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

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    Default Book 19 Chapter 4

    Book 19 Chapter 4 Gratitude and Grudges, Passion and Enmity

    Xu Ziling intentionally wore bamboo hat with muslin veil to shade his face, revealing only the lower part of his face; his mouth and lower jaw. From head to foot he exuded a strange, indescribable charisma, as he boldly walked over toward Bai Qingers ship still anchored at the dock.

    The pier was busy with people coming and going, loading and unloading the goods; the river traffic was even busier, with endless stream of ships and boats going on either direction.

    Xu Ziling was thinking on how to proceed when from Bai Qingers ship several men came out and walked down the plank.

    He took a look, and cheered inwardly, because one of them was precisely the Henan Mad Warrior Zheng Shiru. From the other three, he recognized two as old acquaintances; the Gold and Silver Spears Ling Feng and the Fat Demon Jin Bo, both could be considered the enemy.

    The other man was about twenty-three, twenty-four, wearing expensive-looking clothes, carrying the air of the son or disciple of a prominent family. He looked somewhat familiar, perhaps it was a guy with whom Xu Ziling had predestined affinity that he caught a glimpse of him during Rong Fengxiangs birthday party.

    With his hand pressed against the sabers hilt, Xu Ziling quickly moved forward, blocking their path.

    Four pair of fierce and sharp eyes immediately fell upon him. Both parties stopped with only about two zhang distance between them.

    With his hand still on the hilt, Xu Ziling pressed forward.

    Four men immediately felt his deep cold and grave powerful momentum; one after another they fanned out and drew their weapons.

    Ling Feng was still wielding gold and silver short spears in his left and right hands. Jin Bos signature weapon was a long iron stick. The young man and Zheng Shiru had swords in their hands.

    When the people around saw men baring sabers and drawing swords, they promptly scattered away in all direction.

    Xu Ziling shouted sternly, Zheng Shiru come here to meet your death. Others who have nothing to do with him get lost for Laofu, otherwise dont blame Laofus blade for being merciless.

    Actually, even until this moment, he still did not know how bringing trouble to Zheng Shiru would benefit them; so it could be said that it was an idea within having no idea at all, because Zheng Shiru and Bai Qinger have become their only clue to find Yin Gui Pai. If Zheng Shiru received Yin Gui Pais order to recruit him, then he would have an opportunity he could exploit.

    Zheng Shiru was able to recognize his hoarse voice immediately; he hastily said, Its a misunderstanding; can we talk? I wonder how did Wanbei [junior] offend Yue Qianbei [senior]?

    Hearing the three words Yue Qianbei, Ling Feng and the others, three mens countenance changed immediately. Obviously they knew whats going on.

    Letting a cold snort, Xu Ziling said, What misunderstanding? Were it not for you revealing Laofus whereabouts, who would know that Laofu is here? Merely this point, I cannot spare you for your mortal crime.

    It was apparent that Zheng Shiru was extremely wary toward this Overbearing Saber Yue Shan; exercising self-restraint, he said, Qianbei please calm down and listen to Wanbeis explanation. There is a reason behind it, why dont we put down our blades and sit down to talk?

    Laughing coldly, Xu Ziling said, Laozi dont have time for that kind of idle talk, killing one or two people is not a big deal. En garde!

    Without revealing real skill, how could one express his true worth?

    Xu Ziling flashed his shoulders, like moving clouds and flowing water he suddenly slid two zhang forward, drawing out his saber and chopping down ferociously. Imposing and powerful saber momentum immediately rolled the four opponents into the battlefield.

    Among various weapons, because Xu Ziling had learned Li Jings Bloody Battle Ten-Style, he was quite adept at using saber. Plus these days he had gained considerable experience to display his mastery of the saber. It was both shrewd and ruthless, yet ferocious, but still carrying the imposing manner of overbearing saber over the world.

    One side was storing up energy and waiting, the other side was still in doubt; plus Xu Zilings movement was flowing smoothly, fast like lightning or spark of fire, and the saber wind was incomparably swift and fierce. Zheng Shiru, Ling Feng and Jin Bo, three men felt it was difficult to block using force, so they staggered out, opening wide the battlefront between the four people.

    Only that young master was like a new-born calf that has no fear of the tiger, or perhaps he did not know whats going on, unexpectedly he did not back down the least bit, but drew his blade to meet the saber head-on.

    Dang!

    The young master, his person and his sword, was hacked by Xu Ziling that he was thrown sideways and nearly rolled over on the ground.

    Greatly shocked, Zheng Shiru flashed forward and brandished his sword to counterattack. Ling Feng and Jin Bo hurriedly helped from the side, to stop Xu Ziling from continuing his killer move. The formers sword move was bold and powerful, fast, experienced and careful; compared to the latter two, it was obvious that he was several notches superior. Each move was desperate move, brute force against brute force, creating an unending ear-splitting ringing noise of gold against iron.

    Xu Ziling praised inwardly. This Henan Mad Warrior had brilliant eyesight; knowing that if all of them fought desperately with all their strength, they would be hardly spared, thereupon he held back his offensive and concentrated only on defensive, giving Ling Feng and Jin Bo, two men the opportunity to strike back. It was the correct strategy.

    Xu Ziling let out a long laugh, the long saber conveniently sending out a stream of continuous counterattacks, hidden within the opening and closing his defense line were exquisite, profound mystery changes in his technique, sucking the three men inside the saber shadow and the ray of the blade.

    Without revealing his strength, how could he get the other sides attention?

    From the ship came a chirping, singsong like voice, Old Yue, is it possible for you to give regard to qies status and momentarily hold your hand?

    Xu Zilings saber momentum suddenly flared out; after forcing the three men to withdraw, he put the saber back into its scabbard, and immediately assumed a steady-as-a-profound-peak air, giving the impression that he could not be toppled down.

    Looking up, he saw Bai Qinger standing charmingly on the bow. Surprisingly, accompanying her on her left and right were the Evil Monk Fa Nan and Amorous Nun Chang Zhen, whom he had not seen for a long time. The two acted exceptionally deferential. From this it was clear that the Overbearing Saber Yue Shans fame for his fighting prowess was quite resounding.

    Xu Ziling suddenly soared over the three mens heads and landed on the deck.

    Bai Qingers demeanor did not change, but Evil Monk and Amorous Nun looked alert.

    Looking through the muslin veil, Xu Ziling fixed his gaze on Bai Qinger as if nobody else present; he said, If Laofus discerning eyes did not fail me, little girl must be an old acquaintance. On the street the other day, in just one glance Laofu already knew your status.

    This remark fitted very well with his status as an older senior generation, while at the same time explaining the reason he glared at her like a tiger watching its prey that day.

    This moment Zheng Shiru leaped onto the ship, and spoke in low voice, Naturally we do not dare to conceal from Old Yue. Since Old Yue already know the whole story, you ought to know there are many ears listening right now; why dont we invite your honorable self to go into the cabin and discuss this matter in details?

    Xu Ziling looked back at the dock, and saw Ling Feng and Jin Bo were leaving with that young master. Immediately he understood that Ling Feng and Jin Bo were also Yin Gui Pai men.

    In that case, if Qian Duguan did not belong to Yin Gui Pai, he must have a very close relationship with Yin Gui Pai.

    This Yue Shan identity was very effective; without much difficulty he was able to obtain a lot of valuable intelligence.

    Letting out a cold snort, Xu Ziling took the lead entering the cabin.

    Zheng Shiru rushed forward to show the way.

    Before stepping foot into the cabin, Xu Ziling suddenly halted his step at the threshold. Not only he cried for his Niang inwardly, he was so shocked that cold sweats started to cover his whole body, and he nearly turned around and bolted away.

    Because he saw Zhu Yuyan, with her face covered in thick muslin veil, was sitting quietly in an imperial chair near the south cabin wall, in a calm, leisurely manner of the leader of a sect.

    It does not matter if he guessed a thousand times or thought ten thousand times, he would never imagine that he would come across the Empress Yin Zhu Yuyan in here. This time, he was literally a lamb in a tigers den.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong, disguised as a porter, mingled among the crowd watching the show, saw everything.

    In the blink of an eye the dock came back to its previous condition, as if nothing has been happening.

    Naturally Kou Zhong did not have to worry about Xu Ziling. Even if Wanwan was onboard the ship, Xu Ziling had the ability to escape via the water. It was also their agreed method of dealing with emergency.

    This moment there was a street peddler selling tea setting up his business at the next dock. Kou Zhong was about to take this opportunity to blend into the crowd when suddenly a horse-drawn carriage was coming near. The two big men sitting on the driver seat looked valiant, unlike ordinary carriage drivers.

    When the carriage stopped, another young man pushed the door open and got off of the carriage.

    Kou Zhongs spirit rose up immediately. That man was unexpectedly one of the martial art masters of Li Shimins Heavenly Policy Mansion, Pang Yu.

    Three other men opened the tailgate of the carriage and took out a rectangular box with several breathing holes on it, and carried it aboard a huge ship waiting on the dock.

    This kind of loading/unloading activity was so common that it did not attract anybody elses attention at all.

    After hesitating for half a day, in the end Kou Zhong could not overcome his curiosity; he decided to sneak up the ship to see what was going on.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling strode into the cabin, casually threw his hat away, and making his voice strange, he let out a long laugh and said, Yuyan, I trust you have been well since we last met!

    He had made up his mind that since he was certain of defeat, he would expose his identity himself, and then tried to break siege by force.

    Lu Miaozis mask could deceive those who did not know Yue Shan personally, but to a grandmaster level martial art master like Zhu Yuyan, as long as she saw him once, she would not forget, not to mention it was more than likely that the two of them knew each other on personal level.

    The reason he entered the cabin was that it from there, it was more convenient to jump into the river to escape, because the corridor behind him was blocked by Bai Qinger, Chang Zhen and Fa Nan, three people.

    If necessary, he could sneak-attack Zheng Shiru and use him as a shield.

    As long as he could block or slow Zhu Yuyan for a short period of time, he would have the opportunity to escape through the window or by breaking through the wall.

    Zhu Yuyan was as still as the water in the well with no ripple, coldly, through the veil in from of her face, fixed her deep gaze on him.

    Although he could not see her eyes, he could directly feel her gaze.

    Xu Ziling pressed his hand on the saber hilt; immediately cold aura permeated the cabin, filling it with severe, frosty murderous air.

    For some unknown reason, Zhu Yuyan did not immediately expose him, this counterfeit; beyond everybodys expectation, she let out a faint sigh and slowly said, Everybody else get out!

    Xu Ziling said in his heart, This is where she is going to take care of me personally.

    While he was still contemplating whether he should make his move immediately, he sensed that Zhu Yuyan did not have any intention to fight. While he was vacillating, Zheng Shiru and the others already withdrew from the cabin and closed the door.

    Zhu Yuyan rose up to her full height, her posture was graceful.

    Xu Ziling spoke in his heart, Here we come! and he was on full alert.

    Zhu Yuyan shook her head and said, You have finally mastered the Huan Ri Da Fa [Great Method of Exchanging Sun]; no wonder not only you dare to reappear in Jianghu, you also have the guts to challenge Yuyan. Its been forty years; you still cannot water down your resentment toward me?

    Inwardly, Xu Ziling was severely shaken.

    My Niang, could it be that she really did not know I am a fake goods? In a flash, hundreds and thousands of thought flitted in his head.

    The only explanation was that this mask was created meticulously based on Yue Shans real face, and that his own build closely resembled Yue Shans.

    Naturally his personality traits, voice, and poise differed vastly from Yue Shans, but because in her heart Zhu Yuyan was already convinced that Yue Shan was hiding to train some Huan Ri Da Fa, which, as the name implied, it was some kind of skill to shed ones mortal body and exchange ones bones, she thought that the changes in his appearance was because he has mastered said skill; unexpectedly she really mistook the Ma Liang galloping into the capital [I could not find reference on this idiom], and was duped to believe that Xu Ziling was really Yue Shan.

    But if he spoke a few more words, he guaranteed that Zhu Yuyan would see through him.

    But he could not stay silent. That day he and Kou Zhong, Ba Fenghan, three men joined hands fighting Zhu Yuyan, they still ended up barely get away with their lives. Although presently his skill has improved significantly, compared to Zhu Yuyan, there was still some distance. Of course, it would be best if he could wriggle out his way without having to fight at all.

    Xu Ziling was silent for half a day, before letting out a cold humph and striding forward toward the cabin window on Zhu Yuyans right side. And then, making his voice deep and hoarse, he said, You still cannot forget him for forty years, you still cannot forget him!

    Perhaps because what he said struck the load on Zhu Yuyans mind, unexpectedly she did not reply.

    Xu Zilings remark definitely contained boundless wisdom.

    Concerning the gratitude and grudges of the people of Zhu Yuyans generation, he only knew bits and pieces from what little things Lu Miaozi told him.

    According to Lu Miaozi, because of his infatuation with Zhu Yuyan, he nearly lost his life, luckily he used a mask to escape.

    And it was quite possible that the mask he was using was this exact mask that turned him into the Overbearing Saber Yue Shan.

    There were two reasons to support this theory.

    First of all, Lu Miaozis build was tall and imposing like Xu Ziling. Naturally it was very close in size with Yue Shans build, otherwise now Xu Ziling could not deceive Zhu Yuyan.

    The second reason was that with Zhu Yuyans eyesight, even if Lu Miaozi was wearing a mask, in just a glance Zhu Yuyan would be able to through him from his physique, his movement and his demeanor. In this case, he could only disguise himself as someone whom she knew, and had to look alike without any flaw if he wanted to have any hope of deceiving her.

    Following this rationale, there must be a subtle and intimate relationship among the three, Yue Shan, Lu Miaozi and Zhu Yuyan.

    What Xu Ziling was saying was actually very vague, and could be interpreted many other ways. In short, in human life in the human world, gratitude and grudges, passion and enmity are inevitable, no matter how much one tries not to go there.

    At this time, although he could escape to the river any moment, he really did not wish to leave that quickly!

    The cabin fell into an awkward silence, only the voices of the porters loading and unloading the goods on the dock and the sound of the river lapping against the hull of the ship came through the window.

    The tone of Zhu Yuyans voice turned cold as she softly said, Look!

    Xu Ziling turned around to look.

    Zhu Yuyan raised her hands to lift the muslin toward either side, exposing her face, which had always been hidden deep behind the veil.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong observed for quite a while, still he had not found a good way to sneak into the enemys ship, not only because the opposite party had people standing guard on the deck, but also because they had their people on the dock watching for any suspicious people in the vicinity. In broad daylight, even someone with better qinggong would be unable to find a solution.

    Li kid having a ship in here was naturally reasonable, but that box was definitely questionable. If he did not guess incorrectly, the content of the box must be a person; otherwise, it would not need any ventilation holes.

    Who could it be? Kou Zhong pondered for half a day. Finally he made up his mind and walked toward the ship in large strides.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling took a look; immediately his stare turned blank.

    Time did not leave any trace on her face; looking at her left to right, top to bottom, she was still radiant with youth, looked only a few years older than Wanwan.

    With the veil still covering half of her face, he could only able to see most of it, but the exposed part was charming, brimming with intoxicating grace.

    Her pair of pretty eyebrows slanted up toward her temples, her pair of black-as-a-dot-of-lacquer eyes was extremely full of spirit; her gaze was enough to bewitch any man falling upside-down. Combined with her tender and soft white skin, which looked like it was sculpted out of faultless white jade, no one would not be overwhelmed by breathtaking feeling.

    In term of beauty, she was really not inferior to the peerless beauty Wanwan; moreover, in term of appearance, there was even a striking resemblance between the two, making him think that there must be a mother-daughter relationship between them.

    In term of personality traits, she was delicate and pretty beyond comprehension, definitely would not make people associate her with the sinister, heretical Yin Gui Pai.

    In that moment, Xu Ziling was so surprised that his mind went blank; he was unable to think.

    It was beyond his expectation.

    The veil went down again.

    Zhu Yuyan spoke indifferently, If in my heart Yuyan still cannot forget men, how could I master the Tian Mo Da Fa [demonic great method]? The passion, joy, love and desire that bewilder that turn common people upside down are just the barrier on the road. Xiao Shan, if you still cannot break through this point, there is no way you can wipe away the disgrace of Song Ques saber.

    Listening to her, Xu Ziling felt the chill creeping up in his heart.

    Although the tone of her voice was flat, there was a hint of sincerity that grew from her heart, demonstrating her deep conviction of this matter, penetrating the as-it-should-be-by-rights, callous feeling.

    It should be noted that human has seven emotional states [in traditional Chinese medical theory and therapy, namely: joy, anger, anxiety, thought, grief, fear, fright] and six desires. Even extremely vicious, exceedingly evil person would still have love in his heart. But Zhu Yuyan did not have this problem. According to her logic, there was fundamentally no virtue and evil, good and bad, hence she did not have any psychological barrier, everything she did thus became necessity, by fair means or foul.

    Xu Ziling was afraid she might be able to see through his expression, hence he turned around to look out the window, and spoke in heavy voice, Hows my old friend doing?

    Zhu Yuyan sat back into the chair; she spoke gently, You still envy him?

    Immediately Xu Ziling felt his scalp went numb; it was only this moment that he knew the relationship between Zhu Yuyan and Song Que was really not simple.

    Zhu Yuyan went on, Were it not for your jealous heart that day, how could he exploited that feeling, breaking your saber and making you run away to the northern desert, the illustrious name of your entire life went down the drain?

    Xu Ziling calmly said, Yuyan, you are skilled in the technique of observing the heart distinguishing the thought; could it be that you cannot sense that I already have sky-and-earth-turning-upside-down changes, yet you still say such an irritating remark?

    The fact was that he did not know what to say, so he might as well take a risk out of desperation, trying to probe her outlook on him, this counterfeit Yue Shan.

    Zhu Yuyan spoke gloomily, You have become so formidable, like you have changed into a different man. Did Song Ques saber injure your qi passage so bad that your voice become so hoarse and unpleasant to hear?

    Xu Ziling thought that it would be best if you think so; thereupon he coldly said, We have nothing more to say, I wont mind your business anymore; I am leaving!

    He was about to go through the window, when Zhu Yuyan gently said, Dont you want to see your own daughter?

    Xu Ziling was severely shaken, What? he blurted out.

    His shock was genuine, because he thought he had revealed the cloven foot.

    Kou Zhong walked over toward the gangplank. Two men appeared on the deck and shouted, Whos friend?

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Tell Pang Yu to roll out and see me!

    The two mens countenance changed slightly; this man has come to cause trouble.

    Kou Zhong raised his qi and unleashed his qinggong, with one leap he landed on the deck. Wheres Pang Yu? he shouted.

    He thought that if he killed one of the fierce general of Li kids Heavenly Policy Mansion, he would weaken Li kids power by a notch too, hence it would be worthwhile.

    More than a dozen enemies swarmed out of the cabin door and fanned out to besiege him, and only then did Pang Yu step out leisurely. Stopping about a zhang away in front of him, he spoke arrogantly, You have the impertinence to mention me by name and create a disturbance, friend must not be a nameless man; report your name to me.

    Kou Zhong applied his internal power to change his voice; giggling, he said, Pang Xiong just made a wrong guess. Xiaodi is indeed a nameless man. En garde!

    The Moon in the Well left its scabbard and swift like the wind and thunder it hacked down on Pang Yus face with a violent qi power, rolling toward the enemy.

    Pang Yu had never imagined that this plain and ordinary-looking man would attack as soon as he said he would; hastily he pulled his sword and swept it across to block.

    Dang!

    Sparks flew. Pang Yu felt that not only this saber was as heavy as the mountain, it also a strange force sucking his breath.

    While he was overwhelmed with shock, Kou Zhong already flipped overhead and slipped into the cabin door.

  2. #222
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 5

    Book 19 Chapter 5 Acting Before Thinking

    With a tranquil tone that would frighten people, Zhu Yuyan said, Speaking about talent, knowledge and experience, you are inferior to Lu Miaozi. Speaking about breadth of mind and imposing attitude, you cant be mentioned on equal terms with Song Que. But why was I willing to have a daughter with you?

    But quickly she sighed and said, But there is no sense in bringing this matter up now. Actually, Yuyan already decided not to let you leave this ship alive, but thinking that even though you have mastered the Huan Ri Da Fa it will still be difficult for you escape death from under Song Ques saber, I am willing to let you go to fulfill that cherished desire!

    Xu Ziling has never seen such a frightening woman, whose emotion appeared to be as deep as the ocean, but in essence she was actually cold-hearted that she would not let even the biological father of her daughter off. Although he could not help feeling angry, he spoke indifferently, If you dont kill me, there will come a day you will regret it.

    Finished speaking such a heartfelt remark, Xu Ziling leaped out the window and landed on the dock.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong swept his saber backhandedly, hacking on a man who ran after him and sending him flying backward, while with his right foot he kicked open a cabin door on his left, and stuck his head inside to look for that wooden chest.

    Seven, eight men raising sabers and holding axes charged with vengeance from the other end of the corridor, so that Kou Zhong was surrounded by the enemy from both sides.

    This moment Pang Yu shouted in anger and rushed behind him, and stabbed his sword straight toward Kou Zhongs back.

    The sword wind screamed; powerful, harsh, and ear piercing. Obviously he attacked in extreme anger.

    Knowing that Pang Yu was formidable, like a swimming fish Kou Zhong slid about a zhang away, his body swayed several times, not only to evade the attack of the swarming enemies from the other side, but also to kick one of the enemies toward Pang Yu, while he himself slipped into the enemy formation.

    After several deep muffled thuds, unleashed his serious technique by deliberately meeting and shaking the enemys weapons, filling it with spiraling energy, breaking the enemys palm [orig. hukou, tigers den, i.e. the web between the thumb and forefinger], so that their weapons dropped.

    Bang! Bang!

    Two more doors were kicked open.

    The corridor was in a great mess. All along Pang Yu was always a step behind.

    Boom!

    Kou Zhong forcibly crushed the wall on his right and entered into the cabin.

    Pang Yu shouted, Good saber technique! and then he also broke the door and entered, while shaking his wrist to brandish his sword, swiftly chopping down on Kou Zhong.

    His men on the corridor cheered for him.

    Kou Zhong basically intentionally lured him in, so that he could go all out to kill.

    As a result, his murderous intent flared out, but the lake of his heart was as still as the moon in the well, without the least bit negligence or contempt. After all, Pang Yu was also a first class strong hand among the martial art masters of the younger generation, absolutely not an easy target.

    This moment he let out a cold humph while ignoring Pang Yus sword chopping the side of his neck. First, he whirled to the right, so that he now stood face-to-face with Pang Yu, and then fast as lightning he pulled back and moved forward, while at the same time the treasured saber in his hand rose up perfectly straight and chopped down on the opponents forehead; as violent as a thunderbolt, with full power.

    Pang Yu has gone through disposition of troops in battle, but he had never encountered such a hard-to-defeat, formidable opponent.

    Perhaps dauntless people like Kou Zhong were not a few, but not many people had the courage like him, viewing death as a return home, with the impertinence to meet an attack with an attack, forcing the opponent to compete in speed and guts. Even if dauntless people with this kind of guts did exist, they still lacked his brilliant judgment, insight and skill.

    In this lightning-speed, flying-spark instant, Pang Yu must make a choice between life and death, whether he ought to keep his sword momentum unchanging, continuing chopping down, to see who would be hit first, or he ought to pull his sword to block.

    Dang!

    Pang Yu thought hard, but in the end he pulled his sword to block.

    One already stored up momentum and unleashed it, the other changed move in the face of death, the outcome really could not be gauged according to reason.

    Letting out a miserable groan, Pang Yu, his person and his sword, was sent flying away by Kou Zhongs violent saber power, and slamming against the cabin wall behind him, breaking it, and fell on the floor of the adjacent cabin.

    But Kou Zhong was groaning inwardly instead, because Pang Yu only needed to jump back two, three steps, which was clearly what he was doing now, by entering the adjacent cabin to recover from this setback, and thus Kou Zhong missed a golden opportunity to kill him.

    Five, six enemies surged in like a tide.

    Kou Zhong cried What a pity! inwardly, and crashed into the wall behind him toward the next cabin.

    The rectangular box was lying on the floor.

    Sending his power to his foot, he kicked and the chest split open, revealing a man inside.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling landed on the pier, and swept his gaze around, everything was as before; he did not see Kou Zhong, whom he expected to see.

    This moment he just wanted to find Kou Zhong as quickly as possible, and then slip away with him as far as possible; the farther away from Zhu Yuyan the better.

    Moving on their own, his feet brought him away from the waterfront, but he could not stop Zhu Yuyans ten thousand kinds of graceful countenance from reappearing again and again in his mind, and mused that no wonder she could make Lu Miaozi infatuated with her all his life, and only at the deaths door was he able to free himself from her charm, recognizing which woman really deserve to receive his love.

    Suddenly sound of hoof beats came from behind, more than a dozen riders were coming fast from behind.

    Letting out a cold humph, Xu Ziling leaped at an angle; like a big bird he soared and landed on the roof of a residential building on his left, and quickly disappeared.

    ※ ※ ※

    Fu Bangzhu! [vice gang leader] Kou Zhong blurted out.

    The man held prisoner inside the chest was surprisingly an old friend, Bu Tianzhi. This moment his eyes were closed; apparently his acupoint was sealed.

    Brandishing his saber, Kou Zhong charged into the enemy, sending them flipping over to the east and falling down to the west, routing them completely. At the same time he used his foot to lift Bu Tianzhi up, and held him under his arm. Stooping down, he shot out, and Bang! he broke through the ceiling, onto the observation deck above.

    Saving people was more important. Kou Zhong abandoned his idea of killing Pang Yu, and left in a hurry. This moment many of his old wounds burst open, so it was inadvisable to be engaged in a prolonged battle.

    ※ ※ ※

    By dusk, from the Overbearing Saber Yue Shan, Xu Ziling changed into the Scarface Hero identity, and sat inside a restaurant across the street from Rong Fengxiangs magnificent residence. He ordered some food and drink while waiting quietly for Kou Zhong.

    He had lost contact with Kou Zhong for no less than three sichen, and finally, without any better option, had to come here to wait.

    A carriage entered the Rong Mansion, with more than a dozen warriors in plain clothes in front and behind it.

    Xu Ziling was quite familiar with carriages and their drivers from Wang Shichongs side. In just one glance he recognized that this group of warriors in plain clothes were actually martial art masters among Wang Shichongs personal guards. Most likely inside the carriage was Dong Shuni, the kidnapping target Kou Zhong and he were eager to get.

    Up until now he still could not figure out Rong Fengxiang actually belong to which group, and what was his position? What was the relationship between Rong Fengxiang and Yang Xuyan? The more he delved into this matter, the more it was impossible to unravel.

    The main gate of the Rong Mansion suddenly opened wide, more than a dozen riders came out and entering the main street, they turned south. It seemed that they were Luoyang Bang men.

    This moment Kou Zhong came and sat uninvited on the seat next to Xu Ziling; picking up the cup of fine wine that Xu Ziling had not had the chance to moisten his lips with, he drank it in one gulp, licked his lips and said, Not bad! Ha! Its so good to find you here!

    Xu Ziling beckoned the waiter to add another set of bowl and chopsticks, and then he asked, Where in the hell were you?

    Picking up his chopsticks, Kou Zhong gorged himself; as if nothing had happened, he said, I have just sent Bu Tianzhi off, naturally I must eat a little bit!

    Xu Ziling was stunned, Bu Tianzhi? he asked.

    Immensely proud of himself, Kou Zhong narrated what had happened; and then he said, This is very strange, Yun Yuzhen and the others had just left, Li kids men already seized him away, but not killing him. It looks like they were going to transport him someplace else. There must be crafty plots and machinations in here somewhere.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, Is it possible that Yun Yuzhen, that poniang knew Bu Tianzhi is secretly in contact with us? I am afraid this is a killing two birds with one stone scheme; not only to take care of her own disloyal subordinate, but also to betray us, hoping that Li kid would be able to get rid the two of us too?

    Kou Zhong hatefully said, This poniang is very fierce and malicious! Merely because of Su Jies affair, I will not spare her. Anyway, what did you find?

    Finished listening to Xu Ziling recounting what happened, Kou Zhong stared blankly at him. Grabbing his head, he said, There is such thing? Logically, you wouldnt be able to fool her, would you?

    Xu Ziling sneered and said, No matter how formidable Zhu Yuyan is, she is still a woman. Just think, how could she ever think that Lu Miaozi would create a mask in the likeness of Yue Shan? Much less she believes that Yue Shan has mastered some his mothers Huan Ri Da Fa.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, You have to preserve this identity well; if you can fool Zhu Yuyan, who knows your real identity, then you can fool anybody. Perhaps you can even make female demon Wan to call you Die!

    Xu Ziling laughed and cursed him, Screw you! Its you who have relationship with the Zhu witch. Ay! I am really tired of Luoyang. Just now it looked like Dong Da Xiaojie [big miss], riding on a carriage, has arrived at Rong Mansion. Are we going to inside to capture her, or wait here for an opportunity to seize her on her way out?

    Kou Zhong spoke heavily, This matter should not be delayed; of course we must go in and grope our way. Otherwise, if that loose young woman stay for the night, must we stay all night without sleeping? It would be best if while we are at it, we can kill that kid Yang Xuyan as well, to save us a lot of future trouble.

    Xu Ziling rose up to his full height and stepped out, saying, In that case, let us spread our wings by doing something that will turn his mothers sky and earth upside down!

    ※ ※ ※

    Under cover of darkness, the two boys climbed over the courtyard wall; but before they were able to see the situation clearly, they heard strange sound, something like a dog walking around. Quickly they apply their internal power to close up the pores on their entire body, so that no scent would leak out, while at the same time soar high and landed on the slope of the roof or the nearest building.

    Sure enough, there were two huge vicious dogs rushing over. Although they did not find anything, they still sniffed to the east and sniffed to the west for quite a while before walking away.

    The boys swept their gaze around, and discovered that inside the high wall, there were more than a hundred building, big and small, linked together by corridors and landscape gardens and courtyards. Other than three towering master buildings at the front courtyard, the rest of the buildings were like a maze that would make people dazzled and stunned, so that the boys had a feeling of not knowing where to start.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, How do we look for her?

    Xu Ziling replied, If we can find Rong Jiaojiaos fragrant chamber, then we can find our little dissolute girl. You ought to remember Chen Laomous teaching, right?

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, This place has at least several hundred courtyards and buildings, with courtyard within courtyard, building within building. Chen Laomous teaching is a simple thing; it is completely useless here.

    Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, Actually, although the Rong Mansion covers a vast area with many buildings, it is not difficult to distinguish the master-slave relationship. It is only because there is a lack of clear central axis that you are confused and disoriented!

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, Now that you mentioned it, I can see this point. It could be that I was overwhelmed with the trees and lights in this residence that I felt there are dots of light everywhere. In your opinion, which courtyard might Rong Jiaojiao live?

    This moment the bright moon at the horizon revealed its immortal beauty, sprinkling its light onto the courtyards and pavilions of the Rong Mansion, creating some kind of indescribable yet extraordinarily gentle beautiful scenery.

    Xu Ziling took the lead to climb onto the top of the roof ridge; he spoke in low voice, This place is arranged according to the natural Bagua [trigrams] direction; therefore, if we can grasp this portal, it would be easy to find out the general direction of where Rong Jiaojiaos fragrant chamber might be.

    Kou Zhong was amazed, Since when did you understand Bagua? he asked, And how do you know this is natural (or innate) Bagua and not acquired Bagua? [Translators note: this is difficult to carry over to English. Xiantian means inborn/innate/natural (lit. before the day. Houtian means day after tomorrow/post-natal/acquired, not innate (lit. after the day).]

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, This is called diligent accomplishment! If I was as lazy as you, tonight we wouldnt be able to embrace the beauty and must return. Tell me, this residence is facing which direction?

    It should be from south to north? Kou Zhong replied.

    Xu Ziling said, Lu Fuzi [master/teacher] said, in natural Bagua, a building seated on the north facing south followed the Xun [symbolizing wood and wind, ancient Chinese compass point 135 (southeast)] position of the southeast gate. A building seated on the south facing north followed the Qian [symbolizing heaven, compass point 315 (northwest)] position of the northwest gate. And now the main gate is in qian position; therefore, the Rong Mansion is built according to the natural Bagua. Gua has its own Gua qi, nowadays what works is the Three Green Jade Application [not sure about this; 三碧运], even the most incompetent ground expert ought to know that the main residence ought to be located on the east!

    Kou Zhong happily said, Xu Lao Fuzi indeed have a little bit of skill; why dont you lead the way?

    ※ ※ ※

    The two boys soared from house to house, passing through corridors stepping across gardens, running fast toward the target area as if they were entering an uninhabited land.

    They escalated their senses to the peak, so sensitive that the walking ants and moving bugs within several dozen zhang radius around them could not escape their eyes and ears.

    Therefore, every single one of their movements, whether it was leaping high or crouching low, flashing to the left or darted t the right, would just avoid anybody in the Rong Mansion. Sometimes they evaded detection by just one step, but this one step was precisely the reason they did not leave any traces. Therefore, both covert and undercover guards keeping watch could not stop them.

    A moment later, with no surprise, no danger, they reached the courtyard of their target building. After climbing over the separating wall, in just one glance the two boys knew that they have arrived at the right place.

    Compared to other courtyards, whether in terms of foundation, construction, railings, doors and windows, wall and fence, landscape garden, rockery, stone structure, or pond, this residence was a lot more exquisite.

    The entire courtyard consisted of five structures clustered together, interlinked with passageways, promenades, winding corridors, and open garden areas, establishing the connection among the five buildings, so that different reception halls, main halls, rooms, study rooms, offices, upper floors, balconies, pavilions, boudoirs, rotundas, all kinds of diverse structures, blended together into one entity.

    Pointing to an especially grand in scale multi-level building located in the center, Kou Zhong said, I seem to hear Rong Fengxiang is talking inside.

    Focusing his power into his ears, Xu Ziling indeed heard faint voices inside. Laughing and cursing, he said, Your ears are better than mine, unexpectedly you know whose voice it is that you hear. So whats he saying?

    For some reason, Kou Zhong was in a very good mood. Patting Xu Zilings shoulder, he said, Kid, just follow your Master!

    Increasing their alertness, the two boys cautiously crept toward the building, which ought to be the building where the main hall was located.

    When they got close, they found out that the building was surrounded by large open area. Under the bright illumination, anyone wanted to go to the inner hall would not have any covering. In term of building plan, it was similar to the Copper Hall of the Jing Nian Chanyuan.

    The two boys crouched in the underbrush surrounding the building. After a group of maids and servants from the side corridor passed by, Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Zilings ear, Rong Fengxiang must have used this building for secret meetings quite often; otherwise why would he design it with so much empty space like this? Perhaps Dong Shuni is also inside, I just heard womens voices talking.

    Surveying the surroundings, Xu Ziling said, The height of this building is a bit not proportional. I think there is another layer at the top, intended for people to watch all around without raising outsiders suspicion.

    That must be it, Kou Zhong spoke with conviction, But what do we do now?

    Pointing to a two-story building on the left, Xu Ziling said, That small building is only half a zhang shorter than this inner hall. If we can jump fifteen zhang from there, and then traversing the thirty-zhang distance, we could avoid watching eyes. Even if they hear the gust of wind, they would only think it is a big bird flying over. Do you want to give it his mothers a try?

    Kou Zhong cried out involuntarily, You are not kidding! If jumping up from the ground, at most I can cover ten zhang distance, not even half a chi farther.

    Xu Ziling said, Alone, it wont work, but working together, the two of us could do it!

    Kou Zhong was puzzled, Even if we pull each other, halfway in the air exerting our strength to throw the other, at most we will only add a few zhang; arent you overestimating our skill a bit?

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, Thats why people say the most critical thing is using your brains. Remember Dugu Feng attacking Wang Shichong using a large iron disc? That old fellow Huang Gongcuo flying over by riding on the disc like soaring over the cloud, riding on the fog? I am surprised that you cant even think of such primitive method. Men are creatures who know how to utilize tools; do you understand?

    Kou Zhong grabbed his head and said, Where is the tool? Xu Ye?

    Xu Ziling reached out and pulled Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well; he spoke heavily, Come on! Whether we eat porridge or rice, it will depend on this one.

  3. #223
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 6

    Book 19 Chapter 6 Hostage Exchange

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong crouched on the roof of the multi-story building. After pricking up their ears and listening carefully to make sure that there was nobody inside the building, they craned their neck to look at the target building about thirty zhang away from the roof ridge. The two buildings were separated by a pond, a brook, complete with a small bridge across it, and a pathway paved with bluestone slabs.

    On the semi-corridor circling the main hall, there were octagonal palace lanterns hanging every ten steps or so, illuminating the outside wall of the main hall, giving it the illusion that the wall was translucent. Worst yet, there were light towers on all four corners of the building, which, combined with the lanterns on the semi-corridor, provided bright illumination on the surrounding area.

    After analyzing the situation, Kou Zhong said, We have to jump at least ten zhang above the top of the building to avoid the light tower casting its light on us and creating shadow on the wall. Are you still that confident?

    Before Xu Ziling could answer, voices and footsteps were heard.

    The two boys prompt ducked down, while looking at the source of the noise.

    They saw a group of people walking along the corridor on the other side of the building toward the main hall. The two at the front were surprisingly Rong Fengxiang and Lang Feng. The rest were important people of Luoyang [orig. with head, with face], whom they have met during the birthday celebration.

    The two were greatly disappointed. Could it be that the one riding the carriage earlier was Lang Feng? Although he usually rode a horse, if he wanted to avoid peoples eyes and ears, riding a carriage was not out of question at all.

    They looked on helplessly as one after another the other side entered the main hall; dejected as if they already failed.

    With rueful smile Kou Zhong said, What should we do? I am afraid grabbing Lang Feng wont have much of an effect. Nobody knows Wang Shichong better than I do.

    Dont you want to listen to them? Xu Ziling asked in heavy voice.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, I doubt there is anything good to listen to. It will be nothing more than government officials colluding with businessmen, dividing up the profits, while the ones suffering hardship will always be the common people. Huh?

    Sound of people talking and laughing floated by from behind.

    The two turned their heads to look, another group of people, with four lantern-bearing warriors leading the way, was walking leisurely along the gravel path cutting through the yard toward the building the two boys were hiding.

    The most eye-catching was naturally the lovely scene of blossoming plants swaying in the breeze, Rong Jiaojiao; but the one attracting their attention the most, even more, the one making the two boys pleased beyond their expectation, was Wang Xuanying, who was walking intimately by her side.

    Indeed it was the best alternative countless times better than Dong Shuni.

    The group of warriors, who were escorting the carriage earlier, were lagging several steps behind; everybody looked perfectly relaxed, obviously no one would expect the enemy to hide in the Rong Mansion, waiting for them.

    The two boys exchanged glances; with tacit understanding they both knew what to do. Pulling down their masks, they exposed their true identity.

    The target was getting closer.

    They heard Wang Xuanying said, Presently one after another Li Mis men are surrendering to Fu Huang [father emperor], making him even more losing momentum, lacking strength. If we take over Heyang, Li Mi wont even have a place to escape anymore, ha!

    The two boys silently gathered their energy, ready to strike.

    Since Wang Shichong selected this group of warriors to protect his treasured son, they must have real skill. Once they struck and failed, they would be in very big trouble.

    Kou Zhong signaled with his hand, telling Xu Ziling that he would capture Wang Xuanying, while Xu Ziling would deal with the rest of them.

    Down below, Rong Jiaojiaos warbling voice twittered coyly, This time you dealt big blow on Li Mi, puncturing his triumph-in-every-battle legend, smashing his formidable renown that gave him authority over the whole country. Jiaojiao does not know how to express my happiness for you!

    So pleased as he seemed to lose his sense of measure, Wang Xuanying laughed aloud and said, It was entirely due to Fu Huangs faking-injury-to-lure-the-enemy tactic, which was executed properly!

    Listening to him, Kou Zhong was burning with rage. This moment Wang Xuanying was about four zhang away from the main entrance of the building, the exact position most beneficial to their surprise attack. Two palms pressed against the surface of the roof, his entire body slid down the back of inverted V-shaped roof, and shot like an arrow toward Wang Xuanying. He applied his internal strength to control the fluttering of his clothes, so that like a vicious fish attacking its prey in the deep sea, without creating any noise, he dove on his target down below.

    Xu Ziling made his move simultaneously; soaring to the sky, he made three somersaults consecutively close behind Kou Zhong to pounce on the enemy.

    While Kou Zhong was about two zhang above, and at an angle from, Wang Xuanying, the first to react to the two boys unexpected attack was surprisingly not Wang Xuanying, or any one of the martial art masters protecting him, but Rong Jiaojiao.

    She raised her pretty face up, and as soon as she saw Kou Zhong, her pair of beautiful eyes lit up with strange light, while like magic, a sword appeared in her hand and created a flash of sword light to meet Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well head on. Her reaction was fast, her sword move was ruthless and well-trained. Even with his level of skill, Kou Zhong was still at a loss of what to do, since her action has upset the overall situation.

    It was only then did Wang Xuanying and the group of martial art masters of the imperial bodyguards realize that there were assassins dropping down from the sky. Not only that, the assassins were two top masters of the new generation. Shocked, they hastily drew their weapons while whistling a warning, urgently summoning martial art masters of the Rong Mansion to come to their aid.

    Facing Rong Jiaojiaos bright flash of sword qi dashing up to the sky, Kou Zhong was so mad that he felt like killing himself.

    It should be noted that the window of opportunity to kidnap Wang Xuanying was extremely narrow; if Rong Jiaojiao managed to hold him, even for only the blink of an eye, the entire situation would be reversed. They might end up fleeing for the lives in panic, or else they would regret of coming to this place, this moment.

    Forget about provoking martial art masters like Yang Xuyan, if Rong Fengxiang and Lang Feng in the other building rushed out, they would not get the desired outcome.

    But Rong Jiaojiaos astonishing accuracy, timing and speed as she intercepted him midair was enough to make him unable to change his move, so he could only meet it head on. This was a fact that was difficult to change.

    Wang Xuanying has already started to run to the side, while the expert personal guards were closing in to protect him. For a short while sabers light and swords shadow flashed, battle cry filled the sky.

    The moment it seemed like their enterprise would be ruined for the sake of a basketful, Xu Ziling, who started later but arrived sooner, flashed past Kou Zhong. His head down his feet up, both palms pressed on the ground, he charged into Rong Jiaojiaos sword net.

    As he and Kou Zhong brushed past each other, Xu Ziling backhandedly pushed Kou Zhong.

    Originally Kou Zhong could not alter his momentum, but with Xu Zilings push, he somersaulted, the Moon in the Well hacked down on Wang Xuanyings head and face, who, by this time, was running away.

    Cold, swift and severe spiraling saber power completely enshrouded Wang Xuanying, forcing him to stop dead on his track, while brandishing his sword to block.

    Bang!

    Rong Jiaojiao cried out tenderly, as Xu Zilings left and right palm slammed onto the blade of her sword in succession, and violent spiraling energy entered the left part of her body before circling to the right, jolting her that her meridians were nearly thrown into disorder. Shocked, she flew sideways to evade, and thus lost the opportunity to rescue Wang Xuanying.

    Xu Ziling was shocked as well.

    Until today, anybody who met his spiraling energy for the first time had never been able to produce qi power of their own; everybody would suffer a little bit.

    Moreover, he was using left and right hand in sequence to ingeniously reverse the flow of his true qi. Based on his calculation, she would have to dispose her weapon. Who would have thought that not only it did not happen as he expected, she was also able to exploit the reaction force to evade sideways? From this, it was obvious how brilliant her martial art skill was.

    If the daughter was like this, the father must also be like this. Rong Fengxiang was indeed not a simple character.

    Thud!

    Wang Xuanying struck the Moon in the Well with all his strength, but instead of clear ring of metal striking against each other, the sound was as dull as if he was striking leather; without producing reaction force at all.

    Immediately Wang Xuanyings soul flew away and scattered. No matter how he looked at it, Kou Zhongs saber was full of strength; who would have thought that it looked impressive but actually worthless? The chop was floating and fluttering without any strength at all.

    This feeling of using the wrong force was as uncomfortable as exerting ones strength trying to lift a heavy-looking object, only to find that it was as light as a feather.

    Wang Xuanying groaned miserably as he forcefully held his sword back, and nearly threw up blood.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Xuanying Xiong has fallen into the trap!

    The Moon in the Well immediately changed from being powerless to be powerful, as it violently struck Wang Xuanyings sword on its way of being withdrawn.

    Finally Wang Xuanying could not stop spraying out a mouthful of fresh blood, his long sword flew out of his hand, and he dropped down on the ground with a loud thump.

    Kou Zhong quickly pressed his palm on the top of Wang Xuanyings head, and shouted, Everybody back off!

    Overwhelmed with shock, the guards halted.

    Xu Ziling landed by Kou Zhongs side.

    Kou Zhong could hear fluttering noise suddenly rang out from the direction of the main hall; he knew that Rong Fengxiang and the others were heading this way at full speed. Quickly he picked up Wang Xuanying, whose acupoint has been sealed, in his arms and together with Xu Ziling he soared into the air while shouting, Tonight, third watch of the night, tell Wang Shichong to bring Xu Xingzi to the Tianjian Bridge for an exchange! You dare to pursue me, Ill kill his treasured son. Ha!

    Amidst his laughter, Kou Zhong, with Wang Xuanying in his arms, and Xu Ziling disappeared into the distance.

    ※ ※ ※

    On top of the bell tower.

    Kou Zhong slapped Wang Xuanyings acupoint, and said cheerfully, Xuanying Gongzi, how are you?

    It was half a day later that Wang Xuanying regained his composure. What do you want? he said hatefully.

    Kou Zhong responded indifferently, If Gongzi does not wish to suffer, it would be best if you answer my questions. Ay! I am a highly suspicious person; if I catch slight hesitation in your answer, I will consider you are babbling nonsense, perhaps for every nonsense I will take away one emperor offsprings finger? After ten lies, Gongzi will only able to caress a woman with your toes! After twenty times, even your toes will be gone.

    His countenance changed, Wang Xuanying said, How could you do that? Die will never let you off.

    This kind of showing-strength-while-weak-inside nonsense only put his mediocre and cowardly character in full display. Even Xu Ziling, who was sitting with his back against the wall on the other side, showed disdain. Inwardly he cursed, How could there be such a useless character?.

    Kou Zhong spoke with astonishment, Who do you think your Die is? If I was scared of him, you, this kid would not have to sit here with face alternating between blue and white. Enough chitchat. Remember, there must be an answer for every question. One slow answer, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Have you ever heard of me being a man who go back on my word like your Die?

    Just kill me! Wang Xuanying dejectedly said.

    Kou Zhong drew his dagger. Pressing the tip against Wang Xuanyings chin, he said, You want to say anything else?

    Wang Xuanyings entire body trembled; in the end he broke down and surrender, Ask away! he hurriedly said.

    Xu Ziling did not want to watch; he moved over to the other side of the bell tower.

    The moon and the stars displayed their splendor in the sky, the night breeze was gently blowing.

    Luoyang was calm, most people were already sleeping peacefully, only sparse dots of lanterns remained.

    It was quite a while later that Kou Zhong came to his side and, copying Xu Ziling, also sat with his back against the wall. He said, Both father and son are worthless nobodies, only Wang Xuanshu is a decent individual.

    Did you learn anything about Mr. Xu? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, He is really locked up by his dad. Li kid guessed that we would return to Luoyang for Xu Xingzhi, hence he deduced his importance to us. Xu Xingzhi made the mistake of revealing his intelligence, we made the mistake of failing to guess that Wang Shichong would act so quickly.

    What else did you get from him? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhong said, After his mission accomplished Yi Lao [i.e. Ouyang Xiyi] retired and returned to the south. Chen Changlin was transferred to the city of Jinyong. His mother! I really want to kill this kid with a stab of my knife.

    Xu Ziling mused, Later on leave this matter to me. Even if they want to play tricks on me, I am not afraid.

    Kou Zhong understood that Xu Ziling was worried that his injury might recur; he laughed and said, How could I let you do that? If Li kid and Wang Shichong captured you and forced me to exchange, wouldnt I have to submit obediently? As long as we have Wang Xuanying, this kid in our hands, I am not afraid Wang Shichong will not surrender. We are going together! I really wish I could see Wang Shichongs expression right now.

    Without any choice Xu Ziling had to agree.

    ※ ※ ※

    The two boys sat on a stolen boat. With Wang Xuanying in custody, they sped toward the Tianjin Bridge.

    Wang Xuanying was lying on his back at the bottom of the boat, unconscious.

    Xu Ziling sat at the stern, single-handedly sculling the boat. The water of the river responded with gentle rustling sound.

    Both banks of the river were pitch black without a single speck of fire. Not a single boat was moored on the usually full of boats, big and small, river dikes. But the Tianjin Bridge was brightly lit, with shadows of people going back and forth.

    Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, Power takes its toll; we must take advantage of it. Ay! We are not used to be a thief; otherwise, after capturing people, how could we forget to extort some ransom? Or perhaps took the opportunity to strike Wang Shichong a big blow, let him suffer a little bit. If we raised the issue only now, it will make us appear lacking in poise too much. Ay!

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, This is the same as destitute heart has not been exhausted, greedy heart already arises. If we could leave this place safely with Mr. Xu, we ought to thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, yet you are still delusional.

    Looking at the Tianjin Bridge in the distance, Kou Zhong looked pensive; he said, When I interrogated that kid Wang Xuanying, his eyes would roll two or three times with each answer; dont you agree that something is not right? But I cant find any flaws. If I had to torture him cruelly for no reason, Xiaodi simply cannot do that.

    Xu Ziling spoke heavily, I dont care if he is telling the truth or if he is lying, well exchange a man for a man. If something is not right, well kill him and escape. If we are separated then we need to agree on where to meet. But where would be a good place to meet?

    Kou Zhong proposed, If inside the city, well meet at the fishpond of Tingliu Pavilion. If outside the city, well meet at the small hill where the Jade Annulus of He Clan was done for!

    The two no longer spoke, they gathered their energy and circulated their qi.

    The boat suddenly accelerated, it rapidly approached the Tianjin Bridge.

  4. #224
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 7

    Book 19 Chapter 7 Confused by The Enemy

    The small boat slid across under the bridge, and reached the east end of the Tianjin Bridge on Luo River before it slowly stopped.

    Kou Zhong rose up to his full height and shouted, Wheres Wang Shichong?

    Dressed in civilian clothes, Wang Shichong appeared on the bridge. With him were Rong Fengxiang, Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu and six or seven that the boys knew as martial art masters among the personal guards; but they did not see anybody from Li Shimins side.

    Kou Zhong dramatically smiled and said, Wanggong is finally able to stand and walk on your own dog legs, it is worthy of celebration.

    Wang Shichong did not get angry at all; he spoke heavily, Kou Zhong, this is not the first day you are roaming the Jianghu; you should understand the logic of talking bullshit less. The man is here, how do you want to swap?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Well said! Since Wanggong is so sensible, naturally you already have a way that will satisfy rival demands, both to guarantee we can leave safely, and to exchange the hostage. Why dont you lay it out and we see if it is feasible?

    Isnt it so simple? Wang Shichong said, We swap people on the bridge, afterwards I guarantee to let the three of you leave the city, absolutely wont stop you. Rong Gong [honorable gentleman] can vouch for me.

    Narrowing his eyes, Kou Zhong looked at Wang Shichong, who stood on the arch of the bridge; shaking his head, he said with a laugh, Wanggong is joking, right? Your guarantee is not worth half a penny. How can Rong Laoban [boss] act as your guarantor?

    Rong Fengxiang spoke heavily, Cut the crap, tell us what you want.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Its extremely simple. You hand the man to me, after I verify his identity, you open the water gate, let us leave the city, and then after we are out of town, well let your man go.

    Wang Shichong angrily said, Contrary to my expectation, you are actually counting your chicken before they are hatched. Absolutely not! Who could guarantee that after you leave the city you are still going to deliver the goods?

    Calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong said, When did I, Kou Zhong, ever go back on my word? Besides, you have no choice in this matter. As soon as something is out of question, I will kill your treasured son. I would rather see how many more people well have to kill in order to escape than letting you have your son back, and then having you order your men to deal with us.

    Rong Fengxiang interjected, Can Kou Xiongdi listen to Laofu? The problem now is that the swapping occurs inside the city. If it were outside the city, Kou Xiongdi will have nothing to worry about!

    Kou Zhong turned toward Xu Ziling, who was sitting by his side. After exchanging glances, he shook his head and said, Rong Laoban does not seem to know that there is such thing as chasing and intercepting in the art of war. If we do it your way, our whereabouts and where we are going will be entirely under your control. If by that time we started to regret, wouldnt it be too late? No need to be wordy; you want to swap, you have to do it my way, I wont take no as an answer.

    A murderous intent flashed through Rong Fengxiangs eyes, but quickly died down. He pulled Wang Shichong aside to the part of the bridge where Kou Zhong could not see them, supposedly for some discussion.

    Kou Zhong leaned over to Xu Ziling and whispered, Any movement in the water?

    Xu Ziling shook his head, No! he said, But I always feel something is not right, although I cannot pinpoint where the problem is.

    Kou Zhong mused, Is it because we cannot see Li kid and his men?

    Xu Ziling nodded, That is perhaps one of the reasons, he said, But more importantly is that if Wang Shichong sincerely wanted to swap hostages, he shouldnt involve Rong Fengxiang.

    Kou Zhong shook, Make sense! he said.

    This moment, Wang Shichong, Rong Fengxiang and the others reappeared on the arch of the bridge.

    Kou Zhong let out a cold laugh and said, Laozi is getting impatient!

    Wang Shichong calmly said, For the time being we believe you. But you must publicly swear an oath, guaranteeing that you will fulfill your obligation. If you dont agree, I, Wang Shichong, have no choice but to make every effort to avenge my son. Xu Xingzhi will have to suffer all kinds of abuse; he cannot seek life, and wont be able to find death. You will also pray to the Heaven that you will not fall into my hands.

    Full of disdain, Kou Zhong said, You, Wang Shichong, how much weight do you carry? You are the one who forgets favor and repays kindness with evil. What else do you want to say?

    Bring him up! Wang Shichong shouted.

    Xu Ziling looked up; Xu Xingzhis upper body appeared over the bridge railings; his hair disheveled, his face covered in bloodstain and bruises, his body was tightly tied with thick hemp rope, his eyes were closed, he appeared to be unconscious. Xu Ziling could only vaguely recognize his silhouette.

    Kou Zhong grew very suspicious; he shouted, Wake him up and have him say something!

    Wang Shichong coldly shouted, Ill hand him over to you, you check him out yourself and then well talk! Toss him down!

    Two warriors lifted Xu Xingzhi up and threw him over toward the small boat.

    With his upper body securely tied, Xu Xingzhi was spinning continuously in the air; looking at his momentum, it seemed like he needed about a zhang or so to land on the boat.

    Xu Ziling raised the oar to meet him.

    Kou Zhong focused his full attention on the situation all around.

    Whoop! Xu Xingzhi bounced back upward. Now it appeared that he would roll toward the boat.

    Right this moment, strange change happened.

    The thick rope on Xu Xingzhis body suddenly disintegrated into pieces. Both of his hands raised, bursts of powerful finger wind swiftly attacked the two boys.

    At the same time, the boat shook with a loud rumble and turned into wooden chips.

    The two boys had already waited in tight formation, but they still did not expect the enemy might paint by holding two brushes at the same time [i.e. to attack one problem from two angles at the same time], and completely reversed the situation.

    All of a sudden they no longer stood on the small boat, but were sinking into the river.

    All around there were sharp whistling as from both banks of the river more than a dozen powerful arrows were shooting at them, while countless enemies flew down from the bridge, pouncing on them.

    While dodging the enemies finger wind and arrows, the two boys knew in their hearts that the only way to reverse their losing battle was to keep Wang Xuanying under their control.

    The two suddenly increased their speed diving into the water, but immediately their whole body broke out in cold sweats.

    They saw some unrecognizable thing wrapped itself around Wang Xuanyings body, and lifted it up at an angle. By the time they remembered Yuchi Jingdes Gui Zang Whip, it was already too late.

    The two boys were so upset that they felt like crying in the water to vent the resentment and remorse in their heart. But this moment there was no time to think; from both sides appeared countless enemies in wetsuits, wielding crossbow, closing in on them.

    They knew that trying to evade these exceptionally strong and long-ranged assault weapon under water would be a vain attempt.

    By this time firelight started to appear on both banks, casting their light into the river.

    The two boys continued sinking straight toward the pitch-black bottom of the river; if the enemy archers ever caught their shadow under water, they could forget about escaping alive. This kind of helplessness and uselessness feeling was as unbearable as a huge rock pressing against the pit of their stomachs.

    If they did not choose River Luo to carry out the transaction, even if they grew wings, it would still be difficult for them to fly away.

    Xu Ziling was the first to reach the bottom of the river. As soon as he touched the mud on the riverbed, his heart was moved; quickly he applied his spiraling energy onto both palms, which he then repeatedly pushed out all around. The spiraling force raised up the mud and spun it around. A short moment later the river water became unbearably muddy.

    Kou Zhong cheered inwardly and followed Xu Zilings example. Sticking close to the bottom of the river, they moved forward together and quickly left the area.

    ※ ※ ※

    The two boys crawl up the bank under a bridge on the Yi River at the south side of the city; they could only look at each other with bitter smile.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, The enemy is really crafty. That fake Xu Xingzhi made me feel like a rotten pig head; with his disheveled hair, his body trussed up like that [orig. upper body bound with arms tied behind the back and rope looped around the neck], made me temporarily unable to identify him, otherwise we would not be underwater with the enemy taking advantage of us.

    Pulling himself to the foot of the bridge, Xu Ziling spoke in heavy voice, The one disguising himself as Xu Xingzhi must be Zhangsun Wuji. As soon as he made his move, I recognized his shenfa and his body shape.

    Muttering to himself irresolutely, Kou Zhong said, In my opinion, Xu Xingzhi must be either harmed by them, or he already knew what happened and escaped first. Otherwise, Wang Shichong cant possibly let his son risk the danger of being killed. Because the plan is not without flaws. If at that time I was cruel enough and was willing to receive a bit of injury, there was still enough time to take Wang Xuanyings little life.

    Xu Ziling nodded in agreement and said, Thats what I thought too. Should we try to leave town after daybreak then?

    Gnashing his teeth, Kou Zhong said, I cant swallow this hatred. But with multitude of enemies and few friends, using brute force will only lead us to our own disgrace. Do you have any good ideas?

    For a nobleman to take revenge, ten years is not too long, Xu Ziling said, We really have to temporarily endure this hatred. Dont forget that there is still Zhu Yuyan glaring like a tiger watching its prey on the side. She may be more frightening than Wang Shichong and Li Shimin combined.

    Kou Zhong dejectedly said, Must we simply slip away like this?

    Xu Ziling said, One day we didnt day, Wang Shichong would not have a day of peaceful sleep. Lets find out clearly about Mr. Xu, and then well talk!

    Thinking out loud, Kou Zhong said, If Xu Xingzhi already knew the scheme and slipped away, he ought to try to find us. Wed better go back across the weir to find out.

    Xu Ziling said, Didnt you say you were going to get in touch with Song Jingangs men to have them making arrangement for us to go to Jiangdu?

    Kou Zhong replied, Right now, other than you, I trust no one else. What if it is another trap waiting for us to fall into? Now I want to change plans: well go on our own to Jiangdu, see Li Zitong, and then well change according to the situation, to see the opportunity and act accordingly.

    Xu Ziling rose up to his full height and said, While it is not dawn yet, wed better steal two sets of clean clothes, so that when we escape later, we could do so in awe-inspiring style.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Let Xiaodi show the way! Me and the boss of Luoyangs biggest silk and satin dealer are old friends!

    ※ ※ ※

    Thick clouds hanging overhead. It seemed like heavy rain may come down any moment.

    Xu Ziling was squatting by a steamed bun street vendor in the market, eating his breakfast. Thinking about Sister-in-law Zhen, whose whereabouts was unknown, although all around him people were coming and going, the clamor shook the heavens, he was overwhelmed with feeling of loneliness.

    Life changes constantly, nobody is able to control it.

    A few days ago they were the honored guests whom Wang Shichong relied on to help him, but now they have become his personal enemies.

    Li Shimin was originally a good friend, but presently they became archenemy like water and fire do not mix together.

    This moment Kou Zhong came; he laughed and said, Scarface Xiong, how are you? Hows the steamed buns here compared to Yangzhous?

    Xu Ziling stuffed a meat and vegetable bun into his mouth and replied with a sigh, When you dont have money to buy steamed buns, that kind of buns is the most delicious. Did you find Song Jingangs men?

    Kou Zhong also stuffed a meat and vegetable bun into his mouth before mumbling his answer, Change of plan. I already persuaded Song Jingangs men to loan us a small cargo boat for us, including all the necessary passes to get out of town plus four boatmen. Sailing on a boat is better than walking on foot, right?

    Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders and said, Whatever you say!

    In deadly earnest, Kou Zhong said, Are you serious?

    Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, What kind of ghost idea are you thinking this time?

    Kou Zhong reached out to hold Xu Ziling shoulder; he said, We are leaving tomorrow morning.

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, You just wouldnt give up.

    Making a show of being very much in earnest, Kou Zhong said, This time I really didnt want to show of my bravado, but there has been new development.

    Skeptical, Xu Ziling asked, What new development?

    Kou Zhong said, I was walking along the Luo River just now, and saw a warship sailing toward the Imperial City. I dare to bet that it came from Yanshi, because when we came back here by another ship, that ship was still anchored on the dock outside Yanshi.

    Isnt that a normal thing? Xu Ziling asked.

    Proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, This ship is definitely not normal. Not only the ship itself is heavily-guarded, before and after it were convoy of more than a dozen speedboats; in addition, there was also a team of cavalry speeding along the bank. Tell me, why would there be so much fuss? Naturally they were afraid someone might hijack the ship. And naturally the ones they are afraid of are us, two heroes of Yangzhous Twin Dragons.

    Xu Ziling was shaken, Xu Xingzhi indeed escaped to Yanshi to look for us, but they recaptured him and brought him back.

    Kou Zhong resolutely said, I dont care if there is magnificent army with thousands of men and horses in the Imperial Palace, tonight we are going into the Palace to save him.

    Xu Ziling shook his head and said, No need to wait for tonight! We are going into the Palace to save him now. Didnt you say there are still a lot of Yang Dongs men in the Palace? As long as we can slip into the Palace, we can act as circumstances dictate, trying to get him out of there.

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, In broad daylight, two heroes climbing over the wall jumping over the rampart, isnt that a bit too conspicuous? From the city gate onward, I am afraid some people might not welcome us with open arms.

    Xu Ziling looked up at the sky and said, This time it really is planning is with man, accomplishing with heaven [(idiom) Man proposes but God disposes]. As long as it does rain, we will have a chance to enter the Palace and rescue him. But now we must make some preparations, and then well see whether Laotianye is willing to help us.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were hiding under a small bridge on the northern side of the city where Daoguang Lane converged with the city canal, overlooking the Imperial Citys eastern wall in the distance.

    The clouds in the sky were getting thicker and darker, however, although it brought hope to them, the rain never really came.

    It was only half a sichen to midday.

    Thinking out loud, Xu Ziling said, In his book about the waterways, Lu Miaozi said that all large-scale constructions of Imperial Palace class must have a system of water ways underneath it; other than to drain sewage, it is also used to supply water to the courtyard and gardens, for the laundry, irrigation, and so on. I wonder if this city canal is connected to the water ways under the Imperial Palace? If that so, we are going to rely on the most favorable method.

    His brows knitted tightly, Kou Zhong looked up to the sky; he nodded and said, Lu Miaozi is definitely not wrong, but if we can think about it, other people also can. That day when I had discussion with Yang Gongqing and the others on how to force our entrance into the Imperial Palace, Yang Gongqing pointed out that all passages to the main canal are equipped with heavy steel gates; unless you turn into a small fish or shrimp, you may forget about passing through. Ay! Wed better pray that Laotianye would send us heavy rain.

    Suddenly there was a rumble of hoof beats, more than a thousand-men cavalry were coming near, and they were galloping toward the bridge.

    Kou Zhong craned his neck to take a look, and then shrank back under the bridge and said in a low voice, Its the patrolling imperial guards. Do you want to borrow two sets of uniforms for our use?

    Xu Ziling was displeased, That will only beat the grass to scare the snake, he said, If by wearing military uniform we can enter the Palace, then anybody would be able to come and go freely.

    Dejected, Kou Zhong remained silent.

    The hoof beats thundered over the bridge, but suddenly they stopped.

    The two boys scalp went numb; they thought that they have been discovered.

    One of the imperial guard above sighed and said, We are really out of luck today, being sent out on duty. It would be much better if we could stay inside the Palace!

    Another man laughed and said, Who do you think you are? So what if you stayed in the Palace? Are you saying you have the qualification to hear Shang Xiufang singing?

    The other men burst out in mocking laughter.

    The hoof beats started again, gradually going away.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each others eyes, two pairs of tiger-eyes lit up at the same time.

    Kou Zhong stood up abruptly and said, As a rule, Shang Xiufang only willing to attend any banquet in the afternoon, Ill say we need to borrow two sets of military uniforms!

  5. #225
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 8

    Book 19 Chapter 8 Immortals Crossing The Sea

    After changing into imperial guard uniforms, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling galloped their horses to Man Qing Yuans main gate and shouted, Has Miss Xiufangs carriage left?

    The guards at the door promptly open the gate and replied, Two Guan Ye [master officers], Miss Xiufang is still making herself presentable, but the carriage is ready, it can leave any moment.

    Putting on his official air, Kou Zhong said, Show me the way!

    And then the two jumped off the horse, and followed the guard leading the way into the inner courtyard. Along the way Kou Zhong indirectly made inquiries, and very quickly he found out the procedure Shang Xiufang took whenever she went out to a party, including the number attendants that usually came with her, so he made a plan in his heart.

    The sky was still dark with the clouds, but no rain. The suffocating atmosphere was so depressing, even the flowers and plants and the trees in the courtyard seemed to lose their color.

    By the time they arrived at the small courtyard where Shang Xiufang was staying, her more than a dozen attendants were busy wiping the carriage and the horses in preparation to set off.

    After sending the guard away, Kou Zhong pulled the leader of the attendants, a man called Bai Sheng, to the side and said, Xuanying Taizi [crown prince] specially sent us here to protect Miss Xiufang. Bai Xiong ought to know about incidents that happened frequently in the Eastern Capital!

    Bai Sheng looked at the two men up and down for a moment before saying, Two officers faces look very unfamiliar.

    Pretending to be very mysterious, Kou Zhong lowered his voice and said, These days we were with Xuanshu Gongzi in Yanshi on business, thats why we rarely meet each other. But last time Miss Xiufang went to Shangshu Mansion, didnt I see Bai Xiong? Its just that I was on guard duty inside the Mansion. I still remember Miss Xiufangs first song, young Gongzi bears much favor something like that. Hey! I only remember that one line, I forgot the rest!

    He was telling the truth, Ba Shengs misgivings vanished completely. But he was still frowning when he said, I also heard about the Eastern Capital not being too safe. Xuanying Taizi is indeed considerate, but Miss usually does not like ostentatious display. If two officers are escorting on either side, I am afraid Miss will be displeased.

    Standing on the side, Xu Ziling was amused inwardly, thinking that with more than a dozen attendants escorting at the front and rear, wouldnt it be ostentatious display? But this Bai Sheng was obviously only making excuses. Or perhaps Miss Shang Xiufang wanted to give the impression that she was ordinary people, hence was unwilling to be openly associated with government officials.

    This was precisely what Kou Zhong wanted. Patting Bai Shengs shoulder, he said, Thats easy, well take off our uniforms, and we can follow the party from a distance!

    Bai Sheng had nothing more to say, he had to agree.

    This moment, Shang Xiufang, in splendid attire, helped by two pretty maids, came out. Hastily Kou Zhong tactfully pulled Xu Ziling aside. He spoke in heavy voice, Now, if we could pass the Imperial Citys main entrance, we would be like the immortals crossing the sea!

    ※ ※ ※

    Shang Xiufangs entourage went out of Man Qing Yuan, heading toward the Imperial City.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong brought up the rear, putting on an act of looking forward and back cautiously. Everybody constantly looking up to the sky, afraid that the accumulated moisture in the air would turn into heavy rain at any moment, hence subconsciously they increased their speed.

    They have not gone far when from the rear came the sound of hoof beats. Being on guard, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked back, and immediately they groaned inwardly. Because the ones running after them were unexpectedly Li Shimin, Pang Yu, Zhangsun Wuji and Yuchi Jingde, four men.

    The only thing they could do at this moment was to pray to Heaven, hoping that Li Shimin did not know every single one of Shang Xiufangs attendants; otherwise their identity would be unmasked.

    Li Shimin and the others were not like Bai Sheng at all; how could they be easily deceived?

    The two promptly separated to the front and the rear, while also applying their internal strength to restraint the essence of their qi, and hunching their back a little, so that they would not arouse Li Shimin and the others alertness. Inwardly they were glad that if they were not riding on the horse, merely their tall and straight physiques would easily attract the enemys attention.

    Taking the lead Li Shimin was the first to pass them, but it seemed like his mind was on other important matters, he did not cast a single glance toward the two boys. One after another Bai Sheng and the others saluted, but Li Shimin only nodded and smiled in return. Pang Yu and the others followed Li Shimin closely, they did not pay any attention to the two boys either.

    As he reached the carriage, Li Shimin slowed down to match the vehicles speed; he said, Miss Xiufang, how are you? Shimin is late!

    The two cheered inwardly. Turned out Li Shimin has agreed to come with Shang Xiufang to the Palace.

    After returning the greeting from behind the hanging curtain of the carriage, Shang Xiufang spoke in astonishment, Qin Wang has always been punctual, why did you unexpectedly arrive late today? Siufang has no intention to blame at all, just curious!

    Li Shimin looked up at the pitch-black sky, he rode silently by the carriages side for quite a while before sighing and said, Miss Xiufang, do you happen to remember Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling?

    Riding at the back, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling pricked up their ear and listened carefully. Hearing Li Shimin mentioning their names to Shang Xiufang, they were greatly interested. On one hand, they were wondering what Li Shimin coming late had to do with them; on the other hand, they also wished to know how this beauty and skillful-in-art beauty would respond.

    Shang Xiufang suddenly went silent. It was quite a while later that she started to speak gently, About Kou Zhong! Twice has Xiufang had the destiny to sit with him on the same banquet table. He made quite an impression on me, I always feel that his personality traits are different from other people. As for Xu Ziling! I only caught a glimpse of him from a distance at the Tingliu Pavilion; I havent had any opportunity to know him. Could it be that Qin Wang is coming late because of them?

    Her voice was suave, pleasant to listen to, and straightforward. The most attractive aspect was that within her intonation, there was some kind of seeing-through-the-worldly-affairs free-and-easy and languid feeling. This moment, since no one could see her but could only listen to her singing voice, that feeling was even more intense.

    Through the cadence and rhythm of her intonation, the listeners could also make associative connection to, as well as reflect on, her touching singing voice. In the melancholy of sorrow and sighing swaying gently across the desolate desert and lowly plains, there was a trace of joy that all things are looking forward to, creating an extremely unique charm.

    Smiling wryly, Li Shimin said, Does Miss Xiufang know that Shimin and they were originally good friends, but now we have become mortal enemy that must fight between life and death?

    Ah! Shang Xiufang cried out tenderly. It was quite a while later that she spoke in low voice, In that case, was it because of this matter that in recent days Qin Wangs body and mind are always occupied?

    Li Shimin did not give her straight answer; changing the subject, he said, Just now I was rushing about for them, turns out it was just a misunderstanding.

    Surprised, Shang Xiufang asked, Isnt Kou Zhong working for Wanggong?

    Li Shimin sighed and said, That was something in the past. Miss Xiufang should not let the you-hoodwink-me-and-I-cheat-you of the mundane world contaminating your ears.

    Appearing to be probing further, Shang Xiufang said, Although those two have outstanding martial art skill, and both are exceptional heroes, but if they wanted set themselves against Qin Wang, arent they overestimating their capabilities too much?

    The sound of hoof beats changed as the carriage and horses entered the main street along the river leading toward the Imperial City.

    Boats and ships coming and going along the Luo River, vehicles and horses streaming continuously along the street; water and land traffic set each other off nicely.

    Because of her touching voice, everybody seemed to forget the darkened sky.

    Li Shimin breathed out a sigh and said, These two men cannot be described simply by their outstanding martial art skill. They may be the most talented, peerless martial art masters since the beginning of history. Rarer still, they are both intelligent and brave. Therefore, until today, nobody is able to do anything to them. Even Li Mi, who wanted them dead, finally fell head first under their hands. From this, you can infer the rest of the story.

    The tone of his voice was brimming with high level of frustration and injury, giving the impression that he valued and treasured these two formidable opponents very much.

    From the way he esteemed his adversary, one could see his broad vision and positive outlook, as someone who would not deliberately disparage his opponents.

    A peculiar feeling emerged in Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings hearts; they never expected Li Shimin to think this highly of them. No wonder by hook or by crook, Li Shimin collaborated with Wang Shichong to annihilate them.

    Shang Xiufang asked in low voice, Are they still in the Eastern Capital nowadays?

    That is very hard to tell, Li Shimin replied, When those two are conspiring in the dark, everybody feels that it is difficult to guard against and plan countermeasure!

    This moment the entourage has reached the Chengfu Gate. The guards at the gate all raised their spears in salute, letting the entourage sped through the gate.

    Finally Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were able to put down their high-strung heart.

    Li Shimin and Shang Xiufang stopped talking. Under escort of the imperial bodyguards, they passed by Taichang [Minister of Ceremonies] Ministry and the Sinong [agriculture] Ministry, and turned left in front of the Shangshu Mansion, entering the Dong Taiyang Gate, following the horse path along the inside wall of the Palace City, straight toward the Heavenly Gate, the main gate of the inner palace, and entered the imposing and grand Palace City.

    Inside the Palace City, the halls were interlinked with each other, balconies stood in great numbers. All palace halls had high walls on all sides, with portals between the walls, so that the halls were like interconnected chain.

    This was the first time Xu Ziling set his foot inside the Palace City. Although last time Kou Zhong was escaping into the Palace City, he was like viewing flowers from horseback, plus he was not in the mood to enjoy the scenery, hence they both felt that this was an eye-opener occasion.

    Just by looking at this Heavenly Gate, they could see how much manpower and physical resources the Emperor Yang of Sui threw away to build this city.

    To the left and right of this gate were imperial city watchtowers, which reached twelve zhang high, supplemented by battlement storied-building. The gateway was more than ten zhang deep, with eaves and corners sticking out. The walls and the imperial city watchtowers reflected each other, and thus bringing out the towering and magnificent main part of the Palace.

    Upon entering the gate, they arrived at an intersection; on the central axis there were altogether three gates and two palace halls. The gates were Yongtai Gate, Qianyang Gate, and Daye Gate. The palace halls were Qianyang, and Daye.

    Qianyang Palace Hall was the main hall of the Palace City, where ceremonies and reception of foreign diplomats were being held.

    A multi-storied building was built above the Qianyang Gate, with tall pavilion and the corridor all around it, extending to the east and west, circling the wide-open space outside the main hall. This moment there were already several groups of vehicles and horses parked outside the palace halls gate; evidently an event was being held inside the palace hall.

    Qianyang Hall was worthy to be called the chief among various palace halls. The foundation itself reached several zhang high, from the ground to the owl-tail shaped of the top of the palace hall was nearly twenty zhang. The tall pavilion corridors all around were full of imperial bodyguards; the security was very tight. There were large wells left and right of the front courtyard of the palace hall to supply water for the sacrificial offering of the imperial palace. The southeast corner of the front courtyard, there was a multi-storied building facing south, where a bell and a drum were hung. Downstairs was a waterclock, which at some point would toll the bell and beat the drum to indicate the correct time.

    In itself, the style and structure of the Palace Hall was even grander; there were thirteen lateral spaces between two pairs of pillars, twenty nine frames, three-step pavilion with a view, twenty large pillars on all sides, finely carved door sills, snow-white crossbeams and elegant pillars, hanging down ceiling in the shape of a lotus, bright color like flowing flying rainbow, dazzling to the eye. [Translators note: all these are beyond my ability to translate properly. Those of you with better understanding of the text, please feel free to offer your help.]

    Kou Zhong followed at the back of the line, riding side-by-side with Xu Ziling. They no longer had to worry about Li Shimin, but they worried about Bai Sheng. Now Li Shimin believed that they were part of Shang Xiufangs entourage, but Bai Sheng believed that they were Wang Shichongs men. Therefore, as soon as Wang Shichongs imperial bodyguards showed any sign that the boys were not one of their own, Bai Sheng would immediately know that they were impostors. This outcome appeared to be inevitable. If Li Shimin did not travel together with them, it might still be possible for them to attempt to make their move first to control Bai Sheng, but now naturally they could not do that.

    While they were having this headache, the cavalcade slowly stopped. From the palace halls steps Song Mengqiu went down to meet them. Li Shimin jumped down from his horse to personally open the carriage door for Shang Xiufang. All around them were imperial bodyguards. They would not be able to slip away quietly even if they wanted to. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling could only exchange helpless look, as they braced themselves and dismounted from the horse.

    The imperial guards came over to take their horses away. Boom! A sudden clap of thunder shook the Palace City. Strong wind blew, blasting everybodys clothes that they fluttered in the wind. The horses were startled; they reared and neighed. And then bean-size raindrops started to pour down, sparse at first, but quickly became dense.

    Song Mengqiu appeared to be prepared. Hastily he opened the umbrella he was carrying, to protect the gracefully-stepping-out-of-the-carriage remarkably beautiful woman from the rain. Others had no choice but to scurry around like drowned rats.

    The earthed darkened the sky turned faint. While Shang Xiufang and Li Shimin and the others hurriedly climbing the steps into the palace hall, the rain was getting heavier, like it was pouring out of a tray.

    The happiest were, naturally, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. They took advantage while everybody else was busy taking shelter from the rain, to unleash their shenfa and while the gods was not aware, the ghosts did not perceive, they slipped away toward the bell tower at the southeast corner.

    While gazing toward the elegant and grand roof of the Qianyang Hall, the two boys had a singular feeling of history repeating itself, so much so that they shuddered involuntarily.

    From the bell tower where they were to the roof of Qianyang Hall, the distance was about thirty zhang, which was more or less equal to the situation at the Rong Mansion the previous night. Furthermore, the torrential rain has also turned the daytime into the dark of the night.

    The corridor surrounding the main hall was full of imperial guards taking shelter from the rain. The only way they could enter the palace hall was from the roof going down, via the window close to the top of the palace hall, and launched a surprise attack into their target inside the palace hall.

    Kou Zhong took a deep breath and said, Do you have any idea how to cross such a distance? Can we repeat the technique you proposed earlier here?

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, Of course we can. It is even easier now, because we have the long rope that we were going to use to scale the city wall. Come!

    Kou Zhong took off his knapsack to get the rope, which was about ten zhang long, out, and handed it over to Xu Ziling. This time we are going to rely on your ability! he said.

    Planning in advance, Xu Ziling took the rope and tied both ends around his and Kou Zhongs waist; he said, If this method cannot bring us to the roof of Qianyang Hall, we can use it to escape! while pulling Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well in passing.

    Kou Zhong protested, At least you ought to tell me what to do!

    Very simple, Xu Ziling replied, I send you to the air, you apply your inner power to glide, and then Xiaodi toss the Moon in the Well, you copy Huang Gongcuo stepping on the flying disc, relying on the sabers momentum to fly to the destination. Remember, the most critical thing is to apply your energy to suck the saber. If it creates any noise, Ding! as it pierces the roof of the hall, both of us can be declared finished.

    Immediately Kou Zhongs eyes shone, You are really quite something! he said.

    Go! Xu Ziling shouted in low voice.

    Kou Zhong leaped off the bell tower. Xu Ziling stretched out both palms, flat, while applying his power to the soles of his feet, immediately he rose at an angle about ten zhang into the air, at the same time as the thunderstorm.

    Normally, it would be strange indeed if nobody noticed people flying in the air like that, under this kind of strong wind and heavy rain circumstances, even if someone was to look up to the sky, perhaps they could not see anything.

    A bolt of lightning flashed in the empty air above Kou Zhongs head. When his momentum was used up, Kou Zhong made a somersault, like a flipping fish he slid in the direction of the palace halls roof. This moment Xu Ziling was also coming at an angle to catch up with Kou Zhong.

    Under the rainstorm and the crash of the thunder, Kou Zhong swam ten more zhang, which brought him nearly fifteen zhang from his target. Xu Ziling applied his power to throw the Moon in the Well, which arrived right on time under Kou Zhong. Kou Zhong reached out to grab the sabers hilt, while at the same time raising his qi to lighten his body.

    Deng! the rope between the two boys was pulled perfectly straight. By the time Kou Zhong was brought to the edge of the palace halls roof, Xu Ziling was also pulled by the rope. He made a somersault, and landed by Kou Zhongs side.

    Time for action. Hooking their feet on the roof of the palace hall, the two boys leaned out the eaves to look down.

    They looked inside through the ventilation window close to the roof the hall. The vast main hall was brightly lit. More than a dozen banquet tables were set up, divided into two rows, facing the main banquet table.

    In the midst of the rumbling noise of the rain beating the roof, the melodious sound of music, intermingled with the sound of people talking and laughing, seemed to be coming from another world.

    Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Zilings ear, Li kid openly participates in a distinguished meeting held by Wang Shichong in the Palace, isnt that the same as acknowledging Wang Shichongs imperial throne?

    Xu Ziling was examining the situation; he saw that to left side of Wang Shichongs main banquet table, the first seat was occupied by Wang Xuanying, followed by Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu, Rong Fengxiang, and the others. To the right, the head seat was occupied by Shang Xiufang. Next in line was Li Shimin, followed by officials, members of the gentry, and celebrities of the City of Luoyang. Hearing the question, he crossly said, You still have time to think about such thing? Li kid is willing to participate in this lunch banquet, naturally he has his own reasons!

    When he was talking, the rain flowed from the back of his neck to his face and mouth, filling him with some kind of joyous, carefree, and he-could-throw-caution-to-the-wind-at-any-moment feeling.

    The heaven and earth were overflowing with rolls of thunder, flashes of lightning, and the loud noise of the rain. Compared to the warmth of the lights inside the palace hall, the outside world appeared particularly violent, ice-cold, and merciless.

    The rain poured down from the tiles of the roof like an unstoppable waterfall onto the flight of steps by the corridor of the palace hall. All the guards were crowding toward the wall of the hall. It seemed like in the whole imperial palace, only the two of them were hanging from the eaves of the palace hall, letting themselves swept by the wind and battered by the rain. Water was dripping from every single strand of hair on their bodies.

    Wang Shichongs hateful voice was vaguely heard inside the palace hall, Tonight Miss Xiufangs honorable self will depart by boat, so let us offer her a toast, wishing her to have a pleasant journey.

    It was only then did the two boys understand why the banquet was being held at midday, and why Li Shimin was willing to attend.

    Kou Zhong leaned over and whispered, I am going to pretend to assassinate Wang Shichong, you are in charge of catching that little Xuanying; what do you think?

    Xu Ziling shook his head and said, Leave Wang Shichong to me, you deal with Li kid, put Yuchi Jingde, those three fellows under control.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Then whos going to do the kidnapping? he asked.

    Taking off his mask, Xu Ziling said, Naturally, that will be Xiaodi. When Wang Xuanying sees that his Laoye [lord/master] is under attack, he will certainly rush over to help, and that will be the moment he is going to be captured.

    Following his example, Kou Zhong also removed his mask. Be careful of Rong Fengxiang, he said, If he is a bit more formidable than Rong Jiaojiao, it is enough to give you headache. Hey! Do you think I might accidentally kill Li kid?

    Xu Ziling replied in heavy voice, Our target is to rescue Mr. Xu. If you are greedy to render merit and seek victory, you might be captured by the enemy instead, and then we will lose everything. If that happened, the hostage to be swapped would not be Mr. Xu, but you, this stupid fellow. Do you understand?

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, In front of you, how come I am always the stupid one?

    Xu Ziling refused to bicker with him much longer, When do we move? he asked.

    What do you think? Kou Zhong muttered irresolutely.

    Xu Ziling wiped the rain from his eyes, revealed a smile on his face, and spoke softly, Naturally the moment the enemys alertness is at the lowest point! Tell me, when should we make our move?

    Revealing his brilliant smile, Kou Zhong replied, This is called heroes usually agree. The moment our great expert Xiufang starts to open her golden mouth will be the moment we make our move.

  6. #226
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 9

    Book 19 Chapter 9 Capturing Xuanying Again

    Platform of sorrow in the lofty fortified wall, cooking gold preparing jade waiting for the toll of the bell, in the small hall silk curtain covering three thousand households, on the main street the twelve-story pleasure house

    It was unclear whether the load on their mind was suddenly evoked, or perhaps the emotion on the verge of parting, or even because the claps of thunder and the torrential rain outside the palace hall have aroused their deep feelings, every note, every word was clearly spelled out from her fragrant mouth, but everybody, including Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who were drenched in rain outside, was overwhelmed in a singular feeling as if her singing voice has directly brought out the innermost emotion of their hearts.

    Although she was performing her art in living color in the middle of the Palace Hall, yet all the audience seemed to feel like she was already packed, and was just dithering at the dock, and might at any moment climb the boat, raise the anchor and sail away.

    Although her singing voice was moving up and down following the thunder rolls and the rumbling of the rain, charming and touching, the most touching thing was that after her extremely reserved singing, suddenly a feeling of the wind and frost [i.e. hardships] and a sense of loss of a wounded emotion burst open carelessly.

    In terms of singing skill, facial expression and gracefulness, she had reached the great heights of achievement; even more so than her previous performances. Listening to her, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were staring blankly; they nearly missed the best opportunity to make their move.

    Suddenly the crowd burst into thunderous applause, jerking the two boys awake from their stupor; they immediately made their move.

    Bang! Bang!

    While everybody inside the Palace Hall was still intoxicated by Shang Xiufangs lingering voice rising up in spirals to the beam, wood shavings fluttered down from the ceiling, two splashes of water filled the whole sky, a few suspected the rainstorm has shifted position and was wreaking havoc in the Palace Hall.

    At the same time an ear-splitting clap of thunder was crashing outside the Hall, the echo reverberated across the hall, so that the crowd felt as if they were standing by the edge of a dangerous cliff, shaking them to the core.

    While everyone was overwhelmed with shock, two shadows separately attacked Wang Shichong and Li Shimin.

    Biting cold qi power and fierce and severe sound of cutting wind immediately crushed the tears, as well as the sorrowful atmosphere across ten-thousand emptiness that were awakened by Shang Xiufang earlier.

    This moment, Shang Xiufang was still in the middle of the Hall; she has not returned to her seat yet. Seeing the assassin suddenly dropping in from the sky, she was so shocked that she could only stared blankly on the spot, with her white hands pressed against her heart. Although she lost her usual charm, she still looked surprisingly graceful and lovely.

    The first to suffer the attack was Li Shimin.

    As soon as he broke into the Hall, Kou Zhong immediately made a somersault; with his head down and feet up, he pounced vertically down, the Moon in the Well turned into yellow rays dazzling the eyes, like the most frightening nightmare hacking down on the top of Li Shimins head.

    Sitting behind Li Shimin, about half a zhang away, although Pang Yu, Zhangsun Wuji and Yuchi Jingde wanted to help, because everything happened so suddenly, plus Kou Zhongs speed was unbelievable, they were still one step too late.

    But the fastest to react was Li Shimin.

    Because he did not have enough time either to draw his sword to block or to evade, he sent all his strength into both arms, and lifted the mahogany table in front of him above his head to meet Kou Zhongs earth-shattering saber strike.

    The wine cup, wine pot, everything on the table toppled down and fall to the ground.

    Boom!

    The mahogany table split in two.

    Taking advantage of this buffer, Li Shimin rolled backward.

    Kou Zhong made another somersault, the Moon in the Well turned into millions of saber rays, like shadows following shadows, sweeping toward Li Shimin, who was still rolling on the ground, without the least bit of mercy.

    This moment Xu Ziling also leaped at an angle, traversing the more than three zhang of empty space above the Palace Halls floor, like a male eagle swooping a rabbit, toward Wang Shichong, and sent out a punch onto Wang Shichongs face, who was still overcome by shock.

    Although the imperial guards standing nearby quickly rushed over, they were too late to block the attack.

    Most of the guests in the Hall either did not know martial art, or their martial art skill was mediocre; they all could only stare blankly, not knowing what to do.

    One after another Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu, Wang Xuanying, and the others leaped from their seats, but still, distant water cannot put out a nearby fire.

    The fastest to act was Rong Fengxiang, who was sitting on the next banquet table from Wang Xuanying. His left hand lightly pressed the table, like a clump of cloud he shot up to the air, across a zhang or so distance, and sent out a chain of palm strikes over empty air, attacking Xu Zilings left flank, who, by this time, was still in the air, revealing his exceptional skill, which was beyond expectation.

    Wang Shichong was, after all, a first-class martial art master as well; as soon as his shock vanished, knowing that this was a life and death crisis, he abruptly regained his composure and pushed out both palms, level with his chest, to meet Xu Zilings overbearing punch head on.

    Bang!

    Due to his old wound has not properly healed, new injury already invaded his body, although with all his strength he managed to block Xu Zilings capable-of-cutting-into-the-mountain, splitting-the-rock punch, his throat refused to follow his order, he spurted a mouthful of fresh blood.

    Xu Ziling was also jolted by Wang Shichongs thick and profound reaction force that his body froze for a moment, as Rong Fengxiangs toppling-the-mountains-and-overturning-the-seas, forceful palm wind arrived.

    In a flash-of-lightning or a spark-of-fire moment, Xu Ziling already knew that Rong Fengxiangs real power was above his. Xu Ziling seized this opportunity to roll on the ground, and then threw himself forward; not only to evade Rong Fengxiangs palm splitting the air, but before his chest made contact with the ground, like an artillery shell he shot toward Wang Xuanying, who was rushing over toward him. The change of his move was so fast that people sighed in admiration since they had never seen anything like this before.

    Ding!

    Under the near-impossible circumstances, not only Li Shimin suddenly stopped rolling, he also shot up, pulled his sword, and swept it across to meet Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well.

    Like the tide of Yangtze River Kou Zhongs stored up spiraling energy surged into Li Shimins meridians. As if he was struck by lightning Li Shimins staggered back into Pang Yu and the others, three men, but this has also saved his life.

    Kou Zhong dropped to the ground, while brandishing his Moon in the Well around, carrying the remnants of the attacking momentum, holding up Pang Yu and the others that they could not advance even for a single cun. Only then did he sweep back, hoping to join Xu Ziling.

    Meanwhile Xu Ziling had just reached Wang Xuanying. Rong Fengxiang, who was pursuing closely behind him, was the biggest factor determining his success or failure. Because of Rong Jiaojiaos superior skill, he and Kou Zhong already had high opinion of Rong Fengxiang, but he still did not expect that Rong Fengxiang was this kind of terrifying martial art master.

    If Xu Ziling was unable to capture Wang Xuanying in this high-speed, face-to-face meeting, he would not have the second chance; because no matter how incompetent Wang Xuanying was, he could not be so inept that he was completely useless.

    Able to think fast in an emergency, Xu Zilings eyes emitted fierce and severed mysterious light as he looked straight into Wang Xuanyings eyes, who was brandishing his sword to attack Xu Ziling. The latter was intimidated by his imposing manner, plus remembering that he had suffered defeat under Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings hands, sure enough, as Xu Ziling expected, Wang Xuanying was scared and started to turn around, hoping that others would help him.

    While Rong Fengxiang was groaning inwardly, Xu Ziling swiftly pounced forward, his two palms turned into layer upon layer palm shadows, as he slapped the blade of Wang Xuanyings sword more than ten times in succession.

    Wang Xuanying staggered continuously, blood was completely drained from his face. Suddenly his calf bumped onto a long table, plus being under wave after wave of Xu Zilings qi attack, he was unable to hold on. His long sword fell off, his body also stumbled onto the table, cups and pots overturned and fell to the ground.

    From left and right more than a dozen imperial bodyguards rushed over, but it was too late to save their young lord.

    Bang!

    Xu Ziling sent out a backhand palm strike to meet Rong Fengxiangs severe blow, while at the same time he was borrowing the impact force to propel him forward. While soaring up to the air, he grabbed Wang Xuanying, sealed his acupoint, and carried him along like carrying a little chick.

    Letting out a sharp whistle, Rong Fengxiang changed direction to meet Kou Zhong. By this time Kou Zhong had just reached Shang Xiufang, who was still standing in the middle of the Hall.

    Miss sang really well! he spoke in low voice, while at the same time the Moon in the Well emitted a fantastical yellow ray, swiftly hacking down on Rong Fengxiang, who was charging toward him.

    Bang! The two collided and kept moving forward.

    While Kou Zhong was crying inwardly, Formidable! Xu Ziling, carrying Wang Xuanying, escaped to the corner of the hall, and shouted sternly, Everybody stop!

    While the entire Hall was taken by surprise, Kou Zhong, like a deity, landed by Xu Zilings side and pressed his saber on Wang Xuanyings throat, who, by this time, was hanging his head dispiritedly. Laughing aloud, Kou Zhong said, Baby Shichong, Shimin kid, this time you have to admit defeat!

    With the imperial bodyguards crowded around to protect him, although his face had not turned pale due to the loss of blood and his injury, Wang Shichongs countenance was extremely unsightly. He was so angry that momentarily he was unable to say anything.

    Up until now, nobody knew how the two boys were able to enter the Imperial Palace without anybody noticing it, and unleashed the surprise attack.

    Boom!

    The nearly forgotten thunder reminded everybody in the Hall that the outside world was still under the control of the forces of nature.

    Li Shimin took a step forward. Still as elegant as before, he smiled and said, Zhong Xiong and Ziling Xiongs ghost-and-deity-cannot-measure method indeed makes people have no choice but to submit. And then, turning to Shang Xiufang, he spoke with tenderness, Miss Shang is frightened, please return to your seat to calm down.

    Shang Xiufang acted as if she did not hear him; her eyes were fixed at Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. It was quite some time later that she walked over to Li Shimins side.

    Rong Fengxiang appeared to be unable to curb his raging temper toward the two boys. Murderous intent flashing repeatedly in his eyes, he let out a cold snort and said, How did you get in? The rest of the people were absolutely silent, plus it was not their turn to speak anyway.

    Astounded, Kou Zhong said, Why speak so much nonsense?

    And then, turning to Wang Shichong he said, I dont need to tell Shengshang [your holiness/your majesty], you ought to know what to do! Xiaodi has always been an impatient man!

    Wang Shichong was so angry that he nearly vomited blood. Get Xu Xingzhi in here! he growled. The imperial guards acknowledge the order and left.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, Give Xiaodi a rather presentable fast boat. When we arrive at Yanshi, I will release him. No other conditions will be accepted. Understand?

    What could Wang Shichong say?

    They sailed away from the Eastern Capital, downstream toward Yanshi. It was dusk. The sky cleared after the rain. The scenery was enchanting. Wang Xuanying had his acupoint sealed, he lay unconscious in the cabin. The three chatted leisurely about everything that happened after they parted, there was the joy of meeting again after a calamity.

    Xu Xingzhi said, When Wang Shichong bestowed grand titles to his relatives and subordinates, he left out Zhong Ye, so I knew that he intended to use evil scheme to harm two masters. Thereupon, while going on an official trip to Jinyong, I took the opportunity to slip away to Yanshi to look for you. Who would have thought that I could not escape his various linking arms?

    Xu Ziling was at the helm. Hearing what was said, he spoke up, In my opinion, Wang Shichong still want to put Mr. Xu in an important position; otherwise, with his jackal and wolf [i.e. evil person] character, he would have you executed on the spot.

    Kou Zhong let out a cold snort and said, In that case, his treasured crown prince will be done for as well.

    Xu Xingzhi looked back, a warship was tailing them. Taking a deep breath, he said, Toward this kind of harsh and merciless man, I would rather die than working for him. Unlike Kou Ye and Xu Ye, whose righteousness reaches the clouds and the sky, heroes and towering figures who disregarded your own safety and danger for other peoples sake. Even if I, Xu Xingzhi, have to deliver my little life, I would do so most willingly.

    Kou Zhong still had lingering fear; he said, This time it was just a bit too dangerous. Not only Rong Fengxiangs martial art skill is so bizarrely high, it also has a weird heretical, secret feeling; definitely not of orthodox method. We nearly ruin the enterprise for the sake of one basketful because of him.

    Astonished, Xu Ziling said, I thought it was only my own perception; I did not know you had the same feeling. On the surface his technique was straightforward and open, but hidden within it was crafty, heretical move. I also felt that he was somewhat reserved, as if he was trying to hide something. There must be a dirty little secret somewhere.

    Kou Zhong appeared to be deep in thought, as if he was recalling a distant memory. It was quite a while later that he said, When I fought with him, although only twice, I had a feeling that I have seen the expression showing in his eyes somewhere before. This is really strange; when I saw him before, why didnt I have that kind of feeling?

    That must be because normally he deliberately hid the radiance of his eyes, Xu Xingzhi said, Only when fighting did he apply his true qi, hence he was unable to conceal it. If that is the case, then Zhong Ye must have met him before, only he was not showing this face.

    Xu Ziling nodded, Mr. Xus explanation makes a lot of sense, he said, Rong Fengxiang himself is a man without any position, whichever side has great power, he then attaches himself to that side; he must be harboring unfathomable motives.

    Thinking deeply, Kou Zhong said, If thats the case, Rong Fengxiangs real identity should not be difficult to guess; who has close relationship with Zhu Yuyan or someone of similar position, and have fought with me? Oh!

    His entire body shook, he looked at Xu Ziling.

    Xu Ziling returned his gaze with a blank. Who is it? he asked.

    Kou Zhong took a deep breath and said, I remember! Oh, my Niang! Must be Pi Chen, that demon Taoist; really formidable.

    Xu Ziling was stunned, How could it be him? he asked, But it also makes sense. Wang Shichong is in deep trouble this time.

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, Boy, oh boy! In this case, I am afraid Rong Jiaojiao is not his daughter at all. And Yang Xuyans origin is even more dubious, so much so that Dong Shuni is also not simple at all. Li kid might be falling into a trap without he realizing it.

    Xu Xingzhi was puzzled, Who is Pi Chen? he asked.

    After explaining it to him, Kou Zhong said, Yin Gui Pai wants to contend over the world; Pi Chen, that demon Taoists something or other Pai [Sect] also wants to fish in troubled water. Although his method is different, his intention is the same. If Pi Chen knew that as soon as he fought we were able to see through it, he would have regretted it deeply.

    Xu Xingzhi cast his gaze on the bright moon that has just risen from behind the mountain in the distance; he said, After reaching Yanshi, I am going to go ashore and rush toward the Flying Horse Ranch. Two masters must be very careful; that man Li Zitong does not look like a good man. The men under his command, Bai Xin, Qin Wenchao and Zuo Xiaoyou, three men are all famous valiant military leaders.

    Recalling that they were about to deal with Du Fuwei and Shen Faxings coalition army, a nearly impossible task, the two boys could only look at each other dejectedly.

    Xu Xingzhi mused, Du Fuwei and Shen Faxings collaboration is only for mutual interests, there must be heavy conflicting views in it. If two masters could ingeniously exploit this, perhaps you would be able to break their coalition as easy as blowing off dust.

    His spirit greatly aroused, Kou Zhong said, Misters proposal has a lot of merits; I will certainly keep it in mind. When the time comes, I will strive to carry it out.

    The sailboat rounded a sharp curve, and entered a wide, smooth section of the river course, where it was able to sail downstream at full speed. About ten miles pass Yanshi, the boat slowly pulled toward the shore. Because there were only a few of them, plus the boat was light, the warship trailing them from the Eastern Capital has been left far behind early on.

    The sound of hoof beats rumbled along the shore. Their old friend Yang Gongqing, leading about a dozen riders, arrived; and then he went on board, alone.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Great General Yang indeed has guts and has knowledge; you have the impertinence to climb aboard alone.

    Yang Gongqing walked over toward Kou Zhong. After casting a glance at Wang Xuanying, who was still lying on the deck, unconscious, he greeted Xu Ziling and Xu Xingzhi, who were standing on the bridge, and then said with a sigh, This time Shangshu Daren is at fault for courting disaster. I, Yang Gongqing, have nothing to say.

    Kou Zhong said, While I am here, I might as well tell Dajiangjun [great general] two things. If Dajiangjun is happy, you may pass it on to that baby Wang Shichong.

    Yang Gongqing was puzzled, What things? he asked.

    Thereupon Kou Zhong calmly told him about Li Shimin, who might be recruiting Li Mis former generals, and about Rong Fengxiang, who might be Pi Chen in disguise. And then he laughed and said, If I dont make them very scared and on edge, and make it difficult for them to have peaceful days, how could I vent this grudges?

    Yang Gongqings countenance changed; he said, These two things are no small matter; I must immediately send the letter via flying pigeon to report to Wang Shichong.

    Just by hearing him calling Wang Shichong by name directly, Kou Zhong knew that his resentment toward Wang Shichong has reached the level that it was revealed in his speech.

    Kou Zhong leaned over and spoke in low voice, Dajiangjun may bring the hostage back, but you have to remember how Wang Shichong is treating me. Another day he may use the same method to treat Dajiangjun. Serving a tiger and wolf master cannot bring about good outcome.

    Smiling ruefully, Yang Gongqing replied, I already knew it! Three gentlemen, take care!

    Picking up Wang Xuanying, he turned around and left.

  7. #227
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 10

    Book 19 Chapter 10 Endless Entanglement

    After sending off Xu Xingzhi ashore, the two boys continued their journey.

    It was not until they entered the Yellow River that the two boys heaved a sigh of relief, because on this wide river, fleeing or hiding would be much easier.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, When we started off from the south, it seemed like the world was under our feet; who would have thought that with many twists and turns, Zhifu and the others, three men died a tragic death, and Yuchengs whereabouts is unknown. We are now forced by circumstances; we want to turn back to the south, doors are being closed in front of us. Thinking about it, I am depressed of our failures.

    Xu Ziling said, Zhifu and the others, three mens hatred, we must avenge. Real men distinguish clearly between gratitude and grudges. Yin Gui Pais method is indeed cruel and repulsive. There will come a day when we will pull it by the roots so that they [feminine] will never harm anybody anymore.

    Murderous aura flared out in Kou Zhongs eyes. He nodded and said, Other than Yuwen Huaji, currently our deepest hatred is toward Yin Gui Pai; blood debt must be paid by blood. Besides, even if we are willing to suffer in silence, Wan yaonu and Zhu yaofu will not be willing to let us off. [Translators note: since these terms appear quite often, I am thinking of keeping them as is. yao means demon, nu and fu both mean woman, but fu usually denotes older woman. Similarly, yao dao, which I usually translate as demon Taoist. (In short, everything connected to Yin Gui Pai are yao )]

    Xu Ziling said, That is also the reason I am willing to come with you to Jiangdu. Otherwise I would have rushed to Baling to pick up Su Jie, mother and son. Until now I still dont understand why Ol Die is willing to take part in skinning-tiger scheme, collaborating with Yin Gui Pai to conquer the world. There must be a reason that we are not able to see through yet.

    Why do you care his mother so much? Kou Zhong said, Tomorrow, after entering Tongji Canal, we are going to travel day and night toward Jiangdu. But we need to replenish our food and water, because we will need at least three days and nights to reach Jiangdu.

    I always have some sense of foreboding, Xu Ziling muttered irresolutely, This trip may not necessarily go smoothly.

    Patting the Moon in the Well on his back, Kou Zhong said, When did we ever have a day of peace and safety? Whoever is not afraid of death, he can release his horse and come over! Ha! There is never enough time to learn, I want to open Lu Dayes precious library and work hard to study it.

    Xu Ziling pulled him over and said, Excuse me, the one who has been working hard is Xiaodi. Now its your turn, Zhong Dage, to man the boat.

    ※ ※ ※

    The two boys passed a peaceful night.

    By noon the next day, the boat reached Liangdu, a big city by Tongji Canal, west of Pengcheng.

    They had yet to decide who was going to guard the boat and who was going to buy provision, when the local dark road [i.e. underworld/mafia] figures already graced them with their presence.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling grew up among the thugs of the dark road. Wanting to preserve appeasing mood, they were ready to pay the illegal toll per Jianghu custom, in order to avoid new branch growing out of a knot.

    Kou Zhong put down his Moon in the Well, and stepped onto the dock to negotiate with the men coming to visit them.

    Noticing Kou Zhongs build, which was as formidable as a deity, and his calm and composed demeanor, the leader of this small gang, who himself a much-travelled person, well acquainted with the ways of the Jianghu, busily cupped his fist to salute and said, Xiaodi is Peng Liang Huis [Peng Liang society] Zhi Tang [Hall of Wisdom] Xiangzhu [lit. fragrant master] Chen Jiafeng. May I ask gentlemen heroes honorable surname and great given name, and which village, which county were you coming from?

    Kou Zhong immediately recalled the San Dangjia [Third Chief] of Peng Liang Society, the Yan Niangzi [amorous/romantic lady], Ren Meimei [see Book 3, Chapter 7, but it was Sao Niang (coquettish lady)], and realized that this area fell under Peng Liang Societys sphere of influence. However, he did not want Ren Meimei to find out his whereabouts for obvious reason; therefore, he hurriedly said, Xiaodi is Fu Ren, has just returned from the Eastern Capital for some business, and is now hurrying back to Jiangdu. Ha! Parking terminal naturally has parking terminal rules; Xiaodi is prepared to pay your honorable Society. Chen Xiangzhu, please indicate how much we owe you.

    Seeing he was so humble, Chen Jiafeng immediately had good impression; smiling, he said, Looking at Fu Xiongs high-spirited demeanor, you must have gained enough profit. Fu Xiongs boat is also of the highest quality, the strangest thing is, Fu Xiong seems to have only one helper on board.

    Naturally Kou Zhong understood this tactic.

    When dark road characters encountered strangers, they would always follow the golden rule of peaceful measures before using force. In simple terms, they would feel the opposite partys foundation clearly first, before deciding how they were going to slaughter them, in order to reap maximum benefit.

    Supposing Kou Zhong did not show a bit of skill himself, they might win an inch, want a foot, so much so that they might want to seize the boat.

    The seven, eight men following Chen Jiafeng were big and armed; just by looking at their appearance, he knew that these were local evil tyrants who were used to go on the rampage.

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, Chen Xiong is right. Since Xiaodi and my brother dare to sail to the north and rush back to the south on a fine quality boat, naturally we have something we can rely on. However, remembering that we all are of the same Jianghu way, plus we have high respect to Gui Zhua [ghost claw] Nie Jing, the Senior, plus we have a little bit of friendly relationship with your honorable Societys San Dangjia, the Yan Niangzi Ren Meimei, we will resolve this matter according to the rules. Chen Xiong ought to understand what Xiaodi means!

    Chen Jiafeng was stunned, May I ask which line does Fu Xiong belong to? he asked.

    Displeased, Kou Zhong took out half an ingot of gold and stuffed it into his hand, saying, The sage presents as an ordinary person, he who shows his true colors is not a sage. If Chen Xiong is willing to value friendship, then you should not examine the root investigate the bottom. Just consider you have never seen Xiaodi.

    No longer paying attention to him, Kou Zhong turned around and returned to the boat.

    Xu Ziling was pulling down the sail alone. While helping him, Kou Zhong said, Peng Liang Hui seems to be controlling this waterway. Just dont know to which side they are realigning their allegiance this day.

    Xu Ziling had a sudden inspiration, Turns out Ren Meimeis men. Logically they would place themselves into the hands of either Xu Yuanlang or Li Zitong. Hey! It shouldnt be Yuwen Huaji, should it?

    After fixing the sail, Kou Zhong said, Ill go into town to buy provisions, dont let anybody seize the boat!

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, If Zhu Yuyan, Wanwan, or somebody their caliber is coming here, dont blame me.

    Kou Zhong roared in laughter and left.

    With nothing to do, Xu Ziling leaned on the railing and looked around.

    The traffic on Tongji Canal was surprisingly low, especially on the section leading toward Jiangdu; there were only a few fishing boats coming and going. It could be that due to the war, passenger and cargo ships were afraid to go through here.

    From the pier to the city gate, the distance was only about a thousand paces. Anchored around him were about thirty, forty boats, big and small. Compared to the prosperity of any pier at the Eastern Capital, it paled into insignificance [orig. minor magician in the presence of a great one].

    Along the way leading to the city gate, there were several food and tea stalls, but there were only a few patrons visiting these stalls that it felt a bit deserted.

    Chen Jiafeng and his men have disappeared to who knows where. Logically, if they could not ascertain the two boys foundation, they would not easily make their move.

    Right this moment, he suddenly had a peculiar feeling. Turning around to look, he happened to see the beautiful back of a woman, as she was entering the cabin.

    Even with Xu Zilings calm and collected nature, he could not help breaking out in cold sweats.

    ※ ※ ※

    As he was stepping into the city gate, Kou Zhong still did not know which power had control over this city.

    In other cities, unless that particular city happened to be located at the line of attack and defense between forces, there would be merchants and ordinary travelers coming and going, both to provide tax revenue to the city, and to maintain local commercial trade.

    But this strategic town along the Tongji Canal unexpectedly looked like a city without any defense; not only there was no banner of whoever held authority over it, even the guards at the city gate were half gone. Even in time like this, where the fire of war reached the heavens, this kind of situation was extremely rare.

    As soon as he was inside the city, Kou Zhong could only stare blankly.

    The main streets intersect right in the middle of the city, connecting the four city gates; the construction was of wide slabs of flagstone. The alleys were like a mesh crisscrossing the main streets. Most of the residential buildings were constructed of brick and wood; plain and simple, but neat. It should be a cozy and peaceful living environment. But this moment, nine out of ten buildings were empty, most of the shops closed their doors, as if disaster was about to strike. Some stores even looked as if they had been vandalized or robbed.

    There were only a few pedestrians along the streets; everybody was walking in a hurry. It was indeed a picture of a ghost town.

    Footsteps approaching from behind.

    Kou Zhong simply stopped. He stood in the middle of the road just like that.

    Chen Jiafeng came to his side and heaved a sigh. Wars really cause a lot of trouble. One nice bustling city has turned into this.

    Kou Zhong deeply shared his sentiment, What is really happening? he asked.

    Chen Jiafeng spoke in heavy voice, Its hard to explain in a few words. If you arrived just a few days earlier, you would have seen millions of people jammed the streets that not one drop can trickle through, the sound of wailing shook the heavens; it was a horrible scene of people trying to escape in all direction.

    Kou Zhong was puzzled, Which power does this city belong to? Who attacked it? he asked.

    Chen Jiafeng replied, This city has gone through several hands, the last belonged to Xu Yuanlang. Too bad the beautiful scenery did not last. Most recently Dou Jiandes army crossed the river and attacked the city where Xu Yuanlang setup his base of operations. Thereupon Xu Yuanlang hastily transferred his troops, along with the provisions, out of Liangdu to help, leaving Liangdus defense weak. Finally even the several hundred troops defending the city also fled, leaving Liangdu a city that nobody wants to care, nobody wants to pay attention to.

    Kou Zhong was astounded. Is Dou Jiande that terrifying? he asked.

    Of course Dou Jiande is not terrifying, Chen Jiafeng replied, In term of reputation, he is much better than Xu Yuanlang, but the bandit troops Yuwen Huajis lackeys are more terrifying than Emperor Yans [Yama, king of the underworld] soul-hooking ghost messenger.

    Kou Zhongs eyes lit up immediately.

    Chen Jiafeng continued, That day Yuwen Huaji and his army returned to the north from Jiangdu, wherever they went, they robbed and looted, slaughtering common people, raping women; therefore, when the rumors arrived, everybody scrambled over to hide and take refuge in the nearby towns and villages. Ay! Nowadays it is not easy to leave; there are wars everywhere you go.

    Did Yuwen Huaji come here personally? Kou Zhong asked in heavy voice.

    Chen Jiafeng replied, Nobody knows. We only live day by day here. As soon as the situation is not right, well steal away immediately. If Fu Xiong dont mind, would you uphold righteousness by taking us to Jiangdu?

    Kou Zhong was stunned, If you want to go to Jiangdu, wouldnt it be easy?

    Chen Jiafeng stared at him for quite some time before his countenance sank and he said, Turns out you are not familiar with the situation in Jiangdu; unexpectedly you didnt know that Li Zitong has closed all rivers and canals. Unless the vessel is somehow related to them, no others are allowed to sail to Jiangdu; otherwise, I would not have asked you.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, I certainly did not know the situation at Jiangdu, because I havent returned for a long time. But I am not completely unrelated to Li Zitong. Chen Xiong, you may set your heart at ease.

    Half believing half doubting, Chen Jiafeng asked, What relation does Fu Xiong have with Li Zitong?

    Instead of answering, Kou Zhong asked, Your Peng Liang Hui was able to rank within the Eight Gangs Ten Societies; you shouldnt be without any power [orig. economize on the oil lamp]. Why dont you seize this opportunity to take Liangdu back, instead of taking the position of someone who can only receive the beatings without any strength to fight back?

    Chen Jiafeng sighed and said, If not for seeing that Fu Xiong is definitely not an ordinary person, Xiaodi does not feel like telling you that much. These days are different from the former days. The year that muddle-headed ruler was assassinated, under Nie Bangzhus leadership, we captured more than forty towns and villages in the vicinity of Pengcheng and Liangdu in one go. We thought we would be able to proclaim ourselves hegemon over these areas, and would have a promising future. Who would have thought that one after another we were defeated by Yuwen Huaji and Xu Yuanlang? Recently, even Pengcheng was taken by barbarian thieves. Our Peng Liang Hui remains in name only, but the reality is gone. Even the Societys Masters whereabouts is unclear.

    Kou Zhong was taken aback, What kind of barbarian thieves? he asked.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling darted toward the cabin door, and moved toward the four-door cabin. Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door to the room on his left.

    Under the sunlight illuminating the room via the window, the breathtakingly beautiful Wanwan was sitting peacefully in the chair by the window, looking down with rapt attention at her pair of impeccable, flawless, not-contaminated-by-the-least-bit-of-vulgar-dirt bare feet. Her expression appeared to be a little bit shy, but it also appeared confident, which was consistent with her demonic and peculiar character.

    She did not immediately look at Xu Ziling; she only said, In the end you and I must have decisive resolution between us, isnt that right?

    Not only her intonation was gentle and soft as though she was murmuring secrets while lying on the pillow; slowly as if each word, each sentence was placed gently in space, so that people felt some kind of extraordinary peace and harmony.

    Remaining confident and at ease, Xu Ziling was leaning on the doorframe. Displeased, he said, If you want to fight, then fight! Why bother speaking so much rubbish?

    Finally Wanwan looked up at him, while gently shaking her black, shiny hair, which length reached her abdomen. Her white-jade face, jet-black eyebrows, bluish-green, beautiful eyes that seemed to ripple with longing, even Xu Ziling, who was indifferent of womens loveliness, had no choice but to admit that she really was extremely captivating.

    He heard her cherry lips gently spoke, Why didnt you ask Wanwan the reason I am able to catch up with you here and now?

    Shrugging his shoulders, Xu Ziling said, Whats so strange about that? Pi Chen failed to defeat us, you have no choice but to personally make your move; isnt that right?

    Wanwan straightforwardly said, We always underestimated you, two boys. Fortunately, later on we will never repeat this mistake.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, You are blathering again. I am going out to find Kou Zhong!

    Wanwans pretty eyes were knitted in displeasure, she said, Dont rush me! I am trying hard to find a reason not to kill you.

    Xu Ziling burst out laughing, Why worry so much? he said, I am asking for trouble, and I want to see if you really have such means of doing it. So, bring it on!

    Suddenly his countenance changed. He broke through the cabins roof and soared above the boat.

    The rope mooring the boat was snapped, the boat was leaving the shore, and was floating with the current.

    Wanwans Tianmo-power attack was coming from below.

    ※ ※ ※

    Chen Jiafeng indignantly said, The barbarians are those heaven-like Khitan people. They took advantage while the Central Plains is in the chaos of war, to collude with the scum of community within our Han people, and form the East [China] Sea Alliance, specializing in looting the cities and towns along the coastal area, robbing our wealth and stealing our women, to be brought back to Pinglu.

    Astonished, Kou Zhong said, The Khitans are that formidable? Where is Pinglu?

    Chen Jiafeng replied, Their equestrian archery skill is extremely brilliant. The current Mengzhu [alliance master/leader] of the East China Sea Alliance is called Ku Ge, who is the Khitan tribal chief Mo Huis eldest son, an expert in using a pair of hatchets, his martial art skill is overbearing. Our Er Dangjia [second chief] lost his life under his hands. As for where Pinglu is, I am not clear myself. I heard it seems to be close to Korea, which is the Khitan peoples place.

    And then he sighed and said, Although their number is not that many, but they come and go like the wind; in an instant they already fled to the sea. So far nobody is able to do anything to them.

    Footsteps approaching.

    The two turned to look, and saw one of Chen Jiafengs men, flustered and exasperated, rushed over and said, Not good! Someone stole the boat!

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling knew in his heart that if he could not flee for his life one step ahead of her, he would be entangled by Wanwan, then he would end up more dead than alive.

    If he had guessed correctly, Yin Gui Pai determined to eliminate them because they no longer provide any value they could exploit, also because they were afraid the boys would return to the south and mess up their business with Du Fuwei.

    But getting rid of them was not as easy as before, especially when the two of them joined hands, the combined power would be even more enormous than the sum of the two separate capabilities. Therefore, Wanwan followed them directly here, and waited until the two separated to deal with Xu Ziling, alone.

    Bian Bufu, whom he had not seen for a long time, also appeared from the other cabin door and came at an angle toward him. Apparently he misjudged the direction Xu Ziling would take, especially since instead of coming out of the door, Xu Ziling broke through the cabins roof to escape. It was as if Xu Ziling had snatched his little life back from Emperor Yans hands. Otherwise, if he came across Wanwan and Bian Bufu on the corridor, the two people could attack him from the front and rear, then he would lose his life for sure.

    The moment before Wanwans Tianmo-power reached his body, Xu Ziling quickly exchanged a mouthful of true qi to generate new power, unexpectedly he was able to flip over in the air, and flew toward the top of the sail mast. Laughing aloud, he said, Excuse me, I must leave!

    Wanwan changed direction to pursue him, like a big bird Xu Ziling soared to the sky, traversing the nearly ten zhang distance over the water, and cast himself to the shore.

    Wanwans true qi has been used up; she had no choice but to fall back toward the top of the mast. Her beautiful face turned deathly pale, she watched Xu Ziling escaping without any trace.

    This moment, like a meteor Kou Zhong shot out of the city gate to the dock. He roared, Wan yaonu, if you have guts, come ashore and fight with me, Kou Zhong, for three hundred rounds. I will cut you off into two or three pieces.

    The sailboat continued floating downstream.

    Bian Bufu said with a cold laugh, Well let you two live a few days longer!

    Wanwan suddenly revealed a sweet smile.

    The two boys just sat dejectedly down on the shore.

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, I had never imagined that what you said earlier was a prophecy. The treasured boat is indeed snatched away by them. But I dont have the qualification to blame you either, because I could not find any provision to be brought back to you.

    This moment Chen Jiafeng and his men rushed over, everybody showed deep admiration and respect.

    Irately Kou Zhong swept them with his eyes, he said, The boat is gone! You have to figure out how you are going to Jiangdu!

    Chen Jiafeng awkwardly said, We really have eyes but fail to recognize Mt. Tai; unexpectedly we did not know two gentlemen are Kou Ye and Xu Ye whose names shook the whole world.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, What name shook the whole world? We dont even have a boat.

    Chen Jiafeng asked in low voice, Just now, arent those two yaonu and yaoren [demon] of Yin Gui Pai?

    Kou Zhong nodded in affirmative.

    Chen Jiafeng showed admiration until he felt like prostrating himself in front of the two boys; he said, In all the world, only you, two Daye are not afraid of them.

    Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself; he said, Praising people should have its sense of propriety; at least Ci Hang Jing Zhai people are also not afraid of Yin Gui Pai; we are not the only ones.

    A big man behind Chen Jiafeng raised his thumb and said, Xu Ye is a real hero; you dont brag, you dont exaggerate.

    Kou Zhong said, You guys can say anything you want, but it cant cure my empty stomach. Is there any way to get some food and wine? After eating, we all can go our separate ways.

    Chen Jiafeng happily said, This is but an exertion of lifting ones hand. Two Daye, please!

    The two boys were not bashful; they followed them back into the city.

  8. #228
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 11

    Chapter 11 Heroic Feeling Covering The Sky

    Chen Jiafeng ordered his men to open a boarded up restaurant; bowing, he said, Kou Ye, Xu Ye, please feel free to sit on any table you want, we will immediately light up the kitchen stove and prepare some authentic specialty dishes. I already had someone to take care of the wine, it will be delivered here promptly.

    The two boys found it all amusing. They picked a large round table in the middle and sat down. Because the shop owner left just a few days ago, the tables and chairs still had not collected dust.

    Kou Zhong looked out the open wide main door at the quiet and cold main street under the illumination of the setting sun; sighing, he said, A nice prosperous town, where the people lived in peace and worked happily, in the blink of an eye it suffered calamity. Its too bad!

    Xu Ziling has not found out what had happened, What calamity? he asked.

    This moment a Peng Liang Hui gang member, happy and excited, came in with an earthen jar of wine, and then busied himself trying to find bowls and cups for the two boys.

    Kou Zhong watched as the wine was poured into cups; he spoke indifferently, I heard Yuwen Huagu came here!

    Shaken, Xu Ziling shouted, What?

    Kou Zhong hastily said, I was exaggerating a little bit. I meant to say that Yuwen Huagus men might come here, but I dont know whether Yuwen Huagu is willing to give us the convenience by dropping by to receive his death.

    The same gang member was lighting the lantern for them. Hearing Kou Zhong, with great admiration he said, Kou Ye and Xu Ye are really amazing; practically you dont regard that Yuwen Hua Yuwen Huaji seriously.

    Kou Zhong laughed and cursed, You have the cheek to eavesdrop our secret conversation; quickly get lost far away.

    The gang member readily accepted the order; he spoke deferentially, Xiaoren is Xie Jue, I will immediately get lost far away! He left in high spirit, as if receiving Kou Zhongs scolding was an incomparable honor and glory.

    The murderous intent in Xu Zilings eyes flared out brightly; he spoke in heavy voice, As long as there is a chance, we have to endure it for a little while, and wait until he comes.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud. Raising his wine cup, he said, This toast is for Niangs soul and spirit in Heaven.

    Ding!

    The two clinked their cups and drained it in one gulp.

    Kou Zhong laughed hoarsely and said, How come we dont seem to care if female demon Wan came back.

    Xu Ziling leaned back comfortably in his chair, heaved a deep sigh, and said glibly, Now that we know for sure that only Wan yaonu and Bian Bufu, two people came, we dont give them a damn. Ay! I am tired of hiding to the east and fleeing to the west; if they have enough guts, let them release their horses and come!

    Bang!

    Kou Zhong struck the table and shouted, Well said!

    The two smelled the aroma of the cooking from the kitchen at the back, while looking at the gradually dimming light of the dusk on the main street outside; they both enjoyed the comfortable and lazy atmosphere as if they were unwilling to lift even half a finger.

    It seemed like this very moment, all the people they met, as well as everything that happened to them in the past, had nothing to do with them; all those things felt so far away as if they had never happened at all.

    Kou Zhong untied the Moon in the Well, and put it on the table. He stretched, and even put his feet on the table, as he sighed comfortably and said, Ling Shao! Whats your feeling on this entire town?

    Suddenly they heard rapid hoof beats coming from the city gate, which continued for quite a while before the sound stopped.

    But the two boys acted as if even though they heard, they did not care; they both remained unmoved.

    Looking pensive, Xu Ziling said, You seem to forget Song Yuzhi; am I right?

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day, before finally nodded and said, Right! I havent thought about her for a long time. Apart from you, my expectation and demand toward other people are getting less and less. Song Yuzhi is a genuinely wise and virtuous woman, who was born and raised in an honorable family and great clan. Between she and the two of us, there is one fundamental difference: she always plays by the rules, while I, Kou Zhong, am merely a destroyer who rebels against orthodoxy. But only this one difference is enough to doom us not to be together. Tell me, everything I did, all my conduct and deeds, which one would be pleasing in her eye?

    Xu Ziling pondered for a moment, and then he slowly said, But have you ever thought that this difference is precisely what attract her to you?

    Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and said, To her, this is only some kind of uncultured character and indulgence that she detests bitterly, hence she is hurt, and I feel very tired. You and I are people who dont understand etiquette and compass and set square; we speak vulgar language leisurely, without any scruple. But she is of different kind of people; therefore, in the end, we are all screwed. The reasoning she gave on the surface is just her excuse.

    Astonished, Xu Ziling said, Although deep down I have a feeling that the actual situation may not necessarily be as you put it, but your analysis on her is no doubt very thorough. I have never thought that you would have that kind of profound notion.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, I have chosen the free and long road of no return; everything else will have to be thrown away, once and for all. Sometimes I really envy that kid Hou Xibai. If he were happy when he came across this beautiful girl or that lovely bubbling doll, he would leisurely moved his brush once or twice to paint his mother on his fan, while he could play as a solitary minstrel and wander around as a knight-errant, neither slowly nor rushing around roaming around the Jianghu unrestrained, watching the fires burning across the river [fig. to delay entering the fray until all others have been exhausted by fighting amongst themselves]. Ha!

    Xu Ziling smiled, Whats so funny? he asked.

    Slapping his forehead, Kou Zhong said, I just feel sorry for him. Were it not for you, Ling Shao, made your appearance, maybe Shi Feixuan would look upon him with favor!

    Displeased, Xu Ziling said, You want to drag me into the water? You, this kid, harbor evil intentions.

    This moment, Chen Jiafeng came to the table and spoke with grave expression, Just received a report, there is a group of approximately five or six hundred riders coming here from the direction of Pengcheng, looks like they might be able to reach this place in about two sichen.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong exchanged a look of disappointment; the incoming riders could not possibly be Yuwen Huajis men.

    Chen Jiafeng continued, The incoming must be Khitan barbarians from the East Sea Alliance. Our Peng Liang Hui has a blood debt as deep as the ocean with them. If two Daye are willing to take the initiative, we wish to follow you.

    Kou Zhong was puzzled, Arent you thinking of slipping away? he asked, Why suddenly you are eager to give it a try?

    Chen Jiafeng sat down and said, Frankly speaking, although we cant wait to eat their flesh and drink their blood, we are aware of how many catty we weigh. [My text has some gibberish characters after this; or maybe that I am not good enough to understand what it is. Anybody has better source or can help?]

    Kou Zhong poured a cup of wine for him and said with a laugh, You must not have such a high hope on us. Charging and breaking through the enemy lines on the battlefield is entirely different from decisive battle in Jianghu. Against a five, six hundred-man strong enemy, even Ning Daoqi wont be able to kill that many.

    Xu Ziling waited until he raised his cup and drank the wine before asking in heavy voice, How many people do you have?

    Chen Jiafeng wiped the wine from the corner of his mouth and replied, Only fifty-three men. We have talked it over, as long as Kou Ye and Xu Ye are willing to give us a nod, we will fight to the death against those Khitan thieves.

    How many people are currently in the city? Kou Zhong asked.

    Chen Jiafeng replied, Those who are able to leave have already left, those who remain are either old or unwary people; perhaps there are several hundred people.

    Turning to Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong asked, What do you think?

    Under Chen Jiafengs hopeful look, Xu Ziling pondered quietly for half a day. Finally he smiled and said, We have no chance of victory at all, but can only take them by ruse. Fighting them head on will only result in defeat.

    Kou Zhong let out a long laugh and said, Very well! Let us kill those Khitan thieves until they are utterly defeated. Let Ku Ge know that our Central Plains is not without any hero or towering figure who can subdue him!

    And then, slapping the table, he said, And now, lets not worry about anything. We are going to eat this meal on the street. After we eat our fill and drink till we get drunk, perhaps Ku Ge will arrive to provide excitement for us!

    ※ ※ ※

    Liangdus city gate was wide open, the suspension bridge was down.

    Starting from the city gate, torches were stuck at the interval of ten paces, like a pair of fiery dragons stretching along the main street, all the way to the round table set up in the middle of the street.

    The table was full of food and wine. Both Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were sitting facing the city gate, eating and drinking and chatting merrily.

    Apart from these two, not even half a shadow of other people was seen in the city. Although the street from the city gate to the place where the two boys were sitting was lit by the torches that it was as bright as daytime, elsewhere in the city was pitch-black, so that the contrast was strange and extraordinary.

    Kou Zhong took a sip of the wine and said with a wry smile, Its all your fault; for no reason at all you mentioned Song Yuzhi, evoking the grief in my heart.

    Xu Ziling was apologetic, I have no choice but to apologize to you, he said, What are you thinking now?

    Kou Zhong reached out to grab Xu Zilings shoulder, he said, One lifetime, two brothers; no need to apologize. Just now I suddenly thought that even if I reached the stage of pledging undying love with the Song Familys San Xiaojie, her happiness cannot start yet, because the chaos and the war all over the world is not over yet. Every day I am involved in life and death struggle against others, I dont know how heavy the burden I have to carry on my back. Thinking about this, Yuzhi leaving me is actually a good thing.

    Xu Ziling was emotionally moved, Up to this point, I did not really believe that your heart was moved by Song Yuzhi. Because this is the first time that you show consideration for Song Yuzhi, and not just consider her for your benefit.

    Kou Zhongs throat was choked with flaming emotion that his breathing became rapid. It was quite a while later that he sighed and said, If I did not have any consideration for her, how could I be willing to let her go? Much less I know how defensive she is toward me, just like how weak Liangdu currently is.

    Xu Ziling also felt that way; he said, We and Song Yuzhi, an honorable woman who came from honorable family and great clan, differ so much. If you insist on living together, it would lead to many problems.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Are you thinking of Shi Feixuan? That kind of person who has left her home to live a life of cultivating the way, as far as Im concerned, she is like living in a serious and fantasy world that is not real at all; with heavy stocks and chains, without the least bit of freedom, giving up all the beautiful things in the world for no reason whatsoever. Isnt that also an addiction?

    Laughing involuntarily, Xu Ziling said, Talking about Zen with a vulgar man like you is like playing the lute to a cow, or perhaps like talking to the deaf, or discussing color with the blind.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Therefore, Shi Feixuan never gives Xiaodi any consideration, while she thinks very highly of you. Because you and she are similar! Ha! Ling Dashi [great/grand master, usually used to address a Buddhist monk], please enjoy the vegetarian dish. And then he picked a pile of green vegetables and crammed it onto Xu Zilings rice bowl.

    Xu Ziling did not know whether to laugh or cry; he said, What evil intention are you harboring? Why are you always trying to pull me and Shi Feixuan together?

    A gust of wind blew from the direction of the city gate, blowing the hundred or so torches that their flames were jumping high and low, seemingly reminding them that the Khitan group of horse-mounted bandits could arrive at any moment.

    Xu Ziling changed the topic, I almost forget to ask you, hows Li kids achievement these days?

    Kou Zhong replied, Under that kind of circumstances, we still cannot harm him, which mean that he cant be too far below us.

    After contemplating for a moment, Kou Zhong continued in a low voice, I was wondering if we are doing a really stupid thing right now? We dont have any idea of Khitan peoples real strength; all we know is that Peng Liang Hui has been decimated by them.

    Xu Ziling spoke resolutely, People sometimes do really stupid things. Only by doing things that you think is so brilliant but later on proved to be folly will your heart be relieved.

    Kou Zhong laughed heartily. Raising his wine cup, he said, Well said! Let Xiaodi toast Ling Shao a cup.

    Xu Ziling had just raised his cup, when an omen appeared in his heart. Together with Kou Zhong they turned to look toward the city gate, and immediately they both groaned inwardly.

    The beautiful-as-a-fairy Wanwan, riding along with the wind, her feet did not touch the ground, was floating through the open city gate toward them.

    In this battle, where they knew themselves, but did not know the enemy, victory or defeat was already difficult to guess. Now in this crucial moment, where the enemy might arrive at any moment, if Wanwan, this uncertain factor, was added to the equation, if she decided to pull them back, perhaps even if they wanted to flee to the wilderness, they would not be able to.

    Wanwan, wearing plain clothes, barefooted, with a face carrying a hint of sparkling smile, in an incomparably graceful attitude, sat down in an empty chair across the table from the two boys.

    As if agreeing by chance, Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings eyes immediately lit up with sharp rays; murderous intent flared up.

    If they could use a thunderbolt before-the-sound-of-thunder-reached-the-ear method to strike the female demon, who had come alone, in front of them either dead or injured, then it would be ideal.

    This idea certainly has not gone through careful thought.

    Despite saying that they would fight them head-on, they knew in their hearts that they did not have the ability to take care of her.

    However, if the two boys, whose martial art skill advanced by leaps and bounds every day, could join hands in dealing with her, and Wanwan did not have the intention to flee, perhaps even Wanwan herself did not dare to ascertain that she had the ability to deal with them.

    With her deep and low, pliable and tough like a cotton padding, seductive voice Wanwan said, A gentleman uses his mouth and not his fist. If you are unwilling to be the gentlemen, the first to suffer will be those newfound friends of yours, the Peng Liang Hui brothers.

    The two boys looked at each other in astonishment.

    In just a few simple words, Wanwan already revealed her grasp of the overall situation, including their fatal weak point.

    The reason they agreed to undertake this task in upholding justice toward Chen Jiafeng and the others really was not to help a gang or a society to take revenge and wipe out a grudge against another gangs powerful members, but because of three reasons.

    The principal reason was that they did not wish to see such a beautiful and tranquil ancient city being destroyed in one day. The second reason was the righteous indignation flamed by anger against a common enemy, due to a different tribe ravaging the Central Plains. The last reason was hoping that the rabbit, Yuwen Huaji, would drop in at their gate. Trying to kill him in here was certainly a lot easier than trying to do it in his own territory.

    But now that Wanwan came to look for trouble, how could they divide their heart to deal with her?

    Kou Zhong busily pushed the smile back onto his face; giggling, he said, Wan Da Xiaojie, please calm down. Ha! Drink a cup of wine before we talk. Are you hungry? I guarantee the vegetarian dish has no poison in it!

    Smiling gracefully, Wanwan watched as Kou Zhong politely poured a cup of wine for her. Now this is nice! she spoke softly, Even enemies sometimes sit down together to drink wine and have a heart-to-heart chat!

    Ever since they officially set themselves against each other as enemies, Xu Ziling has never had the opportunity to examine this devil cults female demon in such a close distance and intimate and peaceful atmosphere like this. But no matter how he looked at her, it was difficult to see the least bit of demonic or unusual thing from her personality traits, yet he had witnessed with his own eyes her cruelty and ruthless methods.

    Her peerless countenance could be considered on par, rather than inferior to, Shi Feixuans. The difference was that the latter gave the impression of spirited rain on an empty mountain, while Wanwan made people think about barren and deserted plains.

    Before picking up her cup, Wanwans eyes floated toward Xu Ziling; her cherry lips opened lightly and said, Can Ziling throw out old grievances right now so that we all can have peaceful discussion?

    Xu Ziling replied with astonishment, You take advantage of our precarious position like this, and yet still talk about exchanging views?

    With a hint of sarcasm Wanwan replied, And whos taking advantage of others precarious position now? Who doesnt want to take advantage of others precarious position? This is not the first day that Ziling entered the Jianghu, why would you still utter such comment?

    Knowing Xu Zilings temperament, Kou Zhong was afraid they would reach deadlock; he hastily said, Lets have a good discussion. Hey! Over the years, I have a question that lingers in my heart; now that we have a chance for a heart-to-heart talk, I was wondering if Wan Da Xiaojie would answer me?

    Wanwan knew that Kou Zhong wanted to change the subject, she was happy to oblige. She said cheerfully, In half a sichen Ku Ges horse-mounted bandits will reach the city gate; if it doesnt take too much time, Wanwan certainly happy to answer your question.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, This is just a simple little question: why is Yin Gui Pai willing to be drawn into the dispute of becoming the master of the world?

    Shrugging her shoulders, Wanwan replied, Who doesnt want to be the master of the world? Isnt this question a bit superfluous?

    Kou Zhong spoke in bewilderment, For Li Mi, Wang Shichong, Dou Jiande, Li Shimin, and the others, this is certainly a stupid question. Among life achievements, nothing can surpass establishing a dynasty setting up an era, toiling to become master of the universe that will last for thousands generations. But for your virtuous master Zhu Yuyan, or perhaps Wan Xiaojie yourself, the real pursuit is perhaps not the wealth or power of the secular world!

    Wanwan smiled and said, I never expected that you had such an understanding about us. Perhaps it can be explained this way: the master of the world is like the extension and continuation of our struggle against Ci Hang Jing Zhai. Also because of this reason I am willing to sit down and have a peaceful talk with you. Otherwise, if we do all we can to deal with you, how long do you think you will last?

    Sneering, Kou Zhong said, Dont threaten us! Havent you tried to deal with us will all your strength before? But without success!

    Wanwan revealed a sad expression as if she took pity of his ignorance; she sighed and said, At the Eastern Capital, we indeed had the intention to kill you; to be precise, we intended to kill one of you. But in the end we refrained from shooting at the rat for fear of breaking the vase. Even my humble master, due to all kinds of apprehensions, did not dare to carelessly make her move. As for the reasons behind it, you think about it yourselves!

    After a short pause, she let out a faint sigh and said, The reason we wanted to deal with you, other than for the Duke Yangs Treasure, we are afraid that you might stand on Ci Hang Jing Zhais side. But now that worry has, of course, become redundant.

    Xu Ziling let out a cold snort, Nonsense! he said, Didnt you want to kill me earlier?

    Without concealing anything Wanwan replied forthrightly, I indeed wanted to eliminate you. But the reason is not what you think. Ziling, do you want to hear it?

    Afraid that Xu Ziling and Wanwan might quarrel and thus spoil their big endeavor, Kou Zhong answered on his behalf, Of course we are dying to hear it!

    Xu Ziling had no choice but to shut up and refrain from expressing any opinion.

    Wanwans eyes emitted an incomparably tender expression, brimming with emotion like the continuous wave slapping against the riverbank; she spoke gently, First of all is because you, Ziling, has established a delicate relationship with Shi Feixuan, which, to us, creates a big problem. Secondly, Wanwan is a bit afraid I cannot restrain my emotions and fall in love with you.

    What? Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling blurted out together.

    Looking at Xu Zilings handsome face blushing and his extremely awkward expression, Pft! Wanwan burst out in tender giggle and said, That is the truth, believe it or not, its up to you.

    The sound of hoof beats was getting nearer and nearer.

    Ku Ge has finally arrived.

    But Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling no longer had the confidence and assurance they had before.

    Wanwans smile was getting sweeter and even more beautiful.

  9. #229
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 12

    Book 19 Chapter 12 Bloody Battle Outside The City Gate

    Maintaining her usual calm and cold confidence, her jade countenance did not reveal the slightest change due to the gradually resounding, growing faster and more intensive hoof beats, Wanwan spoke indifferently, As long as you agree to let us take something from the Duke Yangs Treasure first, we can temporarily negotiate peace and cease the battle.

    After exchanging glance with Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong said with a frown, What exactly is so important? Can you explain clearly, so that we can consider it carefully?

    Revealing a flirtatious and captivating expression, Wanwan hunched her shoulders and narrowed her eyes as she looked at Kou Zhong and said, It could be a box, or a small chest, but definitely has nothing to do with wealth or weaponry. As for whats inside, please forgive nujia for not disclosing it. In any case, it will be completely useless for you.

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, Please dont use that kind of gaze and expression to tease Xiaodi, all right? If you provoked Xiaodis misunderstanding, that would not be good, because Xiaodi have always liked to imagine that my love is reciprocated.

    The hoof beats suddenly stopped outside the city gate. The sudden silence was as depressing as the heavy atmosphere before the rain fell on the mountain.

    Kou Zhong spoke to Xu Ziling, This business deal doesnt seem to bring us any harm. Even though we still have deep hatred and great enmity, we could always haggle over it after the Duke Yangs Treasure is obtained. He secretly kicked Xu Zilings leg under the table.

    Naturally Xu Ziling understood what he meant.

    With each passing day, their confidence is resisting Yin Gui Pai also increased by a notch. But if at the moment they disagreed and broke into a fight, they could only end up failing and being wiped over the floor.

    Sighing, Xu Ziling spoke in a heavy voice, Lets do whatever you think is best!

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Its a deal! But if you eat your own words and rush indiscriminately into a fight, this deal is void.

    The hoof beats rose up again. When the horses galloped across the suspension bridge over the moat, the sound was like the rumbling of thunder. Several dozen of riders appeared from the city gate. They all rode slowly, in cautious and solemn manner.

    As if she was completely unaware of Khitan horse-mounted bandits entering the city, Wanwan stretched out her delicate hand, showing her bent little finger, and spoke in gentle, charming voice, In that case, let us hook our fingers to make an oath, whoever go back on this deal, let him not have a good death.

    Kou Zhong craned his neck to scrutinize her lily-white hand, which was fairer than the snow; full of suspicion, he said, No crafty plots and machinations, right?

    The enemy coming into the city was only about a hundred or so. The vanguard quickly spread out on both sides of the long main street, they looked quizzically at the three people, men and woman, sitting around the table full of food and wine, set in the middle of the street, chatting and laughing. It was obvious from their expression that even in their dream, they had never expected to see such a scene inside the city.

    Wanwan angrily said, Gutless ghost! In vain I regarded you as a man whom I might fall in love with.

    Giggling, Kou Zhong also stretched out his little finger and hooked it with hers.

    The sound of hoof beats arose again, like an arrow more than a dozen riders rushed into the city straight toward the three people, and reined their horses to complete stop at about ten zhang away from the table, and arranged themselves in a row.

    The warhorses skipped over and neighed wildly. More than a dozen pair of vicious and harsh eyes were trained on the three people, none did not show bewildered and uncertain expression.

    Hooking her finger with Kou Zhong, Wanwan pulled it three times, and then said with a tender laughter, Oh Kou Lang [young man]! Dont you dare going back on this deal! Otherwise nujia will never let you off!

    When her words fell on these unsuspecting strangers ears, they certainly thought that these people were pledging their unchanging love to each other.

    The bandits leader was a ferocious looking big man with a full-bearded face, a pair of hatchets hanging on his back, his clothes were animal skin and black leather, his imposing manner was oppressive.

    To his left was a Han man, about fifty years of age, with grave and stern countenance, his eyes shot spirited light; it was evident at a glance that he must be a martial art master with strong internal power.

    The other men had fierce and malicious countenance, big and sturdy, robust Khitan men. Their bare arms either had arm protector, or iron hoops on their wrists, enhancing the imposing and ferocious air around them.

    Pulling back his little finger, Kou Zhongs gaze, which were shining with sharp rays, fell onto the big Khitan man with a pair of hatchets on his back, who was riding high on his horse; he shouted, You, the tall guy, are you Ku Ge of Khitan?

    Qiang! Qiang! There was an unending ringing as the bandits, except the old Han man and Ku Ge, more than a hundred men drew all kinds of weapons at the same time, striking a posture that they were about to attack, ready to pounce.

    The old man leaned close to Ku Ge and spoke a few words. Ku Ge then signaled with his hand, stopping his men from rushing indiscriminately into action. Only after everyone calmed down did he shout, Since you know my name, Ku Ge, yet still dare to sit here whispering sweet nothings to one another, speaking about wind, flower, snow and moon [i.e. trite poetry subject], you must be tired of living.

    His Han speech was dry and heavy, and stiff, yet he loved to bite words and chew characters [i.e. meticulous in his choice of words], it was quite laughable.

    Kou Zhong leaned back comfortably into his chair while shot him a sideways glance and said, Laoxiong, you are right. Since we know what kind of character you are, yet still dare to sit here having a drinking party, waiting respectfully for your honorable selfs arrival, naturally it is not because we are tired of living!

    Seeing him making an eye with her as he spoke, Pft! Wanwan burst into tender giggle and stood gracefully. Turning around her tender body, she faced the bunch of bandits, who were dumbstruck to suddenly come face-to-face with her beauty. And then with a sweet smile she said, I am just a guest who was passing through. You want to fight, whether death or alive, it has nothing to do with me. Nujia is leaving!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew she was going to make a kill; they werent sure if they should be happy or ought to be resentful.

    Severely shaken, Ku Ge asked, May I ask where is Beauty going?

    Momentarily caught off guard by the peerless beauty, he was completely in awe and unexpectedly spoke such refined and courteous sentence, which was totally incongruous with his previous style.

    Wanwan moved behind Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, making the two boys so scared and on edge, before she regained her smiling expression and returned to her usual ice-cold demeanor. Her eyes shot at the old man, as she spoke gently, This Qianbei [Senior] must be Mi Fang, Mi Laoshi [teacher], whose appellation is the Wolf King, who ran amuck in the northeast region? Lately you vanished from the Central Plains, who could have thought that unexpectedly you take refuge among the Khitans.

    Mi Fangs countenance changed; he said, Which Sects disciple are you, unexpectedly you know Ol Mis background.

    Letting out a long laugh, Kou Zhong said, Old man Mi, sit tight, this Da Xiaojies venerable master is hey! Pardon me!

    Wanwan withdrew the Tianmo-power poised to attack him, and then she unhurriedly said, Now thats an obedient child!

    Ku Ge and the others looked at each other; even after racking their brains, they could not figure out the relationship among these three people.

    Xu Ziling impatiently said, Miss, arent you going to leave?

    Wanwan suddenly moved to the front, as if she was about to pass through between Ku Ge and Mi Fangs horses, floating toward the city gate.

    Kou Zhong blurted out, Would you please close the city gate on your way out?

    Ku Ge let out a long laughter and said, Beauty wants to leave? Its not that easy!

    But Mi Fang showed a grave expression; without blinking he stared at Wanwans bare feet.

    The two riders on his left and right suddenly rushed out and closed in to intercept her.

    These Khitan men grew up on horseback; every one of them had consummate skill in equestrianism. Capturing people from horseback was a cheap trick for them.

    Only Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were familiar with Wanwans ruthlessness; they could not bear to watch.

    Naturally they would not stop her either. Every one of these horse-mounted bandits has committed multifarious evil, even death cannot wipe out their crimes, not a single one.

    Meanwhile four riders were getting closer and closer; the crowd of bandits cheered in chorus to boost the morale of their brothers. Their shouts shook the long street.

    From the city gate several dozen riders came pouring in; they were curious and came inside to watch the show.

    Suddenly the two riders on the left and right closest to Wanwan reined their horses. The warhorses immediately reared; high in the air, their front legs were kicking randomly this way and that.

    The other two riders sped up and joined the fray; their horsemanship was exquisite, their coordination was amazing, making others sigh in admiration.

    Wanwan appeared to be completely unable to resist, as the two horses came together in a pincer attack.

    By the time the other two horses legs landed back on the ground, suddenly the riders screamed the horses neighed. Pressed from both sides, the two steeds were thrown outside like a collapsing mountain, falling pillars. The riders, who were incomparably dauntless Khitan warriors, were completely helpless to resist; as if their bodies were devoid of any bones, they both, together with their horses, fell to the side.

    Even with Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings brilliant eyesight, they still could not see clearly what technique Wanwan was using.

    Bang! The horses landed on the ground, the dust rose up. Without moving further, they all died on the spot.

    Wanwan has effortlessly lifted up the two men, casually tossed them so that they heavily knocked against the head of the other two riders horses.

    The crowd of bandits was dumbstruck with this sudden change. While they were at a loss of what to do, as if they were struck by lightning, the two warriors on the horseback fell down, with all seven orifices spurting blood. On the contrary, the horses were completely uninjured.

    The two warriors that were thrown also fell to the ground; fresh blood flowed from their eyes, ears, mouth and nose.

    Such an overbearing skill, even Ku Ge and Mi Fangs countenance changed greatly.

    Ku Ge was the first to regain his composure. Kill them! he thundered angrily.

    The crowd of bandits urged their horses to charge forward.

    Looking back at the two boys, Wanwan laughed and said, Ill see you again in Guanzhong!

    Two streams of ribbons flew out of her sleeves like butterflies, intercepting the charging cavalry that the bandits were thrown backward and their formation was crushed; unexpectedly no one was able to stop her even for a short period of time.

    Watching Wanwan charging into the enemy formation, opening a bloody path toward the city gate, Kou Zhong said in shock, How did she know the Duke Yangs Treasure is in Guanzhong?

    Xu Ziling pushed the edge of the table with both palms. The entire tabletop left its legs and flew up, spinning toward the dozen or so bandits on horseback attacking them; he shouted, I am not the worm inside her belly; how would I know?

    The tabletop was spinning faster and faster, but the food and drink, bowls and plates, were like stuck to the surface that they spun together with the tabletop, not even half a cup spilled out.

    Just a split second before the tabletop spun, Kou Zhong casually picked up a bottle of wine. This moment, while biting the cork off the bottle, he mumbled, The time to repay our fellow citizens blood debt has arrived!

    Two miserable screams. The tabletop knocked two bandits off their horses and threw them away and down to the ground. The warhorses were startled and charged sideways, so that the bandits were thrown into confusion.

    Whoosh!

    Applying his internal power Kou Zhong spat the cork in his mouth. It flew and struck the face of a bandit charging toward him. The bandit fell backward from his horse. Kou Zhong kicked a table leg, and another bandit was knocked over.

    He was still sitting comfortably on his chair; lifting the wine bottle in his left hand, he drank his fill. With his other hand he pulled the Moon in the Well, and then carelessly, without even looking, swept it across.

    Dang!

    A Khitan overbearing fiend, who was stooping down to pierce him with a spear, was swept over; both the man and the spear were thrown to the ground, his head split and his blood flowed without being able to even groan. Losing its rider, the horse continued galloping toward the empty and wide long street on Kou Zhongs right rear side.

    Bang!

    The tabletop lost its momentum and fell down.

    Two charging bandits were struck by Xu Zilings splitting-the-air palm strike that they spurted blood and fell off their horses. One of the horses was still running toward Xu Ziling. He diverted his force and slapped the horses head with the back of his palm. By lucky coincidence the horse changed direction and galloped pass two enemies charging toward him.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, It is fun! It is fun!

    The battle was in full swing.

    In the meantime, Wanwan was attacking the enemy outside the gate, and thus drawing the enemys main force.

    Kou Zhong let out a long whistle.

    Chen Jiafeng and his men, who were waiting in ambush on top of the city gate, released arrows using crossbows through the battlements on the city wall. From their higher elevation, they had clear shot toward the enemy; they also threw down lighted firecrackers, so that momentarily there was continuous Crash! Bang! noise that scared the warhorses, sending them fleeing in all direction.

    In this total chaos, naturally the bandits could not tell that there were only fifty people acting behind the scenes, driving them to insanity; they thought that they had fallen into an ambush, and hence their heart was in great confusion.

    Kou Zhong bent his body at the waist and pounced forward. His left hand unleashed the Cutting-Meridian Technique taught by Tu Shufang, to grab a piercing spear. Applying his power, he sent out a spiraling qi, jolting the enemy off his horse.

    Whoosh! His right hand swept the saber across the enemys rank. And then using the listening to the wind to differentiate the sound skill, he flashed forward to evade an arrow shooting from behind. His movement flowed so smoothly that he himself was extremely pleased.

    He was not new to the battlefield; on the contrary, he was an old hand, having a deep understanding that in a melee like this, the thing he had to avoid the most was fancy move and empty style, while the most important thing was speed and accuracy, by all means, he had to try to kill the enemy in one move.

    Suddenly a strong gust of wind came from his left side, Kou Zhong recognized it as Ku Ges pair of hatchets. Laughing aloud, he said, Ge Laoxiong, has your beauty slipped away? Has the scabies toad failed to eat the swans flesh? Such a profound sentence, I wonder if youd understand? Do you want me to explain it in simple terms for you?

    Although his mouth was spewing his forte, frigid irony and scorching satire, to the greatest extent, his hands were not idle; he met the enemys double hatchets attacking from the horseback. Amidst continuous ringing his saber hacked with full strength, shaking Ku Ges wrists that they went numb, forcing him to have no choice but to pull his horse back to evade.

    Bang!

    Kou Zhongs right leg flew up, kicking the foot of another bandit on the stirrup. The violent and ferocious force unexpectedly sent that man up into the air. Kou Zhong added a long-distance punch to it, and the unfortunate man was like being struck by lightning; blood splashed as he was thrown about a zhang away.

    Such formidable power scared the several other enemies attacking him that they scattered everywhere trying to escape.

    Xu Ziling also unleashed his divine prowess. His palms opening up and closing in, sending gusts of wind from his palms and fists, combined with exquisite and profound technique that he developed right then and there, just like the opponents sabers, spears, swords and halberds as nothing. When the lance attacked, he broke the lance, the spear attacked, he broke the spear, as if everything was swept by a gale.

    Because the hundred or so enemies inside the city gate were being held up by the two boys, while Chen Jiafeng and his men were also successful in following the battle plan by holding up the enemies on the suspension bridge, the enemies were cut into two groups. The group outside could not go in to provide assistance, the group inside could not get out without facing the arrows.

    The Wolf King Mi Fangs weapon was a wolf-teeth mace, which was the origin of his nickname.

    He first realized that riding on a horse actually limited his flexibility, hence he made a somersault and flew overhead Xu Ziling, attacking him with a killer move. Like the wind or a thunder bursting forth, the wolf-teeth mace swept down on Xu Zilings head.

    Xu Ziling stretched out his finger to touch the wolf-teeth mace, sending out a violent spiraling energy. Mi Fang let out a muffled grunt as he was jolted into another somersault, and unexpectedly flew five more zhang upwards.

    Zhong Shao! Xu Ziling called loudly, This old fellow is yours!

    Kou Zhong shouted his acknowledgement, while forcing five bandits surrounding him to back off. The Moon in the Well turned into yellow rainbow, and slashed at an angle; like an arrow it shot toward Mi Fang, who was still flying in the air.

    By this time, separating the city gate from the spot where the two boys were being besieged was only a several-dozen-paces-long section of the long street, which was already strewn with seventy, eighty dead and wounded enemies. At least half of those casualties were the handiwork of Wanwans delicate hands, who had already disappeared without a trace. The rest were either hit by the arrows, or were killed by Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. From this, the intensity of the battle could clearly be seen.

    Under the illumination of the raging flame, the long street seemed to become the underworld of the Asura [malevolent spirits in Indian mythology].

    Seeing the far-from-good situation of his side, Ku Ge called out loudly, Mi Gong, be careful!

    He was about to leap high to intercept, Xu Ziling already darted from an angle and delivered a punch.

    Ku Ges mind was thrown into great disorder. For the first time he had a feeling that in this jumbled battle, his side has been defeated into a total mess.

  10. #230
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 19 Chapter 13

    Book 19 Chapter 13 A Heavy Load And a Long Road[1]

    Qiang!

    A clear ring shook the entire battleground.

    Kou Zhong and his saber became one entity, which interlocked with Mi Fang, who was struggling to defend himself while flying in the air. Like a kite with cut string the latter flew sideways, and Bang! it crashed into the boarded up wooden door of a nearby shop, and fell inside the shop, but his feet were dangling outside the hole, giving the impression that most probably he was no longer alive.

    Peng!

    At the exact same moment, Ku Ges hatchets collided with Xu Zilings punch, jolting him off the horses back.

    Xu Ziling somersaulted onto the horseback. Reaching backhandedly at a spear stabbing his back, he snatched the spear and turned it into millions of spear shadows, attacking Ku Ge, who was just springing up from the ground.

    Under Xu Zilings attack, sweats were flowing down Ku Ges back. He rolled away to evade.

    Using the remaining power after killing Mi Fang, Kou Zhong leaped onto a rider-less horse and moved his horse charging to the left and dashing to the right, chopping anybody who happened to be on his way.

    By this time, the remaining seventy or so bandits in the city already lost their fighting spirit, they flocked toward the city gate, trying to escape. On the other hand, Chen Jiafeng and his mens morale was greatly aroused; releasing rain of arrows, they killed a dozen more enemies.

    Ku Ge knew he had lost. Hopping onto the back of one of his men, he mingled into the crowd of riders fleeing out of town.

    By killing as many as two hundred Khitan horse-mounted bandits, Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings fame for fighting prowess spread to the four winds, shaking the land under the heavens.

    The next morning, Chen Jiafeng and the others were holding them in the same regard as they would a deity; they waited upon the two boys with full attention.

    When the two were eating their breakfast at the same restaurant they ate the previous day, Chen Jiafeng came toward the two boys table and spoke respectfully, Subordinate already spread the word, calling all Xiongdi of our gang from all over the place to come here to return to their duty.

    Stunned, Kou Zhong said, You are not my subordinate, why would you do that?

    Chen Jiafeng smiled apologetically and said, We have had internal discussion! Hereafter we are going to follow two Daye in charging into the world. As for summoning our brothers to come here, it is for dealing with Yuwen Huaji. He is not the same as the horse-mounted bandits of last night; he wont be that easy to deal with.

    Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, Kou Zhong said, It does not matter how many people you are summoning, we will still be defeated without any chance of victory. Dealing with Yuwen Huaji is our job. If you want to express your gratitude to us, just monitor closely for any activity on Yuwen Huajis side, and when you have any news, report to us immediately.

    Chen Jiafeng had no choice but to leave with his countenance sinking.

    Kou Zhong sighed. Are we going to really wait in here doing nothing? he asked, Jiangdus situation is certainly very urgent, otherwise, there is no reason for Li Zitong not to grab a strategic city like Liangdu.

    Suddenly he noticed that Xu Ziling was staring blankly at the street outside the door. Quickly turning around, Kou Zhong saw several mule carts and horse-drawn carriages, carrying loads and loads of men, women, young and old, were passing through.

    Kou Zhongs scalp went numb. My Niang! he exclaimed, What are they doing back here?

    ※ ※ ※

    Dusk, the next day.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were standing on the city wall, above the city gate, watching, with blank expression, the endless stream of carts and horses, along with trailing men and women, the town residents flocking back into the city along the main street.

    At the dock, the number of boats has also increased, from about a dozen, to more than a hundred.

    In just two short days, the city of Liangdu, which had become a ghost town, has returned to life.

    Chen Jiafengs brothers have also increased, from about fifty men to more than five hundred. On their own initiative, they took the responsibility of maintaining order in the city.

    His head spun, Xu Ziling said, Chengshou Daren [officer guarding the city], what do we do now?

    Kou Zhong sighed and replied, You asked me, whom should I ask? You ought to tell me how to be a proper Chengzhu [lit. master of the city].

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, Dont you always want to contend for hegemony over the world? Just consider this as a practice.

    Kou Zhong dejectedly said, I still have lingering fears from the battle of Jingling that day. At that time at least we had a group of well-trained troops guarding the city. But now we have nothing but the mob from Peng Liang Hui. Killing a group of horse-mounted bandits is still possible, but guarding the city? It would be no different than sending them to their death.

    Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, In that case, why dont we try how to train the troops? These past couple of days, didnt you diligently studying Mr. Lus military strategy and tactics book? This ought to be the moment to apply what you are studying.

    You are kidding, right? Kou Zhong cried out involuntarily.

    Xu Ziling pointed to several boys riding on a mule cart entering the city; he said, Look at their little faces! Although they are unbearably tired from the journey, their faces are brimming with longing and anticipation. Who would want to leave the city they are used to and the homeland they had put down their roots? As long as there is a sliver of hope, they would immediately rush back. We have acted before thinking, and happened to give them that sliver of hope. Do you have the heart to force them to leave again?

    Aghast, Kou Zhong said, It was just a misunderstanding; I dont know which lunatic spread the rumor everywhere that they all came back.

    Xu Ziling reached out to grab Kou Zhongs shoulder; he said, Nothing is a big deal anymore. Even Li Mi is not your match; just consider Yuwen Huagu a bit more experienced. You have aspiration to unify the world anyway, why not starting from Liangdu?

    With pained expression, Kou Zhong said, Liang Du is just a lone city. It lacks food supplies and short of water; in fact everything is deficient. It would be hard to defend even for half a day, the best move is still to flee for our lives.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Dont exaggerate; this is called you shrink back as the time for battle approaches. Have you forgotten Pengcheng? With Peng Liang Hui people helping you, governing these two cities is as easy as a hands turn. How many men can Yuwen Huagu bring to attack us? Pull yourself together! You and I have become the entire city of Liangdus only hope. How can Twin-dragon of Yangzhou let Yuwen Huagu come here wantonly?

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, Now it looks like the one who wants to contend over the world is you instead of me, ay! Ill accompany you become the hero this time! I just hope we wont be buried with this city.

    ※ ※ ※

    Horses hooves stepped onto the suspension bridge that has just lowered down, creating a rumbling noise like thunder rolls.

    More than a dozen riders, under Kou Zhongs leadership, were galloping into the city, leaving a cloud of dust, which rose to half of the sky, on the road outside the city.

    Xu Ziling met the dusty Kou Zhong at the city gate, and then rode side-by-side with him toward the Zongguan [chief manager] Mansion at the heart of the city.

    With grave expression Kou Zhong said, Yuwen Huagu is indeed leading his troops personally heading this way. According to our spy, he is already aware that the two of us are in charge of the general situation over here. He is boasting to his subordinates that he is going to pull our dead bodies into pieces with five horses as a sacrifice to his banner.

    Xu Zilings eyes shot fiery hatred; laughing coldly, he asked, How many troops and horses does he have?

    Kou Zhong nonchalantly replied, Ought to be fifteen to twenty thousands, with Yuwen Zhiji and Yuwen Wudi as deputy commanders. Using the observing-the-dust technique taught by Linglong Jiao, only Yuwen Huagus five thousand personal troops are trained elite troops, the rest are new troops who were recruited not too long ago.

    And then he asked in low voice, Is there any new development these past couple of days?

    Xu Ziling replied indifferently, There is an old friend waiting for you at the Zongguan Mansion. With her here, the situation is a bit clearer.

    ※ ※ ※

    As Kou Zhong was stepping into the main hall of the Zongguan Mansion, the Peng Liang Huis Third Chief The Amorous Lady Ren Meimei, who was as graceful as ever, met him with smile on her face.

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, Its great that San Dangjia have arrived! This residence can be handed over back to you.

    Displeased, Ren Meimei said, How could it be that easy? Were it not for the two of you in charge here, this Miss had no interest coming here.

    Standing on the side, Chen Jiafeng smiled apologetically and said, Lets sit down first! Lets sit down first!

    After they were seated, Xu Ziling said, San Dangjia had just arrived this morning, and she brought several hundreds Xiongdi with her, so now our force is three thousand men strong.

    Ren Meimei shook her head and said, Please dont call me San Dangjia. Peng Liang Hui is no more; now we are looking up to you!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in surprise. The former said, Where did your honorable Societys Mr. Nie go?

    Ren Meimeis countenance turned dark, she said, At the battle of Liangdu, Da Dangjia [first chief] was injured by Yuwen Huaji, and have not recovered when recently the battle with Ku Ge broke. New injury and old misfortune intersect, his wound flared out, about ten days ago he passed away despite having received medical help. Therefore, Peng Liang Hui is already finished.

    There is still you, San Dangjia! Kou Zhong said.

    Smiling ruefully, Ren Meimei said, You know how much weight I carry; I am not even able to take revenge and wipe out a grudge for our Xiongdi who had lost their lives. Right now who does not know Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings great names?

    Hows the situation at Pengcheng? Kou Zhong asked.

    Ren Meimei replied, Pengcheng was defeated by Khitan evil thieves that the wall crumbled the roof failed; without a few years of effort, dont even think it would recover its strength.

    Stunned, Kou Zhong said, This is bad! I was thinking of repeating Li Mis strategy in defeating Yuwen Huagu: by dividing our military power evenly between the two cities. Whichever city he attacked, the other city would drag his rear leg. But if Pengcheng has become a destroyed city, this strategy wont work.

    Ren Meimei said, Didnt you have glorious military success by painstakingly defending Jingling for more than ten days? Although currently Liangdu is weak, the morale is high. With tens of thousands of people all of one mind, considering Yuwen Huajis strength is far below Du Fuweis strength that time, plus their morale is low, we are not without any chance of victory at all.

    Dejected, Kou Zhong said, When Xu Yuanlangs men left, they took along all rations and fodder in the storage and granary. If our supply line is cut off, our provision can only support us for three days.

    On that, I have the solution, Ren Meimei said, Between Pengcheng and Liangdu, our Peng Liang Hui has several towns and villages where we stockpile enormous amount of provisions. If we transport them all into the city, we can make it last at least a month, maybe more.

    The two boys spirit was greatly aroused.

    Chen Jiafeng joined in, Please excuse your subordinate to speak: on the subject of the terrain of the nearby mountains and rivers, no one is more familiar than we. I was wondering if we could select several strategic locations to ambush the enemys forces invading our territory. If we could burn Yuwen Huajis army provision, our chance of victory will be greatly increased.

    Kou Zhong said, Yuwen Huagu is a battle veteran, he has full knowledge of the art of war; it cant be that easy for us to ambush him and burn his provision. We have to think of something else to deal with him.

    Smiling, Xu Ziling said, We might have our knight in shining armor [orig. saving star].

    Stunned, the other three looked at him.

    Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, The reason Yuwen Huagu is dying to capture Liangdu is naturally because he knew Dou Jiande is not to be trifled with. Therefore, he took advantage of the golden opportunity bestowed by heaven, while Dou Jiande and Xu Yuanlang are fighting with each other, he wanted to take Liangdu at a stroke, and then going downstream along the Canal to attack Jiangdu. Therefore, the person most concerned with Liangdus safety ought to be Li Zitong. If we bend our finger to call him here, I guarantee he will deploy his men to provide support for us.

    Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, Wonderful plan! Li Zitong cant be afraid of us. With Liangdu in our hands, it will only bring benefit to him without any harm. So then we can paint by holding two brushes [fig. to work on two tasks at the same time]: while strengthening city defense, transporting provisions and drill the troops, we can also send someone to Jiangdu, to persuade Li Zitong to send troops here. But whom should we send?

    Ren Meimei said, The two of you cannot leave Liangdu, whereas our Peng Liang Hui has always had somewhat friendly relationship with Li Zitong, so let me be the lobbyist!

    Kou Zhong slapped Xu Zilings shoulder hard, and said, Your brain is indeed very quick. His mother! Finally we are going to have a showdown against Yuwen Huagu, so that he could come but he could never leave.

    An unprecedented thick and deep murderous intent flashed through Xu Zilings eyes, while a sliver of as-cold-as-ice-and-frost smile escaped from the corner of his lips.

    The time has finally come to settle the blood debt.



    [1] Chapter title from the dictionary: fig. to bear heavy responsibilities through a long struggle (cf Confucian Analects, 8.7)

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