and what they saw was really magnificent. There were more than thirty maidservants standing to either side. Twenty servants led Li Jing and his wife into the east hall, where they saw many unusual and uncommon objects. After washing up, they changed into special clothes. Then Third Gentleman arrived. It was none other that the curly-bearded stranger, wearing a black gauze hat and a brown fur coat; he looked outstanding. When the stranger saw them, he was very happy. He called his wife to come pay her respects, and they saw that his wife's beauty was like that of a goddess. The stranger invited Li and his wife to the central hall; the furnishings were more luxurious and rich than those of the nobility.

    The four of them were seated, and after food and drink had been served, twenty girls came out, like fairy-maidens descended from the heavens, and played music such as had never been in the world before. After they had drunk and eaten their to their hearts' content, servants brought out twenty large tables, all covered with embroidered cloth. The cloths were removed, revealing account books and keys. The curly-bearded stranger face Li Jing and said, "These are all the treasures I have; I present them to you. Why is this? I wanted to make my mark on the world, make an all-out effort for a few years, really achieve something. But now that the true dragon emperor has appeared, it doesn't matter what accomplishments I make now. Li Shimin of Taiyuan is the true Son of Heaven. Within three to five years he will bring peace to the state. Mr. Li, with your talents and assistance, provided you give it your all, you'll eventually rise beyond the ordinary ministers. And Virtuous Sister, you already has a heavenly visage, and with your unusual resourcefulness, following your husband, you will certainly enjoy glory and wealth. It's true: only Virtuous Sister could recognize Mr. Li, and only Mr. Li could have the opportunity to meet Virtuous Sister. When the sages of the generation begin to appear, you will have a good opportunity. Truly, when the dragon soars and the tiger roars, the company of heroes gathers. This is all a matter of course. I gave you these things so that you can use them to aid the true ruler, and to dedicate yourselves to making contributions and achievements. I hope you two will make a great effort. If ten years from now, a thousand li to the southeast some special thing should happen, that's just me realizing my aspirations. When that time comes, I hope Virtuous Sister and Mr. Li will offer a libation to me in congratulations." The stranger turned to his right-hand man and said, "From now on, Mr. Li and Virtuous Sister are your masters." Having said this, the stranger and his wife donned military clothes and left on horseback, with only a single servant accompanying them. After a few steps, they disappeared.

    Li Jing stayed in that house, and became a rich and powerful person. He used the gifts the curly-bearded stranger had bestowed on him to aid Li Shimin in establishing a great undertaking. During the middle of Li Shimin's Zhenguan reign period, Li Jing was a close servant to the emperor. Foreign tribesman to the southeast reported to the emperor, "More than 1,000 ships and 100,000 troops have entered the Kingdom of Fuyu, killing the king. All is stable inside the kingdom now." Li Jing knew that the curly-bearded stranger had succeeded. When he got home, Li Jing told his wife, and they faced the southeast and offered a libation in congratulations.

    From this event we can see that a true man rises up not from just any hero, much less from someone who is not a hero. Treacherous court officials who seek to rebel are like a praying mantis trying to resist a cart. It has been said that half of the Duke of Wei, Li Jing's military strategy was handed down from the curly-bearded stranger.

    Curly Bearded Stranger, Li Jing, and Hong Funu are known collectively as The Three Heroes of the Windblown Dust. Windblown dust usually refers to the prostitution or courtesan trade or even more generally, the hardship of the commoner's life. (Note courtesy of Chowbeng)

  7. #187
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 6

    Book 16 Chapter 6 Fractured Relationship

    Ba Fenghan turned his gaze from the building on the other side of the garden, he spoke contemplatively, In this kind of breaking-a-new-ground decisive battle, it is obvious that Fu Qian wants to establish his might in one fight. I dont understand why he has such high confidence. Qu Ao has made his name for decades, how could he be an easy target?

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, If we could make Fu Qian understand that he may not necessarily triumph over Qu Ao, there is a probability that he would let Qu Ao come out for you.

    Smiling wryly, Ba Fenghan said, That is easy to grasp but difficult to put into practice. Id better challenge Qu Ao directly. As long as he nodded, Fu Qian could only be a spectator on the wall.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, Arent you going to intercept Qu Ao outside the door?

    Ba Fenghan said, Supposing Qu Ao is coming with Tuli, he could simply brush his sleeve and ignore me, then I will be humiliated, what can I do to him?

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, In my opinion, just let those two have their duel first! Just like your analysis, this matter can happen because both of them nodded their heads.

    Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, In that case, I can only change according to the situation.

    There was a knock on the door.

    Who is it? Ba Fenghan shouted.

    A young womans voice replied, Daye! Maid is here to tidy up.

    The two felt strange, because they had already told Cuier that unless it was an emergency, they did not want to be disturbed, why did this little maid deliberately disobey the order?

    They have not yet answered, the door was pushed open, a young maid came in, and lightning fast put a letter, which had been folded into a small square, on the table, and said in a low voice, Ren Bangzhu sent me here.

    Finished speaking, lightning fast she left.

    Ba Fenghan unfolded the letter and read; heaving a sigh of relief he said, Princess is really resourceful, she has been brought out.

    ※ ※ ※

    Hearing that, Li Shimin laughed aloud and said, Zhong Shao still trifles without respect, as usual. With your current skill, no poisonous wine will be able to harm you, plus I, Li Shimin, am not the kind of person who would use such trick.

    Kou Zhong coughed dryly and said, Turns out good wine is just like poisonous wine. It choked me that my seven apertures [of the human head: eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth] are shooting flames.

    Li Shimin happily said, I brought this from Guanzhong, it is called hou zui lie jiu [intoxicating throat strong wine].

    Seeing him pouring another cup for him, Kou Zhong, still with lingering fears, said, What are we drinking for this time?

    Li Shimin smiled and said, This second cup is for Wang Shichong. If he did not have you to help him, perhaps he would become a lone army painstakingly defending Yanshi, but now he had a great chance of defeating Li Mi instead. Presently Zhong Shao has become a person with great influence and plays a critical role left and right.

    Kou Zhong said, Actually, saying that we drain our cups for Li Shimin is more fitting.

    Li Shimin spoke seriously, If you want to toast, you should toast my Die. Ay! Sometimes I really dont know my relationship with you. If you are willing to change your mind and exert yourselves for our Li Family, I, Li Shimin, am willing to guarantee with my head that we cant possibly treat the two of you meagerly.

    Kou Zhongs eyes shone with divine light; he slowly said, By saying that, Shimin Xiong has decided not to accept inferior status.

    Li Shimins eyes also lit up; he spoke in heavy voice, This matter is too early to tell. Right now the world situation is getting more and more divided, as clear as the strife for Guanxi and Guandong. In my capacity as a friend, may I ask you a question? How much chance do you have against Li Mi?

    Calmly, Kou Zhong replied, Ill tell you the answer the day after tomorrow.

    Li Shimin appeared to be pondering over something, but he did not press on. He said, Li Mis fierce generals are certainly as numerous as clouds, but among them, there is one you must not neglect.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, Are you referring to Wang Bodang or Pei Renji?

    Li Shimin slowly shook his head; he said, Although these two mens reputation is resounding, they cant match Xu Shiji. This man entered Wagang Army when he was seventeen, and is currently holding the post of Right Wuhou Great General; very resourceful and decisive, predicts enemys movement like a deity, each attack subdues the enemy. Moreover, he is modest and sincere, strict with self but lenient with others, hence he can make officers and soldiers follow orders. A truly rare talented field commander.

    Stunned, Kou Zhong said, Turns out he is like that; fortunately you reminded me. That year, because at Xingyang he was unable to do anything to us, plus he is Shen Luoyans lover, all along I did not take him seriously. What a close call!

    After staring at him with mysterious expression on his eyes for a moment, Li Shimin heaved a deep sigh and said, People who are willing to accept others advice like Zhong Shao, I, Li Shimin, have to admit that I lack that quality; I must learn from you well.

    For the first time that night Kou Zhong revealed a sad look on his face; smiling ruefully, he said, Arent you also able to absorb good things from others? When people who cant listen to others admonishment became the Emperor, they would be like Yang Guang, just another muddleheaded ruler. Ay! If it were peacetime, you and I will surely be close friends; at least we cant be enemies.

    Li Shimin stared blankly at the clear liquor in his cup; he said in low voice, That being said, you are determined to take the Duke Yangs Treasure out!

    Kou Zhong did not answer, but asked a question instead, This time we meet, is Li Jing aware of it?

    ※ ※ ※

    Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling asked, How did she do it?

    While still reading the letter, Ba Fenghan replied, Dong Ming flagship was ready to sail tonight anyway, hence they already cleared the security at the gate, and thus did not arouse other peoples suspicion.

    Finished reading, he handed the letter to Xu Ziling.

    The letter only had very few characters, it was written in code words of the black way, and there was no signature. Even if it fell into other peoples hand, they would be unable to make any sense of it.

    Having the weight off his mind, Xu Ziling breathed a sigh of relief, and then applying his power he kneaded the letter and turned it into powder. Sitting back comfortably into his chair, he sighed and said, This time we beat the odds. Yin Gui Pai might fly into a rage out of humiliation, they will take drastic measures.

    Laughing coldly, Ba Fenghan said, I dont care if its Yin Gui Pai or Dugu Clan, both harbor sinister designs in their hearts. Cooperation like the one just now, may be done once and once only.

    After a short pause, he went on, Only Tuli and Qu Aos cooperation is unusually rare. Tujue and Tieles relationship has never been a harmonious one.

    Xu Ziling said, If you leave Luoyang alone, arent you afraid Tuli and Tuoba Yu might team up to chase and kill you?

    Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Ba Fenghan said, I really hope they would do that. Only under this kind of circumstance would I be able to progress continuously. If I can lure them away, it would also be beneficial for the two of you.

    And then, looking up, he exclaimed in low voice, Someones up there!

    He had not even finished speaking, a shadow flashed. Someone somersaulted toward the balcony, and then sneakily entered the room.

    ※ ※ ※

    Li Shimins pair of tiger-eyes was flashing brightly, but the tone of his voice remained flat; he said, Whether Li Jings aware or not, what does it have to do with us?

    Kou Zhong laughed calmly. He said, I just want to ask Shimin Xiong one thing: last night when Wang Shichong issued the curfew, did the idea come from Shimin Xiong?

    Li Shimins shoulders and back straightened up slightly, immediately he emitted a powerful, overbearing, yet invisible aura. Laughing aloud, he said, Well guessed. If Xiaodi denied, it would be too uninteresting.

    Kou Zhong laughed involuntarily; shaking his head, he said, Qin Wang is really a good friend. Under the circumstances, we could not escape even if we wanted to.

    Li Shimin spoke indifferently, How could Kou Zhong be a coward? Since you have the guts to stroke the tigers whiskers, naturally you are not afraid of the tiger!

    And then he spoke heavily, Why was Ziling Xiong unwilling to come with you to see me?

    Staring at him coldly, Kou Zhong said, Based on Qin Wangs ability and wisdom, you ought to be able to guess the reason.

    Li Shimin was silent for half a day. His eyes revealed a hurting look; he sighed and said, Was it because he is unwilling to witness you and I negotiate the breaking of our relationship and becoming enemies instead?

    Kou Zhongs expression became incomparably grim, his eyes shone brightly. Staring hard at Li Shimin, he said, The moment I step out of the door, Qin Wang need not consider us with old affection. The fact is, you have already dealt with us. In this chaotic world, not only friends can become enemies, father and son, older and younger brothers, will inevitably become foes. Qin Wang ought to have particular experience in this regard.

    Li Shimin raised his cup and let out a long laugh; he said, You have aspiration! Let this king toast Kou Xiong one cup. The moment you step out the door, I will deal with you with all my strength, in no way will I be lenient to you, because you and Ziling Xiong are the persons I, Li Shimin, think most highly of.

    Kou Zhong raised his cup to return the toast, I wonder if Qin Wang has several hundreds of saber and axe masters waiting outside the door to kill me!

    Li Shimin nearly sprayed his wine out; laughing in spite of himself, he said, You trust me enough to come and see me, how could I treat you with injustice?


    The two cups clinked against each other.

    These two outstanding figures who were destined to dominate the world in spite of the wind and the clouds [i.e. unstable situation], finally separated.

    ※ ※ ※

    Regaining their composure, Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan turned to look. Turned out it was the scholarly and distinguished Passionate Prince Hou Xibai.

    This handsome master shook his Fan of Beauties, with an immensely pleased-with-himself expression on his face. It was plain as day that he leaped onto the roof and vaulted over the wall rather than going through the proper way, yet he acted as if he was an honored guest who entered the room via the main door.

    Eh? Where did Kou Xiong go?

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan said, Hou Xiong came here this time, I wonder for what purpose?

    Hou Xibai calmly sat down, looked at the two men, and smiled. These two nights Xiaodi unceasingly tracked the Yin Gui Pai female demon, and have had some good results, he said, I wonder if two gentlemen are interested to know?

    Xu Ziling replied indifferently, Hou Xiong, please speak up.

    Hou Xibai said, Frankly speaking, I obtained a bit of success by accident. After Feixuan retreated to Jing Chanyuan [sic], Ive been lingering outside the Dhyana Hall, and accidentally saw a Yin Gui Pai female demon came to poke her nose around; thereupon I trailed her secretly. Can you guess where she finally went?

    Ba Fenghan crossly said, And how do you think we should guess?

    Hou Xibai laughed calmly and said, It is difficult to guess. She went to Rong Fengxiangs mansion house. She came into the inner courtyard and has not come out since then.

    Xu Ziling said, How could Hou Xiong be so sure that she is a Yin Gui Pai female demon?

    Hou Xibai replied, If she was not Yin Gui Pai people, why would she check Feixuans condition? Moreover, her qinggong is extremely sophisticated; I was nearly unable to keep up with her.

    What did she look like? Ba Fenghan asked.

    Hou Xibai replied, Her hood was covering her face, but looking at her figure, I know that not only she is young, she is also a first-class beauty.

    Ba Fenghan mused, This man Rong Fengxiang is indeed not simple. He is closely related to Yang Xuyan, and her daughter Rong Jiaojiao is one of the Luoyang beauties, and now he is sitting on Luoyang Bangs Da Longtou [big boss] throne. He is in the limelight, and for the time being has no equal.

    Hou Xibai sighed and said, If I met her, I would be able to recognize her in just one glance. Too bad even after waiting outside the Rong Mansion all day, I did not come across her at all.

    Xu Ziling said, Thats easy. The day after tomorrow is Rong Fengxiangs big birthday celebration. At that time, you could come to the Rong Mansion with the pretext of offering a birthday congratulations [to an elderly person], and try to recognize her. Question is: after you recognize her, and then what?

    Hou Xibai said, Then we can try to abduct her to extort confession from her mouth. With her skill, her position within Yin Gui Pai cant be low. As long as we know where Wanwan is hiding, we can inflict her some heavy damage, and get rid of this great evil on behalf of Feixuan.

    Ba Fenghan laughed and said, Even if you really have the heart to ruthlessly destroy a flower, it would work only if Wanwan did not have any intention to run away and risking her life to fight with all her might. Or else, even though the four of us join hands to surround her, we still do not have any confidence to hold her down. Moreover, Yin Gui Pai people are secretive; somebody like Wanwan, who is obviously a leader within the Sect, how could she let her subordinate to know where she is?

    Xu Ziling said, Actually, there is one readily available female demon, and capturing her is very easy. She is Xiangyang Chengzhu [city master] Qian Duguans beloved concubine Bai Qinger. But we must not touch her, so as to avoid beating the grass to scare the snake, and thus breaking out the trail.

    Smiling wryly, Hou Xibai said, Looks like you are not too enthusiastic toward Yin Gui Pai!

    Ba Fenghan laughed and said, Yin Gui Pais foundation is very deep, their strength is hard to fathom. Under present circumstances, we can only counter every move. Hou Xiong investigated Yin Gui Pai all over the place like this, you yourself must be a bit more careful.

    Zip! Hou Xibai folded up his Fan of Beauties, and laughed proudly, I really wish they [feminine] would come to me, he said.

    And then he added, I have another information that seemingly has nothing to do with this matter; would two gentlemen be interested in knowing?

    Ba Fenghan said, Hou Xiong, please speak up.

    Hou Xibai hesitated for half a day before finally saying, I saw Luoyan secretly meeting Wang Bo.

    Both men were stunned.

    Hou Xibai sighed and said, Actually, no matter who Luoyan is seeing, I did not plan on saying anything. But Wang Bo had announced publicly that he did not want to be drawn into the struggle among the warlords vying for supremacy, yet he had a private meeting with Luoyan for the entire sichen [i.e. 2 hours]. The outside appearance differs from the inner reality, making me really suspicious.

    Ba Fenghan nodded and said, This information is very useful. How did you find out about it?

    Hou Xibai said, When I was waiting outside the Rong Mansion, I saw a carriage leaving. Although I could not see whos inside, but from the scent I picked, I knew it was Luoyan.

    Ba Fenghan sighed and said, Your skill in recognizing the scent of a woman is indeed number one under the heavens.

    Hou Xibai was unwilling to pass on his responsibilities to others; he said, I am afraid it has to be included in the list of amazing skill and consummate art. Anyway, at that time my heart was uneasy; Luoyan saw me, yet why didnt she greet me? Thereupon I tailed her along, and found out about this matter. Wang Bo appeared to be trying to win over Jing Nian Chanyuan, but in my opinion he is harboring unfathomable motives; perhaps it will bring harm to Feixuan?

    It was only then did the two realize why he was willing to betray her close female friend Shen Luoyans secret.

    Hou Xibai suddenly stood up and said, I still need to say hello to someone else. Excuse me!

    The two looked at each other in bewilderment.

    This handsome man came in a peculiar way, and he left in even more peculiar way.

    ※ ※ ※

    As Kou Zhong was stepping down the stairs, someone called from behind in low voice, Xiao Zhong!

    Kou Zhong swiftly turned around and looked up, his eyes flickered with cold light, he spoke heavily, You still have the face to see me!

  8. #188
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 7

    Book 16 Chapter 7 The Heart of a Beauty

    Stunned, Li Jing said, What did I, Li Jing do, that after so many years not seeing each other, and now we barely meet, you already said such thing?

    Kou Zhong replied in anger, Whatever you do, Sire ought to be well aware. In vain we regarded you as a brother, but in order to curry favor with your Master you betrayed us.

    Li Jing went two steps down the stairs, and stood face to face with Kou Zhong. His countenance changed, he said, Who do you think I, Li Jing, am? How could I betray brothers and friends for fame and fortune? Tell me clearly.

    Kou Zhong took two steps back toward the intersection between the stairs and the corridor in order to avoid blocking the way. Turning around to face Li Jing, who was following behind him, he said, Unless you revealed to Li kid about Xiao Ling has a mask, how could Li kid be so certain that we stole the Jade Annulus of He Clan?

    Li Jing was slightly startled. He was frowning for half a day; and then he sighed, and said with a wry smile, Just consider that I did mention it! But I really dont understand, what good would stealing the Jade Annulus of He Clan do to you?

    Kou Zhong spouted fire, What do you mean just consider that you mentioned it? In Su Jies affair, it was very difficult for us to argue with you, at most we can only say that you did not remember kindness, coveting the new forgetting the old

    Shut up! Li Jing angrily thundered, The more you talk the more excessive you are.

    Two pretty maids, who happened to walk by, were scared that they promptly quickened their steps, for fear that if the two men fought, it would bring disaster to the fish in the moat.

    Fortunately the entire Tingliu Pavilion was clamorous with all kinds of noises shaking the heavens, so that even if the two were shouting and screaming, it would not be particularly noticeable.

    Li Jing suddenly sighed, his voice turned gentle, It doesnt matter how the two of you misunderstood me, from beginning to end I always regard you and Xiao Ling as my good Xiongdi, all of us have been through life and death friendship. Besides, do you even know the consequences of offending Qin Wang?

    Kou Zhong also returned to his calm demeanor. He laughed coldly and said, Youd better stop regarding us as Xiongdi, otherwise when your Master want you to deal with us, how are you going to answer him? The time that we are in, there are only friends and enemies. Ay! I seldom got this angry, because all along I have trusted you, but you have made me so disappointed.

    Li Jing was upset; he said, Can you not being hopelessly muddled in this matter? Right now this matter has reached its most dangerous phase. One wrong step, bloodshed will happen, and it would be very difficult to redeem.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, This matter has begun to be difficult to redeem; are you still so nave as to think that youd be able to have us hand over the Jade Annulus of He Clan to you, and bow before Li kid? You underestimate me, Kou Zhong, too much.

    Li Jings eyes flickered with cold rays, showing off his dauntless power, as he spoke in heavy voice, I am very clear of Qin Wangs conduct, how he handles affairs decisively. Once he determines that you are his enemy, he will spare no effort in dealing with you.

    Kou Zhong laughed calmly; he said, Apparently I know better about Li kids mind that you do: he is afraid of Li Mi far more than he is afraid of me, Kou Zhong; therefore, one day Li Mi did not collapse, he has no interest in dealing with me.

    Li Jing shook his head, You are wrong, he said, You and Xiao Ling are two figures who are able to make him fear and admire at the same time. Moreover, the way you stole the Jade Annulus of He Clan exposed your sharp point too much, and thus deepening his misgivings even more, to say nothing of your involvement in the Duke Yang Treasure. Ay! If you are willing to trust me this one last time, leave Luoyang immediately, go back to the south. Perhaps you might enjoy bright sunny days for a few more days.

    Kou Zhong waited for a group of servants passing by, before speaking in displeasure, What wind and waves I, Kou Zhong, have never been through, that I would need you to remind me? Right now, who doesnt want to take our lives, yet we are still getting by in relaxed and happy manners?

    Li Jing earnestly gave him a well-meaning advice again, Its just because you have not formally fought hand-to-hand against him. Presently Ning Daoqi and Shi Feixuan, these top martial art masters from the orthodox way, have vaguely become his supporters. On top of that, based on the sharpness of his strength, there has been hardly anybody in the world who could oppose him. Furthermore, your own wings have not grown yet. Opposing him openly is no different than throwing your lives away. Why dont you go quicker?

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, I am going! But I am going back to my room. Sharpen your sword! Next time we meet, we are not Xiongdi anymore.

    Raising his head high, he walked away.

    ※ ※ ※

    A sweet sounding female voice was heard outside the door, Is Kou Zhong here?

    Xu and Ba, two men, recognized the voice as belonging to Song Yuzhi. Xu Ziling responded, Kou Zhongs not here, but hell be back soon. San Xiaojie [third miss], please come in and have a seat.

    Because of the questionable way Kou Zhong was using emotion to gain loyalty, Xu Ziling was very scared to face Song Yuzhi. However, in terms of sensibility and courtesy, he simply had to invite her in to sit down.

    Ba Fenghan rose up to his full height and said, Why dont you and San Xiaojie have a chat? I need to go down to the street to get fresh air.

    Xu Ziling trembled inwardly, knowing that after careful reflection, Ba Fenghan still determined to intercept Qu Ao on the street.

    Ba Fenghan pulled open the door, and smiled at Song Yuzhi, who was standing erect outside the door, and nodded to beckon her in. After she gracefully stepped inside, he mumbled his farewell and went away.

    Responding to Xu Zilings urging, she sat down and spoke awkwardly, Am I disturbing you guys?

    Xu Ziling sat down across the table from her. After pouring her a cup of fragrant tea he smiled and said, How can that be? We came in too late to welcome you. Ba Xiong just have some other important matter, hence he seized the opportunity to slip out!

    Looking pensive, Song Yuzhi said, Its really surprising that you and Ba Fenghan could become friends, considering he is the kind of person who is extraordinarily cold and detached toward others.

    And then, after staring at him deeply for quite a while, she said in astonishment, Your changes are more formidable than Kou Zhongs!

    Xu Ziling was stunned, What changes? he asked.

    Song Yuzhi said, Its some kind of changes that are hard to describe, not only in outward appearance, there is also personality traits, a kind of ethereal, pure and limpid feeling. The Secret to Long Life is indeed out of the ordinary.

    Xu Ziling inwardly thought that it ought to be the Secret to Long Life plus the Jade Annulus of He Clan; but he did not wish to discuss this matter further, thereupon he changed the subject by asking, San Xiaojie seems to be concerned about Kou Zhong?

    As soon as he said that, he regretted it already.

    Smiling wryly, Song Yuzhi said, If I denied, I would have said it without meaning it. But please dont misunderstand. To me, you and Kou Zhong do not differ much; perhaps because we have worked together and have spent some time together in the past, or perhaps because I admire your style in doing things, hence I always feel that the two of you are Yuzhis friends, and thus worry about you.

    Xu Ziling scrutinized her flowery jade countenance. He said, San Xiaojie appears thinner.

    Song Yuzhis pretty face blushed slightly, but quickly revealed a fleeing sad [orig. hidden bitterness, secret grudge] expression, as she hung her cicada head down and said softly, You ought to know, there is no way I can marry Kou Zhong. This intention has never changed.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling said, I thought you regarded Kou Zhong with different, unusual perception!

    Song Yuzhi raised her head to meet his gaze, her pretty eyes shot penetrating, clear and bright rays, her pretty eyebrows slightly knitted as she said, We have not seen each other for a long time, why do you have such thought?

    Xu Ziling could not resist replying, After seeing you last night, Kou Zhong returned with spring breeze on his face, hence the reason I had this misconception.

    Song Yuzhi gazed deeply at him for half a day; finally she shook her head resolutely and said, Not only I have not changed my perception on him, I have not changed my treatment toward him, and I even hate him more than I did.

    Staring blankly, Xu Ziling said, You hate him more?

    Song Yuzhi nodded and said, A woman can be sincere toward a man, or she can be critical and sensitive. Although Kou Zhong is adept in using sweet speech and honeyed words, but from his conduct and action, it is very easy to detect that his mouth does not agree with his heart.

    Hearing that, Xu Ziling was confused, but he had to admit that he neither understood nor comprehended the load in a womans heart; therefore, he humbly asked for advice, From which action of his did San Xiaojie find something was not right?

    Song Yuzhi solemnly replied, I can tell you that, but you must promise not to tell Kou Zhong.

    Xu Ziling sighed. Very well! he said, I promise.

    Song Yuzhi took her eyes away from him, she looked pass his shoulder toward empty space outside the balcony, which was surrounded by four multi-story buildings that were as bright as daytime. She spoke emotionlessly, He has never taken the initiative to look for me, even never asked how to find me. If just as he said, he really considered me important, why he had never considered my wish and desires? Just from this point, I know he does not have me in his heart.

    Xu Ziling was dumbstruck and was unable to reply.

    But in his heart he was thinking: if from time to time he thought about certain woman, would he want to see her again?

    The first one floating in his mind was Susus jade countenance, and then Sister-in-law Zhen [Book 1 Chapter 2], whose fragrant footprint was unknown. But these memories had nothing to do with the relationship between a man and a woman.

    And then their images blurred away, replaced by an image that appeared in the lake of his heart, Shi Feixuans out-of-the-mundane-world, free-from-vulgarity jade countenance. He could not help being shocked. Could it be that he had fallen in love with her?

    But then he felt that it was not the case. It was simply because she had given him the most profound, unforgettable impression. Nothing more.

    Smiling bitterly, Song Yuzhi said, But Yuzhi has to admit that when I am with you guys, I always have exciting and moving feeling. Ay! Time slips by so quickly.

    Didnt you come here for Kou Zhong? Xu Ziling asked.

    Song Yuzhis attention returned to his face; slightly angry, she said, Of course not. This time I received Lu Shus [uncle] order; he would like to meet up with you to chat about old affection. I wonder if you are free tomorrow?

    Xu Ziling remembered the Silver Dragon Song Lu, also remembered his heroic passion and chivalrous style in the past as he refused Yuwen Huajis demand to hand over the three of them, mother and sons. At the same tome he also remembered his flirtatious-to-the-bone, the coquettish and charming young concubine Liu Jing. Could not help feeling delighted, he said, I was thinking of paying my respect to him, the Senior. Its just that because of a lot of things recently, I could not find the time to do so. Also, I dont know whether hed like to see us, hence we did not dare to disturb him!

    Song Yuzhi said, In that case, how about tomorrow at wu hour [11am-1pm, or simply noon] at House of Dong Restaurant? Well make arrangement for a banquet in one of the VIP rooms.

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, As long as we are still alive, we wont miss the appointment.

    Pfft! Song Yuzhi broke into a giggle; she said, I really dont understand why you guys made enemies everywhere. I hope you wont be like Yang Guang, whom everybody willingly dealt with.

    This beauty rarely chatted and laughed with anybody, her sweet and splendid smiling expression made his eyes light up.

    Seeing Xu Ziling was staring at her, Song Yuzhis pretty face blushed slightly. She hung her head and said, Perhaps because you are definitely not ordinary people? Every time everybody was so sure that you could not escape calamity, you are always able to lightly and easily weathered the crisis safely. And now even Lu Shu has a whole new level of respect toward you, and has to reevaluate his assessment on you.

    Seeing her successively revealed her rarely seen charming attitude, the particularly touching and attractiveness that appeared on this exquisite and energetic beautys body, Xu Ziling could not help feeling tenderness toward her. Do you want me to advise Kou Zhong to dispel his idea of using the Duke Yang Treasure as the betrothal give? he asked in tender voice.

    Song Yuzhis tender body slightly shook. After pondering quietly for half a day, she spoke in mosquito-like small voice, I dont know. I really dont know. Right now, all Yuzhis mind and strength are on this matter. If I dont, I will feel lonely and lost.

    Astounded, Xu Ziling said, Does San Xiaojie know that right now you are falling deeper and deeper into the pitfall and its getting more difficult to extricate yourself?

    Song Yuzhi reverted to her calm demeanor; she shook her head and spoke with determination, I dont think so. But there will come a day I am going to let Kou Zhong know that I, Song Yuzhi, am not going to give in. And I will hate him more and more. He is really too repulsive.

    Quickly her expression turned bitter, as if she was trapped and angry. She said, Outsiders dont understand the many rules in our family. Based on Dies feeling and character, there is no way he would lightly give Yuzhi away in marriage to a man not of his own choosing. Kou Zhong thought he could use the Duke Yang Treasure to impress him, he is just being carried away by his own wishful thinking!

    Once again Xu Ziling had to admit to himself that he did not understand women at all; he was left speechless.

    Song Yuzhi rose up gracefully and said with a smile, You must be thinking that Yuzhi is self-contradictory, but this is the truth. Ay! You and Kou Zhong are so different; do you have a woman you are admiring?

    Xu Ziling promptly got up from his seat. With the pretense of sending her off, he pulled the door open for her, and only then did he haltingly say, My feeling about man-woman passion is very flagging; very seldom have I ever thought about this matter.

    Song Yuzhi cast him a sidelong glance and said, If Xu Ziling stays single and not married, I am afraid a lot of women will be disappointed!

    Amidst a burst of fragrant breeze, she walked away.

    Xu Ziling thought for a moment, and then immediately followed her lead by walking out the door.

    ※ ※ ※

    Ba Fenghan stood in the middle of the imperial road of the main street. A powerful, matchless confidence and heroic emotion, strong aura welled up in his heart.

    All doubts had been cast away outside his mind.

    After years of hard training, forging ahead vigorously and striving for advancement, he has matured from among the horse thieves, a no-name minion, into outstanding swordsman who turned up his nose to the present age.

    If he could defeat Qu Ao, he would be able to achieve his dream, to become the worthy opponent to Bi Xuan, which he seek but fail to get.

    Perhaps nobody understood the reason these past dozen of years Qu Ao nearly abandoned himself to despair, and engrossed himself in the influence of beauty. Only he had the full grasp of the shift in Qu Aos mind.

    Because one howling-wind-and-torrential-rain night about ten years ago, in a secret decisive battle against Bi Xuan, Qu Ao failed and was wiped over the floor. Since then his confidence stumbled and he was unable to rise.

    From that moment on, Qu Ao no longer without flaws.

    It was Ba Daier who told him that.

    Qu Aos defeat has also driven him to change his plan and turn his attention to the Central Plains. He even sent his son to infiltrate the Han soil, taking advantage of the corrupt Sui government, and taking alias to masquerade as a Han. With the help of Yin Gui Pai, he established the Tieqi Hui, which ran amuck in the south [see Book 7 Chapter 3].

    This scheme, which originally appeared to be a perfect alien [lit. different tribe] invasion, was destroyed by Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. It also caught Yin Gui Pai in chaotic situation where they had no room to advance or to retreat. Hence Qu Ao inevitably suffered setback and shocks.

    To kill Qu Ao, this was one in a thousand-year chance.

    Ba Fenghan had a deep hatred toward the Tiele people.

    His people and his homeland were massacred and burned by the invading Tiele main forces until practically nothing left. It has also reduced him to be a horse thief, which was eventually hunted down for a thousand li, encircled, and annihilated by the Tujue military force under Tulis leadership, until only he, one person, managed to kill his way out of the siege by relying on his overbearing skill.

    At that time he was already very famous among the Tujues, and has become a thorn in the flesh of those in power in Tujue.

    Even Bi Xuan also sent his chief disciple to deal with him, which ended up getting killed, and thus tying an unresolvable vendetta.

    He has never succumbed to the brutal authority.

    And he always regarded Bi Xuan and Qu Ao, who killed people like scything flax, to be the highest authority representing Tujue and Tiele, two major tribes military forces.

    The sound of hoof beats rumbled over.

    Like a whirlwind a dozen or so riders appeared from a street corner and galloped toward his back.

    The chou hour has arrived!

    ※ ※ ※

    Turning a blind eye toward every beautiful courtesan and pretty maid who came across him, Kou Zhong walked straight down the stairs, intending to inform Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan at the earliest opportunity about his ruptured relationship with Li Shimin. Suddenly he came face to face with someone. The other party laughed aloud and said, I was just looking for Kou Xiong, by lucky coincidence I bump into you here.

    Surprisingly it was the heroic, grand and imposing Song Jingang.

    Kou Zhong was ashamed inwardly, recalling that he was supposed to look for him, but he had completely forgotten about it.

    Laughing embarrassedly, he said, Im really sorry, due to other things occupying my mind right now, can we arrange another time to have detailed discussion?

    Song Jingang smiled and said, I was having the same thought. Did Kou Xiongs meeting with Qin Wang just now did not end in a happy note?

    Taken aback, Kou Zhong said, You really have eyes that seem to see everything; it looks like you are always hanging behind my back.

    Kou Xiong please do not misunderstand, Song Jingang said, Its just that my subordinate saw Kou Xiong and Hong Funu walking together toward Qin Wangs wing. And now I see Kou Xiong walking down in rage, so I brazenly made speculation. Kou Xiong please do not take offense.

    Kou Zhong was relieved. Just after taking his leave after making another appointment on the time and place to meet later, he came across Xu Ziling. Surprised, he said, Did Cuier send all Three Flowers of Man Qing swarming into the room at once that you, Xiao Ling, could not endure it and thus slip out of the room?

    Xu Ziling kept walking in a hurry, Stop talking nonsense, he said, Ol Ba may have already fought with old man Qu!

    Kou Zhong sucked a mouthful of cold air, and quickly followed behind Xu Ziling, leaving the clamoring Tingliu Pavilion, hurrying toward the main gate.

  9. #189
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 8

    Book 16 Chapter 8 The Battle of Imperial Road

    Like a whirlwind Ba Fenghan turned around; his back straightened, his shoulders squared, immediately he exuded a powerful momentum of one man standing in the middle of the road, ten-thousand army cannot breakthrough, directed toward the enemy riders in the distance.

    The dozen or so riders, who were now galloping straight toward him, immediately pulled their reins.

    Although Tiele people were experts in fighting on horseback, but in front of a martial art master like Ba Fenghan, who had been waiting with stored momentum, nobody dared to fright with him from the horseback.

    As one after another they spread out, Ba Fenghans imposing manner soared even higher. With a low shout he strode forward.

    The incoming riders were a group of Tiele elite fighters headed by Qu Ao, including his three disciples: Changshu Mou, Hua Lingzi and Genggehuer.

    Ba Fenghan blocking their way was totally beyond their expectation.

    In fact, Ba Fenghans narrow escape in a situation where escaping was more difficult than ascending the heavens just now has dealt a severe blow to Qu Aos confidence; hence the reason he had to find a quiet place to meditate for a moment before he had the courage to meet his appointment with Fu Qian.

    Yet Ba Fenghan unexpectedly chose this moment to intercept him, alone. Anybody would be amazed and baffled, completely failed to understand, Ba Fenghans self-confidence and valiant action.

    Merely in term of imposing manner alone Ba Fenghan had already seized the initiative.

    One after another the horses withdrew about a hundred paces or so, while the riders dismounted, filling the street with their whinnying sound.

    Qu Ao really wish he could look around to see any trace of Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, to guard against these two boys launching sneak attack from the side, but he really could not take his eyes off of the enemy pressing down on him, for fear that any distraction would result in total defeat.

    Whether he was willing to admit or not, Ba Fenghan has become an adversary that was on par with him.

    Qu Ao flew down from his mount, and shouted in low voice, Take the horse away! Hold your troops!

    Changshu Mou, who was standing behind him, asked in consternation, Why would Shizun [venerable master] pay attention to him? Just let us take care of him!

    This moment Ba Fenghan was only about fifty paces away, his momentum was increasing without letup, his burning eyes were fixed on Qu Ao.

    Qu Ao sighed inwardly. Although Changshu Mou has received his authentic teaching and had risen to the rank of first class martial art masters, but all along he could not match Ba Fenghan, Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong, these young martial art masters with overflowing talent; hence he failed to see the subtleties of this matter.

    If Qu Ao refused to fight, an impossible-to-get-rid-of shadow would appear in his heart, thus would hamper his confidence in the upcoming duel against Fu Qian. The most difficult to endure was that the opponent was blocking his way alone. This kind overbearing, domineering prowess would even bring about an indelible impression in his heart. The next time they met, psychologically he has already lost one step.

    Especially worrisome was that as his mind was churning back and forth, if he retreated and the other party advanced, Changshu Mou and the others may not necessarily be able to stop him, and if he decided to make his move then, he would already be in passive position.

    There was also a deeper level of concern, i.e. if he retreated without a fight, he would appear too cowardice and would lose his poise. It would show clearly that only under the circumstances like on the Tianjin Bridge just now, where he clearly held the superiority, would he dare to fight against him.

    After considering this matter over and over in his mind, Qu Ao was well aware that he had been forced by Ba Fenghan into a dangerous position where his only option was to take up the challenge.

    But he was a figure of grand master level, who has encountered any conceivable situation; thereupon he shouted coldly, No need to talk too much! Just watch me slaughter this kid.

    Finished speaking, he threw away all distracting thoughts, focused his attention, and marched toward the enemy.

    Changshu Mou and the others exchanged glances; they were all able to see the frustration in the others heart.

    Ba Fenghan was definitely a terrifying character able to strike fear and admiration in the opponents heart.

    ※ ※ ※

    When the two martial art masters were about twenty paces apart from each other, they both stopped and stood still.

    Ba Fenghans countenance became extremely cold. Throwing his head back, he let out a long laugh and said, Qu Ao, you are not worthy to be recognized as the Tiele peoples great master of martial art, since you can only deal with us under the-many-oppressing-the-few situation. With this kind of conduct and scheming, arent you afraid the people all over the world would sneer at you?

    Qu Aos expression also turned as cold as ice; he laughed coldly and said, That day I was alone when I chased to kill the three of you, kids, so whos many and whos a few? It was just to prevent you three kids from escaping to the wilderness, like you usually do, that we had to make a bit of arrangement! Kid, if you cant see that, it would be best if you dont come out at all, lest you would be a disgrace to yourself.

    Ba Fenghan sneered and said, It was because previously you have not figured out our real strength. Did Ol Ba say something wrong?

    The two combatants conducted a verbal battle simply because in the momentums stalemate, they both realized that the opponent had no flaw that they could exploit, hence they used words to attack each other, trying to strike down the opponents momentum and confidence.

    Qu Ao spoke with disdain, Why so much nonsense? Since you have made up your mind to throw away your life, let me grant you your wish.

    A smile full of confidence appeared on Ba Fenghans face; calmly and indifferently he said, Qu Ao, you dont have enough qualification to be Ol Bas real rival; you can only be a stepping stone for me to challenge Bi Xuan. Go ahead!

    This remark was even more formidable than any sharp sword; not only did it incite scolding and cursing from Changshu Mou and the others, who were standing some distance away, even Qu Ao was unable to stop his countenance from slightly changing.

    If Qu Ao had never been defeated by Bi Xuan, he could simply treat this remark as rubbish talk that he need not mind. Too bad the actual fact happened to be the exact opposite; immediately it stirred up the extraordinary shame and humiliation that Qu Ao could never forget as long as he lived. His originally unassailable confidence immediately revealed a hairbreadth gap.


    The Beheading Mystery Sword left its sheath. Ba Fenghan had no distraction in his heart; his mind was empty.

    To his left and back was the Tingliu Pavilion, from where the faint clamor could still be heard, behind Qu Ao, Changshu Mou and the others were shouting and swearing, but it was as if he did not hear anything, between the heaven and the earth, there was only he and the formidable opponent in front of his eyes.

    After his meridians were transformed by the Jade Annulus of He Clan, his true qi soared; compared to before, its speed and the rate of change was several times faster, giving him an inexhaustible fighting strength and confidence.

    In Qu Aos eyes, Ba Fenghan seemed to suddenly became tall and mighty. Immediately he was shocked; realizing that it was because of his own confidence faltered, while the opponents momentum increased rapidly that he had this illusion.

    When two martial art masters were in stalemate, due to their mind and spirit was locked by each other, their senses could also be adversely affected.

    The sound of the sword being withdrawn was like the echoing beating of the battle drum, reverberating inside his eardrums.

    Qu Ao knew his situation was bad, quickly he focused his attention, nine changes of coagulating truths, in an instant his mind reached its peak condition.

    His lifelong cultivation could be summed up in three words, seven, eight, and nine, separately representing the three stages of his accomplishment.

    Seven and eight referred to his so-called seven cycles of wild waves and the eight segments of violent tides, two types of innate-generated amazing skill.

    Ordinary martial art practitioners who were able to apply qi and send out power at able-to-receive-and-send-as-his-heart-desire level could already be considered martial art master.

    But if they wanted to surpass other people, they must look for the variation within in order to subdue the enemy and gain victory.

    Yet the way to these changes lies in the cultivation of the acupoints activity in the meridians hub within the body, which cannot be likened to ordinary qi cultivation. When one is able to use the acupoints to control the transmission of true qi from its source, one would begin to reach the first-class martial art master level.

    Qu Ao was a talent in martial art study. By the age of twenty-three he already mastered seven acupoints, which prompted him to create the seven cycles of wild waves, but it was ten years later that he managed to master one more acupoint, i.e. the eight segments of violent tides. Hence the difficulty could be easily imagined.

    By the age of forty-one, he was able to control all acupoints at will, so he called it nine changes of coagulating truth. The nine was not referring to nine acupoints at all, rather, it was because nine was the top number in counting, and it had endless meaning. Only then did his martial art skill reach great success, which gave birth to his intention to challenge Bi Xuan in a duel. [My apology, all the above is beyond me, I translated it as best as I can.]

    Boom! Boom! Boom!

    Ba Fenghan forged ahead three steps in succession. Each step down created a heavy, powerful sound; even the earth seemed to be shaken.

    If this battle happened before his defeat at the hands of Bi Xuan, Qu Ao would have allowed the opponent to take the initiative to attack, and then when the opponents stored up momentum was at its fullest, the moment his confidence reached the highest peak, with the power of ten-thousand-catty thunder he would make one move to strike the enemy; the opponent would suffer irreparable damage, and forever would not be able to overcome the disheartened feeling to the defeat, and then taking care of the enemy would be as easy as turning his hand.

    But this moment was unlike the past.

    Qu Ao no longer had this kind of heroic spirit and confidence. Leaping at an angle, he withdrew a dozen of steps away to evade the sword-brandishing, with sweeping-a-thousand-army appearance, young opponents attack.

    He wanted to use the nine changes of coagulating truth and unleashed it to its greatest potential, coupled with flawless Thirteen-Style Eagle Transformation, so that before the opponents momentum climbed into a new peak, he could strike at full power.

    But the instant Qu Aos feet left the ground to leap, Ba Fenghan suddenly stopped.

    Already in the air, Qu Aos countenance changed again. Because unexpectedly Ba Fenghan was able to accurately predict the moment he would leap, and see through his intention and strategy.

    It seemed like an impossible thing to do, yet Ba Fenghan was able to accomplish.

    It was only this moment that Qu Ao finally understood why at Tianjin Bridge a moment ago, although Wanwan was giving it everything she had, for the given period of time she was unable to do anything to Ba Fenghan. He also realized that he was making a fatal mistake: underestimating the enemy.

    The arrow was already on the bow, it had to be released.

    If he changed moves or retreated, he would be caught in a situation where there was no hope of reprieve.

    Qu Ao flew over Ba Fenghans head. Transforming complexity into simplicity, his right hand clawed toward Ba Fenghans head.

    There seemed to be nothing extraordinary about this claw, but the momentum path was concentrated, strong, swift and severe, creating a feeling in his opponents heart that it must not be touched. The most frightening thing was that this one claw embodied five different true powers that the fingers could produce: sucking, stabbing, parrying, sealing, and cutting. So unpredictable that it was very difficult to guard against.

    Ba Fenghans eyes were flashing spiritedly. With a long laugh the Beheading Mystery Sword followed his footwork sideways, and then flashed diagonally up.

    Five explosions echoed one after another as the sword met the claw. With the speed that naked eyes could not see, Qu Aos five fingers successively pressed down, knocked against, swept, stabbed, and hacked down, in exquisite-and-mysterious-beyond-belief technique, attacking the Beheading Mystery Sword.

    Be Fenghan let out a stifled grunt and staggered two steps sideways, while Qu Ao borrowed the reaction force to soar two more zhang upwards. Like an eagle he spiraled in the air, in preparation of the second round of attack.

    On the side, seeing how Ba Fenghans acute spirit was thwarted and he even fell into disadvantageous position, Changshu Mou and the others immediately burst into cheers.

    Only Qu Ao knew the hardship he was in.

    He actually started to fear Ba Fenghans brilliant eyesight and the unpredictable [orig. gods and demons could not fathom] changes in his strategy. He was intentionally going all-out, hoping to injure the enemy in one fell swoop, so that the remaining question would be: how much longer can the enemy take the beating?

    Who would have thought that Ba Fenghans true qi unexpectedly produced five different changes one after another? He did not yield even for one step against Qu Aos nine changes of coagulating truth, and before Qu Aos claw made contact with the swords blade, he was one step ahead in exploiting the retreating momentum to get away, so that Qu Aos follow-up move could not be launched, forcing him to soar halfway into the air, and could not take the advantage of his favorable situation to continue the assault.

    This claw was actually the culmination of Qu Aos lifelong skill and knowledge. Since he failed to injure Ba Fenghan, the blow to his confidence was difficult to estimate.

    He really could not understand why in just a few days time, Ba Fenghans internal energy and his swordsmanship would advance by leaps and bounds like this.

    Underneath, Ba Fenghan stood motionless, while immediately circulating his true qi, which had been improved dramatically by the Jade Annulus of He Clan, to neutralize Qu Aos true power invading his body, and quietly waiting for his second round of attacks.

    Qu Ao suddenly accelerated; using the male-eagle-seizing-the-rabbit momentum, he glided down from a height of three zhang in the air.

    His hands turned into thousands of claw shadows, qi power shot out wildly, enveloping an area of about three zhang in diameter on the ground with Ba Fenghan in the middle. None of the spectators did not know that he was using this incomparably bold and powerful, formidable move to force the opponent into a position where evading was not an option and he could only meet the attack head on.

    Although just a moment ago, due to his qigong was boiling Ba Fenghan nearly vomited blood, but because he controlled and transformed it, by this time he had regained his foundation, the true qi within his body climbed into its peak condition again. Thereupon, although he was under the enemys waves of attack, his fighting will was not shaken the least bit.

    During the Battle of Tianjin Bridge earlier, he was well aware that in term of power, he was still a notch below Qu Ao. Moreover, because the forte of Qu Aos Thirteen-Style Eagle Transformation was in its move changes, his own sword style could not gain too much advantage. Hence the reason he was using clever verbal attack to weaken the opponents momentum and confidence, and raised trepidation in the opponents heart.

    And now was an extremely good place to start.

    If it were someone else, when his bravery diminished a little, he would definitely adopt a defensive position. But Ba Fenghan was not an ordinary person at all. With a cold shout, his feet stepped in profound-mystery footwork, each step was difficult for the opponent to fathom his sword momentum, the Beheading Mystery Sword moved in an unimaginable angle, altering between fast and slow indeterminately, he met the claw shadow descending upon him from the sky.

    The sound of the claw clashing against the sword sounded like the pitter-patter of the rain, sometimes high in intensity, sometimes scattered.

    In the midst of sword flashes flaring out, cold light bursting out like lightning, Qu Ao, like an agile, unfathomable eagle, displayed all kinds of posture in the air; sometimes like a spiraling eagle pouncing down, sometimes flying at an angle, as if he was absolutely weightless.

    Watching this, Changshu Mou and the others frowned, because they were well aware that Qu Ao has already given everything he had, he even used up the skill he usually kept at the bottom of his chest. However, Ba Fenghan was still as formidable as a deity. Unexpectedly he sealed and blocked every move, using the internal energy which strength was completely outside everybodys expectation, without yielding a single cun against Qu Aos swift and severe offensive, which came down like torrential rain or a gale spraying down from the sky.

    Everybody knew that although Ba Fenghan was caught in a passive position, he was not defeated at all; instead, he was waiting for an opportunity to strike back. And if he did, it would be the moment Qu Ao was defeated or even perished.

    Changshu Mou signaled Genggehuer and Hua Lingzi with his eyes, and took the lead to approach the two combatants engaged in endless bitter fighting.

    Meanwhile Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had just rushed out the gate; they saw the guards at the door were flocking outside to watch the battle from afar.

    Eager to try Changshu Mou, who was mobilizing his troops nearby, Xu Ziling signaled Kou Zhong with his eyes. The latter understood his intention, and cried out in loud voice, Ba Fenghan and Qu Ao are here in decisive battle, dont miss this treat for the eyes!

    His voice traveled far away; not only did it echo along the street, it also reverberated around the Tingliu Pavilion.


    Qu Ao gave everything he had, eventually he broke through Ba Fenghans tight sword net, looked like he was about to slap the opponents face and end the fierce battle. But Ba Fenghan parried the attack with a full-powered left hand palm strike.

    Ba Fenghans body, from head to toe, shook. The flagstone under his feet shattered. And he spurted a bit of blood.

    Qu Ao was also jolted by the impact that he rose up halfway into the air. Although his attack managed to injure the opponent, in his heart he did not have the slightest bit of complacency. Ba Fenghans most terrifying strength was his seemingly inexhaustible potential. The longer they fought, the more dauntless he was, while a prolonged battle would only bring harm to him without any benefit.

    Ba Fenghans internal qi cycled on, his internal injury has healed for the most part, and he immediately launched a counterattack.

    But Qu Ao was worthy to be regarded as the number one grand master of martial art study among the Tiele people. Under Qu Aos seemingly endless fierce offensive, it was only now did Ba Fenghan finally find the opportunity to strike back.

    Sword rays suddenly vanished.

    Following his sword, Ba Fenghans body suddenly turned into a strike of lightning, shooting toward Qu Ao, who was still soaring in the air.

    The sound of fluttering sleeves came from the direction of Man Qing Yuan; some were rushing out of the main gate, some were leaping over the wall. The first dozen or so to arrive happened to see Ba Fenghans sword strike, which could be rated as seizing-the-heaven-and-the-earth natural skill.

    Qu Ao had never imagined that after receiving injury, Ba Fenghan was still able to carry out this alarming-the-heaven-moving-the-earth formidable sword move. Knowing that the turn of events was far from good, he had no choice but to abruptly raise a mouthful of true power, pressing down his surging-endlessly blood and qi, and pounce down with all his strength.


    The sound of qi power clashing resounded far and near.

    Like a kite with cut string, Ba Fenghan flew at an angle and landed on the ground, staggered a bit, and then stood steadily like a mountain.

    Qu Ao circled in the air, flew toward his own troops, and slowly landed on the ground.


    The Beheading Mystery Sword returned to its sheath.

    Hearing the sound, Qu Aos body shook. His eyes emitted vicious and stern expression as he stared at Ba Fenghan, who was standing five zhang away from him.

    The two men looked at each other with defiant expression on their faces.

    By this time most people have reached the street. The crow and peacock made no sound, quietly waiting for the outcome.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling dashed toward Ba Fenghans left and right.

    Qu Aos body suddenly shook violently again, the color of blood receding from his face.

    Like a ripple of the wave, the spectators gasped in surprise. Now everybody knew that Qu Ao has lost, but nobody knew which part of his body was wounded.

    But the answer came instantly, because fresh blood started to seep out of Qu Aos left flank.

    Qu Ao did not seal his acupoint to stop the bleeding. After casting a glance toward his three disciples and his men, whose faces have become deathly grey, he looked up to heaven and sighed. Young and strong rising hero, Ol Qu admires you very much. Now I will immediately return to Tiele, for the rest of my life I will not set foot on Central Plains anymore.

    This oath was tantamount to announce publicly that he personally withdrew from all the dispute in the Central Plains.

    It was a genius maneuver that came out of Qu Aos superior experience. This way, those who had deep hatred toward Tiele people like Fu Qian and the others would also be hindered by Jianghu rules; they must not openly pursue and attack them.

    Finished speaking, Qu Ao leaped onto his horse, and leading his men, they were gone like a whirlwind.

    Ba Fenghan, three men, were about to leave when from among the spectators, someone let out a long laugh and said, How could Ba Xiong avoid problems by walking away like this without the slightest bit of explanation?

  10. #190
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 9

    Book 16 Chapter 9 Unfinished Aftermath

    The tree turned their gaze toward the direction of the voice, and saw Fu Qian walked like a dragon stepped like a tiger out of the crowd, toward the middle of the imperial road, looking at the three with a smile on his face, carrying with him a whiff of not anger, but prowess, and the momentum pressing down on other people.

    There were several hundred people crowding along the pedestrian lane, all their eyes were focused on him.

    Nobody was unaware that he was the real actor on the duel with Qu Ao that was supposed to happen tonight, but now Ba Fenghan had stuck his head into his business and crossed his path, and taken the first taste of the broth. This was hard for anybody to swallow; therefore, everybody was guessing that a good drama has yet to come.

    Kou Zhong took a quick glance, and saw Tuli mingling among the crowd watching the battle. Laughing aloud, he said, Fu Xiong must not get angry over this matter. Its all because earlier old man Qu joined hands with others on the Tianjin Bridge to surround and attack us; hence we came to return a big propriety to him. Tuli Khan can be our witness in this, because he also took part in the afore-mentioned battle.

    After a short pause, he went on, Much less we have already asked your honorable subordinate Xing Xiong to inform you on our behalf. Its just as time is pressing, we did not have time to wait for Fu Xiongs reply!

    These remarks were enough to give Fu Qian some face, giving him enough reason to step out of an awkward situation.

    Kou Zhong was certainly an expert in eloquence, and he seized that opportunity to deride Tuli.

    Tulis eyes glittered like frost and snow, and yet he felt a bit not to know whether to laugh or cry. Taking two steps forward, with heroism reaching to the clouds, he tapped the Crouching Eagle Spear on his back, and said with a cold laugh, As soon as Kou Xiong brought up the former matter, immediately it jogged up my memory. Its a pity that at that time before I had time to fight hand to hand with Kou Xiong, Kou Xiong has already slipped away. And now the bright moon is up in the sky, this is an auspicious time, how could I miss it? It would be best if I am asking advice of Kou Xiongs marvelous beyond measure saber technique!

    All of a sudden Tuli took the matter upon himself, taking up the initiative to issue the challenge. The road circled about, the peak revolved, immediately he stirred up a burst of murmur among the crowd.

    Most spectators did not know who he was; one after another they asked somebody next to them, so that momentarily the noise and the excitement filled the air.

    Wait a moment! Fu Qian shouted.

    He did not shout loudly, but his voice rose above the clamor of several hundred people talking together, shaking them severely that their eardrums were buzzing. Immediately the street became as if crow and peacock made no sound.

    Tuli turned his gaze toward Fu Qian in displeasure; frowning, he said, Wangzi [king/prince] has an advice?

    Fu Qian let out a peal of laughter, his eyes flashed spirited light; ignoring Tuli, he cupped his fist toward Kou Zhong, three men, and said, Three gentlemen misunderstood. Just now Ol Fu just want to invite gentlemen back to Man Qing Yuan for a drink to congratulate you on your victory. I have no other intention.

    Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other; they did not expect him to be this friendly, hence they felt a bit lost instead.

    Ba Fenghan was still standing quietly like a mountain, secretly circulating his breathing.

    Just now his victory carried grave danger, the internal injury he suffered was not light either. Therefore, he had to seize every moment to strive for healing.

    Xu Ziling whispered to Kou Zhong, I do not see Li Shimin and his men.

    Kou Zhong was very surprised inwardly, because according to reason, Li Shimin should miss this battle. Unless the moment Qu Ao swallowed his hatred and retreated, he also quietly withdrew. Since at that time everybodys attention was focused on Ba Fenghan and Qu Ao, nobody took notice if there was anybody else leaving the arena.

    By doing this, Li Shimin must have his reasons. If it happened before their fallout, Kou Zhong would not be this worried. But now he simply had to advance gradually and entrench himself at every step. Plus Li Jings warning was still ringing in his ears; he cannot be careless.

    On the other side, Tuli noticed that after Xu Ziling whispered in his ear, Kou Zhong appeared to be deep in thought, while his eyes scanned the crowd. Obviously what they were talking about had nothing to do with him. Facing such contempt, naturally he could not help feeling enraged, while in his heart he shivered in fear.

    If it were someone else being singled out and challenged by him like that, if that person was not scared to death, he would definitely be in full alert; how could there be people like these two, who still gave attention to other things? It was thus clear that both their guts and their capability were not something that ordinary martial art masters could match.

    But this moment he already rode a tiger and could not get off. Thereupon he passed through the trees separating the imperial road and the pedestrian lane, toward the middle of the imperial road to face the three and issue his challenge again, Whatever Fu Xiongs original intention was, it has nothing to do with me. Kou Zhong, if you are willing to kowtow and admit defeat, Ill let you go with Fu Xiong to drink and chat. How about that?

    Kou Zhong acted as if he had just realized what Tuli was talking about. Beaming into big smile, he said, Turns out you, Khan, love to crack jokes so much. You are willing to drop by, this is something that I seek but fail to get. Even if you immediately kneel down to admit your error and beg for forgiveness, I will never let you off.

    Finished speaking, he stepped forward in large strides, pressing on toward Tuli.

    He has not even made his move, a burst of biting cold murderous spirit already rushed forth toward Tuli, so that even with his ferocious, heroic and superior character, he had no choice but to immediately draw his Crouching Eagle Spear and strike a waiting posture.

    Hundreds of people crowding the pedestrian lane craned their necks in anticipation; the clamor died down.

    Kou Zhongs feature that left the deepest impression in other peoples mind was his heroic and bravery, which appeared to be natural, his spontaneity and unconcerned character, which already brought about some kind of insufferably-arrogant momentum.

    Tuli, who issued the challenge, appeared to be passive instead.

    Tulis challenge was exactly what Kou Zhong has been looking for.

    Under different circumstances, because Tuli had a large number of Tujue martial art masters accompanying him, killing him would be easier said than done.

    But now, as required by Jianghu rules about impartial duel, if Tuli wanted to save his life, he could only look at how much weight he carried in his own hands.

    Ba Fenghans departure was at hand. If Kou Zhong was able to exterminate this person, it would be greatly advantageous to this old friends future. Under the eyes of several hundred spectators, about three zhang away from Tuli, Qiang! Kou Zhong drew the Moon in the Well, his strong wrist shook, immediately yellow glow flared out and shot toward the enemy.

    Cold and powerful saber qi pervaded the air of the imperial road.

    Although Tuli has seen with his own eyes how Kou Zhong killed and injured his men, and he had quite an idea of the foundation of his strength, he did not expect Kou Zhong would start the offensive while he was still three zhang away.

    His thought was actually in accordance with theory. When martial art masters were in a face-off, oftentimes they were able to differentiate the opponents depth from this kind of crucial point, thereby they could decide the best way to deal with it.

    Tulis original estimation was that if Kou Zhong wanted to maintain the initiative and continuation of the flow of his power, he should pull the saber from two-zhang distance and start the offensive. This way his momentum would not weaken midway, while at the same time he would be able to unleash the strongest attack potential. This assessment was based on the opponents speed, steps, and momentum. For a martial art master of Tulis caliber, as soon as the opponent took the first few steps, he ought to be able to grasp how the opponent would launch the offensive first, precisely, with no error in judgment.

    But this time he was clearly wrong.

    Tuli cried inwardly, Not good! while took a step forward simultaneously, to regain the lost initiative momentum due to his incorrect estimation.

    Kou Zhongs long saber streaked across the empty air, with sweeping-a-thousand-army astonishing aggressiveness, with no fancy move at all, hacking down on Tuli, brimming with fluidity that came from his total-control and that resembled nature itself.

    His pair of big eagle or falcon-like eyes was fixed on the opponent, not missing the tiniest movement of the opponent. He even knew the movement of the opponents muscle under his clothes as it transmitted power like the back of his hand.

    He was looking for the escaping one that Lu Miaozi was talking about, which was the key trick he needed to control the enemy and score a victory.

    Since obtaining the extraordinary power of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, he knew that his power had advanced by leaps and bounds, but he did not know to which stage he would be able to push the boundary.

    Now the fact was laid out in front of him. Qu Aos defeat at Ba Fenghans hands has boosted Kou Zhongs morale; it was indeed no small matter.

    While wishing to find someone to test his saber skill, unexpectedly Tuli was surrendering himself voluntarily. In such state of mind and given circumstances, both Kou Zhongs confidence and momentum had climbed to the highest height.

    In an instant the two had closed the short distance where their short weapons could come into contact with each other. Tuli met the saber qi coming with the pouncing opponent head-on, brandishing his spear in sweeping motion.

    His grasp of the moment was exquisite and accurate. If Kou Zhong did not change his move, he would be swept by the spear. Unless both sides power differed substantially, the Moon in the Well would be knocked over by the spear; Kou Zhong was revealing too much of empty gate tactic.

    Unexpectedly, Kou Zhong did not change his move. Just as the short spear, which was only four chi long, which handle was cast in the shape of a bald eagle, was about a cun away from sweeping the treasured saber, the Moon in the Well suddenly changed. Not only it did not continue hacking down, it poked slightly upwards, just enough to evade the Crouching Eagle Spears sweep.

    Simultaneously Kou Zhong altered his movement from charging forward to traversing across.

    This movement was fundamentally impossible. It represented the transformation of true qi within Kou Zhongs body, which must be identical to the changes and speed of his saber technique and momentum of his step.

    Tulis Crouching Eagle Spear technique was created based on the natural way of yin and yang, what is true and what is false. Under this nasty situation, it exhibited its real strength.

    Although startled, he did not get confused. The tip of the Crouching Eagle Spear swept about three cun below the saber, and then just before Kou Zhong retracted his saber and chopped down again from a different angle, he suddenly retreated swiftly.

    This retreat was a test of his skill. The tip of the spear produced Chi! Chi! noise, fantastically it turned into countless spear shadow, which was difficult to differentiate what is true and what is false, so that it was very difficult for the opponent to pursue and attack.

    Although there was no lack of martial art masters among the crowd, none did not gasp in amazement. Even more at Kou Zhong, who was able to exploit a tiny change to force the opponent to withdraw in surprise.

    Kou Zhongs eyebrows rose up, amidst the long laughter and momentum like a rainbow he swung his saber so fast that no one could see it clearly.


    Ear-splitting clash.

    As if it was a divine object able to get rid of any illusion, the Moon in the Well hacked into the spear shadow, and instantly Tulis Crouching Eagle Spear materialized back into a tangible object, forcing him to meet the saber head-on.

    It was only this moment that Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan, who were watching the battle from behind Kou Zhong, felt relieved, knowing that after undergoing repeated fierce battle these past few days, Kou Zhongs saber technique has finally achieved great success and reached the following-his-hearts-desires level. Otherwise, he could not possibly unleash this kind of saber technique.

    From among the crowd, some were secretly apprehensive for Kou Zhongs enemy, while having new regard toward him.

    Seeing Kou Zhongs saber technique, which was as if he was receiving Gods help, Song Yuzhi, who was standing quietly among the Song Familys martial art masters, under the leadership of Song Lu, could not help feeling dazzled and stunned as well, which she found it difficult to admit to herself.

    Although Tuli felt his arm went numb from Kou Zhongs chop with spiraling powerful qi, he was, by nature, valiant. On the contrary, he was excited to give it everything he had. Laughing aloud, he said, Good saber!

    Spear momentum suddenly rose up in violent counterattack, the Crouching Eagle Spear moved like huge waves of the angry sea, as it stormed toward Kou Zhong.

    Kou Zhong heard the whizzing of the spear in his ears, while his skin felt each one of the cyclones, which felt like cutting his body and inducing pain, brought by the Crouching Eagle Spear, and his eyes saw spear shadow everywhere. In his heart he was delighted. While he was about to press on to go all-out and try to take care the opponent as quickly as possible, the spear shadow in front of him suddenly vanished, but the tip of the Crouching Eagle Spear remained in the shape of a dot of cold light, shooting swiftly toward his throat.

    Such an exquisite beyond compare spear technique, from void became solid, it was the first time that Kou Zhong had ever seen.


    Without thinking, actually, he did not have time to think, Kou Zhong chopped his saber onto the tip of the spear.

    Powerful qi as sharp as arrow followed the spear.

    Kou Zhong swiftly moved back.

    Tuli did not seem to have the intention to continue; he pulled his spear back.

    On one side a cold saber was held across, on the other side a spear pointed to the opponent at a distance, they both stood still facing each other.

    Ba Fenghan whispered in Xu Zilings ear, Tulis heart grew timid. In his usual style, unless theres some other purpose, he would not concede and hold his hands like this.

    The entire street was so quiet that a falling needle would be heard, even the sound of breathing was temporarily quieted down.

    Although for the time the two combatants were separated, but there was still tension in the air, they were both poised for battle, four eyes stared at each other in grave atmosphere, enough to fill the hearts of the people with chill and trepidation.

    Tulis left hand left the body of the spear and went to his back. Laughing, he said, Thanks for the experience. Central Plains indeed have upper-class martial art masters, and you, Kou Zhong, definitely have your name on the list.

    Although he was praising the opponent, but naturally he also held up his own dignity and status; besides, based on his capability and exquisite spear technique, he managed to end the duel in a draw, hence no one would think that he was a coward.

    Only Ba Fenghan, who was very familiar with his style, could see through his heart.

    Naturally Kou Zhong also knew that he wanted to stop and step down the stage, but he really did not have any misgivings. Whether he would be able to kill Tuli, it remained unclear. Even if he could accomplish it, he would at least be wounded as well. And Ba Fenghans situation now was like Li Mis victory over Yuwen Huaji, i.e. it was a costly victory. Therefore, he must preserve his own strength; it was a matter of paramount importance.

    What he was afraid of right now was to lose sight of Li Shimin.


    Kou Zhong returned the saber to its scabbard; cupping his fist, he said, Khan is indeed an outstanding hero; Kou Zhong admires you. When you have time some day, we can drink wine and learn from one another.

    By saying that, it could be said that he was giving Tuli a lot of face; it also showed Kou Zhongs mind and his elegance. Tuli could not help having a favorable impression toward him.

    Actually, he never had any desire to have Kou Zhong as his enemy; it was only because of Ba Fenghans affair that he had to take the stand as his opponent. Returning the spear onto his back, he saluted and said, If theres opportunity, I certainly will take Kou Xiongs offer!

    Turning to his men, he said, Lets get out of here!

    Fu Qian followed Tuli and his men with his eyes until they were far away, and then he spoke in a loud and clear voice, Let tonights matter stop at this point, thank you very much friends of all roads for giving us the face for this meeting.

    Finished speaking, he stepped into the imperial road and came over toward Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan. Just now Xiaodi was really ignorance; I forgot that Ba Xiong needs to have a good rest. Xiaodi takes my leave now!

    Without waiting for an answer, he smiled and walked away.

    Confronted with this enigmatic figure, the three could not stop the chill from creeping into their heart.

    ※ ※ ※

    The three walked slowly along a side street, waiting for the coming of the dawn.

    Kou Zhong was concerned over Ba Fenghans condition, How are you feeling? he asked.

    Ba Fenghan smiled, Much better! he replied, But this kind of injury cannot be healed in such a short time.

    Changing the subject, he said, Your Yu Yi has been brought safely out of town; Princess may take them all the way to the ocean, and then make arrangement for an ocean-going ship to take them north to Gaoli. This way, not only will it lessen the hardship of the trip, it will also greatly shorten the traveling time.

    Delighted, Kou Zhong let out a whistle. But then he frowned and said, Are you going to wait until you are fully recovered before leaving?

    Ba Fenghan shook his head resolutely and said, If I dont leave now, what am I waiting for? If I stay, I would be a burden to you. I am slipping alone will be most convenient.

    Both Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt that they had nothing to say. Even for people like Tuli or Tuoba Yu, for them to overtake the deliberately-escaping-far-away Ba Fenghan would be easier said than done.

    Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling said, As soon as the gate opens in the morning, well accompany you out of town wearing the masks. Well give you two of those. This way I guarantee you can safely return to outside the Great Wall.

    Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan cried out, Wonderful! at the same time. The former even acted as if he was relieved from a burden, Now I really feel relieved! Ay! But I really hate to let you, this old kid, go away.

    Ba Fenghan laughed calmly and said, Separated in life and death, joys and sorrows, life is just like this. Besides, there might be a day we can see each other again. When that day comes, we will have a special feeling.

    Dejectedly Kou Zhong said, Its easy for you to say; right now you are gone, a little later it will be Xiao Lings turn. Friends withered and fallen, there is no meaning in life anymore.

    Knowing his character, Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling were nearly howling in laughter.

    Kou Zhong himself burst in laughter; heroically and passionately, yet nonchalantly, he said, I havent officially told you: Li kid and I finally have a falling out!

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Without you telling me, I already guessed this would be the inevitable outcome.

    His eyes flashing, Kou Zhong said, One more thing: Li Jing has personally admitted that he betrayed us.

    Xu Zilings handsome face fell, but he did not make any sound.

    The three mens footsteps echoed faintly on the moonlit street.

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan said, Although I saw him only twice, but I feel that he is not that kind of person.

    Kou Zhong hatefully said, Appearance is often unreliable. Take you, Ol Ba, for example. You look callous; who would have thought that you are actually a very passionate man?

    Ba Fenghan replied indifferently, Starting tomorrow, I am going to throw away all emotion from the secular world that can influence my mind, and will focus on the way of the sword. I am going to go back to my true identity.

    Stifling his laughter, Kou Zhong said, Be careful, if Ba Daier overtook you, you might go back from a heartless warrior to your true character, and then youll make the two of us laugh off our teeth.

    Ba Fenghan laughed calmly; instead of replying, he said, You must be careful of Li Shimin. Other than he himself possesses superior martial art skill, none of Yang Xuyan, Hong Funu, Li Jing, Li Shentong, Zhangsun Wuji, Yuchi Jingde, and the others, are not a martial art master who can assume personal responsibility. Their strength is not inferior to Yin Gui Pai.

    The three turned left toward the main street leading to the south city gate.

    I am not afraid of them, Kou Zhong said, I am more afraid of after Shi Feixuan is recovered from her injury, how is she going to deal with us? One-on-one, none of us is her match. The most frightening thing is that even though she is just one person, we really dont want to join hands to deal with a beauty like her, a Bodhisattva descending into the mortal world.

    Tranquil and calm, Xu Ziling said, She will only be looking for me to settle the account; just let me deal with her.

    Kou Zhong dramatically rushed ahead of Xu Ziling, and then while walking backward to face him, he said, Ha! Xiao Ling finally found someone he admires wholeheartedly! Otherwise, how could he take care of this matter all by himself and not others get involved in it?

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, Why are you always thinking about everything from women and love affair aspect? The fact is that in this matter, you and Fenghan Xiong are very similar; its just that you have different goals!

    It was only after having a good talk with Song Yuzhi that he wanted to tell him that. Kou Zhong immediately stopped.

    Luckily, by this time they already reached the Yi Rivers north bank. The moon hanging low on the western horizon shed its light on the buildings along the riverbank, casting their shadow onto the slow moving water of the river, creating another parallel world of shadows, so beautiful like an unreal dream world.

    An arch bridge spanned across the Yi River. Under the bridge more than a dozen small boats were moored along the bank. The stream softly lapped the boats hull and the foot of the bridge, producing gentle and clear rustling noise.

    Wed better sit on the bridge, Kou Zhong proposed, When the morning comes, well send Ol Ba off, then our friendships will not be in vain.

    Ba Fenghan looked up to the sky, breathing out a long sigh, he said, We ought to have more than half a sichen yet!

  11. #191
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 10

    Book 16 Chapter 10 Reluctant Parting

    The three stood side by side on the bridge, looking towards the east, the winding river extended as far as their eyes could see. The bright night sky, under the moon and the stars, illuminated row after row of buildings on both sides of the river, brimming with rich layers of serene beauty, as picturesque as a dream.

    Not wishing to disturb the residents of the nearby buildings, who were still in deep slumber, Ba Fenghan spoke in low voice, Kou Zhong, arent you underestimating the enemy too much? How come you dont seem to take Li Shimin seriously? In my opinion, among the warlords vying for supremacy, both in terms of personality and the strength they possess, he is second only to Li Mi before his battle against Yuwen Huaji; perhaps he is even better than that.

    Xu Ziling nodded, I had never heard Li Shimin suffers defeat, he said.

    Immensely proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, The so-called sending down the troops, dispatching bravery, based on my currently weak strength, I would be a fool to shake him openly.

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Zilling immediately burst into laughter.

    Cursing and swearing, the former said, Go to your Niang! Sending down the troops, dispatching bravery. Others are sending up the troops, dispatching a scheme, you insist on turning it upside down, so that it becomes out of place. If the troops are not brave, they would be defeated without any battle.

    Kou Zhong laughed together with the other two. Half a day later, he said in low voice, Li kid basically does not have time to deal with me.

    How could you say that? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhong replied, The self-proclaimed Hegemon of Western Qin Xue Ju and his superb martial art master son Xue Renguo are secretly striking their gongs and beating their drums in preparation to attack to the east toward ChangAn; and Liu Wuzhou might take this opportunity to attack Taiyuan, to rattle his Li Familys foundation. Under these circumstances, how could that Li kid still have time to worry about me?

    Emotionally moved, Ba Fenghan said, These troops and horses from two different roads are difficult to ward off. I hear among Xue Jus subordinates there is one great general by the name of Zong Luohou, with unmatched heroism and bravery, expert in using Guan saber [I believe it refers to Guan Yu from the Three Kingdoms]; very formidable.

    Sneering, Xu Ziling said, Zhong Shao can play his abacus any way he wants, but unfortunately nobody knew when it would happen. That guy Li Shimin still has plenty of time to try to kill us first.

    With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, You can try to guess: when that Li kid slipped away just now, where do you think he was going?

    The two were stumped by him; they were unable to respond.

    High-spirited, Kou Zhong said, He went to see Wang Shichong.

    The two nodded in agreement, and could not help admiring him for his outstanding ability and wisdom.

    Kou Zhong explained, Good or bad, currently I can be considered a man from Wang Shichongs camp. Li kid wanted to remove me, he simply has to call out to Wang Shichong, to sound out what he thinks about it. Last time Wang Shichong agreed to put the city under curfew, simply because he did not expect he would be drawn into the dispute involving the Jade Annulus of He Clan; he wanted to declare his innocence, but also because he did not believe that in the Jade Annulus of He Clans matter, before the water recedes, the rocks appear, Shi Feixuan would kill me.

    Ba Fenghan said, Since Wang Shichong is an old fox, he might already see through your wild ambition. Maybe he is using Li Shimin to eliminate you.

    Smiling, Kou Zhong said, If you had spoken those words yesterday, I really did not dare to contradict you. But after giving it a lot of thoughts, I know that Wang Shichong already weighed the pros and cons, and he wont dare to touch me before Li Mi is defeated. Right now he still needs to protect me!

    Puzzled, Ba Fenghan asked, How could you have such confidence?

    Pleased, Kou Zhong replied, First of all, because of Zhai Jiao. Currently I am the middleman, only through me would Wang Shichong obtain valuable intelligence on Li Mis main force, from Zhai Rangs old unit who are still loyal to him.

    Ba Fenghan nodded and said, This is enough reason for Wang Shichong to treat you like pearl or jewel, which he has to protect with great care. And whats the other reason?

    Kou Zhong replied, The day after tomorrow is Rong Fengxiangs birthday feast. Wang Shichong will attend. This will give Shen Luoyan an opportunity to assassinate him. Since Wang Shichong is a man who cherishes his life, without me, the chief imperial strategic adviser and ultimate martial art master, by his side giving him direction, he would not dare to tread into this pulling-a-snake-from-its-hole dangerous scheme.

    Sighing in admiration, Be Fenghan said, It is indeed dispatching bravery and dispatching a scheme. Whoever underestimate you, Kou Zhong, will one day regret it.

    Remaining tranquil and calm, Kou Zhong said, In my opinion, Wang Shichong may readily agree to join hands with Li kid to deal with me, but they must wait for Li Mis defeat before commencing the operation. At that time, he and I might lay our cards on the table. If I am willing to be used by him, there wont be any problem. Otherwise, he might set a trap to eliminate me when I do not guard against him. This is called the birds are over, the bow is put away, a famous lesson throughout all ages that Bai Lao Fuzi [old master/teacher, see Book 1 Chapter 1] taught us.

    Xu Ziling joined in, But with Li Shimins ability and wisdom, he ought to be able to see that Wang Shichong is helpless against you; perhaps he had another operation in place. Supposing right now you are found dead on the street, even if Zhuge Liang came back to life, he wouldnt be able to guess which party did it.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, As long as Li kid does not dare to assemble the crowd to besiege me openly, why would I be afraid? If I, Kou Zhong, am that easy to kill, God knows how many times I would have died!

    It was indeed an inalienable fact.

    Muttering to himself, Ba Fenghan said, Although currently you are able to secretly influence so many things controlling the situation of the Central Plains, I still dont understand why you have so much confidence in vying over the world?

    Taking a deep breath, Kou Zhong said, The key is the Duke Yang Treasure. If I cant find it, I will have no choice but to kill this vying-over-the-world desire, go to the great desert to pass happy days with you galloping over the prairie, or perhaps do business in illegal salt trading, leading a befuddled existence [orig. as if drunk] of the second half of my life.

    Ba Fenghan did not understand, Even if you have treasure and weapons, you dont have territory, you even lack troops and horses; how could you challenge those with deep and solid foundation like the Li Clan?

    Kou Zhongs eyes flashed with cold light; he spoke heavily, It all goes back to the problem of dispatching bravery and dispatching a scheme. If Li Mi is defeated, the Li Clan will become target of a multitude of arrows. As long as I can scheme to frustrate Du Fuwei, I will have a chance to use the Flying Horse Ranch and Jingling as the center, establish my power, then at the same time expand to the north and south. To the south make alliance with Xiao Xian and the Song Clan, to the north win over Dou Jiande and Liu Wuzhou. If Wang Shichong is still able to hold the Li Clan to the west, there will come a day this land under the heavens will be inside my, Kou Zhongs bag.

    Ba Fenghan sighed and said, Such a difficult and complex matter, only you, Zhong Shaoye [young master] can feel that it is easily achievable. Just thinking about it is giving me headache.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, I also have only 50% confidence. But if Xiao Ling is willing to help me, I will have 100% confidence.

    Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, What you have already said, you must not renege. Otherwise, how can you win the worlds trust?

    Smiling apologetically, Kou Zhong said, Xu Ye, please calm down. I was only expressing my feeling, and spoke without thinking the matter through. Xu Ye agreed to accompany me on the treasure hunt, I already shed tears of gratitude!

    Xu Ziling changed the subject, Although currently I am extremely resentful toward Li Jing, but from the beginning I never thought of him as someone whod betray friend to seek glory. Let alone we must remember one other thing that might divulge our secret: perhaps Li kid found out from Li Xiuning that we have the ability to disguise ourselves and change our appearance.

    When the Four Big Bandits attacked the Flying Horse Ranch in the past, Shen Luoyan and Li Tianfan were plotting against Li Xiuning, Kou Zhong intervened to help her. At that time he was wearing Lu Miaozis masks to conceal his true identity [see first few chapters of Book 10].

    How could I forget? Kou Zhong said, Hence I deliberately asked Li Jing, and he admitted with his own mouth.

    What did he say, exactly? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhong pondered for half a day, and then replied, That time his answer was very strange; something like just consider that I did mention it. But at that time I was already burning with anger that I could not think straight, so I hatefully scolded him some more. Never mind! Why do we care if he did it or not? He has become Li Shimins hunting dog anyway; there will come a day I might meet head-on with him. All those brotherhood and friendship wont worth a penny.

    Ba Fenghan felt another headache coming; he said, There are a lot of things that it would be better if we do not think about it too much. The greatest worry in life is that we have too much to think.

    Deeply concerned, Xu Ziling asked, Hows your injury? While its not dawn yet, wed better take advantage of this time to work together to heal your injury!

    Smiling ruefully, Ba Fenghan said, By all means, no! This moment powerful enemies are lurking everywhere, any one of us lose any power could possibly bring unforeseen disaster.

    Sighing, Xu Ziling said, I still feel that you are afraid that if you are completely recovered, you wont have any reason to leave immediately.

    Having a brainwave, Kou Zhong said, I get it! You want to steer clear of that Tujue beauty.

    Ba Fenghan opened his right palm; surprisingly, there was that shiny hairpin that Ba Daier returned to him.

    He raised his right arm, and then, under the blank stare of the two boys, he threw the hairpin into the river. It sank and disappeared without stirring up half a ripple.

    Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, Almost dawn!

    ※ ※ ※

    The three galloped out of town at top speed. After passing through a sparse forest northwest of the city, they climbed a dirt slope, and reined their horses to stop.

    Surrounded by hills all around, there was a quiet small lake lay on the grassland ahead. The bluish green waves and the crystal-clear water rippled in front of the forest, the dawn mist was still floating above the green and lush surface of the water. The three felt their spirit aroused.

    Pointing to the poetic and picturesque scenery ahead with his whip, Kou Zhong let out a long laughter and said, If we did not insist on sending you off for a while, we would not know there is such a good place nearby.

    Ba Fenghan jumped down the horse, taking out a heavy-looking money purse, he tied it onto Kou Zhongs saddle and said with a smile, There are at least fifty ingots of gold weighing one tael each in this purse. This is called before the three armies [i.e. upper, middle and lower army, or right, center and left] move, the army provisions precede. Just consider it my, Ba Fenghans, small contribution to Kou Huangs [emperor] finance.

    Kou Zhong did not decline; delighted, he said, Between us, brothers, there is no need to mention a lot of rubbish; in short, I, Kou Zhong, appreciate your kindness! Youd better put on your mask, so that to the people pursuing you, Ba Fenghan has disappeared.

    Shaking his head, Ba Fenghan said, Changing my face is not enough. When I get to the nearest town, Ill change clothes, put my weapon away, and disguise myself as an ordinary traveling merchant. This way I will fool peoples eyes and ears better.

    Xu Ziling said, If it werent for Ba Daier, who could make you, Ba Fenghan, hiding your true colors with thousand ways, a hundred plans?

    Ba Fenghan flew back onto his horse. After turning his head around to scan the area, he sighed and said, From this moment onwards, I will no longer think of her, and I do not wish to see her again.

    After staring deeply into the two boys eyes, he fixed his gaze forward, and spoke in heavy tone, Well part here. I dont know whether we will see each other again. Two brothers, please take good care of yourselves!

    He squeezed the horses belly with his legs, the steed neighed and moved its four legs, galloping down the slope, and disappearing behind a cloud of dust.

    The two boys followed him with their eyes. Without even looking back he galloped through the forest and the prairie, sometimes hidden from their sight, until finally he turned into a small dot, and vanished in a dense wood in the distance.

    Only then did Kou Zhong breathe a sigh of relief. Nobodys following him! he said.

    Xu Ziling nodded in agreement.

    The two urged their horses to turn around, and then rode back slowly down the slope.

    Kou Zhong repeatedly exhaled to clear his heavy heart filled with the sadness of separation. Separated in life and death, unexpectedly could be this depressing, he spoke in agony, Niang is dead, Ba Fenghan is gone, this is all very difficult, yet nothing we could do about it. Were it not for that poniang [reminder: woman, in derogatory way] Ba Daier, perhaps Ol Ba would still be with us for a while longer.

    Noticing Xu Zilings pensive look, as if he did not hear what he said, Kou Zhong asked in surprise, Whats on your mind? Are you surprised that no one is following us? Actually, this is to be expected. Just think, who would want to provoke us now without thinking three times over first?

    Xu Ziling shook his head, I suddenly remember Su Jie, he said, My heart is not happy.

    Kou Zhongs countenance changed, Dont scare me! he said.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Perhaps it was because I saw Li Jing again! After killing Yuwen Huaji, I am going to look for Su Jie, I want to see how Xiang Yushan is treating her. Humph!

    Kou Zhong was deep in thought for half a day. Finally he said, I think its time for you to see Wang Shichong!

    Showing disdain on his face, Xu Ziling shook his head and said, Today I do not wish to see that kind of person. You go back first! I want to ride for a while. Somehow I feel a bit depressed.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Its not fire-deviation sign, is it? he asked.

    Xu Ziling laughed and scolded him, Fire-deviation your @$$! You go your road through Yangguan [fig. wide open road/bright future], I go my single-log bridge [fig. difficult path]. Dont forget at noon Song Lu is waiting for us for a feast at the House of Dong. Now get lost; go see your Wang Shichong and Dong Shuni Mei! Finished speaking he urged his horse to gallop away.

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day. Finally he smiled wryly, shook his head, and then returned to the city.

    ※ ※ ※

    Jing Nian Chanyuan stood tall on the mountain; the ambience was dense and solemn.

    Xu Ziling dismounted; wrapping one arm around the horses neck, he spoke in gentle voice as if he was coaxing a child, and then left the horse grazing on its own, while he dashed toward the main entrance of the monastery.

    After passing the memorial arch engraved with the characters Jing Nian Chanyuan, he climbed the long and precipitous stone steps extended to the hilltop, giving the feeling of he was ascending into the heaven to the other shore [i.e. paramita in Buddhism].

    Subconsciously Xu Ziling stroked the mask hidden in his pocket, as well as the scrolls pertaining to construction, astronomy, et cetera, which Lu Miaozi gave to him; he sighed inwardly.

    After stealing the Jade Annulus of He Clan, they buried these things in a secret place, and only retrieved them just now.

    Regaining his composure, Xu Ziling went up the stairs step by step.

    Dang! Dang! Dang!

    The melodious sound of the bell from up the mountain floated down.

    Xu Zilings mind was calm; he lifted up his eyes to enjoy the amazing and elegant ridges and peaks, the dense forest and the beautiful mountain scenery all around him. He mused that this temple was built on top of this mountain, there must be a reason behind it.

    Looking up into the distance, he could see the pagoda and bell tower appearing among the forest tree.

    Because he had read Lu Miaozis insight, he had a very good foundation in architecture, and was able to enjoy the beauty of the buildings from a pedestrians eye view.

    The pagoda was built of mostly large dark green granite blocks, the structure was complex, with nine layers of octagonal floor, opened doors on all sides, the carvings on the body of the tower was exceptionally magnificent, all around the roll up doors there were dragons, tigers, Buddha, Bodhisattva, warriors, craft music [? Not sure, 伎乐], flying Apsara, and other religious objects; all were glowing with health and vigor, vivid and lifelike.

    Nevertheless, the tacha [from the dictionary: Buddhist ornamentation decorating the upper story of a pagoda] was made of iron, with eight separate chains securing it to the eight corners of the top of the pagoda. The stairs connecting the lower five floors were inside the structure, but starting from the fifth floor, the stairs were spiraling along the outer ledges, all the way to the top floor. This kind of configuration was rarely seen in pagoda architecture, particularly that tall and gorgeous iron tacha. It was elegant, tall and straight, protruding above the mountain forest, as if it was piercing the blue sky.

    The reason Xu Ziling paid so much attention to Jing Nian Chanyuans construction was simply because he wanted to verify the earlier impression he had on this monastery, because in all aspects, this temple did not comply with common practice; hidden within it was a unique imposing style.

    The most amazing thing for him was that in the extremely ornate architecture, there was a sense of austere simplicity; just like a richly attired beautiful woman, although her dress was magnificent her clothes beautiful, but because she was not wearing any makeup, she was able to maintain her innate beauty and natural charm.

    Reaching the end of the stone steps, Xu Ziling arrived at the second main gate of the monastery.

    The inscribed tablet above the door had four characters carved on it, ru zhe you yuan [those who enter are brought together by fate]; on both sides of the doorway a rhyming couplet was engraved, Evening drum and morning bell arouse the human world from pursuing fame and fortune; the sound of scripture and many names of Buddha call the charmed back from the dream of sea of bitterness.

    A rueful smile appeared on the corner of Xu Zilings lips, thinking that if Kou Zhong was pursuing fame and fortune, then he was charmed by the dream. Both were struggling and drifting along in the sea of bitterness of this human world, without the freedom to act independently.

    After heaving another sigh, he entered in.

    ※ ※ ※

    On the plaza behind the towering gate of the first of the seven big halls, two old monks were sweeping the dead leaves. They were not in the least concerned over this guest who gate-crash into their temple.

    Xu Ziling was acting strangely as well; he simply walked along the path, which acted as the central axis of the main part of this building complex, with his hands behind his back, as if he belonged there.

    Fragrant smoke from the incense drifted out of the temple halls; from the three-legged incense burner in front of the three enshrined and worshipped Buddha images at the southern end, the smoke rose up in spirals.

    He did not know much about Buddhism; he only knew the one in the middle, wearing golden crown, with benevolent and dignified expression, was Vairocana Buddha [毗卢遮那佛]; as for the other two Buddha on either side, he was not so sure. Even more attractive to him was along the inner wall of the Hall there were dozens of revered Luohan statues, in different poses and with different expressions, no two were alike.

    The eight columns of pillar and the foundation of the Hall were finely engraved, which matched very well with the brightly painted, grand and majestic interlocking beams that spanned well toward the eaves. The horn-shaped corners of the eaves were rising high, in harmony with the profound and long-lasting, solemn and respectful atmosphere of temple complex, brimming with religious inspiration.

    A voice calling one of the many names of Buddha came from behind, followed by a question, Xu Shizhu [lit. benefactor (term used by a monk to address a layperson)] honors us with your presence, I wonder for what reason?

    Xu Ziling recognized the voice; without even looking back, he said, Bu Chen Dashi, may I ask the Buddha on the left and right, which one are they?

    Bu Chen, who was the leader of the Four Great Protectors replied, On the left is Medicine Buddha, on the right is Amitabha Buddha [see also Book 14 Chapter 1]. Since Xu Shizhu does not know Buddha, entering the Temple without worshiping is reasonable.

    Confident and at ease, Xu Ziling turned around and smiled toward Bu Chen, whose eyes were hung low, whose palms clasped together holding Buddhist beads; he said, Although Zaixia does not know much about Buddhism, but I know that all [Buddhist] laws are in the heart. Kneeling to worship is but outward appearance, which cannot be used to judge ones sincerity toward Buddha!

    Bu Chen opened his eyes to look at him; an amazed expression flashed through his eyes. Various inner thoughts have outer appearances. Buddha also have images of Buddha. What Shizhu said, perhaps only applicable to Shizhu! Shizhu must ask your own heart.

    Although he did not speak it out, the meaning behind his words was obvious, which referred to Xu Zilings mouth was not in line with his heart, that he was using words to quibble, including, of course, the matter involving the Jade Annulus of He Clan.

    Xu Ziling was open-minded; he was not concerned about it. Telling the reason of his visit, he said, This time Zaixia pays a visit, the purpose is to see Miss Shi, there are some things Id like to resolve.

    Bu Chen sharply sized him up for half a day; finally he said, Shizhu, please! and took the lead toward the Halls gate.

    Thinking that it would go smoothly, Xu Ziling quickly followed him.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong rode straight toward the Imperial City. It was not until he reached the Shangshu Mansion that he jumped down the horse, but before he reached the steps, Dong Shuni, wearing warrior outfit, rushed out of the Mansions door, amidst a burst of fragrant wind. Her apricot eyes were wide open as she scolded tenderly, Gutless ghost! Come with me!

    Noticing that all the warriors guarding the door were staring at them, Kou Zhong felt extremely awkward; helplessly he followed her into the Mansion.

    Dong Shuni entered the western hall, drove all the maids and servants out, and then pointing to the chair by the window, she furiously said, Sit over there!

    Kou Zhong was inwardly angry as well. Am I your slave? he spoke crossly, Whatever it is, say it quickly, your Shaoye is very busy today.

    How could Dong Shuni ever think that Kou Zhong would dare to challenge her? Seething with anger, her eyes bulging, she pointed her finger like a halberd and cursed, You, a man without conscience, you have the impertinence to use that kind of tone speaking with me?

    Frankly speaking, even though she looked like a tigress that had lost her mind, she was still so cute, charming and gorgeous; her posture alluring, exuding a different flavor of prettiness. Especially with her erect silky breasts and two lily-white hands on her small waist, she looked extremely attractive even more.

    Seeing her eyes turned red from anger, with glistening beads of tear on them, the anger in Kou Zhongs heart disappeared for the most part. Plus he inwardly thought that as a grand, manly man, it was not worthwhile for him to bicker with her. Thereupon he laughed aloud and said, You want me to sit then Ill sit! Whats the big deal?

    Sitting down, he patted his lap and said, Would Miss Dong like to sit on the most comfortable chair in the world?

    Dong Shuni glowered at him for half a day. Finally she stomped her feet in fury and said, Ill settle an old score with you first: where the hell were you that night?

    Spreading out his hands, Kou Zhong said, I hear Rong Fengxiangs big birthday feast is tomorrow night. Since I thought that in your hurry Miss must have mentioned the wrong day, plus I had a bit of business to attend, hee you know how it is!

    He did not wish to argue with her much longer, so he hinted that he already saw through her wicked scheme, with the hope that she would sound out the difficulties and retreat to avoid defeat.

    Like a whirlwind Dong Shuni stormed forward until her jade legs were almost hitting his knees before stopping before flaring out in tigress style, You, Kou Zhong, the big-headed ghost, his big birthday feast is set for seven days; otherwise, how can we call it big birthday feast?

    Kou Zhong was nearly tongue-tied; luckily as he knitted his brows, an idea came to his mind. Recalling how deceitful she was, he smiled wryly and said, Xiao Nini, please dont mess with me! Xuyan Xiong and I had no discord, no concord [orig. dont fight, wont make friends], but now we became very friendly. He had already laid out everything on the plate. Ha! When we go to Rong Mansion later, Id like to look for him; do you want to come with me?

    It was as if Dong Shuni was struck by thunder; she retreated three steps back, her pretty face turned white, and she stammered in disbelief, He he really

    Inwardly Kou Zhong laughed; no matter how crafty you are, all along you are still inexperienced, all of a sudden you revealed the foxs tail and thus confirmed this purely speculative guess.

    Patting his clothes, he rose up to his full height and said, Well make out later!

    And then he walked away with a chuckle, feeling immensely proud of himself.

  12. #192
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 11

    Book 16 Chapter 11 Greedy For Life, Afraid Of Death

    Xu Ziling followed behind Bu Chen, deep into the Temple complex, toward the rear courtyard.

    From time to time along the way he saw some monks, but everybody acted as if they did not see him, as if they were deeply immersed in the purified of defiling illusion and religious life of letting things take their own course Buddhist doctrine.

    After passing the Copper Hall, which glittered brilliantly under the sun, Bu Chen turned left toward a quaint flagstone path, lined with bamboo trees on both sides.

    Hidden behind the bamboo trees on both sides of the path, he could see the buildings that were the monks residences; plain and simple. Compared to the magnificent temple halls, the buildings exuded a completely different impression. But behind the pinewood frame and white plaster, there was some kind of raw, unpolished natural beauty.

    While Xu Ziling was enjoying the deep, serene and faraway, the peaceful and quiet atmosphere of the monastery, the scenery changed. Houses were getting sparse, replaced by evergreen pine and cypress, and rugged stratified rocks. Walking along the stone path, he could see a stonewall ahead, engraved with two characters, Fo Dao [the way of the Buddha]. The stone cliffs on either side of the path grew higher and higher, while the path itself was getting narrower. There were images of Buddha carved on the stonewall on either side, which leaned against the low cliff, all with carefree demeanor, and were very vivid and lifelike.

    While Xu Ziling was amazed at the scenery, the Fo Dao suddenly ended, the path suddenly opened up to a wide panorama.

    At the western extremity of this monastery, a large hall, which size comparable to the seven main halls, engraved with the characters Fangzhang Yuan [abbot courtyard], was resting along the precipice, among the nine towering ridges of the mountain. It was strategically situated and easy to defend, the terrain was extremely dangerous.

    Feeling something was amiss, Xu Ziling asked, This ought to be the Zhuchi [person in charge/president/manager/director] of your honorable monastery Liao Kong Dashis residence, isnt it?

    Bu Chen nonchalantly replied, Shizhu wishes to see Miss Shi, naturally our Fangzhang ought to make the decision; why are you surprised? [Translators note: this is the only time the word Fangzhang (abbot) is being used, the rest are Zhuchi (see above) but for simplicity sake, I am going to use Abbot for both. (Besides, I feel weird calling Liaokong a manager or president of the Temple.]

    Xu Ziling knew it would not be this easy to see Shi Feixuan. He could only sigh inwardly as he followed Bu Chen climbing the stairs to enter the courtyard.

    The Abbot Courtyard was divided into three sections: front, center and rear. Entering the door, he was welcomed by a spacious but empty reception room. There was no furniture, only several portraits were hanging on two walls; apparently they were the portraits of the monasterys abbots throughout generations.

    Bu Chen asked Xu Ziling to wait here, while he proceeded into the inner room.

    Having nothing to do, Xu Ziling browsed the portraits on the wall. Although the portraits were all different, some were fat, some were thin, but the painting was meticulous and very detailed; the expressions were solemn, with an aura around the head of Buddha illuminating everything, the faces were kind, showing the appearance of great compassion and great sorrow of those who helped people from suffering and calamity. Next to each portrait was the caption, listing the name, the dates of taking the oath as a monk and entering the silence, and other pertinent information.

    The portraits were obviously arranged according to their date of service. When looking at the last portrait on the left wall, Xu Zilings heart was shaken; he walked closer to examine the portrait carefully. He saw an old monk whose beard and eyebrows were entirely white, with deep wrinkles crisscrossing his face. He appeared to be at least 70-something.

    The reason Xu Ziling jumped in fright was because the portrait had at least 80, 90% resemblance to the current Abbot, Liao Kong; it would be the portrait of Liao Kong when he grew old.

    While he was pondering whether the portrait was Liao Kongs father, which meant Liao Kong was inheriting his fathers cassock and alms bowl [usually passed on by a Buddhist master to his favorite disciple], he was shocked to find that the inscription next to the portrait only listed the date of taking the oath, without the date of death. He could not help sucking in a mouthful of cold air.

    Could it be that the old Liao Kong turned back into a child? From the old man in the portrait back to a man that looked to be in his forties? This fact was really extremely shocking.

    Bu Chens voice came from behind, That is the portrait of our humble temples Abbot fifteen years ago; at that time he had just entered the gate of Dhyana cultivation, hence he had someone paint the portrait.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Its really hard to believe that there is indeed divine skill and secret method to recover ones youthful vigor in the world.

    Bu Chen called one of the many names of Buddha with clasped palms and said, Dharma has no boundary; turn around and reach the shore. Our humble temples Abbot is waiting respectfully for Xu Shizhu in the center courtyard. Please!

    Xu Ziling turned around and saw that Bu Chen did not show any intention to lead him in. Thereupon he had no choice but to cup his fist in salute to express his gratitude, and walk toward the center courtyard alone.


    The wooden door closed behind him.

    It was a ten-zhang deep and wide, three-zhang high empty room, with blank walls on all four sides.

    Liao Kong was sitting cross-legged facing the wall, with his back against Xu Ziling.

    There was a closed door on either side of this able-to-recover-his-youth, powerful-to-reverse-the-rotation-of-the-sky senior monk, exuding some kind of profound-mystery atmosphere.

    With a wry smile on the corner of his lips, Xu Ziling spoke deferentially, Dashi, please bestow your decree.

    ※ ※ ※

    From the side hall Kou Zhong returned to the front reception hall; he was about to enter the main hall when he bumped into the graceful, cool and elegant Beautiful Barbarian Lady Linglong Jiao, who was always showing him dismissive attitude. Both sides did not expect to meet face to face on a narrow path like this. Having just received a bitter lesson from Dong Shuni, Kou Zhong struggled hard to control himself, and was only nodding as a courtesy to greet her.

    Against his expectation, this barbarian beauty revealed a rarely seen smile toward him, and then walking side by side with him, she said, Your battle at the Tianjin Bridge last night was really brilliant.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Miss Jiao is really formidable; unexpectedly you are able to fool so many peoples eyes and ears by hiding nearby.

    Linglong Jiao returned to her cool and detached expression and she spoke indifferently, Without this little bit of ability, how could I gather intelligence for Shangshu Daren?

    This woman was willing to converse with him; it was indeed a radical change of attitude.

    Kou Zhong was thinking about finding other topic when from the inner hall Xu Xingzhi was walking out in a hurry. Seeing Kou Zhong, he signaled him with his eyes not to say anything, and the he saluted and said, Daren is waiting for Kou Ye in the study room.

    Finished speaking he turned around and left.

    Halting her steps, Linglong Jiao said, Shangshu Daren must have something to discuss with you alone. Ill see you later.

    ※ ※ ※

    Half a day later Kou Zhong came to the study room. Wang Shichong waited until he closed the door and sat down in an imperial tutor chair by his left before saying, Fortunately last night you did not get beaten by the enemy. I had wanted to send people to help you, but we would only fall into their hands, it will be hard to keep up with them. Finally I could only hold back my troops without moving.

    And then he went on with a cold humph, Yang Dong and Dugu Feng are too despicable.

    Kou Zhong pretended to praise him, saying, Shangshu Daren, that was a brilliant move. Right now we need to show the enemy our weakness, in keeping with the School of the Militarys[1] main point of sending up the troops, dispatching a scheme. In term of strength, even with their tie to foreigner, the Dugu Clan still cannot do anything to us. Therefore, they can only rely on crafty plots and machinations to carry out their cold arrow stratagem. As long as we are a bit more careful, Dugu Feng can never prevail.

    Frowning, Wang Shichong said, Because Qu Ao was routed, Tiele people may be disregarded. But supposing Yin Gui Pai, Tuli and Yang Gong join hands, do we want to maintain our passive situation? One thing goes wrong, we might lose the Eastern Capital.

    Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong said, Tuli can also be disregarded, simply because my friend Ba Fenghan had just left Luoyang; no matter what, Tuli and Bixuans two disciples must pursue him to join the excitement. Yin Gui Pai, because they have to deal with Shi Feixuan, their number one enemy, will not dare to be overtly involved in this conflict. Besides, to some extent, they wish you could put Li Mi in order. At that time, after Du Fuwei acquire Jiangdu, he will go up north along the Canal.

    Astonished, Wang Shichong asked, How do you know Du Fuwei is going to attack Jiangdu?

    Naturally Kou Zhong did not wish to expose Song Jingang; he said, I have a bit of friendly relations with the Song Family, later on today I will meet with Song Lu at the House of Dong restaurant.

    Relieved, Wang Shichong said, This matter definitely gives me headache. The relationship between Du Fuwei and Shen Faxing has never been good, and now suddenly they become allies; it can clearly be seen how anxious they are about going up north.

    Nodding, Kou Zhong said, The current situation is obviously the struggle for Yellow River and the Canal; whoever can obtain Guanzhong and Luoyang, two big strategic cities at the same time, will be akin to half of the country falling into his bag. We must first take Hulao, Xingyang, and then move the troops straight to the west. At that time when you, Shengshang [Your Majesty], give command to the world, who will dare not to obey?

    Wang Shichong twirled his moustache and smiled, his eyes were gleaming full of hope and excitement. If I, Wang Shichong, become the lord of the new dynasty, you, Kou Zhong, will be the new dynastys prime minister. Are you ready? he said solemnly.

    Kou Zhong mused inwardly that only a fool would believe you. But on the surface he put on a dreamy look as he said in delight, Shangshu Daren holds this kid in such a high regard, I naturally am ten-thousand times grateful. But I want to set up a merit by defeating Li Mi first. At that time, when Shangshu Daren put me in important position, other people will have nothing to say.

    Wang Shichong chuckled loudly; and then putting on a mysterious expression he said, Whether we can lure Li Mi into sending out his troops, it depends on tomorrow nights arrangement. Let me have you meet my body double first.

    ※ ※ ※

    Liao Kong was wearing grey monk robe, with dark brown outer robe hanging on his shoulders. The empty spacious hall was quiet and noiseless.

    Xu Ziling stood with his hands behind his back, as if he had turned into another revered stone statue, aloof and detached from the mundane world, without the slightest hint of impatience.

    Quite a while later, Liao Kongs gentle voice spoke softly, Luoyangs temple, monastery and grotto, three famous scenic destinations, I wonder if Xu Shizhu has visited them?

    Xu Ziling was astonished inwardly. If Liao Kong had been speaking about anything else, even Buddhist terms and Buddhist allegory, he would not have been surprised. But he was referring to Luoyangs famous places, which has nothing to do with the current affairs wind, horse or ox. It really stumped him that he did not know how to respond.

    For lack of better option, he modestly asked, Would Dashi bestow me comprehensive revelation, please?

    Liao Kong glibly said, Temple is the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in the Central Plains, built during the Eastern Han [25-220 AD] Yongpings tenth year. In those days, when the two senior monks She Moteng and Zhu Falan were returning back from India, Buddhist scripture and Buddhist images were brought back on white horses, hence the name White Horse. This became the start of Buddhism in the Central Earth; therefore, the Temple has the reputation as the root of Buddhism and the ancestor hall. For Buddha believer who does not visit this temple, it would be a matter of lifelong regret.

    Thank you very much for Dashis enlightenment, Xu Ziling said, But I do not know where the White Horse Temple is located.

    Liao Kong replied indifferently, If Xu Shizhu is a person with aspirations, you will find out.

    Without waiting for Xu Ziling to respond, he continued, Monastery is the Laojun Monastery [Laozi or Lao-tze (c. 500 BC), founder of Taoism], located on the apex of the Cui Yun [lit. bluish-green cloud] Peak on Mount Mang, several li north of the city. Legend has it that it is the sacred place where Laozi Li Er concocted his pills of immortality. Unfortunately presently it is under the witches and demons control; the sacred place becomes demonic cave.

    Greatly surprised, Xu Ziling asked, How did that happen?

    Liao Kong calmly replied, There are a lot of things, which are inconvenient for Lao Na [lit. old cassock, a term used by old Buddhist monk to call himself] to tell you in details. Its just that seeing that Xu Shizhus learning came from the Taoist Schools [one of the schools mentioned in footnote 1] founder Guangcheng Zi, I mentioned it in passing.

    Every word that he said was shrouded in profound theory, which was so deep that it was difficult to understand.

    Liao Kong went on, As for the Grotto, it is the Longmen Grottoes, located south of our Temple about ten li away by the shore of Yi River. Due to the two mountains standing opposite to each other, which overlook it like imperial city watchtower, it is also known as the Yi Watchtower. On the cliffs along the shores on both sides of the river there are shrines and rock caves, big and small, extending continuously for several li. The scenery is stunning.

    And then he spoke in astonishment, Ah yes! What is the purpose of Xu Shizhus visit this time? Lao Na already forgot.

    Taken aback by his question, Xu Ziling said, I have forgotten as well. Thank you Dashi for giving me directions.

    Finished speaking he floated away from the Hall.

    ※ ※ ※

    A man, who, in terms of appearance and build, looked seventy, eighty-percent similar to Wang Shichong, entered the study room and prostrated himself to pay his respects, followed by Ouyang Xiyi, Linglong Jiao, Priest Ke Feng, Chen Changlin, the group of martial art masters, and then Wang Shichongs two sons, Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu, as well as the great generals Zhang Zhenzhou and Yang Gongqing.

    Just by looking at this ensemble of people, Kou Zhong knew that they had something important to discuss.

    After everybody was seated, with Kou Zhong occupying the head seat on the left, opposite to Ouyang Xiyi, who sat on the head seat on the right, and the lower seats started with Zhang Zhenzhou, and so on, Wang Shichong helped his body double standing up and proudly said to Kou Zhong, What do you think?

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, Definitely can pass off fish eyes for pearls [idiom: pass off fake products as genuine]. But under tomorrow nights circumstances, hey!

    Wang Shichong knew he wanted to speak his mind, hence he ordered his body double to leave first before speaking in delight, Now everybody is our own people, whatever you want to say, you may speak freely!

    Wang Shichongs eldest son, Wang Xuanying, whose appearance looked like he indulged too much in wine and women, proudly said, This is called train an army for a thousand days to use it for an hour [idiom; fig. extensive preparation eventually pays off]. Year before last Xuanying looked for and found this man from Guanzhou, and I personally trained and coached him. I guarantee no one will be able to see through.

    Just by looking at his expression, which showed that he was afraid others might not know his merit, people knew that this son cannot become a very capable person.

    Frowning, Ouyang Xiyi said, This man does not know martial art. Any expert who observes his every movement or watching him taking a couple of steps would immediately know that he is not Shichong Xiong himself.

    Planned in advance, Wang Shichong said, If anyone wanted to assassinate me, the best time would be on the way to the meeting, or perhaps on the way back. So having him sitting on the carriage will be enough.

    At this point everybody knew that Wang Shichong was definitely unwilling risk this danger.

    Priest Ke Feng frowned and said, This time we want the enemys assassination attempt to be successful, and that Shichong Xiong pretends to sustain injuries, only then will Li Mi be tempted to send his troops immediately. As soon as the so-called expert make his move, he would know the man has nothing in him. If he could be easily slaughtered, anybody would be suspicious instead; how could this scheme be successful?

    Wang Shichong happily said, That the is key point; behind the fake hides the real. I am going to hide inside the carriage compartment. If the enemy is too powerful that he can break into the carriage to kill, I will make a sudden appearance. It would be best if the incoming is Huang Gongcuo or perhaps You Chuhong of someone their caliber, so that after I injure them, I could pretend to fight desperately and sustain injuries. This way we can convince the enemy even more. Naturally I will need all of you to work together with me.

    Turning to Kou Zhong, he said, Kou Xiaoxiong, do you have anything else to say?

    Kou Zhong asked, Why wouldnt the enemy make their move during the banquet?

    Wang Xuanying replied on behalf of his father, The reason is very simple. This time Rong Fengxiang invited all celebrities from all parts of the country, who are currently in Luoyang, to the feast. At that time martial art masters will be as numerous as the cloud, and among them there is no lack of masters who have good relationship with us. Under this kind of circumstance, issuing public challenge will not be a problem, but assassination attempt? There will be too many variables; maybe they would fall until their head and face filthy with grime, and would have to bag the food before they could finish it.

    Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. I have nothing more to say, he spoke dejectedly.

    He originally had a lot of brilliant schemes, but seeing Wang Shichong obviously refused to risk himself to brave the danger, he had nothing to say.

    ※ ※ ※

    Stepping out of the main entrance of the Abbots room, Xu Ziling took a deep breath of fresh and clear air.

    A drizzle had just started falling from the sky, looking around, near and far, he did not see anybody.

    Everywhere in Jing Nian Chanyuan, he could feel the hidden Buddhism subtleties and Buddhist spirit.

    Take himself, for example, he was originally their enemy, but he did not sense the slightest degree of hostility.

    As if nothing has ever happened between them.

    He felt that his failure to meet Shi Feixuan was just proper and to be expected as a matter of course. If he was able to see Shi Feixuan, that would come as a surprise indeed.

    But in order to find peace in his heart, he must still pursue this matter to the end!

    What he wanted was to meet face to face with Shi Feixuan to resolve the problem of Jade Annulus of He Clan. Until this moment, he still believed that stealing the treasure was neither a bad thing nor a wrong thing. It was merely a strategy related to the power struggle to obtain the world.

    For a divine object like the Jade Annulus of He Clan, it was merely fulfilling its destiny.

    He slowly walked down the steps, and was just about to walk in the direction of the Fo Dao when he sensed a premonition in his heart.

    Just like something was waiting for him.

    Scanning the area around with his eyes, he noticed a bamboo forest on the left end of the Abbot Courtyard. After thinking for a moment, Xu Ziling decided to walk toward the forest.

    When he came near, he saw another stone path winding among the bamboo, which seemed to be snaking into a secluded distant place. Under the continuous drizzle, it looked particularly enchanting.

    Xu Ziling followed the path, turned around a corner, and was greeted by a wide-open space in front of him. Turned out the end of the path was the edge of a cliff. Not only it overlooked the mountain and wilderness, as well as cultivated fields far and near, it also offered a panoramic view of the City of Luoyang at the end of the eastern plain.

    Under the fine rain filling the sky, in this poetic and picturesque beautiful scenery, Shi Feixuan, wearing mens scholar attire, was standing gracefully overlooking the cliff, which extended as far as the end of the earth, her thoughts wandering far away.

    Xu Ziling respectfully saluted toward her jade back, and spoke sincerely, Miss is willing to make an exception by seeing me, Xu Ziling cant thank you enough.

    Shi Feixuan sighed gently. Stretching out her delicate and beautiful jade finger, she pointed at the City of Luoyang in the distance, and with a sadness of the country being wounded, she said, Since the time of Wei, Jin, and North-South dynasties, Luoyang has repeatedly become the battleground of various military forces; many times it was destroyed and collapsed, implicating common people and forced them into exile. The Central Plains situation is bleak; there is no smoke for a thousand li, hunger and cold flowing to perish, only to fill bottomless gorge. Other than that, does Xu Xiong know what else we lost?

    Although Xu Ziling had enough intelligence and wisdom, this moment he could only stare blankly and shook his head.

    As if she had eyes behind her head, Shi Feixuan seemed to see him shaking his head; she spoke indifferently, Luoyangs name came from a document from the Warring States period [475-221 BC], Strategies of the Warring States. Inside there is a reference of Su Qin going over Luoyang. Since then it was repeatedly chosen as the rulers city, and became our countrys cultural and economic center. During Northern Wei Dynasty, just Buddhist temples alone numbered 1367.

    Speechless, Xu Ziling asked, There are that many?

    Shi Feixuan continued, Luoyang tends to become our countrys cultural melting pot, just the library collection itself reaches seven thousand volumes. Moreover, it is a place derives reflected glory from an illustrious son [orig. illustrious hero, spirit of the place], renowned experts from successive generations come forth in large numbers. Cai Lun[2] produced his prototype Cai Hou Paper here; Zhang Heng created Armillary Sphere, Wind Observatory Instrument, and Seismograph; Ma Jun invented Mechanical Compass; Wang Chong wrote Measurement Theory; Ban Gu brother and sister wrote History of the Former Han Dynasty; Chen Shou compiled History of the Three Kingdoms. Chronicles of Luoyang Galan and Straddling Water Commentary were published here. Indeed the City of Luoyangs contribution to our country, no other place can match.

    Listening to her, Xu Ziling felt deep veneration. If he had not browsed through the short sketches Lu Miaozi handed down to him, listening to her this time, his mind would have been at a loss. This moment, although he still could not completely comprehend what she said, but at least he knew that Shi Feixuan was definitely an educated celestial being, conversant with things past and present.

    To him and Kou Zhong, no matter how many times they looked at Luoyang City, they would not have emotional stirring and make an associative connection like Shi Feixuan.

    She was grieved over Luoyangs more than a hundred years history.

    Shi Feixuans thoughts wandering far away as she said, Have Xu Xiong been to the Xin Tan [lit. new pool] at the northern market [or city]?

    Xu Ziling mused inwardly that coming and going, all he ever visited were the Luo River, the Heavenly Street, and Tianjin Bridge; perhaps for one thing or another he also went to the streets and lanes at the southern part of the city, but he had never been to the northern market area. Smiling wryly, he replied, I havent!

    Shi Feixuan said, In that case, Xu Xiong must see this place, which is known to be the largest collection of ships and boats in the world. At its peak, there were up to ten thousand ships and boats, large and small.

    And then she lowered her voice, The rise and fall of everything then and now, we only need to look at Luoyang City.

    Listening to the tone of her voice, which sounded like nature itself, like heavenly sound, telling him about the rise and fall, flourish and decline of Luoyang, a picture of Luoyang appeared in Xu Zilings mind, as if Luoyangs thousand-year history suddenly flashed through his mind. This feeling was both tragic and touching.

    The gentle and soft raindrops were falling gracefully on them.

    It was only the first time that Xu Ziling encounter this kind of person, who bemoaned the state of the universe and pity the fate of mankind like Shi Feixuan, an outstanding figure who had Bodhisattvas great compassion and great sorrow.

    All of a sudden he thoroughly understood Shi Feixuan looking for the Son of Heaven ordained by heaven, it was due to her great compassion to save mankind from the abyss of suffering [orig. deep water and scorching fire].

    [1] School of the Military, one of the Hundred Schools of Thought of the Warring States Period (475-220 BC).

    [2] Cai Lun (-121), inventor of the papermaking process. Zhang Heng (78-139), great Han dynasty astronomer and mathematician. Wang Chong (27-97), rationalist and critical philosopher. Ban Gu (32-92), Eastern Han dynasty historian. Chen Shou compiled 24 Dynastic Histories in 289 during Jin Dynasty, 65 scrolls.

  13. #193
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 16 Chapter 12

    Book 16 Chapter 12 Everything In The World Has Its Own Purpose

    Ouyang Xiyi, Priest Ke Feng, and Kou Zhong left the study room together.

    Priest Ke Feng asked Kou Zhong, Looking at Kou Xiao Xiongs expression, you dont seem too impressed at Shangshu Darens arrangement concerning his body double.

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, This proves that my cultivation is still shallow; a bit of worry and I cannot conceal it.

    Priest Ke Feng smiled and said, When we were young, who were not like that? Xiyi Xiong and I have been there.

    Ouyang Xiyi laughed and said, When I was Xiao Xiongdis age, I did not have that kind of ability.

    Priest Ke Feng said, Now its my turn to be on duty; Xiyi Xiong better use this time to cultivate your spirit. In these few days, hard fighting will be hard to avoid. Finished speaking, he stopped and saluted.

    Ouyang Xiyi and Kou Zhong continued side by side toward the main gate. He said, Shichong Xiong has really big face, unexpectedly he was able to invite Ke Feng, this kind of martial art master, to come and help him. Apparently his relationship with Laojun [Laozi/Lao-tze] Temple is not shallow at all.

    Kou Zhong casually asked, What kind of school is Laojun Temple? How come it has such a strange name?

    Ouyang Xiyi asked in surprise, The impression you are giving out is that you possess great magical power, but unexpectedly you dont know the Laojun Temple on the summit of Cuiyun Peak on Mount Mang north of Luoyang. This is really hard to believe.

    Kou Zhong stopped in front of the doorstep. Looking at the fine droplets of rain floating in the air outside the door, he said calmly, Therefore, it is very critical that Qianbei [older generation] gives more pointers to the kid; sometimes I am very muddleheaded.

    Ouyang Xiyi spoke in low voice, When I saw you for the first time, I was happy, and felt that you and I have a very close predestined affinity. But last night when I received news that you were besieged at the Tianjin Bridge, it was actually Laofu [old man, referring to self] who advocated strongly not to rush indiscriminately into action. On one hand its because I believed that you have a way to escape. The other reason was that this was obviously a trap. [Translators note: you here are plural.]

    This kid had no idea, Kou Zhong said.

    Ouyang Xiyi said, If I did not tell you, you would never know. But I especially mention this matter, because the one who advocated strongly to help you was Ke Feng. It can clearly be seen that he is quite fond on you.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, Based on his intelligence, how could he not know that it was a carefully laid plot?

    Ouyang Xiyi replied, At that time everybody was feeling something was amiss; just to deal with you, why did the Dugu Clan dispatch close to a thousand Imperial Bodyguards to blockade the streets and alleys? But we had no time to think it through. Fortunately there is an aid-cum-advisor under Shichong Xiongs command by the name of Xu Xingzhi who privately reminded Laofu. Otherwise I am afraid we would fall into the enemys evil plan.

    Kou Zhong smirked inwardly. Xu Xingzhi was indeed a talent; only a short time and he had already gained Ouyang Xiyis trust.

    Ouyang Xiyi patted his shoulder and said, Now Laofu is going back to my room to sit in meditation to cultivate my spirit. When you come back tonight, you may look for Laofu to have a drink and chat. Do you know how to play chess?

    I just watched other people play, Kou Zhong replied.

    Ouyang Xiyi laughed aloud and said, Affairs of life are just like the game of chess. If I were an expert in the arena of chess, you are a master chess player playing outside the chessboard. Be careful. People who want the head above your neck will be bashing sideways and colliding straight on to run into you!

    Finished speaking, he returned inside the Mansion happily.

    Inwardly, Kou Zhong was amused as well.

    Which move he ought to take now?

    As soon as he stepped over the doorstep, the guards on both sides immediately stood to salute him; none without expression full of respect.

    Kou Zhong knew that he has established fame for his fighting prowess in Luoyang. Did Miss take a carriage or ride a horse? he asked one of the guards.

    Miss rode away, the man blurted without thinking.

    Kou Zhong thought fast. He imagined the exquisite scene that would ensue as soon as Dong Shuni inquired Yang Xuyan, and this couple engaged in an illicit love affair found out that they had fallen into a trap. What kind of man Yang Xuyan was anyway? He did not appear to be someone who would be willing to accept an inferior status.

    Supposing Wang Shichongs deal with Li Shimin became reality, Dong Shuni thus became Li Yuans imperial concubine; wouldnt Yang Xuyan then become the man who had the first taste of Dong Wangfeis [princess] soup? How would this account be settled?

    Thinking to this point, Kou Zhong suddenly felt another headache coming.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling looked at Shi Feixuans moving back, which could make people all over the world, men and women, prostrate themselves in wholehearted admiration. That night at the Tianjin Bridge, Miss basically did not sustain injury at all? he asked in heavy voice.

    Finally Shi Feixuan turned her tender body around. Her lucid-and-elegant-without-equal jade countenance showed astonishment for the first time; after carefully sizing him up for half a day, she spoke softly, Was it just Xu Xiongs wild guess, or your eyesight is so brilliant that you are able to see through my condition?

    Remaining tranquil and calm, Xu Ziling replied, It was purely a kind of intuition.

    Shi Feixuan sighed and said, In that case Xu Xiong is indeed a man with intelligent and wisdom. But I really received a bit of internal injury, only it was not as heavy as I let on. By the time I step off of the Tianjin Bridge, I have fully recovered.

    After a short pause, she revealed a sweet smile, with a hint of innocence in it, her pretty eyes full of meaning, as she said, Does Xu Xiong know why Feixuan played such a deceptive trick?

    Confronted with such an expression, which rarely appeared on her face, Xu Zilings heartstrings received an intense shock; but in the blink of an eye later he regained his composure, and replied with a smile, Did Miss want to fool Wanwan?

    With her pair of eyes, which were more limpid than a vast and deep autumn pool, she revealed another sweet, extremely moving, smile.

    Seeing how under her constant stares Xu Ziling was able to remain elegant, confident and at ease, his demeanor and movements remain natural, Shi Feixuans fragrant heart was even more astonished.

    If it were other men that she encountered, other than Hou Xibai, under this circumstance, they would either be at a loss to know what to do, or would be flustered. None would be like this person, who was completely unaffected by her intimidating gaze.

    Shi Feixuans elegant, clear and captivating jade countenance revealed a deep, thoughtful but charming smile, as she spoke slowly, Nobody can deceive me, but the one I wanted to deceive was you, Xu Ziling. Otherwise, Feixuan would not have any excuse to retreat.

    Xu Ziling finally broke down; his handsome face slightly blushed, he said, Miss remark is indeed beyond my expectation. Miss could not possibly think that I am related to the Jade Annulus of He Clans theft?

    Shi Feixuan spoke gently, Exactly the opposite. I knew from the start that it was you who stole the Jade Annulus of He Clan.

    At a loss, Xu Ziling said, Zaixia is even more confused now. Why did Miss deliberately let me off?

    Shi Feixuan cheerfully replied, Finally you are willing to admit that you are the thief who stole the treasure!

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, That is precisely the reason I came to pay a formal visit to Miss. You can put any debt on my account. But I will definitely not wait helplessly for death, although I will never harm anybody in the Temple either.

    A look of pity appeared on Shi Feixuans face; she sighed and said, Although the Secret to Long Life can make you step up into the rank of top martial art experts, but it also made you nearly suffer fire-deviation. In here, other than Feixuan, Liao Kong Dashi also has the ability to put you to death. Xu Xiong, is it possible for you to tell me, you were fully aware that you were going to throw your life away, yet you still came here?

    Shrugging his shoulders, Xu Ziling said, The main reason is that because you are doing your utmost for the people, but in itself you people are not seeking after personal gain, making me feel that deceiving you is some kind of a sin.

    Shi Feixuan moved closer step-by-step; she said, Isnt stealing the treasure a sin? Why did Xu Xiong deliberately commit a crime?

    Xu Ziling laughed hoarsely and said, I want to ask Miss a question first. If his opponent was a virtuous and benevolent ruler, would Li Shimin abandon his desire to strive for the world?

    Not only Shi Feixuan was not offended, she found it very interesting instead. I did not expect Xu Xiong to be an eloquent scholar, she said, But returning to the original topic, where exactly is the Jade Annulus of He Clan?

    Xu Ziling dejectedly replied, To be honest with you, if the Jade Annulus of He Clan is in my hands, perhaps I would really return it to you. Unfortunately the Jade Annulus of He Clan is finished!

    Shi Feixuans jade countenance did not show the least bit of emotion; she quietly looked at him for half a day. Finally she sighed tenderly and said, Unexpectedly, two secrets, which for thousands of years have passed through countless venerable forebears, sages and scholars exhausting their thoughts to penetrate without any result, the first being the Secret to Long Life, and the second being the Jade Annulus of He Clan, had both been uncovered by you. If this is not fate, I dont know what it is.

    Greatly astonished, Xu Ziling said, So just like that, and you understand what I am saying?

    Shi Feixuan spoke tenderly, As early as when we met for the first time at the bridgehead, I have already sensed it, nevertheless it was hard to believe, and only now I can verify; what else can I say? Even if I kill you, this matter cannot be mended.

    Xu Ziling asked in surprise, Is it just my imagination? Miss does not seem to care about the Jade Annulus of He Clans existence or demise.

    Shi Feixuan replied indifferently, Everything in the world has its own purpose. The Jade Annulus of He Clan was this kind of rare, strange object that had its destiny to transmit qi, it would not have come around with the slightest amount of effort. Xu Xiong, please leave!

    She was willing to let him go, Xu Ziling should have wiped his forehead and hasten to leave, yet this moment it looked like he would rather receive a beating or a hard lesson from her. With a rueful smile he saluted and turned around.

    But after walking in the rain for five, six steps, he could not help stopping and asked, Could Miss reveal in details: why did you fake an injury that night and let us off?

    Shi Feixuans tranquil and elegant voice came from behind, Because Feixuan started to feel compassion on you. Is this answer forthcoming enough?

    Xu Ziling laughed involuntarily; he continued walking leisurely.

    Shi Feixuan looked intently at his proud-and-aloof, above-the-crowd, back, all the way until he disappeared in the depth of the forest before she regained her gaze.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong urged his horse to gallop out of the Imperial City; another thorn seemed to grow in his heart, giving him a gloomy mood, and it was hard to divert himself from loneliness.

    What troubled him most was Wang Shichongs timidity [orig. afraid of the head, terrified of the tail]. The originally flawless plans have become neither soup nor water, so that he did not know whether to laugh or to cry.

    Wang Shichong himself was a top-ranking martial art master. With him in full alert, plus Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling by his side to protect him, feigning injury under assassins attack ought to be an easy matter.

    Although based on his current insight Kou Zhong did not think too highly of Shen Luoyans martial art skill, but he was quite wary toward her cunning and resourcefulness.

    Were it not for a freak combination of many factors, plus fate and happenstance, perhaps they, two brothers, would have been killed under her hands long ago.

    Therefore, troops disposition must be freely and effortlessly [orig. as the arm moves the finger]; otherwise, even if Sun Wu[1] were reborn, Wu Hou[2] resurrected, there would be nothing that they could do.

    While thinking to this point, he already turned toward the Heavenly Street.

    The House of Dong Restaurant towered by the bridgehead, together with the other three multistory building, they set each other off nicely.

    Pedestrians and carriages flowed in an endless stream along the Heavenly Street. On the River ships and boats also coming and going continuously. The drizzle added some kind of hard-to-describe endless-entanglement atmosphere and charm.

    It was still half a sichen away from the wu hour [noon].

    Would Xiao Ling be able to rush back in time to join him for the meeting?

    While thinking about it, he already passed the Tianjin Bridge and galloped toward the south gate.

    At a stretch Kou Zhong passed three mule carts and two horse-drawn carriages. He was having so much fun.

    Galloping along downtown area like this, when he was still in Yangzhou in the past, all he could do was watching other people with envy; who would have thought that now he also had the opportunity to enjoy the same experience.

    This moment he saw on the pedestrian lane to his left a group of beautiful non-Han women wearing beautiful damask silk clothing of all kinds of color and style, walking toward him, greeting him with their eyes, and even throwing amorous glances toward him.

    Kou Zhong immediately displayed his snow-white and neat teeth, and flashed his brilliant smile in return, inciting their pretty eyes to shine as they burst into tender laughter.

    Kou Zhong was greatly amused; he showed off by spurring his horse to full speed. But as he passed two riders, fast as lightning, an alarm suddenly went off in his heart.

    A barely visible dark shadow shot out from the pedestrian lane to his right, diagonally cutting through the gap between a galloping horse-drawn carriage and a walking mule cart, coming straight toward him with astonishing speed and accuracy. By the time Kou Zhong perceived the dark shadow to be a long, shiny hair, it already entered the horses right nostril.

    The most brilliant aspect of this sneak attack was that it utilized the two vehicles as a cover. By the time the target was aware of the attack, it was already too late to react.

    If the hairs target was Kou Zhongs person, he would definitely be able to dodge the attack in timely manner; however, this time it was his horse that was hit by the sneak attack.

    The horse neighed in pain, reared on its hind legs, and fell down to the right. Following the horse, Kou Zhong was thrown forward that his head and face were covered in dirt. Springing up, he leaped over the carriages, dashing toward the direction of the secret projectile, his heart flew into rage.

    Traffic on the street was immediately thrown into confusion, everybody scrambled away as they cast sidelong glances toward him.

    After struggling for a moment, the horse crawled back up. Obviously, this strand of hair was meant to play a trick, without any real intention to harm the horse.

    But Kou Zhong was in high spirit when it happened, so he was angry of losing face.

    His toes pushed on the top of a carriage, which happened to travel along the carriage lane across the street from his side of the pedestrian lane, and borrowing the reaction force, he shot up just in time to catch a glimpse of a graceful womans back side, which disappeared into a side lane. This woman was wearing red warrior outfit, so it was a highly-visible target.

    Kou Zhong abruptly raised a mouthful of true qi. Unable to deal with the shock, he leaped overhead the passers-by toward the roof of a general store to pursue the enemy. These days, it was the first time he had to suffer such a loss of face in public; no matter what, he could not swallow this resentment.

    In the distance, the alluring red shadow flashing and disappearing over the roof, as if it was enticing him to pursue her.

    By now Kou Zhong was both very skillful and very daring; knowing well that it might be a trap, he remained calm without any fear, as he pursued at full speed.

    In one breath, they passed over a dozen buildings. When he dropped down to the ground to cross a side street, the woman suddenly appeared ahead of him.

    Shaken, Kou Zhong abruptly halted his step and said in astonishment, Its you!

    Surprisingly, it was Hong Funu [red brush lady], who snatched Li Jing away from Susus hands.

    Perhaps Hong Funu liked the color red very much, because not only the whisk in her hand was blood red like it was on fire, which vying to be the most glamorous against her red clothing, she was wearing an alternating red and white flowers hairpin on her jet-black and shiny hair. Combined with her icy flesh and jade bones, not only she did not look tacky at all, she appeared extraordinarily cool, elegant and graceful instead.

    For some unknown reason, the fire in Kou Zhongs heart disappeared for the most part. While he was musing inwardly on which woman, if she was wearing red clothes, would look better than she, Hong Funu let out a cold laugh and said, This time I played a trick to lure you here, purely because of personal gratitude and grudges; it has nothing to do with Qin Wang, so you dont have to worry that anybody else will be involved.

    Kou Zhong took a step forward, and asked with a frown, What gratitude and grudges is there between you and me?

    Hong Funus beautiful eyes shot fierce and harsh look, but the tone of her voice was extraordinarily calm. She replied slowly, Were it not for you, two guys, deliberately distorting the truth [orig. inverting black and white] and did not distinguish right from wrong, my Fujun [lit. husband lord] would not have sighed long and short, and being miserable and depressed all day. Considering the current virtuous cause, if you can get back on the right path, it is not too late. Otherwise, dont blame me for being ruthless.

    Kou Zhong felt a big headache coming.

    Just by looking at her skill in using her beautiful hair as a secret projectile a moment ago, he knew that her name was not in vain. In terms of internal strength, technique, and eyesight, she has reached the realm of top-notch martial art master.

    Upon self-inspection, Kou Zhong had to admit that he could not do it, while she succeeded in just one strike.

    He was not really afraid of her, simply because he had never had a chance to face concealed weapon before.

    The biggest problem was that no matter how he loathed Li Jing, he would never have the heart to kill this beautiful and alluring, tender wife of his, who came to deal with him. With the exception of Wanwan, it was usually very easy for him to be softhearted toward women.

    In this kind of situation, the opponent was going all out to attack him, while he was having misgivings in his heart; naturally he would be greatly disadvantaged.

    Hong Funu thought that he was contemplating her advice seriously, hence she waited patiently; she would never imagine that whats going on in his mind was a completely different thing.

    It was quite half a day later that Kou Zhong sighed and asked, How did Madame meet Li Jing?

    Hong Funu crossly said, You answer my question first.

    Kou Zhong dispiritedly replied, I dont want to fight with you.

    Hong Funus jade countenance turned cold; she spoke heavily, In that case you are obstinately clinging to your course, obstinately persisting in going about things the
    wrong way.

    Sneering, Kou Zhong retorted, This is not obstinately persisting in going about things the
    wrong way, but everybody has his own aspiration. I would like to ask: who does not think that what he is doing is the most proper thing?

    Murderous aura flashed through Hong Funus eyes. She spoke slowly, word-by-word, If not for considering that you were once my Fujuns brothers, I would have made my move early on to kill you. Right or wrong, we can always argue about it. But merely the fact that you stole the Jade Annulus of He Clan is already a capital offense that is difficult to forgive.

    Under her as-sharp-as-double-edged-sword gaze, Kou Zhong did not yield the slightest bit; he spoke heavily, This time you are looking for me, is Li Jing aware of it?

    Hong Funus eyes revealed a pained look; raising her whisk, she shouted tenderly, En garde!

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud while floating back.

    He only withdrew for half a zhang back when he suddenly realized that because he did not have the heart to fight, he had made a very serious mistake.

    Tian Ce Fus [Heavenly Policy Mansion] number one martial art master was really not equal to any ordinary person.

    ※ ※ ※

    The city gate in sight, Xu Ziling spurred the horse to full speed so that he would not be late for the appointment.

    Toward the chivalrous and passionate hero Song Lu, he has always had high esteem, and after all, he was the uncle of Song Shidao.

    He had never imagined that Song Shidao was a man with deep passion and heavy righteousness.

    Because of his own humble background, he had never had any favorable impression toward the children and disciples of prominent school and large and influential family. But Song Lu and Song Shidao changed his mind.

    Song Yuzhi was also a good woman, unfortunately

    While he was thinking about these things, a dozen or so riders coming straight ahead side by side with each other, forming a horizontal line, practically blocking the road.

    Xu Ziling promptly reined his horse. Turned out they were Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister, plus a group of Tujue martial art masters. Every one of them looked grave, with thick murderous intent on their faces.

    Xu Ziling groaned inwardly. This moment it was already too late for him to evade. Without any better option he urged his horse to forge ahead.

    [1] Sun Wu, also known as Sun Tzu (c. 500 BC, dates of birth and death uncertain), general, strategist and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period (700-475 BC), believed to be the author of the Art of War, one of the seven Military Classics of ancient China.

    [2] Wu Hou [Marquis of ZhongWu], aka Zhuge Liang (181 234), courtesy name Kongming, was a chancellor (or prime minister) of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period. He is recognized as the most accomplished strategist of his era, comparable to Sun Tzu.


  14. #194
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 17 Chapter 1

    Book 17 Chapter 1 Surrounded by Distinguished Friends

    Hong Funus speed was high, her shenfa beautiful; she was everything Kou Zhong expected her to be.

    The one giving him most headache was her red whisk. Together with her amazing shenfa, they formed seamless heavenly clothes [i.e. flawless], making Kou Zhong practically unable to dodge, which forced him to retreat, and thus giving the opponent the free rein to unleash her swift and fierce offensive, which surged like the waves of Yangtze River.

    Momentarily the whisk shadow flared out, like a whirlwind it rolled Kou Zhong inside the violent gale of raging sea of powerful offensive.

    And by this time, it was already too late for Kou Zhong, who was not in the mood to zealously continue fighting, to draw his Moon in the Well, so he could only rely on his bare hands to cope with this red-clothed beauty storming him with relentless hard attack from the air.

    Worse yet, her whisk could be stiff and could be flexible; it could circle and rotate as she wished, the thread brush, which reached three chi in length, was able to move freely as if it had eyes of its own, like a viper that bore through every gap in the opponents line of defense. Even the handle of the whisk could be used to pierce acupoint and stab arteries and veins, totally overbearing, extremely fierce.

    From the beginning she has launched speed-against-speed type of desperate combat, so that the opponent did not even have time to take a breather.

    Kou Zhong has fallen into a completely passive, defensive position; he could only meet a move by a move, waiting painstakingly for an opportunity to strike back.


    The thread brush swiped Kou Zhongs left arm, shattering his sleeve, and creating more than a dozen bloody stripes on his flesh. This was Kou Zhongs conscious decision. Just before the opponents ruthless whisk stab the pit of his stomach, relying on his speed he spun around while traversing sideways, so that he was able to evade the hit on his vital acupoint.

    In order to withstand the opponents attack, combined with her swift and severe footwork, which was like sudden and violent attack of ambushing troops, he simply had to watch for any opportunity in the midst of Hong Funus flowing-mercury like whisk style he could exploit.

    More than a dozen scorching qi power burst into his body.

    Kou Zhong knew that if he let this situation to continue, he would end up as a dead body lying on this side street.

    Hastily he raised up a mouthful of true qi, not only to neutralize the opponents invading qi power, but also to focus the power in his entire body into launching a palm chop. In this critical moment, Kou Zhong unleashed the power from the Secret to Long Life and the Jade Annulus of He Clan to the fullest.

    Although Hong Funu gained the upper hand, Kou Zhongs seemingly plain, nothing-special move made her feel as if she had no way to block or to defuse.

    Kou Zhongs palm strike was actually made of a succession of moves strung together. It was only through countless confusing-the-enemy changes that he achieved the ultimate position that rendered her completely unable to grasp the sudden outburst of the palm momentum.

    Plus all the moves were wonderful as if made by heaven, fused together into one indivisible entity. Furthermore, it synched well with his body, giving the impression that all his power and his entire body and mind have synthesized into this one palm strike.

    The most frightening aspect was that she originally thought to follow up the victory by revolving her whisk to sweep his face, but since Kou Zhongs palm cut through the gap, he practically sealed her attack path completely.

    Left with no choice, she had to meet the enemys attack head on. Lowering her wrist to stab downward, she used fantastic changes of technique to blur her movements so that what is true and what is false was difficult to tell.

    The whisk appeared to be attacking the qi acupoint on his lower abdomen, but in reality, the brush was flicking upward to strike the artery on the opponents right wrist.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud, his palms momentum did not change, only it suddenly turned direction as it moved sideways and up at an angle, the tip of his palm shot toward the beautys sleek and graceful neck. The qi power created swishing noise.

    Hong Funu had never imagined that Kou Zhong would have this kind of amazing move where he was able to flip his defensive position into offensive. Although she did not want to admit it, but deep down she knew that the opponent has already seen through her whisk technique. Letting out a tender shout she pulled her whisk back, while her legs moved lightning fast to kick five times in a row.

    It was only this moment that Kou Zhong found the chance to strike back. With a long laugh he made a somersault over Hong Funus head, both palms pressed down, without the slightest trace he evaded this younger womans kicking technique, which had made him ashamed of being inferior, by dodging the strong to attack the weak.

    Like a tornado the violent spiraling energy enveloped Hong Funu.

    Hong Funu snorted coldly. The whisk rose up, it lashed toward the hollow of Kou Zhongs palm pressing down on her.


    Qi power collided.

    While Hong Funus tender body was severely shaken, Kou Zhong soared high into the air; amidst his laughter, he called out, Saozi [sister-in-law] is indeed formidable. Xiaodi is ashamed of being inferior, hence I can only run for my life.

    He continued high into the air, and disappeared without any trace.

    Hong Funu stomped her feet in anger, but knew that she would never be able to pursue him.

    However, being called sister-in-law by him, plus recalling that he had never pulled his saber, she could not stop the ill will toward him in her heart from somewhat diminishing.

    Now she understood why her husband Li Jing valued his brotherhood with those two.

    ※ ※ ※

    Tuoba Yu spurred his horse to move forward, and stopped next to Xu Zilings horse. Smiling wryly, he said, Xu Xiong and Kou Xiong are figures that Zaixia, after my arrival at the Central Plains, has the highest regards. Being forthcoming and holding up comradeship, my real intention is to wholeheartedly make friends with you, who would have thought that the situation deteriorated to such degree, which made me feel that it is a great pity.

    Xu Ziling heaved a sigh of relief inwardly. He originally thought that the opposite party wanted to fight, but listening to the tone of his voice, it did not appear to be so. Nodding his head, he said, In life, it is difficult to have everything exactly like what we are hoping for. But even though we do not share the same viewpoint, I, Xu Ziling, still consider Tuoba Xiong as a friend, and what we have promised, we will never renege.

    Naturally Tuoba Yu knew that he was referring to the Secret to Long Life. Delighted, he said, I never thought Xu Xiong would go back on your word either, because you are basically not that kind of person.

    And then, lowering his voice, he said, You might not believe it, but Tuli Khan actually has a very high regard toward the two of you. Its just that due to that kid Ba Fenghan between us, it was hard to talk about making friends. But now that Ba Fenghan is gone, we ought to be able to sit together and talk.

    At first Xu Ziling was stunned, but then he recalled that Tujue peoples desire was the more chaotic the Central Plains, the better it would be for them. And Kou Zhong was certainly a master in creating chaos and destroying the balance of power. Immediately he understood the reason behind Tuli wanted to express goodwill toward them.

    Changing the topic, he said, Tuoba Xiongs news is indeed fast and abundant; we have just sent Fenghan Xiong off, you already tucked your tail and pursue him.

    Tuoba Yu snorted coldly and said, If such trivial ability we did not have, how could we go back and report to our Shizun [venerable master]?

    And then he sighed and said, The most unbelievable thing was that every time we came across this kid, his power seemed to be progressing one layer. And now even Qu Ao was defeated under his hands. I only want to ask one thing: does he also suffer serious internal injury from the battle against Qu Ao? Ay! I really shouldnt ask you this question.

    Xu Ziling had quite a good impression toward this mystifying Tujue young martial art master. Smiling wryly, he replied, How should I answer your question?

    Tuoba Yus spirit rose. You already tell me the answer, he said, Honestly speaking, if he was not injured, even if we could catch up with him, theres not much we could do. But now it seems like we still have a chance to try our best.

    Before Xu Ziling had a chance to respond, from the other side Chunyu Wei impatiently waved her horsewhip and called out tenderly, Hey Shixiong! Is it my turn to talk yet?

    ※ ※ ※

    From the roof, Kou Zhong jumped down onto a side lane, and made a turn toward the Heavenly Street. Although his left arm, which was hit by the whisk, was no longer bleeding, but the whole arm was still throbbing with pain; the wound felt scorching hot.

    He still had lingering fear toward Hong Funus whisk technique, which had reached perfection.

    What saved his life was actually Fu Junyus Yijian Technique, which came from his own comprehension.

    In all honesty, under Hong Funus whisk technique, which dazzled his eyes, even a simple block already entailed extremely strenuous effort on his part, much less trying to predict her attack route and think about a move to counter it.

    However, the moment he was hit by the whisk, her whisk technique revealed a tiny gap, which enabled him to rouse his spirit so that he was able to somewhat seize the initiative.

    It was just a fleeing moment, yet one that he was able to accurately grasp, and subsequently exhausting his power in that one palm strike. Not only it turned the situation around, but also because his palm regained the initiative, he was able to execute the Yijian Technique flawlessly.

    It was just like a game of chess; he launched an amazing move that made the opponent had no choice but to respond, thereby he was able to grasp where the opponents chess piece would move to.

    And so his understanding of Yijian Technique was another layer deeper.

    This moment he walked among the crowd toward the Tianjin Bridge, and reached the House of Dong Restaurants main gate. As he was about to enter, someone called out from behind, Kou Xiong, please wait!

    ※ ※ ※

    Slightly blushing, Chunyu Wei said, Starting last night, I kind of like you.

    Xu Ziling, sitting on the horseback, listening with rapt attention, jumped in fright. What? he blurted out.

    Fortunately, Tuoba Yu has returned among the Tujue warriors, about five zhang away; otherwise, if he heard it, Xu Ziling would be embarrassed.

    This girl made a show of being very much in earnest to talk to him, but he had never imagined that she would say such thing.

    Evidently Chunyu Wei was not too happy with his reaction; pouting her small mouth, she said, Whats so strange about it? The men I like the most are those who are spirited and forthright, not like stupid bird who get deceived and swindled left and right. It was just because you are unlike Kou Zhong, who are always showing off his crafty and sly nature, that I did not notice you. Thats all.

    And then, Hee she giggled, exposing her snow white and neat, adorable pearly white teeth, while her eyes showed a dreamy look, and she said tenderly, Who would have thought that your craftiness is hidden well inside your belly, so that we could only watch helplessly as you guys slipped away easily.

    Xu Ziling did not know whether to laugh or cry, but he also felt big headache. Smiling wryly, he said, I merely trying to find a way to escape in order to stay alive! How could you use the word crafty to describe me? And didnt you say you like Kou Zhong?

    Chunyu Wei cast him a sidelong glance and said, I like both of you! Ay! I have to go. Arent you going to say a few affectionate words for me? Will you come to Tujue to look for me?

    Xu Ziling awkwardly said, In my opinion, you picked the wrong target of affection. If I was really crafty, I would have known how to coax you right now. Unfortunately, I cant even hold my own. Is there anything you want me to pass on to Kou Zhong? Pursuing people is like putting off fire, Miss must not lose the opportunity for the sake of a stupid bird like me.

    Not only Chunyu Wei did not pout playfully, she appeared to be in high spirit instead, almost to the point of euphoria, I like what you said so much. Capable men are not afraid the women they love would look down on them. If I am late, Ill come back to look for you two. Ay Actually, Ba kid is also not bad; if he did not kill Da Shixiong [first martial brother], that would be much better!

    Xu Zilings opinion on her rose up significantly. The most adorable aspect of this nave, passionate young girl was her honesty and forthcoming, her hot pursuit of the bright side of life.

    Chunyu Wei smiled sweetly, and lowering her voice even more, she said, Tell Kou Zhong to be careful of Tuli; he is a crafty and cunning schemer. Shizun has never liked him. Yu Wei has to go now! Hee Its very rare that good-looking men like you and Kou Zhong also have heroic and lofty quality.

    Xu Ziling was anxious of being late. Hearing her last remark, he felt as if he had just received the Emperors amnesty. After mumbling some kind of farewell, he spurred his horse to gallop away.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong turned around to look; surprisingly it was Tuli and a group of Tujue martial art masters. They were jumping down their horses.

    Tuli let one of his subordinate to take care of his horse, while as if he was an old friend he came over to Kou Zhong and said with a smile, If Kou Xiong is alone, how about eating lunch together? I have an appointment with Shimin Xiong to meet here.

    Kou Zhong walked side by side with him toward the restaurants front steps. Pretending to be pleased, he said, Khans good intention is highly appreciated. But not only I do have an appointment myself, last night I had a falling out with Shimin Xiong; if we eat at the same table, perhaps it will affect his appetite. Ha! We will always have another opportunity in the future.

    In his heart he was secretly wondering, Tuli and he could neither be considered friends nor foes, why suddenly be this amiable to him? Tuli was proud and arrogant, but with his status as the king of Tujue nation, he was willing to lower his voice and downplay his air; it may be assumed that he had some scheme to play.

    Tuli halted his steps, and asked in low voice, Has Ba Fenghan left?

    Following his example, Kou Zhong also stopped, and said in astonishment, Khan has been in Luoyang for not too many days, yet your eyes and ears are this fast and abundant?

    Tulis group of Tujue martial art masters formed a ring around them, adopting a stance of stopping anybody from walking too close to these two men, so that the guests entering the restaurant had to walk a few paces farther around them; they looked rather overbearing.

    Tuli laughed and said, To be quite honest, in a world-class strategic city like Luoyang, how could we not have eyes and ears? Much less Kou Xiong, three men, flaunted your prowess by openly riding out the gate. If we were still at a loss, do we even need to mingle in the Central Plains?

    Kou Zhong smiled and replied, Since Khan is able to see through our deliberate ostentatious display, you must also know that Ba Xiong has some other clever method that he is not afraid of being tracked!

    A murderous aura flitted through Tulis eyes, but it vanished as quickly. He calmly said, Ba Fenghan may be able to evade other people, but definitely he wont be able to avoid Ba Daier. One, because she is well acquainted with all Ba Fenghans tactics. Two, because her Enshi [benevolent master] Zhao Deyan Guoshi [teacher of the state, Athena translated it as Imperial High Priest (as in Jinlun Guoshi, her note on 3rd Edition of Return of the Condor Heroes)] has passed on to her the matchless-under-the-heavens pursuing-and-tracking skill. So Ba Fenghans counting his chickens before they are hatched plan will certainly fail.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Even if you can overtake him, what can you do to him?

    Tuli laughed calmly and said, If we continued talking like this, we will end up opposing each other with equal harshness again. Frankly speaking, I really admire Kou Xiongs style in handling matters, and really wish that we could convert an enemy into a friend. If we can look for possibilities for cooperation, it will be greatly beneficial, without bringing any harm, to both sides.

    Kou Zhong replied indifferently, Khan thinks so highly of Xiaodi, it really makes me overwhelmed by favor [from superior]. Someday when we have a chance to raise our wine cup and chat in details, we will think about some mutually profitable grand projects.

    Delighted, Tuli said, Kou Xiong is indeed a man who has a clear view of things as well as knowing your surrounding; you will have great prospects for the future. When the time is ripe, I will pay special visit to you.

    Kou Zhong seized this opportunity to take his leave and continue climbing up the stairs. But in his heart he was still pondering and speculating on what did Tuli mean by his remark, when the time is ripe.

    ※ ※ ※

    Trailing a group of seven or eight riders, Xu Ziling entered the spacious outer courtyard of the House of Dong Restaurant. Only after entering the door did he notice that one of those men was surprisingly Li Shimin. But he did not see either Li Jing or Hong Funu. Already too late to avoid him, he could only hope that Li Shimin would not see him.

    Who would have thought that everybody in Li Shimins group seemed to be alerted at the same time; they all looked at him.

    Bracing himself, Xu Ziling said, What a coincidence, Shimin Xiong also came here.

    Li Shimin revealed a slightly pleasantly surprised smile; hastening over to him, he said, I was just looking for Ziling Xiong for a chat, who would have thought I bump into you in here.

    All his escorts were smiling amiably; there was not the least bit of swords-drawn-bows-bent sentiment on them. But Xu Ziling still felt that their eyes were looking for any flaw or weakness in him; nothing seemed to escape their gaze.

    Li Shimin cheerfully said, Let Xiaodi introduce Ziling Xiong. This one here is Yuchi Jingde Xiong. Not only is he proficient in the art of war, he is also an expert in using lance and mace. His name shakes the Jianghuai.

    Yuchi Jingde, who looked to be about twenty-five, twenty-six years old, took a step forward, and cupped his fist to salute.

    At first glance this mans physique did not look either big or tall, hence he did not particularly attract attention. Yet he was able to make Xu Ziling had a deep, unforgettable impression on him, because he was standing erect with stable-as-a-mountain air, and carried a stream of murderous-looking momentum around him; a clear display of out-of-the-ordinary power and charisma, with the confidence of a fierce general who treated the enemys magnificent army with thousands of men and horses as nothing.

    His face had some kind of plain and simple, inelegant, and boorish flavor, but his eyes were flickering with spirited light, so that others knew that he was not someone who could be easily bullied.

    While Xu Ziling was sizing him up, he still fixed his attention respectfully. I believe very soon I will be able to ask Xu Xiong for advice on the outstanding consummate skill you got from the Secret to Long Life! he said with a smile.

    Naturally Xu Ziling understood the meaning behind his remark; he only smiled but did not say anything.

    Another man took a step forward and introduced himself, Zaixia Pang Yu. I have seen Xu Xiong before.

    Xu Zilings eyes lit up suddenly.

    This man was tall and handsome; rarer still, his build was well proportioned, and there was nothing he could pick about. Moreover, he appeared svelte and forthright, giving the impression of a refined, educated gentleman, an expert in diplomacy, yet without being too wordy.

    These two were key persons within Li Shimins Heavenly Policy Mansion, and formidable opponents to Kou Zhong and he.

    Standing behind Pang Yu slightly to the side was a seemingly gentle scholar in scholarly attire, on his fair and comely face there seemed to hang a perpetual smile of someone who always planned in advance, someone who speak unhurriedly, and was always calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos.

    By the time Li Shimin introduced this man was Zhangsun Wuji, Xu Ziling immediately recalled that this man and Yuchi Jingde were the two men Kou Zhong particularly mentioned; Xu Ziling could not help shivering inwardly.

    Yuchi Jingde exuded domineering prowess without appearing angry. Together with Pang Yus heroic suave manners, and Zhangsun Wujis unfathomable depths, have stirred up the vigilance in Xu Zilings heart.

    As for the remaining three men, they were Luo Shixin, Shi Wanbao, and Liu Dewei; all were martial art masters with refined and amassed qi within their bodies. Just from these six men, one could have a glimpse of Li Shimins astonishing strength.

    After the introduction, Li Shimin warmly pulled Xu Zilings elbow to have him walking side-by-side with him, and said in a low voice, Last night Xiaodi had a detailed chat with Mr. Li Jing

    Hearing the name Li Jing, Xu Ziling immediately stopped his steps and cut him off, Everybody has his own aspiration, and nobody can force it on anybody else. Shimin Xiong must not consider Kou Zhongs normally frivolous manners. The fact is that he really has his own strong views; his determination will not be easily swayed by others.

    Li Shimin let go of Xu Zilings elbow; laughing calmly, he said, In that case Xiaodi can save a lot of talking. In the future, if I ever commit an offense, Ziling Xiong must not take it personally. Xiaodi is also forced to act against my will.

    After staring deep at Xu Ziling with eyes brimming with emotion, he waved his hand with determination, and then with a smile on his face he led the Heavenly Policy Mansions martial art masters continued on up the stairs into the restaurant.

    Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, knowing that he had just missed the last opportunity make amend with Li Shimin.

    From now on, Li Shimin would become their most dreadful archenemy.

  15. #195
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 17 Chapter 2

    Book 17 Chapter 2 House of Dong Restaurant

    The long, beautifully bearded Silver Dragon Song Lu looked as suave as before, but the inseparable Liu Jing has grown more attractive, like juicy peach, which could drip its intoxicating juice at any time.

    Song Lu has reserved a wing room at the southern end of the top floor of the House of Dong Restaurant, separated from the other rooms on the wing by a small reception hall; a clear display of the Song Clans prestige and status in Luoyang.

    The path toward the room was guarded by five, six young martial art masters of the Song Clan. As soon as they saw Kou Zhong, their manners became very respectful, but it was also clear that deep down in their hearts they also submitted cheerfully to him.

    The fact that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling rose up from an insignificant soldier and made a name for themselves, becoming figures that were numbered among the heroes of the world, has already set up the target for the younger generations of Wulin that they were inspired to achieve. Compared to those children and disciples of the rich and powerful families who were born sucking silver spoons in their mouths, the two boys made people felt even more remarkable.

    Kou Zhong did not put an air at all, he courteously and amiably greeted the martial art masters of the Song family who were on guard duty, and then led by them, he entered the room.

    This southern wings actual capacity was ten banquet tables, but currently there was only one table facing the window. Outside the window was the Luo River, dividing Luoyang into north and south sections, where boats and ships came and went in unceasing stream. If someone was to sit on the chair by the window, by just craning his neck he would be able to see the most famous bridge in Luoyang, the Tianjin Bridge.

    As soon as Kou Zhong stepped over the doorstep, he saw a fifty-something man, chubby, his entire body covered in pearl-light and jewel-aura, looked like a big merchant, was standing right beside Song Lus seat, chatting with him in low voice. While on the other side, the cute and helpless-looking Liu Jing [orig. like a little bird relying on people] was half leaning on Song Lus body, listening attentively to the two mens conversation. Once in a while her silver bell like tender laughter rang out.

    Song Yuzhi was sitting with her back to the door, her beautiful hair was neatly combed, and was tied into a palace-style bun on the top of her head, exuding some kind of grandeur, beautiful, and touching charm.

    As Liu Jing caught sight of Kou Zhong, her beautiful eyes lit up, as she laughed tenderly and called out, Xiao Zhong, come here! You have grown so tall.

    Song Lus eyes fell upon Kou Zhong; he stood up, chuckled and said, Scholars separated for three days, a whole new level of respect is grown. I never thought that I, Song Lu, who have always had outstanding vision, would make an error of judgment toward two gentlemen.

    The tacky-dressed chubby man, with brows raised in delight, eyes laughing, saluted and said, Kou Ye is willing to honor us with your presence, this is to our House of Dong Restaurants glory.

    And thus Kou Zhong found out that this man was the big boss of the House of Dong Restaurant.

    Song Yuzhi remained absolutely still, she neither turn around to look at him nor call to greet him.

    Song Lu left his seat to meet Kou Zhong; he reached out to grab both his hands, his eyes were flashing brightly, while revealing the emotion deep in his heart. He sighed and said, After we parted that year, I immediately heard the news of Junchuos passing. Life is impermanent; this is difficult to dispel. Fortunately the two of you live up to Junchuos expectation. Her soul in heaven will be comforted.

    His grief evoked by Song Lu, Kou Zhong felt as if he was back on the ship that day, when he was still an insensible kid; his pair of tiger-eyes turned red. He only knew how to grab Song Lus warm and soft hands, but did not know what to say.

    Liu Jing, who was still sitting, scolded him, Today we are allowed to speak about happy things only. Xiao Zhong, quickly punish your Lu Shu [uncle] one cup of wine.

    Boss Dong walked away from his position next to Song Lus seat; he said with a laugh, How about Kou Ye take a seat first and drink a cup of hot tea before we talk further? Isnt Xu Ye coming with you?

    Remembering that he has not introduced the two, he pulled Kou Zhongs shoulders and took him over toward the seats, saying, Dong Fang is the big boss of the House of Dong Restaurant, no one in Luoyang does not know him; he is also my old friend for more than thirty years. We are all family, no need to stand on ceremony.

    Kou Zhong promptly saluted and said, Xiao Ling is coming in a little bit.

    After they were seated, Liu Jing said with a laugh, Is Old Dong training zhan gong [standing skill]? Why not sit down?

    It was obvious that the two knew each other intimately; Boss Dong laughed and said, In order to earn two meals to scrape a meager living, I was born to a hard life. I dont know what wind has been blowing today that all three reception-halls are reserved by honored guests that I cannot not come out to greet. Ay! Madame ought to know that if I sit down, I wont want to get up.

    Hearing his interesting talk of making fun of himself, everybody burst out laughing. Even the taut-faced, pretty Song Yuzhi also cracked a smile, although she was still unwilling to meet Kou Zhongs burning gaze toward her.

    Kou Zhong said with a laugh, Dong Laoban is indeed witty. I wonder which reception hall did that kid Li Shimin reserve?

    Obviously Song Lu was well aware of Kou Zhong relationship with Li Shimin went bad. Did you come across him? he spoke heavily.

    Tranquil and calm, Kou Zhong replied, The one I came across was Tuli. Li kid is having a lunch appointment with him here.

    Slightly awkward, Dong Fang said, Qin Wang had wanted to reserve this reception hall, because of the beautiful scenery overlooking the Tianjin Bridge region, but I have already reserved this for Lu Xiong, naturally I could not give him this hall.

    Liu Jing put on a flirtatious demeanor, as she pretended to guess, Then he ought to have the western hall. From that place we can also see the beautiful scenery: part of the Tianjin Bridge and the Luo River flowing toward the western park.

    Dong Fang sighed and said, Someone was one-step-ahead of him to reserve the western hall; therefore, Qin Wang could only take the eastern hall. Fortunately, although from that hall we cannot see Tianjin Bridge, we can still enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Luo Rivers eastern section.

    Song Lu chuckled and said, Who has such a face to do that? As far as I know, because Dong Laoban is afraid that he would not be able to accommodate honored guests coming from all over the country who are trying to reserve the top floor at the last moment, he would rather keep it unoccupied than to let just anybody to reserve it.

    This time, even Song Yuzhi appeared to be interested.

    Kou Zhong turned his head around to look outside the window; the magnificent landscape on both sides of the Luo River took in the whole scene at once. His ears heard Dong Fangs voice replying, Lu Xiong is the just like a worm inside Xiaodis belly. I always have high regards toward the heroes and towering figures of the world, so I do not wish to offend any party.

    Liu Jings silver bell like laughter rang out, In that case, it does not matter who would become the Emperor, our Dong Laoban will always be able to do a good business.

    While Dong Fang and Song Lu roared in laughter, Song Yuzhi crossly said, Dong Shu has not explained who reserved the western hall!

    Dong Fang replied, The hall is reserved by our Luoyangs richest man, Big Boss Rong Fengxiang; he wanted to entertain his guests Zhi Shilang, Wang Bo, and the Tuyuhun Wangzi [prince] Fu Qian. Tell me, do you think I would dare to change their reservation?

    Hearing these words, Kou Zhong turned his head around in shock and said, This time well get to see a good show.

    ※ ※ ※

    Led by an eagerly attentive waiter, Xu Ziling went up the stairs.

    The waiter gave him a running commentary, The southern hall that Song Ye reserved can be considered number one among the top floors four halls, twelve rooms; it is well known all over the city.

    Xu Ziling was about to perfunctorily ask a couple of questions, suddenly someone calling his name from behind. Stunned, he turned around, and surprisingly it was Beautiful Shifu Yun Yuzhen, whom he had not seen for a long time.

    Xu Ziling hurriedly sent the waiter away; when the smiling coyly Yun Yuzhen came to his side, he laughed cheerfully and said, How could there be such a coincidence?

    Yun Yuzhen reached out with her lily-white hand to pull his elbow. The older you get, the more handsome you are, she said warmly, But the older he gets, the worse Kou Zhong is. It would be best if the two of you could swap a bit with each other! Did Kou Zhong tell you that he met his Master?

    Meanwhile they had reached the top floor. Yun Yuzhen took him to a room at the western hall, and stopped by the door. She leaned over and whispered in his ear, Shifu has an important information for you: Wang Bo already formed a secret alliance with Yuwen Huaji; right now they are actively wooing Fu Qian, hoping to gain this emerging power from Tuyuhun to help them in conquering the world.

    Originally, because Yun Yuzhens excessive passion, with her scimitar-shaped eyebrows tightly knitted, and particularly her breath that smelled like orchid as she whispered into her ear, Xu Ziling was extremely tantalized and unbearably itchy. But hearing the last sentence, he immediately forgot everything. His tiger-eyes flashed spiritedly, he asked, Is there such thing?

    Intentionally or not, as if she was unable to restrain her excitement, Yun Yuzhens fragrant lips brushed against his earlobe. Tender and soft as water she said, Even if Shifu can deceive anybody, I do not have the heart to deceive you, Ziling. But this man, Fu Qian, is extremely shrewd. This time he came to the Central Plains, his main purpose was to understand the situation, so he cant possibly recklessly allying himself to any faction.

    Xu Ziling could not help moving his head a little. His face was less than three cun away from Yun Yuzhens pretty face, he said, Shifu, didnt you just arrive in Luoyang? How did you know so much classified information?

    Yun Yuzhen was about to answer, when a gentle, sweet-sounding male voice came from the inside through the closed door, Yuzhen! Whom are you talking to? Hurry up here!

    Xu Ziling immediately recognized the Passionate Prince Hou Xibais voice. Yun Yuzhens pretty face blushed; awkwardly she replied, Im coming!

    And then, quickly she pecked Xu Zilings cheek, catching him off-guard, and said, Ill find you later.

    Finished speaking she pushed the door open and entered in.

    Xu Ziling stared blankly for half a day, before walking toward the southern hall.

    ※ ※ ※

    When Dong Fang left the southern hall to greet other honored guests, there were only four people remained in the hall. Kou Zhong said, How much does Lu Shu know about this man, Rong Fengxiang?

    Song Yuzhi finally turned around to face Kou Zhong; she spoke calmly, yet icily, In himself, Rong Fengxiangs origin is a mystery; although no one has ever seen him fighting, but no one does not think that his martial art skill is outstanding. On top of that, he is slick and sly, and is getting on well with people of both black and white ways. Why do you care about him?

    Casting a sidelong glance toward Kou Zhong, Liu Jing scolded him tenderly, Xiao Zhong, what exactly did you do to offend Zhizhi, so that all of us have to suffer her sarcastic comments?

    Jing Yi [auntie]! Song Yuzhi cried out crossly.

    Song Lu chuckled and said, Girls love to throw temper tantrum to have fun, this is normal. Right! Whether Rong Fengxiang will have a good show for us to watch today, what does it have to do with us?

    Kou Zhong turned toward the pouting, puffing-her-fragrant-cheeks Song Yuzhi first and bowed to apologize while giggling; and only after seeing that she still did not want to look at him did he turn toward Song Lu and Liu Jing, who had been trying to help him so much. This fellow Rong Fengxiang ought to be somewhat related to Li Shimin, he said, This time they are entertaining Fu Qian and Wang Bo in this place, I am sure it is not as simple as it appears. Just by looking at how Li kid was trying to reserve the hall right after Rong Fengxiang did, it is not difficult to see that Li Shimin and Tuli, two kids, are scrambling to get Fu Qian and Wang Bo to their side.

    Pfft! Liu Jing giggled tenderly and said, Xiao Zhong has not grown out of your childish nature; what big fellow, little kid? Isnt that hilarious?

    Song Lu nodded and said, In that case, Li Shimin and Tulis target must be Fu Qian. This man has not established his foundation in the Central Plains yet; therefore, if they can somehow disgrace him, he would end up retreating in grief.

    This moment Xu Ziling came in. Song Lu happily welcomed him and directed him to his seat, which was between Song Yuzhi and Liu Jing, across the table from Kou Zhong.

    Liu Jing could not take her eyes off Xu Ziling; sizing him up, her fawning manner grew without restraint as she said, Xiao Lings appearance is more awesome than Xiao Zhong; inside the delicate and pretty shell, there is an outstanding, above-the-crowd heroic air. Which girl would not fall in love with you?

    Her coquettish, charming to the bones manner stirred up a warm, intimate and familiar feeling in Xu Zilings heart, while also evoking the painful memory of Fu Junchuos death, which felt like a distant dream. Recalling the transformations of the world [orig. the blue sea turned into mulberry fields], the human affairs that are constantly changing, how that year they met on board a huge ship on the Yangtze River; everything felt as if it was just happening yesterday. He could not help reciprocating, Jing Yi is also getting more beautiful and alluring than ever.

    Flattered by him, Liu Jings eyebrows blossomed, her eyes laughed. Song Lu cheerfully said, Surprisingly this kind of pleasant-to-hear and amusing words came from Xiao Lings mouth; its really hard to believe. But it is clear that he spoke out of what he feels.

    Song Yuzhi shot a glance toward Kou Zhong, as if indicating that if it was Kou Zhong who said it, then it should not be believed.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong met Song Yuzhi eyes with the same expression she was showing him. Turning to Xu Ziling, he asked, Where did you go? How dare you arrived late!

    Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders and nonchalantly replied, Nowhere in particular; I just made a detour to Jing Nian Chanyuan, to talk with Shi Feixuan a little bit. Ha! Why are you staring at me like that?

    In fact, as they were listening to him, the other three peoples eyes were growing bigger and bigger, while their faces showed a disbelieving expression.

    Did you lay everything out in the open? Kou Zhong blurted.

    Calmly Xu Ziling spread his arms and said, Even an ugly woman will have to meet her father and mother-in-law sooner or later. Dragging this matter over just between you and I, what good would it bring?

    Kou Zhong was at a loss. Carefully looking at him up and down, he said, Although on the surface you look all right, but you are suffering a serious internal injury and may fall dead any moment?

    Song Lu and Liu Jing booed and roared in laughter. Song Yuzhis jade countenance also thawed; she even hung her head down and laughed in her sleeve, revealing her amused tender and nave demeanor, which, on this stubborn and arrogant noble woman of heroic familys face, appeared extremely touching.

    Liu Jing laughed and swore, Get out of here! How can you say such an ominous words?

    When the laughter stopped, Xu Ziling angrily said, Thats why I often said that you have the heart of a Xiaoren [lowly one/person of low social status], but taking other peoples noble belly, seeing outsiders readily spoke about fighting and shout about killing. The truth is that Wang Bo is hatching a plot; just now I bumped into Yun Bangzhu, who confirmed that Wang Bo is really drawing close to our archenemy Yuwen Huaji, so

    Kou Zhong did not show the least bit of interest toward Wang Bo; he cut him off, What did Shi Feixuan say? Did she threaten you?

    Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself; he said, When will you ever get rid of your Xiaoren habit? She is cultivating Dhyana [i.e. Zen] Buddhist teaching, which pays particular attention to karma and destiny; how could she be like us, common people, who always seek revenge for any hatred we have? Ay! I really wish we can immediately cut Yuwen Huajis stinky head and have it to accompany our wine.

    Song Lu said, Whats wrong with differentiating gratitude and grudges? Buddhism also has methods to get rid of demons and subdue devils. If someone like Yuwen Huaji ascends the throne to become the emperor, the damage hed do will be no less than Yang Guang. Right! How could Liao Kong let you see Shi Feixuan that easily?

    Xu Ziling said, I also thought I would not be able to see Shi Feixuan, so I was ready to leave, who would have thought that Shi Feixuan personally appeared?

    Astounded, Liu Jing said, Perhaps she took a fancy to you?

    Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, I was going to say the same thing.

    Xu Zuling smiled ruefully and said, This way of thinking can be said showering affection on an uninterested party. Shi Feixuan is an out-of-this-world spiritual person, her only concern is the well-being of the people.

    Song Yuzhi did not understand, But she still has no reason to let you get away? she said, Did you return the Jade Annulus of He Clan to her?

    Kou Zhong seized this opportunity to look at her and said, The Jade Annulus of He Clan is gone, just like the food we ate. Where could we find a treasure to be returned to her?

    Finally Song Yuzhi was looking at him. Four eyes met, and she snapped, Not one decent word. I wasnt talking to you.

    Kou Zhong cried out injustice!; he said, If I, Kou Zhong, say just one empty word, let me be punished by not obtaining San Xiaojies good graces for the rest of my life. If you dont believe me, just ask Ling kid, who you think is honest and reliable.

    Immediately red clouds burned Song Yuzhis jade cheeks; she was so angry that she nearly bestowed Kou Zhong a big slap on the face.

    Song Lu tried to diffuse the situation, Xiao Ling, theres no harm in telling us what this is all about.

    Xu Ziling briefly explained everything. In the meantime, the food and drink arrived; everybody stopped talking.

    After the waiter left, Song Lu sighed and said, Unusual treasure is indeed an unusual treasure; unexpectedly such thing happened, which is hard for people to imagine.

    You two lucky kids, Liu Jing said with envy.

    Kou Zhong politely refilled everybodys cups. When he got to Song Yuzhi, the beauty put her hand on the cup and coldly said, I dont drink wine today.

    With this put-down, Kou Zhong set down the wine pot and wanted to pour tea for her, but Song Yuzhis other hand reached out toward the tea pot, and then with a rather strained smile she said, I can pour it myself, no need to trouble your honorable hand.

    Kou Zhong knew that she was merely looked impressive but is worthless; greatly delighted, he returned to his seat, barely able to hide his smile; he even pretended to sit back and relax, and even stretched his limbs as if relieved from a burden.

    Song Yuzhi could only returned to her previous condition and no longer pay attention to him.

    Analyzing the situation, Song Lu said, Since the Jade Annulus of He Clan, which was well known throughout the ages, has already vanished, and you have become big enemy of Yin Gui Pai, Shi Feixuan letting you go was a sensible act.

    Hows the current situation of the south? Kou Zhong asked.

    Knitting her jet-black eyebrows, Liu Jing said, You still dare to ask us? After turning the sky and the earth upside down in the south, the two of you just walked away and leave a terrible mess for us to tidy up.

    Song Lu interjected, Fortunately this terrible mess brought us advantages without any harm. However, the fly in the ointment is that due to Lin Shihong is weakening considerably, Shen Faxing and Du Fuwei pose direct threat to the alliance of our Song Family of Lingnan with Baling Bang.

    Kou Zhongs interest was greatly piqued, Hows Old Xiaos current situation? he asked.

    Song Lu smiled wryly and replied, That is the other headache. After Tieqi Hui [first mention Book 7 Chapter 3, Qu Aos son] vanished like smoke in thin air, he went all-out in controlling the south, his territory expanded substantially, his military strength reaches forty-thousand men. Although currently they are still polite toward us, but nobody knows if hed change his mind tomorrow.

    Snorting coldly, Kou Zhong said, Vying over the land under the heavens, from the beginning it has always been whether one can control the land outside the Pass. Hows my xiongdi [brothers] of the Zhuhua Bang [bamboo flower gang, see Book 6 Chapter 4]?

    Song Lu thought for a moment before answering, Zhizhi knows more about this.

    Song Yuzhi glowered at him first before saying, Do you really concern about your xiongdi, or are you afraid Zhuhua Bang might fly away from the palm of your hands?

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, If it were still our Yangzhou days, where Xiao Ling and I played with rocks and mud, of course I would concern over my friends. But now we are all grown up, naturally my concern is for my own undertaking and my own future, where friends actually play a major part. Am I frank enough?

    Song Yuzhi stared deep into his eyes for a moment; a bit grudgingly, she said, Your childhood playmate Gui Xiliang has become the new Bangzhu of Zhuhua Bang, and soon will be Shao Lingzhous son-in-law. So you have the power in your palms. Are you satisfied?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other; they were both stunned.

    Liu Jing said with a laugh, Why havent you thanked Zhizhi? In this matter, she spent a lot of effort on your behalf!

    Before Kou Zhong had any chance to respond, there was a loud rumbling noise from somewhere on the top floor, followed by Fu Jians long laughter. He said, With this kind of skill, you dare to display your meager skill before me? Extremely ridiculous!

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, The good show finally starts. Do we want to stay here and eat, or go out to join the fun?

    Before he even finished, Liu Jing was the first to leave her chair and spoke crossly, Do you even have to think about it?

  16. #196
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 17 Chapter 3

    Book 17 Chapter 3 Unstable Situation at a Famous Restaurant

    The House of Dong Restaurant had staircases on the southeast and northwest corners of the building connecting the three lower floors, but the staircase leading to the top floor was located in the middle. One must walked through the corridor of the third floor before one could climb onto this fourth floor.

    The stairwell was enclosed in wooden railing with decorative carved pattern, surrounded by open space up to three zhang wide, which also served as the hub where corridors leading to the individual rooms converged. It gave the impression of grandeur, as well as wide-open atmosphere.

    By the time Kou Zhong and the others rushed out of the corridor leading to the southern hall to the stairwell area, all four corridors were already packed with people. Li Shimin, Tuli, and the group of men under their command, were standing in a row outside the north corridor. Every one was glaring like a tiger watching its prey toward Fu Jian, who was standing by the railing, with his hands behind his back, looking down the stairwell toward the lower floor.

    Xing Mofei, Wang Bo, and a group of Tuyuhun martial art masters spread out behind Fu Qian, about a zhang away, showing cold laugh on their faces. It was a tense situation [orig, with swords drawn and bows bent]; their opponent was obviously Li Shimin and Tulis side.

    Among the crowd watching the excitement on the eastern corridor, Kou Zhong and the others recognized the Passionate Prince Hou Xibai and Yun Yuzhen; the others ought to be restaurant patrons who happened to be there just at the right time.

    Following Fu Qians eyes, Kou Zhong and the others also cast their gaze downstairs. They saw a man lying face down on the stairs between two floors, unmoving; it was unclear whether he was dead or alive. Looking at his hat and attire, he must be a Tujue martial art master who came with Tuli.

    Kou Zhong leaned over to Song Yuzhis small ear and whispered, Good Zhizhi, is that Rong Fengxiang?

    Song Yuzhis pretty eyebrows were slightly knitted; she appeared a bit uncomfortable at his deliberate show of affection, yet she did not move away, simply because Liu Jing was standing on her other side, thereupon she nodded slightly as a response.

    Kou Zhong was referring to a middle age man, who looked to be in good shape; his face thin, tall and lanky, a bit like Wang Bo, but his expression serious, a face that seldom smiled, but giving out the impression that he was a cool-headed and composed man.

    His eyes sharp, his nose high and straight; in proportion to the rest of his face, his mouth looked a bit too big, his temples high and bulging, yet he also carried a big boss air on him.

    This moment, all eyes were on Fu Qian, yet this gentleman, without the slightest degree of uneasiness, with a despising look on the corner of his mouth, which was barely discernible, spoke coldly, Tuli, if you want to fight, why should you send your subordinate to throw away his life first?

    Li Shimin took a step forward and spoke indifferently, Victory or defeat is commonplace in any military operation. May I ask how does Fu Xiong view Mu Tiexiongs life or death? Other matter can be discussed later.

    Surprised, Fu Qian turned his gaze toward Li Shimin; an amazed and alert expression flitted across his eyes. Frowning, he said, Who are you, Sire? Why do you speak for Tuli?

    Letting out a cold snort, Tuli said, Fu Qian, you have eyes but fail to see Mt. Tai, even Qin Wang Li Shimin, formidable renown gives him authority over the whole country, you did not know, yet you still came to the Central Plains and got into this muddy water. Xiaodi really need to wipe your cold sweat for you.

    Although the crowd was still unclear on why Fu Qian and Dauntless Lion Mu Tiexiong fought, but they could more or less guess that Tuli deliberately sent out Mu Tiexiong to incite trouble, but he received a lesson instead.

    As for why Tuli was so unwise like that, apart from the person involved, the rest were at a loss.

    Fu Qian let out a long laugh and said, I have long heard Qin Wangs name, and today I finally am able to see him. Indeed he is a dragon among men. Fu Qian pays his respect.

    Whether he was talking or laughing, there was some kind of heroic charisma that look disdainfully on the whole world, which was extremely terrifying.

    The most amazing thing was the dragon [young dragon with horns] beard on his face, which stuck outright, yet could make people feel that he was a thoughtful, refined man, without the shortcoming of an uncouth, reckless man of the wild.

    With a hint of smile on his face, Li Shimin returned the propriety. Grandly, yet modestly he replied, Fu Xiong flattered me, Shimins really ashamed and dare not accept the honor. If Fu Xiong has no objection, Shimin would like to send someone to look at General Mus condition.

    Fu Qian sneered and said, No need to do more than is required. Just let Mu Xiong lay down for a moment and then he would be able to get up by himself. Shimin Xiong please do not blame Xiaodi for showing no mercy for this lowly man; if it werent so, it would be difficult to bring everybody out here.

    And then he swept his gaze around. When his eyes landed on Kou Zhong and the others, unexpectedly he smiled and nodded his head in greeting. His manner was calm, and extremely elegant.

    This moment Wang Bo interjected, Please let Ol Wang give my impartial judgment: General Mu blocking our way, it was already rude, yet he also publicly insult Wangzis clansman. Wangzi made his move, it could be considered reasonable.

    Tuli nodded and said, The victor is the king, the loser is the bandit; this can be called reasonable. So be it. But Old Wang ought to know the Central Plains current situation; it could be said that nothing is reasonable. Since Fu Wangzi dared to lead his troops to the east, naturally he knew that this is not the good time to go on a scenic tour.

    This moment, Dong Fang suddenly appeared from nobody knows where; he said, Gentlemen, if you have anything against each other, lets talk. Please give this old man a little bit of face!

    He had not yet finished, Rong Fengxiang already cut him off, Dong Laoban obviously knows that this matter is not an ordinary Jianghu dispute at all, any damage your honorable building suffer, let ol Rong take the responsibility.

    This man spoke with arrogance, without giving the other party the slightest opportunity to argue.

    Dong Fang was an extremely slick and sly man; he did not dare to speak too much, but was appealing for help by casting a glance toward Song Lu, while with his mouth said, Rong Laobans verbal confirmation is enough. Even if my humble building is torn down, I, Dong Fang will be able to build another one.

    The tone of his voice was harsh and defiant; apparently he was disgruntled over Rong Fengxiangs big-rock-crushing-down-the-crab haughtiness.

    Song Lu made his way out of the crowd; naturally Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Song Yuzhi and Liu Jing followed closely behind him, immediately creating a burst of chaos. When Song Lu reached the outermost row of people crowding the south corridor, this martial art master, senior figure of the Song Clan let out an ear-splitting long laughter, imbued by his strong internal energy, so that everybodys eyes were drawn toward him.

    It was only then did Song Lu cupped his fist and said, Zaixia, Song Lu of Lingnan, would like of offer my humble opinion, wishing everybody to let me speak it out.

    Forget about he demonstrating his profound internal power by his laughter, or perhaps his reputation as the Silver Dragon Song Lu; merely the fact that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, these two shooting-star upstarts of Wulin world, were standing on his side as his attendants, was enough to give his words some substance [orig. if thrown on the floor, it will make a sound], so that people would not dare to ignore him.

    Fu Qians gaze swept them; when his eyes landed on Song Yuzhi, they lit up with distinct expression of incomparable admiration. Finally they returned to Song Lu and he said in delight, Old Songs reputation filled the land under the heavens, a genuine chivalrous hero; of course ol Fu will listen.

    When his eyes were fixed on Song Yuzhis flowery jade countenance, Kou Zhong, who was standing by her side, was able to sense that although on the surface she acted as if nothing happened, but her heartbeat and her pulses responded by speeding up; he could not help feeling bitter and his heart ached, knowing that toward this martial art master of Tuyuhun royalty, Song Yuzhi was unable to ignore completely.

    Song Lus eyes flashed brightly, as he swept his gaze across Li Shimin, Tuli, and their men, before finally rested on Rong Fengxiang. He smiled and said, Rong Laoban, please dont take offense, we are people who are used to roam the Jianghu, we love our freedom and hold debt of gratitude and grudges in high regards, only seeking the delight of our hearts. But Dong Laoban has poured his hearts blood into this building; if we fight in here and in the end there are cooked crane or burned qin [zither], it will be a blot on the landscape. Why not we move the troops to the plaza downstairs, and continue our dispute there?

    By listening to his remark, it was obvious that he did not betray Rong Fengxiangs face, but at the same time he made the opposite party difficult to refute.

    Quite surprisingly, Rong Fengxiang was not angry; he only spoke indifferently, Song Xiongs advice is proper; how could Xiaodi have any objection?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, however, shivered inwardly. This man could either bow and submit, or stand tall [idiom from I Ching, Book of Changes]; his speech was in good taste and fitting. He was definitely an extraordinary figure.

    Fu Qian laughed happily and said, Fighting anywhere shouldnt be a problem. Even in here, ol Fu can guarantee that not a single tile or a piece of wood will be damaged. Whether the opponent can do the same, this is something that is out of my control.

    The crowd was in uproar; Fu Qian was so confident that he had full control of his movement.

    A long laughter came from Li Shimins camp. The heroic, tall and straight Pang Yu walked out in large strides. He smiled and said, Fu Wangzis remark has stirred up Pang Yus heart that it is unbearably itchy; I cant help asking for your brilliant advice. But wed better set up the rule first: whoever accidentally damage anything will be considered lost; how about that?

    If Pang Yu were from Tulis party, nobody would be the slightest bit surprised. All because in recent years the Tujues fame and power was more flourishing by the day. In their implementation of aggressive expansion policy toward their nearest neighbors on all sides, they have tied deep enmity with the Tuyuhuns.

    But the speaker was unexpectedly a top martial art master from Li Shimins Heavenly Policy Mansion; hence everybody knew that this was not as simple as an ordinary quarrel between two men, but involved the great undertaking of vying over the world.

    The martial art masters from Tuyuhun side were eager to give it a try; they all wanted to fight in Fu Qians place. But Fu Qian stretched his arm to block. His copper-bell like eyes glimmer with a smile, he spoke toward Li Shimin, If for some reason Pang Xiong lose control and defeated by Zaixia, would Qin Wang personally come down the arena?

    The uproar immediately stopped; the place became crow and peacock made no sound, everybody wanted to know how Li Shimin would answer this challenge.

    Li Shimins eyes flickered with cold light. With a sharp-as-a-blade expression he stared at Fu Qian unyieldingly so that peoples heartstrings were pulled tight. Half a day later he laughed involuntarily and said, Wangzi is indeed heroic and overbearing. Since that is the case, there is no harm in Wangzi and I play a round first, lest someone says that I, Li Shimin, am using a tag-team tactic.

    Even Kou Zhong had no choice but to admire greatly Li Shimins guts and poise.

    This was a real hero.

    It should be noted that no one had ever seen Fu Qian fighting, but just from the fact that he dared to challenge Qu Ao, and the Dauntless Lion Mu Tiexiong was still lying on the stairs, people knew that this man was not someone to be trifled with. Li Shimin dared to personally take the risk to fight hand to hand with this enigmatic Fu Qian, he was definitely not a coward.

    The crowd began to applause; obviously they also admired Li Shimin from the heart.

    Tuli, who was an expert in playing with words, did not interrupt; he vaguely adopted the sitting on the mountain and watch the tigers fight stance.

    From Li Shimins side, Yuchi Jingde and the others did not show the slightest hint of uneasiness; apparently they all had full confidence in Li Shimins skill.

    Fu Qian nodded his head approvingly. With his hands behind his back, he spoke calmly, Qin Wang need not have any misgivings. I created the Fu Yang Qigong[1], a special technique to bring out the hidden-beneath-the-surface breathing potential. One person or ten, there wont be much difference. If by luck I win a round against Pang Xiong, it would give me the chance to warm up. The one taking unfair advantage is Xiaodi, not Shimin Xiong at all.

    As soon as he said that, the crowd was in uproar again. On the surface he was extremely modest, but beneath the surface there was an air of arrogance and insulting insinuation, hidden inside the heroic spirit that consider himself unexcelled in the world.

    Pang Yu laughed aloud, and took three steps forward, so that he was only about a zhang away from Fu Qian. Cupping his fist in salute, he said, Since Wangzi already uttered such a heroic words, please forgive Pang Yu for his brazen offense. Wangzi, please bestow your enlightenment.

    This martial art master of the Heavenly Policy Mansion looked like a jade tree standing against the wind; his sharp aura radiated all around, giving the crowd a good impression.

    Li Shimin laughed and said, Since that is the case, Shimin can only stand on the side happily enjoying the show!

    And so it was decided that the fight of Fu Qian versus Pang Yu was inevitable.

    This moment Tuli suddenly let out a long laugh and said, If there is indeed the opportunity, for the next round, would Qin Wang let me experience this Wangzi, whom I have admired for a long time?

    This move was Tulis attempt to redeem his face from his subordinate suffering disgrace under Fu Qians hands.

    Nobody had ever imagined that the House of Dong Restaurant stairwell area would suddenly become the arena were leaders of all parties contending for hegemony of the world to score victory.

    If either Fu Qian or Tulis side was defeated, their momentum would suffer great damage, it might even be difficult for them to escape unscathed.

    The moment Li Shimin and Fu Qian have yet to respond, Kou Zhong suddenly laughed aloud and said, Really interesting. Things have come to this, would either Wangzi or Qin Wang give Xiaodi the opportunity to have a round as well?

    Inwardly Xu Ziling was severely shaken, realizing that Kou Zhong has made up his mind not to let Li Shimin leave this place alive.

    And it was difficult for Li Shimin to decline Kou Zhongs challenge.

    On Li Shimins side, all the martial art masters had their countenance slightly changed. All their eyes were turned toward Kou Zhong, evidently they were quite apprehensive toward him.

    Song Yuzhis fragrant heart was shaken as well. It was precisely Kou Zhongs heroic spirit, which fear nothing in Heaven or Earth that made her love and hate him at the same time; she was quite out of her wits.

    Ever since the assassination of Green Dragon Ren Shaoming, up to the stealing of the Jade Annulus of He Clan from the tigers head, he had always displayed this kind of fearless spirit.


    A womans surprised exclaim came from below, followed by her voice, Who sealed General Mus six meridians using innate qi power that he lies down in here?

    Actually, the lower floor was also packed with spectators, its just that nobody dared to approach the stairs. And this woman took this precise moment to walk over toward Mu Tiexiong, and cut off whatever response Li Shimin was going to give to Kou Zhong. Everything was in direct agreement with the Art of War: not only she acted as the buffer between Kou Zhongs challenge and Li Shimin, but Kou Zhongs momentum was weakened as well.

    The crowd could not help pressing forward a few steps, wanting to look down. They saw a beautiful woman with unique personality traits, lightly kicking Mu Tiexiong, who was lying face down on the stairs. Mu Tiexiongs legs shook, he moaned lightly, and sat up with blank expression on his face.

    Fu Qians eyes flickered with strange flashes; he could not hide the astonished expression on his face. Miss is able to see through Zaixias technique, it is indeed out of the ordinary; is it possible for you to reveal your fragrant name? he asked.

    The beauty raised her pretty face to look up, while her right palm, rapid-wiyhout-equal, slapped Mu Tiexiongs back a dozen times in succession. The latters eyes immediately regained their liveliness; he quickly closed his eyes and circulated his inner power.

    The crowd was amazed. Only now did they realize that with her kick the woman did not completely unseal Mu Tiexiongs acupoints; she could only free half of his body and make him sit up, yet she already achieved the effect of gaining the upper hand by a show of strength.

    Considering now she was looking up, but her right palm, as if it had an eye of its own, accurately struck the acupoints on Mu Tiexiongs back, merely this skill was enough to bowl the crowd over.

    The beauty unyieldingly met Fu Qians gaze face-to-face, aloof and remote, while replying coldly, but calmly, Qies [I, your servant; deprecatory self-reference used by women] former self has already died, and became a person without name and surname. Wangzi may address Qie as either Hong Funu [reminder: red brush lady], or Mrs. Li; either way let it be according to your esteemed opinion.

    Without waiting for Fu Qian to respond, she immediately scolded tenderly, Kou Zhong, the battle between you and I just now has not yet reached final conclusion, you dare to challenge Qin Wang based on what?

    Kou Zhong looked at Li Shimin and said with a wry smile, Xiaodi concedes; I take back the remark I made just now. Saozi [sister-in-law], please let Xiaodi off.

    The tone of his words seemed like a sign of weakness, but nobody had the impression that he was afraid of Hong Funu. Even those who did not know the background story could guess that for some reason he did not wish to fight with this beauty.

    Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. Only he knew best Kou Zhongs sentiment. Despite the fact that they had reason to hate Li Jing, when all is said and done, their brotherhood could not be erased that easily, so how could they harm her by being ruthless to her? Besides, against such martial art master like Hong Funu, being lenient was not much different than committing suicide.

    Fu Qian shook his head and said with a sigh, A true hero among women, worthy of my admiration. Mrs. Li, please come up!

    Her countenance as calm as still water, Hong Funu walked slowly up the flight of steps.

    By the time she reached the circle of Li Shimins people, Fu Qian already took off his outer robe, revealing an intimidatingly magnificent upper body. Letting out a long laughter, he said, I wonder what kind of weapon Pang Xiong is going to use.

    Pang Yu replied indifferently, Weapons are inauspicious objects, not suitable to be used in here; why not let us play with our fist and feet? Wangzi, what do you think?

    This man was worthy to be the figure whose name shook Guanzhong; his words concealed a blade, he seized the key moment and grasped the initiative.

    Fu Qian smiled and said, Auspicious or not, it is only in ones mind. Since Pang Xiong already has this refined and elegant attitude of the mind, ol Fu has another proposal.

    Everybody only felt strangely compelled to focus their attention and listen respectfully.

    Kou Zhong whispered in Song Yuzhis ear, Above, the battle is over the heart; below, the battle is over power. Good Zhizhi, are you moved by this man because of this?


    Song Yuzhis elbow heavily struck Kou Zhongs flank, but she did not pay attention to him.

    Because of the noise, Fu Qians eyes momentarily flashed toward the two; there was a glimmer of laughter on his gaze. In return, Kou Zhong flashed him a bitter smile.

    On the contrary, Pang Yus eyes had never left Fu Qian; he said in heavy voice, Wangzi, please bestow your advice.

    Everybody quickly bent their ears to listen respectfully.

    [1] Fu Yang Qigong. This is kind of difficult to translate concisely. Fu lie low/crouching or overcome/subdue, but also the same character of Fu Qians surname. Yang raise or bring up (children or animals) or support. Qigong a system of deep breathing exercise. So it could mean 'the Fu method of cultivating Qigong'.

  17. #197
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 17 Chapter 4

    Book 17 Chapter 4 Flaunting Power with One Fist

    Under the ten-thousand expectant eyes, Fu Qian remained calm and composed; he said, Why dont we fight on top of the railings? Whoever forced down the railings will be considered defeated.

    The crowd broke into uproar, which quickly subsided. Everybody held their breath to see how Pang Yu would respond.

    Pang Yu was laughing inwardly.

    Although he was good at using the sword, he has had hard work invested in his punching and kicking skill, and created the Taixu Cuo Shou [great emptiness interlocking hand], which he fused within his sword moves, so there was not much difference with using sword; hence his earlier suggestion.

    The wooden railings, which was shaped like the letter U [orig. 凹 character (ao sunken/concave)], was made of highest quality Chinese cedar wood. The overall length was approximately five zhang, the width was about half a chi. Although the wood was carved with floral pattern, it was actually very sturdy. Even people who did not know martial art, as long as their hands and feet were nimble enough, would be able to move freely on top of the railings. For martial art masters who were skillful in balance like them, it would not be much different from fighting on a level ground. The only limitation would be their range of movement, so that both combatants must be able to accurately grasp the opponents footwork.

    Pang Yus Taixu Cuo Shou movement was precise. If he could predict the opponents change, its power would increase, would be even more astonishing; therefore, he could not welcome Fu Qians proposal even more, so how could he refuse it?

    This man was highly intelligence, and was fully aware that there could never be too much deception in war, yet on the surface the intentionally put on a hesitating expression, before frowning and said, This method indeed can guarantee that we wont accidentally cause damage to anything. Zaixia has no choice but to risk my life to accompany a nobleman.

    Fu Qian revealed a hint of apathetic smile; he said, Pang Xiong, after you!

    Before his words ended the two men have already soared at the same time, and landed steadily on the railings.

    A lot of the spectators applauded, because their shenfa was lightning fast, and more amazingly, they did not look like they need to raise their qi before making their move. Even more astonishing was that they did not jump over the railings and landed down, but they went straight from the floor to the railings at an angle, and then simply stuck on the railings like a nail, without creating the slightest amount of vibration.

    Just this ability to control their power according to their hearts desire, the shenfa that enabled them to stop as soon as they wanted to stop, was not something that ordinary Jianghu martial artist could hope to reach.

    Kou Zhong already estimated that Fu Qian possessed ultimate skill, so he was not surprised at all; but Pang Yu was this formidable, he had never anticipated it. He could not help recalling Li Jings warning.

    And then Pang Yu stood on the railing with one leg, the tip of his left leg on the back of his right leg, assuming the golden rooster standing on one leg stance, but he looked a lot sturdier than other people standing on both legs. Especially since he was standing on one side of the end of the railings, so there appeared to be danger in the midst of steadiness, exuding some kind of extraordinarily special momentum.

    Fu Qian was standing like a towering Mount Tai in the middle of the railings, his two feet were a fraction of a cun apart. Due to the railing height, which was about five chi off the ground, and inside the stairwell was a deep empty space, he was like standing on the summit of a mountain. His magnificent build gave the crowd a fantastic impression that they were looking up a high mountain.

    Facing Pang Yu, he laughed in relaxed manner and said, Since Xiaodi came to the Central Plains, this is the first time I officially fight with others; however, I dont want to make it a precedent, hence Pang Xiong must not be overly courteous just because I am the visitor. Pang Xiong, please!

    Although his words and demeanor were modest and polite, there was an overbearing character, a suffocating feeling, which made him appeared even more enigmatic, provoking fear in the heart of the crowd.

    Pang Yu laughed inwardly. It should be noted that a fight between martial art masters was similar to a game of chess; initiative was extremely important. If the combatants skill was on par with each other, whoever seized the initiative oftentimes became the factor that determined the outcome.

    If they were fighting on a level ground, even if one side lost the initiative, he could always withdraw to dodge and then launch a counterattack. But if their movements were confined to this curved railing, which length was no more than five zhang, which width was no more than half a chi, and they must not touch the ground, then whoever lost the initiative would almost guaranteed defeat without any chance of victory.

    The crowd went abuzz; they quietly criticized Fu Qian for being unwise.

    Again Kou Zhong whispered into Song Yuzhis sparkling-and-translucent-like-jade small ear, If vying over the world only involves taking turn fighting on wooden railings, Xiao Ling would definitely sit on the Emperors throne.

    Song Yuzhi agreed wholeheartedly; speaking about hand-to-hand combat in narrow, confined space, there were really not many people who could match Xu Zilings hands and feet.

    But she moved away a little, and then glowering at Kou Zhong, she said, Did you intentionally blow into my ear?

    Kou Zhongs old face was blushing slightly; luckily this moment Pang Yu cried out, Forgive my offense! Immediately qi power flared out. Song Yuzhi no longer paid him any attention, and thus the kid escaped the embarrassment.

    It was as if there were wheels on the sole of Pang Yus feet. Using the flowing out a thousand li style, he slid for about a zhang along the wooden railing, straight toward Fu Qians left side. The fingers on both hands put together in the shape of a sword, his left hand sliced down while his right hand stabbed forward, both attacking Fu Qian. Immediately qi power rushed forth violently with frightening momentum.

    The arena was instantly filled with a grim, cold and raw atmosphere. Although Pang Yu was using his bare hands, unexpectedly he was able to produce a stabbing sword feeling.

    Xu Ziling took this opportunity to secretly observe Xing Mofei and the others, the group of Tuyuhuns martial art masters. He noticed that they were watching the fight with full attention, but nobody showed nervous or worried expression, as if they had full confidence on their masters ability. He could not help shivering inwardly.

    Based on the skill Pang Yu currently displayed, if he were in Fu Qians place, he would have to be dealing with it quite strenuously.

    Right this moment, the battle situation changed.

    Unexpectedly Pang Yu leaped up and swooped down from the air like a hawk, his two hands still had the fingers together in the shape of a sword like before, only he attacked Fu Qians face instead.

    Now, even the blinds would know that Pang Yu wanted to finish the fight in the shortest time possible, by forcing Fu Qian, within these several moves, to leave the railings.

    Fu Qian laughed aloud. He waited until the enemy nearly arrived before bending his body backward, looking up, as if he was turning into a bow, and then his right fist shot forward like a powerful arrow toward Pang Yu, who was coming down at him at an angle.

    The crowd was suddenly overwhelmed with burning hot tension and terrifying feeling; more astonishing yet, they did not feel the slightest bit of the wind generated by the fists qi power, as if everybody suddenly became deaf and their skin even lost its feeling, or as if they were in a nightmare, where they suddenly saw a flash of lightning, but did not hear the thunder.

    Fu Qians silent punch, even more than any punch power and palm wind, made everybody felt the chill in the air. No one who watched the battle was not stunned, because it was simply beyond their imagination.

    Li Shimin, Tuli, and the others also showed an amazed look on their faces.

    Pang Yu, who was right in the middle of the battle, was even more unspeakably miserable. If they were on a flat ground, he could evade by retreating some distance away. But this moment he could only withdraw to a spot on the railing.

    When the so-called expert making a move, he would immediately know the real from the fake.

    But Fu Qians ability to restraint the wind from his punch, Pang Yu had never even thought about.

    It was not that the wind from the punch did not exist, but it was concentrated into a column, which went straight toward him. He felt as if he was in the middle of a storm, which other people could not feel, and was going down against the wind. It was extremely unbearable.

    Only this moment did he know that he had fallen into a trap.

    Obviously Fu Qians highly concentrated power discharge was some kind of innate true qi, which no momentum could resist.

    One after another the palm winds collided with Fu Qians right punch.

    In the eyes of the spectators, it appeared that Pang Yu deliberately changed his move to seal and pierce the opponents earth-shattering punch. Only Pang Yu and martial art masters of Xu Ziling, Li Shimin, Hong Funus caliber were able to see that Fu Qians simple punch was surprisingly able to seal any changes of Pang Yus sword palms offensive.

    Pang Yu felt as if he was in the middle of a ten-thousand catties force of exploding big rocks between the two hands. His body felt like he was struck by a thunder, and was nearly thrown straight up; if he crashed through the roof, perhaps nobody could decide whether the breaking things clause of their agreement would be the responsibility of Pang Yu, or would it be returned to Fu Qian.

    In this critical moment, Pang Yu did not panic. Abruptly raising a mouthful of true qi, he reversed the direction of the soaring momentum back down. This moment Fu Qians fist suddenly broadened its scope and went straight toward Pang Yus face.

    What happened was his powerful body acted like a spring, from the bending position it straightened, adding momentum to his fist, from blocking it turned into counterattacking.

    Pang Yu cried Bad! inwardly; hastily he crossed his hands into a pair of scissors, and met the opponents iron fist head-on.


    The sound of qi power colliding against each other reverberated across the entire hall, shaking the eardrums of everyone, so that even Mu Tiexiong, who was circulating his qi to recover his breathing, could not help opening up his eyes and looked up from the staircase below.

    Pang Yus entire body was blown like a leaf in the gale, until his toes tapped on the beam overhead that he shot back toward Fu Qian, who was still standing as stable as the mountain on the railing.

    Although Fu Qians condition was that either one of them must not touch the ground, but he never said they could not touch the beam, the pillar, or the roof, yet everybody thought that Pang Yu has already lost.

    However, nobody dared to belittle Pang Yu.

    The power of Fu Qians punch has awed the crowd, it was an astonishing display of strength, which was enough to challenge martial art master of Ning Daoqis caliber. Pang Yu was able to block his punch without the slightest bit of injury, it was also difficult to deny.

    Stop! Li Shimin shouted.

    Fu Qian laughed aloud and said, Much obliged!

    Unexpectedly he opened his fist into a palm in a welcoming gesture.

    The scorching screen and stifling murderous aura immediately disappeared without a trace, everybody recovered their relaxed feeling.

    Pang Yu also relaxed his heroic air and immediately changed the offensive into the propriety, meeting Fu Qians handshake, which enabled him to float down to the floor.

    Li Shimin sighed and said, My utmost admiration. This round our side lost. Would Wangzi still be interested in playing the next round with Zaixia?

    Although everybody knew this King of Qins divine bravery was matchless, going in and out of battle and unrivalled in troops disposition, they had never seen him exchange blows in his capacity as a Wulin figure.

    This moment he had just seen Fu Qian displaying his deep and immeasurable amazing skill, yet still dared to challenge him to battle. Instantly they all saw him in a new light.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong looked at each other; both thinking that if they were Li Shimin, perhaps they would hesitate whether they ought to fight or not.

    Fu Qian released Pang Yus hand, and let him return to his own side. He was about to speak when Tuli strode forward, his eyes shot spirited light straight toward Fu Qian. He spoke solemnly, No wonder in recent years Wangzis reputation soared to prominence, so much so that it excelled your fathers; indeed it was not by luck. Shimin Xiong, how about giving this round to Xiongdi?

    The arena was so quiet that a falling pin would be heard, everybody quietly waited for which one Fu Qian would choose.

    This Tuyuhun martial art master with outstanding heroism threw his head back and let out a long laugh, Delighted! Delighted! Over the years I, Fu Qian, found that opponents are difficult to come by, which led to my regret. And now suddenly I came across so many good opponents. This is indeed hard to come by. Yet what you dont want done to you, dont do to others [an idiom from Confucian analects]; this place is really not suitable for free hand wrestling. Do two gentlemen have any other suggestion?

    These words were spoken with consider oneself unexcelled in the world air, but since it came out of his mouth, no one had a feeling that he relied on his prowess to insult others, or perhaps a lofty arrogance; on the contrary, it felt like it was as it should be by rights, a feeling of frank and sincerity.

    Wang Bo cleared his throat, and then when all attention were on him, he smiled and said, The future is long, it would be better for us to go back and have a drink first, we can always fight a bit later; how about that?

    Speaking about seniority in Jianghu, even Du Fuwei, Li Zitong, and the others were still considered below Wang Bo, and at this moment in this place, no one could match him. Since he had made the suggestion, everybody must give him a bit of face, otherwise it might be possible that they would have to deal with his whip technique first, which was acclaimed to be matchless under the heavens.

    Echoing Wang Bo, Rong Fengxiang said, Tomorrow evening is Laofus birthday banquet; how about talking about having a contest then?

    Li Shimin cheerfully said, Two Qianbeis words, who dare not to obey?

    His appearance suave, his manner elegant, always appropriate to the occasion, making people admiring from the heart.

    Just as everybody started to think that this matter has come to an end, someone spoke in soft voice, Wanbei [junior/younger generation] is also using whip, and this is such a rare opportunity, I hope Old Wang could give me one or two pointers.

    Everybody looked toward the voice, turned out it was a martial art master from Li Shimins Heavenly Policy Mansion, Yuchi Jingde.

    Although he spoke politely, everybody knew it was no different from a formal challenge for a duel.

    Among the martial art masters of the Heavenly Policy Mansion, in term of reputation, Yuchi Jingde was above Pang Yu, and was on par with Zhangsun Wuji.

    If Yuchi Jingde was better than Pang Yu, then nobody dared to doubt his qualification in challenging the Whip King.

    A murderous aura flitted across Wang Bos eyes, but it quickly vanished, replaced by a smile as he said, The rear waves of the Yangtze River drive on those before. Ol Wang and Yuchi Xiaodi will have the opportunity to meet again later.

    With a loud laugh he brushed away his sleeve and returned to his room.

    Fu Qian also saluted hurriedly and asked to be excuse. His men followed behind him.

    From Fu Qians broad back, Li Shimins eyes moved to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. After nodding his head and smiling, he asked for leave from Song Lu and the others, before returning to his room, accompanied by Tuli and his men.

    When Kou Zhongs eyes were meeting Li Shimins, Song Yuzhi felt a pair of eyes, which were able to make her heart beating differently, was staring at her with burning gaze. She turned to look, and could not stop her fragrant heart from shivering slightly. She mused that unexpectedly there was such elegant, confident and at ease man in the world, whose out-of-the-dust elegance was not inferior in any respect to Xu Zilings. And then she noticed Yun Yuzhen standing by his side. She hurriedly smiled to greet her.

    Hou Xibai thought that Song Yuzhi was giving him a positive response, hence he immediately smiled in return.

    This moment Song Lu was turning around and starting to move. Song Yuzhi knew the other side misunderstood, but in this kind of situation, how could she explain and correct him? Without any choice, while in her nervous fragrant heart she did not know whether to laugh or cry, she followed behind her uncle.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, one lying down the other sitting up on the grassy dike under the tree shade by the bank of River Luo, were enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the lazy afternoon. This place was not only the place where they agreed upon to rendezvous, but it was a very good place to think deeply, and to chat.

    Although behind them people were passing-by, but since it was separated by a row of weeping willow from the main street, it was just like a different world altogether.

    In front of them the River Luo was heavy with boats and ships traffic, far away to their right was the Tianjin Bridge spanning the River, where endless stream of vehicles and horses, as well as pedestrian, was passing-by; yet it also had a peaceful feeling of river water does not interfere with well water.

    The sun was shining in the sky, on the opposite bank, rows of gable roofs [orig. 人 (ren human/people) character shape] dazzling under the bright sunlight, bringing about the glittering texture of the combination of artificial and natural structure.

    While the sitting-cross-legged Xu Ziling thought that Kou Zhong was asleep, this kid suddenly sighed and said, Ol Ba left too soon! If he had seen the dragon-bearded kids fist, I guarantee he would scramble ahead of Li and Tu, two kids, to challenge him. Unexpectedly there is such martial art in the world. Perhaps Female demon Wan and female immortal Shi would not win so easily against him.

    Xu Ziling was amused, What female immortal Shi? he said with a smile, You made it like she is seventy or eighty years old granny.

    Ha! Kou Zhong laughed and said, You are so quick to speak for her. It is obvious that you, this kid, have a deep-rooted feeling toward her and it is hard for you to extricate yourself. Woe is me! Ha!

    Xu Ziling was crossed, but he did not respond to him.

    Seeing his old trick did not work, it failed to arouse Xu Zilings reaction, Kou Zhong had no choice but to change the subject, Why dont you lie down and catch some sleep? Our sleep for the last several nights put together is less than four sichen. Life is really hard.

    However, Xu Ziling fished out the astronomy book given by Lu Miaozi, and flipping through it with keen interest, while mumbling to himself, It was because you, this kid, have hit a nail in Song San Xiaojie that your heart is filled with grievance hence you cant sleep, so you came to disturb my peace and quiet. If you speak more babbling nonsense, you can walk your road through Yangguan [fig. wide open road] and Ill walk my single-log bridge [fig. difficult path]. Each cultivates his own way.

    Kou Zhong promptly surrendered. But a moment later he could not help saying, What are you reading? Can you read it out loud for me?

    Xu Ziling asked in surprise, I am reading about the method to determine the length of a year; you still want to listen?

    Kou Zhong asked in amazement, Can you determine that? Are you scaring me?

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, This is called the gem our predecessors left behind. If I have to think about it myself, I am afraid even for ten thousand years I would not be able to figure it out. But now I only have to read three pages, and it is already very clear for me.

    Kou Zhong hastily sat up; his spirit greatly aroused, he said, Lesson learned well. From now on I will have to be a bit more diligent. How do you determine it, anyway?

    With full resignation, Xu Ziling said, Its just by using an upright pole stuck in the ground, called tu gui [lit. earth/dirt jade tablet (a ceremonial badge of rank)]. When the midday sun cast its light onto this pole, our ancestors were able to make the measurement.

    Kou Zhong stared blankly and said, Whats so strange about that?

    Xu Ziling explained passionately, The main principle is simple and easy. The more ordinary something is, there is something more unordinary in it; its just that because we are so used to it, we tend to overlook it. Turn out there is not one day that the position of the sun at noon is identical. When the sun is at its northernmost and highest position, the shadow of the pole is the shortest. This is the xiazhi [summer solstice, 10th of the 24 solar terms]. When the sun moves to the southernmost and lowest point, the shadow of the pole is the longest. This is the dongzhi [winter solstice, 22nd of the 24 solar terms]. From the cycle of the variation of the length of the poles shadow, our predecessors measured that one year is three hundred sixty-five and one-quarter days. Do you understand?

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, Wow! People from ancient times are really formidable, Bai Lao Fuzi [see Book 1 Chapter 1] must step aside.

    Lying back on the dike slope, he took out Lu Miaozis manuscript and read it with full concentration.

    Xu Ziling put down the book, and fixed his gaze on a boat sailing across speedily, the image of Song Shidao accompanying the sleeping beauty Fu Junyu setting sail to the north returning to Korea played in his mind. He sighed and said, Have you made up your mind to be the Song Clans son-in-law?

    Kou Zhong covered his face with the book and said with a bitter smile, Zhizhi made it so that I feel so guilty, as well as my interest coming to an end. Without you telling me, I am already thinking of giving up. Much less even if I didnt have the Song Clans support right now, I am still confident that I will be able to break through the world. The only prerequisite is we must take the treasure first.

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, Hereafter youd better not provoke Yuzhi anymore; I really cannot bear to see her grieving because of you.

    Whatever you say, how can I dare not to listen? Kou Zhong said, Its just that unlike what you think, I am not completely without any feeling or sincerity toward her. Sometimes I really wish I could take her in my arms and cherish her with all my heart, but she is always unwilling to cooperate!

    Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself, Dont kill me with your jokes! Which beauty you did not wish to take into your arms and get intimate with her?

    Kou Zhong sat up again and said, Can you not talk about this kind of distressing thing? Tell me, Fu Qian came to the Central Plains, what is he actually looking for?

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, Cant you guess?

    Kou Zhong asked earnestly, In this kind of things, you are still better than me. There are a lot of things that you can think of, but it had not even occurred to me.

    Xu Ziling appeared to be thinking deeply. Finally he spoke heavily, He came to the Central Plains to survey the situation, to see who are available for his use, and to see what he should do for him to achieve his goal.

    Kou Zhong slapped his thigh and said with a sigh, This is called what heroes see must be the same thing. This kid has enormous ambition; as soon as he sees that he has an opportunity with us, Han people, that he can exploit, he would go on a large-scale invasion to enlarge his territory. And if there were no opportunity he cannot exploit, he would establish friendly relations with the future Son of Heaven ordained by heaven, he would climb connections of higher status, and use it to deal with the Tujue and the Tiele peoples. This is indeed not-a-trivial outstanding figure.

    The two boys sat in silence for half a day. Finally Kou Zhong said, I have an appointment to see Song Jingang; do you want to come with me to meet him face-to-face?

    This time it was Xu Ziling who lay down on the dike slope and closed his eyes, I want to sleep! he said, Wake me up when you are back!

    Kou Zhong was unable to do anything to him; without any choice he went alone.

  18. #198
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 17 Chapter 5

    Book 17 Chapter 5 Numerous Crafty and Fantastical Changes

    Kou Zhong untied his horse from the nearby tree and rode speedily toward the appointed meeting place with Song Jingang.

    The situation on the street did not change, but he felt his interest was slightly waning.

    In the end Wang Shichong could not become a very capable man, all he could be was a local hegemon, unlike Li Mi, Li Shimin, and the likes, men who had qualifications to vie for the world. Even compared to Du Fuwei, he was still far behind. Although he could be considered a man full of scheming, but due to his stupid and cowardly attitude, it would be difficult for him to unleash his aspiration.

    Currently Li Mi had hundreds, if not thousands, reasons to attack Luoyang, but with his amazing self-restraint, as long as he knew Wang Shichong was still in control of Luoyangs general situation, he would not be willing to risk the danger.

    Otherwise, even if he prevailed, Li Shimins main force would come from Guanxi in surprise attack, and it would be the moment Li Mi sounded the mourning bell. Li Mi would rather let Wang Shichong enjoy his power for a while longer, and used him to block Li Shimin, while giving his troops and generals the time to recuperate as much as possible, while also recruit new soldiers and recover their strength.

    Could it be that the plan to deal with Li Mi would fail through lack of a final effort? This kind of losing what one has just obtained feeling was like knowing that the card in hand would definitely win, but the opponent suddenly threw his cards away indicating all bets are off; an extremely disappointing feeling.

    Current situation in Luoyang might change any moment, and nobody knew what would happen the next time such fantastical change occurred.

    Tiele people retreated, Dugu Ba was killed; would the Dugu Clan bring about new deployment?

    In that instant, a divine light flashed in Kou Zhongs mind; suddenly he understood everything clearly.

    Based on Shen Luoyans loyalty and devotion to Li Mi, she could not possibly kill Dugu Ba for personal vendetta.

    Just from the fact that Dugu Ba personally came to Tiele peoples hideout, it was clear that within the Dugu Clan, Dugu Ba was not the one with close relationship with the Tieles. At most he was only in charge of threading a needle [fig. acting as a go-between].

    Shen Luoyan killed him, it was precisely to disrupt the relationship between the Dugu Clan and the Tieles.

    Ba Fenghan forced Qu Ao to leave, actually he was doing Li Mi a big favor.

    Supposing he could tell the Dugu Clan who the real culprit that killed Dugu Ba was, what might happen?

    Thinking to this point, he was dejected, because he knew the Dugu Clan would never believe him.

    This moment his horse already reached the highest point on the Tianjian Bridge, and was starting to stroll down.

    Although the street was full of pedestrians, vehicles and horses, yet Kou Zhong felt incomparable loneliness, as if he and the rest of the people lived in two separate worlds.

    His train of thought shifted to Li Shimin.

    Contrary to Kou Zhongs expectation, Li Shimins power was indeed very strong. None of the martial art masters of the Heavenly Strategies Mansion was not intelligent and brave; any one of them could make people bag their food before they finished eating and leave.

    And now Ba Fenghan was gone, the two boys strength was greatly diminished. Although their problem with Shi Feixuan was resolved, it was offset by similarly headache-inducing fallout with Li Shimin, so that he had a feeling that his life was hanging by the thread at all time.

    In this kind of situation, he considered whether he should withdraw immediately, taking advantage while Li Shimin had not returned to Guanzhong, to get the Duke Yang Treasure. Ever since his arrival in Luoyang, this was the very first time that he had a strong desire to withdraw.

    Thinking to this point, he fiercely clenched his teeth, and turned his horse around. He made up his mind to go to the Imperial City first to find Xu Xingzhi. The appointment with Song Jingang was thrown to the back of his mind.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling!

    Xu Ziling closed the book up and put it inside his pocket. Without even looking back he spoke coldly, How are you going to harm us this time?

    Shen Luoyan came to his side and gracefully sat down. She sighed and said, How can Heaven play such trick on us, fitting you and I on hostile position against each other?

    She was wearing plain white clothes, and has become so thin that within her lucid and elegant jade countenance, there was a hint of hard to describe lovely and touching charm.

    Xu Zilings anger suddenly vanished away.

    She was right; at the time where the whole country was in rebellion, people of different parties fought desperately with all their wits and with all their strength, committing all manner of crimes, just like people on the gambling table, each one desperately want to win all the other peoples money into his own pocket. There really was nothing surprising about it.

    Lets go! Shen Luoyan spoke indifferently, Wang Shichongs days are numbered; if you wait too long, you might not be able to leave at all.

    Xu Ziling was still pondering the new astronomy knowledge he had just obtained from Lu Miaozis legacy just now; his mind was peaceful, his thinking clear and bright. He spoke calmly, Tell me, how can I tell whether your suggestion is malicious or come from your kindness?

    Shen Luoyan faintly said, Let me tell you something: Dugu Bas body has been discovered. From the bruises on his body, they were able to ascertain that it was you and Ba Fenghan who did this.

    Xu Ziling was slightly stunned, but immediately came to see the truth. Smiling ruefully, he said, What an excellent plan to shift the blame onto someone else!

    Seeing he did not suddenly flare up in fury, Shen Luoyan was greatly surprised. It was quite half a day later that she hung her head down and spoke in low voice, Each time I am harming you, the pain in my heart is really something that I do not need to tell others. Do you understand? You had better go!

    Xu Ziling sensed something was really wrong, but did not know where the problem was.

    If Shen Luoyan were not confident that in the battle over the Eastern Capital they would surely win, she would not have spoken to him in such tone and demeanor.

    Intuitively he felt that she has been going through an internal struggle before coming to urge him to leave; in no way would she let him know about their conspiracy.

    If the Dugu Clan would recklessly avenge Dugu Bas death, while the two boys were completely unprepared, Kou Zhong and his little lives would certainly be as precarious as a pile of eggs.

    Shen Luoyan raised her face and gazed deeply into his eyes; she said, I have said what I wanted to say! I even said what I wasnt supposed to say, a leader can submit or can stand tall as required. Ziling, take care of yourself!

    The last sentence was spoken with a voice as soft as mosquito; finished speaking, Shen Luoyan left as if she wanted to escape with her life.

    Xu Ziling stood up suddenly and took a deep breath.

    The only thing he had to do right now was to find Kou Zhong to see how they were going to deal with the Dugu Clans raging temper.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong was still thinking about how to find Xu Xingzhi without attracting undue attention when Song Mengqiu called him from behind, Kou Xiongdi, Shangshu Daren is looking for you.

    Kou Zhong stopped in front of the flight of steps in front of Shangshu Mansions main gate. Turning around and saluted, he said, General Song must be very busy these past couple of days, otherwise how can I have a feeling that I havent seen General Song for a long time?

    Song Mengqiu came to his side and pulled his hand inside; it was only after they passed the main entrance that he halted his steps and said, These days we dont even have time to sleep, therefore, even Shangshu Daren needs to find something to help him relax.

    Even from the beginning Kou Zhong did not have too good of an impression on this man; he always felt that he was slick and sly, a hypocrite whose mouth did not agree with his heart. However, in order to find Xu Xingzhi, he thought that ever since he started, there has never been a better way than to ask Wang Shichong directly; therefore, without any choice he said perfunctorily, I really cant imagine what can make us, these bunch of men without any good nights sleep, to forget our worry and not to think over our anxiety.

    Acting mysterious, Song Mengqiu leaned over and whispered in his ear, Women, of course. Not only that, this is the most attractive beauty. Her voice, appearance, all kind of arts, and her beauty could make a man forget his old mans surname.

    Kou Zhong nearly forgot Xu Xingzhi; greatly amazed, he asked, Whose familys beauty has this kind of charm and power?

    Song Mengqiu replied with glee, Naturally its the number one courtesan under the heavens, Shang Xiufang. Other than she, who else is worthy to be reputed as the number one voice, appearance, and all kind of arts?

    Turns out it is she, Kou Zhong mused inwardly.

    The first time Fu Qian challenged Qu Ao for a duel at Man Qing Yuan, Wang Bo was inviting her to perform her art in public, but he, along with Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan, messed it up.

    Also, because they were taking Shangguan Long away, they did not have the good luck of seeing her; they werent even sure whether she did perform or not. Thinking about it, he was amused.

    Song Mengqiu proudly said, Wang Daren knew that after performing on stage for Rong Fengxiang tomorrow evening, she is going to enter Guanzhong. Therefore, with thousand ways, a hundred plans he is inviting her. He even prepared two banquet tables, hence he urged us to find you to join the fun.

    Stroking his tummy, Kou Zhong said, What time is it now? I have just had my fill of food and wine; I would be powerless to stuff my tummy with more than half steamed bun.

    Naturally Song Mengqiu did not know that he was thinking of taking advantage while Wang Shichong was too busy for him to look for Xu Xingzhi. Laughing involuntarily, he said, Kou Xiongdi must be joking. How could a wine lover thinking about the food [to accompany the wine]? Shang Beauty loves to take a nap is well-known, hence if we want to invite her, we can do so only after wei hour [1-3 pm]. Come!

    Kou Zhong only followed him for two steps before stopping; he said, I want to go to the toilet first. Otherwise, after taking a seat and looking at the exquisite choices, if I wanted to leave, it would be very difficult to leave. It would be extremely awkward. Ha!

    Song Mengqiu had no choice but to nod and said, Ill see you later then!

    Kou Zhong cried inwardly, Heaven helps me! and went away quickly.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling walked over to his horse; while stroking the horses neck tenderly, he pondered on how to find Kou Zhong.

    If he wanted to look for Kou Zhong, first of all, he had to find out where Song Jingang was staying in Luoyang. To do this, his only choice was to contact Green Snake Gangs Ren En. In Luoyang, he had a better chance than Xu Ziling.

    While he was about to leap onto the horses back, someone was coming rapidly toward him.

    Xu Ziling turned his head to look, and saw a skinny young man wearing servants attire, coming directly at him from a distance; his delicate features were somewhat familiar-looking, but momentarily he could not remember where he had seen this person.

    The young man revealed a friendly smile, but did not say anything until he was right by Xu Zilings side, Xu Ye dont remember Tongtong? The other day when Xu Ye met with Commander Liu, I was the one pouring tea for you!

    Now Xu Ziling remembered that after meeting Liu Heita again, in the house where Liu Heita was staying he saw a delicate and pretty woman Tongtong [see Book 13 Chapter 1]. Its just that now she was wearing mens attire, hence momentarily he could not remember. Otherwise, with his highly retentive memory, how could he forget?

    Speaking about beauty, naturally she could not surpass Shen Luoyan, Song Yuzhi, that kind of beauty who can overturn a country, but in term of simple beauty, she was cheerful and pleasant, giving others the impression that she was candid and friendly. She had different and distinct personality traits.

    Smiling, Xu Ziling said, Your disguise skill, was it taught by Zhuge Dewei Xiong personally? There is no woman-dressed-as-a-man flaw at all. I still remember Liu Dage praised your exceptional flying blade skill.

    Tongtongs pair of clear and pretty, beautiful eyes lit up. She said delightedly, Its hard to imagine Xu Ye to be this unassuming. When I saw you the first time, I was a bit afraid of you!

    Taken aback, Xu Ziling asked, Whats so scary about me?

    Tongtong excitedly replied, Not really scared, just felt that Xu Ye was that kind of men who dont like to talk, an aloof man who always keep a distance from other people, that kind of man. You know! Xu Yes fame is so great!

    Her naivete evoked Xu Zilings childish heart; he laughed and said, That was because I was pretending to be a tiger to scare the little girl.

    And then he frowned and said, Didnt you come with Liu Dage back to the north? Leaving you here is too dangerous.

    Only this moment Tongtong seemed to remember what she wanted to do. She said, This place is too exposed, could Xu Ye come with Tongtong to speak elsewhere?

    First of all, Xu Ziling did not have the heart to refuse this delicate and pretty beauty; secondly, he thought that maybe he could find out Song Jingangs place from her. Thereupon he nodded and said, No problem. But I do have an important matter I have to take care, so I cant waste too much time.

    Tongtong was excited, It will take but a moment, she said, You can leave the horse here, we have someone to look after it for you.

    Hearing her last sentence, Xu Ziling immediately knew that she did not remain in Luoyang alone; hence he gladly came with her.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong arrived at the door of the room where the feast was being held inside the Shangshu Mansion; he sighed inwardly first before stepping inside.

    The guards saluted solemnly.

    He had spent some time crashing to the east and breaking through the west and asked nearly everybody he met along the way until he finally learned from the mouth of a young pretty maids mouth that Xu Xingzhi was participating in the late afternoon luncheon.

    If it were before, he would be happy for the benefit of Xu Xingzhi receiving Wang Shichongs favor; but now that in his heart he was already thinking of sounding the retreating drums after the initial success, this situation could only increase his worries.

    Even if he found a way to communicate his decision to Xu Xingzhi, the two of them leaving the banquet together, or even one after another, would be very inappropriate.

    The hall was indeed setup with two banquet tables, arranged side by side at the southern end of the hall, and this moment all seats were nearly taken.

    On the east side of this gorgeous hall, about a dozen men and women that looked like musicians were sitting solemnly, waiting respectfully. Obviously this was the ensemble to accompany Shang Xiufang later.

    Including the servants and maids, there were nearly fifty people in the hall, but most of them were quiet. Several people around the banquet table were chatting and joking, but they also kept their voices down. The ambience was that of a formal governmental dinner party.

    Kou Zhongs arrival immediately attracted everyones attention. Wang Shichong, sitting on the head of the table, laughed aloud and said, Mr. Kou, please come over here!

    It seemed to be the very first time that Kou Zhong was addressed as a Mister. Immediately he had goose bumps all over, from head to toes. While exchanging greetings and saying hello to everyone, he stole a quick glance toward the other table and signaled with his eyes to Xu Xingzhi it was unclear whether the message was understood or not before walking over to Wang Shichongs seat.

    Eight out of ten people sitting around the main banquet table were old acquaintances, there were only two men that he did not recognize, but he did not see either Shang Xiufang or Dong Shuni.

    Wang Shichong ordered the servant to pull a seat separated by one empty chair from his own while quipping, I thought you were going to miss out on this distinguished meeting. Seeing you so destined, Ill bestow you this dragon seat next to the phoenix seat, a pavilion near the water [fig. using one's proximity to the powerful to obtain favor]; what comes next will have to rely on your luck!

    Other than Linglong Jiao, everybody, especially the men, around the table let out an uncertain laughter, even Ouyang Xiyi.

    Wang Shichongs move could be considered giving Kou Zhong enough face. But since Kou Zhong repeatedly rendered outstanding service, plus his capacity as an honored guest, plus considering his soaring prestige in Luoyang recently, nobody thought Wang Shichongs arrangement to be inappropriate.

    As soon as he took his seat, Kou Zhong pretended to grumble, Apparently Wanggong is not such a true friend; if Wanggong had been willing to tell me early this morning that we are going to see Miss Shang, even if Dugu Feng [peak] had his entire family, young and old, blocking the entrance of the Imperial City, I would have fought my way in!

    His remark immediately provoked hoots of laughter, breaking the previously solemn atmosphere.

    Perhaps Wang Shichongs mood was extremely good that day; he sighed dramatically and said, Xiao Zhong, you did not know this, but it was only about one sichen ago that Miss Xiufang notified me that she is willing to attend the banquet. Tell me, if you wanted me to inform you early this morning, what do you want me to say?

    Amidst the agreeing laughter, Wang Xuanying, who sat opposite to Kou Zhong, spoke cheerfully, Dies face right now is brighter than the sky; originally Miss Xiufang came to the Eastern Capital this time, she was only willing to perform twice, so everybody else was rejected. But this time she made an exception. I am so sure that we will incur a lot of peoples envy!

    It was only then did Kou Zhong know that Shang Xiufang put on such air; he could not help feeling curious and wanted to have a glimpse of her fragrant countenance.

    Hearing his son flattering his old man, Wang Shichong was greatly comforted; he said, Speaking of which, I nearly forget to draw Mr. Kous attention.

    And so he introduced the two men, which were the Xianzhous Zongguan [lit. chief manager] Tian Zan and Guanzhous Zongguan Yang Qing, two of Wang Shichongs right hand men who were stationed at the townships outside Luoyang.

    Naturally these two did not come here to listen to the performance. Clearly Wang Shichong was constantly summoning his subordinates and deploying his troops everywhere.

    Other people around the banquet table consisted of Wang Xuanshu, Wang Honglie, Wang Xingben, Linglong Jiao, Yang Gongqing, and Lang Feng. With Shang Xiufang, who has not arrived yet, altogether there were exactly 12 people. [I think Huang Yi miscounted; I counted 13.]

    But he did not see [Taoist] Priest Ke Feng and Zhang Zhenzhou.

    The former probably was unwilling to attend such a sensual event, and the latter probably has already left the Eastern Capital, leading some military operation elsewhere.

    The other banquet table was for second rate officials and aids and advisors to top officials such as Xu Xingzhi and the likes. Kou Zhong knew several, hence he nodded and greeted them.

    Seeing Wang Shichong was speaking in low voice with Yang Gongqing, who sat next to him, Ouyang Xiyi, who sat next to Kou Zhong, leaned over slightly and said, How would Zhong Xiao Xiong thank me?

    Taken aback, Kou Zhong asked, What good thing did Qianbei do for this kid?

    Ouyang Xiyi laughed and said, It was Laofu [old man] who made arrangement of your seat. Tell me, shouldnt you thank me?

    A warm feeling burst forth in Kou Zhongs heart; this senior martial art master has always taken a good care of him as much as he could, promptly he expressed his gratitude.

    The ensemble suddenly played their string and wind instruments; melodious music reverberated around the banquet hall.

    Shang Xiufang finally arrived.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling and Tongtong went through the store and back to the house where he and Liu Heita had their meeting the other day.

    After being seated, Tongtong served him fragrant tea, and sat next to him. About Dugu Ba, did Xu Ye do it?

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, I originally wanted to take care of him, but the one actually doing it was someone else. But now it does not matter anymore.

    Tongtong nonchalantly said, Dugu Bas stinky reputation spread far and wide, the news of his death is actually to the satisfaction of everyone. But the strangest thing about this matter is that for some reason Dugu Feng [peak] seems make notable move, so that I become even more anxious for Xu Ye.

    The something-was-amiss feeling in Xu Zilings heart was getting more intense.

    What exactly was the reason that the hot-tempered You Chuhong was driven to seize control over this matter? If he could not see through the enemys move, he and Kou Zhong might suffer a crushing defeat.

    When did they find Dugu Bas body? he asked in heavy voice.

    Ought to be around the third watch of the night [11pm 1am] last night, Tongtong replied, His body was discovered by the patrolling troops, it was hanging from the Tianjin Bridge.

    Xu Ziling was shocked. Shen Luoyans method of shifting the blame onto someone else was indeed very sinister. Anybody would think that they deliberately hung the corpse like this as a retaliation of getting besieged on the Bridge the previous night.

    Tongtong added, They also said that if you dont die, then I perish. It would be best if Xu Ye and Kou Ye gain the initiative by striking first, otherwise you will get the worst of it.

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, I was going to look for Kou Zhong to discuss this exact matter. Do you happen to know where Song Jingang stays?

    Tongtong nodded, and promptly told him the address.

    Amazed, Xu Ziling said, You really have a fast and abundant news network.

    Utterly delighted, Tongtong said, This is precisely our mission in staying in this place. Theres another important information Xu Ye needs to know: we are suspecting that someone of Wang Shichongs camp is a mole who work for Dugu Feng.

    Xu Ziling was stunned, There is such thing? he asked.

    Tongtong solemnly replied, The speculation came from a few spiders thread and horse track that we gathered so far. Honestly, we also have an informer inside the Palace City. For example, Yang Dongs chancellor Yuan Wendu has always been greedy for life, afraid of death. But concerning Wang Shichongs massive military force in the Imperial City, he still acts like romance is in the air [orig. wind, flower, snow and moon (trite poetry subject)]; not only in his talks he does not appear to be afraid at all, he also said that he knew Wang Shichongs entire plan.

    After a short pause, she went on, Just by looking at how Dugu Feng unscrupulously deal with Kou Ye, we know that Dugu Feng is clear about Kou Ye devising battle plan in a tent [idiom] on behalf of Wang Shichong!

    At last Xu Zilings countenance changed.

    If that was the case, not only he and Kou Zhong were in grave danger, even Zhai Jiao and her men might face fatal disaster at any moment, so much so that they might implicate Song Lu, Song Yuzhi and the others.

    Xu Ziling suddenly stood up and resolutely said, I must find Kou Zhong immediately.

  19. #199
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 17 Chapter 6

    Book 17 Chapter 6 Peerless Courtesan

    By the time Shang Xiu Fang, like an immortal from the dreamlands deep hidden valley coming to the secular world, appeared in front of everybodys eyes, the entire hall, both men and women, could not tear their eyes off of this turning-all-living-things-upside-down famous courtesan.

    She made Kou Zhong think about Shi Feixuan and Wanwan.

    Shang Xiufang reminded him of the former natural beauty with her immortal elegance; but at the same time she also possessed the latters dreamy and enchanting mysterious beauty. The end result was another kind of exceptional charm, which was not inferior in any respect to the two women.

    The most stunning thing about her, other than her slim, shapely figure, was her multifarious bearing and expression; even more touching was her pair of lucid, rippling eyes, which could hook peoples soul and absorb peoples spirit, full of tender feelings, combined with the somewhat bashful sparkling smile, which appeared on the corner of her mouth; certainly no man could withstand.

    Looking at her, Kou Zhong almost could not remember the purpose of his visit.

    This moment, the music suddenly changed. Contrary to everybodys expectation, Shang Xiufang, wearing plain yellow gauzed dress with light green cape, started to sing and dance.

    It was only this moment that Kou Zhong were able to see clearly that her jade countenance was devoid of any cosmetics, but her facial appearance was as bright as day; she looked a thousand times better than any women who applied makeup conspicuously. It was not clear whether she had just emerged from a public bath, but there was no hairpin or any other jewelry hanging on her beautiful hair, yet there seemed to be traces of glistening water, pure, beautiful and clean, which charmed everybody.

    She sang, Beads of tears streaming down beautiful silk dress, young Gongzi bears much favor. At that time elder and younger sisters were traveling distinct roads, none treated him with sincerity. After careful consideration, theres a faint feeling of good resolution.

    Her singing carried some kind of aloof and laid-back, but also penetratingly dark, dismal, and grim feeling. Yet there was also a beautiful and elegant flavor that no one can match. Her voice and vocal skill did not leave any flaw for the critics to criticize. Combined with her touching expression, nobody was not emotionally moved.

    The deep bridal room was empty and quiet, the void embraced the body and mind, producing solitude. Waiting for the arrival, waiting with a prayer, cease the longing for wild flower youth. Mild and even adornment, less socializing, just for the sake of five hills in distant and indistinct places. The snowfall in the breast, from the gentlemans bite, afraid to offend the laughter bought with thousand catty of gold.

    Her singing seemed to absorb the listeners into a fantastic realm of music, her mellow seductive voice, through variety of vocal tones, displaying some kind of rich and varied stances, with a deeply growing enigmatic flavor, going down and circled back to wound the emotion and feel the sentiments, irresolute like the surging tide covering the listeners spirit, flooding their earth so that no peak was left uncovered.

    But the one thing that made Kou Zhong lose himself was her lazily painted crescent brows [fig. beautiful woman], delaying the self-adornment and making herself presentable, yet inadvertently revealing her natural beauty.

    The song ended.

    The music faded.

    It was half a day later that the hall erupted in thunderous applause, followed by the clamor of the sound of praise and accolades.

    Exclaiming in admiration, Wang Shichong said, This song ought to be coming from the heaven, which circled back to the earth to be heard. Miss, I wonder who wrote this song?

    Shang Xiufang gently hung her small cicada head down, revealing her swan-like elegant and slender milky the back of her neck; she replied in soft voice, Shangshu Daren, please do not mock; this tune was created by qie [I, your servant] herself.

    Delighted, Wang Shichong said, I have already guessed so, its just that I wanted Miss to confirm it with your own mouth! Indeed your name is not in vain. Miss Shang, please take a seat.

    Except Linglong Jiao and Ouyang Xiyi, all men slightly left their banquet seat, waiting for this natural beauty with peerless talent, the stunning young lady to be seated, before they dared to take their seat again to show their respect.

    With her sitting within his hand-reach, Kou Zhong could not stop his heart from beating faster.

    At this point all eyes were focused on her, but no one dared to show any leering look. On one hand, they were intimidated by her noble personality traits, but they were even more afraid she would look down upon them, and then they would forever lose the chance to please her.

    Wang Shichong introduced her to everybody first, but when it was Kou Zhongs turn, Shang Xiufangs beautiful eyes swept his face across several times, and then she spoke with tender laughter, Shangshu Daren need not introduce him! That evening Xiufang was worried for Kou Gongzi for a long time. Luckily in the end he displayed his divine prowess by capturing the treacherous villain alive and took him away.

    Not only was she an eloquent and fluent speaker, she had deep understanding of the way to make people happy, by wrapping the praise around cordial words so that it was unobtrusive; she was worthy to be called the famous courtesan who traveled everywhere north and south sides of the Yangtze River.

    Looking at her from such a close proximity, Kou Zhong felt even more that she was like a blooming flower, whose delicate fragrance assaulted others nostrils. And the most touching was her graceful bearing. Whether it was her sweet voice, her tone modulation, to delicate expression from the tip of her brows and the corners of her eyes, everything carried some kind of intoxicating charm, which confused peoples mind and enchanted their spirit.

    Ouyang Xiyi, who was sitting on the other side, suddenly let out a sigh so soft that only Kou Zhong was able to hear.

    Immediately Kou Zhong came to his senses and remembered the purpose of his visit. He replied without thinking, If I had known that Miss singing voice is better than the sounds of nature, that night I would have waited until Miss immortal song was finished before making my move. Ha!

    Noticing the pensive look in Kou Zhongs eyes, inwardly Shang Xiufang was greatly astounded.

    Although she only turned twenty-one this year, but since she finished her apprenticeship and came out to sell her art at the age of thirteen, what kind of men she had never seen? Especially men of Kou Zhongs age, rarely have they seen her without having their spirit and soul turned upside down.

    This moment, in order to show off his knowledge and experience, Wang Xuanying was trying to engage Shang Xiufang in a discussion about the Swallow Song, which was very popular at that time.

    Kou Zhong took this opportunity to lean over toward Ouyang Xiyi and asked quietly, What matter made Qianbei sigh?

    An emotional expression flashed across Ouyang Xiyis eyes; he replied in low voice, Too much alike! Too much alike!

    ※ ※ ※

    By the time Xu Ziling reached his destination he was rushing on foot instead of on the horseback, a big burly man happened to push the door and walk out of the house where Song Jingang stayed. The two men looked at each other, and both exclaimed in delight.

    This gentleman was, surprisingly, Yun Yuzhens lieutenant Bu Tianzhi.

    Xu Ziling hastily greeted, Turns out it is Bu Fu Bangzhu [vice gang leader]. Is Kou Zhong inside?

    Frowning, Bu Tianzhi replied, Kou Ye did not come at the appointed time, I was going out to look for him.

    Xu Zilings heart sank, he wondered inwardly whether something bad happened to Kou Zhong?

    Bu Tianzhi continued in low voice, Xu Ye, could we go someplace quiet to talk?

    Noticing his serious expression, although he was anxious of Kou Zhongs safety, Xu Ziling had no choice but to nod his head and said, Bu Xiong, just call me Ziling, you must not call me Xu Ye or whatever.

    Bu Tianzhi cheerfully said, Although Ziling is already world famous, but your emotion, character and attitude are completely the same as before. Merely this point, not many people can match.

    Xu Ziling temporarily cast his concern over Kou Zhong aside, thinking that he had the ability to deal with danger. Together with Bu Tianzhi they walked side by side toward the end of the lane. He spoke indifferently, Fame is just false reputation, nothing to rely on. Isnt Bu Xiong with Yun Bangzhu?

    Bu Tianzhi was silent for half a day. In the end he shook his head and said, Bangzhu is with her lover, how could she spare time for other things? She only ordered me to wait for Kou Ye at Song Jingangs place, to see what the outcome is.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling cast him a sidelong glance, and said, Listening to the tone of Bu Xiongs voice, it appears that you are dissatisfied with Yun Bangzhu.

    Bu Tianzhi replied heavily, Ziling and Kou Ye are men whom I, Bu Tianzhi, admire and trust from the bottom of my heart, hence I do not wish to conceal anything from you. My dissatisfaction toward Yun Yuzhen did not start just today. And within our Gang, I am by no means the only one with this thought.

    Xu Ziling was stunned speechless.

    Bu Tianzhi pointed to a small wine shop across the street and said, Wed better go inside and sit down before continuing this talk.

    ※ ※ ※

    Shang Xiufang casually responded to Wang Yingxuan, The so-called trend is using new in place of beauty, using marvel in place of finery. Hu music[1] in itself not necessarily excels over our Central Earths source is distant and the flow is long [fig. something that goes back to the dim and distant past] music, but we could always use it as a reference. All India, Qiuci, Shule, Anguo, Gaoli, Gaochang and Kangguos[2] music, each one has its own unique characteristic and different flavor, particularly Qiuci music, which has reached the highest realm. Imported during the Northern Dynasties Qi and Zhou, there appeared not a few masterpieces adapted and changed from Hu music with strong foreign flavor.

    With her status as a wanderer she spoke an expert remark, immediately it provoked a burst of heartfelt praise.

    Linglong Jiao was a Qiuci; hearing Shang Xiufangs very high evaluation of her countrys music, her good impression rose up tremendously.

    But Shang Xiufangs mind was secretly tied to Kou Zhong; he and Ouyang Xiyi were the only two around the banquet table who did not look at her with heart and soul.

    Ouyang Xiyi was a man who has passed through great changes, an old man who was approaching a hundred years old; that he was not moved by her at all, she was not surprised. But Kou Zhong, who looked like a romantic guy, turned a blind eye to her, even if she did not want to admit it, her interest in him was piqued.

    This moment Kou Zhong was sensing Ouyang Xiyis strong unresolvable sorrow, and was pondering over this venerable senior martial art master, who was filled with sad memories of the past, induced by Shang Xiufangs striking resemblance to an old affections characteristic and appearance. At the same time, he was also remembering Shi Qingxuans touching flute song, which was taught by her own mother Bi Xiuxin, which was not inferior in any respect to Shang Xiufangs musical talent.

    Right this moment, he heard Shang Xiufangs sweet-sounding voice asking him, What does Kou Gongzi think of Hu music?

    If this question were directed to Xu Ziling, he would honestly confess his ignorance.

    But Kou Zhong was used to invent crazy nonsense, hence he blurted out his answer, Of course it is very good!

    Seeing Shang Xiufang took the initiative to cajole Kou Zhong to talk, Wang Xuanying was very jealous; he pressed on, Which aspect do you think it is good?

    Kou Zhong was immediately at a loss for words; from the corner of his eyes he saw Shang Xiufang was looking at him expectantly, he groaned inwardly. He had no choice but to continue his crap; he said, Music and dancing are both the outward expression of the feeling inside the heart. Just think about the vast grassland outside the borderland, the desert and the snowy mountain, where cattle and sheep, deer and horses roam around everywhere, the bold atmosphere where the tribes beyond the Great Wall gallop their horses, we know that the music and the dance grew out from this kind of different environment, naturally it would be extremely exquisite and refined.

    And then, afraid that Wang Xuanying would continue to badger him, he hastily turned toward Linglong Jiao, whose lovely charming almond eyes, with extraordinary splendor, was looking at him. He giggled and said, Miss Jiao is from there; in my opinion, Miss Jiao must be a first-class master in music and dancing.

    With his earlier remark, he was thinking about the supporting self with naked blade, killing people in the world of mortals, the wandering knight, promoter of martial spirit, Ba Fenghan, and his description of the life beyond the Great Wall; inadvertently his voice was slightly imbued with the emotion of parting.

    But listening to him, Shang Xiufangs fragrant heart slightly trembled; she nodded and said, Kou Gongzis comment is very insightful, this is the first time that Xiufang hear someone appraising the Hu Music from such a broad perspective.

    Wang Xuanying was nearly angered to death; he could not stop hate and envy toward Kou Zhong from growing in his heart.

    Wang Shichong laughed and said, Mr. Kou is always able to amaze people. Let me ask everybody here: who would have thought that his understanding of Hu music is this deep?

    While Kou Zhong groaned inwardly for the shame, Linglong Jiao softly said, Nujia is a Qiuci, but in music and dancing, I am just an ordinary novice [orig. low hand of nine schools of thought]. Hereafter you must not talk nonsense!

    Although on the surface she appeared to chide him, the fact was that her attitude toward Kou Zhong had changed in a big way; at least she was willing to admit that she was from that certain nation.

    Shang Xiufang laughed tenderly and said, Turns out Miss Jiao is from Qiuci; I would never have thought! Fortunately Xiufang has not displayed my slight skill before an expert, otherwise I would only incite Jiejies loud laughter.

    Ouyang Xiyi struggled out of the deeply painful memory; he joined in by addressing Linglong Jiao, I hear your esteemed country has a wind instrument called Bili[3], made of wood or bamboo, with nine holes, which to be covered with the fingers, and reed inserted on the mouth of the pipe, the timbre loud and clear, but mournful and mellow. Played on the prairie, it sounded as if it was weeping and complaining, the tones rising and falling, round and round unceasingly. I wonder if Miss Jiao know how to play it?

    Kou Zhong mused inwardly that this man really knew the Hu music.

    Linglong Jiao appeared to recall something that burdened her heart; she was about to answer, but then shook her head and said, Wanbei [junior] cant.

    Yang Gongqing was an old veteran of the Jianghu; just by looking at Linglong Jiaos expression, he knew that there must be different reason, and not that she did not know how to play at all. He changed the subject by asking Shang Xiufang, For the last approximately a hundred years, there have been many musical instruments being imported from outside the Wall, one cannot tell how many; other than the one Old Yi mentioned just now, the widely spread instruments include Pipa[4], Wuxian[5], Sheng Hou[6], Di [transverse flute], Hujia [no idea what it is], Jue [lit. horn], Jiegu [double ended skin drum with narrow waist], and so on. According to Xiufang and everybody, whats the difference between those instruments with our Qin [guqin/zither], Se [standing harp], Sheng [same character as above], Zhong [bell], Fangxiang [no idea], Paiban [clapper-board, percussion instrument]?

    Kou Zhong thought that luckily the question was directed to Shang Xiufang; if he were to answer that, he would be humiliated on the spot.

    Shang Xiufang modestly replied, How could Xiufang accept everybodys accolades? Great General Yang is too polite. Generally speaking, certain musical instrument came into being, to a certain degree it is a reflection of the peoples livelihood and custom, as well as their characteristic. Most of the ethnic groups in the Western Region live nomadic life in pursuit of, and live by, a habitat with water source and grass. As a result, it affects the design of the musical instrument. First of all, it has to be portable, hence the form and structure are comparably small. Second, because it is often played in the open space of the wilderness, it has to be loud and clear, as well as melodious, so that the sound can be transmitted far. Compared to our countrys big and inconvenient to carry, as well as changing less, musical instruments, they appeared to be especially novel and lively, as well as coarse and wild.

    Everybody, including Kou Zhong, were amazed and emotionally moved.

    This womans excellent knowledge and experience was not something that ordinary courtesan would be able to match.

    This moment Kou Zhong was racking his brains trying to find a brilliant scheme so that he could leave with Xu Xingzhi without arousing Wang Shichongs suspicions. Noticing that everybody was giving their own view on the musical instruments, Shang Xiufang tried to find an opening in the midst of the disorderly discussion to lean over to Kou Zhong and whispered, I was wondering if Kou Gongzis heart belongs to someone and that your mind is constantly on this woman?

    This remark, which could be considered a bit of flirting, was nothing strange to Shang Xiufang, a famous courtesan who was accustomed to dealing with all kinds of men in various social interaction; but in Kou Zhongs ears, it was highly provocative.

    Truth be told, Kou Zhong had never encountered anything like Shang Xiufangs ten-thousand kinds of flirtatious expressions, it actually had a very strong attractive force to him. But because this moment his mind was focused on how to leave Luoyang as soon as possible, plus she was stirring up memories of Li Xiuning in his mind the two women happened to share the same middle name, Xiu [refined/graceful/elegant/pretty you get the idea] his heart, which was set aflame earlier, was cooling down again. He replied, I am actually thinking of you, Miss!

    Greatly interested, Shang Xiufang said, Whats so good in qie [I, your servant] to think about? While in her fragrant heart, she was sniggering, thinking that turned out you are no different from other lustful men.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Arent people really strange? Before Miss arrived here, we did not know each other, but now we have become friends who can talk to each other, and can get to know each other. Ha! I really dont know what to say.

    Shang Xiufang was silent; evidently his words have stirred up her thoughts and feeling.

    Suddenly, under thousands of staring eyes, Kou Zhong leaned over and whispered in her ear, I am leaving! But Miss musical talent, voice and appearance, I, Kou Zhong, will never forget for the rest of my life.

    And then he rose up to his full height and saluted to take his leave.

    Astounded, Wang Shichong asked, What gargantuan important urgent matter does Mr. Kou have?

    Shang Xiufang hung her head low; she was vaguely able to grasp the reason Kou Zhong leaving the banquet was not a simple one. Unexpectedly a melancholy feeling, which rarely caused by a man, floated up in her heart.

    Kou Zhong sent out an ambiguous signal with his eyes toward Wang Shichong; he said, Wangzi, have you forgotten? I have appointment with someone!

    Wang Shichong had no choice but to pretend to understand.

    Kou Zhong perfunctorily took his leave from everybody. When he moved to the other banquet table, he seized the opportunity to slip behind Xu Xingzhi, and in friendly manner put his hand on his shoulder, while secretly crooked his finger to write a go character on his back.

    Xu Xingzhi understood immediately; he stood up and said, Let Zaixia sends Mr. Kou off on behalf of my master!

    ※ ※ ※

    After some chitchat, Bu Tianzhi put down his cup of wine and spoke in low voice, For the past few years, most of the Xiongdi in our Gang have a lot of resentment toward Yun Bangzhu, one of those being our Gang becomes the hunting dog of Baling Bang.

    Xu Ziling did not understand, Isnt your esteemed Gang always relying on selling intelligence to make a profit? But Baling Bang itself has the most extensive intelligence network in the world; why would they need you? he asked.

    Bu Tianzhi said, They look up on our fleet, which is growing day by day, plus we have operation base in all coastal cities and towns along the Great River. While Haisha Bang is declining, Dajiang Hui [great river society] and Shuilong Bangs [water dragon gang] fame and power is falling, our sphere of influence is expanding quietly; how could Xiao Xian dare to look down on us?

    Xu Ziling still did not understand; he asked further, Right now all gangs and societies in the world, big and small, none does not attach itself to a local power. Currently, Xiao Xians Liang Guo [kingdom of Liang] has become the number one major power in the south, his prestige is even above the Song Clans; why does Bu Xiong dislike them so much?

    Bu Tianzhi laughed coldly and said, I dont believe Xiao Xian can become a very capable person. If we are speaking about resorting to conspiracy, not many people can match this hypocrite. I dont need to say anything, just look at him, because he is afraid of Du Fuwei, he does not dare to go up north. From this, I know that it will be difficult for his great undertaking to succeed.

    And then he sighed and said, And that is not main reason.

    Xu Ziling promptly inquired in details. His main concern was, naturally, Susu.

    Bu Tianzhi dejectedly said, Who would want to wallow in the mire with those human traffickers?

    Xu Zilings countenance changed, They ate still doing shady business in trafficking women? he asked.

    Letting out a cold humph, Bu Tianzhi said, Certainly not out in the open right now, but since this business has brought them countless benefit, with Xiao Xian being a really snobbish person, why would he want to give up easily?

    After a short pause, he went on, At the beginning, Yun Yuzhen guaranteed to us that the cooperation with Baling Bang is just a plan of convenience; who would have thought that after she and Xiang Yuzhan are having an affair

    What? Xu Ziling blurted out.

    Bu Tianzhi hastily explained, That was before Xiang Yushan married Miss Susu! Afterwards, whether they are still in contact with each other, I am not really clear.

    Xu Zilings unsightly countenance turned even uglier. He really wished he could grow a pair of wings, with which he would fly back to the south to see Susu.

    With gloomy countenance Bu Tianzhi sighed and said, I dont know why Bangzhu resigned herself to that kid Dugu Ce, and she is getting worse since. If we did not consider her great merit to our Gang, we would have deposed her early on. And now she is hanging around all kinds of men all day long, her martial art skill is declining, she is even too lazy to mind our Gangs affairs. If this continued, we cant survive.

    This is called every family goes through its problem [Chinese idiom]; since Xu Zilings heart distracted, his thoughts in turmoil [another idiom] due to Susu, he was out of his wits and was unable to offer any help. Smiling wryly, he said, So whats your plan?

    Bu Tianzhi said, In chaotic time like this, everybody wants to charge forward to do great things. Our Xiongdi have discussed this matter over and over again, and we all believe that Kou Ye and Ziling, are the people we are willing to submit cheerfully the most. Therefore, we want to ask you to lead us.

    Xu Ziling jumped in fright; he said, If thats the case, wouldnt Yun Bangzhu hate us to the bones? Has Bu Xiong discussed this matter with Kou Zhong?

    Bu Tianzhi solemnly said, This is all Xiongdis intention, she has no influence whatsoever. I have already asked for an appointment to see Kou Ye, but am afraid he, the Senior, forget due to his busy schedule, hence the reason I specifically waited for him at Song Jingangs place. This Song Jingang is both wise and brave, his name shook northern Xinjiang. But even he holds Kou Ye and you, Ziling, in very high regard, which boosted our confidence even more. Two gentlemen, must not decline.

    With a bitter laugh Xu Ziling said, I think Bu Xiong had better have a long discussion with Kou Zhong over this matter. We have always had friendship with your esteemed Gang, and I have always been disinterested in the struggle for fame and profit. Kou Zhong is the person of choice you want to ask.

    Bu Tianzhi laughed and said, How could we not know Zilings temperament? But in any case, you are going to stand by Kou Ye, am I right?

    Xu Ziling smiled ruefully, but did not answer.

    Bu Tianzhi spoke in heavy voice, You dont need to worry about Yun Yuzhen. Were it not for her and Xiao Huan, the two of them inciting Xiang Yushan, he might not necessarily woo your esteemed sister.

    What? Xu Ziling suddenly roared.

    The only waiter around, who was nodding in the corner, woke up in a start. Fortunately at this moment the shop did not have any other patrons, otherwise they would have raised their eyebrows.

    Bu Tianzhi sighed and said, At that time we really could not stand idly and watch. Even if we wanted to win over two gentlemen, we must not use this kind of method, in which we are harming other familys young ladys lifetime happiness!

    Xu Zilings eyes flashed with unprecedented, deep and cold, murderous aura. He spoke slowly, word-by-word, If Xiang Yushan treated Su Jie with slightest bit of unkindness, I am going to make him die without a burial site.

    [1] Hu music: central Asian music as appreciated by Tang literati. Hu is basically any non-Han tribe in China.

    [2] India, orig. Tianzhu, Indian subcontinent in Tang or Buddhist context. Qiuci, ancient Central Asia city-state, flourished during first millennium AD, in modern Aksu, Xinjiang. Shule, ancient name for modern Kashgar, west Xinjiang. Gaoli, Korea (esp. in context of art and culture), Anguo [lit. An State], Gaochang, Kangguo [Kang State], I have no idea. But I am sure very soon one of you, knowledgeable people, will enlighten the rest of us.

    [3] Bili or Guan, Chinese double reed wind instrument.

    [4] Pipa, Chinese lute.

    [5] Wuxian, Five Strings Lute. (this one in Chinese, cant find the English version)

    [6] Sheng (instrument), Chinese mouth-blown free reed instrument.

  20. #200
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 17 Chapter 7

    Book 17 Chapter 7 Long Dhyana Discussion on the Bridge

    The two have not even stepped out of the Mansions gate, Kou Zhong had briefly explained the reasons they must leave Luoyang immediately.

    Xu Xingzhi pulled him into an empty side room and calmly said, Kou Ye must not leave right now, otherwise you wont have any hope to strive for the world.

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, How could I be the man who shrink back as the time for battle approaches? Its just that I am fully aware that if I do something that must not be done, I will only deliver our three little lives in vain.

    Xu Xingzhi pondered for a moment; he spoke heavily, Right now the situation is indeed very strange, on the surface it appears that we are holding the upper hand. But looking at the enemys movement, they seem to be calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, as if they have a card up their sleeve. What do Dugu Feng and Yang Dong have that they still appear secure, as if they have a strong backing, in facing our superior military power?

    Kou Zhong was shaken. You are right, he said, If what they are thinking is assassination, success or failure is still unknown; could it be that Li Mis main force has already arrived and are lying down in ambush, in preparation to launch coordinated attack into the city from inside and outside?

    Xu Xingzhi laughed and said, If thats the case, Yang Dong and Dugu Feng are big idiots; while driving tiger at the front door, they allow the wolf to enter from the back door.

    Kou Zhong thought hard, So what kind of game are they playing? he mused.

    Xu Xingzhis eyes were gleaming with intelligent light; he spoke in low voice, This is called pushing self to reach others. The reason we have fear in our heart is all because we cannot see through the enemys unusual situation. On the other hand, the reason the enemy appears as if they have something to rely on, it ought to be because they are holding the pearl of wisdom concerning our real situation; they know us like the back of their hand, hence they are not afraid of us.

    Kou Zhongs countenance changed, Are you suggesting that there is a spy amongst us? Have you warned Wang Shichong?

    Xu Xingzhi shook his head and said, This is purely speculation. Considering I am a new comer, and that there are many people who are jealous of me, how could I recklessly speak it out without strong evidence?

    Slightly out of his depth, Kou Zhong asked, So what do we do now?

    Xu Xingzhi did not answer, but asked him instead, Huang Gongcuo has arrived for many days; how come there is no sound of activity at all?

    Frowning, Kou Zhong replied, He must be waiting for fortunate timing.

    Xu Xingzhi shook his head and said, Cannot seize the initiative, how could wise person like Shen Luoyan exist? This has confirmed my suspicions, which is the enemy is clearly aware of our plan to lure them into the trap tomorrow night, hence they are prepared to beat us at our game, and seize the opportunity to attack and kill Wang Shichong, and then we will be finished for real.

    Kou Zhong sucked a deep breath and said, I get it! Supposing by tomorrow night we still cannot identify the spy, we must cancel Wang Shichongs attending the party. And then we are going full strength to attack the Imperial Palace, and recover the previous standoff against Li Mi; only then will be leave the city. What will happen later, let Wang Shichong rely on his good luck.

    And then he shook and said, Oh, no! Wouldnt that mean the spy is aware about Zhai Jiao?

    Kou Ye, dont worry, Xu Xingzhi calmly said, Shen Luoyan will not beat the grass to scare the snake before the successful assassination of Wang Shichong. Therefore, as long as Kou Ye makes proper arrangement by tomorrow night, I guarantee nothing bad will happen.

    Kou Zhong spoke with determination, I am going to look for some help from the Qingshe Bang [green snake gang], and notify Zhai Jiao. You go back inside, or else people might be suspicious.

    Kou Ye, please be careful, Xu Xingzhi whispered.

    Finished speaking he rushed back into the hall, while Kou Zhong urged his horse to gallop out of town.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Xingzhi turned into the Heavenly Street. Looking for Kou Zhong in the midst the vast crowd, he had a slightly depressed feeling.

    The matter between Susu and Xiang Yushan was a terrible mistake, they even had a child together; no how formidable he and Kou Zhong were, they did not have the strength to reverse the rotation of the sky.

    He has never had good impression toward Yun Yuzhen, and now he detested her even more, and was feeling very low.

    A fickle woman will always be fickle, she will never change.

    Kou Zhong and he had never wronged her, but time and again, using the most despicable means, she plotted against them, and even implicated the innocent Susu.

    At the bottom of it all, it all started from Li Jing having a change of heart.

    Without realizing it, he had reached the top of the Tianjin Bridge.

    Leaning against the railings, Xu Ziling peered down into the Luo River, in total disregard of the bustling atmosphere behind him, with vehicle, horses and pedestrians moving in steady stream.

    He was debating whether he should go back to Baling immediately to check on Susu, but deep in his heart he was rather scared of going back. With contradicting thoughts in his mind, he really wanted to look up to the sky and cry his heart out, to wash away the depression and grief.

    Why are there so many people in the world who bite the one that feeds them? Whether it was Xiang Yushan or Yun Yuzhen, they have both received favor from them without any enmity.

    This is called I dont offend people, but people offend me. Actually, Kou Zhongs desire to take the initiative to strike first to contend over the world was not entirely unfounded. Presently it was clear that power was everything; there was practically no room for virtue and reason.

    At this time, suddenly someone appeared next to him, and together they looked down into the Luo River. This person spoke in gentle voice, Why does Xu Xiong worry about things that are hard to solve, so that your countenance is filled with grief and indignation?

    Just from the fragrant scent emanating from her immortal body, Xu Ziling knew that she was the simple and elegant as an immortal Shi Feixuan. This peerless beauty was still dressed in mens clothing; no words can be used to describe her scholarly elegance.

    Without turning his head and look at her, Xu Ziling smiled ruefully and said, I now understand why people leave their home [to become Buddhist monk/nun]. Because all living things suffer, once we are drawn into this world, it is impossible to unravel, the only way out is death. Only by cutting off the worldly affairs would we see that the four elements are vanity [idiom: this world is an illusion]. But currently Xiaodis feet are deep in the mire; I wanted to stop, but I cant.

    Shi Feixuans jade countenance did not show the slightest bit of emotion; she spoke indifferently, Would Xu Xiong be willing to listen to Feixuans story?

    Xu Ziling remained silent.

    Shi Feixuan smoothly said, Cold mountain because of white cloud, silence by no means because of dust of the earth. There was a house on a grassy mountain, a lone lantern bright as the full moon. Stone bed overlooking green jade pond, deer and tiger live side by side. Envious of serene and happy residence, forever become a person outside of this world.

    Her voice gentle and beautiful like the sound of nature, her intonation melodious like the sound of music, softly recited in this busy downtown, the poem carried an incomparable inspiration.

    Poetry and literature constantly stirred up Xu Zilings mental association, for instance cold mountain and white cloud, lone lantern and bright moon; just because they came from her fragrant lips, they seemed to carry new meanings, some kind of imagery that came out of this secular world and into a realm that transcended the secular world. It was such a breathtakingly beautiful perception.

    Although the two peoples gaze have not met, but because they were both focused on the endlessly flowing river underneath, there was a subtle connection between them.

    Meanwhile the sun was sinking down, bathing the empty sky west of the city red with its twilight.

    Xu Ziling muttered, That does not sound like a story!

    A faint smile escaped from the corner of Shi Feixuans lips; she spoke indifferently, It was only the prelude of the story, meant to set Xu Xiongs state of mind to listen to the story. Otherwise, it would be like playing the lute to a cow, wasting my words.

    Xu Ziling suddenly changed the subject, Is there really such thing as afterlife retribution?

    Shi Feixuan replied, Since Xu Xiong is not someone who cares about material things, why do you care about such matter like secular people?

    Xu Ziling was jolted and turned his gaze to her. You seem to know me very well! he spoke in amazement.

    Shi Feixuan did not respond, neither did she meet his gaze; she kept her beautiful eyes on the flowing water down below.

    The outline of her face viewed from the side was breathtakingly beautiful, ethereal like the essence of the heaven and the earth coming true, and everything came together in the perfect line of the profile of her face.

    Although there were hundred knots of worry in Xu Zilings intestines, he could not help feeling deeply attracted to her, as if in the midst of miserable world where the fire of war filled the whole sky, he was trying to find the Peach Blossom Spring, a hidden land of peace and prosperity to escape this mortal world.

    Shi Feixuan did not seem to be bothered by his admiring stare less than two chi away; her jade countenance was as calm as still water. She spoke softly, Someone was asking a monk, Heshang [Buddhist monk] cultivate the way, is it hard? The monk replied, Its hard. The man asked again, In what way? The monk replied, Hunger came, eat, weary came, sleep. Thereupon the asking man was surprised, Since that is the case, then it is the same as not hard? he asked. The monk replied, Of course not the same. When its time to eat, they are unwilling to eat, but think of a hundred thoughts, plot a thousand schemes. Therefore, it is not the same.

    And then her limpid, bright and deep eyes looked up to meet his gaze. Is this story interesting? she asked softly.

    Xu Ziling looked deep into her eyes. Sensing her untainted-by-even-a-speck-of-dust tranquil frame of mind, he nodded and said, Miss story contains a very deep meaning, but the primary condition is that one must extricate oneself completely from the miserable world of other people; only then will one attain this kind of no-desire, no-demand realm, and will be able to probe the question of human existence. This will be the extreme state of liberation and freedom, similar to Zhuang Zhou [same as Zhuangzi (369-286 BC), Daoist author] and Laozis [Lao-tze (c. 500 BC), Chinese philosopher, the founder of Taoism] natural Daoist doctrine of inaction, the original pursuit of nothingness. But unless one can sever worldly affair like Miss, how can one reach the no-emotion state?

    A look of astonishment flashed across Shi Feixuans pretty eyes, but she quickly reverted to her serenity, as she spoke gently, Xu Xiong is indeed a man with great wisdom and knowledge, no wonder you are able to grasp the Secret to Long Lifes key principle, and penetrate the Jade Annulus of He Clans secret, which had been buried throughout all ages. Xu Xiongs question just now not only recognized the true knowledge of reality, it is also enough to reach the way. Would Xu Xiong like to hear another story?

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, Right now I am practically not in the mood to listen to any story, but Miss story is too pleasant to listen to, so its hard for me to extricate myself, hence my body have no choice but to follow its master to listen with respectful attention.

    Shi Feixuan turned her gaze away, back toward the flowing water below. She looked at a small boat carrying a family of men, women, young and old, gradually sailing away under the red clouds glowing in the setting sun.

    Xu Ziling followed her gaze. His fluctuating mood gradually calmed down.

    The high-volume traffic behind them was slowly thinning down, the noise was also diminishing somewhat.

    The Tianjin Bridge was a must-see attraction for visitors to Luoyang City, so two people standing side by side leaning on the railings were commonly seen; it would not attract attention at all.

    It was only this moment that Xu Ziling remembered that Shi Feixuan saw him today, and suddenly made her immortal track known, there must be a reason that he himself did not understand yet.

    Shi Feixuans voice entered his ears, There is an immortal elder from the Taoist family starting up a furnace to perfect his dan [red/pellet/powder/cinnabar; meaning concocting the pill of immortality]. Everything was prepared; the only thing missing was a Daotong [Taoist servant boy] to keep watch the furnace.

    Xu Ziling asked in astonishment, I thought Miss is going to tell another Buddhist story.

    Shi Feixuan smiled and said, Buddhism, Taoism, whats the difference? Just like you and I, we are both human beings!

    Xu Ziling was puzzled, Everybody is different, or else why would you be Shi Feixuan and I am called Xu Ziling?

    Shi Feixuan calmly replied, Since mind is Buddha, then without mind there is no Buddha. Since if it is not mind then it is not Buddha, then it is also a non-entity. Human is human, self is merely the screen that hinders, so that eating does not feel like eating! [Sorry, its beyond me.]

    It was only today that Xu Ziling came in contact with a Dhyana [Zen] Master. Both Liao Kong and Shi Feixuan, on the surface their words were simple and easy to understand, but hidden deep inside was always profound mystery that was difficult to understand. Without any choice he said humbly, I will have to think about it. Miss, please continue your story, I wont interrupt anymore!

    ※ ※ ※

    After entrusting his horse to the care of the House of Dong Restaurants stable, Kou Zhong continued his journey on foot toward the Qingshe Bangs headquarter located at the pier.

    Because he was afraid of being followed and thus his relationship with Ren En was discovered, he left the main street and unleashed his footwork by suddenly dashed toward a side ally, and suddenly darted through houses and passed the buildings, and employed all kinds of anti-tracking method to make sure that nobody was tailing him, before finally flying toward the destination at full speed.

    Under the dimming light of the setting sun, the continuous interaction of the buildings and the trees and greeneries, as well as the ubiquitous towering roof of the temples and pagodas, painted a wonderful silhouette against the sky. Too bad Kou Zhong was turning a blind eye to everything; in his mind right now was how to have Zhai Jiao and the others to evade a fatal disaster.

    Kou Zhong avoided the main gate and opted to somersault down from the roof. He had not touched the ground when his countenance underwent a great change.

    ※ ※ ※

    Neither fast nor slow, Shi Feixuan spoke evenly, Finally someone came to apply for the job as the Daotong who would keep watch of the furnace. The Daozhang [Taoist priest] said, If you can try not to speak from now on, then you can be may Daotong. Are you willing to try? The man resolutely nodded. And then the sky spun, the earth went around, he fell into countless lifetimes and reincarnated over and over again. But whether in riches and honor, or poor and lowly, being a king, marquis, general minister, or being a peddler and carrier, he was able to persevere not to talk. Each time from the time he was born till the time he died, he became a mute who did not speak a single word.

    Listening to her, there was a deep frown on Xu Zilings eyebrows. This story had an immortal way, mysterious, strange, even weird, flavor; but he was unclear whether it had something to do with the topic of their discussion just now.

    Shi Feixuan went on, Finally, in a certain lifetime he became a woman, got married and bore a child. Who would have thought that after her child was born, before he was even a month old, a thief came?

    Xu Zilings curiosity was piqued, What did she do? he asked in astonishment.

    Shi Feixuan said, The thief killed her husband before her eyes, and humiliated her, but she still persevered not to make any noise, until finally the thief was going to throw the infant to the ground, she at last forgot her recurring distant purpose, and cried out wildly to stop the thief.

    Xu Zilings tiger-body shook severely. He understood.

    Shi Feixuan spoke indifferently, Thereupon he woke up from the recurring distant past, and found out that he was still standing in the Dan room; nothing has changed, except for the hot tears on his face. The immortal elder sighed and said, Forget it! You still cannot sever the love between mother and child.

    And then she spoke softly, Kou Zhong is here! Feixuan takes my leave.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sat on the slope of River Luos dike, approximately on the same spot they sat this morning, but their mood was totally different. Kou Zhong was surprisingly calm and collected; he spoke in low voice, I am positive the perpetrator is only one person, but within the Qingshe Bang headquarter, twenty-five people, not a single one escaped. It is clear that the movement was fast, ruthless, and accurate; at least Wanwans caliber. But certainly not committed by Yin Gui Pai people.

    Xu Zilings heart was swelling with blazing thought of revenge for Qingshe Bangs Gang Leader Ren En and his men, but his voice was very calm and even as he spoke indifferently, How could you be so sure?

    Kou Zhong hatefully said, Because from the bodies and the condition of their injury, it does not look like it was caused by Tianmo Gong. On the surface, Ren En and the others did not have the slightest bit of scar or bruises, but their five viscera [i.e. heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys] were crushed. Evidently it was some kind of softness within the hardness; an extremely overbearing splitting-the-air fist or palm.

    Sucking a mouthful of cold air, Xu Ziling said, Although Ren En and the others martial art skill could not be considered superior, but if I wanted to kill all of them without letting anyone escaping out of the headquarter building, I am afraid its not possible. Hence this persons martial art skill must be above ours. In Jianghu, this kind martial art masters can be counted on ones fingers. Who could it be?

    At this time, the curtain of night was just beginning to descend on them; the lights and lanterns were starting to be lit. Compared with their grey, dark and dull frame of mind, this kind of prosperity and flourishing atmosphere seemed to carry a thick, callous mocking.

    Kou Zhong dejectedly said, Honestly, at that time I really wanted to cry loudly, to wash away the grief and pain in my heart. But I knew I absolutely couldnt do that; instead, I must even more determine to strike back. Right now all I can think of is the tragic scene of their bodies scattered around the headquarters; can you analyze it for me?

    Naturally Xu Zilings mood could not be better than his; quite probably it was even worse. After taking a deep breath, he said, First of all, how did the other party know our relationship with Qingshe Bang? What benefit would it give him by destroying the Qingshe Bang? Why must this person acted alone? If we can figure out one of these points, we could make speculation as which party did this.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, The highest in our suspect list ought to be Yin Gui Pai, but always felt it was not their handiwork.

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, I agree, it shouldnt be Yin Gui Pai. If the perpetrator is connected to one of the local gangs or societies in Luoyang, it should be very easy to discover that these last couple of days Qingshe Bang was running around on our behalf. Yet after losing Luoyang Bang, Yin Gui Pai is like losing their intelligence network. Therefore, the highest in our list should be the Dugu Clan. But come to think about it, something is not quite right.

    And then he narrated how Shen Luoyan was implicating them on the death of Dugu Ba.

    Although Kou Zhong was full of hatred that his teeth itched, he shook his head emphatically and said, Dugu Clan has already had a card up their sleeve, they cant possibly risk great scheme for not able to tolerate small matter. Because after tomorrow night, they will be able to do whatever they want; could it be that they cannot wait for a day and a half?

    So he told Xu Ziling about their suspicion that there was a mole within Wang Shichongs party.

    Xu Ziling also told him the intelligence supplied by Tongtong, but for the time being he concealed the fact that YunYuzhen betrayed Susu, because he did not want to over-complicate Kou Zhong; he also did not mention that Shi Feixuan was coming to speak to him.

    The two boys racked their brains for half a day, but everything was still hazy without the least bit of clue. Distressed, Kou Zhong said, What should we do? I was originally thinking of asking Ren En to send a letter to Zhai Jiao, telling her to watch for Li Mi. But now, who could help me?

    Severely shaken, Xu Ziling said, I just thought about someone who might do this evil scheme.

    Dumbstruck, Kou Zhong said, What does it have to do with sending a letter to Zhai Jiao?

    Xu Zilings eyes were flashing with intense murderous aura; he spoke in heavy voice, Tell me, besides you, who would know where Zhai Jiao is?

    Kou Zhong replied, Such an important matter, how could I easily tell anybody?

    All right! Xu Ziling said, Tell me then, supposing you did not know about the mole, when you see Ren En and more than twenty of his men were tragically massacred, what would be your reaction now?

    Kou Zhong started to understand; gnashing his teeth in hatred he said, This plot is indeed too vicious. I would definitely remind everybody who helped me, overtly or covertly, to raise their vigilance. If this person really know the secret relationship between us and Ren En like the back of his hand, then I am afraid Zhai Jiao would not escape disaster either.

    Xu Ziling slapped his thigh and said, That is indeed the crucial point of this matter, plus it is logical. You have probably asked Wang Shichong to get in touch with Zhai Jiao for you, and that would leak out her hiding place. Tell me, who would plot actively to kill Zhai Jiao like this?

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day; finally he cursed and said, Shen Luoyan, that poniang, is really worse than a dog or a pig; otherwise, how could she just happened to come here to warn you, while there were dead people on that side? The executioner must be Huang Gongcuo, that kind of thousand-blade dead old demon. After getting rid of Zhai Jiao, this calamity within his bosom, her boss would hereafter be able to sleep peacefully.

    And then he frowned and said, But your speculation is at most only 90% accurate. If I simply go down to inform Zhai Jiao wouldnt Shen Luoyan only be beating the grass to scare the snake?

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, Dont deceive yourself! We care about Zhai Jiaos safety too much, so we would try everything to warn her. Shen Luoyan understands us really well.

    And then he coldly added, If we can beat someone at his own game, we could definitely lure the main culprit out of his hiding place.

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, Wang Shichong is the real number one target of Shen Luoyan. But I can make a diversion so that she would completely miss Zhai Jiaos real hiding place.

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, You can employ the repair the plank road by day while secretly crossing the Wei River at Chenchang stratagem [refers to a stratagem used by Liu Bang in 206 BC against Xiang Yu of Chu]. Overtly you go through Wang Shichong, covertly well ask Bu Tianzhi to prepare everything.

    I completely forgot my appointment with Bu Tianzhi, Kou Zhong blurted out, Hey! How come you suddenly mentioned his name and not Yun Yuzhen? From the beginning I did not trust this woman.

    Xu Ziling pulled him up and said, Well talk as we walk! Right now you go back to Wang Shichong, ask him to make funeral arrangement for Ren Bangzhu and his men; I will contact Bu Tianzhi. Now without you persuading me, I am going to make every effort to deal with Li Mi.

    Kou Zhong said in low voice, If we cannot fine the mole, even if you are willing to help me, we will lose this battle for sure.

    Xu Ziling was quiet for half a day. Finally he said, In that case you and I go together to see Bu Tianzhi, and then go see Wang Shichong later!

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