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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)

    PLEASE DO NOT POST IN THIS THREAD.

  11. #231
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 1

    Book 20 Chapter 1 Besieging A City Is A Must In War

    All Liangdu residents, men, women, young and old, were mobilized in their struggle to defend their hometown.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were now world famous heroes; not only they had glorious military successes, they were also invincible, and because they came from the marketplace, they won the heart of the people, even more so than those Sui dynastys old minister or veteran generals who came from honorable school or big clans, or ambitious and ruthless characters who started out by relying on the dark road. Therefore, one after another wulin characters and ambitious able-bodied men from the surrounding area came to realign their allegiance to the two boys.

    Albeit unintentionally, in his road to contend for hegemony, this was the first time that Kou Zhong publicly amassed volunteers for the uprising, just like it suddenly happened in this place.

    In any other cases, Xu Ziling could not possibly be drawn directly into Kou Zhongs private business to conquer the world. But this time, because of his benevolence in bemoaning the state of the universe and pitying the fate of the citizens of this city, plus it was for the sake of dealing with Yuwen Huaji, unexpectedly he had spun a cocoon around himself [idiom: enmeshed in a trap of his own devising]; in the end he had no choice but to take the heavy responsibility of training and organizing the troops into squads of five soldiers upon himself.

    On one hand, Kou Zhongs skill was derived from the heavenly book passed down from Lu Miaozi. On the other hand, he imitated the administrative structure of Liangdus entire governance; he tried to stretch the limited resources available to him as far as possible, to make the best possible use of whatever he currently had.

    Yuwen Huajis force from the south was about twenty thousand men strong, but it was moving so slowly, because along the way they had to loot army provisions and recruited able-bodied men by force; it was just like a plague of locusts turning cities into disaster areas, forcing the people along their route to flee toward Liangdu, making Kou Zhongs burden more than a hundred catties heavier.

    This day, after much difficulty, the two boys were finally able to meet at a side hall of Fusheng Restaurant, located on the north and south main street connecting the north and south city gates, well into the afternoon, to discuss attack and defense military matters.

    The other guests of the restaurant were all used to see these two boys, since they both were amiable and approachable, they did not like to hide inside the Zongguan Mansion, but loved to enjoy big bowl of wine and big piece of meat together with the locals, sprinkling their speech with one or two vulgar language such as his mother and the like.

    Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, Currently fourteen cities and towns, more than two hundred villages in the vicinity of Liangdu have all surrendered to us, and it has enabled us to obtain some extra rations and fodder, and relax the hardship of lack of food supplies somewhat.

    Knitted his brows, Xu Ziling said, Previously, where did Liangdus provisions come from?

    Kou Zhong replied, It was from these township and villages. Its just that those hateful Khitan dog thieves killed and burned everywhere, driving the farmlands to be abandoned, and could not supply provisions as they always did. Do you want to buy provisions? Upstream Wang Shichong is waging war against Li Mi, downstream Ol Die, in company with Shen Faxing, is staking it all in fiery confrontation against Li Zitong; water transportation is cut off. Ay! My Ling Shao, who would have thought that we will be in the situation we are in today, unexpectedly we have to worry about firewood and rice for the entire city of nearly a hundred thousand people! Previously you advised me not to contend over the world, you indeed have the foresight.

    Xu Ziling did not have the mood to even laugh; he asked, So with the current provision level, how many days are we able to last?

    Kou Zhong said, According to that fellow, Chen Jiafengs estimate, if that lowly creature Yuwen Huagu is traveling at his current speed, in three days they will arrive to besiege the city and sever all water and land transport. Even if we tighten our belts, we could only last for less than ten days.

    Xu Zilings countenance changed, he said, Wouldnt it be terrible? With his jackal and wolf nature, Yuwen Huagu will definitely seize the opportunity to loot everywhere he goes, so that he wont have to worry about lack of food supplies, while we are trapped in a besieged city, starving to death.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, Currently we seem to have several thousands of people, but those who can really be sent out to deal with others are no more than twenty, those able to provide their own leather-armor, horse and weapons are only about a thousand; the number of warhorses is even more pathetic, even including old, weary, thin and weak, the total is only about a hundred. People say that elite troops are honored but the dishonorable are many, yet I am afraid those that can be really called elite troops only remain you and I, these two big idiots. This time its not only bad, this is thoroughly bad.

    Xu Ziling said with determination in his voice, Defending the city is a road that leads to dead end, we might as well make a gamble by ambushing Yuwen Huagu on his way here; its certainly better than waiting for death here.

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, The reason Yuwen Huagu is marching this slow, and also abandoning the fast water route but embracing the land route, is precisely to guard against us ambushing him along the way. Therefore, this plan is absolutely wont work. Tell me, if you have several thousand men marching to battle in grandiose, do you think we can conceal it from Yuwen Clans martial art masters who are acting as intelligence gatherers? Right now all we can do is to see what Li Zitong will do.

    This moment, Xie Jue, who had the honor of being promoted to be the captain of Kou Zhongs personal guards, came to report, A gentleman who says his name is Xuan Yong is asking to have an audience with two Daye.

    The two boys were greatly delighted; they quickly asked Xie Jue to show him in.

    A moment later Xuan Yong, who was covered in windblown dust from head to toe, came in. The three of them met, naturally they chatted freely about what had happened after they parted.

    Your arrival is so timely, Kou Zhong said.

    Xuan Yong cheerfully said, You guys using a ghost town and several troubled troops inflicting defeat on Khitans group of horse-mounted bandits, this news has spread widely over several cities in the north.

    Xu Ziling asked in astonishment, It was only seven, eight days ago; how could the news spread so quickly?

    Xuan Yong said, Anything that happens in the neighboring area north and south of the waterway will be particularly easy to spread, due to the flourishing water traffic. As soon as I heard that Yuwen Huaji is sending his troops toward Liangdu, I knew the situation cant be good; hence I immediately traveled at double speed to here.

    Kou Zhong suddenly rose up to his full height, cupped his fist toward all the restaurant guests and said, Gentlemen, fellow countrymen, brothers, Xiaodi has an important matter to discuss; I was wondering if everyone, Dage Dashu [big brothers, big uncles] can finish eating a bit faster and leave?

    Hearing this, everybody willingly and gladly left. By the time Kou Zhong sat down, only the three of them remained in the restaurant, even the proprietor and the waiters all made themselves scarce by going to the kitchen.

    Xu Ziling asked, Does Xuan Xiong know how bad our situation is?

    Xuan Yong calmly said, One: lack of food supplies, two: no troops to be used, three: isolated and without help. Did I say it wrong?

    Greatly astonished, Kou Zhong said, Looking at your appearance, it seems that you can resolve these three problems for us. Come on, dont tease me.

    Xuan Yong said, Foodstuff is in short supply everywhere, nobody can do anything about it. But these three problems are all because Yuwen Huaji is coming. If we can make him rushing back to his old home, all problems can be easily solved [orig. bamboo splits when it meets the knifes edge].

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Xuan Zongguans remark is very insightful, it makes me immediately think that ultimately, Yuwen Huagu is the only problem.

    Xuan Yong was stunned, What Xuan Zongguan? [Reminder: zongguan literally means chief manager] he asked.

    Xu Ziling burst out laughing.

    Kou Zhong said, Naturally the Liangdu, Pengcheng, two cities Da Zongguan. Even if we get rid of Yuwen Huagu, an organization this scale needs someone like Xuan Da Zongguan, with experience to unify the army and defending a city, a figure overflowing with talent, to govern it. Taking advantage while Li Zitong is powerless to go up north, Lin Shihong, Li Mi and the others are too busy to care, I am relying on you to establish a strong, unbreakable garrison here, to sever the north to south route of Central Plains strategic pass. Ha! This is an arrangement bestowed by heaven.

    Xuan Yong stared blankly for half a day. Finally he said, We must ask Miss instructions on this matter.

    Kou Zhong patted his chest and said, Leave it to me to deal with Da Xiaojies side. Why didnt she come here?

    Xuan Yong said, We have already received a group of Wagangs officers and soldiers back, their number is over two thousand men. But we lack a place to settle. Miss heard that you took over Liangdu, hence she ordered me to lead them here to take shelter. Presently they are stationed in a forest thirty li north of the city.

    Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, This time we are really saved.

    ※ ※ ※

    While Yuwen Huajis main force continued their approach, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were busy to no end, making good preparation to defend the city.

    This day, first thing in the morning, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, only the two of them, urged their horses out of town, patrolling the fortification built outside the city, and went up the top of a hill overlooking the plain to the north.

    On their left, Tongji Canal was surging on, but there was no boat in sight.

    Kou Zhong spoke as if he was reciting, besieging a city is a must in war, because not only a city concerns the overall situation or perhaps being a strategic point of any region, plus it exercise control over the transportation and economic function of a wide expanse of a region. It is the supporting point and the lifeline of the entire war; it is really hey wait a moment.

    Xu Ziling looked at him in surprise, only to see Kou Zhong, with lightning speed technique took out Lu Miaozis heavenly book from his pocket, turned to a specific page, and continued reciting, Hey! A city is thus a place that must be fought over in the School of the Military. A strategic town like Liangdu, anybody who gains control over it will also gain control over the Tongji Canal. Ha! Do I have the style to make a speech like that?

    Xu Ziling laughed involuntarily, You dont need to convince me, I will definitely making an all-out effort to fight Yuwen Huagu to the end.

    In all seriousness, Kou Zhong said, I was using you for practice; to win over people, you must first substantiate yourself. Reading this section of Lu Miaozis Besieging A City Is A Must In War, for some reason I am always thinking of another city, which might very well be the crucial point whether I will be able to establish stable footing for my troops. Can you guess which city I am thinking about?

    Xu Ziling cast his gaze toward the sun rising on the eastern horizon; he spoke indifferently, Is it Xiangyang?

    Kou Zhong was visibly shaken, How did you guess? he asked.

    Whats so difficult to guess? Xu Ziling replied, If you want to advance toward Luoyang and Guanzhong, on the east there are Jiangdu, Liangdu, on the west there are Jingling, Xiangyang. Of the latter two, Xiangyang has the more strategic importance; otherwise Li Mi would not have to personally take the trouble to go see Qian Duguan.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, Well said. There is a chapter in Lu Miaozis Terrain Study dealing specifically with the places that will have to be conquered by the School of Military of the world; Xiangyang is high on the list.

    What did Mr. Lu say? Xu Ziling asked.

    As if he was very familiar with the subject [orig. as if enumerating his family valuables], Kou Zhong recited, Xiangyang connects to Bashu [old name for Sichuan] to the west, controls Xiangchu [old name for Hunan and Hubei] to the south, cherishes River Luo to the north; hence every war would inevitably raised their fire beacon, banner and rampart toward this city. During the Three Kingdoms period [220-280 AD], Wei, Shu and Wu, all three sides were working hard for this city, even Guan Yu was injured and died in this place. After that, the Western Jin [265-316 AD] cut down Wu, the Eastern Jins [317-420 AD] Huan Wen [312-373 AD] went on northern military campaign; all of these used Xiangyang as their base of operations. Therefore, Mr. Lus conclusion was the reason Six Dynasties [220-589 AD] were able to defend the left of the River was that they really depended on strong soldiers, powerful garrisons between Huainan and Jingxiang.

    Xu Ziling could not help thinking Zhu Yuyans praise on Lu Miaozi, his talent able to move unhindered. His treatise on Xiangyang was definitely outstanding and insightful.

    Xiangyang, although not a big city like Luoyang or any capital cities, but because it was located in the middle stretches of the Han River, which was the road hub connecting Hubei, Henan, Sichuan and Shaanxi, four provinces. If one is thinking of going down south from the Central Plains, or perhaps from Guanzhong entering the Jianghan plains, one cannot but take Xiangyang first.

    Kou Zhongs ambition to get Xiangyang was actually his deepest intention to pursue the deer [fig. to vie for supremacy] in the decisive battle against Li Shimin in the future. Even if Li Shimin wanted to attack Luoyang, he still had to pass through this crucial point, Xiangyang.

    Both Xiangyang and Liangdu were not a political or economic center, but it concerned the success or failure of the overall strategy.

    Xu Ziling said, If you want to obtain Xiangyang, you must snatch Jingling first, and it may not be easy.

    Kou Zhong cheerfully said, The most interesting aspect of this game is its high degree of difficulty.

    Displeased, Xu Ziling said, Unexpectedly you regard killing people, filling the plains with dead bodies, miserable and ruthless battle in attacking and defending cities as a game?

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, Dont talk to me with stiff face and righteous words like that. Just consider me begging you! As far as Im concerned, life is nothing more than a game. My responsibility is to attempt to make this game more meaningful and fun. This is purely from a detached point of view. Just like Shi Feixuan thinks that everything in the world is illusory and without any eternal significance.

    After a short pause, he continued excitedly, Ling Shao, just think: on our Central Plains vast territory, there are countless cities, large and small. With different geographical situation, they all have different importance and meaning, not unlike the checked pattern on the chessboard, with each person, each army as a chess piece. If you look at it like this, dont you think battlefield is just like a game? All military campaigns therefore center on, and start in, breaking a city and defending a city.

    Xu Ziling pondered quietly for half a day; finally he nodded and said, Your view of vying over the world is really much deeper than before.

    Kou Zhong turned his head to look at Liangdu at the distance; exhaling slowly, he said, I have lost Jingling, I cant afford to lose Liangdu as well! If our provision is adequate, we could fortify defenses and raze the fields, trying to hold up the enemy outside the city as long as possible, until their provision ran out and they had to withdraw the troops, and then wipe them out at a stroke. But now, of course, we cannot use this tactic; hence we can only employ a stratagem, use unusual tactic, by exploiting Yuwen Huagus weak point of not daring to prolong the battle, and ruthlessly frustrating him.

    Xu Ziling shook his head and said, Right now everybody knew about food shortage in Liangdu. Yuwen Huagu deliberately marching slowly, his objective is to drive the citizens of the area along his route toward Liangdu, to drive us into a deeper frustration of lack of food supplies. He does not even have an eight-day, ten-day patience.

    Shaken, Kou Zhong said, You are right! Therefore, the first tactic is to use deceive. Not only we want to deceive Yuwen Huagu, we also need to deceive the troops and citizens of the entire city.

    Emotionally moved, Xu Ziling said, Since we are going to use deceive anyway, we might as well pretend that not only Li Zitong is willing to loan provisions, he is also willing to loan his troops, and both will arrive in several days. If the news reached Yuwen Huagus ears, I guarantee he will speed up his advancing troops, and will do everything he can to besiege the city with the fiercest way possible, and then we will be able take advantage of this scheme.

    Clamping his legs on his horses belly, he whipped the horse and said, We must send someone to intercept Ren Meimei, who could be back from the north any moment; if we want to tell lies, she must be in it too!

    ※ ※ ※

    By dusk that day, Ren Meimeis boat docked at Liangdu; with the boat she brought along more than a dozen carts of army provisions. Reportedly, it was the first batch of foodstuff Li Zitong ever loaned after he formed the alliance.

    Along the way to the storehouse at the Zongguan Mansion, one of the carts accidentally overturned, spilling out its cargo of rice and wheat.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys, personally met them at the city gate, and then riding left and right, they escorted this minister who has given outstanding service entering the city. The citizens of the city lined the street to cheer, so much so that some even knelt down and burned incense to worship, while calling out long live! [orig. wanshui, ten thousand years].

    Passing the high all of the Zongguan Mansion, Ren Meimeis flowery smiling face immediately became wooden and cold; gnashing her teeth in anger she cursed, That dog Li Zitong really deserves to be wiped out by Du Fuwei. Not only he refused to lend a helping hand, he also threw stones at people who fell down a well. He cut off the lower reaches of the waterway; his speech was even more unbearable. He is really infuriating!

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Ren Dajie [big/elder sister], there is no need to bicker with this kind of lowly man. Just wait until were done taking care of Yuwen Huaji, well take a good look at him.

    Turning to Xu Ziling, he asked, Did the show with the transporting provisions just now look real enough?

    Fully satisfied, Xu Ziling said, Were it not for I knew the inside story, I would have been deceived.

    The three sat down in the main hall.

    Ren Meimeis anger has not dissipated, she cursed, That dog not only showed excessive arrogance, he forced me to wait for three days for nothing, and in the end he only sent a court eunuch to tell me that he did not have time to see me, unless I waited ten more days. Tell me, how irritating is that?

    Kou Zhong asked in surprise, Didnt Ren Dajie say that his speech was unbearable? If you didnt even see him, how could you hear what he said?

    Puffing out her sweet cheeks, Ren Meimei said, Although I did not see him, but the eunuch passed his message to me, telling me that if I wanted to rest a little bit, he might summon me within five days into the palace to accompany him.

    Murderous aura flashed through Kou Zhongs eyes, but his expression was surprisingly calm; he nodded and spoke slowly, Li Zitong is deliberately humiliating us. Very well! Since he wants to throw stones at ones who fell down a well, dont blame me for not showing any mercy to him.

    Xu Ziling was silent.

    And then Ren Meimei reported Jiangdus situation, Currently Du Fuwei is stationing his troops east of Danyang, only about twenty li from Jiangdu, in accord with Shen Faxings son, Shen Luns main force, which is stationed north of the adjoining hill. They have launched three ferocious attacks in succession against Jiangdu city walls, both sides suffered heavy casualties, with Li Zitongs side slightly losing. The adjoining hill originally belonged to Li Zitong, and was taken by Shen Lun only in the last month or so, so that Li Zitong lost control over all counties south of Jiangdu.

    Kou Zhong asked, So what bargaining chip is left for Li Zitong? How could he dare to look down on us like that?

    Ren Meimei replied, Nothing more than a dozen or so county towns due north of Jiangdu. Among these, the most important are Donghai County overlooking the East China Sea on the northeast, and Zhongli County on the Huai River. The former is that dogs native place and rear defense base, the latter is the pivot point of his route inland. Any one of these two fell, it would be a fatal blow to him.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, I thought he had no loophole we could exploit, impervious to sword and spear? Turns out there are so many flaws and weak points; a bit later, I will look for him to settle the account. This time I have troubled Ren Dajie! Please go inside and take a good rest.

    After Ren Meimei left, with a deep frown of his brows, Kou Zhong said, Isnt it a bit strange? I thought because of our relationship with Song Jingang, plus we are helping him to deal with Yuwen Huaji, that fellow Li Zitong would weep grateful tears, who would have thought that he could treat our envoy like that?

    Xu Ziling said, What else would give him more benefit than Yuwen Huagu and us fight each other until both sides suffer? If that happens, he would only need to send several thousand officers and soldiers, and Liangdu will fall into his hands.

    Kou Zhong appeared to be deep in thought. It was quite a while later that he said, In my opinion, the situation is not that simple. Right now his most pressing business is to break Jiangdus siege; therefore, any military operation will have that military objective. Just think, supposing after a hard battle Yuwen Huagu finally win over Liangdu, what would be the benefit for him?

    Xu Ziling was visibly moved; he said, I get it. He wanted to move the troops that are originally stationed in various cities north of Jiangdu to Jiangdu, and use them to deal with Ol Die and Shen Luns coalition forces; but because of Dou Jiande and Yuwen Huagus threat, he is practically powerless to expand his territory. At that time, as long as he could beat back Ol Die and Shen Luns army, he then could go up north along the River, and snatch Liangdu from Yuwen Huagus hands.

    Revealing a smile, Kou Zhong nodded and said, Must be so; hence he is hoping that Yuwen Huagu and us will fight until both sides suffer; the worse our condition the better it is for him! Isnt this called poor but with great ambitions? Or perhaps before the poor heart is exhausted, the greedy heart arises?

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, Are you not like that?

    Kou Zhong suddenly stood up; upright and unafraid, he said, How could I be like that? Victory has come into my hands. Right now what I need is to sharpen the Moon in the Well, to chop Yuwen Huagus dog head, and offer it as a sacrifice in front of Niangs grave. All these years, arent we waiting for precisely this day?

  12. #232
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 2

    Book 20 Chapter 2 Chatting and Joking About Troop Deployment

    Sure enough, just like the two boys expected, as soon as the fake news about alliance with Li Zitong and the borrowed provisions spread out, Yuwen Huajis twenty-thousand-man main force immediately advanced at full speed toward Liangdus northern city gate, so that its vanguard arrived within two days, and immediately built rampart, dug moat, setup camp, and constructed outposts at the front line.

    From the peak of a tall tree, about three zhang high, on top of a hill some distance away, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked down at the plainly visible enemy situation.

    Kou Zhong said, Stopping is to build a camp, moving is to form troop disposition. This army camp has water source, which is also a risk to defend, to attain good grip over the enemy and selfs solid objective. It can clearly be seen that our opponent this time are big and small officers under Yuwen Huagus command with enough battle experience; absolutely must not be underestimated.

    Hearing that, Xu Ziling nodded his head in praise. On the surface, Kou Zhong seemed to be a careless person [orig. thick stems and broad leaves], giving out the impression as one who was easily pleased that he loses his sense of measure. However, he was actually cool-headed, prudent and cautious; he would not make the mistake of offending his superior or underestimating the enemy.

    To pitch a camp, the most important thing is the location. Currently the enemy setup their fort on a high place, on the slope of a hill, facing a flat land neighboring a forest. In term of defense, this camp was strictly according to the rules, which was another proof that they were not a mob.

    Kou Zhong did not dare to take this issue lightly, which was precisely the fundamental prerequisite to become an outstanding commander.

    What does Mr. Lus secret book say about this situation? Xu Ziling casually asked.

    Kou Zhong replied, The important thing in setting up a stronghold is peaceful camp, restful men and beasts, cautious defense, strict camp gate, facility to treat ill soldiers, device to check the army, adequate fire alarm, preparation against disturbance and calamity, clear communication of duties, cherishing the water source and grass, dusk to dawn bugle calls, lighting arrangement, protection against rain and darkness, night security, checking the visitors, avoid water attack, and so on. Is that enough?

    Listening to him casually reciting so many important aspects in setting up the camp, Xu Ziling said in surprise, You have quite an understanding of what you read.

    Proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, This is called achievement of diligence, also called cramming too hard just before the battle. But if you look at it, dont you feel that in term of location, although this camp is solid, but it is far. If they are going to transport besieging equipment from here to the city wall, before they even arrive, they would have tire the mules and the horses half dead; it is not practical at all.

    While making a careful observation around, Xu Ziling laughed and said, You, this kid, are starting to acquire a little skill! Yuwen Clan deployed their men and generals, they setup their camp like this must be for his mothers reason; is it possible that its principal usage is for storing provisions and treating injured soldiers? In addition, this is more their rear area, with the main purpose is to provide support to the frontline combat camp.

    Delighted, Kou Zhong said, Great minds think alike. It could be said that this provision station is the foundation of Yuwen Huagus main forces going south this time. But since it is far behind the frontline, they wont have to worry that we might get out of the city to attack it. Therefore, the defense will inevitably rather weak. If we coordinate with Xuan Yongs ambushing troops to attack his mother that they are caught unprepared, we would already have half of the victory in our bag. Ha! This battle does not seem to be that difficult.

    Focusing his power to his eyes, Xu Ziling looked at the situation of the enemys camp, and spoke heavily, You seem to think too easily. This camp has the mountain behind it as the natural defense, outside there are moats all around, inside there are barriers. If they also had some pits with sharp bamboo, caltrops, and the likes as defensive measures, plus the rampart has earthen wall, equipped with strong crossbow, and then they also arrange sentries all around, widespread alarm system, plus Yuwen Guans numerous martial art masters, do you think that as soon as you say you are going to attack you will be able to attack?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, You seem to forget that what Mr. Lu, the Senior, was most formidable in was not the art of war, but in the design and manufacture of exquisite equipment. In his book he listed in details more than a dozen kinds of different method to break a stronghold, saying that breaking a fort is just like breaking a city. Breaking a city needs cloud ladders, battering rams, and crashing vehicles. Breaking a stronghold also needs vehicles. As long as we can open one or two gaps, and the enemy troops are not too strong, then breaking a fort should be as easy as a hands turn.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling asked, And where can we get the vehicles from?

    Kou Zhong replied, From refitting the existing vehicles. Xuan Yong is in charge of this. Xiaodi has mastered Lu Miaozis handed-down techniques; at least its like half of Sun Wu [Sun Tzu] came back to life. Yuwen Huagu is dropping by like this, if I didnt lead away a goat in passing [to take advantage of a crisis for personal gain] by stealing his provisions, stealing his horses, angering him until he vomits blood, how could I live for Niang? Dont worry! I understand your filial piety!

    Hearing that, Xu Ziling did not know whether he should laugh or cry, while at the same time he was secretly anxious for Kou Zhongs enemies.

    Kou Zhong was a genius in military tactics and strategies; during the various battles earlier, he had used unusual methods, and now he even understood battle machines, designed by Lu Miaozi, that can be used to deal with all kinds of situation, inside out [orig. ripe as a melon that rolls from its vine]. Once he managed to assemble a group of well-trained elite warriors, who in the world would be able to resist this military power? Perhaps even Li Shimin would have to suffer defeat.

    Currently, what he lacked was precisely this group of elite force, and the Duke Yangs Treasure.

    But the top priority right now, Kou Zhong continued, is not to break the stronghold, but to steal arrows. You ought to know that our supply of arrows in the city will last less than half a sichen. And when that happens, we could only rely on boiling oil, boiling water, and rocks; which would not last too long either.

    Xu Ziling was stunned, How do we steal arrows? he asked.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Not stealing, but re-enacting Kong Mings [Zhuge Liang] borrowing arrows skill. We send them fake arrows, they shoot us real arrows. Wont it be so profitable?

    Pointing to the Tongji Canal flowing on his left, he said, Our spies reported back that Yuwen Huagus main force will arrive tonight. I already sent men to hide more than a hundred fast boats full of dummies tied onto them in the forest on the opposite bank. By the time his troops arrive, well launch the fast boats into the river, and sail downstream. Each boat will only have three men in it; one man to steer the boat, two men to release bamboo arrows, while at the same time well dispatch troops to feign an attack. In his distress, Yuwen Huagu will have no choice but to send some arrows for us to use. Just consider it the appetizer before the main course is served.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Now even I am a bit confident that you might win this battle.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys, on their horseback, stood side-by-side on top of a small slope, gazing into the distance, at the spectacular scene of millions of dots of torches snaking their way along the prairie right next to Tongji Canal.

    Kou Zhong laughed quietly and said, I was right in saying that in order to reduce the possibility of being attacked, Yuwen Huagu would travel along the river; who would have thought that he is doing exactly what I was thinking?

    Xu Ziling looked up at the moonless and starless night sky; he said, Your fake alliance and fake provisions tactic has worked, otherwise Yuwen Huaji cant possibly urge his troops to travel even at night, which is giving us the opportunity that we can exploit.

    Kou Zhong took a deep breath and said, Its time!

    Finished speaking, he raised his hand to the sky. A rocket immediately soared and exploded into blazing fireworks high in the sky, brightening the murky, cloud-covered night sky.

    Instantly battle cry rose up from the direction of Liangdu, followed by dots of torches casting their light on the enemy. It appeared to be an awe-inspiring display of military prowess. But the fact was that each person was holding two torches, without holding any weapon or wearing any armor, plus a whole bunch of ordinary citizens holding short bows and fake arrows coming out to put up a show.

    At first glance, it appeared that nearly ten thousand men came out of the nearby hill and forest north of Lingdu to launch a surprise attack toward the enemies invading their territory.

    Riding behind Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were nearly two hundred riders, consisted of Peng Liang Hui men whose horsemanship and martial art skill were the best, exhausting all the horses within the city of Liangdu, forming the only cavalry they had.

    Far away ahead, the enemys torches near the tail of the line were starting to turn chaotic, but the front and the middle of the line were still in order.

    Kou Zhong turned to Xu Ziling and said with a laugh, This move was not taught by Linglong Jiao; it is called observing the torches method. Evidently this second batch of Yuwen Armys 5,000 men consisted of new and old troops, good and bad intermingled; the tail must be new recruits. Well give them a sudden and violent attack to clip their tail first; I guarantee well occupy the advantageous position.

    The long fiery dragon of the torches separated and stopped; apparently the enemy was putting up battle array to deal with the enemy.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling clamped their horses belly, and led the 237 riders along the predetermined route through the jungle, across the prairie, charging toward the enemys rear.

    Bang!

    Another rocket burst open in the sky with a loud noise.

    Battle cry sprang up everywhere from the direction of the river and canal, more than a hundred light boats and speedboats filled with dummies rushed downstream, several hundred fiery arrows, made of bamboo with cloth dipped in oil wrapped around its tip, streaked across the empty air of the river bank, toward the enemy marching in the direction of Liangdu.

    All the real fighters on the boats were hiding behind wooden board to block the arrows, letting the dummies dressed in soldier uniform to take the arrows.

    The long grass of the forest and prairie along the bank started to catch fire, so that the enemy believed they were caught between two fires; immediately they were thrown into confusion. Especially the rear of the line.

    Kou Zhong shouted his order; pulling a shield with his left hand, he urged his horse to charge at full speed toward the enemys rear.

    The two boys switched to using long spears, long-reaching weapons which were beneficial to be used in battle on horseback, fighting at the head of the troops, passing through the sparse forest, blocking a dozen or so arrows that were occasionally shot toward them, breaking into the enemy ranks.

    The riverbank was full of individual torches running away for their lives, while the water was full of light boats, continuously increasing the intensity of the light; certainly it appeared as a terrifying momentum.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings two spears were like a pair of dragons coming out of the sea, stabbing, slashing, sweeping and striking; everywhere they went, one after another the enemies fell to the ground.

    This particular unit of Yuwen Huajis army was exclusively made of infantry; their responsibility was to transport army provisions and other supplies using covered military wagons. They had been shocked and scared by the false bravado of the earlier pincer attack from front and rear, and now that they saw the enemys cavalry charging in with imposing manner like a rainbow, and they had guessed correctly that the leaders were Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong, whose names shook the heavens, momentarily their soul flew away, and could never think that the enemy was only a little more than two hundred men. Unexpectedly they dispersed with a fight, and fled to all directions.

    Everybody was greatly delighted. Under Kou Zhongs direction, some pursued the enemy, while others burned the carts.

    Amidst the thundering hoof beats, several hundred enemy riders were charging along the riverbank.

    With his sharp eyes, Kou Zhong saw that the leader was their old acquaintance, Yuwen Wudi [see Book 4, Chapter 5]. Laughing aloud, he said, Wudi Xiong, I trust you have been well since we last met; Xiongdi [I, your brother] has to leave!

    Leading his men, he hurriedly galloped back into Liangdu.

    This battle not only let them borrow several tens of thousands of arrows, they also managed to burn a large quantities of the enemys siege equipment and army provisions. The most important result was that it greatly aroused the morale of troops and citizens of the city, and greatly increasing their confidence in the two boys. The loss to their side was minimal, while the enemy suffered heavy casualties.

    Even the two boys did not expect such a splendid military victory.

    When they entered the city, Ren Meimei-led soldiers and civilians were lining the street, their cheer shook the entire city, as they made a pledge to go through honor and disgrace, and life and death, together with the two boys.

    As for the Yuwen Army, who was returning back to the north that very same day, killing and looting along the way, nobody did not gnash their teeth in anger.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stood on top of the northern city wall, looking into the distance at the Yuwen Armys camp being built about a li outside the city.

    Xu Ziling said indifferently, Yuwen Huagu will need at least two more days to set up camp on four sides of the city and complete their besieging potential. These two days are enough for us to accomplish a lot of things.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, The most important thing is still robbing their army provisions. Last night we burned a large amount of Yuwen Wudis vanguard armys provisions, he must replenish his supply from the rear camp. This will be the good opportunity for our light cavalry to launch a surprise attack to snatch their provisions.

    And then he sighed and said, If I had a team of elite troops like Li kids Black-Armored Elite Cavalry, that would be 100% ideal.

    Xu Zilings spirit was moved, he said, Do you remember in the early days in Yangzhou we saw Sui Dynastys cavalry in full battle attire and heavy armor? Even their horses appeared impenetrable by blades and arrows. What a formidable air! But how come they were unmasked, beaten and fled at the mere sight of the enemy, were utterly defeated by poorly equipped militias lacking of armor, weaponry and warhorses?

    Kou Zhong mumbled his response, That must be because they lost the peoples support, their morale went down the hill!

    Xu Ziling said, That was indeed the main reason; but it also proves that full-armored and heavily-equipped cavalry is outdated long ago. For example, if the troops under your command were such a heavy cavalry, how could you rush in time toward the rear of the enemys line and cut off their supply? Now is the rise of large number of field infantry, combined with cavalry donning light armor for sudden and violent attack. This kind of tactic is the most flexible, and Li kid is the expert in using this kind of equipment and combat style.

    Kou Zhong said, I dont know if this has something to do with my character, but I always love the combat style where we rely mainly on light cavalry; because cavalry can turn into infantry at any time, whereas infantry cannot turn into cavalry. In term of agility, it is also a tad more superior.

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, You cannot forget the sweet taste of victory at the battle of Yanshi! But what you said is not without any reason.

    Kou Zhong stretched out his limbs and said, Can you guess, after I put Yuwen Huagu in order, what is it that I am eager to do?

    Xu Ziling shook his head, indicating he had no idea.

    Kou Zhongs pair of tiger eyes shot expectant expression; he said, I will think of a way to gather a group of blacksmith and artisans, day and night incessantly manufacture the siege equipment that Lu Miaozi designed, and use them to recapture Jingling. With Jingling in my hands, Xiangyang will be within my grasp.

    Before Xu Ziling had time to respond, Ren Meimei, taking a thirty-something man, slim, covered in dust from head to toe, came to the two boys presence and said, This is our Ren Halls Xiangzhu, Luo Qifei, known as the Devils Shadow. He has been following the trail of Yuwen Huajis main forces, spying on the enemys real situation along the way, so it is only now that he arrived here.

    The two boys looked over. Although this man had nothing special to look at he looked like a typical local peasant, but his hands and feet were especially long, his eyes full of spirit; evidently he was a man whose brains and skill were extremely nimble and quick.

    Kou Zhong asked, Has Yuwen Armys main force arrive?

    Luo Qifei saluted respectfully, and then replied, They should be arriving around nightfall. The entire army numbers thirteen thousand men, under Yuwen Huaji and Yuwen Zhiji, two mens command, divided into center army, left and right Yu and Hou, and rear army, four units in total. Among those, three thousand are archers, both regular bows and crossbows, one thousand men are cavalry, and the rest are infantry.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were both emotionally moved, not because of the size of Yuwen Army, but because of this mans confidence in the way he talked, and the meticulous, down to the smallest detail, intelligence.

    Luo Qifei continued, Apparently due to the disastrous defeat against Li Mi, the cavalry of Yuwen Army are using long bow, instead of bow decorated with animal horns [orig. corner bow (角弓)], so they can be easily identified.

    The two boys looked at each other with blank expression on their faces.

    Ren Meimei said, Qifei used to be Sui general, his specific duty in the army was equipment management, hence he is very knowledgeable in this area.

    Luo Qifei explained, Long bows are intended to be used by the infantry; most are made of mulberry tree branches. Cavalry ought to use composite bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composite_bow], comparatively smaller than longbow, very convenient to be used on horseback. Therefore, the Yuwen Army cavalry using longbows must be because they have no choice due to the corner bows shortage.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Such a knowledgeable intelligence gatherer like Luo Xiong must be very rare.

    Ren Meimei laughed and said, Qifei not only has superior qinggong, he is also a master in the art of disguise. A man like him being a spy, naturally he is more outstanding than anybody.

    Luo Qifei said, Two Daye must not address Xiaoren as Luo Xiong, you may call me by my name. Later on Qifei will disregard life and death in obeying two Dayes order. Whatever instruction you have for me, just let me know.

    Xu Ziling asked, In Qifeis opinion, what is Yuwen Armys real strength?

    Luo Qifei replied, Except for the four-thousand-man Center Army, the rest are inadequately trained new army recruits. If I am guessing correctly, they will start attacking before dawn tomorrow.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, That quick? he asked.

    Luo Qifei replied, Because starting from last night, every time they pitch camp to rest, the corps of engineering took turn to spruce up their siege equipment. If they were not going to besiege the city immediately, why would they not let the soldiers rest? When they arrive at the city and settle down properly, starting to fight wont be too late!

    Ren Meimei asked, Are their siege equipment ready?

    Luo Qifei replied, Can be considered ready. There are twenty cloud ladder vehicles, more than a hundred trebuchets, ten crossbow vehicles, more than seventy blocking-arrows vehicles, and four siege tower vehicles. More than enough to besiege a city.

    Kou Zhong spoke resolutely, If Yuwen Huagu is going to attack the city before dawn, Yuwen Wudi might pretend to attack tonight, to shake our troops morale, and to engage us so that our strength exhausted, our muscle weary. Humph!

    Xu Ziling asked, Could you go into more details about his siege equipment?

    As if enumerating his own familys valuables, Luo Qifei said, Cloud ladder vehicles are double-length ladders fixed on a bed with six wheels, there is a well pulley at the end of the ladder so that it can be extended to climb the enemys city wall. Trebuchets are mechanism on wheels to fling rocks, by using poles to throw the huge rocks to destroy the wall. Crossbow vehicles are thus strong crossbow with winch to open it, capable of shooting eight iron-feathered giant arrows at once; its range can reach up to 1000 paces, extremely formidable. Blocking-arrow vehicles are four-wheeled cart, its upper part are covered with layers of thick raw cowhide, with the soldiers hiding behind it. And when the cart advances, it can block arrows and rocks, so that it is able to press close under the city wall. Siege tower vehicles are eight-wheeled cart with tall tower on it. It can be used to spy the enemy, as well as to shoot arrows into the city.

    Kou Zhongs eyes lit up, he said, Can we pour out kerosene and set fire to his mothers cowhide rawhide, crossbow vehicles, cloud ladder vehicles, to burn them all?

    Luo Qifei shook his head and said, These past couple of days, Yuwen Huaji precisely had his men applied fire-retardant chemical coating on all siege engines. This kind of chemical will lose its effectiveness if scorched and drenched by sun and rain; therefore, it must be used as quickly as possible after the application, hence the reason I am guessing he would attack the city as soon as he arrives.

    It was only then did the two have sudden understanding.

    But they were also greatly puzzled and had headache. The enemys siege equipment was that formidable, yet their defensive tool was so simple and crude that the difference was too far.

    If they sent their troops out of the city on desperate battle, it would be no different than sending them to their death.

    Right this moment, from the far away mountaintop suddenly came three flashes of light.

    Kou Zhong knew that it was their own spies using mirror to send signal back to the city. Momentarily setting aside their worry, he laughed aloud and said, Thank you for all Qifeis trouble! Ren Dajie, take Qifei and help him to settle down. We are going to rob some provisions, and then well continue this talk.

  13. #233
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 3

    Book 20 Chapter 3 War Games

    Leading two hundred light cavalry, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling left the city from the eastern gate, went around a big circle, and galloped into a forest east of an enemys outpost camp, when suddenly Xu Ziling called a halt.

    Stunned, Kou Zhong reined his horse, and waved their men to stop. What is it? he asked.

    With grave expression Xu Ziling replied, I feel something is very wrong. When we rounded the plain northeast of the city, I developed a sense that someone was watching us; I am afraid we have fallen into the enemys evil schemes, that they are transporting provisions this time is actually a trap.

    The two boys urged their horses to advance about ten paces toward the edge of the jungle, and peered outside.

    Under the bright sun in the sky, outside of the forest was a long strip of grassland; on the left there was a hill with a graveyard on it, on the right the sloping hill extended forever into the distance, about half a li ahead was another sparse forest. Beyond that forest ought to be the route where the enemy was transporting their grains.

    They have already planted spies at the enemys rear armys camp. As soon as the enemys provision wagons left the camp, they would intercept it midway, and rob the army provisions.

    Your senses have always been right, Kou Zhong said, Shall we withdraw the troops immediately?

    Xu Ziling calmly laughed and said, Imagine that you are Yuwen Wudi; how would you lay out this trap?

    Kou Zhong pointed his horsewhip to the sparse forest ahead and said, Naturally by setting up a trap like horse-tripping ropes or something like that in the forest. But unless his Lao Ge [ol elder brother] was a born immortal, how would he know from which direction would we come from to intercept their grains?

    Well said, Xu Ziling said, Yuwen Wudi may be a valiant military leader, but he is definitely not an expert in playing with schemes and conspiracy. This transporting-grain trap must be coming from the strategic adviser under his command. My guess is that he would prepare archers on the higher elevation like a hill slope to ambush us, while his cavalry is hiding in the forest. We might as well lure the tiger out of the jungle; the target is to take Yuwen Wudis dog head. What do you think?

    Kou Zhong was excited, Cut down his dog head, and hung it high outside the city, he said, That way we wont have to worry that Yuwen Huagu would not immediately attack the city that very night.

    Xu Ziling was surprised, It seems like you are very eager to have Yuwen Huagu immediately besiege the city tonight; I wonder what plan do you have.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Mountain man has an excellent plan. Tonight you will find out. Ha! This game is getting more and more interesting!

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling led their men galloping into the prairie, spurring their horse to full speed, toward the sparsely wooded area between two sloping hills.

    At first glance nobody would notice that they left twenty men in the forest to set up a trap.

    Reaching the middle section of the prairie, Kou Zhong signaled his men to halt; everybody reined in their horses at once.

    Putting on an act, Kou Zhong shouted, Ill go first to scout our path; watch for my signal to proceed.

    I am coming with you! Xu Ziling responded.

    The two boys urged their horses to continue, and in the blink of an eye they reached the edge of the sparsely wooded area. Suddenly Kou Zhong roared, Theres an ambush!

    Before he finished speaking, someone was shouting ahead, Release the arrows!

    From the top of the hill on both sides arrows poured down on them like rain, while like a storm they already turned around and galloped away like mad.

    Because the two were prepared, while the enemies were caught off guard and shot the arrows in haste, one after another the arrows fell on empty air.

    Just as the two boys rushed back to where they were coming from, several hundred enemy riders swarmed out of the sparse forest, led by their old friend Yuwen Wudi.

    Kou Zhongs men pretended to be like a mob who did not know what to do; they acted chaotic, without distinguishing east from west they charged to the left and dashed to the right, until finally they had nowhere else to go but to return to the jungle.

    Upon seeing this, Yuwen Wudi advanced courageously and pursued closely behind them. More than five hundred riders charging along, the sound, like rolling thunder, shook the prairie sky.

    One after another Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling rushed into the forest, leaped up, and hid among the dense shade of the trees.

    In just a little over ten breaths later, like a tornado Yuwen Wudis cavalry stormed into the forest, and galloped underneath the two boys.

    And then there was a series of sound of the warhorses stumbling and neighing miserably; the enemies were either falling into the trap, or were tripped by the ropes that they flipped over and threw their riders off, or were hit by the arrows. This time it was the enemys turn to be in chaos; they scattered in all directions.

    Like the celestial soldiers or heavenly generals Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling dropped from the sky, and wherever they went, they carried out killer move, without showing any mercy at all.

    The two boys men also appeared from everywhere and all directions and attacked. The enemies, whose imposing manner was originally like a rainbow, were immediately thrown into utter defeat. Although their number was a lot higher, but they had lost their fighting spirit, and only wanted to flee for their lives.

    Realizing their situation was far from good, Yuwen Wudi shouted his order to retreat. While leading a dozen or so his personal guards forcing their way out of the forest, suddenly ahead of him his men were thrown away, their horses flipped over. His response could be considered quick as well; immediately he abandoned his horse and soared onto the top of a tree nearby. But when he was about to leap to another tree, Kou Zhong suddenly appeared on a horizontal branch of a tree ahead of him.

    Holding the saber across his chest, Kou Zhong smiled and said, Outside the Wagang City, Yuwen Xiong killed our beloved horses, Huier and Baier [see Book 4 Chapter 5]; it was such a tragic scene that broke our hearts, a deeply unforgettable event that seemed to happen only yesterday. And now we finally have the opportunity to face one another to settle this account.

    A sinister expression appeared on Yuwen Wudis copper-like face; the wart on his forehead trembled slightly, he laughed coldly and said, I was just killing two livestock! Not raping and murdering your Niang. If you cant forget it, blame it on your stupidity, dont blame anybody else.

    A deep, cold murderous aura flashed through Kou Zhongs eyes; thinking about he and Xu Ziling owned real gold and white silver for the first time, and used the money to buy two nice horses, and also thinking about Fu Junchuo, he nodded firmly and said, All right! I was actually thinking of capturing you alive and exchange you for something else. But now I decided not to show you any mercy; I want to chop your stinking head off.

    Yuwen Wudi roared wildly, the lance in his hand fantastically turned into countless spear shadows, as he leaped horizontally across the empty air between the two trees to attack Kou Zhong.

    If Kou Zhong evaded even for a little, he would have a chance to escape out of the forest, and joined his infantry, who were rushing over to provide help.

    Kou Zhong calmly, like a stone statue, watched Yuwen Bodys huge body as it rushed over straight toward him, while quietly focusing his power.

    The whole world seemed to suddenly changed; his senses seemed to be many times more sensitive. Not only he was able to accurately calculate and grasp every single detail of Yuwen Wudis movements, he was also very clear about Xu Ziling unleashing his divine prowess under the tree, cutting down every enemy who wanted to escape out of the forest, while snatching their valuable warhorses.

    Two mens eyes met.

    In that instant, he saw the fear deep in Yuwen Wudis heart.

    The opponent has been intimidated by his cold composure.

    Whoosh!

    The Moon in the Well swept an amazing, almost magical as if it was made by heaven, curve in the air, penetrating Yuwen Wudis millions of spear shadows.

    Dang!

    No word could describe the shock in Yuwen Wudis heart.

    He has had confrontation with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling before, therefore, although he has heard that their martial art skill was constantly advancing at a terrifying rate, inwardly he was not too convinced, and thought that the rumors were greatly exaggerated.

    But after exhausting his skill by unleashing countless changes yet Kou Zhong, using saber moves that appeared to be clumsy and rudimentary, was still able to neutralize all his feigned moves, he now knew Kou Zhongs real power.

    He was a veteran of a hundred battles, and had wanted to take advantage while Kou Zhongs mastery has not reached the same maturity as his own, to send the Black [or Mysterious] Ice Energy, a unique skill handed down in his family, toward the tip of his spear, hoping that he could borrow the reaction force to fly away to escape; a move that was not aimed to achieve the best possible result, but rather trying to avoid making mistakes.

    Who would have thought that although the tip of his spear was able to block the chopping saber, but the pit of his stomach felt like it was crushed by ten-thousand-catty sledge hammer, his Black Ice Energy dispersed into the wind like a thin smoke, while the enemys violent, incomparably powerful spiraling strange energy, swift like an arrow, penetrating his heart and meridians.

    Ah!

    Yuwen Wudis lance fell off his hand and dropped down the tree.

    Shaken by the impact, Kou Zhong also staggered back a little, and had to vomit half a mouthful of blood.

    Without showing any care, Kou Zhong returned his saber into its scabbard, and used his other hand to wipe the blood from the corner of his lips. Success! he shouted, Lets go!

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong looked into the distance, at the plains outside the city wall, where millions of torches were flickering incessantly like fireflies. Sighing, he said, It was really fun! I had never thought that a chop of my saber could be that fun, victory and defeat was decided in the blink of an eye. It was not a fluke either, all of a sudden I have avenged our Huier and Baier.

    Under the star-studded night sky, Liangdu was actually in a blackout; no lantern, no fire, the soldiers and civilians on top of the city walls were waiting for the enemys approaching in the dark.

    The watchmans clapper sounded, denoting the first watch of the night [7 9pm].

    The enemys blocking-arrows vehicles made their advance toward the city wall, and stopped about a hundred paces outside the wall, to regroup and fix their formation.

    Since dusk, the battle drums had been beaten incessantly.

    Didnt you say you wanted to hang Yuwen Wudis head high on the city wall to publicly expose him? Xu Ziling asked, How come at the last moment you even abandoned his dead body and paid it no more attention?

    I was just saying, Kou Zhong replied heavily.

    This moment Chen Jiafeng came over and reported, According to Kou Yes instruction, dried branches and dried grass have been removed everywhere from under the city walls. Hey! Kou Yes calculation is certainly exquisite beyond compare. The most formidable thing is that you guessed the enemys movement like a deity; you already predicted that the enemy would attack the city this very night.

    Lets talk about it after our victory! Kou Zhong said, Tell you men to guard their posts tightly, wait for my further instructions.

    Chen Jiafeng left cheerfully.

    Kou Zhong said, Today we managed to snatch nearly two hundred warhorses from the enemy, so the odds of our victory are great increased. Oh, Yuwen Huagu! Perhaps even in your dream you would never think that you would nurse a grievance over Liangdu!

    The drums suddenly increased in intensity.

    The enemies shouted loudly, close to a hundred trebuchets rolled in, followed by blocking-arrows vehicles and crossbow vehicles.

    The wheels rumbled, battle cries shook the heavens, filling the sky outside the city wall; it was an extremely alarming momentum.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were totally unfazed; they continued looking coldly at the enemys vanguard approaching the city wall.

    The infantry holding shields were divided into three groups; each group, consisted of a thousand soldiers, was equipped with two cloud ladders. One after another these three groups arrived.

    Yuwen Huajis cavalry arranged themselves on a distant hill, ready for deployment, in preparation to provide support to the forces besieging the city.

    Like a plague of locust boulders and fiery arrows flew toward the wall, their flames lit the night sky.

    One after another the soldiers and civilians on the top of the wall hid behind the city wall or defensive wooden boards. Like a rolling thunder the boulders hit the city wall. Momentarily fragments of rocks splashed everywhere, shaking everybody to the core.

    Deal with firewood! Kou Zhong thundered.

    The entire soldiers and civilians responsible for the city defense, numbered about five thousand men, on the top of the wall shouted at the same time. About one thousand of them were archers, who immediately returned the salvo. The rest of them were in charge of throwing sticks, as well as rocks, down the city wall.

    Battle cry shook the heavens.

    Near the wall the wood started to pile up. In the dark night, the enemy could not see clearly what was going on; they thought that the city lacked arrows and rocks, so they threw down thick branches to make up the number.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cried, What a close call! inwardly. If Kou Zhong did not come up with this plan, with such power disparity between theirs and the enemys, perhaps in just one night the enemy would be able to breach the city defense.

    Finally the enemies were charging under the city wall. One by one they setup the cloud ladders to scale the wall.

    Seeing the urgency of the situation, Kou Zhong roared, Release the fire!

    Instead of throwing down sticks, each and every one of them threw fire balls at the same time.

    While the intense battle on top of the city wall between the attackers and defenders started to unfold, the sticks and dry grass piling up at the foot of the city walls caught fire, which then spread rapidly.

    On top of the wall, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling leaped back and forth, saber and spear moved together, they killed the enemies climbing the wall until flesh and blood flew everywhere, and fell down the city wall.

    Seeing their commanders dashing on bravely with no thought of personal safety, as well as the fire blazing under the wall, engulfing the enemy troops, as well as the trebuchets, the crossbow vehicles, and everything else in the sea of fire, the soldiers and civilians on the top of the wall knew that their chance of victory was within grasp; millions of people all of one mind, they summoned up courage and determination to repel the enemies.

    Yuwen Huaji knew the situation was far from good. But by the time he ordered the bugle horn to sound the retreat call, he was already unable to reverse the rotation of the sky.

    The area about seven hundred paces from the city wall has already turned into an ocean of fire, burning the enemies that their blood-curdling screech reached the sky, turning them into balls of fire rolling around and screaming in the midst of the raging inferno.

    In the blink of an eye, there were no longer any enemies on the city wall. Those who were fortunate enough not to be burned by the fire retreated like a tidal wave.

    Kou Zhong leaped down from the wall and said to Ren Meimei, I leave the situation here to you!

    Ren Meimei was stunned, Where are you going? she asked.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, To catch an enemy off guard with a surprise attack [an idiom from Sun Tzus The Art of War]. Do you understand?

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, leading four hundred cavalrymen, rendezvous with Xuan Yongs thousand plus horsemen at the appointed place, on top of a sloping hill northeast of the battlefield. Everyone was in high fighting spirit, and was full of energy.

    Xuan Yong admired wholeheartedly, Watching Kou Ye and Xu Ye using brilliant scheme burned down Yuwen Clans besieging vanguard troops and their equipment, killing them that they ran away abandoning their spears and armors, none of all my Xiongdi here and me are not won over, and could only gasp in amazement. We were nearly unable to hold back from moving our troops to attack the enemy ranks directly.

    With extraordinary modesty Kou Zhong replied, It was just a small victory! But we did inflict enormous blow to the enemys acute spirit. However, if the enemies return tomorrow in a swirl of dust [idiom: to regroup and come back even stronger], they will definitely be more cautious and solemn, and will not be reckless. If that happens, we will be in trouble.

    Xu Ziling joined in, Even if we could defend the city, the casualties will be inevitably disastrous. Therefore, we must seize this opportunity to strike the enemy in one go, tonight; we are going to kill Yuwen Huaji.

    Although Xuan Yong was a fierce general who was both courageous and intelligent, and was known to be daring and unafraid of death, hearing that, he could not help but was stunned for half a day. Finally he said in astonishment, I thought we were just going to attack the enemys rear position, just to disturb the enemys morale and to improve the outcome of the war!

    The sound of hoof beats was coming near; Luo Qifei, who was an expert in spying the enemys situation, galloped up the hill toward the three men and reported, Just like Kou Yes expectation, after suffering devastating setback, the Yuwen Army lay out heavy defense outside their camps, afraid that we might follow up our victory by attacking their camps.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, I know Yuwen Huagu; he is looking down on us as tired soldiers lacking food supplies.

    Frowning, Xuan Yong said, If thats the case, how are we going to launch our surprise attack?

    With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong replied, Isnt there a stratagem called besieging Wei and rescuing Zhao [idiom: to relieve a besieged ally by attacking the home base of the besiegers]? Let us split our troops into two groups; you are in charge of attacking the rear of the army camp, use battering wagon to break the camps wall, use fire arrow to burn their tents, make the chaos as big as possible. The rear camp is Yuwen Huagus lifeline; he cannot but trying to save it. When he is leading his troops to come to help, I will ambush him along the way. I guarantee we can kill his mother until their blood flows like a river, and they will be utterly defeated.

    Xuan Yong gasped in admiration, and no longer had any objection.

    It should be noted that the most formidable aspect of Kou Zhongs stratagem was that while the Yuwen Army was busy in dealing with Xuan Yongs raid, they had no idea that there was another ambushing troop nearby. Therefore, if they saw that the rear camp was being attacked, they would not let Kou Zhong seize their army provision. Furthermore, after the recent defeat, they knew that Kou Zhongs strength was inadequate to instill fear on them; therefore, in order to turn defeat into victory, they would definitely muster their troops to rescue the camp, and thus they would fall into Kou Zhongs trap.

    Kou Zhong said, Success or failure, we will see it from this operation!

    Finished speaking, the two groups of army went their separate ways.

  14. #234
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 4

    Book 20 Chapter 4 Ambushing Troops to Achieve Victory

    Accompanied by four hundred cavalrymen, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling lay low in a forest located between the enemys forward and rear camps, quietly waiting for the enemy to walk right into the trap.

    In their calculation, the enemies coming to help must be the cavalry only, which strength was around one thousand riders, so it should not be difficult to deal with.

    They had scouts on all mountaintops nearby, as long as Yuwen Huajis main force, which was located three li to their left, made any move, they would know it like the back of their hand.

    Suddenly on their right, about a li or so, from the enemys rear camp the sound of battle cry shook the heavens, followed by raging fire soaring to the sky, and the sound of hoof beats continuously growing in intensity.

    Kou Zhong said, It would be best if Yuwen Huagu thought that our whole nest came out. On one hand he would send fast riders to come to help, on the other hand reissued the command for the second round of besieging the city. Nothing could be better than that.

    Boom!

    The was a loud crashing noise from the rear camp; it looked like Xuan Yongs tactic of using the battering vehicle has shown some results.

    This moment, Luo Qifei rushed over as if he was flying; greatly delighted, he reported, This time two Daye predicted the enemy like a deity again. Yuwen Huaji already exhausted his cavalry to come here to help; they will arrive in the blink of an eye.

    Boom! Boom! Boom!

    At the same time, the enemy sounded the drums signaling the start of the attack toward the city.

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, Yuwen Huagu is also resorting to the besieging Wei to rescue Zhao stratagem. If we can be a bit quicker, perhaps we can launch pincer attack from front and rear before the siege starts.

    Before he even finished, there was a sudden sound of hoof beats. The enemy riders appeared on the plains outside the forest, they were galloping in single file, rushing wildly toward the rear camp.

    Kou Zhong waited until the head of the procession reached the sloping hill and the entire cavalry was exposed under attack before he shouted and took the lead to charge.

    Each one of them already had a bow and an arrow in hands. As soon as the horses carrying the enemy entered their shooting range, the sound of arrows split the air rang out, the enemies were hit and fell in confusion.

    Immediately their formation was thrown into disarray, because their middle section was being attacked, and the head and the tail of the procession were unable to help each other.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, each one leading their own team, separately attacked the front and the rear, so that the enemies were like being swept by the wind.

    One side was the recently defeated troops, beaten and exhausted; the other side had enjoyed victory in succession, their morale was like a rainbow, both officers and soldiers followed their leaders willingly, indeed there was no comparison between the two sides.

    Almost at the point of contact, the Yuwen Army only wanted to run away and scatter, no one dared to face and meet the attack.

    After a short chase, some of the enemies turned back to Yuwen Huajis main force position, while some others fell into Kou Zhong and Xuan Yongs two-prong heavy siege; being cornered, they struggled obstinately to resist the enemy.

    The men in the surrounding area held their torches high, illuminating the entire arena. In the dark night, Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well emitted bright yellow ray. Wherever the saber went, an enemy was chopped; no one was able to block.

    Dang!

    Suddenly the Moon in the Well was blocked.

    The two combatants looked at each others face, Kou Zhong roared in laughter, Turns out its Chengdu Xiong [see Book 5 Chapter 10]; what a coincidence we came across each other in here!

    While the two men were glowering at each other, Yuwen Chengdus barely a dozen remaining men were chopped like melon or cut like vegetables and fell down their horses; he was the only one left sitting on his horse.

    Being surrounded at the center of the siege, Yuwen Chengdus countenance alternated between red and white; his eyes revealed a terrified look.

    Kou Zhongs pair of tiger-eyes shone with sharp flashes; laughing coldly, he said, That day when, using a despicable means, you plotted against Cui Dong, you ought to remember that a day like this might arrive.

    Suddenly he leaped off the horseback and soared overhead Yuwen Chengdu; like a gale the Moon in the Well rained down.

    In his great shock Yuwen Chengdu did everything he could to send his strength to his sword to parry, but Kou Zhongs wild and ferocious saber, which was unleashed with hatred in his heart, forced him to swing the sword to the left and block to the right in panic, while he himself was drenched in cold sweat.

    The crowd all around them was growing by the minute. Watching Kou Zhongs divine valor, they all cheered at the top of their lungs to boost Kou Zhongs morale. Their voices penetrated the starry sky.

    Dang!

    While the echo was still lingering in the air, Kou Zhong already returned the saber into its scabbard, and with a graceful flip he somersaulted back onto his horseback. All along, his feet had never touched the ground.

    Yuwen Chengdus face revealed a hard-to-believe expression. And then his sword dropped, a blood trace, about a cun long, appeared between his eyebrows. Bang! he fell to the ground, raising a cloud of dust.

    The crowd raised their weapons to salute, and broke into a thunderous cheer.

    Kou Zhong looked at Xu Ziling, who had just rushed over; the latters handsome face showed mixed emotion. Evidently the avenging of Cui Dongs blood debt has raised memories of the past.

    When Yuwen Chengdu broke into Dong Ming Flagship to steal the Account Book in the past [see Book 4 Chapter 1], how could Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong ever think that they would be able to kill him with a chop of a saber on the battlefield?

    Rushing over, Xuan Yong said, The enemy camp has been broken, their army provisions have fallen entirely under our control; will the next step be storming the enemys base camp directly?

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong shook his head and said, The situation has changed. Now the one to worry about food is the enemy, not us at all. Let alone his cavalry has been broken by us in total disorder. We are going to exercise a bit more patience, let him taste again the bitter outcome of defeat under Li Mis hands due to food shortage.

    The crowd agreed with loud shout, and marched back to the city.

    ※ ※ ※

    The enemy withdrew! The troops moved back!

    The soldiers and civilians on the top of the Liangdu city wall cheered in chorus, their voices reached the heavens.

    Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Xuan Yong, three men, rushed to the top of the wall, and looked at the enemy ranks. They saw that although the camp remained, the enemies have moved to the bank of Tongji Canal, and using several dozen rafts tied together with thick ropes, they built crude pontoon bridges, with which they crossed to the other side as quickly as they could. More than half of their ten thousand soldiers had successfully crossed over.

    Although this move was really beyond anybodys expectation, but it should not come as a surprise.

    These past three days Yuwen Huaji had suffered blow after blow that their losses were disastrous. Not only he lost Yuwen Wudi and Yuwen Chengdu, two great fierce generals and brothers, nearly half of his siege equipment were burned, most of his cavalry was annihilated, injured and deceased soldiers and generals nearly seven thousand, on top of that, his army provisions were robbed; insisting on holding on would be tantamount to suicide.

    Kou Zhong had guessed that Yuwen Huaji would retreat, so he already laid out a plan to pursue quickly; but he did not expect the enemy would retreat that very same night, and had grabbed the initiative of crossing to the opposite shore first, and thus had secured their safety with the river as a barrier.

    While Kou Zhongs countenance was alternating between cloudy and clear, Xu Zilings hand reached over and grabbed his shoulder tightly. Although his voice carried a little bit of despair, he spoke with determination, We cannot, because of personal grudges, bring the whole city to take a risk. Avenging Niang cannot be fought in one day or half a day. There will come a day Yuwen Huagu will pay this blood debt with his own blood.

    Like a deflated ball, Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and nodded helplessly.

    The enemy retreated without chaos, plus there was Tongji Canal as the barrier, and their military strength was several times greater than their own; if they pursued hastily, even if they might achieve the final victory, they would have to pay a heavy loss.

    Just consider Yuwen Huagu still had a bit of luck remaining!

    ※ ※ ※

    By dusk that day, a drizzle was falling from the sky. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling hid in a wine shop, drowning their sorrows in wine. As for dealing with the aftermath of the battle, they let Xuan Yong and Ren Meimei and their people to deal with it.

    Speaking about contending for hegemony over the world, Kou Zhongs great undertaking has already seen the dawn, but as for when they would be able to kill Yuwen Huaji, it was still so far away that it felt like forever.

    When success was in sight, the time to avenge their hatred was at hand, suddenly they found out that they failed through lack of a final effort, which was the most disappointing and frustrating kind of failure.

    After drowning two bowls of wine, Kou Zhong cast a sidelong glance toward Xu Ziling and said, Before, you did not like to drink too much, why is it that after reaching Luoyang, every time I urge you to drink, you never refuse?

    Xu Ziling was staring blankly for half a day, recalling the nasty mood when he met Li Jing again after long separation. Smiling wryly, he said, One of the benefits of wine is to make people forget the cold, callous reality, and send us to the dreamland of drunkenness. Too bad that no matter how much wine I drink, I still cannot forget Su Jies misfortune. Just now I asked Ren Dajie in passing about Xiang Yushan; it would be best if I dont repeat her answer.

    Kou Zhong picked up the wine pot, Glug! Glug! he drank more than ten mouthfuls at one go, letting the wine splattered and wet the lapel of his robe. And then, breathing heavily, he said, I made up my mind to toss everything else aside. I am going to rush to Baling to rescue Su Jie. Anybody trying to stop me will have to deal with my saber!

    Xu Ziling shook his head and said, That would be our last resort; didnt you often say that you wanted to raise troops? The best thing we can do in the circumstances is I will go alone to pick up Su Jie, while you are pretending to have sincere collaboration with Xiao Xian, so that he wouldnt dare not to be courteous to me, thinking that his evil schemes would come to fruition soon.

    A gust of wind, carrying the rain, blew into the wine shop, making the lanterns flickered, so that the more than a dozen empty tables also flickered between light and dark, multiplying the lonely, somber and cold feeling in their hearts.

    Although the streets were filled with gaiety and songs, the residents of the city celebrating their victory that day, it seemed like the streets and the wine shop were in two isolated worlds.

    Kou Zhong was staring blankly for half a day; finally he mumbled as if he was talking to himself, What do I do now?

    Noticing Kou Zhong had his eyes fixed on the lively scene outside the door, yet his eyes were empty, Xu Ziling leaned over slightly and said heavily, The most important business you must attend right now is to evaluate merits and bestow rewards, stabilize and pacify the heart Liangdus citizens. Taking advantage while Li Zitong, Xu Yuanlang and the others are too busy to pay any attention to you, and Yuwen Huagu is returning north in defeat, you build a good foundation. As for how to resolve the danger facing the Flying Horse Ranch, without Xiaodi telling you, Kou Shuai [Commander Kou] ought to know what to do.

    Kou Zhong was shaken, but then his eyes recovered their spirited expression. Reaching out across the table to grab Xu Zilings hands, he spoke in heavy voice, You must promise me to bring Su Jie, mother and son, to the Flying Horse Ranch. We have already lost Niang, we cant lose Su Jie as well.

    Xu Ziling nodded with confidence and said, I will not disappoint you.

    When are you going to leave? Kou Zhong asked.

    As soon as I finish this cup of wine, Xu Ziling replied.

    Kou Zhong let go of his hands, and leaned back into his chair with his eyes emitting profound emotion. It was quite a while later that he finally nodded his head and said, If Xiao Xian and Xiang Yushan dare to harm you and Su Jie, I swear I will raze his mothers Great Liang Empire or what have you to the ground, kill him so that not a single chicken or dog remains. If I violate this oath, may I never be reincarnated, and be a domesticated animal forever.

    Xu Ziling laughed calmly and said, Dont worry! I, Xu Ziling, am not General Lu Meng of the Wu State of the past[1] at all; if they want to kill me, it wont be that easy.

    Kou Zhong looked out the door, and muttered to himself irresolutely, I am still a little worried about female demon Wan; in fact, I still dont understand why she is willing to cease hostility against us. Could it be that whatever it is in the Duke Yang Treasure that they wanted is really so important to them?

    I have pondered over that question as well, Xu Ziling replied, My guess is that their change of heart was because you have never suffered defeat under Li Mis hands, so they believe you are the only one worthy to be Li Shimins opponent. And since Li Shimin is the Son of Heaven ordained by heaven chosen by Shi Feixuan, female demon Wan wanted to support you.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Supporting me? he asked, If thats the case, why did female demon Wan join hands with Bian Bufu to deal with you?

    Xu Ziling replied, The one she wants to deal with is precisely me and not you. I had this thought because supposing she was able to capture me alive, she would occupy the upper hand, and would not have to worry that you are not going to agree to their demand and conditions. That night at Liangdu, although she was taking advantage of our precarious position, the condition she proposed was absolutely acceptable. She was also very clear that by helping us, Ku Ges group of horse-mounted bandits would lose their guts. Therefore, ultimately Yin Gui Pai is holding you in high regard.

    Letting out a cold humph, Kou Zhong said, That is their own stupidity; sooner or later I will have their Sect wiped out and their people perish.

    After a short pause, he sighed and said, It doesnt matter what one is doing, in the end one must clearly distinguish ones objective and ideals. Even common people also pursue livelihood, to have enough food and warm clothes, to raise a family, to live in peace and work happily. Or perhaps pursuing wealth and power. Even kings and emperors pursue immortal exploits. But I never understand, what is that female demon Wan pursuing? It seems like they only wish for the whole world to be in chaos, always stirring up the wind and the rain.

    This is called one mountain cannot have two tigers, Xu Ziling replied, The feuds between Ci Hang Jing Zhai and Yin Gui Pai have been going on for nearly a thousand years. And now, because of Zhu Yuyan and female demon Wan, Yin Gui Pai appears to enjoy resurgence, so the time has come for the two Sects to distinguish victory or defeat. The struggle for the Emperors throne is just one of the many battlefields! And we are able to perceive it, because we have been drawn into this vortex.

    Greatly astonished, Kou Zhong said, Your insight is very thorough.

    Xu Ziling replied, This is called the person on the spot is baffled, the onlooker sees clear.

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, If you are an onlooker, which one is the insider then?

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, Concerning Su Jies affair, Yuwen Huagus enmity, I am an insider. But in other matters, I am only an onlooker. Zhong Shao, do you understand?

    Finished speaking, he rose up to his full height.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud; picking up the wine cup, he said, Heres wishing Ling Shao a pleasant journey, the horse arrives, the work accomplished.

    Xu Ziling gladly picked up his wine cup. Ding! he clinked it against Kou Zhong, downed the wine, and floated away.

    Kou Zhong watched until he disappeared among the crowd on the street, in spite of the wind and the rain, before raising his wine cup and pouring the wine into his throat.

    ※ ※ ※

    Inside the West Hall, Zongguan Mansion, at the heart of the city of Liangdu, Kou Zhong held his first important meeting with important high-ranking military officers under his command.

    The attendees included Xuan Yong, Ren Meimei, Luo Qifei, Chen Jiafeng, Xie Jue, and Wagang Armys old generals who came with Xuan Yong, Gao Ziming and Zhan Gongxian. In the last battle, the latter two have shown outstanding performance, hence they were bestowed the reward of being promoted to Left and Right Vanguard Generals under Xuan Yong, the new Liangdu Zongguan [lit. chief manager].

    First of all, Kou Zhong tactfully declined the proposal, which had repeatedly been brought up in recent days, to have him declare himself king. He said, The reason we are able to establish Liangdu as our base of operations is purely fortuitous coincidence, because being able to survive in the narrow crack among big powers is simply a miracle; therefore, the more we dont attract attention the better. Presently the proposal to declare kingship will bring more harm than benefit.

    Ren Meimei spoke solemnly, But under current circumstances, no matter how low-key you are, Liangdu has always had a tight grip on the throat of the Tongji Canal; other people will never be willing to leave Liangdu alone. It would be better to stake it out, publicly proclaim ourselves hegemon. Relying on Kou Yes prestige, towering figures near and far will come to place themselves into our hands, it will greatly strengthen our momentum.

    Kou Zhong calmly laughed and said, What Ren Dajie said is of course very reasonable, but it can only be implemented after further expansion of our power. The top priority right now is to take advantage while Xu Yuanlang, Yuwen Huagu and Dou Jiande in the north are in endless entanglement, Wang Shichong is busy with consolidating Li Mis territory, to turn toward Li Zitong, who is too busy to pay us any attention, to extract a little bit of profit from him, to consolidate and expand our territory.

    His eyes shining with excitement, Chen Jiafeng said, Are we going to single out Li Zitongs city as the point of attack?

    Noticing Xuan Yong has been smiling without saying anything, Kou Zhong asked, Does Xuan Zongguan have any good proposal?

    Xuan Yong calmly said, Defending a city is easy, besieging a city is difficult. Were it not for Li Zitong transferring his troops to Jiangdu, based on our current strength, practically we cant do anything. But now we have a bit chance of success.

    And then he took a map and spread it out on the table. Presently we have three important matters that must be dealt with simultaneously, he went on, In the first place is consolidating the city, establishing our foundation. Secondly, we must rebuild Pengcheng, and make Liangdu Pengcheng, two cities as the centers, integrating the more than a dozen cities and towns and a hundred something villages within several hundred li of these two cities into our territory. Finally, we select one of the two big cities, Donghai and Zhongli, as our military target, and formulate strategies to forge ahead.

    Luo Qifei said, Both Donghai and Zhongli are highly strategic cities. The former can enable us to gain control over the road leading to the sea, while giving us the opportunity to do business with the cities along the coastal area. The latter is located right next to River Huai, which will provide us with a foothold to advance toward the southwest region. In terms of importance, each one has its own merits. However, under current circumstances, it is advisable to take Donghai first, because psychologically, it will deal the greatest blow to Li Zitong.

    After a short pause, he went on, But I am in favor of Ren Dajies proposal earlier for Kou Ye to declare yourself king. Its called words do not justify unfavorable name. Of the dozen or so cities nearby, most are under control of local power. The reason they are not willing to throw their lot to either Li Zitong or Xu Yuanlang is simply because these two are not capable person with great chance of success. But with Kou Yes reputation, as soon as you raise your hand and issue a rousing call, the wind will definitely be blowing your way. Kou Ye must reconsider this proposal.

    Gao Ziming and Zhan Gongxian also echoed this proposal, pointing to Zhai Rang raising up the Wagang Militia Army as an example to illustrate the importance of declaring oneself king.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, I have an idea, lets compromise: how about not declaring myself king, but commander? That appellation is surely justified, while also giving a brand-new impression to those who want me to be the king. Not in such a way as to easily oppose various powers with equal harshness, in the two-cannot-exist-together kind of manner. It will also enable us to do things a hundred times more flexible.

    One after another the crowd expressed their approval.

    Xie Jue proposed, It would be better to call Longtou Da Shuai [lit. big boss great commander]. This name is very awe-inspiring!

    Kou Zhong burst out laughing and said, That name is not awe-inspiring, but too bossy, also carries a bit of underworld gang [orig. black thief] boss impression. Just call me Shao Shuai [lit. young/junior commander]! You will be called Shao Shuai Army, so it will feel a bit more harmonious, easy and amiable.

    Noticing that he spoke about such a proper name so casually, they all knew that he had already had firm view about this, so they all voiced their praise.

    Kou Zhong said, Xuan Zongguans suggestion of those three urgent matters are very insightful. Lets leave the consolidation of the city to Ren Dajie. Within Peng and Liang area, who did not know Pengliang Huis beautiful and alluring Er Dangjia?

    Everybody laughed heartily. Ren Meimei cast him a sideways glance and said, Still loves to blather?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, I am the kind of person who will not change. As far as Im concerned, power, fame and position are just as fleeting as a reflection of the moon on splashing water. In this struggle for hegemony over the world, the only thing that I am concerned about is how to make common people pass their days in peace, security and happiness. Toward the arduous process of the struggle itself, other than passing my days in ignorance, it does not make any sense to me.

    Listening to that, everybody felt deep veneration for him.

    Turning to Chen Jiafeng, Kou Zhong said, The task of rebuilding Pengcheng, Chen Jiafeng will be in charge, with Xie Jue as his deputy. If there is any problem, our Ren Dajie will allocate any resources as necessary.

    Xie Jue said, There is no candidate more suitable than Er Dangjia; previously, Ren Dangjia was our treasurer [orig. storehouse manager].

    Ren Meimei said, Dont call me Er Dangjia anymore. Hereafter Pengliang Hui no longer exists, there is only Shao Shuai Army.

    Kou Zhong said, Between Donghai and Zhongli, two counties, we are going to take Donghai first. I appoint Xuan Yong as the Commander in Chief, with Qifei as his deputy. Ziming and Gongxian are in charge of recruiting and training the army. Build the siege equipment according to the blueprint I gave you. You have three months to prepare everything. I appoint Xuan Yong to direct the overall situation.

    Xuan Yong was stunned, Shao Shuai, how about you? What are you doing?

    Tranquil and calm, Kou Zhong said, I am going to the Flying Horse Ranch to borrow men and horses, to establish an unequalled-throughout-the-world cavalry troops. The moment I come back will be the moment we attack Donghai.




    [1] General L Meng (呂蒙) of the southern state of Wu, a model of self-improvement
    by diligent study (see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%BC_Meng).

  15. #235
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 5

    Book 20 Chapter 5 The Difference Between Close and Distant Relatives

    That very night Xu Ziling left Liangdu, riding on a light boat alone overnight along Tongji Canal going down south, and reached the confluence of Tongji Canal and the Huai River. From this point, he could follow the Canal going down south and reach Jiangdu in less than half a day, and if he headed west along the Huai River, in just several sichen he would have reached Zhongli. Originally, the journey would have been very convenient. Too bad Li Zitong stationed his warships here, and laid out iron chains across the canal, to stop any boat or ship from passing through.

    Xu Ziling did not wish to let new branch growing out of a knot, hence he abandoned his boat here, came ashore and headed to the west by land route. Unleashing his footwork, he passed Zhongli, but did not enter the city, but turned to the south. As soon as he reached the Yangtze River, he could try to find a boat going west, to save time and energy.

    Along the way when he was thirsty he drank mountain spring water, when he was hungry he picked a couple of wild fruits to eat his fill. When he took a rest, he would delve into the hand-written treasured books that Lu Miaozi bequeathed him. This way not only he did not feel lonely, he felt carefree, forgetting worry, without anxiety, and felt relaxed instead.

    Now that he had made up his mind to rescue Susu, mother and son, he was able to throw out the load on his mind, and no longer wasting his time on an insignificant problem [orig. penetrate into the bulls horn] in this regard.

    Along his route, occasionally he would encounter deserted villages, and fill his eyes with the desolation in the aftermath of a disaster, which made him feel depressed! Therefore, he changed course and travel through wild, out-of-the-way uninhabited mountain and fields, passing over mountain ridges. Under his feet, traveling over destitute mountain and desolate valley were as convenient as treading on the level ground.

    It was the height of the summer season, everywhere the flowers were blooming, the scenery was enchanting. Throughout the Henan region, the climate was moderate, rainfall was abundant, different kinds of trees made up the wide expanse of forest, covering the hillside grassland. Sika deer, golden snub-nosed monkeys, and all kinds of birds inhabit the area, filling the wilderness with natural charm and liveliness, making him forget the dismal wind and wretched rain of the secular world.

    One day at noon, he crossed a high mountain and reached a fertile plain on the northern bank of the Yangtze River. As far as his eyes could see, there were branches full of wild fruits, fresh flowers in full bloom; he was in great mood as he climbed to the hill top, and cast his eyes all around.

    In the not-so-distant southerly direction, there was a strange-looking mountain; the rocks were scarlet like cinnabar, with strange peaks and weird rock formation more and more emerged, extremely and wonderfully serene. About halfway up the mountain, there was a temple hidden among the rocks. Suddenly his interest was piqued and since it was on his way anyway, he was thinking of exploring it. Thereupon he dashed toward the strange mountain.

    In less than half a day, he already reached the foot of the mountain, where a mountain stream meandering through, and to his surprise, he found a bridge spanning it, connecting the secluded path going around and up the mountain.

    Xu Ziling was very curious; it had never occurred to him that in such a wild, mountainous country where no man ever stepped his foot on, there was such a scenic spot.

    But then he got to think: people built a monastery here, surely it was because they wanted to escape the secular world. If he simply went up the mountain to go sightseeing, he might disturb their quiet meditation. He was just about to give up his original intention and turn around to leave, when suddenly a burst of clear and melodious flute [orig. xiao, vertically blown flute] sound was heard from the distant place high up the mountain.

    Listening to that, Xu Ziling was emotionally moved.

    ※ ※ ※

    Inside the study room of the Zongguan Mansion, Kou Zhong and Xuan Yong were studying more than a dozen topography maps of Liangdu and the surrounding area.

    Xuan Yong said, With our current strength, by directly attacking Donghai we will definitely end up with our wings clipped and will have to return in defeat. But if we can exploit our currently favorable situation, perhaps we can capture Donghai without wasting a single soldier, a single man, and Shao Shuai will not have to take the long and difficult journey to the Flying Horse Ranch to seek help.

    Greatly interested, Kou Zhong replied, I am listening.

    Xuan Yong pointed to a big lake east of Pengcheng, separated by Mount Luliang and Mount Yi, This is Lake Luoma [lit. llama], he said, The confluence of the river course. Not only it has abundant fish, the area around the lakeshore are fertile, vast agricultural land, the lifeline of many towns and villages nearby. If we can seize control of Xiapi, we can control this lake. At that time, without Shao Shuai even need to open your mouth, all the cities, counties, of the surrounding area will obediently throw their lot to you.

    Astonished, Kou Zhong asked, Is there such a convenient matter? Who currently has control over Xiapi?

    Xuan Yong replied, Currently Xiapi falls under control of a powerful gang called Luoma Bang [lit. llama gang]. The Bangzhu is called Du Ren, his men number nearly three thousand. Not only going fishing has to pay him fees, boats passing through or travelers touring the lake must pay him illegal toll. From time to time he went all around the area, robbing and looting, so he has already incited the heavens anger and the peoples grievance. If we can remove and replace him, and implement benevolent government, with Shao Shuais current prestige, the heart of the people will definitely turn to you. By then, we can also acquire Huairen, Langya, Lanling, Liangcheng, four counties northwest of Donghai, Muyang, Lianshui, Huaiyang, three counties southwest, plus Xiapi itself, we can completely sever land route toward Donghai; at that time Donghai is potentially already in our bag.

    Emotionally moved, Kou Zhong said, Xiao Yong is indeed an insightful person. This plan is not only brilliant, it is within our ability, and will be greatly advantageous in our effort to rebuild Pengcheng.

    Seeing his proposal was accepted, Xuan Yongs spirit greatly aroused, he said, In that case, subordinate will immediately send Luo Qifei to Xiapi to get a clear picture of Du Rens foundation, to see how we can eliminate him in one stroke.

    After Xuan Yong left, Kou Zhong was thinking of taking out Lu Miaozis secret book and spending some time to study it diligently, when his personal guard came in to report that Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong of Yangzhou came to ask for an audience.

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong hurriedly went out to meet them.

    ※ ※ ※

    The flute sound slowly moved up and down in the magnificent, leisure atmosphere of the big natural world where the wind brushed the leaves into motion. The tone and the cohesion between the sound had no flaw. Although there was no intense change or climax that appeared suddenly, there was another feeling that lingered endlessly, an implicit charm in the sound that would not rest until death.

    Xu Ziling could not help stopping to listen carefully. The ethereal, penetrating wordless music seemed to accurately describe the beautiful endlessly empty space in the abyss of a certain spirit; no sorrow, no joy, but was able to touch the listeners soul. The mood of the flute player itself was like an empty mountain locked up in the clouds, seemingly visible yet desired to be hidden; so elusive and unfathomable. The tender and limpid beautiful sound was like someone inside the house, yet was doomed in predestination to have the cold and detached gaze of an outsider, making others also felt that the heavy life could also be interpreted with cold, indifferent attitude.

    The flute sound suddenly stopped.

    As if he was forced to wake up from a dream, Xu Ziling reluctantly came up to his senses and decided to climb up the mountain to take a look.

    He knew who the flute player was.

    Only she could produce such a lucid and elegant, graceful, without the least bit of vulgarity, flute sound.

    ※ ※ ※

    Grabbing Gui Xiliang and Xing Rongs, his childhood companions, hands, Kou Zhong pulled them into the study room.

    After a bit of catching up, Gui Xiliang happily said, Its really good to see you, this kid. Ever since we heard the news you defeated Yuwen Huaji, we immediately rushed over at double speed, most afraid that you would suddenly disappear someplace else.

    Almost with reverence, Xing Rong said, Nowadays not many people are as famous as you and Xiao Ling! Ay! If we had arrived two days earlier, we could have seen Xiao Ling too.

    Kou Zhong poured tea for the two; giggling, he said, Two Dages news network is certainly fast and abundant. Xiaodi only kicked Yuwen Huagus butts a little bit, yet cant conceal it from you; this time what kind of support you can offer Xiaodi?

    Gui Xiliang stared at him blankly for half a day. Finally he sighed and said, People say wealth will bring the good out of you. You, this fellow, are already world famous, but at the deepest level, that shameless attitude seems to be the same as before, just like it will never change.

    Kou Zhong roared in laughter and said, Can you change fine natural character as soon as you say you are going to change? Take you, this muddled egg [i.e. scoundrel/bastard] for example, as soon as you climbed up the ladder to become a Xiangzhu [lit. fragrant master, a leadership position in a gang], you went all over the place acting like a big brother; am I not of a common origin with you, who previously loved to make a scene? The difference is that you are of an inferior fundamental character!

    Gui Xiliang was unable to hold his ground; displeased, he laughed and said, We are all brothers, how come you are not willing to let me off?

    Xing Rong rolled with laughter; completely at ease, he said, I dont know when was the last time I laughed this happily!

    Kou Zhong raised his tea cup and said, Come! Let Xiaodi toast two Dage with a cup of tea.

    Finished laughing and joking, Gui Xiliang spoke grimly, This time we rushed over, there is indeed a critical matter wed like to discuss with you.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, With your current status, you cant possibly come to see me if it were a chicken feather, garlic skin [i.e. trivial] matter, right?

    Pretending to be angry, Gui Xiliang said, You tease me again and Ill beat you; I dont care how formidable you are now.

    Kou Zhong surrendered. Gui Dage, please calm down, he said, May I ask what instruction do you have for me?

    Xing Rong joined in, Ever since that year in Jiangyin City you and Xiao Ling beat the people of Clear, Rain and Dew, three Halls, until they were in a sorry state [see Book 7 starting on Chapter 3], we reorganized our gang under the leadership of Shao Junshi. Due to your connection with the Song Clan, Liang Ge was promoted to be the Tangzhu [hall master] of the Dew Bamboo Hall. Hey! Xiaodi was implicated to have fun as the Fu Tangzhu [vice/deputy].

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, I also know that Xiliang obtained Big Miss Shao Lanfangs hand in marriage. Ay! Your, this kids luck with women is indeed not shallow.

    Gui Xiliangs old face turned beet red as he said, You are teasing me again?

    Afraid that the two would entangle each other endlessly, Xing Rong hastily cut them off, With the Song Clans support, these past few years we are enjoying great progress, and once again establish a good foundation in Jiangdu. Otherwise, we would not learn that quickly that one after another you and Xiao Ling have defeated Li Mi and Yuwen Huaji. All Xiongdi of our gang are very proud of you.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Dont flatter blindly, at least that kid Mai Yunfei cant possibly be proud of us; am I right?

    In Jiangyin that day, perhaps because he was Gui Xiliangs rival in love, Mai Yunfei was very rude toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, resulting in him suffering a little loss, having his head and face filthy with grime, his countenance lost its luster.

    Letting out a cold humph, Gui Xiliang said, Forget that bird! With Shao Junshi in charge, he doesnt even have a turn to speak up.

    Therefore, Kou Zhong knew that Gui Xiliang and Mai Yunfei were still like fire and water.

    Xing Rong said, Shao Junshi ordered us to come here to ask you to be our Bangzhu!

    Kou Zhong was stunned. What? he said.

    ※ ※ ※

    With his hands behind his back, Xu Ziling stepped onto the path leading up the mountain. By unleashing his footwork, very soon he reached the middle of the mountain, where under the horizontal branch of a strange-looking pine tree, there was a small octagonal pavilion. On the side closer to the mountain, there was a stream of small spring, from where the clear water trickled down. On the other side was the edge of a cliff, from where he could see the boundless, empty and hazy sky under the setting sun, a multifarious beautiful scenery that changed irregularly.

    It was when Xu Ziling was stopping to watch the scenery that a shrill whistle came from the foot of the mountain, followed by another whistle responding. The latter sounded so much closer to him than the previous whistle.

    Intuitively he felt that these two whistling voices were full of ruthless, murderous sense that made his heart uncomfortable.

    Xu Zilings heart was moved; he soared to hide among the thick branches of a nearby tree, crouching quietly, motionless.

    ※ ※ ※

    Gui Xiliang spoke excitedly, After you and Xiao Ling assassinated Ren Shaoming, our Zhuhua Bangs reputation is also flourishing greatly. Not only there is a constant stream of newcomers wanted to join our gang, there are local small gangs and societies who, by their own initiative, wanted to merge with us. Perhaps you wont believe me, but nowadays no one in the Yangtze River area does not give us a little bit of face. Even Li Zitong wanted to win us over.

    Kou Zhong was dumbstruck. Li Zitong? he asked.

    Xing Rong said, Shao Junshi has a very good relationship with Li Zitong, but our request to have you be our Bangzhu has nothing to do with Li Zitong, rather, it was our Gangs brothers unanimous decision.

    Hold on! Kou Zhong hissed.

    The two were stunned. Whats the matter? they asked in chorus.

    Kou Zhongs eyes flickered with sharp flashes; he swept the two man with his gaze several times. Seeing their heart was on edge, he resumed his usual full-of-mischievous-smile demeanor and spoke in heavy voice, Do you trust me, or do you trust Shao Lingzhou more?

    Gui Xiliang spoke awkwardly, This hey!

    Xing Rong responded with conviction, Of course we trust you, Kou Zhong, more. Ever since I was young, I knew you and Xiao Ling have the most yiqi [reminder: spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice].

    Kou Zhongs gaze fell on Gui Xiliangs face; he spoke slowly, Whatever you say in here, will never leak out even half a word; what his mothers are you afraid of?

    Gui Xiliang helplessly said, He has shown kindness to me by promoting me, also gave his consent for his daughter to marry me. I ay! Of course I trust you a bit more than him.

    Joyfully satisfied, Kou Zhong said, Finally you two guys understand the difference between close and distant relatives. Now we can start the amusing game of question and answer; I ask the question, you give me the answer. If you conceal anything from me, the last loser will undoubtedly be you.

    The two men jumped in fright; they were also dubious, hence they had no choice but to wait for him to shoot the questions.

    ※ ※ ※

    The sound of sleeves fluttering in the wind had just come from the mountain road, the man already reached the pavilion. His breathing was still calm, even and drawn-out, a proof that he was a first-class martial art master with deep cultivation in both inner and outer power.

    In this kind of wilderness of a desolate mountain, seeing this kind of martial art master ought to be surprising for anybody, but Xu Ziling was already amazed at the emergence of the flute sound earlier that no other person or object could move his heart. He understood that the flute was deliberately telling the incoming person that she was waiting somewhere nearby.

    Although the man in the pavilion had fast and nimble shenfa, he still could not hide from Xu Zilings sharp eyes. It was a big man wearing tight warrior outfit; there was an unusually big iron X on his back [Note: I have 3 different web sources, but all dont have this character]. His nose crooked, his eyes deep; there was some kind of hard-to-describe sinister aura around him. In just one glance, Xu Ziling knew this was not a good guy. The weirdest thing was that he was wearing Tongtian Crown [通天冠 (http://m.wanhuajing.com/t495204) in Chinese], a crown in the form of a horizontal board with all kinds of tassel hanging from it, like the one worn by an emperor.

    While he was still thinking about it, another shadow flashed with extremely fast momentum and stopped outside the pavilion. The newcomer let out a cold snort and said, Ding Jiuzhong, you are finally willing to crawl out of your burrow? I hope in that thirty-six-move [the following two sentences several characters missing, I cant figure out what he was saying].

    Xu Ziling mused inwardly that turned out these two were old enemies, hence as soon as they met, they both put on an act with swords drawn and bows bent, giving the impression that the fight might start any moment.

    Ding Jiuzhong inside the pavilion laughed eerily and calmly replied, I havent seen Zhou Laotan Xiong for twenty years, who would have thought that your temper is still as bad, no wonder all along your Scarlet Hand Something [again, missing character] cannot reach the pinnacle of perfection. I heard that s1uts daughter has received the handed-down teachings from her mother, I hope you dont still harbor a grudge against Qi Yun Monastery!

    This Zhou Laotans appearance was even less flattering that that of Ding Jiuzhong. His face was as wide as a basin, his chin bulging and protruding outward, his thick lips stuck out like a birds beak, his two big eyes clear, like a pair of will-o'-the-wisp. His build was short and stout, but his two arms are thick and solid like tree trunks. Although he was wearing monks cassock, there was not the slightest bit of impression that he was a man outside the secular world; on the contrary, he gave up the impression of a devil king who killed people like scything flax. On his head he wore a string of blood red beads, which felt even more out of place.

    From their exchange, Xu Ziling knew that they were full of hostility toward the flute player, Shi Qingxuan.

    Standing outside, Zhou Laotan blew off his breath, emitting a frog-like croaking noise, his left foot stepped forward, his right hand shot out from inside his sleeve.

    Terrifying thing happened.

    His originally already thick and solid arm suddenly swelled nearly half, the skin color turned red; he sent a palm strike over empty air toward the pavilion.

    The surrounding air seemed to be completely sucked in by his swelling, blood-red huge hand, and then turned into a hot wave of air, carrying a stench like stinky fish, which, with a toppling-the-mountains-and-overturning-the-seas momentum, rolled in toward the pavilion.

    Xu Ziling already had high estimate on his ability, but he still did not expect his Scarlet Hand Something could be this demonical and overbearing; he could not help feeling anxious for Shi Qingxuan, thinking that no matter what, he must not sit and watch and remain indifferent.

    Bang!

    Ding Jiuzhong inside the pavilion let out a stifled groan, while Zhou Laotan only shook a little; obviously, in this palm exchange, Ding Jiuzhong suffered a slight loss.

    Zhou Laotan withdrew his scarlet hand, and let out a He! He! harsh-sounding laugh, Funny! Its really hilarious! The magnificent Gu Zhu [valley master] of Diwang Gu [Monarch Valley] Ding Jiuzhong, Ding Da Di [lit. the Great Emperor Ding], unexpectedly fell with just a light pressure from me, that even your egg was nearly squeezed out. Really funny!

    There was a strong gust of wind.

    Xu Ziling only saw a shadow flashed, the person inside the pavilion rushed out, the giant iron X [and then there were some gibberish, I cant make any sense out of it], stormed straight toward the opponent. But in Xu Zilings eyes, this attack was not simple at all. Not only the technique was profound, the ever-changing, thick and broad X [and some gibberish] [Just to give you an idea, here is the original: 宽厚的x?聿蛔诙??婢⒌?性龀ぃ?俣纫嘣诘萆??鋢?ㄒ训匠錾袢牖?木?界。Two of my sources are the same, the third one simply skip this part altogether and go straight to the following paragraph. Any help will be appreciated.]

    Although Zhou Laotan appeared relaxed, his expression was extremely grave; his two swelling and blood-red arms struck out from inside his sleeves and turned into scarlet palm shadows like fire filling the sky, to meet the giant X head-on.

    Bang!

    Powerful qi collided; all around them the tree where shaken the flowers were snapped, the branches broke and the leaves fell.

    When Zhou Laotan was staggering to the left, Ding Jiuzhong retreated to the pavilion. Laughing nastily, he said, I, Ding Da Di had just broken through the thirty-seventh style of the Five Emperors XX, the King of Xiangs dream. How did it feel?

    It was only this moment that the exhausted Zhou Laotan managed to steady his footing. His face alternated between red and white, but it was unclear whether the changes were due to him circulating his internal energy, or because he was ashamed.

    Xu Ziling was secretly alarmed.

    Any one of these two men could go anywhere in Jianghu, and would become an overbearing figure who was able to go on the rampage unhindered, and now there were two of them; naturally he was quite amazed.

    Based on his current skill, dealing with one of them would entail strenuous effort on his part, forget about dealing with the two of them at the same time.

    Before Zhou Laotan had any chance to respond, a burst of tender laughter came from the mountain road, a tender and coy, like cotton and honey, female voice spoke up, My Da Di Gege, Laotan Xiaodi [big brother and little brother, respectively], its been twenty years! Yet you are still like before, as soon as you see each other you fight like dogs fighting over a bone; arent you afraid I, Jin Huanzhen, would twist your ears?

    Xu Ziling nearly called for his Niang in his heart! Where did these devil heads, who had been in hiding for the last twenty years, come from? They must have had old complicated relation like intertwined melon and vine plants with Shi Qingxuans mother Bi Xiuxin, and the enmity must be extremely deep. Would she be able to deal with them? Would he have the ability to help her cross this difficulty safely?

    Fortunately he was a free and easy person; he would not be troubled because of this matter, he could not possibly be bothered about success and failure, gains and losses even more. He only made up his mind to strive for the charming beauty, who he had not met.

    A shadow flashed; a thousand-tender a hundred-charm woman in splendid colorful attire appeared next to Zhou Laotan, and acted as if she was going to come closer to Zhou Laotan.

    It was as if Zhou Laotan was evading a snake; he darted off two zhang to the side and only after reaching the intersection to the road leading up the mountain did he stop and spoke in horror, You want to find someone to show your affection, just go to your Ding Da Di!

    Ding Jiuzhong gave out a hollow laugh and said, Thank you for Laotan Xiongs nice introduction, but Id rather defer to you!

    Listening to that, Xu Ziling was confused; suddenly Zhou Laotan and Ding Jiuzhong became like old friends who were chatting and joking amiably, without the least bit sign of the fire of war.

    Jin Huanzhen was wearing palace-style brightly colored clothes, at first glance her age seemed to be in her twenties, but after careful examination, it was clear that the years she has lived were not a few; a faint trace of crows feet could be seen radiating from the tip of her brows and the corner of her eyes toward the hair on her temples, like a cobweb. But her eyebrows were like distant mountains, her eyes like the limpid autumn waters, the true measure of beauties; its just that her face was pale without the least bit sign of blood on it, making her looked like a beautiful apparition from the underworld.

    She stomped her feet and spoke angrily, Who do you think you are? You have the impertinence to push me, the Mei Niangzi [Charming Lady] Jin Huanzhen, away like that? One day I will make you kneel in front of me to lick Laoniangs [I, this old woman] toes.

    A long laughter shaking the heavens came from the distance but approaching fast; a voice, which was originally strong and straightforward, deliberately spoke slowly in soft, gentle manner, If they dont dare to have you, let me, the Dao Xing Ni Shi [lit. going against the tide, a perverse way of doing things] You Niaojuan accept you without question!

    Even Xu Zilings countenance finally changed.

  16. #236
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 6

    Book 20 Chapter 6 Recruiting Soldiers and Buying Horses

    With Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong waiting in fear and trepidation, Kou Zhong muttered to himself irresolutely, Xiliang, have you and Shao Lingzhous daughter officially knelt to heaven and earth to be wedded?

    A bit embarrassed, Gui Xiliang stammered, Just verbal agreement. Hey! You must not be oversensitive; Shao Junshi said that after I master the Taixu Jin [Great Emptiness (or Cosmic) Power] that he is going to impart to me, I will be married to Miss Lanfang, because female charms are the most taboo for this kind of internal martial art. Shao Junshi only has good intention toward me.

    Kou Zhong squinted at him; it was only after seeing him feeling uncomfortable from head to toes did he start to laugh hoarsely and said, You look like someone who had just stepped your foot into the Jianghu, who is easily fooled by others like an idiot, yet you are still immeasurably self-satisfied, thinking that this is all for your benefit. Cant you use your tiny brains to think? He intentionally gives his darling baby girl to marry you, why would he teach you this his mothers Taixu Gong, which will prevent you from going into the bridal chamber?

    Gui Xiliang was ashamed and angered at the same time. Dont talk nonsense! he said, Otherwise forget about us being brothers.

    Xing Rong also pulled his saber to come to his aid, Shao Junshi has been good to Xiliang this whole time, I need not mention it, but speaking about seniority, although Liang Ge [big brother] was late Bangzhus disciple, he is still at least half a rank before he is eligible to be the Tangzhu [hall master] of the Dew Bamboo Hall.

    Gui Xiliang also spoke up ruthlessly, You, this kid, always love to use lowly mans heart to gage other peoples gentlemans belly. If Shao Junshi were that kind of despicable lowly man, he would not be willing to let the Bangzhu position empty, he would have ascended to that position himself! Am I right?

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, If I was as nave as the two of you, I would have been swallowed and become the sacrificial offering in the Five Viscera [i.e. heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys] Temple inside Li Mi, Wang Shichong, those wily old foxes belly. How could I sit here and talk to you then? Tell me, does Shao Lingzhou know that I have sent someone to Jiangdu, asking for help?

    Stunned, the two looked at each other. It was Gui Xiliang who responded, Maybe not? If he did, he would have told me.

    Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, You are at most his prospective son-in-law. If unexpected misfortune happens to you, the engagement will be automatically annulled. Ay! If I didnt guess incorrectly, Dew Bamboo Hall must be the Hall with weakest manpower, and that scoundrel Mai Yunfei must be either Clear Bamboo Hall or Rain Bamboo Halls Tangzhu. Shao Lingzhous gentlemans belly must be particularly small; he loves to appoint people for his personal gain.

    The two were dumbstruck and unable to reply. Evidently Kou Zhong has guessed correctly.

    It was quite a while later that Xing Rong finally spoke dejectedly, Mai Yunfei is indeed the Clear Bamboo Halls Tangzhu.

    Kou Zhong spoke in disdain, That guys [note: original word jiahuo can also mean domestic animal, so it is more vulgar than just a guy] only strong point is that he is arrogant and conceited. Just think! If Mai Yunfei did not know that is just a temporary plan of convenience, how could he be willing to let it go? Besides, Shao Lanfang has always been his girlfriend, how could she suddenly be willing to marry you? Girls love good-looking guys. Although you, Liang Ge, are not bad, but Mai Yunfei ought to be a bit more handsome than you are?

    Xing Rong could not help nodding; he said, Xiao Zhong is not without any sense! As a matter of fact, at that time I had a feeling that this is all too sudden; its just that seeing Liang Ge was so happy and was head over heels, I did not dare to speak up.

    Gui Xiliangs countenance turned from red to white and back to red again; shaking his head, he said, It cant be like that, why would Shao Lingzhou want to harm me? Even if he did not give his daughter to marry me, I cannot do anything that will be disadvantageous to him.

    Kou Zhong reached out to pat his shoulder and said, A real man can suffer to be without a wife. He is not trying to win over you, instead, he is trying to win over the Song Clan, and the next best thing, because I was the one asking the Song Clan to support you as the Bangzhu. Shao Lingzhou is afraid of the Heavenly Saber Song Que, next in line would be Xiaodi. But now he has Li Zitong as his backer, the situation is definitely different.

    After a short pause, he emphasized, Just think: why would he want to move the headquarter to Yangzhou? Its because he is in collusion with Li Zitong, so now they sent you here to get me back to Yangzhou to receive my death. One lifetime, how many brothers can we have? Even if you dont believe me, your little brother, there is nothing you can do.

    After staring blankly for a moment, Gui Xiliang hung his head like a defeated cock and said, You have made my heart so confused!

    Xing Rong said, But the more I think, the more I feel Xiao Zhongs words make a lot of sense. Just think: why didnt Shao Lanfang come with her Die to Yangzhou, but wanted to stay at Jiangyin instead?

    Kou Zhong joined in, She disdains to show even a fake affection to you!

    Shut up! Gui Xiliang angrily said.

    Kou Zhong was stunned. After looking at him for half a day, he suddenly doubled in laughter and said, Good kid, you finally figure it out!

    Smiling bitterly, Gui Xiliang said, You, this kid, are really cruel; you shattered my sweet dream. Ay! What can we do now?

    Kou Zhong asked Xing Rong, Wind Bamboo Halls Tangzhu is Shen Beichang, but who is in charge of the Rain Bamboo Hall?

    Xing Rong replied, Naturally the former Fu Tangzhu [vice/deputy hall master] of Wind Bamboo Hall, Luo Feng. No one is more qualified than him.

    Kou Zhong said, Those two are my old friends, I wonder if Shao Lingzhou has made up some preposterous excuse to have them transferred elsewhere, so that it would be more convenient to deal with me?

    Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong looked at each other. It was quite a while later than the former said, This time I really surrender to you. At this time both of them are not in Yangzhou. His mother! Shao Lingzhou has the guts to harm me. This hatred cannot be left un-avenged.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, You want to take revenge and wipe out a grudge? Very easy! But you have to be a bit more patient.

    And then his eyes shone with sharp flashes as he spoke heavily, I have the ability to make Li Mi never be able to free himself, naturally I have a way to support you as the Bangzhu. Just put old man Shao in the distance so that you can see him clearly!

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Zilings shock was justified.

    It should be noted that when one was rushing at full speed, the blood and qi, the circulation of the true power within ones body, were all at their peak. If he raised his voice to speak at the same time, his words would be automatically rushed and hurried, because the outward expression matched the inner flow of the breathing.

    Those who had reached the first-class master level had the ability to maintain the evenness of the tone. The way the newcomer talked and the speed at which he was coming were completely opposite to each other. Not only he spoke slowly and calmly, it was also soft and gentle, a clear display that he was able to defy the natural law, and had reach the excellence of being able to completely control the qi power and the distribution of air as he spoke.

    This Dao Xing Ni Shi You Niaojuans martial art skill has definitely reached the grand master level.

    Looking down through the branches and the leaves, from Xu Zilings angle, this moment he could only see the Charming Lady Jin Huanzhen, standing at the edge of the cliff. By the time You Niaojuans voice came, at first her jade countenance changed slightly, and then she broke into an enchanting smile. Evidently, just like Xu Ziling, she came to the same conclusion and was shocked.

    Suddenly there was a flash of shadow, followed by the fierce noise of strong gust of wind. Someone appeared about five zhang high in the air, and then, like he was falling from the sky, he dropped straight down and landed by Jin Huanzhens side without making any noise, as if his body was lighter than a feather.

    Xu Ziling held his breath and stopped his qi; he did not make the slightest movement, and even applied his internal energy to close up his pores. If he was the slightest bit careless, he would rouse these peoples alertness.

    The Dao Xing Ni Shi You Niaojuans face was like yellow wax, scrawny, like someone with one foot in the grave. The tip of his brows and his forehead were full of miserable-looking deep wrinkles. But he was really tall; compared to Jin Huanzhens jade stature standing beside him, he was a full head taller.

    His nose was even higher and more crooked than Ding Jiuzhong, his lips were thicker than Zhou Laotans. His eyebrows were unusually thick and jet-black; below the eyebrows, his bright and spirited eyes were in total contrast with his bleak, miserable countenance. The eyes were shining and limpid like those of a childs; however, in the depth of the eyes, there was faint coldness and hatred that could not possibly be in a childs eyes, so that those who looked at him shivered all over not from the cold.

    He wore an unusually big and loose black robe, which looked extremely ill fitting on his emaciated body. On his back was a huge, glimmering copper mace in the shape of a one-legged man, it looked to be at least several hundred catties, but hanging in his back, it appeared as light as a feather, as if he did not feel the load at all.

    Jin Huanzhen unwittingly moved away a little in full alert.

    With his hands behind his back, You Niaojuan swept his gaze across, and then threw his head backward and burst into an owl-like screeching laughter that sounded as unpleasant as a sharp awl scratching against a porcelain dish. Narrowing his eyes, he spoke in his peculiar soft and gentle voice, Twenty years! It is rare that the direct disciples of Nixing Pai [lit. going the wrong way, Pai is usually translated as Sect], Bawang Gu [lit. hegemon valley], Chishou Jiao [lit. scarlet hands, Jiao is usually translated as Cult] and Meihuo Zong [lit. bewitching school], these four major demonic schools of heretical skill and strange technique meet together in one place. The person is mine; as for the Xie Di Sheli [lit. ashes (after cremation) or relic of the demonic emperor], if youd like to strive for it until you are badly burned about the head [from trying to put out a fire], the three of you can do as you wish, Ol You will not interfere.

    Ding Jiuzhongs cold, trickling voice came out from inside the pavilion, You are certainly counting your chicken before they are hatched; you want to enjoy the person first, and then after we fight desperately for the Relic until several defeats and all are injured, youd come to reap the benefit. How could there be such a convenient thing in the world?

    You Niaojuans eyes flickered with cruel, malicious strange flashed, as he let out a weird-sounding laugh and said, Ding Jiuzhong, it must be that you have not woken up from your dream of becoming the demonic emperor. It looks like Ol You will have to personally wake you up.

    Zhou Laotan, who previously looked like he could not exist together with Ding Jiuzhong like water and fire, joined in, You Niaojuan, you happen to be wrong! Not only Ding Da Di is not still dreaming about becoming the emperor, it is because he is very clear-headed that he can see it clearly that you are harboring unfathomable motives. Zhen Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment], what do you say?

    Jin Huanzhen replied with an enchanting smile, What Zhou Xiaodi said, of course Jiejie agrees!

    Suddenly, these tree people decided to form a united front to resist You Niaojuan, the strongest big devil head.

    You Niaojuan spoke nonchalantly, Since the three of you like to think like that, I, Ol You, wont force you to think otherwise. Even if I did, it wont come to a good end. Let us smash the Relic first, and use the person as the gambling stake. After fighting, whatever you want to do with her, it will not be my concern.

    Aiyo! Jin Huanzhen exclaimed, as she cast him an incomparably charming sidelong glance, saying, Since when did You Dage learn how to make meticulous planning and careful accounting like this? After you waste the person, will there be any profit we could dredge up?

    You Niaojuan threw his head back and roared in laughter, he said, I cant go left, you dont want to go right. Could it be that after twenty years, the three of you still dont make any progress? Dont you understand the principle the weak is prey to the strong? Do you want me to break my oath against taking life before you can obediently follow my command?

    Ding Jiuzhong laughed grimly and said, Xiaodi, Meizi, You Dage is going to break his oath against taking life. What do you say?

    Zhou Laotan suddenly flashed toward Jin Huanzhen, reached out to pull her small waist, and let out a weird laughter very close to her fragrant face he said, Whatever Meizi says, Gege will naturally advance hand-in-hand and retreat together with you, flying wing to wing in mutual respect [in marriage] with you!

    In his embrace, Jin Huanzhen laughed like a trembling sprig of blossoming flower and said, Of course I will live together with you but not die together! You die first!

    When she spoke the words not die together, the tone of her voice turned hurried, as her elbow suddenly struck Zhou Laotans flank.

    With an earth-shattering miserable scream, Zhou Laotans entire body flew and rolled under some bushes.

    Xu Ziling peeking from the side never expected this change; watching all these, he was momentarily dumbfounded.

    A strong gust of wind blew at the same time, from inside the pavilion, Ding Jiuzhong swiftly escaped to the rear, while swift like an arrow, You Niaojuan chased after him. The two of them quickly disappeared into the forest against the steep cliff behind the pavilion.

    Leisurely, but very deliberately, Jin Huanzhen walked over to Zhou Laotan, who was lying face down on the ground, motionless, and said with a tender sigh, Zhou Xiaodi, you dont make a progress at all; its been a long twenty years, how could you still not know that a real husband cant surpass a lover [orig. male adulterer]? Remembering the husband and wife feeling of the past, Ill give you a foot!

    Zhou Laotan rolled around and did not stop until his body bumped against the trunk of the tree where Xu Ziling was hiding.

    Without looking back, Jin Huanzhen went up the mountain.

    Watching this, Xu Zilings scalp went numb. This was the first time that he saw such savage and crafty, completely lacking any sense of justice, men and woman.

    While he was unsure whether he should run after Jin Huanzhen at once, he suddenly felt something was not right.

    Zhou Laotan, who was supposed to be dead, suddenly sprang up from the ground, as if nothing had happened, and let out a strange-sounding laughter, he said, The one not making any progress can only be him; this time he still does not fall into the trap.

    Finished speaking, laughed strangely again, very proud of himself, and walked away.

    Xu Ziling was so shocked that his entire body nearly went numb. Taking a deep breath, he put on the Yue Shan mask, and jumped down the tree and run up the mountain in the direction of where You Niaojuan and Ding Jiuzhong were disappearing.

    ※ ※ ※

    In the study room inside the Zongguan Mansion, Kou Zhong received Xuan Yong, Ren Meimei, and Chen Jiafeng, three people. He said, A good start is the key to future success. Hence it must not be taken lightly. Every political power, when it is starting to rise, must have this kind of gratifying atmosphere. Just like a seed, it will start to germinate, blossom, and produce fruits.

    The three had no idea what he was trying to say; they had no choice but to bend their ear to listen carefully.

    Kou Zhong revealed a deep-in-thought look.

    The three thought he was still organizing his thought to continue his discourse, but actually he was contemplating whether he should take out Lu Miaozis secret book on history, and turned to the chapter Political Prosperity and Decline, Gains and Losses.

    In the end, Kou Zhong decided not to reveal his trump cards; clearing up his throat, he leaned over the table, and then, deftly, with pragmatic assurance and composure, he said, But when supporting the declining spirit behind this kind of new political power, a decayed, dilapidated circumstances might rise; therefore, we must frequently reflect upon ourselves, to see if we are corrupted by the power, for instance, collusion and nepotism, rejecting outsiders, unwilling to listen to the voices of opposition, and so on. Hey!

    The three had never expected Kou Zhong would have such argument; they were all taken by surprise.

    Kou Zhong went on, I was just speaking casually; actually, I only want you all to accomplish this principle, nobility is exquisite, but there are more people who are not noble. Not only the political structure should be streamlined, the soldiers must increase in quality and not in quantity. If we can accomplish these points, then it will be a good beginning, and will be the spirit with which our Shao Shuai Army will be able to rise.

    Xuan Yongs old face blushed, he said, Fortunately Shao Shuai said it clearly. Otherwise, subordinate would still think that Shao Shuai wanted to raise your banner and beat the drums to recruit as many soldiers as possible!

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, Our top priority is to encourage production. If everybody goes to war, who will till the fields? Plus our army provision is not enough to deal with enormous expenditures. Our citizens wont care who you are, as long as you can guarantee that they live in peace and work happily, having ample food and clothing, they will willingly throw their lives for you; other things will be unnecessary.

    Emotionally moved, Ren Meimei said, I never thought Shao Shuai would have such an acute foresight [lit. stand tall and see far] in the great endeavor to rule a country. We will definitely work according to what Shao Shuai has decreed.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, These principles of mine, anybody who had read history book would understand, but implementing it is not easy at all. Furthermore, it is susceptible to the influence of objective situation. Therefore, I must formulate an outline in the main direction we are going to follow. In the first place is how to consolidate our foundation. This matter will be described in details by Xuan Zongguan.

    Thereupon Xuan Yong explained the plan they already discussed about taking Xiapi and Luoma Lake first, and then the cities surrounding Dong Hai County.

    Listening to this, Ren Meimei and Chen Jiafengs spirit was greatly aroused.

    Kou Zhong said, Regarding the organization of the army, you guys are the experts, but on the organizing the structure of the government, do you have any ideal candidate in mind?

    The three you look at me, I gaze at you, no one had any idea who might be able to bear this heavy responsibility.

    With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, This is indeed a very heavy assignment; one small mistake, the line of command with crumble, power distribution will be uneven, and excess personnel and complications might occur. Fortunately I already have someone in mind. This man is called Xu Xingzhi, currently he is at the Flying Horse Ranch, and I already sent a messenger to summon him back. As long as he presides over the general situation, we need not be worried!

    Seeing he appeared to be holding the pearl of wisdom in everything, Xuan Yong, three people, had their confidence doubled.

    Kou Zhong continued, The second issue is how to promote the economy and trade situation. Even if in the future we acquire Donghai, this strategic town for overseas commercial trade, we still need infrastructure that can be considered our own, such as ocean-going fleet of ships with ample experience. Only then will we be able to develop Donghai County to its full potential.

    The three could only return a blank stare; naturally they had no idea how to obtain such a fleet of ships.

    Chen Jiafeng proposed, If we reduce the tax on the river course commerce, perhaps we can encourage more boats to come to our territory to do business.

    Kou Zhong raised his thumb in praise and said, Thats an excellent idea! While our army is tiny our generals a few, while our expenditure is not high, not only we want to lower the toll [lit. money to buy the road], we also want to keep the people from paying exorbitant tax. These past few years, your Pengliang Hui must have scraped not a few profit, just use that to support the general situation!

    Ren Meimeis pretty face slightly blushed, she stared at him viciously and said, Without Shao Shuais reminder, we ought to know how to handle this matter. But rebuilding Pengcheng requires considerable expenditures, I am afraid that if the taxation is reduced, perhaps the money we accumulated would be used up in half a year time.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Let me worry about that. If I can put the Duke Yangs Treasure to work, all the problems will be easily solved [lit. (bamboo) splits when it meets the knife's edge]. As for the fleet, I have a thorough plan in mind, which I will share with you a bit later.

    Then, turning to Xuan Yong, he said, I want you to find me a way to send a letter to one of Wang Shichongs subordinates by the name of Chen Changlin. If we can have this man to manage Donghai County for us, we will be able to make that county as the most prosperous strategic city in term of foreign trade, which will be very beneficial to us, it might even be difficult to estimate. If not because of the vitality of foreign trade in Jiangdu, Li Zitong would have been finished early on.

    Xuan Yong nodded and said, I have heard about this man as well, but I didnt know he is proficient in maritime trade.

    Kou Zhong said, His ancestors were engaged in maritime trade for ages, plus they were skillful in shipbuilding. Nowadays, it is difficult to find even half a person with this talent; therefore, this matter is very important. In my estimate, he should be returning to the Eastern Capital, Da Xiaojie ought to be able to tell you his whereabouts.

    Ill take care of it, Xuan Yong replied.

    And then Kou Zhong asked about the whereabouts of Ku Ges defeated army.

    Ren Meimei replied, He has been seen running away toward the ocean, killing and looting along the way; they are probably on the sea by now.

    Kou Zhong nodded. He said, Military intelligence is number one priority, with Luo Qifei in charge of this, I am very relieved.

    Patting his chest, Chen Jiafeng said, In the Peng and Liang region, no one is more well-informed than us. Any wind blowing, grass moving, nothing can hide from us.

    Kou Zhong stretched out and said, In that case, we have nothing to do but to wait for Qifeis good news. Another good start for us will be to kill that fellow by the name of Du Ren from Luoma Bang!

    The three saluted loudly.

  17. #237
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 7

    Book 20 Chapter 7 Mutual Deception[1]

    Xu Ziling, disguised as Yue Shan, swaggered up the mountain road leading toward the temple, with his hands behind his back.

    The narrow road suddenly opened; under the glow of the setting sun, a winding creek, gurgling softly as it meandered into the tightly packed tall and straight, thick and solid forest of Chinese giant redwood. The most touching thing was that there were three wooden bridges, all different from each other in terms of shape and size, each one served as a lining to the other, each one started when the other ended, forming a triangular space in the middle of the combination of the small bridges, encompassing the only passage among the trees leading toward the temple.

    By now Xu Ziling could be considered at least half an expert in architecture; his heart was full of praise, knowing that this design must have come from the hand of a master.

    His mind had already forgotten that he was about to face danger very soon, replaced by a comfort and leisure feeling of seeking serenity exploring beautiful scenery, following the forest path and the small bridge, roaming among the trees.

    The mountain road curved, and surprisingly there was another small pavilion ahead, built on the edge of a dangerous cliff, overlooking the vast, endless empty space and the beautiful scenery of the majestic setting sun beyond the mountain, bringing his vision from the serene and hidden in the depth of the forest to the expansive universe that seemed to be running in parallel without any hindrance.

    This drastic change made Xu Ziling shook incessantly, so that he stood inside the pavilion, staring blankly at the distance, and it was quite a while later that he was finally able to regain his composure, and continued climbing the mountain.

    The mountain path was sloping steeper as he went deeper into the mountain. After passing through another forest, he came to a nearly a hundred stone steps, which led straight toward the gate of the temple.

    This no-name ancient temple was built on a plateau leaning against the mountain, the stone steps were in disrepair, full of weeds and wild vine; apparently it has been abandoned for quite a long time. Under the fading light of the dusk, it looked even gloomier.

    Xu Ziling took a deep breath and started to climb step by step.

    The appearance of those vicious people of the four extremely demonic schools has truly made him understand the real meaning of the saying in the wider world, there are people more talented than himself. But it has also given him a feeling of pleasant change.

    Someday, if he could roam around the world to widen his experience, to meet warriors and scholars of extraordinary talent, that would definitely be very interesting, something that would make his life more colorful.

    Were it not for his decision to choose this remote wilderness, this time he could not possibly enjoy such a peculiar encounter.

    He was not too worried over Shi Qingxuan; since she had the courage to play her flute to provoke these four vicious people, naturally she would have at least a bit confidence that she would be able to deal with them. Otherwise, if she ever fell into the hands of any one of those four, it would be better if she died rather than alive.

    The stone steps under his feet have ended, ahead was the pitch-black opening of the temple gate, emitting a stench of decay.

    Without the slightest hesitation Xu Ziling stepped over the threshold and entered the temple.

    There was a sudden flash of light.

    Xu Ziling focused his eyes to look, and saw a woman, her long hair hanging to her waist, was sitting with her back facing him, in front of a single oil lamp on the sacrificial table in front of a Bodhisattva image.

    The Bodhisattva was dilapidated, with its paint peeling off, covered in dust and cobwebs; a picture of bleak, cold and desolate atmosphere.

    Xu Zilings eyes swept around; while he was feeling surprised to find not a single one of You Niaojuan and the others was to be seen, Shi Qingxuans clear and melodious, sweet voice rang softly in his ears, Excuse me, may I ask which martial art master the Senior is?

    Seeing she was still sitting with her back toward him, Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, If Miss turn around to look, wont you immediately see who Laofu is?

    Shi Qingxuans soft voice said, Although Qianbei [Senior] possesses superior martial art skill, you are not the person I am waiting for. If you are just passing by incidentally, hearing the flute and coming to see, then let Wanbei [junior] offer a bit of advice for Qianbei to leave immediately. Otherwise you might be drawn into a completely unnecessary Jianghus gratitude and grudges.

    Letting out a weird-sounding laughter, Xu Ziling said, I dont believe in demon, so I want to see it with my own eyes. Miss needs not worry about Laofus life or death.

    Finished speaking, he walked over toward the corner near the door, and sat down against the wall.

    Shi Qingxuan was still sitting with her back facing the door, with her eyes fixed on the flickering flame of the lantern. Her silhouette seemed to be fused into the glow of the oil lamp. Not only it emphasized her cloud-like beautiful hair lightly and softly hanging on her back, it also accentuated her fragrant shoulders and her graceful, beautiful and wonderful outline, which looked as distinct as if she was carved with a knife.

    Simply her slender and elegant figure seen from behind was enough to make people feel that she was an enigma; an outstandingly exotic beauty that seemed to appear out of the dust.

    All along she did not turn around, she was only sighing faintly, as if she had no interest in Xu Zilings whereabouts.

    The afterglow of the sunset finally disappeared beyond the distant horizon outside the temple. The oil lamp on the sacrificial table in front of the Bodhisattva became the only light in the dark world, reflecting Shi Qingxuans solitary high and outstanding, hard-to-measure personality.

    Cicadas were started to sing, the insects were starting to buzz, filling the air outside the temple with rich and ethereal noises. In the cacophony of noise, there was some kind of hard-to-describe rhythm, making the deathly still wilderness suddenly brimming with life.

    An unusual sound was suddenly heard outside the temple.

    At first it sounded like the cry of a baby, but then it turned into the miserable wailing of a woman. Even with Xu Zilings self-cultivation, and his knowledge that someone was playing ghost, he could not stop his hair from standing up, and involuntarily recalled Zhu Yuyans demonic skill of confusing the enemy using sound.

    Yet Shi Qingxuan seemed to turn a deaf ear to the noise; she maintained her elegant and serene attitude.

    At first Xu Ziling did not understand why although he could not see her facial expression, yet he was able to clearly, unmistakably sense her state of mind. Upon further reflection and self-introspection, he began to realize that he was able to grasp her innermost feeling from the subtle movements of her back. Including the movements and reaction of her flesh and blood vessels under her clothes that ordinary people would find it hard to detect.

    Regarding this kind of insight, Xu Ziling himself was shocked; this was indeed a progress that even in his dream he had never expected.

    The demonic sound outside rose again and changed; from the front suddenly it moved to the back, from the left it rose, suddenly it fell on the right, continuously moving, indeterminately, becoming concentrated on the open area in front of the temple. It grew more and more hurried, loud and nasty; becoming ghosts wailing and demons roar. If his inner strength was insufficient, it would be strange indeed if he did not cover his ears and tremble in fear.

    It felt as if you were suddenly thrown into the Asuras hell, where thousands and tens of thousands ghosts who died tragically all came to demand your life. Phantoms were flickering, the air was thick with gloomy murderous aura.

    Ziling!

    The mournful cries resonated in Xu Zilings eardrums.

    Inwardly, Xu Ziling shivered in fear, thinking that wasnt it Susus voice, calling for him? He was shocked; knowing that the demonic noise nearly entered his mind. Hastily he drove away ten thousand thoughts, and guard his heart.

    Shi Qingxuan sighed faintly again. Like magic, a bamboo flute appeared in her hand, which she put on her lips, but she did not blow it. It did not make any sound.

    While Xu Ziling was feeling something was strange, a single clear tone seemed to slowly appear from the distant plain, and slowly continued from that far, unreachable place, leaping and moving, brimming with vitality. No matter how the ghostly wail twisting terrifyingly, ear-piercing, harsh, covering the heaven, shrouding the earth, seemingly able to drown anybody in suffocating perilous situation, Shi Qingxuans note was like an unsinkable small boat. Although every now and then it seemed to be tossed around by gigantic waves, in the end it was always able to float safely.

    Xi Zilings heart was also tossed around by a thousand layers of giant waves, because this was the first time that he personally experienced the extraordinary feat sound breaking sound. The huge benefit he gained was surely hard to describe.

    He finally grasped the possibility to contend against Zhu Yuyans demonic sound. A possibility that would play a significant, as well as decisive, role in Kou Zhong and his struggle against Yin Gui Pai.

    Once again he was completely intoxicated by Shi Qingxuans touching flute sound.

    From her music, he clearly felt that Shi Qingxuan was a genuine wise and virtuous woman. It sounded like an ordinary music, but it was incomparably moving, without the slightest artificial tenderness of excavating and brushing away the suffering hidden deep in everybodys innermost being. It was not subjected by the limit of space and time, as well as the human emotion.

    Each note was like containing some kind of strange, touching power, which was difficult to resist, and it was even more difficult to be a casual observer over the wall.

    Xi Ziling has completely forgotten her playing skill, until the note became a phrase, and until the powerful sound coming out of the bamboo pipe shook and burst like a clear birds cry.

    It was an extraordinarily unprecedented feeling.

    The flute sound was growing faster and faster, as if in one breath it was able to carry you a crazy 108,000 li; the timbre changed irregularly tens of thousands of times in picturesque disorder. The music continuously widening and growing in intensity, brimming with unnamed persistence, inner strength, tension, and inspiration. [I am sure you guys know how much I enjoy Huang Yis flowery language, so I am also sure that you enjoy these sentences, which, to me, dont make any sense ]

    The wailing ghost vanished gradually, until it came to complete silence. What remained was the gentle flute sound filling the heaven and earth, which made people unwilling to let go.

    But the flute suddenly stopped.

    Shi Qingxuan spoke indifferently, Since honored guests have arrived, why not enter the temple to meet? Shi Zhixuan and Bi Xiuzins daughter Shi Qingxuan has been waiting respectfully for four Qianbeis good selves appearance.

    Gusts of wind arrived swiftly.

    Light suddenly went out.

    In its place was the strange, sharp shrill and the continuous ringing of qi power clashing against each other, unending as if muffled thunder burst forth.

    Just as sudden, the sound of combat also vanished completely.

    The light was shining again.

    Shi Qingxuan was still standing facing the Buddha, her beautiful eyes were fixed on the only dot of light in the entire spacious temple hall. Its hazy red light seemed to fuse with her being like inalienable entity.

    On the other side, near the door, was the Charming Lady Jin Huanzhen. Only this moment her hair disheveled, her face pale; evidently she suffered losses during the hand-to-hand combat just now.

    Shi Qingxuan spoke in gentle voice, Just now Jin Zongzhu [school master] was injured by my flute sound, yet you still showed off by making your move; you are overestimating your capabilities too much. Please leave now! I am afraid later will be much worse.

    Astonished and unsure, Jin Huanzhen shot a glance at Xu Ziling, who was sitting quietly on the corner. Who is he? she asked harshly.

    How would I know? Shi Qingxuan replied indifferently.

    You Niaojuans voice, which anybody who had heard it would never forget as long as they live, the grating voice like a knife scraping porcelain dish, which would make others uncomfortable from head to toe, spoke unhurriedly from outside the temple, I thought you, this girl, has received Bi Xiuxins handed-down teachings, and was highly intelligent; turns out you are just a stupid girl. Unexpectedly you didnt know the wise saying throughout all ages that one meritorious deed can become ten thousand dry bones. This s1ut was just vanguard troops being sent out to scout your real situation. Right now, how much weigh do you carry that you think any would have any regard to you?

    Hearing that, Xu Ziling was dumbfounded. He was not surprised that there was such person as You Niaojuan in the world, rather, did not understand why Jin Huanzhen was humiliated by him like this, yet she was still willing to bear it.

    One was willing to fight, the other was willing to endure.

    Other people had nothing to say.

    Shi Qingxuan still maintained her graceful bearing; calmly she said, I did not expect that Dao Xing Ni Shi You Niaojuan, one of the eight major martial art masters of the demonic school, who made his name twenty years ago, is actually a coward and a superficial disciple; a disciple that is quick to show off and talk around, but has no guts to attain a higher level [orig. from the main room, enter the inner chamber]. I wonder if this person is a Qianbei who is passing through at random?

    Xu Ziling was unsure whether Shi Qingxuan was making an excuse for him, or was trying to draw him into the whirlpool.

    Jin Huanzhen let out a silver-bell-like tender laughter and said, You Laoda, dont worry! This Lao Qianbei is definitely not the Heavenly Saber Song Que. But dont even think that I would feel him out for you.

    You Niaojuans voice arrived at the top of the temple; with stern hiss he said, Why not?

    Jin Huanzhen shrugged her shoulders and said, Laoniang is scared of him! If I provoked him and the two of them attacked me, alone, from both side, plus you are a man who sees death without helping, wouldnt I be following the path to my own doom? Laoniang has just made a mistake, and I dont want to do that for your sake.

    It was only then did Xu Ziling understand that the Heavenly Saber Song Que was involved in this matter; no wonder that You Niaojuan, such a formidable and terrifying demonic power, was still so afraid of the head, terrified of the tail.

    Boom!

    A large hole appeared on the roof of the temple, followed by wood fragments and debris of the roof tiles, and You Niaojuan dropped down from the sky, and landed in between Jin Huanzhen and Shi Qingxuan. His sharp-like-a-hawks eyes looked directly at Xu Ziling.

    Xu Ziling thought, Show time!, and at the same instant as the opponents feet were touching the ground, he stood up and met You Niaojuans gaze with equal harshness. Laughing hoarsely, he said, Finally little demon You is willing to come to make an exhibition of himself?

    Obviously You Niaojuan did not know Yue Shan. After looking at him with full attention for half a day, he knitted his brows and said, Old mans tone is really big; report your name to me, lets see if you are qualified to call me little demon.

    Xu Ziling did not know whether he should laugh or cry. Surely he rarely saw a martial art expert of grand master level like You Niaojuan, but at the same time he also saw his despicable, shameless character. But if You Niaojuan was able to learn the truth, based on his overbearing power, he would definitely treat Xu Ziling with unprecedented viciousness and merciless method.

    At the same, he was thinking about something that had nothing to do with the problem at hand.

    Who was Zhu Yuyan and Yue Shans daughter?

    Forty years ago, because he was defeated by Song Que, Yue Shan lost his prestige, and henceforth disappeared as he went into hiding. Therefore, You Niaojuan, who was of a comparably younger generation, did not recognize Yue Shan.

    And so, if Zhu Yuyan bore Yue Shans daughter, it must be happening forty years ago. Based on this fact, Wanwan couldnt possibly be Zhu and Yue, two peoples daughter, because her age was not in agreement with this timeline.

    Therefore, the reason those two women looked so much alike was quite possibly because both of them cultivated the Tianmo Dafa, hence their personality traits were similar, and thus giving him a misconception.

    Based on his intuition, Wanwans age must be around twenty.

    So who was their daughter then?

    While pondering over this matter, he casually replied, When Laofu made my name, you were still drinking your Niangs milk. Less bullshit, today Laofu feel like eating a feast; I am going to slaughter you to eat. Make your move!

    Quite possibly in this word no one has ever heard that anybody would dare to speak like this to You Niaojuan; momentarily he was stunned. Of course, were it not for his superior eyesight, he was able to sense Xu Zilings powerful confidence and so-strong-that-no-one-can-match imposing manner, which made him hesitate over what move to make, he would have carried out his killer move early on.

    An eerie laugh came from some distant place outside the door, Its funny! Really funny! Little birdie You [Note; niao in You Niaojuans name means bird] might as well change his nickname to Jing Gong Zhi Niao [a bird startled by the mere twang of a bow], because your little guts has been broken by Song Que twenty years ago. Otherwise, how can you be this shameless, someone call out for a fight, call out for a kill, yet you still withdraw you head into your turtle shell?

    Surprisingly, it was Ding Jiuzhongs full-of-derision voice.

    Jin Huanzhens countenance changed, she said, You Laoda, what is wrong with you today, an insignificant Ding Da Di, you are not able to take care?

    Without waiting for You Niaojuan to respond, Xu Ziling laughed coldly and said, Xiaomei, [little sister], arent you also not making any progress at all?

    And then he shouted loudly, Zhou Laotan! Get out for Laofu, let your Xiao Meizi see.

    Jin Huanzhens tender body shook severely; she and You Niaojuan looked at each other. The more they felt that Xu Ziling was a profound mystery.

    Ay! Who are you, this old man, actually? Now, even I, Zhou Laotan, really want to know.

    His voice started from a distant, but quickly came near. Zhou Laotan, with both hands hanging by his side, strode into the temple, straight toward Jin Huanzhens side. Without any scruple he reached out to grab her small waist as if You Niaojuan was not even there. Looking up through the hole on the temples roof, he cast his gaze onto the night sky, and slyly said, Look! Tonights sky is like the starry sky of twenty years ago.

    Jin Huanzhen leaned into his bosom and spoke in a childish, coy way, It is even more beautiful than that night!

    And now it has become Xu Zilings turn to fell as if he had fallen into dense fog; he was completely at a loss of what to do.

    You Niaojuan suddenly roared in laughter and said, What a loose woman! Unexpectedly you conspired to deceive me. Formidable! My utmost admiration!

    Xu Ziling suddenly came to realize, no wonder Jin Huanzhen failed to kill Zhou Laotan, because these two were practically putting on an act for You Niaojuan and Ding Jiuzhong. Their purpose was, quite naturally, for You Niaojuan and Ding Jiuzhong to fight until both sides suffered. These demonic peoples you hoodwink me and I cheat you was certainly not something any ordinary people would be able to conceive.

    Shi Qingxuan was still standing with her back toward these people, without showing the slightest movement, as if everything that was happening behind her had nothing to do with her at all.

    Ding Jiuzhong, wearing an emperors crown on his head, appeared on the door. He stared at Xu Ziling without revealing any emotion at all, and spoke indifferently, Outside enemy presents, shouldnt we deal with this enemy first before settling the gratitude and grudges among our family?

    Hold on!

    Shi Qingxuan shouted lightly. Immediately everybodys attention was drawn toward her.

    This mysterious beauty was finally turning around slowly to face everybody.




    [1] Chapter title: you hoodwink me, I cheat you [same as Book 2 Chapter 2].

  18. #238
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 8

    Book 20 Chapter 8 Place of Charm and Beauty

    Knock! Knock! Knock!

    Holding the treasured book on mechanism in his hand, Kou Zhong said, Ren Dajie, please come in!

    Creak!

    The door to the study room was pushed open, like a puff of smoke the glamorous looking Ren Meimei entered in. She walked over with flair, and plopped herself down in a chair next to him. How did Shao Shuai know that it was me? she asked affectionately.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, Anybodys footstep, as long as I memorize it firmly, I will never forget.

    Astonished, Ren Meimei asked, Has my footstep been unchanging? When I was coming in just now, I did my best to lighten my footsteps, with the intention to scare you off!

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, Peoples footsteps, other than fast and slow, light and heavy, can also change according to his mood; however, no matter how much it changes, it always retains some unchanged rhyme and rhythm, just like everybodys gait in walking is different, only ordinary people normally dont pay attention to it. Therefore, when Xiao Ling and I changed our appearance and disguised ourselves as someone else, we must also alter our posture and gait in walking, sitting, lying, so that we wont reveal any flaw. It is easy to say, but it is very difficult and entails strenuous effort to do.

    Revealing an admiring look, Ren Meimei spoke with great interest, Aiyo! Who would think that this matter would involve so much learning? Where did you learn it from?

    Pointing to his own head, Kou Zhong laughed and said, This guy learned it himself. This is called to eat off ones own strength [i.e. to stand on ones own feet].

    Ren Meimei coyly shot him a sidelong glance and said, When we first met at the casino many years ago, the two of you were just kids with yellow hair, your hands were trembling your legs were shaking, and looked like one overcome with fear and trepidation. Who would know that in just a few years you changed shape in a single shake, and have become handsome young men with control over the wind and the clouds? Even Jiejie becomes your pawn. At that time, who could have imagined?

    Kou Zhong casually asked, Does Baling Bang still have power in this region?

    Ren Meimei replied, Officially, everything they owned were plucked off by Xu Yuanlang; unofficially, they still owned three, four brothels. Just say the word, I wil pull them up by the roots for you.

    Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, The time has not come yet. Hee hee ! Ren Dajie came to see Xiaodi, is there any special reason?

    Her seductive appearance in full force, this blooming-flower-like beauty cast him a ten-thousand-flirtatious glance and spoke coyly, Must I have a reason to see you?

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and reached out to caress her cheek; he said, I thought after going through such turmoil, Ren Dajie would have curbed your desire and engaged in spiritual cultivation; turns out you still retain your former romantic nature.

    Pouting playfully, Ren Meimei said, I like you! Plus you are just in the prime of your life. If you want women to wait upon you on the bed, you might as well let Jiejie serve you with great care. Gentlemans satisfaction guaranteed.

    Kou Zhongs hand moved toward the back of her neck; pulling her over, he kissed her on the lips, and said with a smile, I know Dajie will definitely make me very satisfied, but I am afraid I would be too satisfied and happy that I would forget to come back. Because my training came from the Taoists Secret to Long Life, it is inadvisable to indulge in debauchery. Furthermore, we are in the initial stage of our great undertaking, I must exercise restraint even more.

    Like a spoiled child Ren Meimei did not want to give up, Accompanying you for one night shouldnt be a problem, should it?

    It was not that Kou Zhong did not want sex, or not that he was not tempted by Ren Meimei, but due to painful experience with Yun Yuzhen and Dong Shuni, he developed resistance and wariness toward licentious women; he did not want to cause mischief because of carnal desire and deeply engrossed in the pleasure of close intimacy between man and woman [orig. happiness of fish in the water].

    Hearing Ren Meimei, he whispered softly in her ear, Dajie underestimate your attractive power toward me too much. If there is one night, there will be second night and third night. Id better kiss your sweet lips only!

    Ren Meimei said crossly, Are you trying to attract dead person? But even if you decline my offer, I am still very happy in my heart. Before, it was precisely because he indulged in women excessively that Da Dangjias [first chief] power was declining. Otherwise he wouldnt have died because he failed to recover from his internal injury. Therefore, although I hate you a little, in my heart I admire you very much. It is a really contradictory feeling.

    Kou Zhong lightly kissed her cheek and said, Dont hate me, just maintain the affectionate feeling between sister and brother; the joy is more long-lasting and touching than man-woman physical relationship.

    Ren Meimei returned his kiss by planting a kiss on his mouth; gently nodding his head, he said, It was only now that Jiejie understood that those who are doing great things must be like that. No wonder you can rise that fast! All right! I wont disturb you anymore.

    Kou Zhong walked her off to the door. Ren Meimei threw herself into his bosom and spoke tenderly, Accompanying you for the night does not necessarily mean we are having sex; I am sure sleeping in your arms will be very comfortable!

    Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, With a ball of fire in my arms, how can I sleep? Almost forget to tell you, when I sleep, I am training my inner power.

    Ren Meimei bit him hatefully on his shoulder that he yelped in pain before she laughed tenderly and walked away.

    Kou Zhong shut the door, sighed, and thought about several reasons to persuade himself.

    He was about to take out the treasured book and study diligently when he heard footsteps again. He was a thousand times sure and ten thousand times certain that it was Ren Meimeis footstep. But he felt something was very, very wrong.

    Because the sound was exactly the same as Ren Meimeis footsteps before.

    It was impossible.

    One was Ren Meimei thinking of throwing herself into his arms, the other was Ren Meimei who had just been rejected by him. How could two kinds of totally different mood produce the same light and quick steps?

    Knock! Knock! Knock!

    Kou Zhongs hand grabbed the Moon in the Well lying on the small table next to his chair. Come in! he spoke indifferently.

    ※ ※ ※

    At last Shi Qingxuan turned her tender body around to face these people.

    After seeing her real Mount Lu appearance, everybody, including Xu Ziling, sighed inwardly, What a pity!

    This beauty, who ought to be flawless, was ruthlessly destroyed by high and bulging, out-of-proportion, nasal bone and ugly nose, making people unbearably depressed to see it! If this ugly nose could be removed, her other features were comparable to beauties of Wanwan, Shi Feixuans caliber. Especially the glistening, bright like gemstone, pupil of her pair of eyes, which carried some kind of eternal mystery elegance that made people admiring it greatly. But all the perfection was maliciously wrecked by the repulsive nose. No wonder she was ashamed to show herself to others.

    After You Niaojuan, Ding Jiuzhong, Zhou Laotan, Jin Huanzhen, four people, cast their harsh glance toward her, from her face, their gaze moved toward the glittering, golden, small crystal ball resting on her slender, delicate and beautiful jade palm.

    The four of them were severely shaken.

    And then You Niaojuan, Ding Jiuzhong, Zhou Laotan, Jin Huanzhen rushed forward at the same time, trying to pounce on Shi Qingxuan. Shi Qingxuan waved her hand, the golden crystal ball shot out of her hand, through the hole on the roof, and up to the sky above the temples roof.

    The four soared and broke through the roof to pursue the crystal ball. The sound of palm wind and punches clashing against each other rang incessantly like the sound of firecrackers during New Years celebration.

    Shi Qingxuan beckoned Xu Ziling with a faint smile on her face. And then she circled around toward the back of the Buddha image.

    Xu Ziling was taken aback by Shi Qingxuans friendly attitude. But this moment he had no time to think too much, hastily he followed behind her.

    Shi Qingxuan pushed open the revolving wall behind the Buddha image, while at the same time lighted up a wind lantern in her hand, illuminating a set of stone steps leading deep underground. Turning toward Xu Ziling, who, by this time, had caught up by her side, she said, Come with Qingxuan! But you must follow Qingxuan step by step, or else you might suffer fatal disaster.

    ※ ※ ※

    The study room door opened wide.

    Millions of sharp dots, followed by powerful and suffocating, fierce true qi arrived, blowing into the room like a sand storm, rolling Kou Zhong, who sitting steadily in his chair, like raging waves crashing against the shore.

    If it were someone else, facing this sudden startling-the-heaven-and-earth, sobbing-ghosts-and-deities, terrifying offensive, he would have tried to evade the sharp front with thousand ways, a hundred plans first, before attempting to steady his footing, while striving to reverse his disadvantageous situation.

    But clearly Kou Zhong knew that that would simply be a dead end.

    Because this was not the first time that he and this assassin fought hand to hand. He clearly knew that if he lost the key moment and gave the opponent a chance to unleash his sword momentum unrestrained, he could forget about gaining the opportunity to strike back.

    Qiang!

    The Moon in the Well separated from its scabbard; the scabbard in his right hand, the saber in his left.

    At the same time the true qi went straight toward his eyelids was losing its pressure, the sharp dots immediately disappeared without any trace.

    Wearing black hood, black nightwalker attire Yang Xuyan appeared; the tip of the sword in his hand turned into a dot of sharp ray, making a fantastic arc it traversed the zhang or so distance from the door to Kou Zhongs face. It shot right toward him with the speed that was indiscernible by naked eye.

    This was the first time that Kou Zhong saw such a fast and fierce sword technique. But he was still sitting steadily as if mounting on a great horse, wielding a golden saber, without moving at all. The scabbard in his right hand swiftly poked the tip of the opponents sword.

    Ding!

    It was like two streaks of raging inferno crashing against each other.

    Yang Xuyan was like being struck by lightning. All four chi of the greenish black sword blade changed into seven, eight streaks of sword rays, seemingly able to attack every single one of vital points on Kou Zhongs body.

    Crack! Crash!

    The solid mahogany chair disintegrated into cun-size wood fragments.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud, while struggling hard to resist the numbness on his right hand. Pulling back his scabbard, he fiercely braced his legs to stand up proudly, and then lowering his waist into a horse stand, the Moon in the Well swept the opponent.

    Dang!

    Like magic, Yang Xuyans seven, eight streaks of sword rays disappeared and changed back into a four-chi long greenish black sword blade, meeting Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well head on.

    Evidently Kou Zhongs power was slightly inferior; he was pushed half a step aside.

    Yang Xuyang did not say a single word, but his momentum was unforgiving either. Unleashing his swordsmanship, his skillful moves looked clumsy, like a shadow following a shadow his sword slashed down.

    But Kou Zhong felt that the opponents seemingly ordinary, nothing-amazing sword move not only carried vicious momentum, it also felt like an enormous vacuum sucking him in, so that even if he wanted to evade, he was helpless to do so. Although fully aware that the opponent was forcing him to meet force with force, he had no choice but to raise his saber across his chest to block the sword.

    Qiang! Qiang! Qiang! Qiang! Qiang!

    Amidst five clear ringing, Yang Xuyan unexpectedly let out a stifled groan and retreated backward.

    Letting out a long laugh, Kou Zhong said, Kid, you know when it is too formidable for you!

    Turned out in his raising the saber to block, he has hidden an extremely abstruse technique and an ingenious application of true qi. When the saber and sword met, with indeterminate changes, he consecutively blocked five sword strikes, forcing Yang Xuyan to exhaust his moves, unable to continue, and was forced to back off.

    One side was disappearing, the other side was still going strong, Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well shot its yellow rays, like a storm or crashing waves it rolled Yang Xuyan inside its power.

    The fight and the shouting have alarmed the people nearby; sound of men and footsteps came from all around.

    Fast like lightning Yang Xuyan withdrew from the room. Letting out a cold snort he said, Just consider yourself lucky today!

    By the time Kou Zhong pursued him out of the door, he had already soared, first to the top of the building opposite the study room, and then disappeared into the darkness.

    Kou Zhong just stood there, staring blankly for half a day, and then Wah! he spurted out a mouthful of blood. Shaking his head, he smiled ruefully and said, Good kid, you almost succeeded this time.

    ※ ※ ※

    The wind lantern in Shi Qingxuans hand was like a fairy, brimming with life, in the dark tunnel, swiftly dashing, flashing, leaping, ahead of Xu Ziling, turning to the left and rounding to the right, but continuously going down.

    More than a hundred stone steps passed under their feet in the blink of an eye.

    Shi Qingxuan stopped in a circular cave that evidently has been dug by human. Raising her wind lantern to illuminate Xu Ziling running after her, she said, Welcome to Fu Mo Dong [Subduing Demon Cave]!

    Xu Ziling looked at the entrance to the cave. Under the flickering light of the lantern, to his surprise he found characters carved into the stone on both sides of the cave mouth. On the left, it said, Spirited and Elegant As If Made By Heaven, on the right it said, Opened By Divine Skill Cave Dwelling. Unable to restrain his surprise, he asked, What is this?

    Shi Qingxuan smiled and said, Originally I was thinking of taking care those four vicious demons relying on my own strength. But now with you helping me, naturally I have more confidence. Are you Xu Ziling or Kou Zhong?

    What? Xu Ziling blurted out.

    Shrugging her shoulders, Shi Qingxuan said, If I had not guessed who you are by the Yue Shan mask you are wearing, I would not have taken you here.

    Hundreds of questions filling his mind, Xu Ziling asked, Even if you could see that this is Yue Shan mask, how did you guess that I am Xu Ziling?

    Remaining tranquil and calm, Shi Qingxuan replied, Very simple. Because I received the secret letter Mr. Lu sent to me before he became an immortal [fig. to die], so I know your relationship with Mr. Lu. Moreover, I have witnessed Yue Shans death with my own eyes; therefore, I cant possibly believe that you are the real Yue Shan, and thus I know that if you are not Xu, then you must be Kou.

    Xu Ziling reached up to take off his mask and put it inside his pocket. Smiling wryly, he said, Turns out being unmasked by other people can make you feel so embarrassed and helpless.

    Without showing any emotion on her face, Shi Qingxuan scrutinized him for half a day, before nodding her head and said, Now I am totally relieved!

    The more Xu Ziling tried to understand her, the more he felt that she was unfathomable. Stunned, he said, You have never seen me before, why do you feel totally relieved just by looking at me a few glances. It is still possible that I am not Xu Ziling.

    Shi Qingxuan seemed to listen carefully to any movement at the entrance upstairs; she replied casually, I am an expert in reading peoples face, hence I know you are not a wicked or presumptuous man, you can be assured of that. Even if you are not Xu Ziling, you are absolutely not a bad person.

    Suddenly You Niaojuans loathsome voice came down from the entrance, Miss Shi, great aunt, little s1ut, if you dont come out here but trouble me to come down for you, I will make you unable to seek life, and cannot beg for death.

    And then Zhou Laotans voice roared, Little s1ut has the impertinence to deceive us using fake Relic. Where is the real Relic?

    His roar reverberated throughout the cave, the momentum was terrifying.

    Shi Qingxuans soft voice replied, The real Demonic Emperor Relic is naturally with me here. If you have the ability, come and get it! I am leaving!

    Beckoning Xu Ziling, she floated into the more unfathomable empty space inside the cave.

    ※ ※ ※

    The crowd rushed toward Kou Zhong, who was standing quietly, regulating his breathing in silence.

    Seeing him coming out unscathed, Ren Meimei breathed a sigh of relief and asked, Who was it?

    It was quite a while later, after taking deep breath three times in succession, that Kou Zhong replied nonchalantly, Its that kid Yang Xuyan!

    Everybody gasped in horror.

    Xuan Yong, who had been leading his men in wild goose chase, hurried back. After finding out the identity of the assassin, he said, We must reinforce the defense of the Zongguan Mansion.

    Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, This man has endless assassination approach, plus he is able to carry out his mission anywhere. There is no need to waste our mind and manpower just for him, one man, alone.

    Chen Jiafeng anxiously asked, What should we do then?

    Kou Zhong smiled and replied, I am not scared of him at all; what I am afraid of is that after having a clear understanding of our foundation, he would shift the assassination target to you, in order to strike our morale and confidence, and to weaken our strength.

    Xuan Yong said, This is indeed a very tricky problem, the only way is to try to find him out, at least to drive him out of Liangdu. Otherwise, it will be difficult for everybody to get a good night sleep.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, Although this is not an easy matter, it is not impossible to achieve; because of his special build, he is easy to recognize. Therefore, if we announce it to the army and citizens of the whole city, telling everybody to pay particular attention to such figure, it will be difficult for him to hide.

    Ren Meimei said, Could it be that he is still inside the Zongguan Mansion, waiting for the opportunity?

    Being reminded by her, Kou Zhong spoke in agreement, Lets spend a little bit of effort to search the Zongguan Mansion. After we are certain that he is not in here, well set up secret alarm inside the Mansion, and formulate an effective warning method. At least the enemy cannot go in and out as if this was an uninhabited place.

    Lowering his voice, Xuan Yong said, Supposing he is indeed still in the Mansion, we

    Kou Zhongs heart was moved; he cut him off by saying, If that is the case, it is my turn to assassinate him! Ha!

    Everybody was stunned.

    ※ ※ ※

    Under the illumination of the wind lantern, Xu Ziling felt as if he had been transported into a fantastic world that looked like a beehive magnified ten million times. In front of this giant cave, there were seven cave mouths at random intervals. The main branch of each cave was linked together. In between, each cave extended deep down, bending to the left and turning to the right, winding in a bizarre way. There were caves within the caves, big caves enveloped smaller caves, the caves were interlinked, as if one was entering a labyrinth.

    Following behind Shi Qingxuan, Xu Ziling entered a cave that was about a zhang wide. He was about to speak, but Shi Qingxuan whispered in his ear, Dont speak loudly, below live tens of millions bats. Once they are alarmed, the scene might frighten people to their death.

    Hearing that, all the hair on Xu Zilings body stood up, thinking that since that was the case, why would she want to go down?

    This moment nearly half of Shi Qingxuans tender body was leaning into his bosom; as if she was able to see the load on his mind, she said, Do you know why the path we took just now did not have any bat in it?

    Xu Ziling shook his head with a blank stare, while his nose was full of the sweet, faint fragrant emanating from her body.

    With breath smelling like orchid, Shi Qingxuan whispered in his ear, Because there are some kind of strange rock that is the bane of the bats. Therefore, they do not dare to go there.

    Strange noises came from the direction of the entrance; apparently You Niaojuan and the others were groping their way down the cave, but they were walking very slowly, cautiously and solemnly.

    Shi Qingxuan suddenly turned around and pulled his neck down.

    Xu Ziling jumped in fright, thinking that this was not the fortunate timing for her to throw herself into his arms.

    Shi Qingxuan still maintained a cun or so distance between her body and his, her right hand groped his hair, and she spoke in low voice, I ground some of those rocks into powder and apply it onto your hair, so that the bats wont dare to come within three chi from you. It will be greatly advantageous when we fight later.

    Xu Ziling began to get a bit of understanding, while at the same time he was somewhat embarrassed for misunderstanding her.

    Shi Qingxuan continued, We are going to lure them into the cave where the bat concentration is the highest. That will be the time of their death. You are going to fight them, I am going to provoke the bats using the undulation of the flute sound. Do you understand?

    Regaining his composure, Xu Ziling said, Everything will be done according to your instruction.

    I am going to blow out the light! Shi Qingxuan said.

    Before she even finished speaking, the light was already out.

    At first Xu Zilings vision went black, and then the ground in front of him gradually brightened; not only that, it was multi-colored too. The color white was dominant, followed by light yellow, pale brown, desert tan, rocky green, and much more variety of colors. Although the luster was murky, but when he focused his inner power into his eyes, he was able to see everything clearly, which made him feel relieved immediately.

    Shi Qingxuan led the way forward, toward the place where the bats were indeed startled by their presence, but not even half a bat dared to fly near them.

    They went through layer upon layer of caves, going deeper and deeper; the cave wall was full of milky-colored rock domes, stalagmites and stalactites, stone pillars, flower rocks. Some were hanging from the roof down, some grew up from the cave bed, some were leaning against the cave wall, in endless variation, thousands of shapes and sizes, glittering and shiny, glistening and dazzling.

    Xu Ziling felt as if he was entering the monstrous and multicolored, sumptuous mansion, imaginary Temple in Heaven, the world of mythology.

    The most amazing thing was that the cave did not feel especially stuffy; obviously there were ventilation holes to the outside, this cave was not a sealed, dead cave.

    You Niaojuans strange cries was heard from above; Shi Qingxuan seemed to be acting presumptuously, she went deeper in. Because of the noise the bats were making as they flew about, they need not worry that the enemy would pursue in the wrong direction.

    The two stooped down to enter a small cave. They suddenly came to a wide clearing; an open space as spacious as the temple hall upstairs. The roof was dark and fuzzy, but upon closer look, it was actually full of bats hanging upside down. Seeing this, Xu Zilings scalp went numb.

    Everything in this cave was proportionately bigger than the other caves; the thick stone pillars, hundreds of bamboo shoots [?], stone curtain [?], composing a tangled and complicated terrain.

    The walls all around were densely covered in hundreds of different shapes and sizes texture, from needle-shaped to round, in bunches and clusters, randomly scattered along the stone walls, flowery like embroidered work, magnificent and multifarious.

    Shi Qingxuan leaned over and whispered in his ear, You may choose the location of the ambush yourself; those four people are treacherous villains whose death cannot wipe out their crimes. If you manage to kill one, the people around the world will be able to live a bit more peaceful and happy. When you fight, you must not show any mercy. If you are unfortunate and die in battle, I will activate the secret mechanism to seal all the exits, and die together with them to avenge you. Remember, I will try to create a chance for you to launch sneak attack.

    Xu Ziling shivered inwardly, and turned his eyes on her.

    Shi Qingxuans beautiful eyes twinkled with unusual rays, emitting divine light that made people feel deep veneration toward her.

    In that moment, Xu Ziling suddenly completely forgot about her grotesque nose; he said in low voice, Miss is really beautiful, Zaixia will definitely not turn my back on what you are entrusting to me.

    Hearing these two sentences, which appeared unrelated to each other, Shi Qingxuan showed a slightly startled look. After gazing deeply into his eyes, she turned around and floated toward another cave.

    Xu Ziling did not have time to ponder the rich meaning in her eyes; focusing his attention, he hid behind a giant stone pillar growing up from the bed of the cave.

    The sound of bats flapping their wings as they glided was heard from afar, but it was coming nearer and nearer, clearly indicating the path and the speed at which the enemy was coming.

    Xu Ziling took a deep breath, his true qi immediately circulated through the meridians in his whole body. His spirit and mind became one. He quietly waited for the optimum opportunity to mount a sneak attack.

  19. #239
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 9

    Book 20 Chapter 9 Utterly Vicious Extremely Evil

    Wearing nightwalker outfit, Kou Zhong hid on the top of an ancient towering tree, watching for any activity at the Zongguan Mansion from a distance.

    From this point of view, if anybody was escaping from the Mansion, that person absolutely would not escape his sharp eyes.

    All the trees in the Mansion were comparably shorter than the tree he was on, they did not obstruct his line of sight at all.

    The search operation was still going on like wildfire, torches and lanterns projected their light to the sky, making it as bright as day.

    And then silence descended, apparently their work was to no avail.

    Kou Zhong was greatly disappointed.

    The reason he was so confident that Yang Xuyan was still inside the Mansion was that Yang Xuyan must be aware that he had suffered internal injury, only he must not have guessed that Kou Zhong would be able to recover that quickly. Therefore, reasonably speaking, he would seize this golden opportunity to attempt the assassination for the second time.

    Another strong reason that after fighting hand-to-hand with Kou Zhong twice, Yang Xuyan must have had clear understanding that within this short period of time, Kou Zhongs power has advanced boldly. Even if he was an expert in using his weapon, it would still be difficult for him to succeed easily. If it were someone else, he would definitely rush to slaughter Kou Zhong before he would be incapable to subdue him; the earlier the better.

    Even harder to come by, Kou Zhong was protecting his people, hence he had no choice by to stay nicely inside the Mansion.

    But Kou Zhong was mistaken.

    The torches, lanterns, in the Zongguan Mansion went off one by one, from busy it returned to quiet.

    Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. He was about to leave, suddenly he heard a gust of wind from behind.

    He quickly looked back, and saw a dark shadow came at an incredible speed from the back of the roof ridge of a nearby building, darting toward his big tree.

    ※ ※ ※

    The sound of footsteps could be heard clearly, coupled with the startled bats flapping their wings. All kinds of noise hit the cave wall and reverberated everywhere, making the atmosphere even graver.

    Xu Ziling could not help feeling strange, because the footsteps sounded sluggish and heavy. And then he had a sudden understanding. Just now these four were fighting over the fake Demonic Emperors Relic; the fighting must be intense, with nobody willing to yield to another, so much so that none of them did not suffer injury.

    He also thought that Shi Qingxuan was both wise and brave; planning first, execute later. First she used the fake Relic to weaken the four peoples strength, and then lured them into this cave to wipe them out. Worst case scenario, she would die while they perished.

    He was only wondering: was the mechanism in this cave designed and built by Lu Miaozi?

    Sudden gust of wind; the four people appeared in the cave, leaving only a two zhang distance between them and Xu Ziling. Every one of them looked suspicious; evidently they knew this was not a good place. Xu Ziling quickly donned the Yue Shan mask again.

    Lowering his voice, Ding Jiuzhong said, I have a very ominous feeling, wed better withdraw first and think of another way.

    You Niaojuan, who was pricking his ears to listen carefully to the enemys whereabouts, laughed coldly and said, Dont play trick, you just want to deceive us to leave first, and then youll pounce back in to capture her! Humph!

    Ding Jiuzhong was too angry to retort.

    Jin Huazhen said, That little s1ut must be hiding nearby; lets spread out to find her.

    You Niaojuan hatefully said, Dont even think that I will believe you, this wh0r3; if you succeeded, do you think you will wait for me?

    Zhou Laotan angrily said, You believe, fine, you dont believe, fine. There are danger lurking on every side in this cave, if we dont work with a common purpose, you will die and rot thoroughly without even knowing whats going on. Just look at these ghost bats; they say that they are nocturnal, and now it is night, how come they are still here? Something is really strange here.

    Ding Jiuzhong said, Fortunately we heard the noise they made because they were startled, otherwise the little s1ut would escape from the other exits and we are still in the dark.

    Before he even finished, a burst of flapping bats wings rose up from the direction of the cave Shi Qingxuan entered just now.

    Instantly the four made their move; they bolted toward the cave entrance. Most of the bats hanging on the cave ceiling were startled and scattered in all directions, following their circling and gliding flight path, densely packed, flying wildly around the cave, yet not two of them clashing against each other. Under the dim, strange colored light inside the cave, it was such an impressive sight, and those who saw it had their hair stood on its end.

    Lightning fast, Xu Ziling swept out. Under cover of the sound of the flapping wings, he silently launched palm strike toward Ding Jiuzhong, who was walking at the rear. Everywhere he moved, the swarm of flying bats indeed avoided him.

    He curbed his palm strength and did not unleash it at once, and then when his right palm was only about three cun away from the opponents back, he started to violently release his true power.

    Bang!

    On the surface, his palm strike seemed to be so strong that even the Jade Emperor himself would breathe his last.

    But Xu Ziling was well aware that it was not so.

    When his palm was only about a cun away from the middle of this Emperors back, the opponent reacted; he flashed slightly to the left, evading the attack to the vital acupoint on his back, so that Xu Zilings strike fell on his right shoulder blade.

    Based on Xu Zilings current skill, because the opponent received the strike first, no matter what, the shoulder blade would have been shattered by the attack; who would have thought that the instant Xu Zilings palm touched his clothes, somehow, in a way that was hard to believe, Ding Jiuzhongs entire shoulder blade, along with his arm, suddenly collapsed into his thorax cavity, while at the same time he generated a powerful opposing force, which neutralized most of Xu Zilings palm power.

    Ding Jiuzhong let out a miserable grunt and staggered forward, but his leg flew backward toward Xu Zilings genitalia. The counterattack was fierce, violent, fast and nimble; it was completely beyond Xu Zilings expectation.

    You Niaojuan and the others looked back and saw the two were already engaged in close combat. Unexpectedly Jin Huanzhen laughed tenderly and said, Let Da Di deal with this man!

    Just like that, the three continued moving forward; they was not even interested in giving the two half a glance.

    Bang!

    After wiping his cold sweat, Xu Ziling bent his knees to meet Ding Jiuzhongs backward kick; with great delight he decided to meet force with force. Like a torrential flash flood his vortex of power attacked this demonic man, who had been abandoned by his companions.

    It was only this moment that he realized why Shi Qingxuan had the intention of sacrificing herself to perish together with the enemies; because these four demonic people were indeed too formidable. Even under such a favorable situation, killing Ding Jiuzhong was still so difficult.

    Ah!

    Ding Jiuzhong fell facedown forward, while spurting a mouthful of fresh blood. Knowing his own fist and kick skill could not match the enemys reaching-perfection skill, Xu Ziling pursued closely; the edge of his palm chopped horizontally across to strike the Zhenyao acupoint on Ding Jiuzhongs back. [Translators note: there are several missing/gibberish characters here, this part might not be translated properly.]

    Ding Jiuzhong rolled on the ground, with the intention of turning around [again, missing/gibberish characters] This demonic man let out a howl, his face turned blood-red, and then opening his mouth, he spurted out a column of blood, straight toward the pit of Xu Zilings stomach. Unexpectedly, although he moved later, his attack arrived first.

    This was the first time that Xu Ziling encountered such a desperate consummate demonic skill.

    Xu Ziling realized that if he was unable to deal with this situation as quickly as possible, he would not be able to help Shi Qingxuan dealing with the other three vicious people, including You Niaojuan, whose skill was the strongest. And if he dodged the attack, he would give the opponent the opportunity to take a breather and pulled his weapon, and then Xu Ziling would have to waste a lot of time to take care of him. Therefore, he decided to take a risk.

    This moment he threw his entire body forward, and rolled to the right side in an unexpected move, and then using the tip of his toes to support his entire weight, he bent his body in bow shape. When the arrow of blood flew past, missing his chest by only a hairbreadth, he suddenly rolled back to return to his previous offensive stance to continue his attack, only his entire body suddenly twisted down.

    With continuous squeaks, dozens of bats were hit by the arrow of blood; all had their bones crushed and their wings broken, and fell like rain on the cave bed.

    Ding Jiuzhong had never expected that the enemy would have such an astonishing and strange move; not only he could generate power from his feet to firmly sucked the ground as he suddenly flipped over sideways that he was also able to evade the attack that Ding Jiuzhong was so sure would kill him, he was also able to return to his original stance and continue the attack, so that although Ding Jiuzhong had thousands and hundreds demonic skill and secret moves, he did not have time to unleash them.

    Pow!

    The edge of Xu Zilings palm, like a lightning, hacked his forehead, while Xu Ziling himself flew over him and went deep into the cave.

    The back of Ding Jiuzhongs head crashed heavily against the ground, and he died on the spot; the emperor crown fell off his hat and rolled to the side.

    There is indeed only a little difference between life and death.

    ※ ※ ※

    Although the nightwalker flying over toward him was wearing hood over his head, but even if he turned into ashes, Kou Zhong would still recognize him, the unstoppable Shadow Assassin Yang Xuyan, who, everybody who heard his name would have their countenance change.

    This moment Kou Zhong did not have time to think whether he would be the first person ever who tried to assassinate Yang Xuyan. Hurriedly he restrained everything that could incite the opponents alertness: stopping his breathing from mouth and nose, and sealing his pores, and opening his eyes only a slit, as he watched through the gaps among the thick leaves and branches, to calculate where and when Yang Xuyan would land his feet.

    Because this tree was about seventeen, eighteen zhang tall, no matter how brilliant Yang Xuyans qinggong was, if he soared from the rooftop of a building only two zhang tall, plus he had to traverse the nearly four zhang of distance, he would have to land on a horizontal branch somewhere in the middle of the tree, and then climbed to the treetop in order to be able to observe the situation inside the Zongguan Mansion.

    In that split second, countless ways to launch surprise attack flashed through his mind, but in the end he decided to quietly wait for the opponent to climb up, and then he would attack with all his strength from his hiding place, to kill him while he had no time to deal with it.

    Suddenly he heard strange noise, Yang Xuyans left hand produced an upside down sharp awl, which, fast as lightning, was shooting toward the sole of his feet. By the time Kou Zhong saw it and was shocked, the sharp awl was separated from his feet by only about five chi of tree trunk, with the rope at the tail of the awl, which was only a bit thicker than natural silk, completely taut.

    Yang Xuyan changed direction; he soared at an angle toward Kou Zhongs feet.

    Without even thinking, the Moon in the Well, which has been at the ready by his side, swiftly chopped down; the blade contacted the tail of the awl.

    Ding!

    As if he was struck by lightning, Yang Xuyan was hit by Kou Zhongs spiraling energy, transmitted via the rope, straight into the pit of his stomach that he spurted a mouthful of blood, and was thrown outward.

    The rope disintegrated into cun-long fragments.

    Seeing his sneak attack succeeded, Kou Zhong was not willing to let this one-in-a-thousand golden opportunity off. Abruptly raising a mouthful of true qi, he glided down from the top of the tree like a swimming fish, to pursue Yang Xuyan, who was continuously rolling down in the air.

    But Yang Xuyan was indeed worthy to be called a martial art master whose name was feared all around the world. When he was still about two zhang away from the dark pavement of the street, he already regained his balance, and applied his qi to accelerate his fall, hence he dodged Kou Zhongs saber, which ought to kill him, by only a hairbreadth.

    Bang!

    One after another the two landed on the quiet, deserted long street by the Zongguan Mansion, while the saber and the sword collided.

    Yang Xuyan raised his sleeve to wipe the blood from the corner of his lips, revealing a pair of flashing eyes from behind the hood. Kou Xiongs move this time is really clever; unexpectedly this is the first time that Ol Yang sustain an injury in action. You can be very proud of yourself! he said hatefully.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Yang Xiong is the extraordinary one; receiving Xiaodis full-strength strike, you are still able to stand as steady as Mount Tai, with no gap to be exploited. But if you dont look for a secret place that no one can find to heal your injury, quite possibly your power will be drastically reduced, and the next time you are doing your assassination job, it might not be as glorious.

    Yang Xuyan laughed involuntarily and said, Thank you for Kou Xiongs concern, but Xiaodi thinks that Kou Xiong is only displaying a shadow; how could you be willing to let this golden opportunity slip by? I have no choice but to accompany Kou Xiong. En garde!

    Finished speaking, he pressed on three steps with raised sword; a thick and strong sword qi rushed forth violently.

    Kou Zhong did not expect that after receiving such injury, he would still be this dauntless.

    He wanted to gain the initiative by striking first, but inwardly he could not help praising him, knowing that this dreadful adversary was hoping to gain control of the situation before his injury flared out. Naturally it would be ideal if he could do this in the shortest possible time, and then when necessary, getting away would be relatively easier.

    With raised eyebrows, Kou Zhong lifted the Moon in the Well, without even blinking his tiger-eyes stared at the opponent, and he said with a cold laugh, If Yang Xiong forced yourself to attack and suffered defeat, next year tonight will be the anniversary of your death.

    Yang Xuyan replied indifferently, Kou Xiong overestimates yourself too much.

    With a low shout, his sword stabbed swiftly forward.

    Dang!

    Kou Zhong moved his saber to block, while mockingly said, Turns out Yang Xiongs injury is more serious than I thought; unexpectedly you failed to display your signature shadow sword technique.

    Yang Xuyan parried the wave after wave of spiraling energy coming from the blade of Kou Zhongs saber; smiling, he said, Not shadow sword technique, its Phantom Sword Technique. Look closely!

    Sweeping the sword across, he pushed the saber, jolting Kou Zhong three steps back. And then his sword momentum flared out, turning into sword shadows and dots of sharp light filling the air, and suffocating energy and qi, carrying overbearing might with the power of thunder strike and lightning bolt, rolling wildly straight toward Kou Zhong.

    The instant he was shaken and was pushed back, Kou Zhong knew the situation was very bad; this man had a very strong foundation, he had indeed reached the beyond-belief stage, unexpectedly he was able to suppress his injury and still had enough power to launch a storming offensive. Once Kou Zhong made the slightest mistake, he might have his boat capsize in the sewer [fig. meet with unexpected failure], even losing his life.

    With no strategy left to try, Kou Zhong could only rely on his real skill to save his life; he slammed into the opponents sword rays, by meeting attack with attack, unleashing the desperate move of staking everything in that one attack, to trigger the opponents injury to flare out and kill the enemy in one stroke, to engage the enemy and seal his escape route.

    Momentarily aura of death filled the atmosphere, saber rays and sword shadows completely shrouded the two combatants, not a single move was not extremely ruthless, blood might splash at every turn.

    The sound of saber and sword and power and qi clashing against each other was like the sound of a string of firecrackers exploded continuously.

    The moment saber and sword clashed, sparks flew. Each one dodging the enemy only by a hairsbreadth. Speed against speed. There was not the least bit of cheap trick.

    Noises started to rise from the Zongguan Mansion, evidently Kou Zhongs men had heard the sound of the hard fighting and were rushing over.

    From the nearby buildings came the continuous sound of windows being pushed open. The fighting has awakened the sleeping inhabitants.

    Dang!

    The situation suddenly changed.

    Even though he was going all out, Kou Zhong was still unable to evade Yang Xuyans divine strokes; he was forced to withdraw five steps back by his thunderbolt, lightning-flashed sword.

    While inwardly crying, Bad! Yang Xuyan suddenly flashed backward, let out a long laugh, and said, Today Kou Xiong has shown favor; someday Xiaodi will definitely repay.

    Looking at the speed he was retreating, Kou Zhong knew he was unable to pursue, hence he returned the saber to its scabbard, cupped his fist, and said, Please send my greetings to Xiao Nini, toward her, Xiaodi has undying gratitude [orig. hard to forget even after ones teeth fall out].

    Yang Xuyan suddenly spurted another mouthful of blood, and disappeared into an alley crossing the big street.

    Xuan Yong and the others rushed over one after another.

    Kou Zhong raised his arms to stop them from running after Yang Xuyan. He spoke nonchalantly, We have at least several months before we have to worry about that fellow!

    ※ ※ ※

    Flute sound rose up, sharp, shrill, extremely loud, and kept climbing higher and higher, echoing around all the caves, big and small.

    Millions of bats responded to the noise by flapping their wings in confusion and flew swiftly, so that together, the noise grew even louder, like a rumbling thunder, like surging tide rushing forth from every cave, with terrifying momentum that startling the heaven and splitting the earth.

    Although Xu Ziling already knew that Shi Qingxuan could drive the bats using her flute, he still could not think that it would be this terrifying. Everywhere he saw, the caves were packed with shadows, coming straight toward his face. Hastily he ran out of the cave, and hid by the exit.

    Craning his head, he saw You Niaojuan, three people were running away for their lives, while waving their hands like crazy to smack the bats attacking them. These three demons power was overbearing, a large number of bats met their palms and fell down to the ground. They were mainly protecting their eyes, ears, mouth, nose and neck, the rather sensitive body parts. To the bats charging toward their bodies, they simply applied their inner power to shake their clothes and jolt the bats to their death.

    However, there were so many bats, almost endless, so that no matter how many they killed, the bats still continuously attacked them wildly, like clump after clump of black clouds descending upon them, forcing the three to cover their head and sneak away like a rat, retreating back toward where they were coming from.

    This was the first time that Xu Ziling found out that bats could attack living persons, and that they could be this vicious; it was only now did he understand the effectiveness of the talcum powder Shi Qingxuan smeared on his head.

    From what he heard, bats are said to be nocturnal, and they suck blood, but their targets are usually other animal or domestic fowls; he never heard that they attacked people.

    Probably the bats inside this maze of caves were special species, or perhaps because of Shi Qingxuans flute, they deviated from their usual nature.

    Once the bats in the entire huge cave were provoked, like a powerful torrent they swarmed into the cave where the three were fleeing. Those who had not flown into that cave converged with the bats from the other caves, forming a great army of bats, flying around the huge cave, while emitting ear-splitting squeaking noise. Only no bats were flying within three chi of Xu Ziling.

    But no matter how they flew or circled in the jam-packed space of the cave, no matter how fast they moved, not two bats were colliding with each other. Watching their flight path, Xu Ziling could not help clicking his tongue in wonder, while also feeling dread in his heart.

    Powerful qi rushed out violently, a large number of bats, with their flesh and blood separated, were thrown out of the cave.

    Xu Zilings heart was moved; he took a step across the cave bed to hide by the cave entrance from which he originally came, to wait for the bats inside the huge cave, baring their fangs and brandishing their claws, to further consume the three peoples true strength.

    After letting out a series of strange shouts, You Niaojuan was finally able to cut a bloody path out of the battlefield; he rushed out of the cave.

    Like a swarm of honeybees seeing nectar the millions of bats inside the huge cave flocked out toward him; You Niaojuan was like being sucked into the cyclone of bats, and was unable to move a single cun.

    Hey!

    You Niaojuan was worthy to be called a martial art master of the ultra-demonic sect, ranked among the Eight Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Ways; the powerful qi in his entire body burst forth, none of the bats within several chi radius from him narrowly and luckily escaped, all were shocked by him that their body split and they fell to the ground.

    This moment Zhou Laotan and Jin Huanzhen forced their way out of the cave; the formers pair of arms were already swelling several times bigger, the latter had her hair disheveled, she looked like a mad woman, and was in an extremely sorry state.

    The flute was still playing uninterruptedly, the tempo was getting faster and faster, the rumbling noise inside the cave was unable to drown the sound of the flute.

    Bang!

    Jin Huanzhen emitted a rending-the-heart, splitting-the-lungs tragic scream, but it was not because of the bats attack, but because You Niaojuan, who felt the pressure from the bats diminished and saw an opening, was sending a kick toward her lower abdomen. Her entire body was thrown sideways, blood sprayed violently from her mouth.

    Perhaps because the bats smelled the scent of blood, a large number of them abandoned the other two and swarmed toward Jin Huanzhen.

    Xu Ziling had never imagined that under this kind of situation You Niaojuan would still have the thought to deal with someone from his own side that viciously. Although he did not have the slightest bit of good impression toward Jin Huanzhen, he was grieving for her.

    Realizing that he was unable to retaliate against You Niaojian, Zhou Laotan let out a wild roar and fast as lightning he rushed out to escape.

    You Niaojuan laughed aloud and said, Nothing in the world is better than this connecting caves to be the happy land in which you are going to be buried; Ill let the two of you to become a pair of mandarin ducks who share the same fate!

    With one hand caught a bat, with the other hand he sent out a long-distance palm strike, generating a gale-like attack toward Zhou Laotans thick back. His method was ruthless, taking the breath of those who saw it away.

    Zhou Laotan neither flashed away nor dodged the attack. He arched his back upward to meet his palm head on, and borrowed the momentum to accelerate forward, traversing the three zhang of empty air, to catch Jin Huanzhens body, which was full of bats, just before it reached the ground, while sending out his true power. As soon as the bats met his power, they fell from Jin Huanzhens body.

    It seemed like You Niaojuan was going to execute his evil scheme again. Letting out strange shout, Zhou Laotan, with Jin Huanzhen in his arms, dashed toward the other side, trying to find another way to escape from the cave, taking along with him a large number of bats.

    The other bats swarmed to attack You Niaojuan again.

    This utterly vicious, extremely evil disciple revealed a pitiful expression, and dashed in Xu Zilings direction, wanting to escape back to above ground.

    Naturally Xu Ziling was unwilling to let him off; he sent out a punch.

    You Niaojuan let out a hearty laugh and said, I am already prepared for you!

    The one-legged steel man hanging on his back moved to his hand, and then moved to meet Xu Zilings bold-and-powerful-without-equal punch.

    Bang!

    Xu Ziling was jolted by the power of his counterattack that his blood and qi were surging within his chest and he staggered backward several steps. But the opponent was also shaken by his all-out strike that he tumbled backward and again fell into the bats battle formation.

    After exchanging blows with him, Xu Ziling was inwardly overwhelmed with shock, thinking that if the opponents true power had not been depleted by extreme wear and tear, plus he had suffered internal injury, Xu Ziling might not be able to block him just now.

    This moment You Niaojuan wildly brandished and randomly struck the one-legged copper man, weighed about a hundred catty, in his hand, so that none of the bats did not have their bones shattered and they fell to the ground. Thick accumulation of dead bats rapidly grew on the cave bed; it was such a bizarre and bitter scene.

    The cave was dim to begin with, with the illumination came mostly from the stalactite, but now the bats have completely blocked his vision, providing the best cover for Xu Ziling.

    Xu Ziling flashed to another position; one finger jabbed, the finger wind penetrated the layer of bats, and stabbed the vital acupoint on You Niaojuans back.

    You Niaojuans entire body shook severely, he spurted a mouthful of large blood spray. Letting out a wild roar, which rumbled through the entire cave, he followed Zhou Laotans lead by fleeing toward another cave.

    Xu Zilings energy was completely exhausted; just now, that one punch and one finger jab had consumed a great amount of his true power, yet he still failed to knock this vicious man down, hence the depth of his internal power could be clearly imagined.

    The flute suddenly stopped.

    Shi Qingxuan rushed out of one of the caves, her face pale from the excessive loss of true power, but the ugly nose still maintained its original color and luster, it did not emulate the complexion of the rest of her face.

    We are leaving!

    Astonished, Xu Ziling said, The crafty scoundrels have not received their just punishment, are we going to let them off?

    Shi Qingxuan shouted hoarsely, I am going to seal off the cave; do you want to stay?

    Shocked, Xu Ziling hastily ran after her, going out of the cave.

  20. #240
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 20 Chapter 10

    Book 20 Chapter 10 Demonic Emperor Shady[1] Empress

    Following close behind Shi Qingxuan, Xu Zilings heart was full of questions.

    Earlier he clearly heard she said that by sealing the exits, they would be buried with the dead, which clearly implied that the mechanism to control the gate must be located inside the cave. Once it was set in movement, even she herself would not have time to escape out, hence she would end up accompanying them in death.

    But now Shi Qingxuan seemed to say that the switch was outside the gate, that closing the gate would be effortless and easy, which she would conveniently do as they were leaving.

    The two statements were contradictory.

    This moment Shi Qingxuan was crossing the entrance to the big cave where there was no bat in it; suddenly she looked back and signaled him with her eyes.

    Xu Ziling was extremely smart; he understood immediately. It was all a ruse to lure the enemy.

    He could not help feeling admiration. By playing down the situation, she wanted to lure the enemies intending to escape from the other exit to come back. Whether they would succeed, however, remained to be seen. Because in the din of the cave, although You Niaojuan had keen eyes and ears, he might not necessarily hear her.

    The idea has not passed from his mind, he heard a swift gust of wind from behind.

    Without even thinking, Xu Ziling twisted his body around and sent out a punch.

    Bang!

    By the time he felt something was not right, he discovered that his punch has hit You Niaojuans outer robe.

    A flash of copper, You Niaojuan appeared on his left, the one-legged copper man swept toward him. It was extremely vicious, fierce, and overbearing.

    Xu Ziling had nothing he could use, his only course of action was to sidestep, while crying Not good! inwardly.

    Ding!

    Shi Qingxuan floated like a breeze, her bamboo flute poked, struck, hacked and swept, her technique was exquisite, mysterious, obscure and amazing; she was able to hold You Niaojuan for a moment, so that Xu Ziling had the opportunity to strike back.

    Knowing this was the critical moment, You Niaojuan unleashed the skill he had at the bottom of his chest; he threw the one-legged copper man toward Shi Qingxuan, while he took that opportunity to dash out of the cave.

    When Shi Qingxuan dodged the steel man [Translators note: perhaps it was a typo, but sometime it was copper, another time it was steel], Xu Ziling already approached You Niaojuans back, and sent out a long-distance palm strike.

    You Niaojuan suddenly sped up. Without even looking he sent out a backhanded palm strike to meet Xu Zilings palm, which was imbued with spiraling fierce energy.

    Ah!

    You Niaojuan spurted another mouthful of blood. Injury on top of injury, yet he disappeared on the stone steps.

    Boom!

    Only this moment did the one-legged copper man hit the wall, smashing the stone, creating a rain of crushed rocks. From this, it was clear the astonishing speed at which these fighting has been going on.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong woke up; still lying in bed, he opened his eyes, but in his heart he missed Xu Ziling.

    He was really not used to spend his days without that guy; he missed someone with whom he could talk vulgar language, or just pour out his hearts troubles.

    What on earth was he doing? Did he hasten on with his journey without stopping to sleep?

    Because of his ambition in vying over the world, would in the end Xu Ziling distance himself from Kou Zhong, and travel far outside the country to pursue the way of life that he loved?

    It does not matter whether one was the emperor, general, prime minister, a hero or a towering figure, life would always flash past like a snap of the fingers. Several years will pass just like a dream, fast and easy. Life is just the consequences of countless choices and experience. Kou Zhong just hated that he and his best Xiongdi had chosen different path, so that one day they would have to go their separate way.

    There was a knock on the door.

    Kou Zhong sighed inwardly and sprang up from the bed.

    Xuan Yong voice came from outside the door, Sorry to disturb Shao Shuai, Qifei is back, and he has an urgent matter to report.

    Kou Zhong immediately pushed everything out of his mind; he promptly shouted, Come in quickly!

    ※ ※ ※

    The morning sun rose to the top of a small hill on the eastern mountain.

    Xu Zilings palm left Shi Qingxuans jade back. He rose up to his full height and walked out of the forest in which they were hiding, and came to a small creek at the edge of the forest.

    The water of the creek was exceptionally clear, the sunlight came at an angle to the water surface, reflecting his appearance. It was only then did he realize that he was still wearing Yue Shan mask. Hastily he took it off and stuffed it inside his pocket, before squatting down the by creek to scoop the water and drank several mouthfuls, while washing the dust and dirt from his face. A cool, delightful feeling entered his heart, washing away the exhaustion of repeated hard battle of the previous night.

    This moment he started to have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery all around him.

    This small forest spanned between two small hills, on a plain some distance away east of the strange mountain with the hidden cave full of bats. Surrounded by the clouds, the waist of the mountain appeared to be wearing a belt of cloud, or like a beautiful woman covering up half of her face. The small hills on both sides were full of flowers and fruit trees.

    While he was contemplating whether he should pick a couple of fruits to eat his fill or wait for Shi Qingxuan to finish circulating her breathing before making his move, another reflection appeared on the water next to his own.

    Xu Ziling smiled at the reflection on the water and said, Miss Shi recovered so fast, it is hard to believe.

    Shi Qingxuan came to his side and carelessly kicked her shoes, revealing a pair of sparkling-and-translucent-like-jade delicate feet, and casually soaked the feet inside the ice-cold creek water, while putting her bamboo flute on the grass by her side. Gazing at the surface of the water, she spoke softly, Last night, why did you say that I was beautiful? Can this be considered beautiful?

    Copying her, Xu Ziling gazed at his own reflection on the water; shrugging his shoulders, he spoke calmly, I have never thought about what is considered beautiful, what is considered not beautiful, its just that at that moment I saw Miss face had a layer of divine radiance on it, a beauty that cannot be produced locally, thereupon I expressed what I felt, blurted out words that were offensive to you. Miss Shi, please dont take offense.

    Shi Qingxuan was silent for half a day, before speaking gently, Am I still that beautiful now?

    Nodding his head, Xu Ziling said, The more I look, the more beautiful you are. This is a heartfelt word, not meant to fawn on you.

    With slight anger in her voice, Shi Qingxuan said, Dont lie; you just saw through that my nose is fixed, am I right?

    Xu Ziling smiled bitterly and said, I found out about that later. Miss must no be overly sensitive, Zaixia do not have any improper thought toward Miss at all.

    Shi Qingxuan smiled slightly and said, I was thinking of letting you look at my appearance after I take off my fake nose, but since you say so, I am going to dispel this idea!

    Xu Ziling was still smiling bitterly, but he no longer spoke.

    Yet Shi Qingxuan was unwilling to let him off; turning her head around, she stared at him and said, Why are you smiling so ambiguously?

    Xu Ziling calmly replied, Because I have just missed the opportunity to see with my own eyes the remarkably beautiful woman of the human world. Miss has incited great curiosity in my heart. Forget about other things, merely Miss flute skill, which is unparalleled in the world, is enough for Xiaodi never to forget it for as long as I live, and made me feel that my life is not in vain.

    Shi Qingxuan spoke with delight, Your highest skill in coaxing a girl is what makes me never suspect your sincerity. Whats more strange is that last night you encountered so many strange things, yet you did not open your mouth to ask Qingxuan even half a word of question. Ay! What kind of person are you?

    Xu Ziling smiled bitterly again and said, Its not that I dont want to know, its just that with Miss nature that can see beyond the faade, your clear and cold temperament that can drive people a thousand li away, I was so afraid of meeting with a rebuff, so I might as well maintain a little bit of self-esteem, and hence took the not to hear, not to question attitude. Ha! Do I sound ridiculous?

    Stunned, Shi Qingxuan was unable to help laughing; her eyes turned back to the reflection on the water, she nodded and said, That is indeed the best strategy to deal with me, to wear me out that I fall into the trap, and turn to you and ask you questions instead. How repulsive!

    Xu Ziling stretched his limbs and lay down on his back, looking at the white clouds in the blue sky and spoke glibly, Miss fake nose, and last nights dilapidated temple and the cave labyrinth, did all of those come from Mr. Lus design?

    Shi Qingxuan cast a glance full of interest at him and said, Correct on all accounts. If not for that bat cave maze, Im afraid you and I would not be relaxing in here, talking endlessly. Those four are Xie Dis [demonic emperor] direct disciple. If not for falling under the curse and making an oath so that these past twenty years he did not dare to come out to do evil, I dont know how many people in this world would die under their hands.

    Thinking about You Niaojuan, four peoples cruelty and viciousness, Xu Ziling shuddered from the lingering fear.

    Supposing those four people were willing to work together, Xu Ziling would have been dead by now, and at best Shi Qingxuan would have accomplished her objective of perishing together with them.

    What kind of thing is Xie Di anyway?

    Shi Qingxuans attitude toward him was greatly improved, Pfft! she giggled and said, Xie Di is not a thing at all, but an outstanding figure of a demonic sect. Several decades ago he shared the same fame as Yin Hou Zhu Yuyan, on par with San Ren Ning Daoqi; the only difference is righteous versus evil.

    Xu Ziling suddenly sat up and said in horror, How come I have never heard anybody mentioning him?

    ※ ※ ※

    After sitting properly inside the room, Luo Qifei respectfully said, We have obtained definite information: Du Ren of Luoma Bang has formed alliance with Ku Ge, ready to launch counterattack against us.

    Frowning, Xuan Yong said, This is quite a tricky problem. If we fight face to face, I am afraid we are not their match.

    Luo Qifei said, We already dispatch people to infiltrate Xiapi, to spy on Luoma Bangs activity.

    After hesitating for a moment, Kou Zhong asked, In your opinion, would they be foolish enough to attack Liangdu openly?

    Shaking his head, Luo Qifei said, Du Ren is not a fool; if even Yuwen Huaji was beaten and had to retreat under your hands, how could he act blindly without thinking? This time, the reason he is willing to ally himself with Ku Ge is more about protecting himself rather than other reasons.

    Kou Zhong heaved a sigh and said, That is troublesome. Ay! Isnt Ku Ges Khitan group of horse-mounted bandits detested by the gods and loathed by the ghosts? How could there be anybody willing to form an alliance with him?

    Luo Qifei said, Inside Luoma Bang itself, there are many people opposing this move, but Du Ren obstinately clings to his course, others cant do anything about it.

    Immediately Kou Zhongs pair of tiger-eyes lit up; he laughed aloud and said, We are saved then. Let Xiaodi become Yang Xuyan this one time!

    ※ ※ ※

    Shi Qingxuan spoke indifferently, Other than people from demonic sects, very few people knew about Xie Di. Those who have seen him are even more rare. The reason is very simple: thirty years ago he went into hiding to train the demonic schools most secret, unfathomable skill, that nobody else dared to train. Since then he has not stepped outside the temples gate even for half a step.

    Astonished, Xu Ziling asked, Is it that broken temple of last night?

    Shi Qingxuan nodded and said, It was built by Lu Dashis [great master] skillful hands for him. The mysterious mechanism hidden inside, the bat cave, are part of it.

    Hearing that, Xu Ziling was confused even more. How is it possible? he muttered to himself.

    Shi Qingxuan spoke softly, If I did not consider your relationship with Lu Dashi, Qingxuan would never reveal the whole sequence of the events in this matter to you. Lu Dashi had a very high opinion of you and Kou Zhong; he believed in the future this world will become your, two mens world. And now, since the ghosts shove and the gods push you into this matter, naturally Qingxuan will candidly tell you everything. It would be best if I can transfer this heavy burden that I cannot penetrate completely to your shoulders.

    For the third time Xu Ziling smiled bitterly and said sarcastically, What a noble idea!

    Shi Qingxuan laughed to her hearts content and said, No wonder in his letter to Qingxuan, Lu Dashi indicated that the two of you are not like ordinary scholar who, on the surface, strictly hold righteousness, assume the common people in the whole world as his personal responsibility, and defend traditional values. At that time I did not understand it, but now naturally I am very clear about it!

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, Kou Zhong and I are just two lucky little rascals. At first, our ambition was just how to stand out among our peers, to obtain part-time work as government officials, taking advantage while the world is in chaos to win scholarly honor, riches and glory. Afterwards we mastered the amazing skill of the Secret to Long Life, only then did our thinking begin to change. Although from time to time our mouth said that we want to be chivalrous, the fact is that we think about ourselves the most. Miss Shi must not misunderstand us as any hero or warrior.

    Staring at him, Shi Qingxuan said, Since thats the case, why did you disregard your own safety to help me last night? I am neither a relative nor a friend of yours, plus there was no loveliness that you can covet. At that time you shouldnt be able to see that my nose is fake?

    Xu Ziling awkwardly replied, I wasnt thinking of any reason to do that? It was because those four crafty and evil people are unpleasant to the eye. Isnt that still doing something for myself?

    With a smile on her face, Shi Qingxuan said, In a fair duel, how much confidence do you have that you will be able to take care of You Niaojuan?

    Not even ten percent, Xu Ziling replied calmly, Most likely I will suffer a defeat. That man is indeed too formidable.

    Shi Qingxuan said, Fully aware that you are going to be defeated without any chance of victory, you are still willing to take the risk to be drawn into this matter, would you call that doing it for yourself? Unless you are determined to die?

    Xu Ziling was speechless.

    Shi Qingxuan spoke softly, Dont push to the left and shove to the right! You are going to carry this burden.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Miss, please bestow your instruction!

    Shi Qingxuan was silent for a moment, and then she spoke heavily, Not only this matter is exceptionally mysterious, it also involves tangled and complicated gratitude and grudges, passion and enmity of people of several generations. Right now Qingxuan can only give you brief, general explanation, as for the details, well have to wait for a good opportunity to talk about it.

    Xu Ziling was eager to hasten to Baling, he nodded his head in agreement.

    Shi Qingxuan took her pretty feet off the water, shifted her tender body around to sit facing him while hugging her knees; her posture was relaxed and carefree. Her beautiful eyes looked deep into his, she said, Concerning Xie Di Xiang Yutian going back to his native place and live in seclusion to train the demonic schools most secret skill called the Dao Xin Zhong Mo Da Fa [lit. great demonic cultivation method of the heart of the way], it is a true story, but no one knows. They only knew that although since ancient times within the demonic school talented people come forth in large number, there has never been one person capable to master it, in the end they suffered fire deviation and the miserable fate of having their body burned.

    Aghast, Xu Ziling said, Such a terrifying skill, who created it? If even the person creating this great method was unable to master it, yet other people still wanted to train, wont it be extremely ridiculous?

    Knitting her brows, Shi Qingxuan said, Its a bit like your Secret to Long Life; nobody knows how it came to be, and nobody was able to master it, until you two. Whats so ridiculous about that?

    Xu Zilings handsome face slightly blushed, he said, Absolutely nothing is ridiculous about that, its just that I am accustomed to talk like that with Kou Zhong. Miss, please forgive me.

    Shi Qingxuans eyes turned gentle; she spoke softly, Its Qingxuan who took it too seriously! Getting back to the main point, Xie Di Xiang Yutian had four disciples; they are You Niaojuan, Ding Jiuzhong, Zhou Laotan, and Jin Huanzhen.

    Xu Ziling was stunned, Its really hard to conceive, he said, Since they have the brotherhood of the same school, why so much disagreement like fire and water, as soon as there is opportunity they tried to harm each other?

    Shi Qingxuan sighed slightly and said, Main reason has something to do with the past and future [or innate versus acquired]; the dispute was aroused over one yellow crystal ball called the Demonic Emperor Relic. Ay! This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly.

    Curious, Xu Ziling asked, Is this thing still in Miss hands?

    Shaking her head, Shi Qingxuan replied, Ive never seen that thing.

    What? Xu Ziling blurted out.

    Shi Qingxuan went on, After the Demonic Emperor Relic fell into Lu Dashis hands, no one has ever seen it since. It was also because of this thing that Lu Dashi broke off relationship with Zhu Yuyan, and had to flee to the Flying Horse Ranch.

    Thinking deeply, Xu Ziling said, In Mr. Lus residence at the Flying Horse Ranch, I did not see anything like that, perhaps it accompanied him buried deep at the bottom of the abyss.

    Shi Qingxuan shook her head and said, Demonic Emperor Relic is not with him at all; as for where it is hidden, currently I am afraid only a genius would know. Come! Let me take you some place. Its very close!




    [1] Title chapter: shady, orig. Yin, as in Yin Gui Pai, Shady Empress (Yin Hou) being Zhu Yuyans title.

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